April 17, 2018 Print

The Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies (CAAS) has successfully released its Index of Authoritarian Populism (API), which assesses the rise of authoritarian populists in political circles throughout Serbia. The Belgrade-based Atlas Network partner adapted the index to a nationally focused, Serbian version from the Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index, a signature publication of another Atlas Network partner based in Sweden.

“As we regularly follow the work of Atlas Network’s partner organizations, the idea for creating our Authoritarian-populism index (API) came from the work of Swedish think tank Timbro,” said Ratko Nikolić, president of CAAS. “Inspired by what they’ve done, we wanted to go through all aspects of the original API and see how it functions in our country. The problem was that the Serbian path from a one party authoritarian state to what we got today was different from all of the other post-socialist states, so it could not fit in adequately. Our idea was to change Timbro’s index in the segments in which it wasn’t applicable to Serbia, which we did.”

CAAS’ Index of Authoritarian Populism separates authoritarianism and populism into separate categories for research. Authoritarian policies and politicians are measured by instances of incompatibility with rule of law, single-party rule, widespread clientelism, and hostility towards the non-profit sector. Populism is measured by instances of anti-elitism, lack of accountability, and “revolutionary” rhetoric in speeches and other discourse. The API is focused solely on Serbia, while Timbro’s index examines Europe as a whole.

The API was published in December 2017 with an accompanying press conference with Petar Čekerevac of Libertarian Club Libek, who spoke of Libek’s recent work battling populism in education and the economy; Aleksandar Kokotović of European Students for Liberty, who spoke of the importance of standing up to the new authoritarians in Europe; and a representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, who spoke about FNF’s Freedom Barometer Index 2018. CAAS is working toward building a larger coalition of organizations working to promote freedom in the region.

"As for CAAS’s perspective on the practical steps needed for making Serbia or the Balkan region more free and just, we believe that it is crucial to leave behind the idea of top-bottom change, and concentrate on creating a larger libertarian network," continued Nikolić. "This would include private businesses (such as the ones with the most 'skin in the game,' currently suffering enormous damage from the over-regulated economy and parasitical public sector), libertarian NGOs, specialized in different fields – from education to video production – which would allow the freedom movement to counter the state-owned education sector and media, and last but not least students, young artists and journalists, as future opinion-makers and the most creative and energetic part of every society."

CAAS received considerable media coverage following the release of the API. The results of the index were published in the peer-reviewed Serbian sociology journal Sociologizam, and the work of the organization has been noted in national publications such as Medija Centar Beograd, Danas, and Gradjanske.

In addition to CAAS’ efforts on the Index of Authoritarian Populism, the organization has launched a new blog which covers issues ranging from media censorship to abuse of power. Eleven new authors were brought on board, including two notable individuals in the Serbian political realm: Boban Stojanović, an up-and-coming political activist and media personality, and Dr. Ana Stevanović, a member of the Serbian parliament.

“On one hand, we developed and academic tool that could be used to measure authoritarian-populism in Serbia, on the other we started publishing interviews and analyses of everyday politics, made by students, young journalists and artists,” concluded Nikolić. “Since we started this program, we’ve been receiving messages of support from people disappointed in the work of the Serbian political and academic elite, but also in the work of dominant NGOs working in Serbia, informing us that we’ve found a practical solution for the combination of academic engagement and a more 'down to earth' approach, that helps people express themselves and further develop their ideas and arguments concerning libertarianism.”

Read the Index for Authoritarian Populism (Link in Serbian)

The Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies received an Illiberalism Grant from Atlas Network for the creation of the Index of Authoritarian Populism. The illiberalism grant program is designed to help Atlas Network’s partners who are working to combat the new authoritarianism and stop the rise of illiberal statist sentiment.