At the moment Serbia is facing challenges of both local and global political turbulences. Economically, politically and geographically positioned between core countries of developed West and East and underdeveloped periphery countries, Serbia is nowadays both affecting and being affected by the entire EU critical political context (refugee crisis, growing EU scepticism, rising nationalism and cultural separatism, rightist tendencies …). Aspiring to leave the periphery and aiming to the core, while still not being the part of the core itself, our country experiences the precarious position in EU.
In the overall context of European crisis, political assymetry between center and periphery must be reframed. We need new political cartographies! One of the most significant effects of postmodernity is the phenomenon of trans-culturality and hybridization beyond nation-centered entities. Migrations and movements of population from periphery to center have challenged the cultural homogeneity of European nation-states. This new historical context requires that we shift the political debates from the differences between cultures to differences within the same culture. Center does not hold anymore: it is being dispersed as to defy dualistic or oppositional ways of thinking and to require more subtle and dynamic articulation.
This provides an insightful perspective upon the role which civil society organizations and independant cultural scene in Serbia have in creating active citizens’ agenda for rethinking modern European democracy. New political cartographies seak for new political strategies, where democratic political agency gets placed in the active citizenship instead of Governments and institutional representatives.
It is not about what a citizen is, but what a citizen can do!
Citizen is no longer defined as just a person living in the city whose participatory action is limitted to elections. Her/his role becomes a fuel of recreating the above mentioned cartographies. Right now we are facing the wave of civil movements that acquire the urban agenda made by citizens themselves. Citizenship and citizenship education have been traditionally bounded to either a geographically bound nation-state or a historically shared culture. It is no longer enough. We need to explore the complexity of the city-citizenship continuum in the moving process of occupying and liberating urban spaces. That is crucially important not only for advancing knowledge of how cities work, but also for allowing us to envisage new forms of urban life in a more sustainable future. The question is not what a citizen is, but what a citizen can do! We need to move from definitions to actions! Sharing responsibility, taking initiatives and trans-national solidarity might be a new way of re-thinking citizenship in the era of destruction of center and periphery in EU.
We never know what a culture is until we experience what it can do
Renewal of the cities from bottom-up and repositioning the concept of citizenship from definition to action offers alternative political agency and empowerment. Culture and art can thus serve as the main focus of that agency. In the turbulent climate, culture is no longer produced by elites for the elites, but becomes a dynamic field of experimentations in the process. What we face in Serbia at the moment on both political and cultural level is a full ongoing integration of citizen into cultural activism. Culture itself becomes an inclusive field in which citizens do not spectate, but participate. Never before have Serbian citizens reacted this urgently and promptly to the Governmental cultural politics. Since the beginning of Serbian democratic system, independent cultural sector has never gathered this large critical mass of citizens willing to protest and participate in creating their own cultural identity. In both Belgrade and smaller cities we witness networking amongst citizens in order to intervene with public urban space and local cultural policies. They show how urbanism, urban planning, culture and art create an active citizenship which is able to produce precise political agenda with the concrete results. Emphasizing that cities, citizens and culture are key pillars of modern democracy, Serbian local initiatives show the sense for required urban agenda by the cities and citizens themselves. Serbian democratically oriented civil society has realized that culture is necessary instrument and method when it comes to developing democracy and active citizenship. Not only that they are fighting for culture and art in order to foster democratic foundations of society, but they are also using culture and art as subversive tools in their actions. Culture seizes to be property of elites and becomes a public good.
Think globally — act locally
Democracy was born at local levels and that is where we can win it back. Starting from the cities themselves, as places of actual reinvention of democracy, we can act in our own environments with nevertheless global picture in our mind. In the era of advanced neoliberal capitalism, thinking alternatives is necessary. Since postmodernism has denounced meta-narratives of Nations, Histories and Revolutions, we need to engage ourselves in micro-activisms, rhizomatic networking amongst cities, create alternatives out of positive practices and reinvent political methodologies that can account for our current situation. Culture and art can certainly represent one of those creative methodologies. Humor, satire, parody, artistic flesh mobs and interventions in public space, guerilla small actions addressed to citizens — those are just some of the strategies that today’s Serbian independent cultural scene uses in order to counteract the dominant political discourses and passivity of Governmental institutions.
Thus through massive agitation and interventions in public spaces they propose a new concept of culture itself, implying that political task of cultural sector should start “from the bottom“. On the more global level this may imply a bold proposal of restarting Europe from the basis of culture, where culture will not belong to elites and institutional establishment, but to people producing culture and living in the cities.
Dina Čubrić (Cultural Center GRAD Belgrade, Serbia) was born in 1989 in Kraljevo, Serbia. Finished BA studies at University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philology (Department for Comparative Literature) as a student of generation. She recieved MA Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies as category A Scholarship student in GEMMA Erasmus Mundus Program on the topic of feminist sci-fi novels and Deleuze’s concepts of body and sexuality. She was an active member of queer collective activist group in Bologna, participated on many academic international conferences, lectures and summer schools on feminism, politics, sexuality, human rights and cultural activism. Currently living in Belgrade where she works in Cultural Center Grad as a program assistant, she simultaneously works on independent projects about urban biking and literary criticism, as well as an inedependant scholar in the field of feminism, queer theory and cultural studies.