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“It’s time for change!”

Jul, 05, 2012 - Franziska Spohr

This year’s Fair Play anti-corruption music video competition has seen an outstanding participation of artists from Croatia. In their lyrics, the musicians express strong political messages, calling for the government to end its corrupt practices or step down entirely. The following is a look back at the issues and social movements of the last year which have fueled the socio-political engagement of Croatian artists.

On February 23rd, 2011 protesters stormed the streets of Zagreb, furiously angry at their government. “Down with the government!”, they shouted. Davor Dundović, aka Dooplee, stood in midst of the crowd, rapping “They don't give a fuck about us, about me, you and all the people shouting out…There is no democracy in Croatia!” while recording onsite the video for the protest song Zaboli hi. In demonstrations throughout 2011, Croatians continued to decry poverty and injustice and to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor’s cabinet, pointing to the rising rates of unemployment in Croatia raising allegations of corruption. “Thieves, thieves”, they shouted, then “Bribery and Corruption – this is the Croatian Police!”

During the last years, Transparency International Croatia, have identified significant deficiencies in the areas of judicial independence, party financing and appointment procedures. Ranking 66 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index Croatia is not exactly a beacon for transparent democratic processes. On April 17th, 2012, Ivo Sanader, former Croatian Prime Minister, three important officials of his HDZ party and the whole party itself were put on trial, suspected of illegal financing during a period of 6 years. Freedom House, a monitoring agency of democracy and human rights has pointed out the urgent need for reform in areas such as political and judicial appointment procedures and freedom of press.

In the lead up to the accession of Croatia to the European Union (scheduled to take place in 2013) Croatia has equally been under scrutiny by EU authorities, who have demanded significant reforms to tackle political corruption and organized crime.. One important requirement by the EU was that Croatian military officials involved in the Balkan War be put on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. The subsequent convictions, however, became a controversial issue in the public national arena, indicative of a larger discrepancy between international priorities for reform and the public’s demands for Croatia’s socio-economic development. The massive popular protests of April 16th against the conviction of two high-ranking generals show that such measures imposed from above can easily conflict with national feelings and raise anti-EU sentiments. Moreover, Croatia’s citizens are dissatisfied with their government's prioritization of measures to meet EU demands over tackling deep rooted national problems. While politicians make continuous efforts to adapt national institutions and procedures to EU standards, public demands, such as for measures to ease unemployment and poverty, do not seem to be sufficiently addressed. “The government is doing just as much as the EU demands, but the changes they actually make are small and insignificant”, explains Fair Play artist Daxx from the hiphop group SB Representa who calls for independent thinking and revolution in his protest song ‘It’s about you’.


Consequently, while official documentation of Croatia’s reform efforts have grown increasingly optimistic of progress in several areas, they have not been met with much public approval. In June 2011, the EU recognized substantial progress in terms of judicial independence, democracy and human rights, and thereby officially approved Croatia’s accession. Moreover, Freedom House attributes significant political progress to anti-corruption efforts and the indictment of Sanader. (Whether this is a sign of progress or rather illustrates the seriousness of political corruption in Croatia is, however, a matter of viewpoint.) The current amount of anti-corruption initiatives in national and international frameworks further indicates that efforts to tackle the problem of corruption in Croatia take place on several levels. Organizations and initiatives such as the Partnership for Social Development, the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, the 2010 EU Anti-Corruption Initiative Croatia or the GONG Organization for citizens’ participation have proliferated during the last decade, building up an solid network of bodies today.

Nonetheless, such developments do not seem to have a large positive impact on the population.  “Nothing is getting better, more jobs are lost every day, people are getting more discontent, and the trials of Sanader and the HDZ are seen more and more as what they really are: an amusement for a scandal-hungry society”, Rapper Davor states. He wants to make use of his music to give a concrete expression to public discontent - with quite some success. The music video he recorded during the demonstrations and sent to the Fair Play Competition received a remarkable amount of attention in national media and online. And he is not the only musician who speaks out against the politics of his country. In fact, it is the large number of videos sent in from Croatia that caught our attention. Responding to a large-scale promotion to artists and on social networks by Hrvatska Glazbena Mladež, Fair Play’s local partner organization in Croatia, as many as eight bands from the country have so far submitted videos to the competition. As media reports on the forceful public uprisings during 2011 show, this outstanding commitment by Croatian musicians is only one further indicator of a population that is stepping up to the political injustice in their country. If recent political developments in preparation for membership to the EU have not appeased the public’s discontent, they have at least raised public awareness. “We’ve been asleep for so long”, “now these changes are happening on a larger scale and we realize that also we want to make a difference” says Remi, the successful rap-musician and ambassador for Fair Play in Croatia.

Activism against corruption and political injustice among the population is certainly increasing, as further illustrated by the creation of the Croatian version of Wikileaks. With its vast databank on government procurement established on November 30th, it revealed rampant voter-fraud and further contributed to reform efforts by the government.

Such forms of citizen involvement in a former communist country are remarkable. As Fair Play Ambassador Remi points out, it takes time for people to build up awareness and the necessary courage to make their opinion heard: “We're a nation that really doesn't know how to protest… Especially older generations that spent most of their lives in Yugoslavia which had zero tolerance for activism or protesters. In Yugoslavia, most of them would end up in jail if protesting, so older generations still live in fear. It's younger generations who protest and try to make a difference” says Remi. Musicians play an important part in this process, as the large number of Fair Play participants shows. They are placed somewhat outside the limelight of politics and can therefore hope to speak directly to the people and circumvent some of the police or government response that street demonstrations often face. “There is a serious lack of information among the population”, rapper Tom explains. “That’s why we want to raise public awareness for the issue and increase the freedom of speech”. Fair Play artist Kandžija agrees. “If things are going to get better in Croatia, its because of the efforts of people who live here. Joining the EU doesn’t mean that everything is gonna be great. It’s going to be what we ourselves make out of it, nobody will do our job”.

The common cause of demonstrators and musicians is clear: mobilize the citizens to speak out, put the finger on illegal practices, fight for fairer politics. In their song lyrics, the Fair Play participants draw similar conclusions: Politicians are selfish and care only about their own power and money, police and judiciary are bribed, wealth is accumulated by the rich, the poor remain poor, those who speak out are silenced. Kandžija calls for ‘Statesmen of the new age’ in his likewise titled song “‘cause it’s time for change!” he declares. Most of the criticism is directed against the current government in particular. Taking a more general viewpoint on the situation in Croatia, one should not forget however that problems are often rooted much more deeply in a nations history. Ultimately, Croatia is a country in transition. The development from communism to democracy has never been an easy process, and it is not completed yet. Civil society needs to learn and evolve just as political and judicial institutions do.

Overall, one messages stands out: change. Change is needed in terms of political processes and of citizens’ participation in the process, not only in the light of EU accession, but also in the general context of a global age in which populations are mobilized to participate in public life through a variety of channels, demonstrations, social networks, and music. Some changes might already be happening in Croatia, but much more is being demanded. Hope for much more change is clearly embodied in the musicians’ message. “Call us utopist”, Remi admits, “but we musicians in Croatia, we really believe we can make a difference with our music.”

Fair Play is open for video submission until July 24th 2012. Register your videos on: www.anticorruptionmusic.org

 

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