Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

(Out)living the War: Anti-War Activism in Croatia in the Early 1990s and Beyond

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

(Out)living the War: Anti-War Activism in Croatia in the Early 1990s and Beyond

Article excerpt

The multi-faceted processes of Yugoslavia's demise and violent break-up have aroused considerable interest across the social sciences. Although numerous, the different scholarly accounts of Yugoslavia's bloody dissolution written over the past 20 years have largely neglected the emergence of anti-war initiatives immediately prior and during the armed conflict.1 In fact, anti-war engagement in Croatia and other former-Yugoslav countries has only recently become an object of research and critical reflection (Bilic, 2011abc, 2012; Bozicevic, 2010; Dvornik, 2009; Fridman, 2006, 2011; Jankovic and Mokrovic, 2011; Jansen, 2005, 2008).2 This should not come as a surprise, given that in July 2011 the Anti-War Campaign (and its "successor", Documenta-Centre for dealing with the past) marked the twentieth anniversary of its foundation and almost 15 years have passed since the first democratic changes started in Croatia, a country that is entering a new phase of its existence as a European Union member. In such a climate, it is perhaps appropriate to intensify efforts to critically assess recent history (i.e. the 1990s), particularly when it is used (as in the post-Yugoslav region) as a lens for retroactively interpreting the history of the entire twentieth century. This paper thus aims to examine the Croatian anti-war movement1 * 3 in terms of its transformation from engaged reaction to long-lasting action by drawing upon some conceptual tools developed within social movement theory, which has rarely been used outside the Western context (Tarrow, 1998: 19) and almost never (excluding Devic, 1997; and Bilic, 2011) applied to former Yugoslavia. The aim is not to assess the Croatian anti-war movement merely in terms of "success" or "failure", but rather to focus on its long(er) term effects, like for example the promotion of non-violence or the development of civil society networks, despite a lack of influence at the policy level.4

The first section of the paper examines the emergence and progress of the Anti-War Campaign (AWC) and the socio-political context within which it operated. Part two consists of a brief description of the main interpretative tools used to scrutinize the legacy of Croatian anti-war activism, which follows in part three.

1. 'We wanted to stop the war!': Anti-war activism from reaction to action

Inter-ethnic tensions, antagonisms and "scape-goating", which had been on the rise in Yugoslavia throughout the 1980s, began to intensify towards the end of the decade. By July 1991, a series of armed clashes had already taken place, namely the Plitvice Lakes incident (the so-called "Plitvice Bloody Easter") in March/April, the Borovo Selo killings in May, the assassination of Josip Reihl-Kir5 in July and the Ten Days War in Slovenia in June/July. In hindsight, these events seem to be clear signs of imminent war, but at the time such an outcome was hardly imaginable. As Zoran Ostric (in "Arkzin", 1993) wrote:

The war came uninvited, in their cities and homes [of the Croats] [...] The moment came when you could not do without armed resistance [...] We live with this war, it is around us and in us, regardless if we are carrying guns or not, it is impossible to refuse to take part in it.

It was then that a group of activists, who had been previously engaged in environmental protests and anti-militaristic groups like Zelena akcija (Green Action), Svarun or Drustvo za unapreðenje kvalitete zivota (Life Quality Improvement Society), initiated the Anti-War Campaign (Antiratna kampanja-ARK) (AWC) in Zagreb as an ad hoc attempt to stop the war and to promote non-violence.

Almost simultaneously, a number of initiatives and anti-war groups were taking shape in Belgrade (the Centre for Anti-War Action), Sarajevo (the Citizens' Forum), Titograd-Podgorica (the Citizens' Committee for Peace) and Ljubljana (the Peace Institute). Although it had been founded after Croatia's declaration of independence (25 June 1991),6 the initial aim of the AWC was to create a network of organizations throughout Yugoslavia:

We, citizens of our republics, citizens of Europe and the World, resolutely reject violence and war. …

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