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firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Sociology Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture University of Zagreb
Summary: From February till April 2011 Croatia became an arena for citizens protests organized in 24 towns throughout the country. The protesters' central demand was an immediate resignation of the Croatian government. The protesters were colloquially named “fejsbukovci” (Facebook-users), because virtual social networks were used as a primary tool for social mobilization. The goal of this paper is to analyze the role of virtual networks not just as the mobilization tools, but also as a newly established public sphere. While some political analysts consider protest a sign of the end of the transition period, the fact that protests were mediated through digital media gives evidence on Croatia's participation in another transition – global transition to the network society. Keywords: virtual networks, public sphere, transition, networked activism
Introduction The beginning of the year 2011 was marked by mass protests uprising in Arab countries, starting in Tunisia, which changed the political landscape of the region. New information and communication technologies have played an important role in popular mobilization and coordination of protest activities. Social networks Twitter and Facebook proved to be so widely used by protesters that the upheavals in Tunisia were colloquially named “Twitter revolution”. However, Internet-based social platforms have played a significant role in the eve of these events. In November 2010, the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, in cooperation with five world major newspapers published the U.S. State Department diplomatic cables. Some of the released documents revealed corruption of the Tunisian ruling family, adding to already existing discontent of the Tunisian people. Mediatization of protests activities contributed also to the internationalization of events, but despite their undeniable impact, the role of new media in the Arab Spring should not be overemphasized. They facilitated protest events, but it is the users who appropriate and make use of technical functionalities of the Internet (Bakardjieva, 2009). The success of political upheavals depended as much on the
Virtual networks is coloquial term reffering to Internet services/platforms for social networking. I've used it here for its brevity and widespread use.
Pre-print copy, May 2012 perseverance of the protesters, and even more on the long-term engagement in building civil organizations: “… there are extraordinary moments when public demonstrations take on a mass character and people who would otherwise not have dreamed of taking part in an uprising rush onto the streets. But these protests are typically built upon years of organizing and preparation on the part of social movements” (Engler, 2011). Inspired by Arab popular upheavals, though rooted in local economic and political crisis, the wave of protests washed over Croatia, beginning 17 February 2011, when a young student of management, Ivan Pernar, launched the call over YouTube and Facebook. A call for protest was not inspired by any particular local incident, but by general dissatisfaction with the situation in the country and wish for change. Images from Tunisia, and especially Egypt, flowing from TV screens, and even more so the Internet live streaming, certainly played an important role. The connection between the protests in Croatia and those in Arab countries was symbolically expressed by street graffiti in Zagreb “Today Tunisia, tomorrow Croatia”. Croatian sociologist and politician, Vesna Pusić, in an interview given at the beginning of March 2011 asserted: “All these ‘facebook-protests’ are partly inspired by events in the [Arab] world and partly by the possibility to mobilize a large group of people through social networks. In this particular case there was the combination of discontent with the way the country is ruled, fascination with the power of social networks and wish of some individuals to become famous” (Pusić, 2011). The protesters were colloquially named “fejsbukovci” (Facebook-users), because the initiators of the protests were using virtual social networks (primarily Facebook) as a tool for social mobilization. Some analysts consider the phrase “Facebook protest” a bit exaggerating: “/…/ because participants in this collective action were not merely predominantly young users of virtual network, Facebook, but citizens from different age groups as well, and “communication system” for disseminating information on dates, places and other elements of protest was not limited to Facebook, but comprised other forms of direct and mediated communication.” (Lalić, 2011: 23) While this is certainly true, Internet-based social media have played major role throughout the course of events, and to grasp the full meaning of the protest, analysis must include Internet-mediated protest activities as well. Virtual networks were not used only for social mobilization but, as my analysis will show, Internet forums, blogs and social networks all became vibrant social spaces, a virtual public sphere created by citizens. The protesters spontaneously appropriated many strategies recently developed around new ICTs. Western sociologists studying social movements already noticed that new information and communication technologies are changing the ways in which activists communicate, collaborate and demonstrate (Garrett, 2006). Some of their 22
Pre-print copy, May 2012 findings could be traced in the Croatian “Facebook protest” as well, which opens the question of the role of computer-mediated communication in political socialization of the (Croatian) citizens. To avoid a techno-deterministic stand, a further analysis might employ the concept of mediatization of society, which considers interactive and mass media as agents of social and cultural change: “/…/ mediatization refers to a more long-lasting process, whereby social and cultural institutions and modes of interaction are changed as a consequence of the growth of the media’s influence” (Hjarvard, 2008: 114). Having in mind mutual interaction between media and society, and that the consequences of mediatization are dependent on socio-cultural context, as well as on specific characteristic of the media in question.
Street protest in Croatia – context and main features Economic recession, high unemployment rate, corruption, collective sentiments of hopelessness and distrust in the political elite marked the beginning of 2012 in Croatia. Uncovering of political corruption, though made possible and advocated by the ruling party as enhancement of further democratization of the country and a proof of their commitment to the rule of law, just contributed to the mass frustrations with political parties and state institutions in general. It was the combination of social and moral discontent (Lalić, 2011), which brought very diverse groups of citizens onto the streets of Croatian towns in the period of almost two months of continuous protests. According to the data published on the independent Internet portal javnavolja.net from February 18 till March 28, around 90,000 citizens participated in 94 protest gatherings and marches organized in 24 towns (http://javnavolja.net/rezultati.htm). Article about protests published in the official newsletter of Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs, cited 103 public gatherings with estimated 30,000 participants2 in the period from February 22 till April 9 (Gotal, 2011: 9). The most intense protest actions took place in the country’s capital, the city of Zagreb, where protest marches were held every other day with number of participants in single events fluctuating from 200 to 10,000 citizens.
There is a huge difference between the number of participants estimated by independent source and the official one. The author of the article, Nikolina Gotal, admits that the police counted only protesters who would gather at the initial meeting point, and not those who would join the street marches later, which was regular practice in Zagreb. Difference in number of recorded gatherings is due to slightly different time period the both sources are referring to. Since all public gatherings should be registered at the local police station, the official data can be considered correct.
Pre-print copy, May 2012 Though the initial impetus came from individuals, it did not take long for organized groups to join in. According to the political weekly Globus there were 14 different organizations3, from radical left to radical right marching together (Milković and Novak, 2011), united in demand for immediate resignation of the government: “In one word, protests were a temporary alliance of ideologically and positionally very diverse organizations, groups and individuals. They ranged ideologically from anarchism and communism, to libertarianism, to radical right and clerical orientation. Political backbone of alliance was more negative, than positive, being expressed more as collective dissatisfaction with the government /…/ than as compliant values and common program” (Lalić, 2011: 26). Politically organized groups could be recognized on the streets by their flags and banners, which read: “Direct democracy now”, “Capitalism is organized crime”, “Down with the government, down with false opposition, all power to the people”, “God and Croats”, “Love Croatia – No EU”… While members of the organized groups consisted of mainly young people, the age of other participants in the protests varied, as well as their political orientations. Many of them were carrying small, handwritten banners expressing their anger or anguish over unemployment, social insecurity, situation at their companies. For those people, whom political analysts identified as “losers of transition”, marches became moments of collective catharsis. In every protest march there were some new banners, whose message was a reaction to some current political or economic event. Not all of the protest manifestations were contentious. There were also expressions of solidarity with the victims of the earthquake in Japan, or with local textile workers, whose factory was closed due to financial malversations. Protests have had a carnevalesque dimension, not just because on several occasions professional jugglers joined in, juggling and performing with fire, but some participants were wearing masks (usually caricatures of the most despised politicians), and many participants were blowing whistles, beating drums or singing. Despite the influence and number of organized groups involved, the protest remained a genuine people’s movement (Horvat and Štiks, 2012). This diversity on the streets, along with no apparent leader(s) or spokesperson(s), was the main reason mainstream media judged the protest as inefficient. There were few attempts to articulate common political program, but they failed due to political diversity of group and
There were, on the left: Crvena akcija (Red Action), Socijalistička radnička partija SRP (Socialist Labour Party), MASA (anarcho-sindicalists), Studentski Plenum Filozofskog fakulteta u Zagrebu (Students Plenum), Mladi antifašisti (Young Anti-Fascists), Slobodarski blok (Libertarian Bloc), Radnička borba (Workers Campaign), Akademska solidarnost (Independent Labour Union Academic Solidarity), Zelena akcija (Green Action), Pravo na grad (Right to the City). On the right side of spectrum: football hooligans, National Democrats, Starčević’s youth, Initiative “I love Croatia”.
Pre-print copy, May 2012 individual participants. However, when looking more closely at the targets of the street marches, it becomes clear that the protesters precisely identified the centers of political and economic power: banks, political parties’ headquarters, government offices, the privatization fund, most influential media, and private residences of some politicians, known for their corruption. Routes of the marches inscribed the protesters’ political demands, thus imposing the topics of public debates: corruption, economic transition, privatization, media manipulation, linkages between political, economic and media oligarchs. One of the banners suggested: “Intellectuals – articulate!” and indeed, on a daily basis protests were changing social and political context, fostering citizens participation in political debates. Streets of Croatian cities became an open public sphere, where voices of those excluded from political decision-making could be heard.
Protest and the Web As impressive the street happenings might be, to fully grasp social and political meaning of the protests it is vital to analyze the place where it all began – the Web. Since the very beginning, Internet was appropriated by activist groups for pursuing socially just causes. Along with scientists, engineers, and hackers, the activist community was decisive in shaping the Internet architecture as we know it today (Castells, 2003). Since then, Internet and other information-communication technologies have changed the way social movements organize, contest, and network. One of the first and most widespread uses of Internet has been for social mobilization. The advantage of technology-mediated over traditional mobilization is due to higher speed and reduced costs of communication. To spread the message there is no need to print out the leaflets any more. Information is instantly available, while retaining accuracy of the original message and thus overcoming of the traditional problem of distortion (Diani 1999). Due to the Internet rhisomatic architecture, which enables exponential distribution through the network nodes, it is possible to organize a much wider circulation of information in significantly shorter period of time. These features of Internet are nowadays widely used by civil organizations for on-line petitions, (inter)national campaigning and networking. While the impact of ICT on social mobilization is quite obvious, there remains a deeper question of the impact of Internet on democratization of public sphere, and more specifically the impact of computer-mediated communication (CMC) on authoritarianism. Here I am referring to authoritarianism not just as a form of governing, but also as a political culture which, through political socialization, shapes the individual’s structure of political opinion. Unlike the mass media with its centralized and one-to-many communication mode, Internet, 55
Pre-print copy, May 2012 especially in its Web 2.0 form enables decentralized, interactive, participative
communication, which is believed to foster more active, better informed citizenship: “The political significance of CMC lies in its capacity to challenge the existing political hierarchy's monopoly on powerful communications media, and perhaps thus revitalize citizen-based democracy” (Rheingold, 1998). Increased access to political information, ease of publication allowing people to produce, and not just consume political discussions, along with the potential for anonymity and freedom of speech and association certainly aided the revitalization of the public sphere. Numerous researches have shown that there is indeed the explosion of political debates on Internet through online forums, newspaper comments sections and political blogging (Miller, 2011). Some scholars find it disputable to talk about the public sphere, conceptualized by Habermas as a social space where individuals come together as a public to engage in a rational-critical debate on issues of common concern, warning that there is a fragmentation of public discourses without real discussions between opposing ideas ever taking place. Especially when we talk about virtual networks, it is important to have in mind that they are services owned and run by private companies, pursuing their implicit economic interest: “It is, essentially, a public sphere in private hands that exists for the purposes of profit.” (Miller, 2011: 147) These are some of the reasons why public sphere model has been recently replaced by networked citizen model focused: “… upon the role of citizen-user as the driver of democratic innovation through the self-actualized networking of citizens…” (Loadera & Mercab, 2011: 756). Despite the fact that the new media are deeply immersed in existing political and economic interests and social realities, and that there is no technological imminence for democratization, because ICTs are not just tools for commodification, but can be (and actually are) used for surveillance and control as well (Morozov, 2011), researchers have shown that new technologies became part of everyday life of almost one third of world population4, affecting their political agency. As suggested by Bakardjieva, Internet provides a tool for new forms of subpolitics and subactivism through multiplication and enrichment of everyday practices of citizenship (Bakardjieva, 2009). Another interesting aspect was discussed by the recent research of Rainie et al. According to their data, there is a strong correlation between public engagement and Internet use: “75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active: 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. And
According to Internet World Stats (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm)
Pre-print copy, May 2012 social media users are even more likely to be active: 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants.” (Rainie et al., 2011: 2) Most of the analyses cited above are based on the data obtained in Western countries, i.e. in socio-cultural contexts quite different from Croatian. Despite the fact that there were more than 60% of Internet users in general population of Croatia in 2011, according to the data published by the World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.USER.P2), systematic exploration of the ways Croatian citizens are using the Internet is lacking5. The lack of scientific interests in the new media literacy and net activities of Croatian citizens is even more astonishing having in mind that the “Facebook protests” were not the first time that the new communication technologies were used for social mobilization. First such protests were organized in April 2008 by high-school students using Facebook and cell phones. They protested against introduction of the final graduation exam which was not, in their opinion, well prepared. Their teachers and a wider public supported their demands, and the Ministry postponed introducing the exam for the next two years. The protest, which took place simultaneously in ten towns, was prepared in only a few days. It is interesting that without any formal longstanding youth organization being involved, teenagers manage to coordinate their actions throughout the country. The same coordinated network pattern of the protest happened in December 2008. This time preparation for the protest took a few weeks, after the two initiators opened the Facebook profile “You tighten your belts, gang of thieves!" in mid-November6. The Facebook profile soon reached 44,602 members, and the protests simultaneously took place in seven towns with estimated ten thousand participants in total. Both of these precursors of the much more intense “Facebook protest” in 2011 have proven the ICT observed ability to accelerate and geographically extend the diffusion of social movement information and of protest (Garret, 2006).
Structure of the “Facebook protest 2011” on the web
It seems that Croatian citizens are quite active on Internet. In October 2010 the most popular Internet forum in Croatia – Forum.hr was included on world Internet map: “When you click on Forum.hr, you are just one of 2,169,435 unique visitors out of six millions monthly visits of this page. This is the reason for including Forum.hr on the world Internet map, along the giants like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, ahead of similar forums in Italy or Germany, which are nowhere to be found on this map.“ (Jutarnji List, October 21, 2010). Forum.hr was established in 1999, and since then there are more than 25 million posts on 349,307 topics, which are also indexed by Google. Indexing means that information posted on Forum.hr are considered reliable, making thus the forum a valuable resource for other people, and not just registered members. It seems that Forum.hr gives evidence to Rheingold’s vision about computer-mediated collective knowledge production (Rheingold, 1998). 6 Protest was provoked when the Government announced cuts in public spending.
Pre-print copy, May 2012 While the above-mentioned protests were focused on a single event, the Facebook protest 2011 started without a precise agenda and lasted for almost two months, giving more time for Internet activities to proliferate. There were two major Facebook profiles, a personal one of Ivan Pernar, the initiator of the first protest, and a collective profile “A huge protest to overthrow the government” created on February 20, at the very beginning of massive street marches. The later one became central place for discussions and coordination. Geographic spreading of the protests throughout the country was followed by creation of local Facebook profiles in dozens of towns, all linked to the central page and mutually interlinked. There was even the Facebook profile in the English language, initiated for the purpose of internationalization of the whole event. Nevertheless, the net activism did not stop there. It spread on other social networks like Twitter and YouTube. Several web pages and personal blogs were dedicated to the protest. As if the rhisomatic structure of Internet backed up the rhisomatic structure of grassroots organizing all over the country, thus contributing to the new social morphology (Castells, 2000; Hands, 2006).
Here is the list of the most prominent Facebook profiles and web pages:
Facebook (on April 9, 2011) Name Ivan Pernar 'Veliki prosvjed za rušenje vlade' 'Kažimo i mi NE izađimo na ulice Vinkovaca' 'Prosvjedi i u Slavoniji za vikend' (Osijek)
Description Personal profile Political organization* Organization Nonprofit organization
Members/friends 7,000 33,450 106 1,722 150 329 228 762 940 994 92 246 1,270
'Organizirajmo prosvjed protiv Vlade u Non-governmental Šibeniku' organization 'Prosvjed u Ogulinu za rušenje Vlade' Political organization 'Veliki Prosvjed Protiv Vlade u Varaždinu' Political organization 'Masovni prosvjedi Split' Non-governmental organization 'Prosvjed Protiv Vlade – Rijeka' Political organization 'Prosvjedi u Zadru' ‘Prosvjed u Ludbregu za rušenje Vlade’ 'B U N K E R M A N' (Pula) Dan Za Promjene, 01.05.2011. Cijela Non-governmental organization Political organization Public figure Hrvatska Non-profit organization
Pre-print copy, May 2012 'Support anti-government protests in Croatia' Non-profit organization 805 YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/crorevolutiontv (channel) Other pages http://www.prosvjedi.org/ http://www.javnavolja.net/ http://www.prosvjednik.com/ http://www.pressthepresident-croatia.com/show.jsp * Though some of the profiles were registered as political or non-governmental organizations, all of them were
created and run by individuals. There was no formal organization involved, but the description of each profile testifies about self-perception of their creators.
Further analysis is based on the content of the Facebook profiles connected to the protests. I followed discussions on a daily bases from February till April 2011. My main focus was the ‘central’ page “A huge protest to overthrow the government”. During March, when the protest reached its peak, there were hundreds of individual posts every day. People were active on the web (posting links, writing comments, “liking”) 24 hours a day. Under some posts, there were a few hundred comments or “likes”. There were some 40-50 people who participated in discussions more often, but much more were present occasionally. ”Members” were allowed to open separate discussions – and there were 158 discussion topics ranging from economic and political analysis to discussions how to mobilize more people. All of it makes an enormous amount of written material which would require a more thorough analysis. Especially discourse and content analysis could bring deeper insights into the political culture and attitudes of those involved in Internet activities connected to the protest. For the time being, Facebook became a vibrant social space, complementing off-line events, enabling political and organizational maturing of the movement. For the purpose of this paper, I have used the ethnography of Internet approach, based on my own online participation.
There were three distinct functions Facebook was used for: 1. Activism – social mobilization, informing, organizing, and coordinating protest activities This was the most obvious and instrumental function of the page. Building upon previous local and international experiences, Facebook profiles were intended for social mobilization, discussing and informing interested citizens when and where the next protest march will take place. Administrators of the Facebook profile “A huge protest to overthrow the government” were regularly publishing information on the dates and meeting points for the protests in Zagreb, but also in other cities. Local Facebook profiles announced events in their cities. Along with basic information about the protest, there were information on leaflets and 99
Pre-print copy, May 2012 banners. People were often asked to photocopy already prepared leaflets and bring them to the protest.
“Tomorrow PEACFULL protest at 6 p.m. in Zagreb (Flower’s square), Pula (Portarata square) and Rijeka (Kobler square). Saturday protest in Rijeka (Hotel Continental, 7 p.m.), Koprivnica (main square, 5 p.m.), Split (Riva, 6 p.m.), Zadar (12 a.m.), Virovitica (King Tomislav square, 10 a.m.), Osijek (Starčević square, 6 p.m.), Slavonski Brod (in front of the municipality building, 12 a.m.), Varaždin (Korzo, 11 a.m.). Let’s take care of our future!” “Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade”, March 3, 2011 “Just to inform you that banners are prepared, everything is registered and approved, all you need to do is come tomorrow to the square at 12:00 and show what you think ;-))” “Prosvjedi u Zadru”, March 4, 2011 “we ask all who can to print this [leaflet] and stick it around the town. It is necessary to inform all those who don’t have access to Facebook, but who wish to protest; last time they were many.” “Prosvjedi u Zadru”, March 4, 2011 „since we wanted to show our support to ‘Uzor’ [factory] today, we approached the workers concerning the morning news and they’ve told us this: IT IS NOT NECCESSERY FOR THE TIME BEING, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, YOU ARE OUR CHILDREN, WE ARE ONE BODY AND WE SUFFER TOGETHER… WE’LL BE WITH YOU ON FRIDAY… AND FEEL FREE TO PUBLISH THIS IN THE MEDIA… THANKS!!!” “Masovni prosvjedi Split”, March 7, 2011 Almost all facets of the protest were subject to collective deliberation: frequency of marches, ideas how to mobilize more people, contents of new leaflets, banners and actions:
“Shall we all wear something red tomorrow together with small banner reading ‘we’re reddening out of shame, because you don’t have shame’ or something similar?” “but we are not communists…” “my favorite color” “why not black when situation is so black anyway” “maybe we can produce a big banner with the same line?” Excerpt from the discussion at “Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade”, March 22, 2011
Pre-print copy, May 2012 One participant in a private conversation said: “It was amazing to see that, what we were discussing on the web in the evening, materialized the next day on the streets.” Highly mediatized nature of the whole event is visible in the event described by one participantobserver: “Maybe the most interesting example of this [protesters skillful use of new ICTs] is the event of March 4th, when the protesters watching prime time news at the Croatian national television (HTV) heard the report over their iPhones and Blueberries about the actual protest announcing just one thousand people participating in the rally that day – so they decided to change the route of the protest march, and walked to the building of the Croatian radio-television, where they shouted 'We're only a thousand'.” (Kunac, 2011: 30) Apparently, there were about ten thousand people walking the streets of Zagreb that day.
2. Community/identity building This function of contentious Facebook profiles was less intentional. The feeling of community and shared identity was a more spontaneous offspring resulting from a lengthy online participation mixed with ‘real-life’ events on the streets. Shared anger and frustration with the situation in the country certainly contributed in the beginning. But, as protest continued there were some more integrative emotions at work, like enthusiasm and feeling of empowerment. Cohesion was further enhanced by negative reactions of the media and politicians. Many people were using nicknames in their online communication. Especially popular were those resembling Native American names, followed by corresponding profile photos. It was spontaneous collective reaction to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Karamarko’s belittling statement in which he called the protesters “Indians”. By appropriating the label, people reversed its meaning. Instead of the savage minority, “Indians” became the synonym for people who were cheated, robbed and who were fighting for a just cause. “Indians” also became a common signifier helping create a sense of shared identity. There were many personal messages, especially before the rallies (inviting people to join in or encouraging others) or after (protesters sharing impressions, joy, and excitement).
“Be brave and see you tomorrow!” „Prosvjed u Ludbregu za rušenje Vlade”, March 25, 2011 “Let’s go Rijeka, let’s go Primorje, let’s go Croatia! Let’s show them we want change.” “Good morning Zadar!!! The day has come when you'll wake up from deep and bad dream!!!”
Pre-print copy, May 2012 “Prosvjedi u Zadru”, March 5, 2011
“Hello everyone after the protest. There were more than 5,000 people in Zagreb. More and more people every day are proof that we will achieve our goal only with nonviolent protest! Today was great again /.../ Click 'share' on the left side to share this page with your friends.” “Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade”, March 2, 2011 There were also messages expressing disappointment with a low turnout at the rallies:
“Thank you all who participated, but it is so sad that there just so few of us and so many people are displeased with the governing of this state…” “Veliki prosvjed protiv Vlade u Varaždinu”, March 12, 2011 Numerous messages contained links to music video-clips, which varied from engaged pop and rock songs (domestic and international) to more nationalistic popular songs from the war period, reflecting diversity of political orientations of the protesters. In both cases the purpose of music was to cheer others, but also to connect the present struggle with some previous movements. The protesters also posted photographs and links to short videos taken at previous events (there are many short videos from that period on YouTube, edited and raw, posted by numerous individuals). Most of these photographs and videos were taken by cell or smart phones, giving another evidence of highly mediatized nature of the whole event. Technical possibility to use multimedia certainly contributed to impression of shared enthusiasm and goals, creating thus virtual social space resembling the feeling of community.
3. Public debate This was the least planned function of created Facebook pages. As it was already mentioned, deliberation about organizational issues was a constitutive part of online communication from the very beginning of the protest. Especially given the political diversity of participants and very vaguely defined goal of the protest (immediate resignation of the government), it did not take long before more serious debates began. First two protest actions organized by Ivan Pernar ended up in confrontation with the police, so one of the first topics of discussion was violence. Football fans were especially in favor of more violent methods:
“Nonviolent protest??? You can’t achieve anything with nonviolence…”
Pre-print copy, May 2012 “VOICE OF PEOPLE must be heard, and people say NO to this government. Dignified protest without violence creates momentum for change…” “Where in the world was something changed through ‘peaceful’ demonstrations?” “In India (for example)…” “This spontaneous tactics of today was beautiful. With peaceful demonstration we’ve achieved two things: we have shown to people that there is no need to be afraid so they can join us on Wednesday, and second, we kicked those in power more than with any other tactics…” Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade, February 27/28, 2011 One of the most intriguing issues was the role of Ivan Pernar (initiator of the protest) and the role of leaders in general. Question about leader(s) was partly imposed by the mainstream media, following their focus on persons. While the many involved, especially in the beginning, supported a more prominent position of Pernar, with more people getting involved, and particularly after leftist groups have joined in, the situation changed:
“ugh, pernar… the only thing about you I recognize is your bravery in organizing those first protests and instigating people to come. you were the initiator, but these protest doesn’t need you anymore – you should comprehend it! do you really think you’re a kind of messiah sent by god to lead this people…” „you [Pernar] have initiated a great thing and every protest needs a leader, whoever it might be. otherwise all collapses. actually people can hardly organize themselves, and it was proven a million times that leaders are needed. in this case you are the leader and it should stay this way...“ Ivan Pernar personal page, March 17, 2011 “it’s so cool that there is no centralized headquarter, but everyone can act on his/her own, or in small groups, everybody is acting as he/she knows, as much as they’re creative, and as much as they can...“ Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade, March, 2011 ”Centers of power would like to know who the brain behind all of it is. When there is no outstanding leader, they become confused, because they don’t know who they are fighting against. So they try to discredit the protests calling them frivolous. Because there is no one they can bribe... That is the power of new media and Facebook, and they can’t deal with it.” Forum.hr, March 28, 2011 The last quotation reflects also specific (new) media awareness connected with the performative characteristics of the protest. It was noticed by several commentators that its
Pre-print copy, May 2012 leaderless, pluralistic, decentralized character follows the logic of the web, where it all started: “you can say that contemporary, non-violent street marches are composed as a kind of facebook wall, linear stream of daily political events (news feed). each new march is updated by new political events.” Klaudio Štefančić, personal Facebook profile Since the very beginning, the protest gained a lot of media attention, and the protesters were carefully following all the media coverage of the events, posting links to newspaper articles, TV and radio programs. Those links were often supplemented with negative commentaries about the way the protest was presented:
“dear regime-tailored ‘journalists’ we are not ‘facebook-users’ and we don’t ‘stroll’. we are disappointed citizens organized through Facebook, because we can’t do it any other way since all the institutions are possessed by corrupted and greedy oligarchy. we don’t ‘stroll’ but protest and it is very clear what we want.” „Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade”, March, 2011 Such comments were followed by discussions how to better influence the mainstream media and how to present the protesters’ cause in a more articulated manner. Some suggested actions – for example spamming7 the most odious news portals, could be described as forms of hacktivism8. This spontaneous incorporation of more advanced ICT-enabled activist tactics gives another evidence of collective action as a site of social learning. Along with negative examples, more objective media presentations were singled out and cheered. During the cause of events some independent news portals were increasingly using information posted on activists web pages (www.index.hr). The protesters’ growing interest in the media led to a greater attention dedicated to other political and economic developments, followed by numerous posts containing links to newspaper articles covering domestic affairs. Those posts were frequently commented and followed by more serious attempt to formulate possible solutions. Even though debates were fragmented and did not result in articulation of a more coherent political agenda, participation in online and offline activities certainly contributed to intensified politicization of Croatian citizens. This is the reason why the 'Facebook protest' should not be judged as a mere temporary outburst of citizens’ discontent over the present political and economic situation in the country. Nor it should be judged according to the apparent failure in accomplishing the proclaimed goal – immediate
Spamming – sending an overwhelming amount of messages to targeted web pages Hacktivism – form of electronic civil disobedience acts. As reported by Croatian daily Novi List there was one DDoS attack on the Croatian Government web page (Novi list, March 14, 2011)
Pre-print copy, May 2012 resignation of the government. Underneath the chaotic but colorful appearance of protest activities it is possible to trace a more significant process of political maturation of Croatian citizens. Notable evidence of this process can be found in Facebook posts reflecting participants’ self-perception:
“The truth is that next parliamentary elections won’t change much, but we have to start from somewhere. Nothing could be changed overnight; especially not the structure of this completely corrupted and badly organized state.” ”people are brainwashed... And that’s the reason why this what we are doing is more than just protesting – this is the evolution of Cro-brain“ ”from protozoan to thinking Croat” “Message of the protest is: participate in expression of discontent with government and dominant politics, they should know that they are accountable to US.” Veliki prosvjed za rušenje Vlade, March, 2011
Considering minimal contribution of the established NGO sphere, along with manifested capacity for citizens’ self-organization and self-reflection, the 'Facebook protest' could be interpreted as a sign of the end of transition, as suggested by political scientist Marko Horvat: “Transition will reach the end when, beside the institution of civil society, new political culture emerges. Political culture transformed from obedient into participative, carried by individuals who are active subjects of political life...” (Horvat, 2000).
Conclusion While there is no doubt that ICTs lower the obstacles to grassroots organizing, they also introduce the risk of information overload, and 'frame clouding' obscuring the thematic visibility of the movement (Garrett, 2006). This is exactly what has happened to the Facebook page “A huge protest to overthrow the government”. After a while, people started complaining about an enormous amount of posts, which made the page vast. Another issue was unclear communication rules, unknown and unskilled page administrators, which contributed to occasional verbal fights between radicals, and certainly to many participants leaving. But all these also inspired some valuable debates about the nature of democratic deliberation. However, there is a question of significant variation in the number of street protesters and Facebook fans. While the number of participants in the street marches never exceeded 10,000 people, there were more than 30,000 members of the collective Facebook 1 15
Pre-print copy, May 2012 profile “A huge protest to overthrow the government”. One can easily dismiss those dozens of thousand people as mere slacktivists, but expanding Bakardjieva’s notion of subactivism, instead of dismissing slacktivism9 as unbound low-cost acts, we should view it as symbolic actions taken by non-activists. Thus, Internet-based activism is not a replacement for more substantial civil engagement, but expansion of civil concerns over the previously excluded segments of society. In this light we should not interpret a “low” turnout of protesters as a lack of motivation (in any case, active citizenship should not be measured only by people's willingness to participate in street actions), but as a sign of citizens’ readiness to openly express their political opinion. In a way, having in mind technological possibility to trace real identity of Facebook users10, it takes even more courage to participate in “virtual” contention, than to be part of the masses on the street: “By definition, the citizen is the main agent of the democratic system. That is why a thorough elaboration of the different modes of becoming, being, and acting as a citizen is imperative for a valid model of democracy” (Bakardjieva, 2009: 92). While a direct political outcome of the 'Facebook protest' could be judged as minor, the analysis of Internet activities connected to street protest reveals a certain empowering potential of technology. This paper argues that Internet and especially virtual networks contributed to emergence of the computer-mediated public sphere, as a new social space for a new kind of political socialization of citizens. Thus, ICTs contribute to emergence of a new political agent, networked citizens who are not just voters, but active participants in creation of public opinion. Croatian citizens prove to be very skilful and creative in appropriating new communication technologies for grassroots mobilization and organizing, which is an important step toward a more active citizenship. All these changes imply necessity of new forms of politics based on principles of subsidiarity, interactivity, and participation. Spontaneous, self-actualized networking of citizens in case of Croatia has even greater meaning, considering deeply rooted authoritarian political culture of the country. The longitudinal study of Croatian citizens’ value orientations from 1985 to 2010 reveals political and personal authoritarianism as only relatively stable dimension, resisting all sociocultural and political changes (Sekulić, 2011). While Internet alone could not alter such deeply embedded societal patterns, it would be worth exploring technological possibilities for enhancing deliberative practices, because: “/…/ with the more widespread use of social media
Slacktivism – pejorative term for acts like signing on-line petitions, which requires minimal personal effort
The issue of police surveillance was also openly discussed on contentious Facebook profiles, so people were aware of the risk they're taking.
Pre-print copy, May 2012 and internet technologies and their absorption into the mundane practices of lived experience, their potential to shape social relations of power becomes all the greater.” (Loadera and Merceab, 2011). Nevertheless, the “Facebook-protest” has indicated something more about the Croatian society. Protest activities were multiply-mediated through mass and interactive media. From its inspiration with the Arab spring to media-related protest activities, the whole event could be interpreted as a sign of high level of mediatization of the Croatian society. Since mediatization is ascribed to late modernity (Hjarvard, 2008), the “Facebook-protest” indicates the existence of some under-researched currents of modernization of the Croatian society. It also indicates the necessity to leave behind the concept of transition as it was applied in former socialist countries, because it obscures the process of those countries’ participation in the global transition to the network society – with all the positive and negative sides of this new social formation.
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