First citizens' assembly in Croatia a success

08. November 2023
Roman Huber / Mehr Demokratie

On 7 December 2023, 33 randomly selected citizens in Rijeka, Croatia, handed over a citizens' report with 90 recommendations for improving local administration and citizen participation to Mayor Marko Filipović.

The task of the Citizens' Assembly was to

  • familiarise itself with the system of local self-government and the opportunities for local citizen participation
  • to consider and discuss how the system of local self-government can be improved and how local civic participation can be enhanced
  • to jointly develop recommendations for measures that the City of Rijeka should take to improve local self-government and enable more local citizen participation

In solving this task, the participants were supported by experts in administration and civic participation.

Citizens' assembly in favour of citizens' assemblies

The citizens' assembly proposals include the creation of a forum for direct dialogue with citizens. Before elections, better information should be provided about the candidates and their objectives. Citizens should be informed about the importance and usefulness of civic participation and about their civic rights and obligations. A broad dissemination of information via many channels should reach all residents of the city.

Children and young people should familiarise themselves with local politics through children's and youth councils. Citizens' assemblies should regularly advise the mayor and city council. They should be given a set of rules for their implementation. A separate citizens' assembly should advise on ways to institutionalize citizens' assemblies. In addition, participatory budgeting should be organised. Residents should also be able to get involved in city politics with citizens' applications and petitions.

All recommendations that were approved by at least 75 per cent of the mini-public participants were deemed to have been adopted.

Representation of the city's population

The Citizens' Assembly met a total of seven times between 3 November and 7 December 2023. The randomly selected members were selected from those interested in participating so that they represented the city's population in terms of gender, age and place of residence. The youngest member of the Citizens' Assembly was 22 years old, the oldest participant was 74.

1,000 households were invited to take part in the Citizens' Assembly. The outreach sortition method was used to recruit participants. Residents were visited at home to inform them about the Citizens' Assembly and encourage them to take part. All residents of Rijka aged 18 and over with the right to vote in national elections in Croatia were eligible to take part. The sortition procedure was developed by the opinion research institute Stratosfera together with the civil society organisation SMART.

Support for participants

Members of the Primorsko-Goranska Municipal Council or County Council and their household members were not eligible to participate. The same applied to employees of the City of Rijeka, members of SMART, the organiser of the Citizens' Assembly, as well as other persons involved in the preparation or implementation of the mini-public and members of their households.

Participants were obliged to attend at least five of the seven Citizens' Assembly meetings. They received an expense allowance of 140 euros for their participation. All participants also received free meals, a bus ticket and childcare.

"I can't wait to read your recommendations"

The Citizens' Assembly was initiated by the City of Rijeka together with the SMART Association for the Development of Civil Society. Both were supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which also co-financed the mini-public.

Mayor Marko Filipović thanked the participants of the Citizens' Assembly: "I can't wait to read your recommendations and I am convinced that every single one of them is of exceptional quality. Whether everything will be possible and implemented, we will see after we have analysed them and checked what can be implemented within our means."

"It was nice to work together"

In a joint statement, the members of the Citizens' Assembly said that they wanted to contribute and work with their own contribution and example to improve Rijeka. It is very important to create a space where citizens can express their needs, participate in the life of the city and get involved for the benefit of all, regardless of which group wants to initiate an action, they emphasised.

Assembly participant Jasminka Vukelić thanked them personally and on behalf of the other council members for the opportunity to participate in this project: "It was really nice for us to work together and I hope that this assembly will not be the last."

Impressions from the first meeting

Roman Huber, Managing Director of Mehr Demokratie, advised the City of Rijeka on the planning of the Citizens' Assembly. He was present at the kick-off meeting on 3 November 2023. Here he describes his impressions:

"Sitting in the Citizens' Assembly is an old war veteran who has 'forgotten his glasses', so presumably can't read or can't read well enough. The young man sitting next to him reads the texts to him and explains them to him.

Outreach sortition procedure effective

There are people who say they have never taken part anywhere before. An anaesthetist who said yesterday that he wouldn't be able to come has postponed his shift without further ado and is working the night shift so that he can take part after all. For many, it is the first time they have sat in a circle and spoken to a group and listened to each other.

Most of the participants come via the outreach sortition procedure. The moderators were out and about themselves, ringing doorbells. As there was no data from the residents' registration office, streets were randomly selected and knocked on every door from house number x to z.

"Citizens' assembly already a success"

For Sonja Schirmbeck, head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Croatia office, the Citizens' Assembly was a success even before it started, because everyone 'knew' beforehand that citizen participation would not work in Croatia and that no one would turn up. And now such a diverse group. Several other cities in the country are already curious, including the mayor of the capital Zagreb."

Once the Citizens' Assembly had completed its work, its recommendations were published on the city's website. In addition, the assembly proposals will be sent to all key interest groups in the city for review and comment. Mayor Marko Filipović will send a detailed statement to all participants in the first half of 2024.

Learn more: Vijeće građana Rijeka