What is democracy today? What does it mean? What are the essential features without which democracy cannot function? Is democracy possible? Is there an alternative to democracy? What is the optimal form of democracy?

The Performing Democracy project starts from these questions, discussing them with numerous interlocutors, in an attempt to create a space for a broad dialogue on the current state of democracy both locally and globally. We initiated the project in an atmosphere of growing distrust and divisions within Serbian society, at a time when dialogue between opposing groups seems impossible and the practice of public debate appears as a radical activity. In this environment can we even discuss the meaning behind concepts such as tolerance, responsibility, solidarity and justice? Can we discuss these questions with people of different opinions, views and values? Exploring different positions within Serbian society, the project seeks answers on these questions while, at the same time, creating an experimental forum within which all participants have an equal say.

It is important to address, at the very beginning, the methodological approach applied within this project. The selection of participants was not determined by the need to create an objective overview of public opinion on democracy in Serbia. Contrary to the perspective of an objective overview, which we find a questionable concept in itself, we were inspired by subjective positions, shaped by personal experiences, and we understood them as constructive elements of one joint collective rethinking process. It is exactly this process of collective imagining (of alternatives, built on heterogeneous positions and thoughts) that this project intends to initiate. Thus, the selection of participants was motivated by our aim to include diverse positions, inviting participants from throughout the country with various professional and personal backgrounds, different opinions and life experiences. Their thoughts were recorded in the form of short video statements and were filmed in an identical manner, within a precisely defined timeframe which was equal for all participants. With the help of numerous collaborators and friends we approached the first interlocutors, who in turn helped us reach more participants, and our network was organically growing. Being interested in a variety of ideological positions we spoke not only with representatives of civic initiatives, organisations and movements and political parties, but also with our fellow citizens most of whom we met for the first time. We were touched by the hospitality and trust with which we were welcomed. The issue of trust was essential for our working process which is why we reflected on our own limitations, shaped by our personal interests and political views, and openly communicated these with all our collaborators. We recognize that there is an insufficient number of participants involved in this project and that many relevant positions remained unrepresented. This was due in part to some interlocutors not responding to our invitation but was also the result of project deadlines, technical and production limitations as well as the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still we believe that this relatively small number of recorded voices and opinions can contribute toward a wider dialogue about our present and possible future alternatives. The passion invested in all given statements speaks against the common diagnosis of Serbian society as being in a state of absolute social and political apathy.

Slavoljub Kostić and Goran Jakovljević, participants in the eco protests in Bor

Jelena Miletić, Dragan Stojmenović and Goran Milenković, Center for Informal Communication Nemušto, Bor

Božidar Savić, pensioner and Zorana Pavlović, artist

Zoran Lutovac and Dragana Rakić, Democratic Party

Milovan Pavlović, disabled pensioner, citizen of Serbia and Denis Ferizović, citizen of Serbia

Prof. Tamara Milenković Kerković PhD and Jugoslav Kiprijanović, Serbian movement Dveri

Jelena Simić, assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, Union University and Agata Milan Đurić, human rights activist, Geten Center

Jugoslav Ristić, President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions Kragujevac, Zoran Marković, President of the Independent Trade Union "FCA" - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Serbia, and Dragan Ilić, President of the Independent Trade Union "Zastava Oružje"

Snežana Žujković, specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics and Aleksandar Dukić, obstetrician-gynaecologist

Ljiljana Nadoveza, citizen of Serbia and Ozren Nadoveza, unemployed

Vladimir Marović and Predrag Voštinić, Local Front

Marija Perković, worker and Dženeta Agović, activist and president of the Impulse organization from Tutin

Marija Marinković, Danijel Dašić and Mladen Jovanović, National Coalition for Decentralization

Dobrica Veselinović and Radomir Lazović, Don’t let Belgrade D(r)own

Vesna Vojvodić Mitrović and Prof. Zoran Stojiljković PhD, Trade union "Nezavisnost"

Milena Repajić and Ivan Velisavljević, Radical Left Party

Radomir Ćirilović and Vladeta Jovanović, Prosperitet Association for the Protection of Consumer Rights

Iva Marković and Miloš Baković Jadžić, Right to Water initiative

Marija Jakovljević and Galina Maksimović, Reconstruction Women's Fund

Nataša Tasić Knežević, soloist of the Serbian National Theater opera in Novi Sad and Saša Knežević, pianist

Nevena Martinović and Filip Milošević, SHARE Foundation

Prof. Slavica Đukić Dejanović M.D. PhD and Prof. Predrag Marković PhD, Socialist Party of Serbia

Tanja Marković, activist and Nebojša Milikić, member of the No to Rehabilitation initiative

Milinka Minja Nikolić, Marica Stamenković and Milijana Živković activists, Mt. Stara Planina

Olja Nikolić Kia, member of the Trans-Balkan Solidarity collective and Push-back Map and Teodora Jovanović, anthropologist

Tara Rukeci and Branislav Markuš, Zrenjanin Social Forum

Slađana Radivojević, Zorica Krunić and Dušan Jović, Trstenik Theatre

From the beginning of our work on the project at the end of 2019, to our finalizing the video-recording of statements one year later, Serbia, like the entire world, faced a health crisis which challenged all habits and postulates that had been determining our ways of living until early 2020. Very soon the pandemic started to evolve into a social, political and economic crisis of which we are yet to comprehend the consequences. In such unforeseen circumstances we talked to 27 groups of citizens, initiatives, activists, professional associations, and political parties, endeavoring to understand how both democracy and the future, are understood in Serbia today. Although most of our interlocutors, conditionally speaking, were coming from the left side of the ideological spectrum, the answers we heard were extremely heterogeneous and ranged from the viewpoint that the “essence of democracy is the engaged citizen, dedicated to public welfare” to the standpoint that “democracy is a wrong idea due to human nature which cannot function in such a system”.

How do we now use the recorded material not simply to give a diagnosis for just one part of Serbian contemporary society, but rather as a tool with which to open constructive dialogue on our common future? How should we understand the fact that among the filmed statements there is not one from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP), political party that holds nearly absolute power in Serbia today? Even though we continuously sent invitations to the representatives of the SPP it remains the only potential and planned interlocutor who never gave us any, either positive or negative, answer regarding the possibility of participating in the project. An important indicator in rethinking both the filmed material and the current moment came from students of history, sociology and political sciences who were invited to comment on the recorded material. The motivation for the inclusion of students into our research originates from our desire to intervene in the practice of these academic disciplines, reducing the distance between scientific analysis and everyday life, between the “objective” and “subjective”, between the scientific method and artistic approach. The decision to invite students to participate in this dialogue is also the result of our sincere curiosity to learn more about the thoughts of young citizens in Serbia; our fellow citizens who, to quite a large extent, have not been burdened with direct experience of the history of disintegration of our common state, following the wars and changes after the  5th October 2000, but at the same time are often considered as being ambivalent toward the issues of society or politics. Similar to all other participants in the project, students who answered our invitation, in cooperation with their professors Dubravka Stojanović, Ivana Spasić and Djordje Pavićević, in their written comments demonstrated anything but apathy and lack of interest in relation to democracy and the current state of our society.

Having experienced sincerity and openness from all participants in this dialogue we feel obliged to think of new open experimental formats within which discussions about democracy could become open to broader participation, as an act of collective rethinking and conceptualization of alternatives. It is exactly this task, the imagining of a format which could enable spaces for free participation of all those interested, that represents the biggest challenge moving forwards. How can we develop spaces for dissensus and discussions, for the experience of sharing and developing collective imaginations? We believe that nowadays it is important to develop such spaces within the field of art, which is building its transformative potential in resistance to dominant models of production, norms and narratives; exercising its capacity for imagination, common experience and free play. This is where the notion of “performing” comes from. On the one hand, it indicates that democracy is a collection of norms and agreed rules which regulate our society; on the other, it indicates our possibility to actively ask questions, seek answers and confront our ideas, proposals and possible alternatives to dominant narratives and norms – and actually “perform” possible spaces of collective imagination within which alternatives can be freely considered and agreed upon. The project Performing Democracy offers one of the possible platforms within which different ideas can be articulated and brought to the public. It also asks questions: Can we think of an alternative which would respond to actual challenges created by the pandemics, climate changes, growing inequalities and migrations? Can we collectively deliberate on and create new ideas within and beyond existing divisions? Can we nurture empathy beyond our own interest groups and recognize our own shared interest in the ideas of commons or collective? How do we shape spaces within which we can negotiate, talk, test, make mistakes, learn from each other, perform and create ideas and concepts beyond dominant narratives? How can we create spaces which enable us to experience alternatives?

Participants: Slavoljub Kostić and Goran Jakovljević (participants in the eco protests in Bor); Jelena Miletić, Dragan Stojmenović and Goran Milenković (Center for Informal Communication Nemušto, Bor); Božidar Savić (pensioner) and  Zorana Pavlović (artist); Zoran Lutovac and Dragana Rakić (Democratic Party); Milovan Pavlović (disabled pensioner) and Denis Ferizović (citizen of Serbia); Prof. dr Tamara Milenković Kerković and Jugoslav Kiprijanović (Serbian movement Dveri); Jelena Simić (assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, Union University) and Agata Milan Đurić (human rights activist, Geten Center); Jugoslav Ristić (President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions Kragujevac), Zoran Marković (President of the Independent Trade Union “FCA” – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Serbia) and Dragan Ilić (President of the Independent Trade Union “Zastava Oružje”); Snežana Žujković (specialist in gynecology and obstetrics) and Aleksandar Dukić (obstetrician-gynecologist); Ljiljana Nadoveza (citizen of Serbia) and Ozren Nadoveza (unemployed); Vladimir Marović and Predrag Voštinić (Local Front); Marija Perković (worker) i Dženeta Agović (activist and president of the Impulse organization from Tutin); Marija Marinković, Danijel Dašić and Mladen Jovanović (National Coalition for Decentralization); Dobrica Veselinović and  Radomir Lazović (Don’t let Belgrade D(r)own); Vesna Vojvodić Mitrović and prof. dr Zoran Stojiljković (Trade union “Nezavisnost”); Milena Repajić and Ivan Velisavljević (Radical Left Party); Radomir Ćirilović and Vladeta Jovanović (Prosperitet Association for the Protection of Consumer Rights); Iva Marković and Miloš Baković Jadžić (Right to Water initiative); Marija Jakovljević and Galina Maksimović (Reconstruction Women’s Fund); Nataša Tasić Knežević (soloist of the Serbian National Theater opera in Novi Sad) and Saša Knežević (pianist); Nevena Martinović and  Filip Milošević (SHARE Foundation); Prof. dr sci. Slavica Đukić Dejanović and prof. dr Predrag Marković (Socialist Party of Serbia); Milinka Minja Nikolić, Marica Stamenković and Milijana Živković (activists, Mt. Stara Planina); Tanja Marković (activist) and Nebojša Milikić (member of the No to Rehabilitation initiative); Olja Nikolić Kia (member of the Trans-Balkan Solidarity collective and Push-back Map) and Teodora Jovanović (anthropologist); Tara Rukeci and Branislav Markuš (Zrenjanin Social Forum); Slađana Radivojević, Zorica Krunić and Dušan Jović (Trstenik Theatre); students of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, Department for History: Ognjen Tomić, Dimitrije Matić, Sanja Radović, Ana Radaković, Luka Filipović and prof. dr Dubravka Stojanović; students of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, Department for Sociology: Irina Marković, Branislav Muškatirović, Danilo Pupavac, Milica Stević, Irena Šujdović, Jelena Tomić, Stefan Zdravković and prof. dr Ivana Spasić; students of Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade: Luka Petrović, Milena Manojlović,  Anastazija Radić, Stefan Milosavljević, Marina Milić and prof. dr Đorđe Pavićević.

We would like to thank all project participants on their goodwill and readiness to share with us their thoughts on democracy. We want to give a special thanks to our dear colleagues and friends who advised us during the working process, recommended or introduced us to new participants and hosted us in their homes and working spaces: Andrea Brbaklić, Iva Čukić, Zoe Gudović, Neda Knežević, Radomir Lazović, Galina Maksimović, Iva Marković, Tanja Marković, Branislav Markuš, Jelena Miletić, Nebojša Milikić, National coalition for Decemntralisation, Nana Radenković, Irena Ristić, Tara Rukeci, Jelena Simić, Branislava Stefanović.

Project authors: Ana Adamović i Milica Pekić
Camera, editing: Ana Adamović
Video post-production: Vladan Obradović
Sound design and post-production: Srđan Bajski
Translation of video statements on English: Goran Kričković
Web design: Vojislav Ilić

Project is realized with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy and Open Society Foundation, Serbia

„Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners“

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