«Even this incompetent government doesn’t want citizens who are able to think with their heads»

Is this Government capable of undertaking any reform when still after three year it failed to introduce civic education and is now abandoning the idea – that was the question asked by civil society organization at a press conference in the Human Rights House in exasperation with Government’s moves. They hold the Government entirely incompetent, and another one in line of governments that fear free thinking citizens and prefer uneducated citizens susceptible to different manipulations.

«This Government was supported by both the experts and civil society organizations, and it may be said that all pieces fell into place with this reform. Despite this fact, after three years this Government has failed to introduce civic education, which demonstrates its utmost incompetence for delivery of reforms. The question now is: how can we expect that this Government will undertake strategic reforms in economy, in public administration, in management of government-owned companies when in the period of three years it is incapable of introducing civic education into schools?» pointed Sandra Benčić from Centre for peace studies. 

To summarize, even though civic education was supposed to be introduced this school year, at least that was what the Government boasted about, and waved with in «Plan 21 – Half way there», the Ministry of education issued a statement, upon minister Vedran Mornar’s lengthy meeting of several hours with the Expert Committee, publicizing that it has been concluded that civic education shall be introduced in school year 2014/ 2015 as obligatory inter-subject content in all elementary school grades, and as a special mandatory subject in the 8th grade of the elementary school, and 1st and 2nd grade of high school in 2015/ 2016, i.e. when all legal and curricula prerequisites are realized, with preparation starting as early as next week.

No, not even all the stars in the sky could help guide the way (again) …

The entire story about introduction of civic education as an inter-subject content is in fact an empty story with respect that it is something new, because such concept in such form exists since 1999 when it was introduced due to the pressure of the international community. The history repeats itself once again; civil education shall exist in paper, but in reality it will not be accessible to pupils, civil society organizations warn. Also, they emphasize that it is unclear why some like Preporod union, as they claim, were against it considering that civic education was supposed to assist with filling up the class schedule of those teachers who would otherwise be made redundant, and many of them have invested considerably in own professional development.

On the other hand, civil society organizations gathered in the GOOD Initiative (initiative for systematic and quality introduction of civic education into schools) and Platform 112 were ridiculed. The organizations requested a meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Milanović in order to bring into his attention the importance of the entire matter, but received a message from the Prime Minister’s secretary that he finds the matter ridiculous, said Benčić and added that she «finds CRO Demoscop findings on popularity of the current government funny, and we shall all be having a laugh next month as well».

Laughter and/or tears – who will live to tell the tale

As far as the arguments of the minister of education, Vedran Mornar, that the legal department of the Ministry has not prepared all regulation and act to serve as a legal foundation for introduction of civic education, it «again shows utter incompetence of this Government to manage reformative process, it is unacceptable and speaks volumes about those in the top», warned Benčić, reminding that experience shows  that the Ministry’s formulation on introduction of civic education, «when proper conditions are met» means «live to tell the tale».

In the meantime, «last moves mean resigning on civic education and throwing to the wind not only three years of work, but also funds the civil society organizations obtained from European funds for experimental implementation of civic education in schools, and support for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for preparation of program for education of future teachers.»

The youth are not entitled to participate in democracy – why?

«One day after we celebrated Statehood Day of the Republic of Croatia, we found out that the youth are still not entitled to learn about how to participate in democracy at local and national level. All the governments have had the responsibility, but lacked competence to turn it into a civic education program, and this Government obviously, it seems, doesn’t want it enough», warned Vesna Teršelič from Documenta – Centre for facing the past, reminding of all the activities and programs undertaken over the past 25 years through informal civic education provided by civil society organizations as key actors in the field.

The necessity of a civic education program for youth is reflected in much research, such as the one conducted by the Centre for peace studies in 2013 according to which Croatian citizens express xenophobia in different percentage towards certain minority groups, while the total number in most cases is more than 20 percent. The highest percentage of negative position is reflected towards Roma, up to 44 percent, towards Serbs, up to 38 percent, and towards Chinese, up to 32 percent, and Arabs, up to 27 percent.

A 2010 research conducted by GONG, “Do schools raise good citizens?” showed that 40 percent of youth thinks that minorities should not have the right to use their minority language, even in areas where they are majority of population. According to the research, more than 40 percent of Croatian high school students believes that Croats in Croatia should have greater rights than other peoples, and only 26,7 percent hold that NDH was a fascist state while more than 45 percent think that homosexuality is a disease, and 64,3 percent would forbid homosexuals from public appearances due to negative effect on youth.

Magic wands, smoke screens and other deceptions

«The data shows that we have generations who will benefit from sitting in civic education classes, even though understandably it is not a magic wand, but neither are the youth responsible for the positions they take because they are based on messages received from the adults, and they are entitled to a quality education», said Teršelič and concluded: «This Government is responsible for the fact that yet another generation was not provided with the opportunity to teach how to actively contribute to building a democratic culture».

Dragan Zelić from GONG also warned that the Government is using smoke screens and running away from responsibility, reminding that «these days everyone is talking about citizens, but in order for citizens to participate in political arena, they must be educated so that they will not be manipulated. Generations have been lost. Let us not allow for more to go down the same road. I am afraid that the youth of today do not appreciate solidarity, peaceful conflict resolution, tolerance, environment protection…and it is for these reasons that we demand from the Government, the Prime Minister, SDP – because HNS already spoke its mind – do they back minister Mornar, as well does the President of the Republic of Croatia, and parliament members, minority representatives especially». «The Prime Minister should revise the «Plan 21 – Half way there» document which states that civic education shall be introduced in the next school year», added Benčić and warned that «this is a case of misleading the public».

«This is a lacmus test for all other reforms », Benčić reminded once more, while Zelić concluded that «if there is political will, than everything necessary can be geared towards realizing a certain goal, but that this is an obvious evidence that our government, whether they are social democratic or Christian, they do not want free thinking citizens ».