Possibilities of Cooperation: Citizens for Social Development and Solidarity

Author: Matija Mrakovčić


At the beginning of September 2016, a public presentation of a workshop on social stigma and mobbing through theater and movement was held at the Zagreb Center for Independent Culture and Youth. The organization for the prevention of stigmatization and education through theatre (UPSET) held a drama-action workshop with dozen participants who explored and incarnated the stigma and bodies of mobbing through their movements and gestures, and learned dance, drama and acting techniques, which then they used to present to the audience the underlying problems which they have faced in “real” life.

Although all workshop participants were victims of mobbing at the workplace, they have also embodied positions of the perpetrators of mobbing, but also of the observer, the person who is not directly concerned with the mobbing itself, nor does he or she participate in it – neither to support the victim nor to help the perpetrator. In a conversation after the performance, the most important issues – concerning causes and consequences of mobbing – were reflected in the position of the observer, as the feeling of solidarity.

“Mobbing is increasingly present – partly because of the economic crisis, and partly because of the victims who are not afraid to go public or to seek legal protection. Mobbing is manifested in verbal insults that hurt and belittle victims. Violators do not even have to be aware of the victim’s experience. It is important to be able to place oneself in the role of the victim, to imagine how that person feels. In this way, it is possible to prevent the continuation of mobbing”, said head of the workshop Ivan Hromatko.

It is precisely from the identification with the victim that the feeling of solidarity gets born – it may not be possible to know exactly how someone feels, but sometimes we just need to know that the person is in an uncomfortable, unpleasant position. Solidarity is the voluntary social cohesion, willingness to help and provide mutual support within the group. People act solidarily with someone if they support that person in good and bad experiences, feeling them like their own.

The concept of solidarity had long been expelled from Croatian language and society, probably because it reminded of a past period that had its negative but also positive consequences, one of which was solidarity – the association of small social units, be they a self-managing interest community or a community of tenants of some residential building. Along with the expulsion of the memory of the past, and slowly, through technological development and the strengthening of social organization along capitalist lines, where everyone is responsible for themselves and their progress in society, from social language has been thrown out the word solidarity that over time lost its practical purpose. It was only in the autumn of 2015, when millions and millions of people moving across the borders of the fortress Europe, along the so-called Balkan route, that the solidarity came back to Croatia. It appeared briefly in the previous year, after great floods in Gunja and surrounding areas took place, but this seemed to be just an exercise for something more – something stronger and more numerous.

In Croatia then, in less than two weeks, a civic initiative Are You Syrious? was formed, today an association and one of the most famous regional humanitarian movements, gaining trust of both Croatian citizens and large foreign humanitarian organizations. Are You Syrious? at present gathers a volunteer team of 40 people, who coordinate dozens of volunteers each week. In their ranks are university and high school students, business and family people who have dedicated hours and hours of their free time to helping refugees. During the so-called “refugee crisis”, they have collected and distributed hundreds of tons of food, hygiene supplies, medicine, clothing, footwear, blankets and tents, and after Europe had closed its borders and left refugees to the mercy of smugglers, they have continued to help people without home or basic living conditions in refugee camps across the Balkans and Europe.

As the public interest for their fate was gradually fading, as refugees were no longer in the territory of the Republic of Croatia, the informal SOL.zd initiative has organized at the end of June in Zadar the artistic-activist project Days of Solidarity. The aim of the project was to encourage reflections on the meaning of solidarity as one of the fundamental social values ​​that demands social justice and freedom in diversity on an individual and collective level. SOL.zd is a group of diverse individuals interested in different topics, ranging from art, literature, activism, and social justice to human rights. Days of Solidarity are organized in cooperation with various organizations and artists from Zadar, Split and Zagreb. They were opened at the Roman Forum with a recital of the poem “Zadarska” by Želimir Periša, which is a kind of reminder of Zadar as it used to be: a town of factories, a city of social housing and social care for the sick people, schoolchildren, and city of solidarity, workplaces and workers’ rights. After reading of the poem, there was a sharing of free meals prepared from vegetables collected at the marketplace at closing time, and the first day was concluded with the making of the transparent “We Are All Children of the World”.

In this way, it is clearly indicated the link between solidarity and disempowerment, i.e. the necessity of solidarity with all those whose human and labour rights are being diminished or invalidated. Solidarity within smaller communities nowadays can mean an adequate integration of people with disabilities into community life, from providing them the infrastructure, access to cultural and educational activities, to the feeling of acceptance. For that reason, Platforma 53 was formed in Petrinja, as an informal civic initiative and an affiliation of 12 associations advocating democracy and political culture, solidarity and protection of human rights and providing social services to the community, which initiated a dialogue with the City of Petrinja on the possibility of a future civic center. In the future civic center, apart from the associations and cultural initiatives, social entrepreneurs and crafts, and people with disabilities, i.e. all those social groups that we often call “less employable” would be able to find their working space.

The highest achievement currently conceivable regarding the children with developmental disabilities is that they have completed elementary school – thus the civic center will include educational programs for them as well, but also for the benefit of the wider community in question. The great developmental potential in that regard lies in clay. Petrinja is a city of clay, and working with clay helps to develop motor abilities of physically disabled persons. On the other hand, there is only one potter currently working in Petrinja. Also, the Catering Trade Department of the local Vocational School enables the young people with disabilities to become assistant chefs.

“The whole community should take responsibility for the individual”, said Manda Šalić from the Association of Persons with Disabilities of Sisak-Moslavina County, pointing out as a positive example the Faculty of Teacher Education in Petrinja, which at the initiative of the students, designed a course on the Volunteering in the Community, that among other things, would also encompass the students’ cooperation with the future civic center and its active members. The ideal of solidarity as taking over of responsibility for an individual who isn’t able to help himself can be found in words of pedagogue Ivana Dragšić from the Elementary School “Antun Bauer” from Vukovar. “We’re collecting clothes at school. It is being donated by teachers and children themselves. Here we encounter some problems as each child is different, of different physique. We have students who are much fatter and that come from poorer families. To tell them to eat healthy would be stupidity, as they cannot afford more than rice, pasta, and potatoes. Sometimes I measure students to buy suitable pants for them. One of the boys was late for school every day. I asked him why several times, so in the end he had admitted that he had nothing suitable to wear, so he was very nervous because of it and that’s why he was late every day.” Dragšić believes that poor people don’t like exposing themselves publicly, because in today’s society poverty is a shameful thing and a taboo topic; but that is exactly why we need to keep our eyes open and help those people whenever there is such a possibility. What could certainly help us is a vivid and exemplary civic education that would educate future neighbors, friends and people, whose one of the fundamental characteristics would be empathy – as the possibility of social solidarity.


This text was created as part of the project “Citizens for Social Development and Solidarity”, which was financed by the EU, and co-financed by the Office for NGOs of the Government of the Republic of Croatia. The Human Rights House Zagreb is solely responsible for its content and it cannot be considered as the official position of the European Union. The views expressed on this web site do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office for NGOs of the Government of the Republic of Croatia.