Marko Miletić is one of the journalists running the alternative left-wing media platform Mašina. Production of Social Critique. Their main goal is to form a broad left front, which is currently not existing in Serbia because of the damage done by nationalism, the demonisation of the socialist past of the country and most of all by the dominant neo-liberal ideology. Mašina tackles a wide range of issues, such as capitalist relations of production, the precarious working conditions of labourers, journalists and artists as well as the surge of populism and the far-reaching consequences of mass privatisation. Mašina also encompasses an educational program,to educate the young generation in discourse analysis, ideology critique and all sorts of journalistic skills. Together they try to develop a new language to reclaim left-wing politics, to critise neo-liberal capitalism but at the same time distance themselves clearly from populism.
“It takes a lot of energy to position yourself as a socialist [in Serbia].”
“What’s specific for this region is the Yugoslavian socialist heritage and the damage that the nationalist government under Milosevic caused, although Milosevic presented himself as a ‘socialist’. After what happened in the nineties, everything that was linked to communism and socialism was demonised. This still influences the left-wing social movements a lot over here. It takes a lot of energy to position yourself as a socialist. It has ideological but also material consequences, which means that basically all the infrastructure that was built by workers (and by the League of Communists) got privatised by the new parties. What we try to do now is invest time to bring back this idea of the left. We have no labour union, nor party infrastructure in Serbia. During the last five years, we started to build new infrastructure. Firstly, you need to create the necessary conditions and infrastructure when you want to realise a change. When you look for example at Greece: what happens over there, how the leftist groups and anarchistic groups are re-organising themselves, which has been happening in Greece since decades, this fascinates us. It’s completely different, yet it inspires us.
“Mašina is an alternative media platform and an educational project.”
I’m very active in the field of contemporary art and culture. I work a lot on the issue of production relations in the culture and art scene, and on the workers rights in arts. I am very active in Mašina, an alternative media platform. Mašina is also an educational project. It started with the idea that we needed some leftist media, but in the beginning we missed people who could create this leftist content. We started an educational project and the outcome of this project was that we found around twenty people who started to work for or in Mašina. I’m running this organisation together with a colleague. We’re applying for some money and recently, we even received some money to organise a congress about the precarious labour conditions of journalists and media workers. We got some money from the Ministry of Culture and Media to cover the event. It depends on who is part of the commissions whether you receive money or not. This year, we also started to translate some articles in English, partially because there is a lack of information about what is happening in the region and partially as a tactical move, in the hope to be funded by some foreign funds, maybe also by the EU.
Four years ago, we started with an open call for ten people and we began by teaching about political topics we wanted to cover. We conducted research and educated ourselves about, for example, the mechanisms and impact of privatisation, the precarisation of work or the ideological production of media. Most of these people didn’t have any experience in writing or in analytical discourse, so we started to read together during a span of two years. After these two years, we invited a new group but the first group of young people stayed and took up a supportive role in the new group. Some of the young people are writing and/or editing, others are busy with fundraising and since we have some finances from the Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung, we can include more people. We really try to function as a collective.
The visitors and readers of our website are growing with around 20% each year. Last year 120.000 visited our site, which is very good for a young portal as ours. It’s difficult for us to compare with something else, however. The most important for us is to discover who are the regular readers. We know that union leaders are reading our articles, so that’s important for us. We know this because they sometimes refer to what we wrote. Some academics and intellectuals do too. There are some debates in the leftist scene about how we are writing and publishing. We slowly try to expand our audience and most of our new readers are coming from social media, mostly from our Facebook page. Our participants are currently preparing a strategic plan for the next two years. We will leave the city for two days to work together. The self-organising principles are important.
“Apart from the national broadcast television and radio, most of the media are very strongly influenced by the private market. They are competing for commercials and the State controls this competition.”
Since 2015, most of our media became private and are no longer allowed to be linked with the State. Apart from the national broadcast television and radio, most of the media are very strongly influenced by the private market. They are competing for commercials and the State controls this competition. The Prime Minister is a person who knows a lot how media functions and how he can use or abuse them, but everything is ‘by the law’. He controls who can publish this or that content. This is basically how capitalist societies function: they have control through financial interests and rule the market principles. Unfortunately, we are all a part of the market, even the few ‘independent media’ are competing with each other. We have some investigative journalists and they produce good data, but they will never reveal what the relation is between corruption and capitalism. On the radio, we have nothing at this moment. The only thing we have is some independent portals.
“Serbia is like a kind of testing ground for the other European countries.”
Serbia is like a kind of testing ground for the other European countries. There is a huge debate in the EU about a law in Serbia that enabled Internet and cable distributors to be at the same time producers of media content. In Europe, this doesn’t exist at the moment. What happened with this is that the biggest Internet provider in Serbia works together with the biggest Internet provider in Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia and together with CNN. They created regional television, called ‘NNOne’. This provider, who is the biggest in the region, is pushing their content on television. The law allows this. The same is happening with the speed of the Internet and the price that you will need to pay to have a faster Internet. The European Union is using some standards that are surrounding us. The money is coming from the EU, the investors are coming from the EU and people from Serbia are leaving to the EU.
“Artists and cultural organisations need to compete for different projects and sponsors. The State on the one side is saving money on the classical institutions like national museums and on the other side is giving this money to ‘open calls’ for financing different kinds of projects.”
In the art scene we see a kind of state funded art scene and independent art scene. The independent art scene is basically a bunch of NGOs and informal organisations that are working in the field of art. There is this division, which is marked by an ideological debate. Since the austerity measures started to be more strict in 2009, most of the artists and cultural organisations were forced to act as entrepreneurs. Together with the austerity measures, some new laws came along that would allow them to be brought on the market, so in a sphere of competition. Artists and cultural organisations need to compete for different projects and sponsors. The State on the one side is saving money on the classical institutions like national museums and on the other side is giving this money to ‘open calls’ for financing different kinds of projects. They create a bigger competition between the classical cultural institutions and the more independent scene. The smallest amount of money is going to visual art, the biggest amount of money is going to theatre or film and normally visual artists are less paid then other artists, if they are paid at all. This is nothing new. The laws are creating the competition.
There are different associations for artists (visual artists, actors, musicians…) and when you are a legal member of an association, the local communities or cities will pay you a kind of salary which will give you some social security, but only on the level of a minimal wage. If you earn more than the minimal wage, you will need to pay this difference by yourself. This is a kind of help for a lot of artists. But a debate is currently being held to cancel this system. Some people wonder why they should pay for artists. There are some attempts to organise artists, but it’s not simple, because some are coming from classical institutions, while others are independent and this divides them very often. We are close to losing the battle, because there is a lack of solidarity.
In the socialist period in Yugoslavia, a lot of artists were engaged simply through many public works. Every company, every factory, every hotel had a lot of artworks inside. For example, in wood processing factories, you will find pictures and sculptures, and they paid for these artworks. Most of the companies organised art happenings linked to the local communities, simply because those companies were fully part of the local communities. They invited artists to create something. Now, in the capitalist period, this type of artists disappeared and the structural approach is vanished. During the fifties, Yugoslavia built many local community centres to provide a kind of basic infrastructure for the people and workers. Most of them are privatised now. They were places of cultural, political, social and local economical production. Some people are fighting today with the goal to preserve those cultural houses and spaces.
“In Mašina we try to think about which kind of language we need to develop to reclaim leftist strategies and politics, and especially how we can reach and inspire the younger generations.”
The social democrats in Serbia brought us capitalism in the nineties. In Mašina we try to think about which kind of language we need to develop to reclaim leftist strategies and politics, and especially how we can reach and inspire the younger generations. You can change the language, but this doesn’t mean that we no longer use Marxist analysis. You can use new terms, but you still have a lot of inequality. With Mašina, we still mention the differences between classes, we don’t want to erase all of this, but we reflect a lot about how we can use those terms. We still try to reflect on the differences between social property and state property. The concept of social property is still something beyond ‘the commons’ like we try to develop and understand them nowadays. We don’t regard social property as something superior, but try to analyse the meaning it gave to the lives of many people. Knowing that most of the people had a good and comfortable house that became a home for many people. Commons here in the region are mostly discussed in green circles or between social democrats in a more leftist liberal atmosphere. Most of the green activists in the region (Serbia and Croatia) are anti-capitalists, however, we don’t have an important green political party.
“If we look to the right-wing populists, maybe we can regard them as a threat for the EU, but they are the biggest threat for the workers in their own countries, because right-wing populism will give more power to private investors.”
Germany is majorly influencing the political and economical future in Serbia and other European countries. Through their economical and financial policies, Germany has a lot of power in the Union. We are not really pro or against the EU. Most of the left-wing people are rather ‘against’ the EU here in Serbia, but in the ‘Left Summit of Serbia’ we declared not to be against the EU, not against the actual foundations. If we look to the right-wing populists, maybe we can regard them as a threat for the EU, but they are the biggest threat for the workers in their own countries, because right-wing populism will give more power to private investors. This is what is happening with Trump, for example. Most of the right-wing populists in Europe are very neo-liberal. For us on the left, the biggest question is this question of language and reflecting how it is possible that right-wing forces or taking over the social discourse and using the same stances about the EU as the left. They are very active on social media: today, for example, they joined the action against the eviction of the families here in Belgrade. The right wing is also very active around workers rights, just look to Le Pen in France. The exploitation of workers by foreign companies is a big fight, not
only in Serbia.
Personally, I’m very happy with what we have created in Mašina. There is a new group of people, many of them are very active. I was very engaged and it gives a lot of satisfaction. The influx of new people is very important. In general, I’m happy with the fact that there is more and better cooperation between different groups. We are slowly learning how to cooperate outside this kind of sectarian, ideological issues. We are working more around concrete questions. Probably, some of the people will go to the elections. I’m very curious about which kind of formations people will establish around the local elections. I’m happy that many left-wing people are less sectarian. I’m just happy, really.”
Interview by Sonderland & Victoria Deluxe
Photos by Sonderland