Staying Critical in Croatia

The colonial relationship was reasonably straightforward. The empire dictated terms to the colony, and the colonial administration carried out the orders. Sometimes colonial subjects revolted. Sometimes the imperial agents went "native" and adopted the culture and perspectives of the people they were supposed to be pushing around. But the power dynamic was for the most part quite clear: the rulers issued decrees and the ruled followed them.

The neo-colonial relationship is somewhat more complicated. It would seem that the United States and Japan, for instance, are two entirely sovereign countries that have entered into a mutual security pact. Dig a little deeper and you begin to see certain asymmetries: U.S. troops stationed in Japan but not the other way around, a Japanese constitution written in part by Americans and circumscribing Japanese military policy, an expectation that Tokyo will support Washington's foreign policy adventures even if they are far from Northeast Asia, such as Iraq. Yet although the Japanese government is certainly subject to pressure from U.S. politicians, it voluntarily embraces these policies.

As a professor of postcolonial studies, a civil society activist, and a multidisciplinary thinker, Biljana Kasic is a keen observer of neo-colonialism, and she finds such relationships both within Croatia and between Croatia and other countries. She understands Yugoslavia, whatever its virtues, as a set of unequal relationships that privileged the northern tier (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia) over the southern tier (Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo). She views globalization as a primary force of neo-colonialism, with international organizations dictating economic and political terms to subject nations.

But she also sees how governments enact policies to control -- or colonize -- public space. In Croatia, for instance, "some political authorities wanted to fund civil society in order to control or discipline them," she points out. "There are some good organizations and centers, such as a Center for Women's Studies, the Center for Peace Studies. But they are not quite independent actors since they rely on state funds, and at the same time the political authorities tend to moderate their more critical political impulses."

Even the European Union has a neocolonial approach to East-Central Europe, forcing them "voluntarily" to accept a huge number of preconditions before they could enter the regional organization. On the issue of gender, for instance, the EU has emphasized a series of standards related to women's rights. But the trade-off, Biljana Kasic points out, is high unemployment for women.

To identify and challenge these neocolonial practices, she favors a consistently critical attitude. "I love the idea of being a civilian dissident all the time," she told me in an interview in Zagreb in October. "This means always being in a position critical toward your government, whether Yugoslav, post-Yugoslav, European, whatever."

In 2008, in an interview that I append to the bottom, we talked about nationalism, the women's movement, and Balkanization. This time around, we focused more on the European Union and the prospects of a more emancipatory politics in Croatia and the region.

The Interview

Does becoming a member of the European Union offer any possibilities, in terms of what we might call the politics of inclusion based on rights?

I have no illusions about the EU at all. I just came from Norway, and thanks to their natural resources and wealth, they made a choice not to be a part of EU. I am involved in an international academic research project. A friend of mine who is a professor from Spain told me, "Please, don't enter the European Union, because right now they are cutting 30 percent of our salaries at the university." This is only one small detail of how a new dependency has been created. The EU itself has become a kind of discriminatory mechanism, and it has special rules for its member states, particularly when it comes to the labor market economy. If you are from the Netherlands, there is no problem to find any job anywhere. If you are from Croatia, then you will have to wait -- just like people from Poland -- a few years to have the same opportunities. In terms of legal rights and migration policies, there are various obstacles and differences in the sense that the EU differentiates between people and constructs various boundaries.

And yet, so many people here are enthusiastic about the European Union.

I don't think so. People here are not enthusiastic about anything. We live in a system where nothing functions, where everything is getting worse and worse. So, do we have a proper option?

It'd be nice if you had the Norwegian option, but...

The Norwegian choice depends on oil!

That's right. If you discover oil off the Adriatic coast...

Yes, and the Swiss option depends on its monetary politics and the money in their banks. So in a sense we have a lack of choices. Yet I think we should have choices. In this regard I would rather look to people in Latin America, in the Third World, and how they have solved these issues and the methods of struggle they've used.

Look to them for what?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.