Balkanist is interviewing organizations, activists, and movements whose work generally receive little attention in the media. Since few meaningful ideological differences exist between the region’s major political parties, our aim is to bring contentious ideas to the public debate. While we do not necessarily endorse all of the views held by the individuals or organizations we talk to, we find their ideas pertinent enough to share with our audience. If you know of a group we should interview, send us an email in English or B/C/S: editor[at]balkanist.net.
Pokret za slobodu or Freedom Fight movement describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan and self-organized workers-peasants organization from Serbia, which supports, organizes and connects struggles of workers’ and peasants’ groups on a local and international level.” Last month, members of the organization removed the Serbian Privatization Agency’s plaque as an act of protest against what they call the “systematic destruction of the economy”. Balkanist recently spoke with founder Milenko Sreckovic via email about privatization in Serbia and the movement’s mission to reach out to similar movements around the world.
Why do you oppose privatization?
First of all, we oppose privatization because of the devastating effects it has on the lives of most people, especially the poorest. It also affects us as well as our neighbors and friends personally, since most of our families are of worker or peasant origin.
The unemployment rate, especially among young people, is enormous. Social stratification and inequality are growing. We oppose the current ideology, which excludes real democracy from economic processes and presents harsh economic measures in a deterministic fashion as something to which there is no alternative. As a movement that struggles for freedom, it is extremely important to us that people should have their say in the decision-making process about the economy and the way society should be structured. That’s the reason we oppose authoritarian institutions like the Privatization Agency, which sells our factories and land to those who have money, and are demanding its abolition.
People who have bought factories in Serbia have not been interested in continuing production, but rather in money laundering and taking over attractive property for the sake of making profit based on market speculations. Since they were not interested in these acquisitions for the sake of continuing production, many people have lost their jobs, factories have been ruined, and many have gone into bankruptcy. State institutions such as the Privatization Agency or Administration for Prevention of Money Laundering have done nothing to stop this, even though they have been informed about it by workers’ groups or the Anti-Corruption Council. This has made it possible for drug cartels and criminals to become the owners of agricultural and industrial companies.
The state should recognize its own role in producing some of the devastating effects of privatization and not just take a few owners to trial and ignore the system and state officials that allowed these few individuals to advance on the Forbes World’s Billionaires List. At the same time, we should also keep in mind that these neoliberal measures were imposed on our society by powers much bigger than the Serbian government, so the struggle can’t just be localized on a national level but should be connected with the struggles of other progressive movements in other regions and on other continents. That’s why we recently started working on a website in English, ’’Freedom Fight Info – Voice of the Resistance from around the Globe’’ — so we can share knowledge with other movements and organizations and establish links that might help us combat the destructive measures imposed by the EU, IMF, World Bank or WTO.
We oppose this system primarily because we believe there are much better alternatives to it, and that people and local communities should plan and structure their society according to their own needs. The idea that agricultural land, industry, or natural resources should be owned not by the local community but by a few rich individuals is an attack on freedom — one we should oppose by any means necessary.
Can you describe your group and its structure? Can you see yourself organizing into a political party at some point in the future?
Pokret za slobodu is a non-violent guerrilla movement that changes its shape according to the current positions on the battlefield, so our structure is constantly changing. We also reconsider our activities regularly and reprioritize our goals. We also try to educate ourselves about things we don’t know and adjust ourselves to the current social dynamics.
Yes, I could see the possibility of our organization becoming a political party at some point, since we believe we should use any means necessary to restructure our society and free it from the repressive and authoritarian institutions that are undermining the basic conditions for freedom, equality, and democracy. But right now, becoming a political party is not very likely since it demands significant financial and infrastructural means that we don’t have. This year, we’re commemorating 10 years of our movement and have many reasons to be satisfied with what we’ve done and managed to achieve — that is our inspiration to continue with the faith that we can really contribute to winning the battle for freedom and real democracy. Many of the people that we’ve been fighting against over the last 10 years now have to explain their wrongdoings in court. Of course this is something, but we have much higher goals. We are striving for real social transformation and the current government is not changing anything substantial, and is making things worse, in some respects.
What do you think of this anti-corruption crusade today, led by Deputy PM Vucic, which aims to take on “corrupt” privatizations?
Mr. Vucic has many things wrong when it comes to problems with the privatization process. First of all, the 24 privatization cases being hyped in the media are only Anti-Corruption Council case studies that show how corrupt the entire process of privatization has been. It isn’t limited to these 24 privatizations and a couple more that the current government is investigating. The corrupt processes didn’t just involve those who were buying the companies but also the state institutions in charge of privatization.
Of course, privatization as a concept is actually based on the theft of common goods, which is why it’s antithetical to equality and human rights — you can’t privatize something that the whole community has a right to.
What do you think of the left in Serbia today?
At this point, the Serbian left is still very small and not very influential, but is at least attempting to overcome the sectarian divisions that have characterized it in the past. It’s still made up of small groups that mostly function separately but I think the situation is gradually improving.
Has it been difficult to gain visibility with the media being largely controlled by tycoons and political parties here?
Yes, it’s very difficult to break the media silence on certain issues. We have occasionally managed to attract media attention to some very important workers’ protests and it was very helpful to have media expose the wrongdoings of business owners protected by political parties. However, in most cases media reporting is very limited and not very informative. That’s why alternative media and the internet are very important, though the internet has its own flaws. Of course, there are some good editors and journalists out there who are resistant to censorship so you just have to win them over and convince them that what you do is just and good for society.
Are there any groups or individuals from the past or present you look to for inspiration?
There are many inspirational groups and movements all around the world, like the Zapatistas in Mexico, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, and the Indignados in Spain. There are also different anti-austerity alliances or organizations like Basic income and those that focus their attention on limiting the power of banks or corporations. In the past, there have been many freedom fighters from Cuba to Palestine worth studying and learning something from.
To read more about Pokret za slobodu, visit their website.