First citizens' assembly in Croatia

07. November 2023
Roman Huber / Mehr Demokratie

The country's first citizens' assembly has been running in Rijeka, Croatia, since 3 November 2023. 34 randomly selected citizens are discussing ways to improve local administration and citizen participation.

The task of the citizens' assembly is to

  • familiarise itself with the system of local self-government and the opportunities for local citizen participation
  • consider and discuss how the system of local self-government can be improved and how local citizen participation can be enhanced
  • 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 are supported by experts in administration and citizen participation.

Representation of the city's population

The citizens' assembly will meet seven times from 3 November to 7 December 2023. The randomly selected members were selected from those interested in participating so that they reflect the city's population in terms of gender, age and place of residence. The youngest assembly member is 22 years old, the oldest participant is 74.

1,000 households were invited to take part in the citizens' assembly. An 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 can 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 are not eligible to participate. The same applies to employees of the City of Rijeka, members of SMART, the organiser of the citizens' assembly, and other persons involved in the preparation or implementation of the mini public and members of their households.

Participants are obliged to attend at least five of the seven assembly meetings. An expense allowance of 140 euros is paid for participation. All participants also receive meals and a bus ticket free of charge as well as childcare.

"Citizens have a lot to say"

The citizens' assembly was initiated by the City of Rijeka together with the SMART Association for the Development of Civil Society. Both are supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which also co-finances the citizens' assembly.

Mayor Marko Filipović commented on the launch of the citizens' assembly: "We are entering the unknown with the establishment of the citizens' assembly, but I have no doubt that the citizens who have decided to participate in this project have a lot to say and will point out potential problems."

"Participating as citizens"

Participating citizens are happy about the opportunity to get involved. "I am so glad that I accepted the invitation to join the citizens' assembly," says Jasminka Vukelić. "I responded mainly out of curiosity, but also because I think Rijeka has the potential to grow, to progress and that we as citizens can be part of it."

I would like to see in more detail how our city works," said Ratko Mišić. He emphasised that he had never before had the opportunity to participate in the work of a similar citizens' assembly.

Impressions from the first meeting

Roman Huber, Managing Director of the German NGO Mehr Demokratie, advised the City of Rijeka in planning 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 is already a success, 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 Rijeka Citizens' Assembly has completed its work, its recommendations will be published on the city's website. In addition, the assemblyl proposals will be sent to all key interest groups in the city for review and comment. Mayor Marko Filipović will send a detailed response and statement to all participants.

Learn more: Vijeće građana Rijeka