Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Democratic Culture in Belarus: Insights on Democratic Citizenship, Trust, and Participatory Intentions among Adolescents

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Democratic Culture in Belarus: Insights on Democratic Citizenship, Trust, and Participatory Intentions among Adolescents

Article excerpt

As post-communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe continue to transition to democracy, there are few questions more important than how well the roots of democracy are taking hold in young people. (1) In an era of democratic backsliding across the region, the relative weakness of the state-citizen relationship remains one of the major gaps in the democratization process. (2) The situation is exacerbated by multiple challenges facing democracies in today's Europe and elsewhere, including growing inequality, increased migration, and climate change. (3) For Belarus and other countries bordering Russia, there is also the critical question of how adolescents' orientations to democracy are influenced by a resurgent Russia, whose retreat from democracy is arguably at its peak. (4)

A recurring theme in research on Belarus is the commonly accepted failure of democratization efforts promoted by external players. (5) Some researchers connect the unsuccessful outcomes of democratization with the political passivity of the Belarusian public. (6) Others argue that efforts to promote democracy in Belarus fail because they ignore what people in Belarus value, think, and want. (7) Unfortunately, little is known about the values and desires of Belarusian citizens vis-a-vis democracy. (8) Beyond standard public opinion polls, there is little research on how citizens of Belarus imagine a democratic society and nothing is known about the democratic values and desires of Belarus' youngest citizens. (9)

On the premise that democratic institutions function effectively when citizens identify with basic democratic principles and values, the neglect of young citizens in both democratization efforts and measurement of democratic progress is a serious limitation that profoundly impacts the ability of pro-democracy actors to achieve meaningful changes. (10) To date, the best research on adolescents' orientation to democracy is the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS), which surveyed adolescents' attitudes toward democracy in 38 countries. This provides a starting point for understanding adolescents' democratic preferences, but unfortunately Belarus was not among the states surveyed. (11)

The main goal of this exploratory study is to begin filling the gap in the literature on democratic attitudes among adolescents in Belarus. The overarching questions are: (1) How do young Belarusians identify with universal democratic values? and (2) What are their beliefs about societal institutions? A measure of beliefs and behavioral intentions conducive to democratic advancement that is valid and reliable in the local context is essential for an accurate portrayal of democratic culture among this particular population. A related goal is to validate measures of selected aspects of democratic culture for use with Belarusian participants. Thus, a better understanding of adolescents' democratic orientations will help inform the debate on democracy promotion in societies in transition, particularly those that have long been immune to external democracy assistance. (12) To put the study in context, a brief overview of the local situation is is provided, followed by a review of scholarship on select aspects of democratic citizenship.

Belarus

Located on what Samuel Huntington described as "the clash of civilizations line," Belarus claims the contested title of the geographical center of Europe. (13) More specifically, Belarus is a landlocked Eastern European country bordering three states of the European Union to the northwest, Ukraine to the south, and Russia to the northeast. Its territory is home to approximately 9.5 million people, most of whom reside in urban areas. (14) Although Belarus has a long history as a nation, its history as an independent state began only in 1991, (15) following the dismantling of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Similar to other post-Soviet states, Belarus has been undergoing a series of democratic transformations. …

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