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European Regional Master's Degree in Democracy and Human Rights in South East Europe
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Taking culture and democracy seriously in Serbia

Written by Michael Rossi, this article appeared on the first issue of the journal Humanicus in May 2008.
Mainstream approaches and policies to theories of democratic transitions overlook the cultural and historical developments of the country or region under study. Scholars have been calling for cultural preferences to be taken more seriously for decades now, but the current methodologies in social science still predominantly treat culture as more of a theoretical category that is unchanging and unflinching to variations in internal and exogenous stimuli.
In this article I argue that rather than moving away from culture, we need to develop more robust models that treat culture as a dynamic variable, subject to adaptability and growth over time and space.
First, by taking cultural preferences more seriously we reinforce institutional models by fusing them with both agency and subjectivity. Second, culture can be a critical component in the construction and maintenance of democracy regardless of geographical or historical circumstance. If democracy does not tap into the cultural and historical framework of a society, the greater public will view it as a foreign element.
Finally, cultural approaches to democracy help us essentially understand how a society, be it local or national, collectively ‘thinks’ about and understands their relationship to domestic and external events. With regards to Serbia as my empirical case study, as long as a sizable portion of the population continues to feel that further democratization means compromising Serbian values and national security for the interests of the EU, the UN, or the United States, nationalism and populism will continue to obstruct further democratic political development and maturity.


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