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Paul Stubbs Pakrac July2013 Volunteer Project Pakrac and its Afterlives

Paul Stubbs Pakrac July2013 Volunteer Project Pakrac and its Afterlives

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Published by Paul Stubbs
Speech to International Conference to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Volunteer project, Pakrac.
Speech to International Conference to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Volunteer project, Pakrac.

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Published by: Paul Stubbs on Jul 08, 2013
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07/08/2013

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Volunteer Project Pakrac and its afterlives Paul Stubbs July 2013

I am honoured and humbled to have been asked to speak at this event. I came to Croatia as a volunteer with Suncokret in May 1993 and visited Pakrac on many occasions as part of an action research project in 1995 and 1996. I worked with Goran on the first Miramida in Pakrac. And I was proud to be a founding board member of the Centre for Peace Studies. Since 2003, from the relatively privileged position of a permanent job (if such a thing exists) in the Institute of Economics, I have tried to write more, and more faithfully and consistently, if sometimes controversially, about different waves of activism in Croatia and the wider Yugoslav and postYugoslav space. In this sense, I think that when Goran describes me in the programme as “sociologist Zagreb”, as usual, he gets it spot on. I really would not know where to start in answering a really important question: Did VPP change Pakrac? I leave that for others, therefore. But, I do want to argue that VPP changed me, and many friends, colleagues, fellow travellers, often in quite profound ways. I want to go further and suggest that it had an impact on associational activism in Croatia and the rest of the post-Yugoslav space. It even had an impact, perhaps more uneven and less tangible, on the understandings of peacebuilding practice amongst key international organizations, including those within the UN system. And last but not least, I would argue that it has had an impact on sociological knowledge in and about the region. My own work, of course, has always tried to address this - often at the risk of being accused of being too theoretical, too academic, too remote from practice, too elitist. At the same time, the work of friends, notably Bojan Bilić and Vesna Janković, have begun to make a real difference to how the anti-war activities of the 1990s, including VPP, are viewed as social and political phenomena. So, let me take each of these four dimensions – the personal/biographical; post-Yu activism; international peacebuilding; and post-Yu sociology – in turn. I learnt early on being in and around people from ARK and VPP, the importance of ‘I’ not as ego, but as the possibility of individuals making a difference. To quote Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” As I look around this room, and remember others from whom I learnt and with whom I collaborated, the amount of energy, innovation, courage, gathered together in one place at one time back then was extraordinary. We did not always agree, but the differences were used as sparks to create new transformative possibilities. It is not at all surprising that we have gone in different ways, almost like an exploding star, but each of us carried that energy with us and I suspect we infected others with the same disease – the disease of daring to “speak truth to power”. I learnt in and around ARK, VPP, and CMS the true meaning of the idea that the personal is political, that peace begins within us, and that every interaction is a chance to make real the idea that “your enemy is just a friend you have not met yet”. I cannot name names – the list would be too long. But you know who you are and I will never forget the gifts you gave me. When I reflect on the impacts of VPP on associational activism in the Croatian and postYugoslav space, I am perhaps a little more ambivalent. We have seen nothing like VPP since: everything has become more formal, more rational, more logically framed, more ‘professional’ in the worst sense of the word. Less spontaneous, less anarchic, less risky, less courageous. I

have called this, along with others, projectisation and NGOisation. It’s an attitude, I think, as well as a set of structures. It’s not even about money. It’s about trying things that most supposedly ‘sane’ people would call impossible. It’s about not spending endless meetings discussing the ideal organizational structure. It’s about endlessly experimenting. What I have described as ‘third wave activism’, a loose mixture of different movements and activisms, often with a more overt leftist sensibility than VPP, have refound some of that spontaneity, I would say, and I love them for it even if they have never heard of, or would simply locate VPP in a prehistoric hippy age. Since one of my closest friends is meant to speak later on the simple topic of how Pakrac Peace-building spread throughout the world!, I will not say much about the international dimension. But I do think that the Pakrac-Gornji Vakuf-Travnik connection was an important one. It actually helped the UN understand Boutros Boutros Ghalli’s idea of peace-building. I would say as well that VPP’s model of a genuine partnership between so-called locals and socalled foreigners did have an influence, albeit at the margins, and did revalue the importance of local expertise, local knowledge and local activists in leadership positions. A literature certainly emerged on peace-building and on the harm which overpaid and underskilled foreigners can have. In terms of sociology, and I realize few of you here care about this, Bojan Bilić and I have just written a text where we speak of the triple marginalisation of post-Yugoslav anti-war activism, including VPP: marginalized in the story of the wars; marginalised in the literature on social movements in Central and Eastern Europe; and marginalised in the global literature on political contention. This is a ridiculous situation since, as Vesna Janković has recently written, VPP was one of the first ever examples of a new kind of transnational activism, a kind of ‘routed cosmopolitianism’ which is now increasingly discussed in the literature. When we add to this the pioneering use of Computer-mediated communication which was ZaMir, then it is really important that this story be told. And, of course, having the space to tell that story, in different ways, is important. One of the audiences should be a global sociological community. At times, I was frustrated that VPP attracted the interest of some of the most famous sociologists from elsewhere but Croatian sociologists largely ignored it. More people need to know of the vast experience gathered in this room. As Vesna Janković concluded: this was a laboratory of activism which gave birth to new models of grassroots activism. There are no models there for future activism. But there are lessons to be learnt about both the processes and forms of interaction which VPP pioneered. I do not apologise for telling your stories and merging them with mine. And I am glad that some of you are telling your stories now, in your own ways, and continuing to make a difference. Thank you.

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