Ivana S. Damnjanović
PARTICIPATORY EXPERIMENTS IN SERBIA: DEMOCRATIC INNOVATIONS?
Since the beginning of the 21st century, several experiments that can be, without doubt, classified as democratic innovations have taken place in Serbia. Despite this fact, this field of study is relatively underdeveloped in Serbian political science. This paper aims to remedy this gap in literature, by offering a preliminary review of innovative democratic initiatives in Serbia, as a starting point for future research. In order to do this, the paper starts with construction of a theoretical and methodological framework, based on solutions from recent scholarly literature. Such framework would allow for identification and classification of democratic innovations. Analysis of publicly available data on democratic innovation projects shows that the most of them can be categorized as direct democracy, co-governance or consultativedeliberative procedures or innovations based on new informationcommunication technologies. The instruments of direct democracy – referendum, citizens’ initiative and citizen assemblies are guaranteed by appropriate legislation, but are rarely used. This is partially due to the strict deadlines and thresholds prescribed by law, but also can be attributed to the lack of formalized follow-up procedures. Participatory budgeting is the most widespread and most thoroughly researched form of democratic innovation worldwide, so it is not surprising that there were efforts to replicate these experiences in Serbia. It was introduced on local level within three internationally funded projects, but the sustainability of the established procedures is yet to be determined. The major obstacle to wider application of participatory budgeting is the fact that only a minor part of the local budgets can be subject to this type of decision-making. Finally, digital innovations are usually focused on national level, and have not resolved the standard controversy related to this type of experiment: whether they promote more inclusive participation, or are they petrifying the existing power disbalances and replicate exclusionary practices. General conclusion may be that introduction of democratic innovations in Serbia is still in its infancy and primarily donor-driven, which has both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, it allows for more intensive involvement of civil society organizations, but on the other, the dependency on international funding is diminishing the chance for long-term sustainability. Nevertheless, there is the need for deeper research into inner workings as well as impact of those innovations, in order to provide not only better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, but also guidelines for future projects.