In Joint Search of the Citizen, in Spite of Obedience

On Thursday, April 13, 2017 GONG celebrated its 20th birthday. The event was marked by a conference and the accompanying cultural program held in Zagreb’s Students’ Center and attended by more than 200 activists of different generations and different struggles from Croatia and the neighbouring countries. The video in Croatian is available HERE, while the program of the conference and the exhibition in Croatian can be found HERE.

The celebration included a day-long conference „In Search of the Citizen: Regional Time-machine of activist and cultural practices“ followed by the cultural program: exhibition entitled „Resistance, Movement, Change: Fragments of activist and Cultural Practices from the late 1980s“, organized by the association KURZIV and curated by Martina Kontošić; a play entitled „Postgraduate Studies“ by Vilim Matula and Siniša Labrović accompanied by Igor Pavlica on the piano; and the Activist Music Time-machine by Ilko Čulić.

The program was prepared by GONG in cooperation with the Culture of Change of the Zagreb Students’ Centre, associations KURZIV and DOMINO from Zagreb, the Center for Cultural Decontamination from Belgrade, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Banja Luka, association CIVIL from Skopje, association ANIMA from Kotor, the SOLIDARNA Foundation  and Binocular Theatre, and financially supported by the Europe for Citizens program and the Knowledge Centres of the National Foundation fror Civil Society Development, while  Radio 808 provided media support.

GONG’s birthday celebration started with opening speeches by Suzana Jašić, GONG’s first president and Nenad Zakošek, the current president of GONG’s Council. They were joined by Zoran Pusić, one of GONG’s founders in the scope of the Coordination of Human Rights on the eve of local elections in Spring 1997. Mr. Pusić arrived from a protest against the orbanization of Hungary. In parallel with the opening speeches, an artist from Bosnia Elma Selman began with her performace „Never. Again. Never again?“ addressing the way in which we remember and forget war crimes.

Suzana Jašić compared GONG’s initial steps with current challenges of activism: „Back in 1997, when we started, things were clearer. One knew who they were, and who we are. Today, things are multi-layered and more complex, so activist depression is normal. However, civil initatives still need strenghtening,  and organizations should turn more towards citizens and the base. Instead of thinking where we went wrong, we should think about what to do next. Today we need to make clear who and what is civil society. We are here. We are not going anywhere. We are staying here for good and we will be even louder“:

Nenad Zakošek spoke about current anti-democratic trend throughout Europe and the world, including Croatia and our region. His message was that the fear of visible dangers needs to be transformed into an activist and advocacy strategy: „The fears and social deprivation leading to right-wing populist responses need to be taken seriously. We need to fight for a democratic, freedom-based answers to these challenges“.

The conference „In Search of the Citizen“ consisted of a series of four discussions reflecting on activist practices since the late 80s onwards, as they imagined, created and promited the ideas and practices of democracy, placing the citizen in the postion of a political subject and the creator of social meaning.

The cultural part of the program beagn with the opening of the exhibiton „Resistance, Movement, Change: Fragments of activist and Cultural Practices from the late 1980s“ in the hallway of the SC Cinema. Martina Kontošić, the curator from KURZIV explained the purpose of the exhibition: „In order to reach a point of awareness of injustice, that one can act against injustice, there is a series of emotional and rational triggers. And that is the logic of this exhibition. It is intended for organisations, activists but also people who do not consider themselves part of the activist circle.“ Xhabir Deralla from the Skopje-based organization CIVIL addressed the audience by stating: „Please show understanding towards artists who may not understand politics, but they feel it. Show understanding for activists who may not always be savvy when it comes to words and excel tables to provide clear-cut measures the governemnt should take.  But they want change. And of course, they want to see who will pay the bill at the end of the day“.

Displaying fragements documenting various activist struggles (peace building, women’s activism, environmental protection and protecting the public good, resistance to supressing democracy), the exhibiton presented the works of Nika Autor, Igor Grubić, Adela Jušić, Siniša Labrović, Vladimir Miladinović, Alban Muja, Miroslav Stojanović, the documentation of the works by Sanja Iveković and a film by Nataša Nelević and a group of artists.

Three new productions chosen through the call issued by the SOLIDARNA foundation and KURZIV, Domino and GONG joined the exhibition: “Walls” by Ivana Armanini, I am the future” by Jasna Žmak and Elma Selman’s performance “Never again. Never. Again?” Association Domino chose posters displaying a selection of political performances of local authors since 2000 in the caffe of Theatre &TD, while a documentary Black Box produced by GONG and SOLIDARNA Foundation in the Kiosk Gallery presented the invisible, frustrating and often contempted side of activism – project admnistration. 

Vilim Matula perfomed the monodrama „Postgraduate Studies“ co-authored by himself and Siniša Labrović and directed by Borna Armanini, accompanied by Igor Pavlica on the piano. Ilko Čulić’s Musical Activist Time-machine evolved into a night-long party.

Thus, supported and empowered by numerous colleagues and friends GONG happily sailed into a new decade of searching for a Citizen, despite authoritarianism and injustices.