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(en) Anarchy in the Balkans: Andrej Grubacic in conversation with FreedomFight.

Date Thu, 22 Feb 2007 14:02:26 +0200

If you could first introduce Freedom Fight to ZNet readers, and then give us
something of the socio-political background of contemporary Serbia. I have just
been reading the latest UNICEF report, according to which there are over
300,000 children today who are living in poverty or are at risk of poverty.
These kinds of things were unimaginable 15 years ago. They were, dare I say it,
unimaginable not only in the times of Yugoslav state-socialism, but also in the
times of Slobodan Milosevic's cleptocratic regime. It seems that neoliberal,
modern and European Serbia demonstrates certain atavistic social traits. Serbia
is now considered to be "the last Balkan state". Balkan is still considered to
be a permanent and natural powder keg of Europe, pacified by the international
capitalist community, a region that is, as Richard Holbrooke pointed out, "too
complicated (and trivial) for outsiders to master". How does an anarchist feel
living and fighting in this "strange and feral Balkans" (Simon Winchester)?

FreedomFight is an anarchist, alter-globalist movement created in Serbia in
2003. Beside work on alternative web-based media project at
www.freedomfight.net, Freedom Fight movement promotes necessity of opposing
neo-liberal ideology. But that?s not all, we are not just reaction to the
unjust system, we also try to seek for proper alternatives for the life after
capitalism. I don?t believe in the so called ``end of the history``, that
better world is not possible. Their plan is, of course, to convince us in that,
but ``end of the history`` is going to happen only if we let them destroy the
planet ? then for sure would not be any history no more.

First step is to fight neo-liberal ideology whose imposing here is being
financed with large quantities of money. Except unmasking of promises of better
life that we?ll deserve by obeying orders that comes from some places far away
from here, from IMF and World Bank, we have to promote alternatives which would
capture people?s imagination and took them away from transitional apathy and
depression. We have to show people that there is better future beyond
capitalism. Of course, any alternative to the neo-liberal models must be also
an alternative to the authoritarian systems.

Balkan is a place for geo-strategic experiments of powerful states. They also
want by using force to convince us that they are bosses and that we have to
obey orders. During NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which could be avoided
if negotiations haven?t been sabotaged with unacceptable ultimatums, the result
was escalation of the atrocities. I can?t believe that so many intellectuals
abroad supported bombing as "humanitarian intervention"! What about other
places where ethnic cleansing was military aided from USA administration!? Was
that also their ``humanitarian intervention``!? Now that criminal politics took
the form of an economic type of oppression.

According to official records of unemployment, in Serbia rate of unemployment
is approximately 30%. Transitional Balkan is not a very nice place to live in.
People get fired, public property is being sold for nothing, and there is
extremely big gap between rich and poor. Many people that call themselves
``experts`` are trying to convince us that we need to make some transitional
sacrifices so in the future we could live like the ``whole normal world``. In
fact, they are just well paid exponents of neoliberal ideology. They are
imposing here politics which I often call ``IMF copy-paste politics``, because
IMF is dictating always the same economic measures on no matter what
transitional country. Slovenia was not in crises as long as it managed to avoid
those measures that have disastrous effect on ordinary people?s life. Due to
the neo-liberal reforms Slovenia?s social security system was cut back, public
utilities were privatized and living standards for most of the population
declined significantly. Serbia is also forced to conduct policies that were
designed to fulfill the requirements for entry into the European Union.
Elections in Serbia are often presented as most important thing for Balkan
stability by international community, which is always suggesting us for who to
vote. In fact, nothing depends on the final electoral outcome. No matter what
political party seizes state power, the processes of privatization, transition
and European integration is going to continue. Most of the despaired people who
are against these processes are voting for Serbian Radical Party, which on
recent election took 29% of the vote, but, in fact, that party is just a
nationalist, pro-capitalist organization with fake populism.

What is the role of intellectuals in Serbia today? Does an independent,
critical intellectual exist? Do they take an active part in the social
movements? Or do you see only"integrated intellectuals, as late Pierre
Bourdieu used to call them?

Well, I?m not sure what term ``intellectual`` actually means? Yes, there are
people who are well educated and who possess certain knowledge, but I don?t see
them often raising their voice for the benefit of the underclass people. I
think that at this moment Belgrade University is a neo-liberal stronghold in
Serbia. Most of the professors are trying to convince us that this kind of
society is inevitable. They say for themselves that they are ``realistic`` and
that students have to pay tuition fees although all of them during their
studies had free education. If you mean on Sartre?s distinction between
intellectual and specialist, where intellectual is the one who criticize system
and who is involved in fight for social justice, and specialist the one who is
expert for certain aspect of knowledge, than we have many specialist but
outside of world of activism I don?t see no intellectuals.

Now a difficult question. You are anarchists and anti/alter-globalists. You are
against both the international community and the communitarian logic of Serbian
nationalism. What is your position on the Hague Tribunal? According to the well
meaning, good hearted European liberals, The Hague is the last option to tame
the "wild and refractory people of Balkans. Is this Tribunal legal? Does that
matter at all? Do you feel tamed and more civilized? Should anarchist support
the civilizing efforts of the international community, in order for the people
to achieve "reconciliation" and "collective catharsis", so they can stop being
"not-yet" or "never-quite" European?

The Tribunal in The Hague is an ideological institution with disputable
validity. It was created by the UN Security Council resolutions 808/93 and
827/93, but Security Council is only UN executive organ and as such it may not
establish judicial organs, nor it has right to perform any judicial function.

Beside that, the other problem is the so called ``selective justice``. The
Tribunal in The Hague prosecutes only crimes committed in a particular space,
but war crimes were committed and are being committed in so many areas of the
world. This selective justice also contravenes the UN Charter principle of
sovereign equality of states.

The Tribunal regulates its own functioning and appears both as a legislative
and as a judicial body. There are many violations of civil rights committed by
this court, particularly a detention pending trial too long and the fact that
there is no right to compensation of damage in case of unlawful detention.

This Tribunal has a mission to hide hands of powerful states covered with
blood. Milosevic should have been tried on the territory of the former
Yugoslavia. Instead, he passed away in a prison cell under unknown conditions.
Bigger war criminals ? Clinton, Blair, Bush ? are not persecuted.

Could you tell us a bit more about the politics from below? Yugoslavia, old
state-socialist Yugoslavia, was the only nation-state with a system of
self-management that has existed. Does the memory of self managed work,
grassroots democracy at the level of production, and social security still
exist among the people? Who are the new protagonists of the politics from
below? Is it the old Left in its various-and dull!- manifestations? The
workers? The students? The peasants? Anarchists and feminists?

I met few activists abroad who had very positive opinion about self-management
in Yugoslavia, but I think that such opinion that comes so often is too much
idealistic. In reality that so called self-management system was controlled and
coordinated by political bureaucracy and I think it is wrong to even call it
self-management. It was certainly not a classless system and there certainly
were authoritarian decision making. However, even self-management with those
malfunctions was much better system than this one. Anyway, self-management,
real self-management, must come from people and it can?t be imposed on them. We
can learn from mistakes of the old so called self-management system and
re-invent it and improve it.

It is a bit hard to summarize all social protests against dismantling social
security system that occurred during transitional years. They are best
described by slogan created in Slovenia during demonstrations when more than
40.000 people participated: ?For the maintenance of the welfare state?. I have
to mention workers of the Serbian pharmaceutical factory "Jugoremedija", from
the town of Zrenjanin, who have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to run
their workplace themselves, who became ``symbol of resistance to neoliberal
capitalism in Serbia``. They have fought the privatization of their factory for
over three years. They have occupied factory and fought with police and private
army. Recently students of Belgrade University occupied the building of
Philosophical faculty for seven days, until University agreed to support
demands of students against tuition fees against the government. Those
rebellion students now and during occupation functioned in accordance with a
direct democracy decision making.

So far most of the rebellions are mainly reaction to the already imposed
"structural adjustment" program of the IMF. I think that Serbia lacks of
organized prevention of those impositions. People haven?t been expected such a
disastrous consequences of the transitions and believed in politician?s lies
about better future. There are anarcho-syndicalists and few anarchist-inspired
collectives that struggle against neo-liberal measures and offer
anti-authoritarian vision of future society, but certainly there is a necessity
of creation of united movement against capitalism.

Although few members of Marxist-Leninist organizations from Serbia gave very
important contribution during some social protests I think that their political
principles and visions are run over by time and that they don?t give for the
time being acceptable vision of society. They say that their main goal is a
seizure of state power and that for me is not acceptable. There are other
anarchist collectives, for example, anarcho-syndicalists from Serbia that are
now maintaining Secretariat of the IWA. Their educational syndicate gave
significant contribution to recent student demonstrations. There are few
valuable people gather around Kontrapunkt Magazine, collective Zluradi paradi,
SPK, etc. There is no printed magazine of radical leftist and that failure
Freedom Fight movement in coordination with Global Balkan network will try to
overcome by editing and printing Z magazine on our language.

What about the Serbian Roma? Roma people are Europe's ubiquitous underclass and
it?s most marginalized and oppressed citizens. An open letter presented to the
EU by the European Roma Rights Center on International Roma Day two years ago
reminded us of the fact that "anti-Gypsyism continues to be rife, is rarely
punished and is often used as an acceptable outlet of racism in mass media as
well as in every aspect of life," stressing "the persistent reality of extreme
poverty and systemic human rights frustration or active abuse in the Roma
ghettos which requires urgent concrete action". A friend of mine, Bill Templer,
on a much more optimistic note, sees Roma communities as a "laboratory for self
management beyond borders". In his recent inspiring article in New Politics,
he hopes that "their experience in the self-organization of a supranational
identity in localized communities can help point certain directions over the
longer haul for a denationalizing of Europe's political structures from the
bottom up: decentralized nodes of community within a transnational frame of
inventive federation."

According to Mr. Paul Polansky, an activist working for the rights of the Roma
people, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the violence in its aftermath have
destroyed the homes and lives of the Roma of Kosovo. Albanian nationalists have
thrown the Roma out of Kosovo in even greater numbers proportionately than the
Serbs. Of the 150 - 200 thousand Roma of Kosovo, less than 20 thousand remain
there when the NATO's "peace-keeping" forces took control of Kosovo. 15
thousand Romani homes have been destroyed. Mr. Polansky also claims that most
international aid agencies in Kosovo discriminate against all minorities,
especially Gypsies.

Those remaining Roma are living in UN-built refugee camps in the most degrading
circumstances. Paul Polansky claims that the UN built the camps on toxic
wasteland. In his book UN-leaded Blood he stated: ?At three camps built by the
UN High Commission for Refugees, some 60 Gypsy children under the age of six
have been exposed to such high levels of lead that they are highly likely to
die soon or to suffer irreversible brain damage. This number represents every
child born in the camps since they were built five and a half years ago.?

The Roma people are in little less extent also discriminated in Serbia. They
are usually beaten by police or skinheads and their entrance into certain
object is forbidden. They usually have more problems with local authorities
than with ordinary citizens. They have difficulties to find job because of the
color of their skin and they are usually allowed only to work some hard labor jobs.

But I have to mention my hometown Raca Kragujevacka, a small town of about
4,000, where everybody knows everybody else, where in the summer of 1999 some
400 Roma refugees from Kosovo found shelter in the big building of my old
school located in the downtown. Most of them have never heard of my town
before. They were well accepted by local population and there are more and more
marriages made by people of different nationality.

Here, in the United States, the myth of Serbian "OTPOR" still persists.
According to the liberals, but also a number of radical leftists, they were the
grassroots, directly democratic and non-violent force behind the Serbian "Black
Revolution" of 2001. Could you tell us what OTPOR! really is?

Organization ``Otpor``, in fact, was a USA aided and trained organization. Its
purpose was to overthrow Milosevic`s regime and to establish a government which
would be obedient to imperialistic demands. After fall of Milosevic in 2000,
remains of that organization became a political party and after failure to
become a part of Parliament, Otpor merge into Democratic Party. If you look
official ideological declarations of Otpor, you?ll see that it was a
nationalist, neo-liberal organization which advocated ``the restructuring of
economy, creating the conditions for a free market, the inevitable
privatization and opening of the economy to foreign investment backed by legal
guarantees that would facilitate safe investment`` (Declaration of Otpor, 1999).

What about the other seductive myth, the one of the "friendly civil society"?
Are NGO's friends or foes in the process of building anti-authoritarian,
left-libertarian social movements in Serbia today? My impression is that the
so-called "friendly civil society" and the "advocates of human rights" have
been transformed into intellectual commissars of the "modern", neoliberal
political forces.

People from NGOs and those who represent so called ``civil society`` allow
themselves to criticize certain aspects of the system, but never system itself.
They are part of the system and as such they are for changes, which would never
endanger the system. They are most welcomed guests of American embassy. They
are well paid but they are useless. As reformist organizations they assume
system maintenance and if you start questioning system, you?ll have them on
your back defending the system.

But how do you see the recent elections? It seems that they will effect the
final decision of the status for Kosovo. The Finish fireman, Marti Ahtisaari,
in the best tradition of Balkan colonial governors, after introducing his
"plan" for Kosovo's "future", declared that he is not really interested in what
local politicians in Serbia and Kosovo have to say about his proposal. What
would be an anarchist response to the artificial dilemma of nationalism or
neoliberalism, which denies a possibility for another, horizontal and
grassroots approach in this Serbian province? Is there an anarchist proposal
for Kosovo?

International community now wants to solve problems that escalated after their
``humanitarian interventions``. There is analogy with Iraq ? USA bombs country
promising establishment of democracy and freedom and after bombing attacked
country ends up in chaos. UN peacekeepers did nothing to prevent ethnic
cleansing of Serbs and Roma in March of 2004. The special negotiator nominated
by the UN Marti Ahtisaari strives to ``monoethnic independence`` which is
opposed by Belgrade officials. Probably they will be forced to except it but
any forced agreement won?t do any good. In exchange for Kosovo Serbia will
probably be granted with membership in European-Atlantic alliances.

As Chomsky suggested the partition of Kosovo must be seriously considered and
that seems to me as the most appropriate for the time being but it should be,
of course, just a temporary solution. Partitions and ethnic borders although at
the moment inevitable are failure of humanity and mutual understanding.

However, multi-ethnic society can?t be impose from above. It and ethnic
division could be avoided if we recognize that main problem is not territory
and to whom it belongs but unsolved essential social problems such as poverty,
housing, refugees, privatization. If society is shaped from below by social
movements based on solidarity and inclusive democracy we`d be witnessing
surmounting of ethnic divisions and conflicts.

And what about Montenegro?

After referendum in May 2006 Montenegro became an independent country.
Montenegro?s prime minister of that time, Milo Djukanovic was a former ally of
Slobodan Milosevic but in 1997 Western powers used him to dismantle the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia and to remove any obstacles to their interests in the
Balkans. In return, Montenegro was bankrolled by Western financial support.
Unemployment and poverty are very huge and country is ruled by ordinary
criminals and cigarettes smugglers. There were many irregularities during
anti-independence campaigns. Many people were forced to vote for independence
and Montenegrins living abroad were allowed to vote whilst those living in
Serbia were barred.

In one of my recent essays I tried to describe the phenomenon I called the
"Belgrade Consensus?, or the political argument which is composed of three
parts: neoliberalism, nationalism, and the politics of the so called civil
society (civilizing the "uncivil one"). The protagonists of this unusual
consensus of elites suggest that there could be no alternative beyond mutually
dependent nationalist and neoliberal discourses. In this atmosphere, the people
of Serbia are deprived of a genuine alternative. They are condemned to becoming
depoliticised, to the loss of "political illusions", to a crisis of political
activism, and worse still, being receptive to those of the populist extremism
of the extreme right.

Neoliberalism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin. Nationalism is as
terrorism just a symptom of capitalist and colonial society. They are not
oppose to each other. Capitalist society itself creates enemy it fights
against. USA won?t win war against terrorism even if it manage to exterminate
all Al-quaida cells. As long as exist exploitation and imperialism there will
be those extreme sorts of resistance. USA should lead ``war on terror`` within
its own borders, that is, it should change its own foreign policy which is main
inciter for terrorist activities.

In Balkan nationalistic impulses were stirred up by imperialistic states so
they would weaken by internal civil wars those who might opposed imperialistic
plans. Beside that, here neoliberalism and nationalism are both ideologically
rooted in liberalism. Between those two options differences are almost
irrelevant. Both options advocate privatization, dismantling social security
system, etc.

Do you think that ideas such as participatory economics, and other proposals
for a participatory society, that we here at Z like to advocate, make any sense
for the Balkans? Is visionary, participatory politics, which would rest on
alternative political designs, and an invitation to think collectively and
seriously about the life after capitalism and hierarchy, something that people
in Serbia and the Balkans can relate to? In 19th century Russia and Serbia,
revolutionaries used to talk about "going to the people". Do you think that
going to the people with the ideas of participatory economy and participatory
politics would encounter constructive responses?

Well, idea of parecon is strictly opposed to the neo-liberal dogma so as long
as advocates of neo-liberalism have power of manufacturing opinions parecon
won?t be accepted and familiar to ordinary people. I am sure that most
activists are not acquainted with idea of parecon. Ideas that advocate that
everybody have a proportionate participation in the decisions that affect
people?s lives must have a stronghold in part of population for whose benefit
those ideas are designed. They have to be closely connected with social
movements which would advocate them and establish them in practise and in
reality. There is an open space for these ideas, maybe especially on Balkan.
People lost faith in representative democracy and in political parties. They
want to build their future and their lives on their own. I am sure they would
recognize parecon as a proper alternative.

*You can contact Freedom Fight at pismo@freedomfight.net

*Andrej Grubacic is an anarchist historian from the Balkans. He can be reached
at zapata@mutualaid.org

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