Drago Markiša: Letter from Croatia

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 www.socialistreview.org.uk

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