The formation of the Workers’ Front (Croatia): “Revolution, if necessary”

This interview was originally published in the Croatian portal Index. The English translation appeared at the official website of the Radnicka Fronta.

“If you want to live in a more just society, join us in our struggle,” the members of a relatively new initiative on the Croatian political scene, the Workers’ Front, are inviting people to join their ranks. The goal of the Workers’ Front is to fight uncompromisingly for workers’ rights, and one of the methods they plan on using is participating in parliamentary elections, possibly next year already.
In the interview for Index [the most popular Croatian internet site], the Workers’ Front is represented by the members Mate Kapović, associate professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Zagreb), Dimitrije Birač, adjunct instructor at the Faculty of Economics (Zagreb) and Denis Geto, the leader of TEHNOS (one of the trade unions at HEP, the Croatian electric company).

What is the Workers’ Front?

Kapović: The Workers’ Front is a political initiative founded earlier this year by a group of trade unionists, activists, workers, unemployed and students from different parts of Croatia like Zagreb, Rijeka, Osijek and Karlovac. We realized that we need to organize a wide progressive front which will fight uncompromisingly for workers’ rights, but will also incorporate other aspects of the struggle for a better society, such as human rights, ecology, womens’ rights and the rights of social minority groups. Another aspect of our activities will include participation in the parliamentary elections in the future. The Workers’ Front will not act solely as a political party, we will be present at workplaces, on the streets, in strikes and at protests, and involved in organizing trade unions and helping workers. The Workers’ Front will fight for what is popularly called ‘the 99%’, for the working majority and other marginalized groups, the oppressed and the poor.

From left to right: Mate Kapović, Denis Geto and Dimitrije Birač. Photo credit: Anita Bukljaš, Index.hr

From left to right: Mate Kapović, Denis Geto and Dimitrije Birač. Photo credit: Anita Bukljaš, Index.hr

How many members do you have?

Kapović: There are approximately a hundred of us at the moment. For the time being, we have 4 local organizations, in Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Karlovac, and in the near future we plan on founding local organizations in Sisak, Pula and Split, and after that in other places in Croatia as well.

You are saying that you are going to run for parliamentary elections. When can we expect that?

Kapović: We will certainly run in the elections in the future, that is one aspect of our struggle, but we don’t want to be just another electoral party, interested in lucrative positions or holding political sinecures. That’s why we plan to undertake severe measures to prevent possible opportunism, careerism and alienation from the rank and file members within the WF. For instance, we are going to introduce member rotation in the parliament (every six months) and giving up a larger part of the salary to the WF. We might run in the next year elections, but we are still debating on it. The decision will be made by all of our members because we function in a much more democratic way than other political parties.

What are the ultimate goals of the Workers’ Front?

Birač: The ultimate goals of the Workers’ Front basically boil down to the abolition of the current socio-economic system and all the problems it brings with itself. And along those lines, one of our goals is the development of full democracy, the economic as well as the political one, which is proclaimed almost everywhere today, but inadequately realized.

How do you think you can achieve your goals?

Birač: One aspect of the struggle would be through parliamentary elections, but primarily it’s going to be through outreaching to workers and organizing them, and then comes organizing other oppressed groups such as students, retirees and unemployed.

Kapović: Many people will call us radical. We don’t consider ourselves radical, the situation we live in is radical. What is radical is that you can’t walk down the street without seeing someone who’s begging or digging through the trashcan. As one of our members from Osijek said, there is nothing especially radical in demanding that everyone have a job, a living salary and be safe from eviction. We think that it’s high time for an organization which will fight uncompromisingly for the rights of workers and the majority, regardless of whether something can be achieved in the short or long run. We want to build a strong progressive front and we welcome all people who want to uncompromisingly fight with us for workers’ rights. People don’t necessarily need to have an informed opinion on the whole political and economic system or to agree with us on everything, our goal is to organize a wide front. There are a lot of smaller initiatives, organizations and NGOs in Croatia that are preoccupied with their own particular agendas. We’d like to gather them all together in a united struggle, in a formal or less formal way.

Geto: We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Today a large portion of the Croatian society is completely disenfranchised and it shouldn’t be a problem to find people who will support us. The question that arises is whether we are going to be able to draw them together and pull them forward. There’s no organization that’s doing that now. The biggest trade unions that should bring people out into the streets to change the system, like those in Spain, Greece or half a Europe, are not doing it. That’s why the work we need to do is easy to explain but difficult to pull off. We need to go among the workers and help the groups that are fighting for themselves. Someone has to bring them together and we are going to try to do it.

What exactly do you mean by an uncompromising struggle for workers’ rights? What are your exact goals?

Kapović: Whenever we talk about workers’ rights, we are on the defensive, the workers’ movement is always on the defensive. They tell us we need to work more for less money, that we need to be more competitive. They talk about cutting workers’ rights all the time. We want to pull things in another direction and push for more and better rights for workers. We need to go from defense to offense and not tolerate their calling us lazy, stupid and unproductive. Why should we put up with that? Tycoons are complaining all the time how they are not making enough profit. We want to know why workers should be the ones who need to pay for capitalism not being profitable in Croatia? If the system doesn’t work, let’s change it. Why should we become another Bangladesh, work and stand silent while our rights are being denied so that someone who gained all their wealth in the privatization of the 90s can make more money? And we know how the property was given out at the time. The ruling class advocates ‘competitiveness’ and ‘better business climate’, which can only mean cutting down workers’ rights, environmental regulations and so on. Take Macedonia for example, they fulfilled all that was asked of them to create “business-friendly conditions” and look at what they have there now. According to a recent study, Macedonia ranks 1st out of 144 countries with the ‘lowest total corporate tax burden’ on the Global Competitiveness Index but they have 30% unemployment rate and terribly low wages. They do have foreign investments, but usually the investors come into the country, get the incentives, leave the country and an even greater chaos behind them. What the Croatian Employers’ Association and the likes advocate here has already been done in Macedonia. And those free-market taliban, as we call them, have accomplished nothing but increased poverty and created even bigger inequality than we have here in Croatia.

Birač: Simple math tells us that besides the official number of unemployed of 300,000 people, there are 700,000 people of working age who do not work. All in all, we have a million of unemployed people in Croatia. Among them there are about 300,000 people who receive disability pensions, and that’s a problem that needs to be dealt with. This shows the tendency of the system, a million people have simply become social outcasts. People have been denied their basic right to work while the work of the million employed has been continuously degraded. In spite of the potential of the unemployed, capital wants to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. It suits capital to prolong the working lives of the mass of workers it exploits because it understands that the source of its profits are the working people, not the businessmen or entrepreneurs, as our economists claim. But at the same time capital understands that workers are an expense, which it wants to reduce to a minimum. For instance, a capitalist increases his profit by putting more and more burden on workers, instead of hiring additional ones. I would like to mention another fact completely ignored by our economists and that is an eight-hour work day. It has been more than a hundred years since workers won a reduction of the workday from 12 to 8 hours, but our economists behave like they belong in the past and are trying to prove that profit depends on that last 12th hour. They fetishize the 12-hour workday and they don’t want to understand that due to technological revolution, the length of the working day can be reduced. The readers should ask themselves if that’s a coincidence that nobody’s talking about reducing an 8-hour work day in spite of all the technological advance. I’m going to read you some statistics: in 2012, 32% of the population lived in poverty and 71% lived in households that cannot afford even a week’s annual holiday. Tourism, which is becoming our only industry, is making it impossible for our citizens to use their holidays. We are becoming a state which cannot use its potentials and is moving further more towards the European periphery. The economist Guste Santini explained what the monetary and debt policy of our country is: from 1994 to 2006 personal lending increased by 31% per year. In 1994, the amount of personal loans was 15% and by 2006 rose to 50% while at the same time the number of business loans dropped. That is the consumer economy which is characteristic for the periphery of the European Union. That’s how the government budget is constructed, whose largest revenues come from sales taxes. Since the sales taxes are the main source of revenue for the state, when we import more, the balance of payments deficit increases and the state budget deficit decreases. Politicians used that logic to win elections, but there is a crisis in the EU now and the import is in decrease, so it’s normal that the budget deficit is increasing. It’s not a local problem anymore, it’s a problem of big capital. There’s one interesting detail though, when you import a car, the motor vehicle tax is based on its purchase price. However, when you want to import a vessel, you pay the vessel tax based on length, and it’s pretty obvious who buys sailboats or yachts.

It’s an undeniable fact that Croatia has been in deep recession for years, now probably even in economic depression. The dominant public discourse is that it can be changed only within the framework of the current system. You have a different approach?

Birač: The Independent Croatian Trade Union has calculated that from 1999 to 2008, before the economic crisis started, productivity rose by 6 percentage points more than real wages. After 2008 productivity rose by 25 percent but real wages fell by 19 percent. In the past 15 years work productivity rose by 29% and the real wages by 19%. This discrepancy shows that the new value created by workers was appropriated by capital, i.e. asset owners. That’s why they all believe the solution to the crisis is to work more for less money in order to further increase the gap between labor productivity and real wages. It’s what we call a relative wage, the ratio between the value resulting from the worker’s labor and the value he receives in the form of wage payments. We can see that the worker creates more value than he or she receives in wages. Our solution would be that the worker receives that difference, his whole relative wage. In 2012 the average monthly salary for 700,000 people was up to 2000 kunas [260 €]. About 2 million people or 73% of the population received up to 6000 kunas [785€]. That shows incredible social disintegration, and one of the reasons for that is that surplus value is not appropriated by the society that creates it but by capital.

Kapović: We are now living in a system where the entire economic activity operates in order to benefit the minority or the so-called ‘one percent’. Everything is done for their benefit, rather than in the public interest. In regard to the global balance of power, we can’t hope that we are ever going to become a developed country within this economic system. When you take a look at the whole world in general, there are only about 30 countries that are more or less developed and where a large population lives relatively well. The rest of the world, the other 170 countries, live rather miserably. The division between the core and the periphery is the main point here. Croatia is on the periphery and basically has been put in a semicolonial position in regards to the EU and the USA, it cannot just make the jump into the developed world. If we don’t make radical changes, we are going to be doomed to languish on the periphery and remain undeveloped forever. There’s no future with the current politics, as we can see from the data Dimitrije has provided.

Geto: The radical changes can be made through a wider use of direct democracy. We need to snatch power out of the hands of big capitalists and give it to the masses.

You say you aim to the wider masses, but the loudest, if not even the most numerous part of Croatian society is the right. They surely won’t accept your ideas?

Kapović: The collapse of the welfare state after 1990 was, for a part of the population, mitigated by the creation of a corruptive, clientelistic network. Factories were destroyed, people who were in the war had no workplace left to return to, so the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government of the day just retired them. So a part of those people became a part of their clientelistic base. Naturally, we cannot expect the CDU clientelistic network to support our ideas. But we believe that among the rest of the population, however mislead by other ideas, there is space for this kind of ideas. We believe that the we can convince the people of where their true interests are, instead of talking about fabricated enemies, and that they have to take care of their own material interests. We do not look for passive voters, we’re not interested in that. We seek people who will recognize their interests in what we’re talking about and will join us in the struggle. Besides the workers themselves, further disempowered year after year, we count on the young of whom 41,5% is unemployed, which is practically a call to rebellion, on the large part of those who do not vote, which is about 40% of the population, but also those who vote for parties like the Labour Party, Sustainable Development of Croatia (ORaH) or the Social Democratic Party (SDP) because they see no better choice. We have an example from Spain where a lot of young people who have never voted now vote for Podemos, which is very similar to us and with whom we are currently trying to connect, as well as with other similar options in Europe (like SYRIZA or die Linke). Right now, according to the polls, Podemos is the strongest party in Spain with 27% of the voters. So there is room and we’ll see if and when it comes to fruition. It is less important if we will achieve something within a year or ten years.

Birač: One of our goals is for the people to realize what the current state is. An average person, considering his life and work, and because of poverty, often doesn’t have the time to think about certain things. But the important thing is to realize that all the seemingly coincidental, unrelated events have a common denominator. For instance, Croatia is the country with the least farmland irrigation in Europe. Each year there’re catastrophes when nature shows its teeth. On the other hand, we have the deindustrialization. Some economists explain that the number of employed in 2012 was 70% lower than in the pre-war years. Our industrial production is by some 20-ish percent lower than before the war. Dubravko Mihaljek, a known economist of the Swiss BIS bank, says that Croatia hasn’t created added value since 1980. Croatian GDP of last year was lower by 300 milion dollars than the one in 1980. On the other side, real wages where larger in 1974 then today. More than 50% of available farm lands is not used. The State owns around 890 thousand hectares and uses only about 260 000 ha. These are seemingly unconnected things but in the context of the socio-economical system they are connected. And they can’t be changed just by setting a different policy. The current political elite has, in the last 25 years, proved that it is not capable of upholding an economic policy to the benefit of this society. Besides, the existing political milieu is a construct of this socio-economic system from which the power holders on all levels are then recruited. Because of this, with a few variations, the essence remains the same – further degradation of the Croatian society.

Kapović: All this is because there is no interest in the development of the country, but the wealth for a minority. And I mean literally, there were talks in the 90s on how Croatia should have 200 rich families. According to a 2013 study, we have 260 multimillionaires, each owning more than 30 million dollars and their total wealth at 170 billion kunas (about 28 billion dollars). A minority got wealthy, and the majority was impoverished because the point of this system is the profit of the few, and on the global periphery this is the only way it can be. Our government is in service of Washington and Bruxelles, and the nouveau riche minority is allowed to live as a parasite on the body of the working majority.

One of the things you’re advocating is the nationalization of strategic companies. What are the companies that need to be nationalized and is something like that even possible today, since Croatia is in the European Union?

Birač: First we need to establish which companies were privatized illegally, even by the laws of the time. A necessary prerequisite to the execution of nationalization is a plan for a coherent and consistent industrial policy, which this government naturally doesn’t have. The minimal thing now in focus is INA [the Croatian gas company, now partly privatized]. Here we have a classic example of the 25 years of governing this society. INA has been illegally sold, and we don’t even have public voices asking for its nationalization. In the last 20 years, Croatian governments have installed about a hundred different strategies – industrial, agricultural, etc. In the number alone we see the frivolity, spontaneity and lack of planning in the economy.

Kapović: Up until about ten or so years ago, politicians were at least nominally talking about the need for the revision of privatization. Today, nobody is even mentioning it, although we know the privatization has been criminally implemented, that over 90 percent of it was done illegally. Without a revision of privatization we can’t move to the future. With INA for example, we have MOL [the Hungarian gas company that bought part of INA] not respecting the signed contracts about increasing the capacity of the refineries, and the former Prime Minister Sanader is already convicted for taking a bribe for the transfer of management rights to MOL. The only answer a reasonable society should have in this situation should be automatic expropriation. Anything else is ridiculous. Of course, we know that our government, as a subordinate to western Europe, will never implement. Still, the main demand of INA’s workers should be the nationalization of the company.

Geto: Fundamental changes mean a completely different approach towards EU and towards NATO. Expropriation is not a shame no matter what Europe says. Who says that we have to be in the European Union? Everything that has anything to do with natural resources should be nationalized, i.e. kept in public ownership, and that includes roads, railroads, forest, waters, land and even banks. Those are the great potentials of Croatia, already eroded, and we need to either preserve them or take them back. Let’s look at the financial effect of the privatization the former state telecom company. The Germans have been given complete infrastructure, an enormous asset, and the system is now poorly maintained. Just look at how much time they take to go out for a malfunction. And then look at the hated public HEP, for which I work. How it functions at normal times and how often a blackout occurs? The system work flawlessly and in the last few years has been turning an annual profit of a billion kunas. When you look at the total benefit, in today circumstances public ownership is always better than the private. All the mantra of deregulation, liberalization and globalization is good only on paper. In reality though, we see by the Croatian example that it’s going in a bad direction. It’s not a problem to prove economically that every privatization of Croatian strategic companies is harmful, and that the public sector is by far more efficient even with all of its political positions and wastefulness. Not to mention that it’s possible to introduce more order into the public sector.

Those who disagree with you, your critics who you call the market taliban, would claim that we already had a system of total control by the state and that it didn’t work.

Kapović: We are not advocating a system we had before. Going back to the past would be unproductive and pointless. We can acknowledge that the economic system of Yugoslavia had some good things, from which we can learn, but we do not advocate a return to it. We are not nostalgic, we just see that this system favors the rich minority that sails on yachts, flies around in private helicopters, lives in luxuries mansions etc. We see that this society has been robed. And the people that advocate the mantra of needing even more capitalism are talking nonsense. We’re constantly being indoctrinated by the mainstream media, but who can believe such things? What they say is that things will get better if we reduce workers’ rights, cut wages, and cancel public health and education… How is it supposed to be better if you have to work more and harder for a lower wage, if you cannot pay medical bills if you get ill, if you have to pay for your child’s college? Who crazy here? The only people who would profit from that kind of system are the ones with huge incomes who don’t want to pay taxes. We can freely call people who advocate such ideology free market sociopaths. They’re literally telling us that a poor person is at fault for getting ill. That’s a sociopathic ideology and we are glad that such people denounce us. Because if they agreed with us, it would mean that there’s something wrong with us.

Geto: To put it short, we don’t want the self-management socialism we had. We want some kind of democratic socialism. In Yugoslav socialism, the self-management wasn’t fully developed, you still knew who the boss was. We need a socialist mindset but in a wide democracy.

Birač: The problem with the “independent” or “market” economists is that they assume that everyone has equal opportunities and so the more capable will thrive. That’s ahistorical. In the last 20-something years the point of capitalism wasn’t that all are equal but that some are more equal than others. In this framework, we just can’t talk about fair competition. They advocate for the removal of state from the economy, even though the state is almost gone already: over 90 percent of companies are privately owned. And the same people who have a problem with the state don’t question the state’s role in the late ’80s and early ’90s when private ownership was instituted. Private property wasn’t created by the entrepreneurs nor did it appear by itself. They have no problem with the state when it gives favors to capital, but it becomes a problem when it limits their interest. We have seen that multiple times through history.

Trade unions should be your natural ally in this struggle, but the impression is that the main union centers are not really prone to your ideas?

Geto: Nobody said that this will be easy and will just happen overnight. The situation is rather difficult, from a pessimistic point even hopeless. That goes for unions as well. We are trying to assess all options, but we see that the majority of the key union centers are useless. They are in fact the generators of the current state of the “sleeping” worker, they turned him into a sheep ready for the shears. We have to wake and assemble the unions and the workers. Were we can’t work with the unions, we’ll go directly to the workers. Croatian people aren’t stupid, they will know if the chairman of his union is not working for their benefit. As a union man I have to admit that I’m often ashamed to work in that field because the unions failed completely. The union scene made massive damages. I’ll point out just two details. The first is the 700.000 signatures for a referendum [in 2010, against a new neoliberal Labor Law], where practically the whole nation gave them support, and in the end they played it off by signing some settlement with the Government, instead of taking the people to the streets when they failed to accomplish their goals. The second thing is this year’s changes to the Labor Law. In the beginning of the year, they asked their members for support for a general strike, and in the end they negotiated with the Government and the new catastrophic Labor Law passed, further damaging the workers position. In half a year we came from announcing a general strike to a new sellout or surrender. Me and my union were a part of three union centers and we’ve left all three. We’re not going to join a single one again, until they change fundamentally.

The Left in Croatia is traditionally fragmented, while the Right is firm and unified. How can we make the Left stand behind common ideas?

Kapović: If by the Left we mean a struggle for social justice, for workers’ rights, for more democracy, and not the so-called Left such as the governing SDP, which has nothing to do with the Left except being socially permissive, it’s really sad that there is almost nothing happening on that progressive scene. There’re lectures, festivals, classes, discussion circles, etc. but unlike in some other European countries, there’re no real (radical) left parties. No one but us, the WF, is trying to do something like this. We have no rivals whatsoever on the radical left. That is on the one hand sad, but on the other it makes our job much easier because that whole left side of the political spectrum is completely open with no competition. What we want to do is to organize the left scene, to connect workers’ movements with smaller organizations. We’re not necessarily asking them all to join the Workers’ Front, although we are completely open to all, but we invite all interested parties to join us so that we can fight together. Internally, we function in a remarkably democratic fashion, something which you won’t find among other political parties. For some part, though we’re more organized and coherent, we’re inheriting the direct democratic organizing tradition of the Croatian student movement, the Academic Solidarity union, movements like the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street, as well as others around the world.

Geto: That is why there’s three of us here, not just one.

Kapović: We don’t aspire to personalization, so that one of us gets to be a star. We are a movement of ideas and the collective, not just a one man show. All the important decisions are made by the entire membership of the party. The main body in our party is the Coordination Committee, elected by the membership via online elections and reelected/rotated every three months. In that way, we are somewhat similar to the beginnings of the Spanish Podemos, though we are even more democratic. We think that this is the right platform for all the mentioned small progressive projects to connect in common struggle.

Geto: Just don’t insult us with claims that we are a part of the “Left”. The Left in Croatia, if we’re talking about the parliamentary scene, doesn’t exist. It’s all just liberals, and maybe even the Right. It will be hard, but that’s what we have to explain to the people. Then they’ll understand that what we have in the Parliament and elsewhere is no Left at all and that it all leads to nowhere.

What’s your stance on the tax system? A dominant discourse is that Croats pay enormous taxes, perhaps the highest in the world, and that the taxes need to be cut.

Birač: When talking about the tax system, it is important to identify the position from which this issue is regarded, and whose interests are advocated for. This tax system annoys the capital and its interests. In Slovenia you have similar claims. In their newspapers, you can read that Slovenia is reaching the world’s top in tax burden. The entrepreneurs claim that they want to unburden the workers, but would they give the resulting difference to the worker, or would they take it for themselves? Even if the money is reinvested, that difference would be used for increasing labor productivity, it would not go to the worker. Our tax system is consumption orientated, and the balance of payments is, as I already mentioned, in close relation with the budget. The increasing of the consumption is in the interest of the government and the capitalist class. Taxes bother entrepreneurs, which are a narrow minority, because they don’t want to see that the development of the labor productivity in this system is something that is not in the interest of the labor. In a normal system, the increase of labor productivity would be perfect because the society needs less to produce more. But in the case of this system, the labor productivity is used only in the interest of the capitalist minority, while contributing to degradation of workers.

Kapović: Those stories about the highest taxes in the world are ridiculous. The European Commission’s data from a few months ago have shown that the taxes in Croatia are at the EU average level. But this is, of course, easily forgotten, this was just a short article in the media, while the rest of the time capitalists and their lackeys scream about huge taxes. They don’t give a damn about the survival of the public health system, because they have enough money to pay for private health care if they get sick. Let’s take a look at the Macedonian example again. They lowered the taxes, they did everything what the Croatian market taliban want, and there were no positive changes. On the contrary, the situation is even worse. So what do we want? Do we want to be in even worse situation than today? They talk in their own interest, and it is important that as many people as possible recognize the fact that what they say is not in our common interest. This can be clearly seen in situations where these things are explained to us by an “independent” analyst who works for a foreign privately owned bank. It is so obvious that he is not independent.

Birač: Let us remember again the nineties, when the makers of the economic policies were unquestioningly, and without any objections, accepting advices of tax experts from Germany. It is clear from many examples, like the one of taxes on import of expensive vessels, that a part of the tax system is not made for the benefit of the majority, but is tailored in such a way to enable avoiding the taxation of wealth. No matter how we position the capital, it will always function in such a way to divide people, to exclude the majority of population from the social processes, and for the accumulation of wealth. The state can try to restrain and control it by higher taxes, but its basic tendency won’t change. Those economists who advocate lower taxes are the same ones who identify the interest of the capital with the interest of the society in general. We, on the other hand, see the interest of the majority of society as the interests of the workers and of the oppressed.

Kapović: It’s ridiculous to claim that taxes are some kind of plunder. Taxes can be both good or bad, depending on whether the money is taken from the rich or from the poor, and depending on what the money is used for. The main source of the budget revenue is VAT, a tax paid by absolutely everyone, and that makes it a regressive tax which affects the poorest the most. A rich person pays the same price for bread as a poor one. We advocate for more progressive taxes: those who have more, must pay more. We are absolutely not interested in listening to the big capitalists crying about not having earned enough profit.

If the changes you uphold are realized, could the state accumulate enough resources to satisfy all its needs, regarding the fact that in fact there is no real big capital in Croatia?

Birač: What we uphold are not partial measures. You cannot change the system in favor of the majority of society by increasing investments or improving the investment climate. First you need to see who runs the economic policy. What are the interests of the political caste? What about their incomes, pensions and benefits? Is that a cost? What about those employed at local levels? Why do you still need to go to different counters and offices and repeat over and over again your place of birth and your address, even though we have the internet today and everything is interconnected and available? Why do we have so many administratively registered municipalities and towns? Those are systemic and structural problems, and they cannot be resolved by lowering one tax and then thinking whether there would be enough resources for something else. We can see that the government recently decided to increase the non-taxable portion of salaries which is a benefit for a so-called middle class. The majority of people earns less than 5000 kunas [650 euros], and for them the increase is the lowest, only 20-30 kunas [2,5-4 euros]. Imagine the increase in consumption if their salaries would be increased for 600 kunas [78 euros], since the average household spends more than a third of income on foodstuff. And that is also an indicator of underdevelopment, since in Europe this is 15 to 20 percent.

Kapović: This also shows who the SDP’s (Social Democratic Party’s) voting base actually is. They did not increase the working class’ salaries, but the salaries of the middle and upper middle class. It is important to mention here that we are not a rich society, we are not Switzerland for example, nor can we reach it by a simple redistribution of wealth. We need to restart the production, we need to produce more, and that cannot be done within the framework of the existing economic policy.

Geto: It is impossible to make a short formula for success, as our tax experts tend to do. Slavko Linić [the former Croatian minister of finance] has increased taxes a year or two ago, and the actual minister is now decreasing them for populist reasons. It does not work that way. What is needed is a lobotomy of the big capital. There will be opposition to this, of course, because the capital today can buy anything, even the government.
Is the existing public sector in Croatia part of the problem? By this I mean in the first place the state and local bureaucracy.

Kapović: The organic (proto-libertarian) ideology of the small bourgeoisie is such that, as a reaction to the global crisis of capitalism, it requires cuts in the public sector. But the public sector is not responsible for the crisis. Let’s take a look at other countries, in which private banking systems were saved by public money. They are now being reproached, like Ireland and Spain for example, for supposedly spending too much, although that was not the case. But nevertheless, the normal people are being punished for that. Otherwise extremely neoliberal Institute for Public Finances in Croatia has made a research a few years ago which showed that the bureaucracy in Croatia is at the European union average level, despite the sprouted bureaucracy, politically sponsored employments, and too many local or regional administrative units. Some changes need to be done. If you have an unnecessary municipality which serves only to accommodate and employ somebody from HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) or SDP (Social Democratic Party), of course this needs to be changed. But a simple abolishment of this municipality wouldn’t change a thing. You would just get more and more unemployed people. You need to have a plan and find a job for those people, otherwise you need to pay the unemployment benefits to them. The solution is not a lay-off for all those people, what is needed is some kind of vision, and those who suggest just massive lay-offs have no vision at all. We are absolutely for the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy. You have an example of health insurance. If we all agree that in a normal society there should be a public health system available to all, why do you need to go to five different offices, provide different certificates proving that your parents are employed or that you are a student, for example? If you have an identity card or a certificate of citizenship, you should automatically get free health insurance. What is this bureaucracy for? The technical solutions are there, but there is no political will for that. Nor can there be one, because what the corrupt governments do is rewarding their voters with non-existing jobs.

Geto: It is necessary to know exactly what bureaucracy is. Rationalization of bureaucracy is certainly needed and any (political) option must support it. Any reasonable person knows that the number of cities and municipalities (in Croatia) is inflated. But we usually confuse it with something else and consider as bureaucracy something that actually it is not. It is completely wrong to apply austerity measures in public health system, i.e. on doctors, nurses or sanitary material. This is not bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is in municipalities, counties, cities, agencies… Why do we need so many agencies? That is absolutely unacceptable. So, yes, we are for rationalization, but of the administrative apparatus.

Kapović: In the media discourse about public sector, the problem is that there’s a remarkably easy shift from attacks on SDP’s or HDZ’s political employees onto attacks on public education, kindergartens, hospitals, etc. And then it goes into advocating the abolishment of the public health and education, thus against the interests of the majority. HDZ’s and SDP’s political employees are not the same things as teachers or kindergarten nannies.

You are also for the complete elimination of the capital from the election process. How do you plan to realize this?

Kapović: This sounds radical, but actually it is very simple. If democracy depends on money, it is not real democracy. It means you cannot be a candidate on elections if you don’t possess significant financial resources. You need money for posters, gatherings, traveling, advertising… And if you don’t have money, nobody will hear about you. You won’t be invited to speak out in the capitalist media if you promote views that are against their material interests. It is obvious that those that are elected are financed by big capital, created in the criminal privatization. Nobody asked us if we had wanted to give Konzum [the largest consumer goods chain in Croatia] to a private owner – the store that was once, when it was called Unikonzum, socially owned. And those who got all these companies free of charge now decide who will be elected by financing their campaigns. This is why all forms of marketing depending on money should simply be banned. Anyone who wants to stand as a candidate should be able to do so. The collecting of the signatures for candidacy should be publicly financed under same condition for all – the signatures should be gathered on public places or on the internet. All candidates who receive a certain number of signatures should be allowed to discuss politics months in a row before the elections. For instance, the whole third or fourth channel [of the Croatian Radio Television] could be reserved for election discussions all day long, where political programs could be presented so people could see what ideas are offered. It should be possible for candidates and parties to rally all over the country, under the same conditions, and to present their ideas and programs. This would allow a real possibility for choosing best ideas and programs, and prevent the system in which the winners are those with more campaign money at their disposal.

Is the Worker’s Front calling for a revolution or evolution?

Kapović: If you watch advertisements on TV, you can hear the word revolution every once in a while – in cell phone marketing, communication etc. That is, of course, is ridiculous. But when something is to be said about the revolution that would change our society for the better, then everybody is reluctant to talk about it. I would say that we call for both revolution and evolution. We call for radical social changes because we think that without them it will get worse for all of us. This does not mean that we call for violence. We hope that all this can be done peacefully and without violence. And we’re definitely not the ones who would be the first to resort to violence against somebody. But take the example of South America. There are governments there working more or less in the favor of the majority of the people. The president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, came to power, did some small concessions in the favor of the poor, and what happened? The capitalist class removed him from power in 2009. in a coup covertly approved by the USA. Or remember Salvador Allende and other similar examples. The problem does not lie in the people who might rebel and decide to go killing. The problem are those who are now in power and who do not want to give up that power, as they live in abundance because of the poverty of the majority of people. As we can see all over the world, political and economic elites resort to violence, and when it gets tough, react with nightsticks and guns even to peaceful demonstrations.

Geto: Uncompromised call for evolution, but if need be, we are ready for the revolution.

Birač: A radical or revolutionary change of society means grasping things at their root. And the root of a man is the man himself. We want a radical change for the good of the majority of the people.

Translated from Croatian by Draženka Kosić, Larisa Petrić and Tomislav Orešković

Edited by Božo Glavarević

Denis Geto

 

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