Exit and/or Voice? Youth and Post-Communist Citizenship in Bulgaria



Hirschman's (1970, 1993) theoretical constructs of Exit and Voice represent a useful way to think about citizenship. Exit refers to a desire to emigrate and can be construed as apolitical, private, and passive—a threat to citizenship—whereas Voice refers to political commitment and can be construed as ideal citizenship. A survey of 560 Bulgarian university students in 1998 explored their emphasis on Exit and Voice (as options for themselves in the future) and the association of each option with different economic, political, and psychological factors. One in four students wanted to emigrate, and half of them considered leaving the country for a period of time. Exit plans appeared mainly to be triggered by a wish to participate in the consumer culture, but were also associated with a critical view of the political system as well as a rejection of tradition in conjunction with a Western identity. Although most of the students shared vague or ideal Voice-related plans, few wanted to become actively involved in politics. An emphasis on Voice reflected not only a somewhat limited political engagement but also a more traditionalistic attitude associated with plans for a career and family. The findings indicate that a normative separation between Exit and Voice as theoretical concepts does not cover the complexities of the Bulgarian students’ emigration and political involvement plans.