Now in its fifth year, the international conference, this year themed “The Future of Europe,” brought together leading political thinkers in a week-long series of lectures, debates, and round-table discussions to examine the national and international issues affecting the European Union (EU) and Europe at large: Does Europe exist as anything other than a geographical entity? What is the role of the Balkans in the contemporary European context? What are possible forms of resistance against the neo-liberal agenda? Perhaps most importantly: is another Europe possible?
Without any institutional support and with minimal resources, the Subversive Forum has nevertheless flourished since its inception five years ago.
Srećko Horvat, Director, and Igor Štiks, Co-director of the Forum, make a point to oppose the exceedingly pervasive and, moreover, dangerous political mantra of today, which is “[to] put in place ‘essential’ austerity measures, make amendments to the labour market, encourage new privatization, further deindustrialize, allow prices to grow and labour costs to drop.” There has not yet been a European social movement that has adequately resisted the neo-liberalism of today—the Subversive Forum hopes to change that.
In their view, this is what it means to be subversive: to criticize, challenge, and change the modern standard and dominant ideology; to present alternatives rather than accept the current state of affairs. If neo-liberalism has failed, why does it continue to be the default policy of the ruling elite?
Looking to provide political, social, and economic alternatives to the standard of today, political scientists, journalists, activists and contemporary leading intellectuals participated in multiple round-table discussions, each falling under three main headings, entitled “The Crisis in Europe,” “The Struggle for the Commons,” and “Towards the Balkan Social Forum”.
The first of the panels—“The Crisis in Europe”—touched on the various, multi-faceted aspects of the current European economic and political crises. Sociologist Francine Mestrum, member of the working group Transform! Bruxelles, argued that it is not a matter of European politics, but of national politics: “It is not European politics that interferes with national politics, but vice versa—it is the member states that decide the composition of EU policy.” Germany’s perceived hegemony within the EU seems to only solidify Mestrum’s statement.
Is a European resistance to neo-liberalism possible? Despite austerity measures and policies aimed at the reduction of social and labour rights, Elisabeth Gauthier, Director of Espaces Marx (France), believes that an “open door” is available, whether to popular movements or progressive political organizations, but “nothing is done” as of yet. In the same vein of thought, François Hollande’s presidential victory in France is only a symbol of change; change itself has yet to occur.
The second of the panels—“The Struggle for the Commons”—was dedicated to a discussion on the governance and usage of collective property and the power of communal action. The commodification of the Commons has increased exponentially throughout Europe and the EU; natural resources and, moreover, public services as consequential as education and public media are now facing extreme pressure for privatization and commercialization. The urgency of the situation is undoubtedly clear: without protecting the Commons now, sustainable living will be impossible for future generations.
The third panel—“Towards the Balkan Social Forum”—focused on the need for solidarity between the European Left, within the Balkans and throughout Europe. The consequences of austerity throughout the Balkans appear to be strikingly similar, as the audience cited “high unemployment, privatization and flat tax regimes” coupled with “nationalist rhetoric” as the main causes for concern.
This year’s Subversive Festival is the first to establish the Balkan Social Forum, in which over forty organizations and progressive movements from the region will come together to discuss the role and future of the Balkans in Europe and the EU. One discussion focused on the influence of neo-liberalism in the Balkans and possibilities of resistance. Activists from every corner of the Balkans discussed their respective challenges: right-wing nationalism, militarism, exploitation, ideological domination, and more. On a more optimistic note, student resistance and occupation was referenced as a wholly viable form of resistance and direct democracy.
The need for European solidarity, according to Horvat and Štiks, is more necessary now than ever: “This isn’t a story which only concerns post-socialist countries.” Rather, the Balkan states and the EU states—and those few overlapping states—face the same crisis.
Nevertheless, solidarity is hard to achieve in an area as ethnically and linguistically diverse as Europe, the EU, or even the Balkans. According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, literary critic, theorist, and professor at Columbia University, solidarity between borders is only possible if “every citizen rethink[s] nation as a site of capital-management,” functioning both with and without borders; a contradiction, but one that must be overcome. The shift from nation-thinking to capital-management thinking, in her view, is the key.
The Subversive Forum stands starkly as a form of direct opposition to the failed, neo-liberal European project of today. Through continued discussion and criticism against the contemporary status quo, Europe must seize the opportunity of the “open door,” as Elisabeth Gauthier succinctly put it, and instigate change through solidarity between similarly-minded popular movements and progressive political organizations.