Most Croatians Neither Hate Nor Fear Refugees

More than half of Croatian citizens believe their country should be open to refugees seeking protection, and about two-thirds do not think Croatia should build a border wall.

These findings come from research published by Liberties member the Centre for Peace Studies (CMS). The research was conducted by Ipsos on a nationally representative sample of 975 Croatian citizens. The research is the same as the one CMS published 2013. It shows that the attitudes towards foreigners, minorities, migrants and refugees have changed in the last four years, a period in which many changes have been seen, both in Croatia and in Europe as a whole, because of the increased number of refugees that have arrived.

Growing distrust

There is a noticeable increase in the percentage of respondents who have negative attitudes towards foreigners and their cultural heritage. For example, in 2013, 29.8 percent of respondents accepted to some extent the statement "I don't feel comfortable in contact with foreigners who moved to Croatia". This year, 41.5 percent of respondents agree with that statement to some extent. Similarly, four years ago 20.9 respondents agreed to some extent with the statement "To be accepted members of our society foreign migrants should give up their culture"; today, 27.5 percent of respondents agrees with that statement to some extent. The study also found that most respondents have restrictive attitudes towards refugee immigration and how Croatia should respond to it.

"More than half of [Croatian] citizens believe that there is a significant number of terrorists among refugees, and about two-thirds believe that they should return to their countries when the war is finished. Also, a majority of them thinks that the young men should have stayed in Syria to fight, and that refugees should go to countries that are culturally more similar," says Mirna Cvitan from Ipsos.

Also of interest are the results on Citizens' opinions regarding whether members of certain national, religious and political groups represent a danger to Croatia. This includes threats to the security of citizens and their property and politically and culturally motivated threats. Four years ago, 40 percent of respondents rated Roma most negatively in regard to all three components; today, it is around 25 percent.

A similar trend can also be seen in the case of Serbs who live in Croatia - in 2013, between 26 and 37 percent of respondents had negative attitudes towards Serbs. This year, the number of those who think the same is between 22 and 28 percent. It is worrying, however, that asylum seekers are seen as the top threat, although the percentage of citizens who have negative attitudes about them didn't change significantly. However, it is encouraging that respondents without negative attitudes toward any of these groups are a majority.

Politicians should listen to the majority

Given the growing closure of Europe toward migration and the general increase of xenophobia, which should not be tolerated in any forward-looking society, it is important that the state institutions and other actors seriously work to stop this negative trends.

"There is a need for public policies that are truly designed on the basis on available data but also carefully implemented in practice. The introduction of civic education would be necessity in that regard. Also, it is necessary to carry out carefully targeted campaigns on the local level, but also work with media who have a major role in shaping of public opinion. Most people in this country do not hate anyone and they are not afraid of anyone, and that is a message that political elites should hear, understand and act upon," concluded Sara Lalić of Centre for Peace Studies.