August 24, 2017 Print

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Serbia’s historical lack of a civil society has partially allowed for governments that tended towards authoritarianism. The Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies (CAAS) is working to bolster Serbian civil society and combat Serbia’s historic authoritarianism with its Anti-Authoritarian Watchdog and Index Project that fights against soft censorship and the country’s prevailing dialogue about economic policy.

“CAAS is focusing on educating and empowering young pro-liberty journalists and social activists through the programs like CAAS School of Journalism where they learn about the true philosophy of freedom, journalist ethics, and other skills needed to create a well-informed and responsible public needed for the survival of a free and open society,” said Ratko Nikolić, co-founder and president of CAAS.

In pursuit of this end, CAAS recently began looking for young writers to contribute to its blog, whose profile is steadily on the rise as more Serbians become disillusioned with the state-dominated media. It received over 20 applications in the first week after its initial call for classical liberal writers, some from already well-known Serbian writers.

“The proof of success of the CAAS blog … is that already in the first month from its start, we've had an opposition party member of the Parliament write for us alongside many of the young journalists disillusioned by their job prospects in the mainstream media controlled by the government,” continued Nikolić.

CAAS is supplementing its work on changing the Serbian political climate by applying Timbro’s continentally-focused Authoritarian Populist Index to Serbia specifically: “…we are currently working on optimizing the Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index (TAP) in order to provide a much needed academic tool for measuring and monitoring the authoritarian tendencies in Serbia as a basis for the civil society to react to the perceived threats to democracy and mobilize the public to fight for their endangered liberties,” Nikolić continued.

These two initiatives – the pro-liberty blog and the adaptation of the authoritarian index – are meant to complement one another: the latter provides a general political and historical context of the authoritarian and populist tendencies within Serbian society while the former battles the misconception that authoritarian tendencies are inherent in the Serbian people, but rather are endemic to its institutions.

“CAAS’ blog is integral to these goals as it provides the concrete and up-to-date examples of the rather theoretical claims of the optimized TAP and is aimed at raising broader public awareness about the aforementioned issues,” said Nikolić. “Also, it is envisioned as an alternative platform where the elsewhere censored and demonized (usually as traitors and foreign mercenaries) pro-liberty voices could be heard and as such battles censorship while providing the public with a much-needed daily commentary of the socio-political reality they live in.”

CAAS’s project has already created a significant impression in Serbia despite the extensive soft censorship of economic and political pressure – sometimes even the threat of violence – but not outright institutional censorship. Its blog has been shared by a parliamentary party and a prominent news agency.

“… Our work has been covered by the mainstream media several times, mainly the Media Matters Conference organized on the 25th of March 2017, where more than 100 people had the opportunity to hear about the status of media freedoms, journalist ethics and investigative journalism from prominent domestic journalists, media experts and academics,” Nikolić concluded.

CAAS is a recipient of Atlas Network’s Illiberalism Grant, which is awarded to help its partner organizations that are working to combat the new authoritarianism and stop the rise of illiberal statist sentiment.