Srećko Horvat is a philosopher from Croatia whose latest books include After the End of History, From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement (Laika Verlag, Germany, 2013) and, together with Slavoj Žižek, Save us from our Saviours (Editions Lignes, France, 2013). Igor Štiks is a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, who together with Jo Shaw co-edited Citizenship after Yugoslavia (Routledge, 2012) and Citizenship Rights (Ashgate, 2013). Štiks is also author of two novels, A Castle in Romagna and Elijah’s Chair, which have been translated into a dozen European languages.
You have organised the Subversive Festival in Zagreb since 2008. What is the Subversive Festival about and what do you hope to achieve with it?
This was the sixth year of the Subversive Festival and given the size of audience, the media attention, prominent guests and its influence at different levels, it was surely the most important edition until now. On the one hand, it hosted acclaimed intellectuals from Slavoj Žižek to Tariq Ali and, on the other, politicians like Alexis Tsipras. To this we added a third kind of guest: those normally associated with glamour and Hollywood, such as Oliver Stone. Our aim is exactly to subvert the standard notions of such categorisations (intellectual, politician, director, etc.) and show that only by working together and across many fields can we achieve changes. Until now the Subversive Festival hosted guests like Antonio Negri, David Harvey, Gayatri Spivak, Zygmunt Bauman, Terry Eagleton, Saskia Sassen, Michael Hardt and many others. Most of them are already our regular guests, returning to Zagreb every year.
For us the Subversive Festival is a platform for questioning what constitutes subversion today, what the nature of subversion is and what would be a productive and progressive subversive politics of our time.
The festival is called “Subversive”. Where does the name come from and how is “subversive” to be understood in this context?
The concept of “subversion” can be traced back to Antonio Gramsci and his concept of “cultural hegemony”. In everyday terms, it means undermining the existing political and social order. For us the Subversive Festival is a platform for questioning what constitutes subversion today, what the nature of subversion is and what would be a productive and progressive subversive politics of our time. In today’s context, it also means determining what the possibilities of criticising and changing a society are and what preconditions are required for deeper institutional changes.
The question is how to criticise the capitalist system by using its infrastructure (from the media to various forms of organisation and communication), and at the same time, avoid the trap of a “Third Way”, which we consider to be a cosmetic accessory or even a legitimation of the same order. Or, to put it differently, how to undermine a system that is undermining all other systems so perfectly that it is able to absorb and co-opt almost everything, including many attempts at its subversion from the Occupy Movement to the idea of “social responsibility”, democratic participation or ecology.
The festival includes a film competition, a conference and a forum that discusses ideas ranging from peace to neoliberal capitalism and democracy. What made you choose this sort of structure? How do the different aspects of the festival – film, lectures and debate – interact with each other and change the tone of the event?
Usually you have either academic conferences, traditional film festivals or activist gatherings. We are trying to combine all three in order not only to reach to a bigger and more heterogeneous audience, but also to productively merge these three aspects, which should anyhow be inseparable. For instance, if you have a documentary film like Catastroika about the crisis in Greece, then it is not only useful to have Alexis Tsipras in Zagreb as the symbol of a possible and needed change in Greece, but also Yanis Varoufakis, who can give a theoretical perspective to the Greek economic and social disaster. In this way we are trying to avoid the usual traps of all three sorts of events: academic conferences that invite the “usual suspects” and do not go beyond the academic level of discussion, film and cultural festivals driven mainly by the film, culture and entertainment industry and activist gatherings that are frequently limited in their reach, confined to marginal spaces and do not take into consideration the first two important aspects of public engagement.
How does the Subversive Festival impact the city of Zagreb?
Aside from the Zagreb Film Festival and ZagrebDox, it is now one of the most popular festivals in Zagreb, but also in Croatia and Eastern Europe. The difference is exactly its main aim and structure, which is the reason why it attracts a mostly younger audience from all over the Balkans. For the two weeks of the Subversive Festival the whole city is transformed into a platform for intensive political, theoretical and activist discussions, which, aggregated together, have a bigger impact on society.
The European city as such, if we remember Haussmann’s renovation of Paris, was always a fertile ground for staging protests and even more today when precisely around the struggles for commons we can see new progressive movements arising.
Protests against neoliberal politics during the recent crisis in Europe have mainly taken place in cities. What role does the European city play as a space for the mobilisation and staging of protests?
As we can see from protests from Istanbul and Cairo, from New York and Rio de Janeiro to Zagreb and Ljubljana, the city is the main terrain of contemporary struggles. Today we are witnessing the realisation of theoretical insights by David Harvey, Negri and Hardt or Saskia Sassen. It is exactly the “Right to the City” that is at stake in all these protests. A park in Istanbul is on the one hand the cause for massive mobilisation, and on the other it is a symbol of a more general fight for the Commons. The European city as such, if we remember Haussmann’s renovation of Paris, was always a fertile ground for staging protests and even more today when precisely around the struggles for commons we can see new progressive movements arising.
This year’s general festival theme was “The Utopia of Democracy”. What ideas for the future of democracy in Europe emerged during the festival?
Instead of deepening the crisis with austerity measures and new privatisations, the main conclusion is that we need a stronger solidarity movement across Europe. But without solidarity between the centre of Europe and the periphery, namely Germany and France with all other peripheral countries, there can be no common movement and no solution to the current crisis. There is no democracy without direct and horizontal democracy, but direct democratic actions can disappear quickly without productive cooperation with different forms of institutional struggles. In other words, democratisation of democracy is the primary task. But it is also something that cannot happen without social equality. We are very far from this today in Europe, but new movements give us a hope that the anti-democratic trends can be overturned.
How can citizens across Europe become more deeply involved in citizenship in their own cities? How can they take inspiration from you?
There is no recipe and no easy way. What the Subversive Festival shows is that a small group of enthusiasts can create an event of European relevance, a place of utopia where a fertile combination of theoretical discussions, films, literature and activism gives a boost to a new generation of the “subversives” who are not willing to conform to the existing “status quo”.Tags: Interview