By Beata Wallstén and Saashmitta Norah Oyen
Trust and understanding in politics amongst the Croatian youth is measured significantly low in a recent study, affecting political participation and involvement.
“They are not interested in politics so the question now is why?” says Croatian youth portal Editor-in-Chief Marko Matijevic.
“I do not trust politicians today. I think they are only saying things we would like to hear and will not do those things,” says media and PR student Mauro Jerman who is 21-years old and lives in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“I would not say I have an interest in politics. It is not something I prefer to talk about, listen to or study. I am not interested. There is no other reason,” he continues.
Trust and interest in the political scene amongst the Croatian youth is lacking. One in four of Croatian youth in their senior year of high school is politically illiterate, as stated in a study presented in May conducted by a team of researchers from the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb and Faculty of Political Science of the University of Zagreb, amongst others.
“They are not interested in politics so the question now is why?” says Marko Matijevic, Editor in Chief for Srednja.hr, a youth portal in Croatia.
“The language of politics is not catchy and relatable to them. People usually start to get politically engaged in the beginning of their thirties when they are going to buy a house, earn their credits and are a couple of years into employment. They see what is going on around them and realise that there are some issues that they would like to participate in,” Marko Matijevic adds.
According to Marko Matijevic, Croatians’ live with their parents until they are on average 28-years-old and with having privileges of living at home, independence decreases, says Marko Matijevic:
“So if you have a roof over your head, if your mother cooks for you, your electricity bills are paid, it is hard to notice problems with for example local trash and bills – and then to be interested in the policies surrounding it.”
The education system provided in Croatia has its shortcomings when it comes to citizenship knowledge. Civic education does not come as one single subject in the school syllabus, but it is combined with six other topics as well, for example information, communication and technology.
The reform was introduced two years ago and has not shown that great of an impact, says Marko Matijevic.
On the other hand, students from vocational schools do not have adequate subjects that are related to humanities. After completing their education, they are mainly prepared for labour and employment which does not equip them to be active citizens in society, he expresses.
“They find politics repulsive”
“The perception of politics today is that it is something that attracts people who want to benefit for their and their families’ good – and not for the public’s best. Some of the youth find politics repulsive and do not want to interact with it, not even on a local level,” says Nikola Baketa, researcher from Institution of Social Research in Zagreb, who conducted the study on political literacy.
Trust in general is pretty high in Croatia – when it comes to social networks like family, friends and neighbors. Nonetheless, this could not be said when it comes to political parties.
“The issue is not only regarding the youth, however it is something which concerns the entire population of Croatia. Trust in institutions is pretty low, Nikola Baketa says.
The results from the survey show that pupils in Croatia have considerably low trust in political parties, where only 7,2 percent of high school seniors show trust in political parties.
“Citizens see political parties as corrupt organisations that serve for employment benefits. This can be seen when elections are being questioned, where around 50 percent of the citizens do not vote. There is apathy among the citizens which demotivates them from trying to change these things,” says Nikola Baketa.
The politician perspective
Ivana Šepak, vice-president of the local party in Dubrovnik, DuStra shares:
“The trust is low because of what young people in Croatia hear from their parents. Since Croatia got its independence in the 1990s, people were looking for radical change. One of the reasons why Croatia was involved in the war was because we wanted to leave the communism system in Yugoslavia. But after the war was over, we saw that our politicians just wanted Croatian communism and people were very disappointed. I think it has spilled over to the younger generations.”
Trust will come when political affairs will end and young citizens will feel hopeful again, says Antun Bošković, a local politician from conservative HDZ, the ruling party in Croatia, President of the Municipality of Trsteno believes and continues: “It will come when main political characters come to them and play with open cards.”
“In the newspapers you only see the bad side of politics but you can help other people by just being politically active, and it starts through voting.”
Antun Bošković is noticing that more young people are getting involved each year and plenty of young parties are participating in the elections with success. He thinks that this is sending a message to the main political parties to rope in young people.
Political prospects: education, work and sports
A quarter of the Croatian youth is politically illiterate, proving that society has done almost nothing to implement civic education in schools, professor Berto Šalaj from Zagreb’s Faculty of Political Sciences stated when the research was presented.
“I think we should talk more about politics in school and faculties when a lot of young people do not vote and think it is unnecessary. They do not know politics in or outside Croatia enough”, says student Mauro Jerman.
However, according to Ivana Šepak civic education will not make a difference among the younger generation but rather it is based on individual responsibility:
“I think they need approachable leaders that are going to activate them in order for them to feel welcome. For that you need to get amongst them, get off your pedestal and walk with them.”
Ivana Šepak’s solution to involve more young people in politics is to encourage them to work.
“When you are under your parents roof, they are paying for everything hence you are not a part of the society, you are a leech. I remember when I received my first paycheck when I was 19, I felt very empowered. For me it was a great experience.”
On a national level, HDZ’s Antun Bošković believes that introducing a subject focused on political education would help young people to understand the importance and power of their vote.
Whereas, on a local level, HDZ has a strategy on working with young people including sports, which is under development.
“I know plenty of people who are politically alive and are doing good things. They can give advice and make projects happen, while involving plenty of political parties in different communities to contribute to change,” says Antun Bošković.
Dubrovnik Volunteer Centre: “Giving them tools to become active citizens”
Next to Dubrovnik’s main bus station, the Youth Centre of Dubrovnik is situated and this is where Bonsai Volonterski Centar has its premises.
The volunteer initiative Bonsai is a non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental organization working to promote civic participation through volunteering and non-formal education. They also have the aim of teaching young people about politics and its processes in Croatia.
The organization Bonsai was founded in 2008. The new space at the station has not been used for its intended purposes yet due to restrictions when they received access during the pandemic. The education has taken place in different locations until now.
Bonsai has two programs, one being the local volunteer centre and the other, non-formal education targeted mainly towards youth. Volunteers are organizing workshops, lectures and simulations of the city council and the council of the European Union.
“We have been trying to provide opportunities for young people to learn how the Croatian political system works, to educate about basic political concepts and teach them about the ways of how to get involved in the political process. Giving them tools to become active citizens in their everyday life, says Ivan Matic´, a volunteer and also a political scientist with a master’s degree in the field of nationalism studies.
“We do this to develop critical thinking for the youth as well. Critical thinking is one of the most important traits that I developed that helped me make big decisions and changed my life,” says Anja Markovic, head of the volunteer centre in Dubrovnik.
Providing non-formal political education including politicians and good teachers has made the young people more engaged, Anja Markovic tells.
Bonsai fills a need that is desperate, she continues:
“My motive for being a part of this cause was that I was born in Yugoslavia. I am not romanticizing it but even the research shows that the young people are in a worse position now compared to the last 17 years. I remember better times and I feel responsible to contribute through the channel I have for the young people today.”
Most pupils in Croatia who participated in the study are affirmative that joining a political party translates into one doing it for their personal gains in terms of their career rather than the public’s interest.
At the same time, three quarters of the pupils agree on the idea that everyone should engage in solving social problems in their environment instead of waiting for someone else to act upon it.
In that sense, a strong majority of the Croatian youth believes that one should contribute to changing the society for the better but do not believe that political parties will serve the public’s good.
Ivan Matic´ implies that dissatisfaction with society combined with lack of action leads to individual complacency.
“Now we are here because we have taken the peace, prosperity and democracy that we enjoy for granted. This takes effort and maintenance. What happens when education is lacking is that you have a disintegration of democracy. It loses its sense the moment you have people who do not participate.”