Bastards of utopia
Thanks to H-Alter, where I copied this…(and roughly translated it to “english”)
The film “Bastards of Utopia”. Short Synopsis:
“Three Croatian activists struggle to change the world. As children, they lived through the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. But now, amid the aftershocks of socialism’s failure, they fight in their own way for a new leftism. In the middle of the struggle, a skeptical American is won over by their cause and even goes to jail with them. The activists, whether clashing with police or squatting in an old factory, risk everything to live their politics. But as the setbacks mount, will they give up the fight?”
People who rejected Utopia
Maple Rasza, author of the film “Bastards of utopia”:
We chose to make a movie just about these three anarcho-activists, they more than others were willing to transform their lives based on ethical and political principles. I believe that there are deep political implications in the forms of antinationalist anti-stateist activism that we have shown in the film.
At this year’s ZagrebDox, its world premiere, “Bastards of Utopia,” a documentary that speaks about the unwanted children of Yugoslav socialism, about what is left as a pledge of a political future of systems of which no longer anyone speaks.
It was developed in co-production with Harvard Film Center and the ethnographic film workshop “en masse Films” which consists of the political documentarists Maple Rasza and Pacha Velez. The only documentary that deals with anarchism in this region, had its premiere within the the glamourous Kaptol trade center, in a rush and delay of projections, but still found a great support in the Zagreb audience. At the premiere Maple Rasza, American anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, a frequent guest on the Balkans and a well-known activist of the Croatian scene, presented the fruit of the years he spent in Zagreb, nineties and beyond, this documentary presents a close-up of anarchist activists in Zagreb, at the same time it is interested, warm and funny and above all shows a personal view of anarchism and activism in this area. Who are these Bastards, how do they see themselves and how does this American anthropologist perceive recent social history of the region, we discussed with Maple Rasza.
You were aware of Croatia continuously for twenty years. What changes do you perceive today – in the city, people, politics and activist scene?
Every year I come to the region, the first time it was from 1990-1991. When I came to Jagodina, town in central Serbia, in the high school exchange program. I still have to bite the tongue when people ask me in Croatia, where I learned that good Croatian. In Zagreb I came regularly since 1996. when I was on a Fullbright scholarship. You can imagine how everyone was happy with my ‘Croatian’ when I came to the bakery and asked for bread. Since then, tremendous changes occurred and I do not really know how to summarize them briefly – and I will comment on the dynamics of politics in Croatia concerning the anarchist scene – and which I think reveals the dimension of these major changes.
The years in the mid-nineties were, as they were once called by Vesna Jankovic, “years of vanguard” which opened the way for an ambivalent process of normalization. When I just started to participate in progressive politics, in anti-war campaigns and in the ArkZine, there was a focus on civil society, even among those who described themselves as anarchists. It then made sense because the concept of civil society then meant emphasizing civil militarnog for independence from the state during the reign of the HDZ’s one-party system, this concept has also meant the category of citizenship in relation to ethnicity – which is particularly important because it is to form a government on the tenets of the Croatian ethnic domination.
The universal appeal of this concept began to decline around the beginning of this decade, particularly around initiatives Enough wars that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For the younger generation of activists with whom I worked, civil society has lost its glamour and glory, because the political circumstances changed, and civil society organizations have been transformed. Many radical activists, especially the anarchists began to ask: how civil society is independent from the state if it receives funding from the state or from USAID? Is it enough to protest in a polite and civilan way while at the same time illegal invasion of Iraq, killing tens of thousands? Is citizenship such a progressive concept if becomes the basis on which denies the basic right to even have any right, eg in the case of asylum seekers in Croatia?
Universal attraction of the concept of civil society began to decline beginning of this decade, particularly around initiatives Enough of wars. For the younger generation of activists, civil society has lost its shine and glory because the political circumstances changed, and civil society organizations were transformed
More fundamentally, although civil society was important in attracting attention and alarm over human rights violations committed by the state in the nineties, whether it is actually capable of adequately address the growing social inequalities produced by global market? So I think that the activists of various orientations began to experiment with new approaches, new forms of self-organization and autonomy are not necessarily consistent with the model of non-governmental organizations.
It took seven years filming the documentary, which you have presented now at Zagreb Dox. When turned the idea from your field work into a film?
I have already had experience with documentaries, and actually I was looking for a new project. During my fieldwork I have worked with activist groups completely different orientations, not only with her militant part of the anarcho-punk scene that has become the center of “Bastards”. We chose to make a movie just about that scene and just about these three activists, because they are more than others that I met were willing to transform their daily lives based on ethical and political principles. Pacha – I worked with film – and I both are interested in ethnography and documentary viewing, and it is these characters were our most attractive.
Where did the name of Bastards of Utopia come from and what does it mean? What is the relationship between the characters of the film towards the socialist past, and that with the possible political future?
In the narrative of the film, the title is explained: “A few months ago I heard the phrase which Dado used, Bastardi utopia. At that time, I thought he was joking when he says that he and his activist friends were children that Yugoslav socialism never wanted.” But maybe its just the crux of the matter – that these activists, as opposed to the Socialists rejected the idea of some future utopia. Instead, they are experimenting with new ways of social relationships with people here and now. As soon as I heard, I was drawn to this phrase, since the mid-nineties I worked within a theoretical ArkZine supplement, called the Bastard, also, it relates well with the anarcho-punk aesthetic gathered around the club Attack. I would not be surprised if I heard the band name Bastards of Utopia playing there at that time.
The serious and the theoretical level, I believe that there are deep political implications in the forms of antinationalist and anti-stateist activism that we presented in the film, which is opposed by most of the political practice and theory that has always focused on state power.
In addition to the three characters who carry the film – Jelena, Dado, Fistra – you appear as one of the characters and an active participant in events. How does this affect the narrative approach and the film itself? Also, it is almost completely lacking a critical approach in relation to the events. Basically it is a direct participation without detachment?
Although civil society was important in attracting attention and alarm over human rights violations committed by the state in the nineties, the question is whether it is able to adequately address the growing social inequalities produced by global markets
The film is a field study, and this is an aspect that is really specific to me as an anthropologist. Since it was the practice in cultural anthropology, I lived and worked with people that I studied – on a daily basis, trying to understand social life as he lived by our subjects. My task is to produce in-depth reviews of social life from which the audience or readers can learn. And that we, hopefully, succeed.
Anarcho-activist scene of Zagreb is shown through a number of events – except for planning actions, squatting, demonstrations in Greece, there are completely “private” situations (Dado with Hrelić, Jelena with Grandma). By what criteria were events selected to be shown, as to form the narrative of the film?
Yes, the documentary includes many scenes of which usually we think as private, personal, less public and less political. But the private is political, as we have learned from feminism. First of all, we want to work with Bastardi against known media images of masked anarchists who threw Molotov cocktails, to show that such a dramatic confrontation with the police, only one of the tactics in the spectrum which includes a daily form of activism that are also important, if not more. These anarchists causing contemporary capitalism may be the crucial area of its expansion – and this is an area of our desires, the area of production of ourselves as consumers and political entities. They are working on creating new desires, new hopes and new subjects that are not dominant mold citizen-consumers. So the narrative, which follows their personal and political development looks of this struggle, following the activists in their growing maturity, but the maturity that does not diminish their devotion to social change.
How to show action and different models of the world, how to – by your opinion – Zagreb anarchists rely on a global model, and how many belong to this area of post-socialism?
On the one hand, it is a transnational scene with style, tactics and methods of organizing borrowed from around the world. As becomes clear in the film, these activists have participated in protests and movements throughout Europe and beyond. Immediately, they are part of a global network. But they are also responsive to local conditions, local relations of power and local traditions of resistance, adjusting the global movement specifically Croatian issues. One thing that I like in their activism – how they physically engage the urban landscape around them is also talking about the transition to capitalism in Zagreb, Croatia. In places they are squatting, on which to socialize, how to feed, dress and live – quickly getting a picture of how much and how life has changed in so few years. So this is actually a Croatian story, even if it has global significance.
These activists have participated in protests and movements throughout Europe and beyond. Immediately, a part of the global network, but they also respond to local conditions.
You follow the recent events in the region – primarily I refer to the imprisonment of the Belgrade anarchists accused of international terrorism and initiatives in Croatia with completely different agendas, such as the gentrification of the city? Do you see any continuity, for the Bastards of Utopia?
In Croatia and the region only during the last years, there are several significant events that I have followed with great interest and which intersect with the film and research.
First, in Greece during the winter of 2008-2009. erupted mass anarchy and rebellion, which was engulfed within every major city in the country. These Greek anarchists were shown in our documentary, we accompanied Zagreb activists in the anti-EU protests in 2003 in Thessaloniki.
Second, the student blocks in Croatia and the region – which had a significant role as “hero” of our film – took over many of the most important anarchist methods and principles, including consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical organization and strong criticism of neoliberalism.
Thirdly, Belgrade Six is closely associated with the scene in Zagreb, Dado, also one of the main characters in this film, was arrested several weeks ago for supporting the accused anarchists in Belgrade.
Even the “right to the city” campaign, which is rooted in civil scene more than the previous examples, it also confronts the fundamental issues regarding the future of the city, much like the anarchists squatting, outstanding issues – particularly those focused on the defense of privatization of public space, as shown in “Bastards”. The struggle for control of urban space, its resistance to narrowing in the interest of private profit and consumerist culture, to the detriment of the public, joint and collective use – will be the central theme of political life in Zagreb in the forthcoming period.
All of them are, in my opinion, Bastards of utopia, but I doubt that very term to be widely accepted.
What are the reactions to the film? How are you satisfied with Croatian reception of the film and do you think the film is equally understandable to those who do not belong to the scene and are confronted with the events, as well as for audiences in other parts of the world? Who is actually the film intended for? I ask this because of the partial confusion of the audience in Zagreb – that part which has nothing to do with the story of activist and specific approach used in the film.
Struggle for control of urban space, its resistance to narrowing in the interest of private profit and consumerist culture, and to the detriment of the public, collective and joint use – will be the central theme of political life in Zagreb in the forthcoming period
So far, the Croatian film experienced a very good media coverage and enthusiastic audience during the premiere. There is no place, or festival, where I’d rather have the movie premiere than at ZagrebDox, together with all those who have actually done my research and made possible the film. In this sense I am very pleased. Most of the reactions that I experienced were very encouraging, but I’m sure there were negative comments. “Bastards” offers critical and even controversial vision of social transformation in Croatia from the perspective of radical activists. I would be surprised if not disappointed, if it would not provoke a variety of reactions. We worked very hard to produce a movie that is open to a wider audience while at the same time remains very close to the experience of living and working with this scene. The film starts from a position that we need to re-invent the radical politics that have to be confronted with the conditions in which we are now.
Further distribution? Why the film is not online?
At the moment we apply to a lot of festivals and we are very excited about the “Bastards” publicity. Will be distributed in Europe and America. However, some of the best festivals do not accept films that already have broad public display, especially those that are available online, so it will wait a couple of months.
What are the future plans in research and behind a camera? The progress of your work with the Slovenian activists?
I started working with a Slovenian activists on a new project on the politics of citizenship in Slovenia. Observe a series of conflicts that surround the inclusion and exclusion policy – from the ethnic definition of the state, ten-year battle for refugee status of Bosnian war victims, asylum seekers, Bosnian import seasonal workers – but we will focus specifically on the case of “deleted”.
We plan to do research and a documentary about the permanent loss of some 18 000 people who have lived in Slovenia, mostly from other Yugoslav republics. Unlike previous works oriented towards civil society, we examine this problem from the perspective of modern European movement for the rights of migrants. I worked several years with the Slovenian activists, including “deleted”, and most of them associated with European or global struggles of migrants.