An analysis of the Croatian anti-government protests by a member of MASA (Network of Anarcho-Syndicalists).
Yet another anti-government protest took place in Zagreb, Croatia's capital city, last Saturday. Even though the strategy of marching from one symbolic spot to another (which are sometimes completely trivial and of little relevance to the general situation), the protests themselves have become much more „colourful“ and thus more interesting to the general public. Parents bringing their kids along, pensioners, but also drummers and all sorts of other entertainers have attended the protests last Saturday. Weekend protests seem to attract a larger number of people and generally seem to have a more enthusiastic atmosphere, which is why more and more people are deciding to attend the protests only during the weekends. This is also seen as yet another sign of the declining influence of the self-proclaimed leaders, who have been using the frequent protests as a means of attracting the media and setting the spotlight on themselves. Now that the citizens themselves are in charge, they will be able to adjust the protesting schedule according to their own preferences.
A PROGRESSIVE ADVANCE
The first few protests were marked by violent clashes between football hooligans and the police, while, at the same time, war veterans were protesting against the way the government was treating the case of Tihomir Purda (a veteran accused of war crimes by the Serbian government and in prison at the time of the war veteran protests). Since then, Purda was released and cleverly turned into a strong supporter of the current government and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. All in all, a clear expression of demands and goals was obviously missing from those first few protests and they could easily be described as being under the control of certain interest groups. However, the first protest after that was of a non-violent nature and also had one clearly expressed goal – bringing down the current government. While non-violence has been a part of the methodology of protesting in Croatia for some time now (for example, the protests against the devastation of Varšavska street last year), the greatest innovation in strategy brought by March 2011 was choosing to organise the protest in the form of a long march across the city, rather than a static meeting bound to one location. This new strategy (at least for Croatia), while causing the police headaches, has also made it impossible for all sorts of wannabe leaders to hold political speeches and, in that way, set the agenda for the movement. By preventing this, the people were given the opportunity to make the marches a true expression of their own thoughts and demands.
EXPERIENCING DIRECT DEMOCRACY
It didn’t take long for the protests to turn from anti-government into an expression of resentment towards all political elites, both the ruling and the opposition, those servants of capital who have equally contributed to economic collapse we face now. It is obvious that change cannot be expected to come from them. But who, then, will bring about change? The answer was once again found in the experiences of earlier struggles. University occupations were given as an example of how to fight for your rights without leaders, but still in a well-organised and successful manner, with a clearly expressed goal and methods of struggle. Students from the Faculty of Social Studies and Humanities, but also from other faculties who participated in the struggle for free public education, used several large banners to call for direct democracy as a method of organising.
THE MAINSTREAM UNIONS – NEITHER BETTER NOR BROUGHT DOWN
Another good side of the recent protests was a loud expression of disapproval towards the policy of the mainstream unions. Even though they have betrayed the trust of their members more than once, most people still believe that, at least in theory, unions should be a used by the workers as a way of defending their rights from the capitalists and the State. However, practice is often far from theory and this was once again confirmed when a large (and most likely expensive) banner reading “Neither did things get better not did were they (the current government) brought down” was hung from the windows of the (ironically) Workers’ Centre “Đuro Salaj”, where the union offices are located. That banner and their complete lack of support for the protests has obviously shown that the union leaders are not interested in our struggle. They bid us a speedy farewell and ran off to join their government and capitalist buddies in the Economic and Social Council (a government body that would coordinate the interests of the unions, employers and the government) where they’ll help drive the final nail into the coffin of workers’ rights. Does this decision come with consequences? “Of course it does!” said the protesters. They used their banners to remind our fair unionists that they have one more weapon of struggle left, one that frightens our union leaders so much that they shiver at even the slightest mention of it, one that is more powerful than any protest march – the General Strike. What scares the unionists is the fact that the workers don’t need their approval to start a general strike, the same way they don’t need the police to organise the protests and don’t need leaders to know what to do. We, the anarcho-syndicalists, but also regular participants of these protests, have suggested anarcho-syndicalist union organising as the solution – unions that would truly be a weapon for the workers, ones that would be directly democratic and which don’t see workers’ rights as something to haggle over with the government and the capitalists, but as something which has to be defended at the place where all exploitation begins – the workplace.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
On March 8, former seamstresses from Kamensko (a Croatian textile factory) joined the protests. This amazing moment reminded us what Women’s Day is truly about. In the last century, Women’s Day has turned from a day of celebrating the struggle for women’s liberation into an apolitical celebration of an abstract “woman”. Capitalism (including State Capitalism in former Yugoslavia) took women out of the kitchen only to chain them to the factories as second-rate workers. Now that the industry in our country is falling apart due to an even cheaper labour force emerging in the East, they were the first one to feel the consequences. Forced back into the kitchen, women begin to see that all this talk of liberation was a lie. Women’s Day is being brought back from the dead and, once again, it is a day of struggle. We don’t need red carnations or roses – we want to work and, even more so, to be in charge of our work, to manage it according to our own wishes.
THE FATE OF THE GOVERNMENT
The protests are still too small in numbers to make the government of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor to resign. However, this could change with time, if more people take to the streets and the protests become massive. What is more important is the great mental leap that has been made – the days of bickering about every-day politics and fighting for power are behind us. Future protests will resist the authority of the self-proclaimed leaders, of capitalism and its forces even more and the shift towards direct democracy as method of organising will continue. Unless she’s completely ignorant of the situation around her, Kosor will at least try to avoid any false moves, ones that could make an even larger number of dissatisfied people take to the streets.
Originally published on March the 15th.