Issue 170 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review


A small step for democracy

The Social Democratic Union was formed in 1992, as the only anti-nationalist party in Croatia. It established links with non-nationalist parties and organisations in Serbia which are opposed to the war and organised a conference of the social democratic and socialist parties in August 1993 with Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Bulgarian participation as well as delegates from Europe. The SDU was involved in organising strikes. One of its leading members was assassinated after he helped to organise a succession of rail strikes. These activities, and active opposition to the regime's attempt to rehabilitate the Ustashe's Second World War Croatian Nazi state, have met constant attacks by politicians and press accusing it of being 'Yugo-nostalgic' or 'Serbo-bolshevik'. The SDU has gained support in the bigger industrial cities with ethnically mixed populations, like Karlovac.

Branko Horvat was one of the founders of the shortlived UJDI (Yugoslav Democratic Initiative) in 1989 as a response to the rising nationalisms, giving support to the oppressed ethnic Albanians and miners in Kosovo. Fiona Russell and Davor Beric spoke to him on a recent visit there.

What are the activities of the SDU and what problems does it face?
The party was founded a year ago because there was a gap in the political life of Croatia. All the existing parties moved to the right and became nationalist. Among the opposition today there are three social democratic parties, one of which is outright nationalist. The other one is composed of reformed Communists, whose leaders used to be in leading positions in the former regime. They have adopted a nationalist programme and have openly declared that they don't want any common activities with the left.

The purpose of the SDU is the socialist goal. We are working in workers' interests, sometimes in spite of the trade unions.

Another goal is democracy. Other parties don't care about workers. You can call them bourgeois parties, not parties that care about all Croatian citizens. You can see this clearly in their list of parliamentary candidates--it contains only Croats, no minorities are included.

The third goal is the elimination of the present regime, which is a sort of populist dictatorship. Any cooperation with it is impossible. The regime is dogmatic and ideological and will manipulate to stay in power, to preserve its wealth.

We have many difficulties in building the party. People are afraid to help us because of the fear of reprisals. The authorities will do anything to prevent any effective opposition. Recently during the election campaign they mobilised our candidates into the army. They tried all sorts of things with my family, not physical threats but every other sort. I was dismissed from the university, my wife was retired and our children had to go abroad to get jobs. According to the last election results we should have had six deputies, but the seats were given to the Serbian National Party which is a creation of the regime. Otherwise this party wouldn't have any deputies.

What is your relationship with the trade unions?
Before the elections we tried to contact trade union leaders in order to make sure workers didn't vote for the present regime. In a situation where television is under the complete control of the regime workers were disinformed and disoriented. The union leaders refused to discuss the matter. After this we realised they were afraid of taking any action. We don't approve of this. Trade unions exist to fight. If you are in danger you have to take risks. Then we contacted local union activists. When the leaders found out they were extremely angry. But the local activists have not protested against us. The leadership made a public announcement that it had nothing to do with us. The union leaders are so afraid of 'unlawful' procedures that they don't want to get involved with us. However, we are building links with ordinary trade union members.

How many members do you have?
It is difficult to say. Although the popularity of the party is increasing, people are afraid to register because the police could get their address. We have many sympathisers who buy our magazine and several hundred active members in Zagreb. Recently in a town near Split about 200 people wanted to join. However we have financial problems. To build from below is very difficult because people are very poor and can't afford subs. Help from other socialist parties from abroad has only just begun to come. We cooperate closely with the Anti-War Centre, where some of our members are active in their leadership.

How do you, fight nationalism?
The situation is similar to 1941. Then we had awesome nationalisms and a fascist regime. After four years of civil war and war against the fascist occupation, people suddenly realised that nationalism is inept and that they didn't gain anything from it. What was really needed was brotherhood and unity, as the partisans put it. People can mobilise for noble ideas but you must have a core organisation whose activities are known among the population. That's what we are trying to build.

The whole thing started with the suggestion that Bosnia should be divided along ethnic lines. In Bosnia out of 109 districts only 9 were ethnically homogenous. Any divisions along ethnic lines meant genocide. People don't want to leave their homes unless they are forced to--the way Serb, Croat and Muslim militias have done. What Carrington, Vance and Owen have done is either biased or stupid. We are against military intervention. Who would you bomb--Serbs, Croats or Muslims? But we think some sort of 'UN trusteeship' should be founded under which Bosnian democratic institutions could be peacefully established.

What about a solution from below?
It is difficult because of the influence and involvement of Serbia and Croatia. However, there are some regions where people refuse to fight. In Croatia people are seeing the complete defeat of nationalist politics in Bosnia. It was extremely costly in human life. This will radicalise people and bring the present regime down. I hope it will help people realise the cause we are fighting for is a good one.

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