Promoting Democratic Values Among Youth – University Debates 2018/2019- Key Findings of the Survey

In 2018/2019, MESA10 from Bratislava, Slovakia and Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) from Belgrade, Serbia jointly implemented sixth round of Student University debates, a project supported by National Endowment for democracy from USA. We continued to work with two Universities from Serbia (the University of Belgrade and University of Novi Sad) and two from Slovakia (Comenius University of Bratislava and Matej Bel University of Banska Bystrica) as partners for the project. The project expanded to include a University from: Bosnia and Herzegovina (International University of Sarajevo), from Montenegro (University of Montenegro) and from Moldova (Academy of Economic Studies of Chisinau).

During the project implementation MESA 10 and CEAS conducted surveys at the participating Universities and asked students questions regarding the European Union and perspectives of the enlargement process; the role of NATO in the light of the 70 years anniversary of the Alliance; biggest historical achievement of country’s modern history; civilizational belonging; participation of the political life, among others.

Survey was conducted at seven Universities in five countries in the period from November 2018 to April 2019, with more than 3500 students surveyed.

Summary of the results:

EU’S IMAGE IMPROVED

  • EU improved its image – at least in some of the countries
    Perception of the EU in April Survey is better than in the November Survey – 2/3 of all respondents see it as guarantor of national sovereignty and defender of values and interests (in the November 56%). The image of the EU is most positive in Montenegro and Slovakia, followed by Moldova, while it is most critical in Serbia.
  • What the European Parliament (EP) elections would bring?
    Expectations regarding the results of the upcoming (at the time when the first survey was conducted) EP elections are split – 48% expected strengthening of the pro-EU forces, 40% nationalist and xenophobic ones. The students in Montenegro have the most optimistic expectations, Serbia and Bosnia/Herzegovina are on the opposite side.
  • No enlargement hope related to the EP elections
    As a consequence of the EP elections, the enlargement process will be more difficult – this opinion prevails in all the countries.
  • Enlargement pessimism prevails
    Only minorities of respondents across the countries surveyed believe that by 2025 all the Western Balkans countries will become EU members, the biggest hopes are in Montenegro. The perception of probability of future enlargement reflects also the willingness to join the EU – Montenegro leads the Western Balkans countries in this respect.
  • EU membership based on country‘s performance or EU’s political decision?
    Respondents from the candidate countries do not believe that becoming an EU member depends on real progress and fulfillment of membership conditions. On the contrary; most of them believe it would be an outcome of a political decision of the EU only or a decision of the biggest EU members.

70 YEARS AFTER ITS FOUNDING, IS NATO RELEVANT?

  • On average, 43% of students see NATO 70 years after its founding more relevant than ever. However, we see huge differences among the countries – positive view is shared by 61% Slovak students, but only by 15% in Serbia and 29% in Montenegro. In Serbia, there is also a high percentage of those who see NATO as a threat to international peace and stability (40%). Negative resentment towards NATO is a longstanding characteristic of Serbian students and we could presume that it is also wide-spread in the entire Serbian society.
  • Most students think that for the states that joined NATO since 1999, the membership was their free and sovereign choice. Of course, this views correlate with the overall perception of NATO. For example - in Serbia, many young people think that the decision to join was dictated by NATO or USA.
  • We see a similar pattern in responses to question if NATO contributes to security and provides guarantees to its members – in Slovakia, more than ¾ of young respondents agree with that.
  • Respondents of our survey were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions of 1989 which torn down the communist regimes in CEEC. How do they see the significance of the end of totalitarianism? We have asked about two perspectives – personal and for the country. It is interesting that the personal level is valued more positively – majority agreed that „Our people became free and responsible for itself “. On the other hand as for the country only 38% responded in that way. No surprise that the Slovak students are most positive in their evaluations, whereas the Serbian students are more negative.

HOW DO WE LOOK AT HISTORY?

  • We also see huge discrepancies in opinions about the biggest historical achievement of country’s modern history – the Serbian and even more the Moldavian students are looking into a more distant past and value the end of the World War II, the other students put emphasis more on the recent milestones - fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of totalitarian regime and the present or future membership in the EU and/or NATO. Montenegro is leading in looking on future membership in western institutions.
  • The transfer of intergeneration historical experience is relatively week in all countries – it is not very often discussed with the parents. Students share the view that there is enough attention to the historical events in curricula – in Slovakia; the quest for more attention is comparatively strongest.

ARE WE THE WEST OR THE EAST?

  • The question of civilizational belonging is very salient one – majorities in Montenegro, Moldova and also in Slovakia say yes to the West and its institutions.  Only in Serbia the most frequent response is „in between“ – “my country has a special model of governance, I want it to be a part of neither the West nor the East”. Also, belonging to the East is most wide-spread in Serbia (25%).
  • With one exception – Serbia – students from all countries want to belong to the West in the future and to live in a system of democratic governance.
  • However, there is a gap between reality and wishes. In all countries with the exception of Slovakia the students see their countries as not successful. In Slovakia, the majority of students consider the country to be successful.
  • Global international affairs are not seen with a lot of optimism - many see that there is more competition, nationalism and isolation and less cooperation. More optimism is to be found in Moldova and Slovakia. As for the future, students in Montenegro are the most optimistic.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE SOURCES OF INFORMATION

  • We know from other sources that young people take information above all from internet and social networks, most of them do not take it for granted, they check the information with other sources- and that is a very positive signal. Moldovan students incline more than others to take such information for granted. Hoaxes or untrue information on social network are mostly ignored.

JOB PROSPECTS

  • On average, one third of respondents want to work for the government or international governmental organization, the most wanted option is to work for a private company.
  • However, young people are not very confident about their country´s future – only minorities think it will improve significantly within the next 3-4 years whereas more think it will be worse. Regarding the countries´ future development we see clear differences between the Slovak students and the students from other countries. We could conclude that the young people living in a country which managed to join the EU and NATO see the country’s future more positive, and see the improvement of political situation.

PARTICIPATION ON POLITICAL LIFE

  • In all the countries voting is understood as the activity with greatest impact in political life participation, it is also most wide-spread. More than half of the students (57%) see themselves as being active citizens, in or outside the government. As for the being in the government the most active are students form Slovakia and Montenegro.