Foreshadowing the Future (A Collage from Croatia)

By Ana Ofak
  • Ana Ofak
    Ana Ofak is a writer and a researcher based in Berlin and Zagreb. Her work is developed at the intersection between academic research, cultural and media theory with her recent projects focusing on exhibition pavilions of post-war Yugoslavia, on material practices of visual arts and architecture at the Bauhaus and cultural sources of newness in the digital era. This year Ofak co-founded the initiative “Post-fascist idyll” in the attempt to explore the complex of post-fascism together with artists, critics and the audience at the Volksbühne Berlin. She holds a doctor of philosophy in media and culture from the Bauhaus University, Weimar.
Dalibor Martinis, "Proleteuri svih zemalja/Proleteuros of All Countries", 2009. Photo: Srećko Budek.

Croatia is facing a bizarre political crisis. Almost two months ago the government fell. As the parliamentary summer recess began, the ousted prime minister went on holiday to a state-owned villa and a bogus order settled in. The screwball scenario began to unravel when the first deputy prime minister requested that the prime minister resign. Then the second deputy prime minister requested the first deputy prime minister to resign. The prime minister finally demanded that both the first and the second deputy prime ministers resign, all the while the president declared a historical moment in diplomatic relations between Croatia and Kazakhstan. Live on state TV, the subsequently sacked editor of the evening news called an astrologer to weigh in on the situation. The editor was worried about the upcoming triple six on 16 June 2016 and asked the astrologer whether or not the government was going to fall on that date.

In spite of the odds of fortune telling—or maybe precisely because of them—the fall of the Croatian government did nothing to reverse the decay of democracy in the country. After a spell of less than six months in power, the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) might be facing substantial allegations of wrongdoing, but these will not be enough to prompt its demise. The CDU is robustly entrenched in the system. After the parliamentary elections in November 2015, which resulted in a hung parliament, the CDU clawed its way into power. Following the results, the CDU trumped negotiations between the Bridge of Independent Lists—a political start-up, attractive to disgruntled voters—and its purported coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP). With the help of votes from the Croatian diaspora and support from the Opus Dei, the CDU and the Bridge succeeded in installing Tihomir Orešković, a Canadian pharmaceutical company manager with no prior political experience, as prime minister. When Orešković gave his inaugural speech, voters were stunned. Muttering in broken Croatian, he addressed the Croatian people as građevine [buildings] instead of građani [citizens]. Voters realized that politics would no longer be concerned with the demos, but with the demolition of all remaining social structures. In fact, after being ousted per parliamentarian vote on 16 June, Orešković was quick to note that he did not come to Croatia to do politics, but to “help with the numbers.” And the numbers are grim: Croatia’s public debt equals 86 percent of its GDP, with youth unemployment hovering at 40 percent. In the wake of the crisis, the international press, such as Reuters, Bloomberg, and dpa, reminded Croatia of its status as one of the weakest economies in the European Union, which cannot afford to postpone reforms until the next election. Simply put: democracy must yield to the dogma of debt management through privatization.

Croatia is the European Union’s youngest member. The country’s social macroclimate of unemployment, empty state pension funds, and disintegrating medical care persisted through the accession indifferently. During Croatia’s almost three years of membership, the former SDP government initiated structural reforms such as the monetization of public infrastructure and assets consistent with the European Union’s fiscal governance framework. The CDU’s ascent to power accelerated this process, adding one decisive factor: a blitzkrieg on culture and education. The installment of Zlatko Hasanbegović as minister of culture triggered funding cuts, censorship, and layoffs. According to recent estimates, more than a third of the jobs in independent media, nonprofit cultural organizations, and contemporary art institutions ceased to exist during the brief period he held office. Nonetheless, the sanctions merely escalated the erasure of culture, which is a staple of neoliberal societies: corporatization and digital ventures have encroached on the spaces educational platforms and alternative formats used to inhabit in the media, museums, and theaters. Hasanbegović’s sanctions stood out because they were drenched with revisionist statements that glorified the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a Nazi puppet regime in existence during World War II. He proclaimed his strategy to be a “Raid on Drvar,” 1“The Raid on Drvar” was an airborne assault by Nazis meant to destroy the Supreme Headquarters of the Yugoslav partisans in Western Bosnia and targeted Tito personally. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Rösselsprung_(1944) (accessed 10 August 2016). prompting a (unsuccessful) Nazi assault on the Yugoslav partisans as his paragon. With his analogy, Hasanbegović demonstrated clearly that he considered cultural workers to be communists that need to be removed from Croatian culture. Croatian culture by contrast, as far as the CDU’s objectives are considered, is church plus capital.

Much like Hungary and Poland, Croatia is forcing Europe to acknowledge its ongoing metamorphosis into a kind of Brechtian tutor, who castrates himself physically, intellectually, and economically in order to better serve the ruling class. In 1950, when the Cold War was a swelling blister, Bertolt Brecht adapted the Sturm und Drang tragicomedy The Tutor in the style of Antonin Artaud’s theater of cruelty for the Berliner Ensemble in the Soviet zone of the not-yet-walled city. Brecht did not hold back from bestowing Hasty the tutor with a piercing rhetoric set somewhere between Hitler and Ulbricht (the GDR’s most important functionary). Already in the prologue Hasty screeched: “With all their trimming, clipping, drilling those nobles made me only too willing to teach what suits the ruling class – a habit that will never pass. But what I really do, you’ll see, is spell out the sorry state of Germany.” 2Prologe to “The Tutor” by J.M.R. Lenz. In: Brecht. Berliner Ensemble Adaptations. Edited and introduced by David Barnett. London: Bloomsbury 2014. Germany’s intelligentsia—and not just the East’s—ought to have heeded the warning about its future as a toothless tiger. But it did not.

The crisis in Croatia is going equally unnoticed. The country sits at the newly fenced borders of the Balkans route, a roadblock between the Schengen states and the rest, much like the GDR was located in the buffer zone between the Eastern and Western blocs. And much like the GDR, Croatia still serves as an outpost for qualified low-cost labor with a surplus of non-privatized resources. So as long as the compliancy with the European Union’s fiscal governance framework lasts, Croatia will hardly have to suffer the austerity measures inflicted on Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The fascistic slurs of Hasanbegović and others are not a concern. On the contrary, they foreshadow the future. The numerous Hasanbegovićs of Europe are the janitors of the radical consensus the system itself maintains to enable open doors for fiscalization and financialization.

How are we to understand this merger of technocracy with historical revisionism and neo-clerical ideologies present in Croatia and Europe today? Can we call it fascism? No, because this is fascism in a new form. It has evolved into a systemically stabilized “extremism of the center.” 3Seymour Martin Lipset, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1977 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1978), 429ff. Posing no threat to democratic rulers, neoliberalism, or technological progress, it has entered the mainstream. The philosopher and oppositional thinker Gáspár Miklós Tamás has coined the term “post-fascism” to describe it. 4Gáspár Miklós Tamás, “On Post-Fascism: The degradation of universal citizenship,” Boston Review (1 June 2000), http://bostonreview.net/world/g-m-tamás-post-fascism (accessed 10 August 2016). Tamás emphasizes that post-fascism is hard to identify intuitively, precisely because it does not stomp around in military boots, but rather struts down the halls of parliaments, banks, corporations, and galleries in Oxfords. It thrives under the “capacious carapace” of global economic power that lies in the hands of the very few rapidly radicalizing at the sight of “tens of millions of hungry human beings […] rattling the doorknob.” 5Gáspár Miklós Tamás, “On Post-Fascism: The degradation of universal citizenship,” Boston Review (1 June 2000), http://bostonreview.net/world/g-m-tamás-post-fascism (accessed 10 August 2016). For this reason, post-fascism is directed toward the disadvantaged and the degraded citizens in the broadest possible sense, and not only toward non-citizens. And its perils are tangible and not just hypothetical. Here is an example: merely a few months after Tamás published his declaration on post-fascism in 2000, the Croatian parliament introduced the “Declaration on the War of Independence.” From then on, the civil war in the Balkans was renamed as the “War of Independence,” and was proclaimed to have been fought to defend Croatia’s independence from former Yugoslavia—and from the aggression of alleged totalitarian communism. The freshly acquitted government has been drawing upon this specific historical moment to legitimate its political actions today. Citizens who questioned the impartiality of the declaration were denounced as non-Croatians, communists, or foreign intruders. In other words, they were unprotected by the state and exposed to shenanigans of which only the visible one was public harassment. Devoid of a sense of equality, heterogeneity, criticality, or solidarity, Europe and not just Croatia descended into the trenches of degraded citizenship. The burning matter considering this perversion of statecraft is its revised perspective on fascism. When communists are being pronounced as a threat haunting democracy and its capital flows, then it suddenly becomes acceptable to summon in their historical nemesis, the fascists. So does Europe’s future imply fascist control of the masses? A reply is unnecessary, because this future is now.

It is hard to imagine what could lead to a reversal of this situation. The times when the European Left marched to Genoa, Syntagma, and Taksim Square seem terribly far away. Zagreb is no exception. What remains of 40,000 people demonstrating against the obliteration of public education reforms on its main square are three students at a protest camp in front of the Ministry of Education, investing their “physical and emotional labor into building and maintaining the site as simultaneously a base for political action and a space for daily life.” 6Anna Feigenbaum, Fabian Frenzel, and Patrick McCurdy, Protest Camps (London: Zed Books, 2013), 2. Protest camps migrated to the internet, where the excitement of collecting ‘likes’ has translated into petitioning, the exhortation of signatures, and trolling. This state of affairs supports the claim Srećko Horvat made, that today there is “no democracy without technology.” 7Zain Raza, “Transcription of interview with Yanis Varoufakis & Srecko Horavat,” acTVism, http://www.actvism.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/041316_Website_Transcript_Yanis-Srecko_EN.pdf (accessed 10 August 2016). Horvat is one of the founders of the Subversive Film Festival in Croatia, co-initiator, with Yanis Varoufakis, of the pan-European Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), and one of the brightest voices of the new Left. According to Horvat, the “new” in the new Left movement is to be rooted in internet activism. Open-source websites, whistle-blower platforms, and encryption tool providers represent the main arenas of internet activism. Although they constitute only a fraction of the internet, the impact of their actions provides them with the attention needed to mobilize masses. Tor, the open-source encryption software that allows users to access the internet anonymously, joined the DiEM25 movement as did WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. Both platforms proclaim their actions not to be politically motivated, but exerted in order to reinforce the effects of democracy. Accordingly, Horvat speculates that more technology could usher in more democracy by enabling people to access a secure sphere of resistance online. Yet one decisive question remains: What are the social conditions online? Or, rather, where are the social conditions online?

The digital order redefines how we come to know and what there is to know. Knowledge is, in a sense, scaled down to its applicability or non-applicability to the digital. One result of this is that the average internet user invests about the same amount of time reading leaked documents online as she or he does on encryption: a minute at most. Although one minute does transcend the well-known eight-second attention span for browsing, not much knowledge—or democracy for that matter—can be compressed into a minute. Besides, user behavior data analytics are prone to the discriminatory selectiveness of forgetting those who did not manage to overcome the social obstacle of becoming digitally literate in the first place. Encryption skips the poor. Tool kits for conquering the digital divide are available through open-source platforms, for example, yet open-source platforms are not educators. The resources necessary to master cautious, critical, and non-capitalizable internet navigation are in the hands of the digital bourgeoisie that is not known to be a revolutionary class open to participation in the sharing economy. Where does this leave us concerning the circulation of knowledge through internet activism in times of crisis? What happens to protest when our “morals [are] reformed, health [is] preserved and industry [is] invigorated” 8Jeremy Bentham, “Panopticon,” in: The Works. Vol. 4, edited by John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait 1843). See http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/bentham-the-works-of-jeremy-bentham-vol-4 (accessed August 10, 2016). online? It seems that in order to reclaim the internet from post-fascism, it is not more technology that is needed, but more scrutiny directed toward the capital congregating online and away from any democratic knowledge or insight.