We have to be honest, however. Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans consists of twenty countries inhabited by a population of about one hundred and eighty million people. While the socio-political turmoil of the recent decade in Europe and beyond have resulted in the emergence of new political parties, confluences and platforms in the South and inspired leftists in the West to build new political agendas, electoral successes in the East have been few and far between. In Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans this progressive “wave” has translated into four seats on the Zagreb city council, six in the Slovenian National Assembly (for the United Left platform – the ancestor of Levica) and an extra-parliamentary opposition party in Poland with an electoral performance of only 3.6 % in the most recent election. Even after adding individual cases of progressive city mayors (like Robert Biedroń in Polish Slupsk) or single leftist politicians in some of Eastern European governing bodies, our optimism should not be completely blind. Against the background of the radicalisation of nationalism, populism, and neoliberalism, there must be an urgency to move quickly towards encouraging progressive forces in the region.
The Eastern European chessboard
There’s no doubt we have to continue empowering Eastern progressive political parties, trade unions, and social movements – the traditional actors of the socio-political stage. That’s already taking place. Connections between parties from Poland, Slovenia, Croatia and their allies from the West and South are deepening. Eastern trade unions actively collaborate with their partners from all over Europe to blockade international chains of production and overcome national workers’ weaknesses in the globalised market. The Polish Workers’ Initiative trade union, which I’m a proud member of, contributes not only to black-red networks’ actions, but also to processes like the Transnational Social Strike which gathers different types of workers’ organisations to struggle against precarious working conditions beyond national borders as well as to redefine the methodology of strikes performed by autonomous workers. Eastern, Southern, and Western social movements stand side by side in solidarity against global economic agreements, natural disasters, and attempts to limit reproductive rights in Europe. Both in the West and East, we are also witnessing the renewal of sociological research focused on characterising social classes. Connecting political parties, trade unions and social movements beyond national borders as well as analysing our realities according to social differences are progressive strategies which we should never abandon. It’s our heritage, a matter of political efficiency which has been tested for almost two centuries, but also a matter of our identity and, thus, responsibility towards future generations.
However, traditional methodologies in the East seem to have failed to support the advancement of socially oriented, democratic, progressive political forces. That’s because we have not recognised one significant actor which could both contribute to the progressive agenda building process in the East and transform relations between political forces in the region – civil society organisations or the third sector, if you like. Progressives – especially in the West and South – should recognise the unprecedented role and the historic transformation of NGOs in the East, accept the Eastern third sector as a political partner, and urgently form alliances with progressive parts of civil society in Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
A lesson from Croatia
In March 2017, the eyes of the East focused on Croatia. Zagreb je NAŠ!, a municipal political platform that assembled progressive forces announced that it would run in the May 21st local elections . The decision to stand for elections was made after 2014 and 2015 brought a successful electoral attack from the United Left in Slovenia and a partly successful appearance of urban movements in Polish local elections – as well as the creation a new Polish party, Razem. Now, it was Croatia where organisers hoped the next episode in the progressive Eastern wave would occur. For two months, Zagreb experienced an unprecedented citizen-oriented and grass-roots political campaign appealing right to the city’s principals. With 7.6 % of votes ZjN managed to occupy four seats in the Zagreb City Assembly, twenty-one seats in city districts and forty-one seats in local councils.