All quiet on the Eastern Front?

LeftEast, the East European Left platform for analyses and struggles beyond national borders
Interview with Rossen Djagalov, Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, on behalf of the LeftEast collective
When  did  you start LeftEast? What were your main aims? 
LeftEast is an international platform for informed analyses where we also share information, election or action reports and solidarity statements that come from different movements in Eastern Europe and beyond. It was founded as a result of the growing communication between individuals and groups in the newly emerging Left in the post-socialist world. It started in late 2013 as a follow-up initiative of a series of summer encounters on the neoliberalization of the post-socialist world. The first one was co-organized in 2011 by Mary Taylor in Budapest. The launching of the website itself was a result of the second summer school in Budapest in the summer of 2012, and a follow-up meeting in Bucharest that same winter organized by the Romanian left-wing web-portal CriticAtac, which still hosts LeftEast. It was clear to all of us, that each group is locally engaged, and internationally connected, but we know each other’s reality mostly through word of mouth and the scarce and often biased, shallow, or misinformed analyses in the mainstream media in the West. We understood the need to break with the dependence on the West as a source of funding, information, and as an ideational center through which all our collaboration has been mediated in the past. Instead we needed to strengthen the links between movements and struggles in our part of the world, and also open up to further peripheral countries and regions from which we have been divided due to different historical experience and taxonomies of knowledge production. In this sense, LeftEast is not a movement or an initiative that comes out of one movement or struggle, but rather a space where such movements and struggles can find expression and space for debate.
Please give us some information about how you function: editorial board, gathering the texts, standards and rules etc.
The editorial board consists of a core of around ten people who do not function as a political collective with unitary opinion, but who express an amalgam of opinions and positions from different tendencies on the Left. We also have contributing editorial board members who are less active in the day-to-day function of the webportal, but produce, edit, or solicit texts with specific geographical or topical focus. We usually solicit texts through our networks of activists and scholars who work in/on the region. Facebook –a necessary evil– is also very helpful in this regard, as we often encourage people to turn their long critical comments we encounter there into short opinion pieces. Once a text arrives, at least two of us read and comment on it. As some of us have native or close to native knowledge of English, we also do proofreading. After all, most of our authors are not native English speakers. We feed editorial and language comments back to our authors. We see this as a longer process of learning both for them and for us.  Sometimes we solicit translations from texts published in some of our kindred platforms from the region. We do our work 100% on a voluntary basis and so do the voluntary translators. This means we all have full-time jobs that have little to do with LeftEast. Each one of us is active in other initiatives locally where she or he is based. And this, by now, is often outside the region. So, LeftEast gives us a unique opportunity to stay connected with the region and –hopefully– to help movements connect, get to know of each other, and get coverage outside their national context. We also try to meet every year in summer encounters – we ’ve held such in Budapest, Sofia, Kaunas, and this year we plan to have one in Istanbul. 
The name of the platform is “Left East”. 

The name was actually invented by Costi Rogozanu from the CriticAtac web portal after the Bucharest meeting in 2012. Back then the discussion rotated around names that were heavier, not easy to remember, and definitely exceeded our ambitions – like The East International or East Left Review. Retrospectively, LeftEast was shorter, smarter, and funnier. As your readers might have guessed, it reflects a joke – in everyday Eastern European English it sounds like ['leftist] – the verdict of the infantile disorder of the Left according to V.I. Lenin. As this was a pilot project, the joke was on us, but so was also a more relaxed atmosphere than a longer title would have suggested, so we went along with it. In fact, it spared us “the naming debate” which kills the energy of many collectives at the start. 
First, Left. What does  “Left” mean to you, in the 21th century?...
This is a broader debate in which we enter rather with an exploratory mission than with the aim of giving firm and definite answers. What is important to know is that LeftEast functions as an editorial collective, but not as a political collective: in the sense that we rarely publish shared editorial texts or try to have a political line that represents the whole editorial board. We come from different tendencies within the contemporary radical Left in Europe and beyond: autonomous Marxists, Leninists, Trotskysts from different tendencies, anarcho-syndicalists etc... We do share firm anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian, decolonial, and egalitarian beliefs. We try ourselves and encourage others to connect political economy oriented analysis with empirical research or experiential knowledge that take into account complex intersections between class, gender, race, and sexual identities. So rather than taking firm positions and political lines, we try to read most materials together and try to generate and curate debates among authors. Surprising as it sounds given all the traditional splits within the Left, it mostly works. 
…and, secondly, “East.” How do you describe this region (Balkans and East Europe and…)? And is this “East”  mainly,  a  geographical, historical, or political, concept/term? In your “About” section you say: «The aim is to constitute an alternative to the way we see the region but also to the type of intellectual production historically associated with this part of the world». Please tell us some more on this.
It technically means that we are dealing with the complexities that divisive historical processes have played in the region. We try to resist simple Cold War taxonomies of knowledge, which designate as socialist and post-socialist only East European countries, or stratify them even further into the Baltics, Central Europe, the West Balkans, Southeast Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Caucasus, Central Asia, etc., looking for shared patterns. We try to engage critically with different possible or imagined alliances (e.g. a Balkan or Transdanubian federation), also linking past and present experiences of socialism or projects for radical anti-capitalist social change. We are also interested in transversal knowledge that brings together countries beyond these divisions, for example, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey, etc. Still, due to shared experiences, and contingent circumstances (our origin or research), we are still mostly focused on the formerly state-socialist regions of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Most texts come from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, former Yugoslav countries, and less so from the North or further East. We have more recently tried to reach out to authors and cover topics in other geographies, including a few texts on Latin America and Asia, and have had a strong focus on Turkey and Russia. 
There are certain objective obstacles in this expansion: the further we move from the region, the thinner our networks become. Our audience (for the most part Eastern European) also seems to recognize LeftEast as a source of information and analysis about the region, while looking for information on foreign contexts in better established or geographically-specific Left-wing sources. Interestingly, one of our Greek readers and friends (Dimitra Kofti, Greek anthropologist working on Bulgaria) recently asked why we don’t cover Greece. Seems we've unreflectively reproduced one of these divisions we set out to problematize. True, Greece stayed on the “other” side of the Iron Curtain as part of Southern European and second wave EU member countries (PIIGS) and has been –unlike Eastern European countries– covered widely in Left-wing media. The assymetry became ever greater when Syriza was rising to power while the Left in Eastern Europe is still tiny and mostly politically marginalized. Since then Greece has been discussed by our writers, some of whom have contributed to AnalyzeGreece - a kindred English language portal - but Greece has mostly stayed out of our focus. Of course, we would be only delighted if you or your readers send us articles on Greece to publish, that include analysis sensitive to the different historical experiences within the Balkan peninsula. 
I would like to hear your thoughts on Syriza and the Syriza government. What does it mean for the movements  and the Left of the Balkans and Europe?
As an editorial collective we don't have a common view of Syriza, and neither do East European movements: for some groups/individuals connected to LeftEast, Syriza was never a real revolutionary alternative; others saw it as a last hope. In the region it was for a few years a hope that a socialist government can put other issues on the agenda of national and EU level politics, which our governments did not. We were all excited and campaigned in solidarity with the Greek people during the referendum in July 2015. Yet, both the Troika dealing and the Tsipras governments’ reaction were sobering and disappointing. Not so much the last-moment surrender, but rather their not having thought of a Plan B –Grexit – and actually preparing for it. While this was all happening, however, many of us realized a second, retroactive disappointment: how was it that a similar solidarity on the Western Left was nowhere to be found in the 1990s at a time when Eastern Europe –without a real Left in government– went through even more severe cycles of crisis and dispossession? So now it’s no surprise that solidarity is not there to be found - Greece still seemed affluent when looked at from e.g. Bulgaria or Moldova. Currently, we’ ve been engaged – individually and at times collectively through texts or invites we receive - in critical dialogue both around Lexit in the UK, and around DiEM’s attempts to revive a democratic Europe. As members of the editoral collective we have different opinions on these and the future of the EU or the lack thereof.  As for Syriza – for good or for bad, the refugee crisis sheds new light on how far the Greek government is ready to go in obeying the Troika, reneging on its mandate. Sure, the brutal economic blackmail doesn't help, but it's disappointing none-the-less...
And then, I would like to ask you about your view on the refugee/immigrants issue, and especial the deal (the deal of shame, in my opinion) between the EU and Turkey.
The current dangerous liaisons of Turkey and the EU are one of the reasons why this year we are trying to hold our summer encounter in Turkey. The connection of Turkey to the region is complex, both because of lasting anti-Islamic sentiments due to the legacy of the Ottoman empire and to modern-day Turkey which have been key geopolitical players in the region. We are all clearly outraged by the dirty deal between the EU and Turkey. It uses taxpayers' money neither for economical and political integration of migrants escaping war and economic warfare, nor for the ending of the war and reparation of societies destroyed by war and plundered by neocolonial relations. It technically uses the Turkish state as an eager mercenary to fend off Fortress Europe from these migrants, while waging war on migrants and minorities. This is no surprise – the EU has been a key imperial power in the neocolonial exercise called “Euroatlantic integration” through which our region has gone since the 1980s. Inhuman reforms allowed millions of people in the region to become unemployed and homeless overnight while factories, land and buildings were privatized and remained empty. The neoliberal restructuring let people die without access to medical care while medical concerns and private doctors accumulated enormous sums. It allowed governments to cut even the miserable pensions, maternal and unemployment benefits for those most vulnerable under the premise of the survival of the fittest in a  “healthy” society of cut-throat competition. So as with the Greek crisis, we see the current intervention of the EU rather in continuity with its inhuman policies and tendency to defend elite interests and outsource its problems and create reserve armies by dividing and ruling its periphery. Sadly, the refugee crisis has exacebrated the fear of dispossession which our people experienced in the 1990s, and has pitted many against the migrants, instead of turning them against the elites.
What is the current situation, in other words, what are the main problems and prospects on the Left and among the movements in the region?
We have increasingly authoritarian governments driven by capitalist lobbies and not willing to obey even the simple rule of law. While the Left in Europe is raging against evil trade agreements as CETA and TTIP, Eastern European countries have been exposed to the detrimental results of the association agreements with the EU and bilateral trade agreements with European and North American countries, which contain the ISDS and which have twisted the hands of countries into deals that clearly go against the popular interest. At the same time, while the Left is ever further vilified and condemned by conservatives, liberals, and oligarchic social democrats, the right extreme has presented itself as the only alternative that “cares for the people”. The reemergence of Putin's Russia as some new hero for part of the Western and local Left has made it ever more difficult to form alliances locally and internationally. At a time of refugee crisis and the fight over non-existent or severely cut labour and welfare in the region, the Left-wing organizations are structurally volatile and severely underresourced: in each country many activists live abroad and are engaged in long-distance activism due to migration and precarity... In the final declaration of our encounter in Kaunas in 2015 (coorganized with activists based in South European countries), we said “The Balkans are the future of the PIIGS”. Unless the Left in Europe manages to find ways to fight back, it seems Eastern Europe will be the future of Europe. 
Rossen Djagalovis an Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the New York University. Formerly an organizer for Yale’s graduate student union (GESO), he works on representations of labor and international leftist culture in general.
Mariya Ivancheva holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University in Budapest, on the topic of the higher education reform in Bolivarian Venezuela. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at University College Dublin and a member of Attac Ireland.
Mary Taylor is Assistant Director at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Mary received her PhD in anthropology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on sites, technologies and politics of civic cultivation, social movement, and cultural management; the relationship of ethics and aesthetics to nationalism, cultural differentiation, and people’s movements in socialist and post-socialist East-Central Europe and the United States. She specializes in studying, theorizing, and organizing radical and alternative pedagogical activities under different conditions of urbanization. 

Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, Rossen Djagalov were interviewed by Stratis Bournazos.
First published in Greek on “Enthemata” of the newspaper “Avgi”, 15.2016.

  • Published in EUROPE

Μacedonia: Down with the King, Long leave the Revolution

Interview with Jasmina Golubovska
In the past couple of days, we have had mass protests in Skopje and all the Republic of Macedonia. What are the main reasons for these protests?
The reasons are very simple and date as far as from 2009 and the first civil resistance towards criminal or suspicious behavior of the governing coalition partners VMRO-DPMNE (which declares itself as Demo-Christian right wing party) and DUI (which declares itself as democratic party of the citizens belonging to the Albanian community) yet, both are ethno-centric parties of the two predominant ethnic groups within the country. Their coalition lasts for over 10 years in perfect harmony, although they declare difference in political ideology. The similarity between the two parties can be found only in their so-called representatives in the electorate, which are based on ethnic belonging of the voters. Their governance together has been problematic, highly suspicious and based on ethno-political mobilization and nationalism as driving force of the party members. Therefore, one needs to wonder upon the real intentions of being in politics. Well, the time has come to reveal their masks of being coalition-partners in crime and corruption deals, hiding behind their national-romanticism campaigns, owning half of the country, brought censorship and limited civil rights gradually since 2006 when they came in power.
Which is the main aim and the main demands?
The aim is simple. We’ve been on the streets as members of civil society since 2009. Many things happened in the course of these 7 years, many people got arrested, including journalists, media owners, political opponents etc., nothing has changed. Only the political crisis has only deepened, having in mind last year’s wire-tapping scandal revealing all of their crimes. They brought exploitation of the workers by reducing workers’ rights for attracting investors (in reality money laundering and provisions in pockets) murders and bullies, motivated to abuse the people for personal gain and power. After the latest attempt of their puppet President of State Ivanov to abolish all crimes based only on allegations and all possible prosecution of crimes in future, done by the Special Prosecutor Office we’ve taken the streets once more, hoping to last until the demands are met. Nothing more, nothing less… Since the movement #Protestiram is every person who protests against the government as criminal organization, we agreed on the following minimum demands:
  Refraction of the fake President decision to abolish all crimes done by current and past, holding or held High public function in executive, judicial or legislative branch; and his immediate resignation as second demand; third, Opinion of the Constitutional Court about the submitted Initiative allegedly against the new institution, Special Prosecutor Office, signed and voted in Parliament by more than 90 MPs as poltical agreement to investigate all alleged crimes. The Initiative was submitted by the current Public Prosecutor who is the extended hand of the VMRO-DPMNE party in controlling the judicial system. We as citizens would like the Special Prosecutor Office to also have opportunity to investigate and prosecute the crimes on independence court since this one is obviously run by the two coalition partners in government.
Therefore the forth demand is Special department in the Criminal Court working only on the cases where there are evidence of possible abuse of power by politicians and where their party members were/are involved. The fifth demand is for their party member and President of the Assembly, to retract the decision for elections on the 05th, June where only DUI and VMRO-DPMNE will be the only contestants; number 6 goes to our involvement in current or future negotiations about our lives and future here; all negotiations to be held in Macedonia, not some European capitol where we are excluded; finally, forming of Transition government which will reform the system according to priorities and well-being of all people in the country. Since yesterday a new demand, very general one: Stop arresting our friends and comrades in battle, since you have no space in the prisons to arrest us all J.

How would you describe the social, political and ideological profile of the protests and the people who protest?
…Very colorful, as the revolution which got a new identity and name of being colorful revolution. The social, political and ideological diversity among people who are part of this resistance is amazing and invigorating. This is especially important for part of the people who’ve past most of their time protesting on the streets when people were too scared to even discuss possible crimes in the government or security and privacy bridges of citizens. We are very happy that our people are finally awaken and taken the streets, as they belong to us including the public institutions and public space as a whole. 

What is #Protestiram and which is its role in the mobilization?
The movement #Protestiram came out of last year’s arrests and clash with police on the 05th of May due to revolt we had when we heard that the cover up of the murder of Martin Neshkovski in 2011 by the government top officials is true. The information was reveled in the wire-tapped materials. Then we agreed, #Protestiram is every person who protests against the government as criminal organization. Yes, the students were the driving force, however, one needs to recall on the last 7 years of various Initiatives, demonstration and protests which led to the current developments.  What are, according to your opinion, the prospects and the future of this movement? Well, we are all #Protestiram, even the people who still cannot speak of the oppression, among their party members or employees in public institutions, therefore, future looks bright and colorful J.
Jasmina Golubovska is a human being, worker and activist, and sometimes (if lucky) Jedi.
Jasmina Golubovska was interviewed by Stratis Bournazos, 26.4.2016. The interview will be published in Greek on «Enthemata» of the newspaper «Avgi» (30.4.2106).



A colorful revolution in Macedonia?

Interview with Gabriela Andreevska
In the past couple of days, we have had mass protests in Skopje and all the Republic of Macedonia. What are the main reasons for these protests? The main aim and the main demands?
The protests were sparked off by the decision of the President of the Republic of Macedonia to grant amnesty to all the prosecuted politicians, many among whom charged with heavy crimes. There were politicians from the ruling party and the main opposition, so the President claims he did it to “solve the deep political crisis” in the country. Of course, the citizens know he did it mostly so as to protect the criminals from the ruling right-wing party – VMRO-DPMNE.
However, it would be wrong to say that this was the main reason for the protests – in point of fact, this was the final straw in a series of events leading up to the mass protests currently taking place throughout Macedonia. Thus, it would be more appropriate to say that the main reason for the protests is us saying NO to life in a criminal, authoritarian, elitist system of injustice. The main reason is our vociferous demand and continued fight for a socially just and equal society, where people will be treated with dignity regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or lack thereof. The main reason I would say is our belief that such a society is indeed possible – but it must be upon us to create it, that is why the people are there on the streets protesting. It is the continued awakening of the consciousness, there is no “international saviour” that will do it for us (and we already saw just how much the EU cares for human rights in the system crisis also referred to as “refugee” crisis) so it is ironic to expect a panacea from the international community.
And even if the international community had interests to “force democratic order” upon the Republic of Macedonia, it would be precisely that – “forcing it”. So what is happening instead is a civic awakening, mobilisation of people that are becoming increasingly enraged and more importantly – aware that it must be us the ones to speak up and fight. Reclaiming the streets, reclaiming what is ours. Reclaiming what has been plundered by the corrupt ruling elite. Reclaiming justice, freedom, equality, universal sisterhood and brotherhood. And in a social context of almost utter control of the media., where else can we voice these demands if not on the streets? This is why people are on the streets protesting.
How would you describe the social, political and ideological profile of the protests and the people who protest?
Some have started referring to the current protests as “The Colourful Revolution”. As many others, I do not know if it is a revolution, but it is indeed “colourful”. There is a plethora of people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, yet they are united in that they all are sick and tired of the current regime and are seeking a better alternative. There are some divergences of course as to what exactly this better alternative would be, but we do agree that it must be grounded in principles of equality and justice. There are protesters completely unaffiliated with any NGO or political party, there is the NGO sector, there are representatives from political parties, a variety of ethnicities – ethnic Macedonians, ethnic Albanians, Ethnic Vlachs, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics etc. But then again, it is this sheer diversity of profiles that adds vivid and flamboyant colours to the protests – may the new system of social justice be one where we thrive in diversity and mutual respect for this diversity.
Is there any connection with other demonstrations in the past, for example the student occupation the first months of 2015 or the demonstrations of May 2015? Do you think that people are inspired from movements in other countries, like Nuit Debout (or Indignados)?
The current protests are certainly a continuation of the 2015 protests and the protests and struggle years and years before. Decades before. Centuries before. In Macedonia and beyond its borders. The struggle is long and ongoing and I don’t expect that a “quick fix” would magically appear overnight, even if the entirety of Macedonia takes to the streets to protest against the regime. It is just a small fraction of a global struggle against a destructive, disintegrating, neo-liberal system way beyond the borders of Macedonia, which has to be transitioned to a socially just, equal and sustainable system throughout the world, not just in one given country.
Let’s not kid ourselves – this radical change cannot and will not happen overnight. And I don’t know if I will even live long enough to witness it – but I can certainly contribute with every fibre of my being to pave the way toward it. Step by step. Little by little. In that sense, in view of the global nature of the current system that we strive to eradicate, witnessing the emergence and reinforcement of movements as Nuit Debout or Indignados is certainly inspiring, but also the wonderful left culture in Greece, which I have personally drawn a lot of inspiration from. Even more inspiring is when we support each other, beyond nations and borders showing solidarity and unity in our joint fight against the same exploitative neo-liberal system – so for example you see people from Macedonia supporting the protests in Greece or people from Greece supporting the protests in Macedonia. That is what I call inspiring.
What is #Protestiram and which is its role in the mobilization?
#Protestiram (or #Iprotest in English) is a movement by the citizens and for the citizens. It is not a political party, it is not an NGO, It is me, it is you, it is all of us. As such, as a citizens’ movement, it has had a very powerful role of mobilisation. There have been people severely disillusioned not just by the ruling party, but also by the opposition parties, NGOs and establishment politics and organisations in general.  Real change can only occur if the protests remain independent and led by the people and for the people, not by any establishment political party. This is exactly the current unifying aspect of #Protestiram – it transcends establishment organisation - it belongs to all of us, the angry, the oppressed, the change-seekers, the idealists and doers, the people that have taken to the streets wanting to create change.

What are, according to your opinion, the prospects and the future of this movement?
It has been growing and it has yet to grow. The real revolution would not be overthrowing the current ruling party and replacing it with a left party or a “milder” government, but rather, reinforcing a movement like this where we fight for long-term social justice and long-term structural societal change. For the movement to impact such structural changes,  it must adopt a much stronger anti-neoliberal narrative way beyond the borders of Macedonia. It must question every single thing we do so that we keep on reforming the global exploitation system. This includes showing all-encompassing international solidarity not just with the oppressed people in Macedonia, but with all oppressed fellow fighters throughout the world, whether the NuitDebout in France, Indignados in Spain, the neighbours from Greece or the refugee sisters and brothers from Congo, Syria, Afghanistan etc. And I believe that slowly, but steadily it is already happening. And that is the only true revolution and future prospects I would see in this movement; not just overthrowing a dictatorial regime.

Gabriela Andreevska is a social activist, mostly involved in grassroots initiatives for social justice, human rights, gender quality, freedom of movement, and sustainable development. She has been involved in the refugee crisis as a humanitarian and political activist. She is a member of the Left Movement "Solidarnost".

Gabriela Andreevska was interviewed by Stratis Bournazos, 26.4.2016. The interview will be published in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi" (30.4.2106)

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