With the help of Vedran Horvat from the Institute of Political Ecology, we were able to interview Ursa Raukar. She is a renowned actress in Croatia, connected to the youth theatre of Zagreb, as well as an erudite and enthusiastic political activist.
“Yugoslavia’s communism was not a free system. It was better than Russia’s, but still. Yet, today, we live in a so-called ‘democracy’ but I don’t see a lot of freedom. You can say what you want now but if you do, the system strikes back and it does this very secretly. In this way you can’t say that the system is against you, because everything that happens is according to the law.
“In the beginning [of the war] you think you’re in an American movie. It was so unbelievable that this was happening in the heart of Europe.”
In the nineties, I was 30 years old, and I couldn’t imagine that a war would ever arrive in my life. My husband was in the frontline, the line of defense of Zagreb. In the beginning you think you’re in an American movie. It was so unbelievable that this was happening in the heart of Europe. But I can’t say I have trauma from the war, though. It was unreal but not very invasive. The real war was happening in Vukovar and especially in Sarajevo.
“[C]itizens are very important for a democracy, and this part of democracy – because of the history of totalitarianism in Yugoslavia – has been underrated before.”
But at that time I said to myself that citizens are very important for a democracy, and this part of democracy – because of the history of the totalitarianism of Yugoslavia – has been underrated before. I thought it was important that citizens came to understand that they may and have to speak, to say that they do or do not agree with something.
Not so far from here there is a square, dedicated to the victims of fascism. They changed the name of that square in the beginning of the nineties, and that’s when I first came out as activist. I was there with Zoran Pusic from the civil organization. He organised a protest on the 9th of May (the Day of Europe). He is the brother of Vesna Pusic, our Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In the beginning, there were about 200-250 participants, and I thought: if my grandmother would see me here, she’d kill me, because she was very much against communism. But I just thought fascism was something Croatia had to say no to very clearly. After ten years of demonstrating, the name of the square was changed back.
“The commercial centre was built anyway [on the Flower Square], but I think the consequence of our actions was that the Croatians started to learn that there is the possibility to say “no”.”
In 2007, I myself organised a protest against the government wanting to destroy the birth house of Vladimir Vidric, one of the most important Croatian poets. It was on the Flower Square, and they wanted to make it a commercial centre. Unfortunately, they did. There were a lot of actors and poets with me, demonstrating, we were reciting his poetry over there. This artistic way of demonstrating was quite successful.
After that, I met Teodor Celakoski, one of the leading persons here. He’s in Belgrade now, but he’s very important for the civil society of Zagreb. I also have to mention Tomislav Tomasevic, who was president of the green action before, and he’s now in the city council. These two guys were the leading figures in the demonstration at the Flower Square. We’ve been fighting for four years. We were even arrested. The commercial centre was built anyway, but I think the consequence of our actions was that the Croatians started to learn that there is the possibility to say “no”. And also, there were plans for 15-18 quarters to be rebuilt the same way, but that didn’t come through. So we didn’t succeed for the Flower Square, but the echo of our actions was strong enough, and we moved on.
“I think it’s something we see happening all across Europe: the rise of extreme right.”
Last year, I was leading this one initiative Kulturnjaci 2016 (People from Culture 2016), protesting against Zlatko Hasanbegovic. He was Minister of Culture, and now he’s in the city council and in the parliament, but he’s Ustascha (the movement that collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War). His ideology is extreme right, flirting with fascism and Nazism. I think it’s something we see happening all across Europe: this rise of extreme right.
There’s no big right-wing populist party yet in Croatia, so we’re not as far as Hungary, for example. Still, seven to eight percent that is supporting the extreme right is too much, in my opinion. And some segments of this right-wing party are flirting with extreme right. It can escalate in just a click. For me it’s painful and unbelievable that this is possible after all we’ve been through: that people actually rehabilitate this ‘Independent State of Croatia’. Because they are very much against Yugoslavia and communism.
This Hasanbegovic also changed the name of the Tito Square, about two months ago. They hate everything that is Yugoslavian. Yet, in Yugoslavia, people weren’t hungry. Today, they are. About 30% of the Croatian population lives under the poverty line. There are a lot of young people who do not manage to find a job, or who are leaving Croatia for good. There was lot more security in Yugoslavia.
Of course, Tito was controversial. But three things… One: the victory in the Second World War. Two: his “no” to Stalin in 1948. Three: the Constitution in 1974. These were the bases for the independence of Croatia. In Catalonia today, they don’t have the possibility to become independent, as it’s not in the constitution of Spain. But Tito did put this possibility in the Yugoslavian constitution!
I think we’re going through dangerous times. Sad times. I don’t know how I want to fight this growing ideology anymore, it’s like a black monster. I have the impression everyone thinks it’s going all right, but I’m not sure the democracy is strong enough to fight this.
“The very first day [Hasanbegovic] was in charge of the ministry of culture, he eliminated the counsel for free, non-profit media.”
In the cultural field it’s going better than it before, although the consequences of Zlatko Hasanbegovic’s period as Minister of Culture are becoming clear. The very first day he was in charge of the ministry of culture, he eliminated the counsel for free, non-profit media. Besides that, he also had this sick, right-wing alliance with the war veterans, who were, for example, fighting against the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) which was amazing and extremely successful. HAVC’s talented director, Hrvoje Hribar, had to go because of this fight.
I have the impression that nearly everything is corrupt in this country, so also in art. It’s all about “I will do this for you, if you do this for me.” In the end, the mayor decides everything. The judges are also corrupt. For example, there was this incident with the man behind the Flower Square commercial centre. He has killed two people by hitting their sailing boat with his motorboat. It’s clear that he is guilty, as he was driving too fast. It’s also a ‘sea law’ that the bigger boat has to pay extra attention, which he didn’t. They let him free without any charges. Just to sketch Croatian justice. This situation kills every positive potential. This is why young people are fleeing the country. They don’t have any reason to stay in a country where there’s no possibility to find a job or to make a career.
“[W]e need evolution instead of revolution. Revolution brings out the worst in people.”
I believe that hope gives energy to act. We have no right to stay silent, because we know what has happened in the past. You can argue that people didn’t know in the thirties. It’s what Thomas Mann said during his lectures in the United States. He said: “If fascism comes to America, it will come in the name of freedom.” This is exactly what is happening now. Isn’t it awful?
You really should read the works of Rob Riemen. For example his Nobility of Spirit or The Eternal Return of Fascism. Very small but very important books. As well as the little manifest by Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-vous!. I agree with Hessel that we need evolution instead of revolution. Revolution brings out the worst in people.”
Interview and photo by Sonderland