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.