We were sitting in a friend’s flat, built amid socialist urbanization in the working class neighborhood of the city of Sisak – Zeljezara – named after a steel factory that built everything inhabiting our world – libraries, hospitals, schools, a swimming pool (it even organized art colonies that produced sculptures which admirably stood in the parks and accompanied workers in their daily routines). These were the after-war years of the infamous 90s – years in which we got poor suddenly, experienced war, found out that we were minorities in our own country (ethnic, sexual, or political) and were subjected to economic shock doctrine. Zeljezara, the factory that once fed the whole city and beyond, was completely destroyed – deemed noncompetitive and sold out in parts to international buyers who would continue to resell it and lay off workers, till no one was left behind.
We were growing up in this new world, doing whatever kids usually do in fucked up neighborhoods. Some were already on heroin; some were in punk bands, some did both. Some left school and started doing nothing, which would continue to be their outlook until they became forever unemployed. Anyway, we were sitting there, in that flat, and I can’t really tell which day, month or a year it was, since we were just sitting, smoking weed and watching the same Radiohead show over and over again, year after year, on an old white and black TV. We were stuck. The world we once knew had fallen apart. And it wasn’t the war sirens that we couldn’t survive. It was bigger than that.
A decade later, I would tell stories to my new friends and random people that grew up in the West – stories about free education, free healthcare, no one hungry and no one under the bridge – stories about a country that once existed, born out of socialist revolution and People’s Liberation War, neither part of the East or West block and recognized as the softest version of a communist party ruling system ever. These stories rarely fell on fertile ground. Nobody really believed that this was possible or were too polite to tell me what they really thought – that I was the victim of a vigilantly-executed state propaganda and that ‘free’ never happened, because there is no free lunch and the ‘free’ world of the West has already done the best. Only the migrants and the blacks in the US – who resembled Yugoslavian history with their own revolutionary movements – knew that I was telling nothing but the truth.
Today, 25 years later, I’m living in Croatia (who got its independence in 1991); its parliamentary democracy has a liberal outlook and its economic system is capitalism. Things changed at the beginning of the year when the right-wing coalition came into power, bringing extreme right parties into the parliament. The Catholic Church of Croatia has been supporting the recent invasion of the clerical right – represented by non-governmental organizations (inspired by US conservative fundamentalists), advocating radical economic deregulation and a life based on a backward version of Christianity.
Extreme nationalist right-wingers in the parliament and the clerical right in civil society have made an explosive compound, taking over the institutions and trying to take over the streets. They have already marched against independent media, abortion, same sex marriage, and have succeeded in stopping education reform. They are afraid that communism could return, under the disguise of antifascism, so they continue to revise our past until the memory is deleted from our collective present and past.
Post-cold war narratives about the East tell us a story about people stamping out authoritarian regimes and establishing new paradigms based on the holy trinity of free market, rule of law and human rights. Now, as it turns out, the holy trinity leaves huge margins of people evicted, bankrupt, and alone.
Capitalism itself, by trying to fix and improve it, in distress, during economic hardship, led to what we now recognize as the darkest period of human history: historical fascism. The discreet charm of fascism lay in its collectivism, in its plea to those deprived, deprivileged and declassed.
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán says, “the Hungarian nation is not a pile of individuals” when referring to people in the West. We say: Collectivize resistance. Students, manual laborers, precarious knowledge workers, teachers and nurses, unemployed – united in envisioning our future while taking into consideration our shared progressive histories in the Balkans. The new fight for hegemony is going to be between two versions of collectivity – the liberal elites will try to profit from both.
— Lela Vujanic is a media policy researcher and member of an antifascist network, based in Zagreb, Croatia.