The lack of will to participate in the political process

01. October 2015.

"These results are much less about young people, and much more about us as a society and what we have been doing over the past 20 years," said Berto Šalaj, a member ofthe GONG Council, while commenting on the results of investigations of the political literacy of students finishing high school in Croatia. "No one is born a democrat or a liberal, tolerant or intolerant," he said, adding that the education system has a position in society that affects the youth, but the problem is that the political elite, who carry the responsibility for the development of a democratic political culture, are seemingly unaware. Remembering that the concept of political literacy refers to political knowledge, attitudes, and values in relation to the social and political atmosphere in Croatia, Berto Šalaj evaluates the results of this study as negative: "They point to pretty serious deficits in the democratic political culture of students finishing high school, and the same is especially true for students of three-year vocational schools." Within this context, the importance of systematically and efficiently introducing civic education in schools is once agained confirmed because "60% of students said they do not recognize that they are included in civic education programs, although the Ministry of Science and Education prides itself in introducing civic education as a mandatory cross-cultural theme. It might not be such a bad thing considering our civic education programs."

"The potential of unused education: young people do not know enough and have developed incompetence, and in addition are very confused and undecided about some fundamental social questions, and we should worry that this makes them susceptible to manipulation or will be an obstacle to their future participation in solving social problems" noted Martina Horvat on behalf of GOOD Initiative. The study was meant to ensure that the voices of the students themselves are heard, emphasize what their needs are, and make sure they were clearly identified. It was also directed towards what the students lack in schools: learning about sexuality, modern media, the European Community, minorities, cultural diversity, environmental protection and sustainable development, current social developments, and other problems throughout the world. Although the decision of the Ministry was to introduce civic educaiton and health education as cross-cultural topics, this research confirms that improvements need to be made. There is an opportunity for this type of curriculum reform, which is why GOOD Inititiave calls for the Ministry and the working group for curricular reform to use the results of these studies and examples of good practice to ensure that the reforms happen and the voices of the youth are heard. At the same time, school principals are invited to develop a democratic culture in schools, especially in their relations with students and teachers. The democratic deficit is not reserved for only the young population in Croatia, according to a suvey on perceptions and attitudes of citizenship conducted over the general population. "Citizens are not sufficially politically competent and do not understand the role of the individual in a democratic political system and share a lot of mistrust—both social and political," says Marko Kovačić, a political scientist with the Institute for Social Research. "It is frightening that as many as 74% of the respondents believe that public services, which should serve the citizens and help facilitate their lives, are not committed to serving the public," he said, adding that 52% of respondents also believe that the majority of people try to use these situations or relationships for their own benefit.

Commenting on the results of new research in the context of the current refugee crisis, Marko Kovačić said that one disturbing view of the law is that it would only protect depending on the situation. "This most relativizes the right to asylum, especially among young men and residents of major cities. Also, this relativizes the freedom of association and freedoms of national minorities, which indicates that it is necessary to introduce the citizens to the importance of inter-culturalism." On the other hand, as the positive findings pointed out, Croatian citizens believe that one should always protect social rights, primarily the right to work and the right to education, but also the right to personal and the rights of women.

Ultimately, as Marko Kovačić concluded: "The key is to influence the causes of the problem: a lack of information and the ineffective influence of the various political processes, which in practice means that to truly ensure that the voice of the citizens is 'essential.'" GOOD Initiative organized a press conference where he presented the results of this research in GONG on the 1st of October, 2015.

This research report contains the results of quantitative research carried out by The Institute for Social Research in Zagreb in January 2015, which uses a representative sample of the general population of persons over 18 years of age in Croatia (N=1000). The aim of the research was to examine political attitudes and patterns of behavior, and to establish and describe their correlation to selected socio-demographic characteristics of respondents. The instrument for gathering empirical data was a structured questionnaire with closed type questions in the form of nominal and ordinal scales. On variables, prepared for statistical analysis, the following analyses and procedures were performed: determination of answer distribution, factor analysis and calculation of differences significance by utilization of chi-square test, t-test, and variance analysis.

The investigation included: perception of the importance of rights and resposibilities of citizens, political participation, political efficasy and perception of governement responsiveness, interest in politics, political trust and reliability of public services, social trust, and assessment of the state of democracy.

The most important civic responsibility for most of the respondents was adhering to laws and regulations, and the most important civic right was determined to be ensured health care.

Social rights, in general, are perceived as rights that need to be protected regardless of circumstances. On the other hand, relativisation of the need for unconditional protection of some human rights is present; this includes rights such as freedom of expression, cultural autonomy, freedom of the press, rights of national minorities, freedom of association, and the right to asylum.

A participatory political culture is not particularly well developed. Political participation of citizens amounts more to "observation " or keeping informed and less to active participation. In that regard, the fact that one’s own influence on political life is assessed as low by respondents is not surprising.

Political trust is also low, as well as the assessment of responsiveness of political institutions.

80.2% of respondents believe that the majority of politicians are involved in politics solely for personal gain, and only 25.9% of respondents consider public service employees to be dedicated or very dedicated to the service of the people, while the majority of respondents believe they lack dedication. The perception of the spread of corruption in public services is very high. 62.8% of respondents believe that many people are a part of corrupt activities, while only a little more than one tenth of respondents consider corruption in public services to be more of a coincidence than a rule. Perception of fairness amongst citizens is divided – on the one hand there is a considerable number of those who believe that people would, in most cases, tend to be fair (47%), but the majority suppose that in most cases people would try to take advantage of a situation or a relationship for their own gain (52%). Respondents assess the state of democracy in Croatia today as moderate with a grade of 4.7 (on a scale of at least 1 to at most 10). The future of democracy was graded somewhat better (estimation of democracy in 10 years is 5.67), which suggests cautious optimism on the part of the respondents.