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Letter From Croatia
Letter from... by Drago Markisa, May 2011, May 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. The largest protests were in the capital, Zagreb, where some demos were over 10,000 strong. The main demand of the protest was for the immediate stepping down of the current right of centre government of the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). But the real motive for the uprising was a general dissatisfaction with the current political and economic state of Croatia.
As in other former "real-socialist" countries, the restoration of capitalism was economically devastating. Former state property was privatised in a brutal process in which thousands of people have lost their jobs and many previously successful companies have magically become "uncompetitive" and been shut down. Future Croatian economic prospects look very bleak. The 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 markets. One of the biggest problems is 20 percent unemployment and 70,000 people who are working but not getting paid.
Not only is Croatia in a catastrophic economic position, but large numbers of people have lost trust in the political system, with polls showing almost 60 percent of people do not want to vote or do not know who they would vote for. This was perhaps best articulated during the March protests with the burning of the flags of both the ruling party and the main opposition party. More and more people are taking a "power to the people" stance by demanding direct democracy. Widespread corruption is illustrated by the fact that the former prime minister Ivo Sanader is currently in jail and under investigation in Vienna.
Like the Middle East and North Africa, the demonstrations were first organised through Facebook, a fact given great attention by the media. Although it would be too much to claim that the Arab revolts have directly influenced Croatia, those events did influence the atmosphere in general. At first the protests were quite unfocused and there was a strong presence of the extreme right. Initially they were also characterised 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 more and more influenced by the far left.
This was the first time since the creation of the Croatian state 20 years ago that tens of thousands have taken part in protests spearheaded by large openly anti-capitalist banners like "330,000 unemployed, 70,000 without pay. Capitalism - no, thanks!", "Against privatisation! Against capitalism and the EU!"
Opposition to Croatia joining the EU has also been gaining momentum recently. Croatia is about to finish its accession talks and will soon become the newest EU member, but a large number of people are opposed to the idea, so the result of the soon to be held referendum is 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.
The protests are another stage in a rising level of protest from below over the last few years, which have included a number of prominent workers' strikes, large farmers' protests and "right to the city" protest actions. However, perhaps the most important development has been the rise of a new radical student movement that began in 2008-2009 with two big waves of student occupations. It was 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 organising in Croatia.
The demonstrations of March 2011 did not topple the government and did not lead to any immediate result. However, they may be a sign that in future people will not easily tolerate ruling classes working against their interests. This is just a beginning. The fight goes on.
Drago Markisa is a Croatian activist and is linked to the website http://slobodnifilozofski.org/
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