Building a New Left in the Balkans (Kanzleiter, Krašovec, Kostanić, Vesić, Milat)

‘There is probably no other region in Europe where the past and present of the left are so severely out of sync with one another as they are in former Yugoslavia’, Boris Kanzleiter and Đorde Tomić write in a discussion of the state of the post-Yugoslav Left in the Balkans.

Indeed, one can recall a very sorry state of the post-Yugoslav political landscape from the 1990s and well into the new century. Unlike certain countries where the traditional post-WWII model of the mass Communist party managed to survive political oblivion and retain at least some presence on the local or even state level, there is no trace of the once comprehensive League of Communists of Yugoslavia, except in the form of the continuity of the reformed political élites, who played their compador roles well regardless of their social democrat, liberal or conservative guise.

On the other hand, nothing even remotely resembling a new leftist party such as Die Linke arose from the awakening civil society. The outspoken voices of new ideas in the 1980s quickly settled on the social capital of their founding fathers and never politicised the issue of transition in any substantial, let alone leftist manner.

Even on this barren landscape, however, new movements have emerged with admirable resilience. The institutional discontinuity in which these newcomers are forced to operate might even be an opportunity in the crisis. While the thirdwayist social democracy is a sign of a colossal defeat of the European post-war Left, we must admit that parties truly leaning toward the left are also exposed to the dangers of cooptation, alienation and disenchantment. Movements uninhibited by the constraints of parliamentary democracy are therefore a necessity, both as a fail-safe device and as a pool of new approaches and energy.

The aim of our panel discussion is to evaluate political developments in the Balkans in recent years from this perspective. We will try to probe reasons for the political vacuum of the transitional era, describe the political formation of student- and worker-activists of recent years, reflect on past attempts of party building and identify its dogmatic as well as left-liberal deviations. Ultimately, our goal is to analyse the potential for building a new Left in the Balkans, a Left that will raise the stakes from strictly reactive to proactive political activity without losing its potential the moment the next landslide election occurs.

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