No justice, no peace! (Macedonia)
Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own! (Serbia)
Zagreb is ours! (Croatia)
We are hungry in all three languages! (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
We march for justice! (Albania)
Everywhere is Taksim! resistance is everywhere! (Turkey)
Under these slogans and others, people throughout our region have risen in recent years to demand that politics work in the interest of the many and not only the privileged few.
There have been some successes which can give us hope: the colorful revolution contributing to a change of government in Macedonia; the stopping of the gold mine in Rosia Montana; the Zharreza people march banning fracking in Albania; the election of the Zagreb is Ours! party to the city council in Croatia's capital; the inspiring plenums experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Gezi park movements in Turkey, to name only a few.
But there are also overriding frustrations and fears throughout much of the region; at captured political institutions and processes; unjust neoliberal policies driven by international capital; sectarian animosities provoked by elites for personal gain and exploited by international actors for the sake of geopolitics. Authoritarian tendencies of both domestic and international powers are on the rise, and with them the need for civil resistance is more urgent but also more difficult and dangerous.
After more than 25 years of ‘transition’, we live in societies where a powerful few profit through theft or by capturing state resources and institutions, most seek to escape, and many are just trying to survive. Whilst some of our countries have moved forward in terms of overall wealth, we have all moved backward in its distribution: inequality is high and growing, and yet social grievances are often ignored or manipulated. And whilst some of our countries have progressed when it comes to democracy, we are far from popular sovereignty or people having genuine control over their future. The “stability” that is so prized by elites in the region, and their associates in the EU, increasingly seems like a hopeless trap. It feels like trading the hopes of a richer, more meaningful, and more humane civic life tomorrow for the experience today of being exploited and dispossessed in a perpetual interregnum.
We need a new Democratic Left for the region which is proud of its commitments to democracy, human rights, social justice, universal education and culture, gender equality, minority rights, environmental protection, public space, labor organization, civic empowerment and egalitarian production and allocation of wealth. Therefore, we came together to analyze, but also to try and consolidate the underlying issues in the region and beyond under one banner with the aim of formulating actionable positions and policies for the betterment of the lives in the region, where we want to stress and create a stronger community among activists and go beyond reactive struggles.
We need a Democratic Left which is not afraid to call-out corruption, discrimination, inequality, or exploitation, is not afraid to take the side of the weakest members of society, and is not afraid to lay out positive alternatives to the status quo. We need a Left which ensures equality both in law and in fact.
We stand for the principle and practice of working together, in the region and in a wider European context, and believe that it is the only means for the Left to grow stronger. Different movements can learn from, support, and inspire each other. In an age where the decisive drivers of change are transnational corporations, elites, and international organizations, only by gathering together across borders do we have enough collective force to not only resist the erosion of what remains of social democracy and the welfare state but to create new alternatives for the 21st century.
Equal rights for all
The LGBTI community in the region continues to be discriminated against and marginalized. Legislation lags in anti-discrimination law, hate crimes, and same-sex marriage rights, as does their implementation. Social stigma has arguably increased since the end of 1980s with the growth of militarized machismo and nationalist conservatism. We call for equal rights in law and practice as well as fighting for social openness and respect in media, education, and everyday life.
Public institutions, hospitals, schools, transport and businesses should be accessible to disabled people. Systematic solutions must be brought so that children with disabilities receive early support and care crucial for their growth, and so that their parents are relieved of the overwhelming burden of care. Adults with disabilities should be included in education and employment.
Human rights are not privileges of one group or another, they are fundamental to the dignity of each of us. But they cannot fully be enjoyed without social rights and will not come about without collective struggle. Our societies should be organized on the basis of the equal rights of all, and with the mission to ensure that each person has the resources and opportunities to develop, learn, rest, contribute and create.
An essential part of a Democratic Left platform must be the guarantee of total gender equality in law and in practice. This means not only guaranteeing formal equality in all forms of law (including labour and property laws) but also enacting policies to address persisting inequality between men and women, as well as practices that promote and further strengthen patriarchal stereotypes. In recent years, most countries in the region have taken a significant step back when it comes to gender equality. Particular attention must be paid to women who are oppressed in more than one sphere (such as Roma women) and an intersectional policy approach taken to issues of inequality and in particular poverty.
The Democratic Left must:
Gender discrimination in the labour market has many layers that must be addressed. They include:
- the gender wage gap, which has grown since the socialist era. Women are in general paid less for the same position than their male colleagues. Eliminate the wage gap!
- the segregation in the labour market, with women’s overrepresentation in underpaid sectors such as service, public administration, health, education, as well as the textile, clothing, leather and footwear sectors, where workers' rights and minimum-wage legal provisions are frequently grossly disrespected. Eliminate gender segregation!
- the lack of women in senior oversight positions. Gender equality in management!
Unpaid forms of domestic labour continue to be overwhelmingly done by women. These forms of care are not inherently ‘women’s work’ and putting this burden on women alone is a form of oppression.
It is essential to compensate unpaid labour in the private sphere, whether through wages for housework or a universal basic income which allows for economic independence, along with promoting men taking responsibility for domestic work.
Self-managed collectivized housework (public laundries, canteens) and childcare, care for the elderly and the sick should be paid for or subsidized by the state.
Reproduction must be a choice. Encroachments on women's reproductive rights and bodily autonomy by nationalist and conservative governments must be reversed and never happen again. Choice must be valued and supported by the State, including by offering access to publicly-financed and safe abortion, comprehensive sexual education and access to contraception, as well as plentiful maternal and paternal leave and universal childcare.
Paid parental leave must be guaranteed and enforced both in the public and the private sector. In two-parent households, both parents should be eligible and encouraged to take a paid leave, with part of it being conditional upon its usage by fathers. Additional support ought to be provided for single-parent households. Same-sex parents should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. Parents who take parental leave should not face discrimination when reintegrating into the workforce or with regards to pension contributions or other social benefits.
Textbooks and teachers must not promote patriarchal gender stereotypes. No less harmful are the gender stereotypes promoted through the media, and the ways female bodies are commercialized and exploited by capital through advertising. The Democratic Left promotes as role-models strong, activist, productive, creative, collaborative and caring women and men.
Forest fires, floods and polluted air and rivers are amongst the signs of dramatic climate change which is affecting every region of the planet. This can only be addressed by acting across borders, and everyone and every society has a part to play.
The discrediting of socialism in our region has been used as a way of discrediting any collective stewardship of resources. This model of capitalist extraction and private profit has reached its ecological limits as well as its social limits, and if we fail to change this system we are damaging today’s societies as well as our world and its future.
The Democratic Left calls to:
There must be no repeat of devastating fires, floods, sea pollution and ecological damage: these can be avoided by well managed public authorities, and cross-border collaboration throughout the region.
The economy of the future must be green and renewable if the planet is to be liveable. Our region should lead in creating green jobs and sustainable models of resource use, particularly with solar and hydro energies which have strong potential.
The post-Yugoslav countries and others in the region have historical experiences with collective and democratic management, and these models should be valourised and new versions made to collectively manage common goods such as water.
Goods which are essential to life including clean water, heating, culture, education should be guaranteed for all and kept outside of the market where they are exploited for profit. Healthy, creative and safe societies are in everyone's interest; profit from common goods only serves a few.
Everyone should have a roof over their head. Yet large parts of the population of our countries do not have decent housing. Eurostat estimates that 20% of Romanians, 17% of Serbians, and over 10% of Bulgarians and Macedonians suffer severe housing deprivation; over 40% of the population in these countries live in overcrowded households, and the situation is not better in other countries of the region.
Roma populations in particular face dire housing shortages and conditions across the region.
The discrediting of socialism has led to States giving-up on the responsibility to provide for the population's housing needs. Instead, the transition has created a market-friendly institutional framework that supports segregation based on financial status: the rich are encouraged to concentrate in gated communities and luxury resorts, separated from the rest of the deteriorating urban environment, and the poorest are ever more frequently forced to live in slums, ghettos, or left homeless.
The Democratic Left demands decent housing for all:
The State should reclaim responsibility for ensuring an adequate supply of affordable houses for the populations of the region. The private market does not guarantee this, and lack of regulation in this area leads to bad development, reckless financial speculation and housing bubbles. Public housing funds should be established through progressive taxation and budget redistribution.
Property scams for money laundering deprive our countries of public goods, force up property prices, and provide ways for criminals to escape justice. Mafia and corrupt politicians must be brought to justice, and their assets seized and given to the public good.
Cooperative housing is a proven way to collectivise risk, ensure the maintenance of housing stock, and moderate rents. The countries in the region need to change their legal codes to favour this model, as investment in setting up housing cooperatives is also a wise long-term state investment.
Since the breakdown of socialism in our region, large public spaces in city centers have been privatized and became private housing, shopping malls or luxury spaces. Instead of being for the common benefit of all people, these spaces have been seized, enclosed and exploited for the benefit of a few.
Openness, availability and proximity of public space to all interested users as well as the possibility for various forms of common governance and possession are preconditions for raising the quality of life in the city. Our cities should be pleasant, safe and green places to live and play. There is no reason that such conditions should only be the privilege of the rich.
The Democratic Left calls for:
Cities are primarily places for people to live, work and play. Political decisions on urban development should be centered on the good of the citizens and the quality of their lives, not on maximizing profit.
Different kinds of public space require different kinds of governance, but in each case there should be as much democratic participation as possible, combined with transparency and accountability of decisions. Local governments should adopt participative budgeting for public spaces, and ensure citizen control over any budget generated through gentrification, ensuring profit from the city environment goes to the common good of its citizens.
Some cities in the region have as little as 1m2 squared green space per inhabitant, which is amongst the worst ratios in the world. Each city should set targets to increase this space over coming years to a minimum of 10m2.
Communications technologies create new public spaces, but without guaranteeing access, these spaces are open only the privileged. Internet access is considered by many as a new human right, and along with it should go access to all forms of telecommunication, freely for everyone.
The Democratic Left prioritizes the upkeep and enhancement of cycling paths and sidewalks, as well as the enlargement of pedestrianized zones. Affordable public transport is a public good that benefits everyone and the environment.
Neoliberalism has been implemented in our region since before the 1980s with dangerous effects: the rule of the market has weakened bargaining power of workers and citizens, driven down wages, rights and the power of the State to tax corporations. Our young people are fleeing the region. Our public institutions have been deliberately run down to promote privatization.
Neoliberalism is above all the doctrine that there is no alternative to ‘unrestrained’ free markets and competition, and that this arrangement creates wealth for everyone by ‘trickle down’.
But the elements of this doctrine are false: the markets only exist by state intervention and support; there are always political choices about what kind of society we want to live in; and the neoliberalisation of the economy has led to the concentration of wealth at the top, and very little trickling down.
Against the neoliberal vision of brutal competition between the weakest in society and profit for the 1% in control, the Left must defend an economic transformation which puts the economy at the service of people, enabling them to live richer, more interesting and decent lives. There is no blueprint for this alternative, but rather a series of principles to be followed in finding a new model of development.
The Democratic Left presents various alternatives to neoliberalism:
The Democratic Left should work towards a socio-economic model which promotes mutual support and cooperation, rather than competition and exploitation. Cooperative business forms not only democratise work and promote better work-life balance, but also can improve creativity and innovation. The agricultural sector which is so important for our economies has a family and medium size structure which could provide an alternative to large-scale agribusiness and agrochemicals. The IT sector is strong in our countries and could lead with an alternative model to Silicon-valley style exploitation. We support copyleft and open-source models, and data-protection and privacy.
Non-commercial banking is almost absent from South East Europe, and yet this form of banking is essential for long-term investments in social infrastructure, housing and the launching of social enterprises. The Democratic Left calls for the creation of social and environmental investment banks.
We should have confidence to break with the economic consensus, particularly when the economic consensus has recently led to one of the biggest economic crisis that the most advanced countries ever experienced.
Regional cooperation frameworks, integration in multi-national markets and all forms of international collaboration are welcome, as long as they are working to increase salaries and rights, and invest in our countries in a sustainable manner, reducing the technological and productivity gap, and not being used to drive down standards, wages and extract resources at low prices.
Access to world currencies, whether the US dollar or Euro, is a key issue for developing countries, dictated by the imports of advanced technologies and servicing of the existing debts. Currently, many of our countries are locked into debt-prisons by these processes. Developing countries should work together to create another global system of sovereign debt, one which is fair and sustainable. The Democratic Left calls for a Global Debt Conference to make new rules, and allow for the writing-off of unjustified sovereign debt.
The investment of foreign capital in our countries should be welcome only when invenstors can demonstrate the plausibility of positive developmental effects of the investment. Through regional cooperation we should create rules which mean countries do not compete for investment by lowering either labour, environmental protections, or wages, or by offering low-to-no tax deals: instead we should welcome long term investment which improves our efficiency and productive output whilst upskilling our labour forces, investing in communities, infrastructure and other public goods. Our countries' resources and workers are not open to be exploited and then abandoned!
The vast majority of multinational companies reproduce themselves on the backs of low-waged Southern and peripheral labour. In recent years, a pan-Balkan austerity program of competition in lowering rights and wages has been installed, and the Democratic Left must fight back against this. Through collective initiatives in factories and businesses, through movements and unions linking workers, students and families, through public education in engaged media and public events, and through regional cooperation, we can fight for an increase of workers rights and a living wage without which there cannot be a stabilization of the economy.
The Democratic Left calls for measures to create shared prosperity:
Labour laws have in the past two decades been stripped of their social protections and have become detrimental to workers - particularly women, who have lost the social support and sometimes even the parental leave of the socialist era. Precarious work has been standardized through the flexibilization and informalization of labour. All labour - including that of the informal sector - must be regulated and organised in order to stop the rapid fall of wages across the region. The rights to organize, to strike and to bargain collectively must be ensured. The Democratic Left demands a living wage for the lowest sections of the labouring classes in the name of the dignity and fair pay of all workers.
Governments and unions must do their part to promote labour rights and the collective organsiation of the public and private labour force: this is essential for a healthy and balanced economy. Unions should call for better wages and working conditions for employees, but also democratise their own internal structures. For unions to be effective agents of change, they must not only stand for workers' rights, but mobilize and create connections across the whole of society, including with political parties, movements and NGOs. They should reach out to workers in precarious employment and in the private sector and create the conditions for an all-encompassing labour unionization.
High levels of State subsidies for foreign investors should be redirected towards State-level active domestic investment and industrial development policy, as well as welfare and retraining for workers who were laid off or lost their jobs in privatization processes.
Education is essential for the emancipation of people.
Public investment has dramatically decreased in many of our countries over the past 20 years, and schools at every level are being closed. Education is increasingly turned into a commodity not a right, and schools and universities are pushed to promote the political interests and worldviews of the ruling parties.
In such economic and political environment, education becomes less of an emancipatory means, and more of an ideological apparatus: a vehicle of promoting dry discourses economic efficiency and militant nationalistic and patriarchal discourses.
To ensure education is a real fundamental right we must:
Everyone should have access to quality education from infancy until university or technical and vocational training. Education should be fully publicly financed, free at the point of use, accessible, and curricula should be progressive, including civic and sexual education, using modern learning and teaching methods.
Students should not be turned into a cheap and easily exploited workforce: dual education programs must ensure students are properly protected. Teachers should be paid properly, have adequate materials in classrooms and benefit from training.
In the medium to long-term, academic and practical education of the population is one of the best investments a society can make. Investing in universal education is demonstrably cheaper than having a population saddled by debt, or unskilled to enter the 21st-century economy.
In our schools students are often taught simply to listen and memorise. This is not emancipation: this is indoctrination. Critical thinking, learning about political institutions, and engaging in political debate and discussion are essential in creating democratic societies.
We are opposed to all attempts to instrumentalize language as a way of dividing people, on national or other grounds. We are in favour of the circulation of books and knowledge inside the post-Yugoslav space, and more generally throughout the region and Europe: possibilities for borrowing books, for accessing research and databases should be maximised. We are for the teaching of foreign languages, learning about other countries, geography and history free from nationalism, bigotry, or racism.
Student mobility in the periphery of Europe is too often seen simply as a means of escape: those who can often flee the region to better educational opportunities elsewhere. We are in favour of student mobility which builds links between the region and elsewhere, which circulates knowledge and increases capacity in the sending countries. Programs for circular mobility, structured partnerships between universities, and mobility inside the region to make the most of its diversity of riches are all to be supported.
Democracy is in danger where there is no quality media reporting a diversity of opinions and seeking the truth. In our countries, the mediasphere has become dominated by an alliance between capitalists and regressive ideologues, conspiring to shut-out alternative views, to distort the facts and to mislead populations. Practising free journalism becomes impossible, because of either State or mafia intimidation or imprisonment. Global digital corporations have become the most powerful information gatekeepers, and advertisers are increasingly dominating content and editorial decisions.
In such an environment no democratic debate is possible and alternatives must be fought for: news has to remain a public good, and the public has the right to know facts and to discuss different opinions.
The Democratic Left call for:
The Democratic Left calls for citizen-based models of contributing to quality independent media projects. In order to produce quality information, we aim at forming non-profit media organisations where the governance responsibility is shared with the citizens, while using participative methods such as crowdfunding. Good quality journalism requires independence, resources and the active contribution from the citizens as well. State support can also be considered where the ideological independence can be guaranteed and the whole financing process is transparent. Financing independent media should go hand in hand with the revitalization and editorial autonomy of public media services.
The Democratic Left calls for a civic movement of challenging and calling-out hate, racism and false information online, particularly on digital media.
This includes active promotion of digital and media literacy programs and its integration into education system at all the levels, supporting and using all the mechanisms and techniques for fact-checking, critical thinking skills development and fighting against hate speech.
The right of journalists to investigate and report must be protected. It is unacceptable that the powerful and the rich are able to escape scrutiny and accountability by silencing critics and practising censorship.
The right to express critical opinions in the media is essential to democracy. We must support journalists to practice ethical journalism in the public interest, without the infuence of political and advertising agendas.
The State should intervene to ensure a diversity of media outlets in each country. Diversity in television, print media and online media is a public good, necessary for democracy.
We insist on transparent media funding and ownership in our countries in order to prevent media monopolies, conflicts of interest and to maintain plurality of opinion in society. Knowing who is paying for the news the public receives is essential for the public to evaluate the quality of this information.
During the transition, culture lost its status as a public good in our societies. On the one hand, culture has been misused by the dominant national conservative ideologies which reduce it to a way of promoting a supposedly ‘pure’ national and ethnic esssence. On the other hand, culture is seen primarily in a commercial, market-driven way. Neither of these perspectives considers culture as the basis of an inclusive society.
In many countries of the region there has been a deliberate State attempts to control and censor cultural expression. At best, the cultural policy of the governments is chaotic, ineffective and ultimately destroys cultural commons.
Culture and the arts are essential components as well as tools of political and social progress. The Democratic Left must take culture as a major strategic area of contestation.
The Democratic Left says:
Public cultural institutions are important spaces for citizens to experiment, imagine and engage in discussion, debate and criticism. State-owned and managed cultural institutions need to be opened-up to fulfill this role. The Democratic Left will both argue for State cultural institutions, and criticise their programs where appropriate, and see no contradiction in this: cultural institutions are spaces of debate. The Democratic Left also fully supports independent and autonomous cultural spaces.
Whilst there is a role for the market in promoting and financing cultural institutions, culture should not be totally subjected to the market. Culture requires public financing and requires expertise in managing, programming and communicating to the public. The governance of cultural institutions should be open to democratic involvement and transparent in order to create, produce, distribute and protect cultural values.
Artists and creatives can find ways of expressing public discontent in politically effective ways, which avoid violence but bring real change. The colourful revolution is a prime example. Throughout history, where culture and the arts have been set free and received support to flourish, political, economic and social progress has been accelerated. The Left must recognise and support this process.
The years of transition in our countries have led to some stability, and some degree of peace, but they have not yet led to democracies. In some countries, democracy is going backwards to authoritarian demagogy; in others 'democracy' was always a facade put on international control; in many, corrupt institutions undermine the democratic constitutional every day. Today, the lack of real political alternatives to the status quo, and a system which tends to shut-out newcomers rather than promote reform, there is a danger of political frustration either leading to explosive nationalism, or the total disengagement and cynicism of the population.
Against this democratic dystopia, the Democratic Left calls for solidarity, innovation, working across borders, civic empowerment and the political engagement of every part of society:
Young people in the region are the one section of society that has consistently shown political maturity, forward-thinking and progressive leadership. And yet young people in the region are either ignored or instrumentalised. When opportunities for participation are offered by institutions, it is usually just to give the impression they are listening. Instead of cheating young people out of democracy, we need to build political institutions, trade unions, movements and civil society which gives them a real say. Young people should participate and be initiators in all policy areas, but in particular they should participate in drafting and approving legislation which concerns them specifically, including in the domains of education, culture, sport, health, the economy and jobs and housing.
From fighting corruption or pushing for transparency, to leading responses to environmental disasters such a flooding, or providing welcome to migrants, civil society in recent years in the region has often led the way towards a more progressive and just society. We believe that civil society should be protected from all State, media and mafia harassment. Civil society should not become a poor substitute to 'correct' the failings of the State, but a space of civic engagement which enables citizens to take a lead in addressing problems, inventing new solutions, and conducting debate and critique.
Civic movements for change have essential roles in our history. Whether fighting for liberty, for peace, for equality or good government, movements and protests have again and again played a vital role. The civic movements of the Left should be open, democratic, favour women's and minority rights to political participation, and should welcome all sections of society which share their demands irrespective of background, of profession or education level. Civic movements of the Left must be present in both the cities and the countryside, amongst office workers, factory workers and farmers.
The Democratic Left embraces maximal democratic participation by promoting participative budgeting, workers councils, deliberative assembles and plenums, referenda and other forms of direct democracy. We call for governance decisions to be taken as closely to the citizens as possible, with transparency and accountability, and with the possibility for decisions to be reversed and revised through ongoing civic participation.
Well-structured political parties with diverse visions of the public good are important for representative democracy in our countries to function and to prevent a slide to authoritarianism. In some of our countries, political parties are being eradicated and replaced by powerful individuals; and in many of our countries the political parties that do exist are incoherent bad copies of Western models. We need new parties as well as reform as the existing ones.
Political parties need to be connected to civil society and movements, responsive to ideas and demands from society. They should apply democratic methods internally and have open memberships. Given that progressive political change in any one country will benefit from international coordination, political parties should be internationally connected.
The municipal level is proving to be a highly fertile level for progressive politics throughout Europe and in the rest of the world: cities are leading on fighting climate change, integrating minorities, providing affordable housing and creating solidarity and a sharing economy. The Democratic Left calls on progressive movements throughout the region to target cities, and for city governments to show autonomy, inclusiveness and invention and to network across borders.
Now more than ever, any progressive solution to social problems has to be sought through collaboration across borders, thus building the capacities for articulating alternatives to neoliberalism.
“Economic nationalism” as a protectionist measure against the predatory character of global capitalism is just a cover for political nationalism, and only offers false solutions to addressing neoliberalism: it only promotes the competition between people and the race to the bottom for the majority, whilst the elite predators get richer.
Nationalism reveals itself again and again as the opposite of solidarity, resulting in war and hunger for the many. Instead of the false solidarity of the nation, the democratic left builds emancipatory potential through the solidarity of the oppressed. Our solidarity with migrants and asylum-seekers living or passing through our countries are our expression of our commitment to equality for all and human dignity. The Democratic Left condemns the militarization of the borders as both cruel and ineffective.
Many countries in our region have a proud tradition of internationalism through the Non-Aligned Movement and anti-fascism and other areas of political action. Today, the collaboration between movements and leftist political actors (including parties) can start regionally, and reach out to similar initiatives across the European continent to the Americas, across the Mediterranean and to the East.
These international connections were, are and will be preconditions for any alternative politics which may be devised. Interdependence is our present and our future.