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Drago Markiša: Letter from Croatia

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

For first time in the country’s history Croatia has been rocked by demonstrations with anti-capitalist slogans, reports Drago Markisa

In March 2011, Croatia was a country of protests. Demonstrations occurred in almost every larger city in a two or three day rhythm, with the largest ones in the capital of Zagreb were certain demos were more than 10 thousand people strong. The main demand of the protest was the immediate step down of the current right-centre government of HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) but, in fact, the real motive for the uprising was a general dissatisfaction with the current political and economical state of Croatia.

Like in other former ‘real-socialist’ countries, the restoration of capitalism was economically devastating. Former social property was privatized in a brutal primitive accumulation in which thousands of people have lost their jobs and many previously successful companies have magically become ‘uncompetitive’, all at the same time, and were plundered and shut down. Now, the whole country is practically deindustrialized, which together with 90% of banking sector in foreign private hands and trade liberalization makes future Croatian economic prospects very bleak. The whole situation was topped by the effects of the world economic crisis, which has struck Croatia indirectly – through a decline in external (mostly EU) demand and tightened international financial market. One of the biggest problems is 20% unemployed and 70.000 people that are working but are not getting paid.

Not only is Croatia in catastrophic economic position – the people have in large numbers lost the trust in the political partitocratic system itself, with recent polls showing that almost 60% of people do not want to vote or do not know whom they would vote for. This was perhaps best articulated during the March protests in the burning of both the ruling party (HDZ) and the main oppositional party (SDP) flag. Furthermore, more and more people are taking a ‘power to the people’ stance by demanding direct democracy. Widespread corruption is best shown by the fact that the former prime minister Ivo Sanader is currently in jail and under investigation in Vienna.

Like in Maghreb, the demonstrations were first organized through Facebook, a fact given great notice by the media. Although it would be too much to claim that North African and Arab revolts have directly influenced Croatia, those events did in a way influence the atmosphere in general. At first, the protests were quite unarticulated and with a strong presence of the extreme right. The beginning was also characterized by violent clashes with the police. After that the demonstrations became peaceful and took the form of long marches through the city with a lot of ‘ordinary’ people taking part, while slowly being taken over by the far left although the protests remained quite heterogeneous until the end. This was the first time in the 20 year history of Croatia that one could see a 10.000 strong protest spearheaded by large openly anti-capitalist banners like ‘330.000 unemployed, 70.000 without pay. Capitalism – no, thanks!’, ‘Against privatization! Against capitalism and the EU!’ and ‘Capitalism = legalized corruption’. In addition to anti-capitalist sentiments, another important thing during the protests was the rising anti-EU stance from the left, which is gaining momentum recently. According to the plans of the ruling classes, Croatia is about to finish its accession talks with the EU and will soon become the newest EU member, but the problem is that a large number of people is opposed to the idea so that the result of the soon to be referendum is quite far from being certain. After the EU flag was burned during one of the March demos, the anxiety of the political elites and mainstream media was almost palpable.

It can be said that these protests are just another stage in rising of people’s activity from below in the last few years, during which we have seen, among other things, a number of prominent workers’ strikes, large farmers’ protests and civil society ‘right to the city’ protest actions. However, perhaps the most important development in this regard is the rise of the new radical student movement that started in 2008-2009 with two big waves of student occupations. It was indeed the student movement that represented the extreme left anti-capitalist wing of the recent demos and it is around the student movement that a new left is organizing in Croatia. The demonstrations of March 2011 did not topple the government and did not have any immediate result. However, they could be a sign that in the future the people will not so easily tolerate ruling classes working against their interests. This is just a beginning, the fight goes on.

Drago Markiša is a Croatian leftist author and activist.
Published at

Marko Kostanic – Anti-Government Protests in Croatia: Changing Politics

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Anti-government protests have continued for more than a month in a dozen towns across Croatia. The largest have been in the capital, Zagreb, which have gathered more than 10,000 people at a time. When the regularity of protests – every second day at the beginning and now twice a week – and the fluctuation of participants are taken into account, it is possible to estimate the total number of protesters at more than 50,000 in Zagreb only. Polls show a 70 per cent support from the population for the protests and the calls for government resignation.

Banner reads: “330,000 unemployed, 70,000 without pay. Capitalism - No, Thanks.”

Banner reads: “330,000 unemployed, 70,000 without pay. Capitalism - No, Thanks.”

The protests are not organized by the political parties or unions, the latter already fully discredited by their politics of “social dialogue”; they are simply lead by all who participate. The decisions are made directly at the protests, and all attempts of various aspirants and wannabe politicians to take over the leadership or act as spokespersons have been instantly disqualified and discredited by prompt reactions of the majority of protesters. Protests are organized as a march across the city centre directed at seats of various fractions of the political and economic elites ruling the country – political parties, the ruling coalition as well as the opposition, private and public media, Croatian Central Bank (Hrvatska Narodna Banka), corporations, trade unions and state and public institutions.

Although the protests nominally aim to overthrow the current government, already shaken by a number of corruption scandals, including the arrest of the former prime minister, the route walked by the protesters, slogans they shout and the banners they carry point to a higher degree of political articulation than a whimsical involvement in the charade that elections have been: the peoples’ demands to participate directly in decision making and to democratize the economic sphere; opposition to privatization processes – those carried out as well as those announced; struggles to protect the public interest; the relentless discrediting of all political parties and the present party system as a model of governance; and opposition to Croatian accession to European Union.

The Crisis in Croatia

Although the emergence of protests was organizationally unexpected and their development fully contingent, their success and continuity seems no accident when the current state of the Croatian politics and economy is taken into account. The global economic crisis severely harmed the Croatian economy. But, it is necessary to add, it only intensified and exacerbated a crisis which has been around for thirty years. The severity of the situation is best illustrated by figures – unemployment is at 19.6%; GDP fell by 5.6% in 2009 and again by 1.5% in 2010; and foreign debt is at 97.8% of GDP. The figures indicate not only the crisis spilling over, but a long stagnation sequence which started in 1980s and was only briefly interrupted by a housing boom and a major rise in consumer credit between 2003 and 2008.

Banner reads: Capitalism - Legalized Corruption

Banner reads: "Capitalism - Legalized Corruption"

In the nominally socialist 1980s, Yugoslavia took a neoliberal turn that was already clear in the gradual change of the economic structure. At the end of the decade, according to Peter Gowan, it was one of the stations on Jeffrey Sachs’ tour across Eastern Europe, which brought the adoption of IMF structural adjustment policies. This mean introducing, for example, new regulation of businesses which instantly destroyed 600,000 jobs and left half a million employed without pay, serving a double aim. The policies fully delegitimized the socialist system and, paradoxically, pointed toward a solution in the form of a widening range of capitalist reforms and incited nationalist ideologies leading to a civil war. Narratives of primitive accumulation, which was legally established as the transformation of social to state and finally private ownership, generated by ideological short circuits of the emerging ruling class, still serve as the key distraction in articulating sensible left politics in Croatia.

The transition process fully implemented the provisions of the Washington consensus, forming a deindustrialized economy fully dependent on imports, prompted by currency appreciation and expenditure sustained by consumer credit provided by almost completely foreign-owned banks, with an ever growing non-sustainable debt blocking potential anti-recession politics, privatization of key state resources and companies like telecoms and energy giants, gentrification and gradual liquidation and privatization of public services such as health and education. In short, a blatant example of what David Harvey has termed ‘accumulation by dispossession.’

The ideological narratives formed within the opposition of nationalism and liberalism, built around war crimes, national issues and human rights rendered the process of capitalist restoration in Croatia apolitical. The ruling nationalists legitimized the inevitability of the process with a clear caesura from the demonized socialist project and the necessary nationalist awakening while the liberals drew lines of continuity between socialism and nationalism by detecting a common collective mentality closely connected to colonial ideas on backwardness of the Balkans separating Croatia (and the rest) from Western Europe. After the 1990s, the opposition was relaxed within an almost complete consolidation of positions of the two major parties – Croatian Democratic Union (center right), currently in power, and the Socialist Democratic Party (center left). The ideological field thus formed treated the liberal option as the radical left and hence prevented any political articulation of the detrimental effects of the capitalist restoration in Croatia. But, in the past couple of years things have slowly started to change.

Enter the European Union

The protests across Croatia have for the first time rendered political what was the key vehicle of amortizing negative effects of the economic decisions of the past two decades – the European Union (EU). Until now, the discussions on the EU accession were shaped by the parliamentary consensus on the EU as a civilization accomplishment and the right-wing theories of conspiracy and loss of national identity. Croatia is currently in the final stage of pre-accession negotiations and the referendum on accession is expected by the end of the year. Key decisions have been made on expense of the people, favouring capital, and with readily visible consequences justified by the necessity of accession, the magical moment when everything will be transformed to welfare for all. Negotiations on the accession and acceptance of the demands of the EU are taking place without an even nominal public discussion; their legitimacy is based solely on the idea of EU as an ahistoric paradise of democracy and economic welfare.

The protests and the connected commentaries and articulations have for the first time introduced to mainstream discussions the concrete political and economic establishment of the EU, its history, the current crisis of the monetary union and the austerity measures following it, making them a legitimate subject of analysis outside the nationalist paranoia. The current polls show the opposition to EU accession to be at its highest – there is almost the same number of those who are against it and those who support it. Practically all parliamentary parties consensually accept and promote EU accession as the ultimate political telos which is not to be disturbed, no matter the consequences. The discrepancies between the attitudes of the people and those representing them might be the best indicator of the logic of the current protests.

Changing the Field of Politics

Mainstream analysts and commentators in Croatia mostly criticize the protests because of their lack of articulation and a disoriented conglomerate of demands. The observations are based on the fallacy of presupposing a homogenous protesting political subject and the logic of limits of political articulation which takes the party organization as the only organ for articulation of a relevant political stance. The crucial demand of the protesters is changing the very field of political communication, the legitimate positions of enunciation and the conditions of evaluating the articulateness. And the key point here is the direct connection of these struggles to the concrete material conditions and economic circumstances.

This is not an ideologically homogenous political subject but a wider popular front representing a wide range of class positions, ideological tendencies, contradictions that work within and degrees of radicalization. They are all connected by full discrediting of the political and economic elites and the awareness of the necessity of directly democratic decision-making on issues of common interest. It is difficult to forecast the duration of the protests and their immediate effects, but their achievements are already visible, as well as the irreversible process they are a part of. The capitalist structure of production, the European Union and the representative democracy are no longer widely accepted forms of political organization and their critique has become a legitimate political stance and a relevant attitude in the public sphere.

The irreversible process of changing social relations in Croatia was started two years ago by the student movement and the country-wide university occupations directed against the commercialization of education, currently intensified by new draft legislation, and was continued by the anti-gentrification struggles also spreading across the country. The protests are a part of this process, a further step in the articulation of peoples’ interests against capital, and surely not the last one.

Marko Kostanic
First published at

Marko Kostanic (1984) is a dramaturgist and political activist from Zagreb. Translated from the original Croatian by Ruza Luksic.

Toni Prug: Croatia protests show failure of political promise

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Economic slump and institutionalised corruption have invited anti-capitalist sentiments for the first time since socialism

Twenty years after declared independence and its first multi-party elections, after ecstatic promises of prosperity and freedom under parliamentary capitalism, Croatia finds itself in the midst of a wave of mass protests with news that unemployment is forecast to rise to 20% at the end of March.

“I cannot afford food and clothes for my family”, “20 years is enough, political oligarchy has to go” are typical messages heard from the protesters on the streets of Zagreb and other cities. There are no official organisers and no particular event has ignited it. Only 200 people turned up at the first protest announced on Facebook on 22 February. Soon after, a pattern developed, and crowds of between 8,000 and 10,000 have since attended. Banks, national television, political parties HQs and prominent politicians’ residencies are all visited as part of the marches. New protests are announced and discussed at the Facebook page, with 33,000 participants.

The feeling on the streets is best exemplified by the nickname of one of the Facebook protest page admins, “I want the future”. Older generations feel tired and cheated, while the younger ones see no prospects, no future. Jobs are easy to lose, very hard to come by, and having one for most workers means being able to afford only the basics. Even the average foods for the EU standard, like cheese, meat and fruits, look more and more like luxuries for increasingly large sections of the population. Many struggle to educate their children at university level, while significantly reduced state services, such as the health system, are rife with bribes.

The background to the protests is 20 years of economic slump. Initially, this was driven by the 1989 pro-market economic reforms and the war, which disrupted the entire state and its industry; later it resulted from consequent governments shattering the economy under the auspices of privatisation. Industries have been torn to pieces, manufacturing and production wound down, while banking, telecommunications and other services have been sold off cheaply. Former prime minister Ivo Sanader is currently in prison in Austria, awaiting trial for an alleged kickback from the Austrian Hypo bank. The Croatian government has in the past year launched several large-scale investigations, arresting a number of former ministers and corporate directors.

Hoping that it would please both the EU officials and the people, these investigations instead gave birth to a widely held view that the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government was too complicit in corruption to be in a position to clean it up. Since the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), has failed to do anything substantial about the problems, it should come as no surprise that at the protests both SDP and HDZ flags, along with the EU one, were burned in anger.

The protesters are a diverse crowd. While those who are against capitalism, privatisation and the EU, and support direct democracy and social welfare, are currently in a minority, I suspect these voices will grow. Yet plausible political change will be incredibly hard to establish: who expected the fall of east European socialism as rapidly as it happened? Who expected a military siege in the heart of Europe when Sarajevo and Bosnia were left to bleed in agony as recent as the 1990s?

But plausibility is not the criteria one should judge the latest events by. The collective will of the people and their ability to suddenly turn the pages of history is. Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have reminded us of this. However, there is a significant difference. Instead of authoritarian regimes, in Croatia it is parliamentary capitalism that may end up on trial by the people. The protests continue.

Toni Prug
Originally published at

Mate Kapović: Two years of the struggle for free education and the development of a new student movement in Croatia

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The aim of this article is to provide an account of the fight for free – publicly financed – higher education, from its beginning on November 5th 2008 until today, while simultaneously trying to reconstruct the development of what could be termed the new student movement in Croatia, the beginnings of which can be dated before the beginning of the struggle against the commercialization of education. (more…)

Croatian Science and University Legislation Ignites ‘Stormy’ Debate

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Over the past few months, the academic and scientific communities of Croatia have been voicing their displeasure with proposed revisions to the national legislation governing the country’s universities and its science and higher education organizations. Critics have argued, for example, that the changes would take away university autonomy and freedom of scientific expression because universities and research priorities would come under direct governmental control. (more…)

Toni Prug: Student Control Over the Faculty in Croatia

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

The History of Financial Violence and The Directly Democratic Response

In the twenty years since the nationalist takeover of state power in Croatia, the idea of collective good, beyond its mandatory and narrow identification with the nation, has  been absent from public discourse. In those rare moments when it appeared on the margins of public life, evoking the economic aspects of the collective, the state and media were successful in containing it, narrowing it down, rephrasing it ideologically, and preventing it from spreading in undesired forms [1]. For the previous forty five years, Croatian citizens have enjoyed the benefits of free education and health care. Even the most efficient ideological engine, the liberal parliamentary capitalist one, could not erase that over night. As less and less remains in the carcasses of industries to be ripped apart and stolen from the people (in Yugoslavian socialism, they were formally owned by the people, not the state, see Branko Horvat), the capitalist vultures turned to one of the remaining mainstays of the 45-year socialist project: free education and health.  Their problem this time was that they found a formidable opponent. (more…)

Eine Einführung in die Demokratie in fünf Wochen: Kroatiens StudentInnen und ihr Grabenkampf mit Aussichten im Frühjahr 2009

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

„Die Regenfälle des August scheinen die Feuer des Mai in Überreste verwandelt zu haben, die der Müllabfuhr überlassen bleiben. Im leeren Paris wurden die Straßen und danach die Mauern gereinigt. Diese Aktion der Reinlichkeit erreicht auch das Gedächtnis, in dem sich die Erinnerungen verwischen. Die große Stille inmitten des Sommers ist über so viele frühlingshafte Reden und Demonstrationen hinweggegangen, gleich einer Welle, die den Strand wäscht … Das Danach lässt das Davor wiedererstehen, neuerlich finden wir uns an diesem Punkt.“[1] (more…)

A Five Weeks Introduction to Democracy

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

“The rains of August seem to have doused the fires of May whose ashes had been left to the street cleaners. The streets, and then the walls of the emptied Paris have been cleaned. This cleansing has also washed the brains and erased the memories. As a wave washes over a sandy beach, the great silence of midsummer has passed over the many speeches and protests of spring. Here we are again in the situation that the after recommences the before”[1], this is how Michel de Certeau describes the calm that followed the May 1968 events in Paris. (more…)

Transformatory Social Policy?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Institute of Economics Zagreb

Future generations may well look to the students’ blockades in various faculties throughout Croatia in the spring of 2009 demanding free higher education for all as a turning point in social policy in this country. If the challenge to market fundamentalism, unfettered individualism, and clientelistic elitism was not enough, these survivors of a fact-ridden education system demonstrated a creativity, spontaneity, and tactical good sense which was as welcome as it was unexpected. This leaderless tribe of net warriors has transformed, for ever, the public sphere with two clear messages: that education and other services should not be commodities but should, rather, contribute to freedom and justice for all; and secondly, no less important, that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the right to dialogue, debate and discussion. The demand for free higher education for all is explicitly based on a view of education as a public good contributing to social solidarity. The students’ emphasis on transparency and on rational evidence-based policy making also offers an explicit challenge to ‘business as usual’ in Croatian politics. Perhaps more than anything else, the actions of the students in the Zagreb Philosophy Faculty provide the most hope. Their election of new leaders daily, the spirit of openness in plenary sessions, and the transparency in various blogs chronicling every move both carefully and consistently, offers a real alternative to political chicanery and medialed trvialisation. As others have written more eloquently than I can: »Studenti, hvala, vi ste naša nada«.

Šlaus, I. (2009). Studenti, hvala, vi ste naša nada. Accessed at

Article originally published in the Review of Social Policy, Vol 16, No 2.

Kroatien: Streik vorerst beendet

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Zagreb, 24. Mai: Nach einem langen Plenum entschieden sich die BesetzerInnen des Instituts an der Universität Zagreb aufgrund schwindender Unterstützung innerhalb der Studierendenschaft, die Räumlichkeiten den universitären Institutionen wieder zurück zu geben und den Streik vorerst zu beenden.

34 Tage hielten die GenossInnen durch – dann ließen die Kräfte nach.
Die Bewegung für freie Bildung in Kroatien ist noch relativ jung. Seit ca. zwei Jahren kämpfen die Studierenden in Zagreb und anderen kroatischen Universitätsstädten für eine Bildung frei von Kommerzialisierung und Studiengebühren. Dabei ist der Kampf gegen Studiengebühren schon älter: Studiengebühren sind schon lange fester Bestandteil vieler Fakultäten um ihre durch Unterfinanzierung entstandenen Haushaltslöcher zu stopfen. Doch bislang waren Studiengebühren nur partiell eingeführt: (more…)

Marija Roglić: Croazia e i suoi studenti

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Mi hanno chiesto di scrivere un testo sui Croati e su un loro simbolo. Non avevo nessun’idea di che cosa scrivere, non c’è niente di veramente originale, niente di cui vale la pena scrivere. Non ho scritto niente anche se quello era un compito obligattorio. Adesso, anche se forse è troppo tardi per parlarne, credo che ne vale la pena.

Croazia e i suoi studenti.

Mi ha fatto pensare questa lotta studentesca. Chi fa la storia davvero? Come sarà alla fine raccontata la nostra storia contemporanea? (more…)