Campus forum promotes civic and political education in Croatia
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Tuesday night at the Arts and Letters building, students and members of the Chicago Croatian community gathered to discuss the unique challenges facing Croatia and its citizens today. The forum’s focus was the promotion of civic and political education in Croatia.
The event was organized by DePaul’s Richard Farkas and included guest speakers Dr. Pero Maldini and Dr. Ivan Tanta from the University of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Chicago Croatian Consulate General, Jelena Grcic Polic, also spoke at the event.
The forum was originally to be held in Croatia, but grant difficulties forced the event to be moved to Chicago at DePaul University.
“We applied for a grant through Fulbright Association but failed to receive grant approval from the U.S. government,” said Farkas. Farkas cited recent government grant cuts being the reason the funding was not approved.
Situated on the beautiful Adriatic coast, Croatia boasts one of the most successful tourist industries in Europe. The country makes an estimated 6 billion Euros ($7.86 billion) through tourism alone.
Independent since 1991, the young democratic country faced war and violence in its early years amidst the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
“A third of Croatia’s infrastructure was destroyed after the bombings in 1991,” said Polic. “Croatia was not truly whole until 1998.”
The speakers mentioned that new post-socialist countries that emerge from violence have a harder time integrating democracy into their political systems.
Maldini said that there is a problem of civic engagement with Croatians because their values are at odds with their political institutions.
“Croatia has democracy but it is not a working democracy. The problem lies in the political culture. It’s like a computer. You have the hardware but you also have the software. They rely on one another.”
Maldini added that the Croatian education system lacks civic education. “Successful democracies have values they closely share with their political institutions.” The promotion of civic education is seen as a solution in helping Croatians become more politically competent citizens.
“If we do not deal with politics actively, politics will deal with us,” Maldini said. “The government will do as it wants and we will not have a say in the matter.”
Tanta said that media communication plays a crucial role in democracies. He said that the current Croatian media is problematic because it poorly informs its citizens.
“The problem with Croatian media is that they all follow this idea of K.I.S.S, ‘keep it short and simple’-but not informative. Lots of gatekeepers rule the media this way,” said Tanta. “These people all have their own idea of how Croatians are to be educated.”
One guest said that the problem in Croatia is not one of values, but of capitalism. The guest mentioned current economic hardships and an unemployment rate of 14 percent as the reasons why Croatians are nostalgic for the past and not engaged politically.
Another guest, a priest, saw Croatia as having an identity crisis. “Croatia is trying to be something its not,” he said.
Polic said that she met Croatian diplomats and politicians and asked them what their long term vision for Croatia was. They couldn’t answer the question. “It’s like a working musician,” said Polic. “There is a level of creative thinking but some of your music needs to be written down.”
Polic is still positive about Croatia’s future saying that NATO provided the young country with security. “Becoming a member of NATO gave us safety and stability.”
“We need a lot of plans for communication, and education, for our future,” said Tanta. “Without a plan we will head towards anarchy.”
A visitor at the seminar, Ted Kosir, said he was impressed with the event. “It was a very informative, but it’s a large area to be covered in such a short time.”