At a time when some EU member states are attracting attention for the rise to power of illiberal, anti-democratic political
movements, this book's analytical focus on ideas and identities helps explain why institutional progress is not necessarily
reflected in the formation of liberal, democratic publics. Starting from the premise that citizens can only uphold the institutions
of liberal democracy when they understand and identify with the principles enshrined in them, the author applies normative
public sphere theory to the analysis of political discourse and everyday discussion in Serbia and Bulgaria. From this perspective,
the Serbian public sphere is observed to be more contested, pluralist and, at the margins, liberal than that of Bulgaria.
Considering that Bulgaria has been a full EU member since 2007 while Serbia remains stuck in the waiting room, it is argued
that democratic cultures are not shaped by elite-led drives to meet institutional criteria but rather by the spread of ideas
through politics, the media and the discussions of citizens. Moving beyond the narrow focus on institutions that currently
prevails in studies of democratization, this book demonstrates the value of a more ethnographic and society-oriented approach.