Working on the (un)working Balkans
Intro: The Balkans are virtually absent in the dominant political discourse of Europe: out of sight, out of mind. At the same time, central economic and geopolitical interests of the EU are concentrated in this region, not least in the course of creating “green future markets.” Here, the logic of (green) capitalism and imperialism has a specific dimension – for example, due to the post-“communist” formation of this region – and at the same time a dimension that is representative of the periphery of the world system: Capitalism creates and thrives on divisions among workers; these divisions are key to the development of the capitalist system of production and to maintaining the profitability of capitalism itself; to ensure profitability, only a minority of the working class can be protected against the adverse effects of market forces in general and the creation of new markets in particular. Understanding this is key to tackling the divisions that are being created today between workers in the “old” carbon industries and the “new” post-carbon industries. How can these divisions be politicized and turned into a basis for shared working class struggles and alliances with environmental movements that challenge green imperialism?
Getting to work
We started the conversation expressing anxiety about the climate and therefore our future: fires, draughts. Around the places of extractive activities in the Balkans environment and people are suffering from pollution and a health crisis is eating into the communities.
At the same time, a green transition is happening. But “how can we fight climate disaster and make the rich pay for it?” How do we deal with the “mining renaissance” in the region? What can we offer to these communities, if anything?
The group has intensely discussed issues on the ground and possible solutions. Given the limited time frame, the group decided to form an invitation for an assembly, ZBOR.
Considering what „green“ transition does to communities, nature and the health of people in Europe and all over the world, we came to the conclusion that its time to gather and raise our voices from the Balkans:
There is power in people coming and acting together, to overcome the isolation, and learn from each other how to survive, resist and heal from the damage. It does not matter whether communities and nature are being exploited and destroyed for fossil fuels or so called „renewables“, there is common ground in our experiences. While the hegemonic narrative sells us „green“ technology as the solution to the climate crisis, the last islands of an organized workforce in the old fossil industry are being destroyed and a new ever more precarious workforce in a new energy industry is being formed. The same damage – water, soil and air pollution, cancer, heart attacks, and impoverishment – is inflicted on local communities around the energy infrastructure.
ZBOR will bring together such affected local communities with activists, both local and from the wider European area, with farmers and trade unions, migrants and young people in the Balkans. ZBOR will be the space and time where we shall voice our common visions of a just transformation of our societies and economies, that comes from below. What will ZBOR look like?
ZBOR will take place in the vicinity of a rural or small industrial community, though reachable by public transportation. We thought about specific communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.
ZBOR will take place during summertime, maybe the second half of June. Although it is hot and the main tourism season, farmers are busy during autumn and spring, and since we are not in an urban area, we can escape tourism plus people can attend more easily.
ZBOR is going to be a self-organised gathering, such that all participants are involved in the work needed in order to have clean meeting and sleeping places, to eat, to use clean toilets, to communicate in different languages and to take care of each other. There will be room both for sharing experiences, teaching each other skills for resistance and for understanding the situation of Balkans, capitalism and our leverage in struggeling for dignity, life and freedom for all. In preparation to the event, we want to figure out whether there is some kind of collective action possible, that would support the issues of the hosting community.
ZBOR is partly inspired by Climate Camps, that first came up in the UK and were adopted by different movements and in different areas such as in the Rhineland coal mining region. Climate camps help social movements significantly to come together, grow, learn, strategize and act collectively, and to bring together local communities and activists. We quickly noticed that „camp“ is not a usable term in the context of the Balkans. We decided to call it ZBOR (gathering) – Združeni (united), Balkanski (balkan), Otpor (resistance) i (and) Rad (work).
Here is our manifesto. It invites you to become part of ZBOR!
Please reach out if you want to get involved: firstname.lastname@example.org
ZBOR is a word with many layers of significance for the people of once Yugoslav lands. Most simply put, it means gathering or assembly, and as such it has been known to the villages across the region. But ZBOR 2024 specifically evokes the meaning(s) from the days of Yugoslav anti-fascist revolutionary liberation movement and socialist years, when ZBOR was the fundamental institution of direct democracy and self-management. ZBOR was a vital everyday democratic practice in every factory, organization, apartment block, school, workplace. ZBOR is a place and time where anything could happen.
Nowadays the word is often reduced to the meaning of choir but ZBOR 2024 is embracing this contemporary usage as well – since voices of the many will be gathered in ZBOR 2024 to raise our voice for our common world and time.
We are: Nidžara, Zoe, Lori, Nina, Esther, Svjetlana, mirko, Sofija, Mihajlo
The ‘(Un)Working Balkans’ workshop was facilitated by Ada Homolova and Holger Kral. Particpants were: Zoë Aiano, Nidzara Ahematova, Lori Šramel Čebular, Nina Djukanović, Svjetlana Nedimović, mirko nikolić, Sofija Stefanović, Mihajlo Vujasin.
This project was conceived at the Berliner Gazette’s annual conference 2023 entitled ALLIED GROUNDS.
All text and images: Creative Commons License 4.0 (CC-BY 4.0). All images were taken at the ALLIED GROUNDS conference.