Between 2015-2018, WFD supported increased oversight of public money through the establishment of the first ever Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS). Since, 2019 WFD Serbia has focused on the issues of youth emigration, youth political education, and strengthening inner party democracy in Serbia. With the pandemic outbreak in 2020, we centred our focus around the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS). With WFD’s assistance, the first regional Parliamentary Emergency Subcommittee for Response to COVID-19 was established.
Understanding youth emigration
Beginning in 2018 and in the subsequent three-year period, our Serbian office focused on analysing the growing challenge of youth emigration and conducted research on what it costs the country. This research was presented to key stakeholders and was later used as a tool in tackling the most important issues through policy-making. Specifically, 7 policy proposals were created for both the national and local level.
In January 2019, WFD started working with local civil society organisations (CSOs), political parties, state institutions, the business community, and the media to address the number of young people leaving Serbia to find work and better living conditions abroad. Our initiative in the field of youth emigration led to the establishment of a new format for dealing with youth emigration and circular migrations - the Returning Point organisation.
In addition to this, WFD regularly assess the circular migrations policy environment, as a basis for new evidence and additional research documents. In this way, we are looking to learn about the specific issues of the diaspora, returnees, and internal migration of young people. For instance, research we conducted in 2020 showed a substantial correlation between political distrust and youth emigration. Such insights help us shape our initiatives to best suit the current context and needs of citizens.
Tackling political distrust among young people
Engaging young people in politics was not a priority for Serbian political parties in the past. This disconnection with young voters led to low levels of interaction and trust between young people and political parties.
In 2019, WFD supported political parties in developing policies that are relevant for young people and are made with their input. Our support focused on communication tools that helped political parties target young voters. By focusing on policy areas that are important to young people, we worked towards increased engagement between political parties and new voters.
WFD recognised the need for further development of youth participation in social and political processes in Serbia. That is why we supported a youth-based project aiming to informally educate high school students on democracy, elections and civic activism. Starting 2019, in partnership with the Faculty of Political Sciences – University of Belgrade (FPS), and with the support of Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia, we started conducting the Popular Democracy project.
This initiative supports FPS students in delivering workshops and lectures to high school students (first-time voters) throughout the country. In 2019 and 2020, more than 3600 young people took part in these workshops, with a following 10% increase in democratic, civic, and electoral procedures. With the pandemic outbreak, we focused our work in this sphere on preparing video material to be posted on the national online learning platform. That way, all high school students in Serbia will be able to access the recording and find out more about democratic values and procedures. We support all interested high school students that have previously gone through the programme in implementing activities in their local communities. By doing so, they can learn about democratic practices and civic activism in a practical way that will help develop their communities.
In October 2021, a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between WFD, the Serbian Ministry of Education, and the Faculty of Political Sciences University of Belgrade. The MoU guarantees the continuation of joint efforts towards building social and political awareness among the Serbian youth through the project.
Parliamentary and political party support to tackle political distrust
WFD established the first Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in the Western Balkans with the agreement of the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia in September 2015. Support to the PBO was the focus of our work until 2018.
The PBO provides financial information to parliamentarians and supported increased oversight of public money.
PBO staff were selected, trained and inducted through the WFD PBO Academy and worked within the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia. In 2017, the PBO introduced Serbia’s first Citizens budget. It was developed to present the most important data from the State Budget to citizens, with clear and understandable language. Communicating budget information to Serbian citizens was just one pillar of the PBO mandate.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the world was faced with new, difficult challenges in developing open societies based on democratic procedures and the rule of law. It became evident that legislative bodies, even more than before, needed to establish mechanisms for responding to emergency situations like the pandemic. Furthermore, other political institutions, media, and the general public must have open and free access to information about these processes. The space for collaboration with the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS) was recognised in providing support for the strengthening of oversight capacities. WFD aims to help NARS introduce innovative tools and mechanisms for scrutinising governmental COVID-19 responses. In early 2021, NARS established the Parliamentary Subcommittee for Emergency Response to COVID-19 with the support of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s office in Serbia.
Having signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NARS in July 2021, guaranteeing another 3-year stream of collaboration, we continue to build on our previous work in this field.
Political parties provide short-cuts to help people make sense of politics. When functioning properly, parties represent society in the process of electoral competition and in the legislative arena. With this in mind, Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Serbia undertook a Mapping and Assessment of the Political Organizations in Serbia (MAPOS) which was finalised in February 2021.
MAPOS assessed the current capacities of all relevant political parties and organizations in Serbia. The aim of this endeavour was to identify challenges political parties face in their daily functioning, as well as the issues other actors are facing in trying to establish themselves as novel and significant political stakeholders in the country. WFD subsequently recommended ways in which political parties and organisations are able to improve their internal democratic procedures, communication and organisational capacities. The insights gained from MAPOS were a solid basis for the design of an assistance programme for supporting the needs and capacities of selected political organisations parties in Serbia.
WFD’s work with political parties is directed towards helping participating partners to increase internal cohesion, party identification, and membership loyalty. This is being achieved through simplification of party programmes, and clarification of programmatic goals in internal communication.
Public communication with both members and supporters contributes to political motivation and engagement. That is why WFD encourages political parties and organisations in strengthening these capacities.
Western Balkans Democracy Initiative
WFD’s programme in Serbia is part of the Western Balkans Democracy Initiative, which seeks to contribute to the development of more resilient and legitimate democratic governance throughout the Western Balkan region. WFD is achieving this through engaging with actors and institutions across the democratic spectrum to strengthen their ability to fulfil their mandates and promote inclusive governance which delivers for citizens.
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