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Stubbs_Dreaming of Europe

Stubbs_Dreaming of Europe

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Published by Paul Stubbs
Presentation for TACSO Conference, Zagreb 18 April 2013
Presentation for TACSO Conference, Zagreb 18 April 2013

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Paul Stubbs on Apr 15, 2013
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Dreaming of Europe?: narratives and shapes of three waves ofassociational activism in CroatiaPaul Stubbs, April 2013.
This presentation builds on some of my recent work on activisms inthe post-Yugoslav space, including ongoing collaboration with Bojan
Bilić, and touches on my work on Europeanisation and social policy in
a collaboration with Siniša Zrinščak. Much of it derives
from a recent text on Activism in Croatia which appears in the latestissue of the Croatian journal
. I realise that what I have tosay is, at best, tangential to the core themes of the conference and
the panel and, certainly, does not look at ‘impact’ as it is usually
understood in terms of a linear process of a affecting b. I ask youto bear with me as I explore a slightly different set of questions,
relating different waves of what I term “associational activism” inCroatia with different phases of the country’s relationship to a
European and European Union imaginary. If it helps, the good news isthat I will not take long and, since I live in Zagreb, the organisersincurred no financial costs in getting me here. We will all survivewhat I have to say, and be able to resume our business as usual afterI have finished.In exploring what I term the narratives, shapes, claims and practicesof three waves of activism in Croatia at the interface of, broadlyspeaking, peace, human rights, gender equality and social andenvironmental justice, I am wondering out loud whether, and if sohow, it matters that these coincide with three very different phasesof Croatia's relationship to the European Union. Please bear in mindthat I am arguing not in terms of causality but rather coincidenceor, more accurately,
in Foucault’s term
s, homology.In the European Union, a lot has changed since late 2004 when JeffreyRifkin published his book
The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream
, seeing the EU, incontrast to the USA, as a beacon of light, ushering in a
new age ofinclusivity, diversity, quality of life, sustainability, universalhuman rights, the
rights of nature, and peace on earth”. Livingwithin Angela Merkel’s
new European nightmare of disciplinaryausterity creating what Slavoj
Žižek has recently ca
with one part
reduced to being a zone with a cheaper labourforce, outside the safety network of the welfare state, a domainappropriate for outsourcing and tourism
” and where “
the gap betweenthe developed world and those lagging behind will exist within Europeitself
, is taking us further away from the dream. Luckily, dreamstake longer than this to be erased from the memory, so that a kind of
‘cognitive’ or better ‘ideational Europeanisation’ is still
occurring, including in Croatia, in which actors, including NGOs and
citizens’ movements are more conscious of, more vocal about,
betternetworked around, and more successful in advocating for, certainagendas such as gender equality, social inclusion, and environmentaljustice, even if the price to pay for
is incorporationinto a certain, narrow, technical, managerialist, expert-led,projectised and bureaucratic frame.
But I am jumping ahead here. Let me return to the three waves ofactivism in Croatia I mentioned earlier. The 'first wave' refers tothe various anti-war initiatives which emerged in the Croatian spacein the early 1990s, primarily the network of individuals, groups and
projects around the „Anti
war Campaign, Croatia“
(ARK). What is,perhaps, of most interest is the argument, best expressed by Bojan
, that the wider anti-
war engagement of the period “appropriated
the already existing activist networks which were created as a resultof trans-Yugoslav political co-ope
ration”, notably 1968 student
protests (I would add the Croatian spring of 1971), feministinitiatives from the 1970s and environmental and peace activism from
the 1980s. As well as being an antidote to the notion that ‘civilsociety’ was brought to the re
gion by USAID in 1991 or so, this workof historical recovery points to both the continuities as well as thebreaks in activist scripts in newly independent Croatia. Conceived as
‘a network of networks’, ARK
can be interpreted through a number ofdifferent lenses, as a set of interlinked friendship and solidaristic
networks; as an example of civic courage, ‘speaking truth to power’
in terms of keeping alive certain basic values; as a livingexperiment and site of intense learning which, particularly in itsmagazine ArkZin, managed to combine a new aesthetics and a newpolitics; and as initiating explicitly semi-autonomous spin-offsworking on diverse aspects of a practical and conceptual response tothe wars and the rise of authoritarian nationalisms. The EuropeanUnion, disengaged politically and involved only in providinghumanitarian assistance, was largely irrelevant, although the
embracing of the values of
‘European civilisation’
, at atime when they were least in evidence and, indeed, when the trope of
‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ and ‘Balkan backwardness’ were being used to
justify non-intervention, is striking.The second wave includes some of the ARK spin-offs, and refers to themore professionalised and projectised 'Non-GovernmentalOrganisations' under the influence, to an extent, of external donorfunding and preference for particular organisational forms andstructures. This coincides with a conjuncture in which the EuropeanUnion moved from a distant utopia to an achievable technocratic goal.In this conjuncture, far from over, the shape of activism tended tobe squeezed, more or less willingly, into a narrow organisationalform with real effects on its transformative power. I do not want tobe (mis)understood as suggesting that activists completely lost their
‘cutting edge’ in this period: just consider the
significant,continued, impact of Platform 112 in shaping the terms of the debateabout whether Croatia should be judged as ready to join the EuropeanUnion. However, as the older generation of activists were joined bythose trained in 'capacity building', 'leadership' and 'projectplanning and management', the idea of a 'third sector' - neitherstate nor private for profit - as a site of employment, with aparticular structure, shape and trajectory, tended to dominate. Thiswas not, for many activists, a move from politics into technocracy;
rather, it was the setting for a new kind of ‘technopolitics’ of the
kind needed to benefit from significant European Union and otherfunding
, in the form of what Aida Bagić termed 'NGO
-isation' tending
to reward particular kinds of organisations concentrating on „issue
-specific interventions and pragmatic strategies with a strong
employment focus“
I have caricatured the second wave, primarily because what is bothinteresting and, perhaps, surprising, is the rise of a 'third wave',a new group of interlinked activist initiatives and movementsincluding the Zagreb Philosophy Faculty student protests and theRight to the City movement active against the building of a shopping
centre in Varšavska in Zagreb,
and now against the building of a golf
resort in Srđ, Dubrovnik. These movements emphasise
struggles againstcommodification, crony capitalism, and the erosion of the right topublic space. Many activists in the third wave oppose Croatia'sEuropean Union membership, bringing, therefore, a sense of the needfor a different kind of utopia. Acco
rding to Sreć
koHorvat and Igor
Štiks, the rise of a new, org
anised, original and critical left inCroatia, influenced by the Arab spring, by anti-austerity movementsin Greece, Spain and elsewhere, and opposed to neo-colonial forms ofEU disciplinarity in South East Europe forces us to
„rethink the
categories used to explain the social, political and economic
situation in the Balkans“
. What are we to make of their argument thatthe movements are anti-regime, critical of the linkages betweenpolitical elites, businesses, media corporations, organized crime,predatory (foreign-owned) banks, corrupt judiciary and, most
interestingly of all, „corrupt unions“ and „NGOs promoting the holy
union of electoral democracy
and neoliberal economy“?
For most thirdwave activists, I suggest, the NGO shape is, either irrelevant, partof the problem, or a useful means of attracting project-based fundingwhich can then be used for wider political aims. These
‘new spaces ofprotest’
are, perhaps, more like ARK in terms of being hotbeds oflearning and laboratories for action, more than opportunities foremployment.Beyond these simplifications, the message here is that it isdangerous to generalise about associational activisms outside oftime, space, scale and focus. It is to question the universalisinglogic of the discourses of civil society and NGOs, therefore. It is
also to recognise, in the words of Leonard Cohen that “there is acrack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
One currentfocus, in work with
Bojan Bilić
, is on LGBTQ activisms where onefinds, simultaneously, aspects of NGOisation and more radical,experimental, and political alternatives.In the end, my ongoing research suggests that the kinds of scriptsthat develop during formative social action tend to be relativelyresilient, even in the face of changing political, institutional andhistorical conditions. The complexities of whether these scripts arelocally, nationally, regionally or globally formed, and how these(dis)junctions are lived, is also important. I have suggested thatthe discursive frames, the modes of analysis, and the repertoire ofresponses within the three waves of activism in Croatia aresufficiently different as to merit more research. The challengeremains to build associational activisms which combine radicalism andinclusivity, and to create more spaces for genuine inter-generationallearning. The really great thing is that social action and socialchange was not killed off by NGOisation even if, for a while, the
‘how’ and the ‘what’ became somewhat conflated.
To quote a recenttext on peace-building in Bosnia-Herzegovina
by Nebojša Šaviha
“technology should not be a substitute for, but has to be a

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