Welcome to the desert of transition

Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans

Croatia, on the road to the EU / Photo: Tanjug

In a recent article published in Monthly Review, Croatian authors Srecko Horvat and Igor Stiks discuss the uneasy relationship between EU and the post-socialist Balkan countries in the light of global economic meltdown. Analysing a wave of anti-systemic protests in the Balkans last autumn, focusing on Croatia, the authors claim the myth of ‘incomplete transition’ allows both the EU and the local oligarchies to keep the Western Balkan societies in need of tutelage and dependence, reducing them to a semi-peripheral role in the economic and political life of Europe. However, Horvat and Stiks argue that whilst the world’s attention has been largely focused on the political transformation in the Middle East, the Occupy protests and the Greek debt crisis, the post-socialist Balkans “have been boiling”, introducing a new wave of direct democratic action that bypasses traditional methods of political participation in pursue of “original radicality”.

” ‘Transition’ is the name given to the process of turning the former socialist states into liberal democracies and free-market economies (which are apparently the inseparable twins of the new era). This name has brought into both public and political discourse quasi-biblical connotations of acceding to the ‘land of plenty.’ But even today, twenty years later, we hear that the Transition is incomplete. The wandering in the desert seems to be endless. In spite of the rhetoric of incompleteness, we can observe that the free market reigns supreme; post-socialist Eastern Europe is fully incorporated into the capitalist world in a semi-peripheral role. In practice this means the availability of cheap and highly educated labor in proximity to the capitalist core, a quasi-total economic dependence on the core and its multinational banks and corporations, and finally the accumulation of debt. On the political side, liberal democratic procedures formally seem to be there. In spite of that, the notion of an incomplete transition still dominates the media and the academic discourse, and political elites are using it to justify yet another wave of privatization of state or previously socially owned assets. It is as if no one dares to say that Transition meant precisely bringing these states under the sway of capitalism. In this respect, the Transition as such is long over. There is nothing to ‘transit’ to anymore. The rhetoric of incomplete transition has two causal explanations, however: avoidance of a full confrontation with the consequences of Transition, and preservation of the discourse and relations of dominance vis-à-vis the former socialist states. One of the underlying assumptions of the eternal transition is therefore the ‘need’ for tutelage and supervision.”

Read the full article at Monthly Review (Independent Socialist Magazine)

*Srecko Horvat (srecko.horvat [at] gmail.com) is a philosopher and founder of the Subversive Forum in Zagreb, Croatia. Igor Štiks (i.stiks [at] ed.ac.uk) is an essayist and novelist who lives in Edinburgh. His A Castle in Romagna won the Slavic prize for best first novel in Croatia in 2001. They are coauthors of The Right to Rebellion – An Introduction to the Anatomy of Civic Resistance (Zagreb: Fraktura, 2010). This paper is based on a longer essay to be published in French by Galaade Éditions in Spring 2012.