As anticipated, Zagreb is a big European city with lots of expensive shops and tourist traps. I’s a big contrast to the Serbian cities I visited and there’s evidently a lot more money around. Pete and I find that suddenly we can’t afford things again. Internet is €3 an hour. After some hunting we find a place for €2.50, but it’s so slow it hardly works and the staff deny all knowledge of computers. People are less friendly elsewhere too and finding a free toilet proves impossible, even in the cafe where you have already bought a drink. Capitalism has a strong hold on Croatia it seems.
We find out about an eco-community in a village a couple of hours drive away and decide that will be better for us. We send an email but then decide to just go there anyway as who knows when they will check their email. We park up for a night in a forest on the way.
The people in Recycled Estate at Vukomeric are surprised to see us. There are not many people around and those who are seem very busy, but we still get a guided tour of the land they own before being left loitering around the kitchen area where we drink lots of fresh herbal tea and wait for people to stop for lunch. When they do we jump on the chance to help cook. Pete makes his now infamous potato pouffas and I make a salad with fresh leaves from their garden and the last of our wild garlic. I’m glad we stayed as more people arrive and we all sit together to eat around a large outdoor table. Now we get a chance to speak with people properly and find out more about their project and Croatia in general.
Nobody lives at the project yet, but a few people plan to eventually. Most people live in the city and come down to work over the weekends or during the week, depending on what other work they do. The land has been owned by the collective for a long time – I think they said 10 years! The way I understand it, the first group of people were very young and excited by the possibilities of the place, but didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually some of the energy diminished and people left the project, but then it gradually began to pick up again as new people came along and the remaining original people grew up and learned the skills they needed to look after the place.
Now they have acquired more land and people are taking on individual projects as well as joint projects in different sections. They also run training courses and other events regularly. We promise to keep in touch and plan on coming back this way to visit again after Hungary. We are also interested in some other eco-village projects in Istrija, a peninsula in the North-Western part of Croatia. We also learn that there are usually more people around at weekends, but some of them are staying in a protest camp in the centre of Zagreb. Well, this gives us an excuse to go back. We had heard of the protest, but after hearing no more about it had assumed it had finished. Now we find out it’s alive and kicking.
On returning to the city, we find a couchsurfing host who is active in feminist politics and one of the organisers of the annual Pride event. She lives in a shared house with some other smiley queers from various countries who are all very lovely and interesting. Our host tells us a little more about the protest site as well as about a squat social-centre near the city centre. We go to visit both, making our short stay in Zagreb quite a busy one.
Sadly the squat isn’t much to speak of. Maybe we came at a bad time. Like in Germany, this isn’t really a squat at all now as they have permission to use the building and pay some rent, but people still call it a squat, perhaps because it looks like one. At the time we visit in the early afternoon it’s occupied by a small group of drunk people sitting around telling offensive jokes. We stay for a small coffee, then leave.
The protest site is far more promising and I leave feeling excited and homesick. It has the smell of the UK Climate Camps about it – people occupying a street with sleeping bags, board games and a cheery atmosphere. We meet and chat to some people and bump into one of our friends from Vukomeric, who is pleased to see we found it ok.
The group who initiated the protest, Zelena Akcija (“Green Action”) have an office and a small centre around the corner. The group is more Friends of the Earth than Green Anarchist, but for some reason they have the best anarchist book library we’ve seen since leaving the UK. This is the kind of place we could both spend hours just reading, but we’ve decided to leave today to start driving north to Hungary.
Below is an article I have written for Schnews about the protest site in Zagreb:
Right to a City (or insert witty title here)
Protesters occupy a pedestrian street in Croatia’s capital and are demanding the mayor’s resignation.
Spirits were high when Schnews visited an assortment of students, NGO representatives, disgruntled residents and dreadlocked activists camping out on Varšavska, a pedestrian street in the centre of Zagreb. At the time of writing, the occupation is around two weeks old and is the latest tactic in a two and a half year campaign against a dodgy development by tycoon-owned HOTO Group. The development has the unconditional backing of city mayor Milan Bandić and was ok-ed by the Minister of Environmental Protection, Planning and Construction – unsurprising as she has shares in the construction company set to carry out the work.
This stage of the campaign began early on Monday 17th May as contractors erected a metal fence around Varšavska – a public space soon to be privatized and turned into an access ramp for the private investor’s underground car park. The entrance was blocked by activists in the morning, stopping any further work. At midday they were joined by several hundred city residents who hammered on the fence and eventually pulled it down and occupied the area. Now the fence itself is used by protestors to form a tent-like structure, over which they have draped clear tarpaulin. A long line of sleeping bags are neatly laid out inside. Activists are keen to stress the non-violent and alcohol-free nature of the space.
There is a huge amount of public support with local residents bringing food and hot drinks to support the occupation and protests have attracted numbers unheard of in Croatia. On May 20th, 4,000 people marched to Zagreb City Council demanding the resignation of Mayor Bandić over the dodgy plans. In an effort to encourage him to “pack his bags” and find a new job, protestors helpfully piled up suitcases outside the council building.
The site was previously occupied earlier this year using shipping containers. That occupation lasted 10 days but was evicted forcefully by riot police in the middle of the night with 23 arrests, out of which five were charged, none convicted. The real casualty was the trojan horse – a giant wooden structure built by activists and presented to the City Administration as a symbol of all swindles and deception related to the project. The horse was brutally broken apart using cranes in a two hour long eviction in the snow.
Complaints against the development include concerns about restricted emergency vehicle access, increased traffic and of course the loss of a well-loved hang-out area, several large trees and protected cultural heritage buildings in the old part of the city. There is now a belated investigation by the state anti-corruption office USKOK of potential criminal liability in issuing the permits for the construction of the “lifestyle” HOTO Centre, luxury flats and car park. This follows several months of corruption charges against Croatian politicians, in which the Vice President and Minister of Defense are still awaiting court decisions.
The protestors, gathering under the banner “Right to a City”, have vowed to continue their occupation of Varšavska for as long as is necessary to stop the project. They say, “this is not just about this street, this is a symbol of the fight against corruption in Croatia. The system is rotten”.
More information (in Croatian): http://pravonagrad.org