The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Tamara Puhovski

Following the fall of the center right Government, snap elections were held in Croatia on September 11th this year. Although they came about due to corruption affair of the former Deputy Prime Minister and president of the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Community) Mr. Karamarko, they haven’t produced a significant shift in power. The Government confirmed a couple of weeks ago in the Croatian Parliament is again the center right coalition of HDZ and Most (Bridge of independant lists) this time backed by a larger parliamentary support thus giving hope for a more stable political and economic framework.

However there are signs that the two elections happened in a broader context of a sharp shift towards a more conservative society. There seem to be many alarms going off: within the voting body (youth), role of women and their role in politics and society, treatment of minorities (LGBTQI and ethnic minorities) and desecularisation (especially in health and education). In the first brief we will examine the data we have for the role and position of the first two groups. The youth and the women.

Is our future conservative – the youth.

When it is time to bring a system down, when it becomes repressive, conservative, backwards, surely it is the youth who will stand up, bring change and lead the liberal revolution? Not exactly. Unlike the youth of 1968, this is a generation that was born into an ex-Yugoslav war, lacked security when they most needed it, were brought up during nationalism and early unregulated capitalism and are studying/graduating/starting work at the height of unemployment in Croatia which is 30.1% with an average monthly salary of 745,2 euros. So what happened?

Conservative values of the youth as a group popped up for the first time in exit polls in 2015, as the presidential elections in Croatia bring the first rightwing president in 15 years. Approximately 60% of voters aged 18 to 29 vote for Kolinda Grabar Kitarovi?, the right wing presidential candidate. At the same time dr. Tihomir Cipek in his analysis states that in the research he recently conducted showed that the youth is more conservative than their parents, voting for the female president but arguing in larger numbers than their parents for the ban on abortion.

 

Youth likes new parties and third solutions?

The preelection poll for the elections in 2015 conducted by Promocija plus Agency shows that youth supported, more than any other age group, the new parties of Most (a part of the right coalition since its forming a couple of months before the elections of 2015) and Živi zid (Human blockade – a party that grew out of a populist social movement against foreclosure which advocates antisystem if not anarchical value and post-truth politics). Unproportionally so, giving them 25,4%percent of their votes while in the elections they received a total of 17,8%.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-26-40-pmThe support for the new parties could be stemming from the lack of trust youth has in the institutions, and specifically political parties as has been reported by Ilišin, Bouillet, Gvozdanovi?, Poto?nik in the “Youth in the Time of Crises” from 2015. The data from the Europe Wide report shows similar situation in all EU MS and that the trust in political parties and politicians (Marien, 2011), and especially in postcommunist countries (Mishler, Rose, 2001) is the lowest. Croatia follows Greece as second lowest level of trust in political institutions among youth. The unknown politicians and political parties provide a lot of space for reckless behaviour towards the political system and procedure.

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In addition, as Vlasta Ilišin shows in her 2015 report the Paradoxes of democratic potential of the contemporary generation. There is a large room for nondemocratic practices since when asked a question – what would be the best form of government when there are difficulties in the functioning of democracy – approximately 63% of youth polled is not convinced that democracy is always the best solution.

One of the last pieces of the puzzle has been the findings of the new research by dr. sc. Branislava Baranovi? on the social distance between Youth and minorities. Sociscreen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-29-16-pmal distance is a tool to measure how comfortable you are with various social groups by asking you to put them on a scale from I’d marry them to I want them to leave my country. It turns out that we will not be seeing a lot of mixed marriages in Croatia in the future but might see increase in intolerance and hate crimes. The research shows that ethnicities such as Roma and Syrian are at the very top of the social distance scale with a staggering 30% of Youth signing up for making them leave our country.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-4-24-00-pmRecent collection of research finding published by GONG and Institute for Social Research (Kova?i?, Horvat 2016) Bovan and Širini? find there is general support for democratic values and majority of youth doesn’t support ethnocentric views but, at the same time worrying levels of authoritarian attitudes and political cinism.

The combination of Youth leaning towards new parties, mistrust for the (established) political parties as the least trustworthy institution, the big social distances towards new and old national minorities as well as a reckless attitude towards the democratic system is certainly worrying.

We have the first female president – that can’t be conservative, right?

As we watch the women candidates for the UN Secretary General and the female candidate for the US president, we are often told that that means progress not just for women but for societies as such. However it seems we need to look beyond the immediate image. Does women in higher positions means automatically good things for women’s’ rights? Does it mean progress?

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It seems that the math of it, is not as simple. We actually see more and more conservative parties headed by women, and in return, women making right wing statements sound and appear softer and less aggressive. Women pushing for a conservative agenda which in return actually means less power for women. It seems that putting women in top positions doesn’t guarantee more women in power nor more power to the women

Just a year after the election of the first woman president in Croatia, a conservative candidate Ms Kolinda Grabar Kitarovi?, as sociologist Sven Marceli? shows, the number of women in the Parliament in Croatia has never been lower. At the same time they have never been younger and that, in his opinion, shows an even bigger decrees of the power women have in Croatian politics and society.

One of the reasons to push for women in power is not just the arithmemtic equality of it but is in fact better policies and better societies. As Condoleezza Rice puts it: societies need women to prosper, when women are in power more time and resources is invested into well being and social policy. However we have to wonder is it because they were brought up in sexism and taught they should care for others, and do we want to support that? Or do we want to bring up men who do that and support politicians in general who will do that?

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In 2015 we have selected our first female president. In 2016. for the first time, since 1991 when the case in favor of banning abortion was filed in front of the court, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia is considering the constitutionality of abortion and will be bringing forth a judgment. That leaves us with an important question. Are women in power necessarily good for progress or do we have to narrow it down. Are conservative women in power good for progress or for the power of women?

Although, it is too soon and not nearly enough data and evidence to conclude a very complicated and often mentioned thesis of neoconservative revolution in Croatia, the recent elections of 2015 and 2016 do show youth support for new, conservative and populist parties, and research shows their the lack of support for democracy as the best available political system. In addition we see less women in power and less power for women in the Parliament and questioning basic reproductive rights in the Constitutional court. As the youth grows up and takes over the important positions in the society and as the Croatian Parliament with less than 20% of women passes new laws we are left to wonder how conservative Croatia will be in the next four years and what does that mean for all of us.

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