International Conference „Decolonisation – New Emancipatory Struggles“

Zagreb, 15-21. 5. 2011

The aim of the International Conference under the title „Decolonisation – New Emancipatory Struggles“, which took place in Zagreb between 15-21 of May, as a part of 4. Subversive Film Festival, was precisely to show what are the emancipatory potentials not only of the „Arab world“ protests, but also in the region of Eastern Europe. Beside keynote lectures by prominent thinkers like Slavoj Žižek, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Gayatri Spivak, Zygmunt Bauman, Samir Amin, David Harvey and others, Zagreb hosted the first meeting of the World Forum for Alternatives, organized together with Transform-network.
After the rise of popular movements across the Arab world, new emancipatory struggles are not limited only to the Maghreb and the Middle East anymore. Recent pro-democratic protests in Croatia, fashioned in a similar way as those in the Middle East and bringing to the scene new political subjects, show the complexieties of the situation across Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, two decades after the fall of state socialist regimes. Here, instead of personalised dictatorships, one finds countries under the dictatorship of new oligarchies, including often corrupt political elites, business and mafia circles as well as media moghuls. Neo-liberal dogma, promoted by the IMF and the EU, has being reigning supreme and almost with no resistance since early 1990s.
Due to a huge public interest and large attendance of the conference (gathering sometimes around 1,000 people per lecture), it seems Croatia was the perfect place to meet: all contradictions from the capitalist core (financial shocks, reckless consumerism, media, elite-driven politics, democratic deficit, commercialisation of public services) are visible together with all political, social and economic problems of the post-socialist, post-partition and post-conflict semi-periphery.

What the new wave of protests brings is a clear rejection of the system, both political and economic, amounting to the loudest critique of capitalist economy in Eastern Europe since 1989. This critique stems from ordinary politically undefined citizens, the new radical left and some right-wing elements trying to co-opt the social rhetoric into their populist defence of the “nation” and its “traditional values”. In spite of nationalist conservativism, it is precisely in Croatia where, since the 2009 student protests, a movement dedicated to direct democracy developed. In many occasions direct democracy was successfully exercised not only among students, but workers, peasants and urban activists alike. Croatia as the country at the doorstep of the EU is therefore an excellent place to engage in a productive debate on possible alternatives or further degenerations of global capitalism and the way it influences the semi-peripheral and peripheral regions.