Monday, May 16, 2016

The Croatian Philosopher Set on Creating New Worlds

Editor of Culture and Stuff

This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia

Srećko Horvat hangs out with the world's most interesting people. On any given day, the 32-year-old Croatian activist and philosopher might be exchanging dirty jokes with Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek, wandering around the Snowden film set in Munich with Oliver Stone or getting face time with Julian Assange.

A frequent contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian, Horvat has in the past decade gained international recognition for his left-wing activism. The last time we were together was in March, when we demonstrated against a new Labour law diminishing workers' rights in Serbia. A lot has happened since then: Horvat published his new book, The Radicality of Love , which explores the concept of love in the context of revolution and history; Europe was hit with the greatest migration crisis in recorded history; and Greece's economy continued to shrivel up.

This time around, I visit Srećko at the flat he is temporarily renting in central Belgrade to talk about his work, the problems of the Left and the ways the world has been changing. He lives like a nomad – there is no particular place for him to call home or even store all the books he usually buys at flea markets. He greets me with a nonchalant smile, beaming an easygoing charm as he leads me into his transient home.

Emotions play a massive role in creating social change.

"I've been a misfit my whole life," the philosopher says to me. "It all started with a feeling of not belonging." Horvat was born in post-communist Yugoslavia, but when he was just six months old his father – a political prisoner – got asylum in Germany .

"I grew up in Germany, where I was regarded as a Croatian. And when I returned to Croatia, I was perceived as a German. So I've always considered myself to be a foreigner and a native everywhere I go," he goes on.

1991 was the worst possible time for Horvat to return to Croatia and to this day, he is not sure why his parents chose to do so. Everything in his native land was being turned into ashes over the Croatian War of Independence, while his family had already lost everything in the move to Germany. Today, his parents are retired and live in a rented house in Zagreb, while Srećko moves from town to town working, as he says, on "creating new worlds ".

We are sat in his poorly lit flat, drinking green tea with coconut. We are surrounded by a few personal items which, due to his constant moving, could be packed into a single suitcase. Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx is peeking from his suitcase while his laptop is covered with 'OXI' stickers – which is Greek for 'No' and references Greece's austerity referendum that was held this summer. "My first influences were Kafka, Nietzsche and the Existentialists, Sartre and Camus," he recalls.

Like many progressive people who came of age in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Horvat's personality was also shaped by the local hardcore punk scene, fanzines and vegetarianism. Back in those days, the political elite across all parts of the former Yugoslavia were attempting to force new national identities on the younger generations who had been born under the iron curtain of communism. The youth reacted and so being a part of alternative culture and listening to punk, rock – anything but the local turbo-folk – became a political statement.

At the turn of the century, Horvat began his philosophy studies at Zagreb University and a few years later, in 2007, he published his first book – Against Political Correctness. Since then, 10 more have hit the bookshelves, with the most popular being What Does Europe Want? The Union and its Discontents which he wrote with Slavoj Žižek.

"I've known Žižek for almost a decade. I've translated his works, published his books and, in time, we became friends. A real measure of our friendship is that we don't just talk about Hegel – we mostly talk about sex and love," he laughs.

Within the span of one year – between 2008 and 2009 – Srećko started developing into the international personality we know today. In 2008, together with with philosopher Nikola Devčić and writer Igor Štiks, they founded Zagreb's Subversive Film Festival – which was meant to be the meeting place for a melting pot of alternative film makers, artists and independent thinkers.

Without the money, the Left has no chance at all. We have to understand that we live in the world of brutal capitalism, where money largely runs our lives.

Croatia's student protests in 2009 followed suit. Just as the protests gave him a wider public recognition, they also gave him a deeper insight into the practicalities of bringing theoretical ideas into life. The 35 days of protests and ceases of about 20 universities across the country proved to be a real-life handbook on how to run a movement against the privatisation of education.

"To be able to occupy a university for 30 days or to just hold a five-hour long protest, you have to be in tune with people's emotions. Emotions play a massive role in creating social change," he explains.

Speaking of social change, the Sixth Subversive Festival which took place in 2013 helped sow the seeds for the creation of Greece's first Left-wing government (which came to power in 2015). It was there that now Greek PM Alexis Tsipras became friendly with Yanis Varoufakis, who was going to become that government's subversive finance minister. "We all had dinner together," Horvat says. "It was the beginning of everything that's been happening in Greece since January 2015."

But soon after that year's event, Horvat and Štiks left the Festival. Many thought it was due to a disagreement over the festival's corporate sponsors, but Horvat is quick to dispel that rumour: "Sponsors are not a problem, as long as they give you money to create your content without imposing their influence," he says recalling the time Oliver Stone was asked what was so subversive about attending a festival sponsored by Peugeot.

"Stone gave a wonderful answer: 'I come from Hollywood. If you want it make it over there, you need to have an infrastructure: Cars, trucks, space, equipment.' he said. If your goal in life goes beyond pretentiously citing unknown authors in a café then you need money. Nowadays, sadly, nothing works outside capitalism. Which is why it is necessary to use the existing structure of capitalism against itself."

"Without the money, the Left has no chance at all. I am not saying that an the world of brutal capitalism, where money largely runs our lives," he explains.

But Horvat also believes that people who think the same way somehow gravitate towards each other and that "if you work hard enough, sooner or later, your paths will cross and there will be some co-operation. And when you connect with these people, a new world is created. That in its turn, will connect you to even more people that share your mindset."

Case in point: A couple of months ago, Horvat was invited to spent a few hours with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Apparently, it was Assange who told him that "we have less than a couple of years before Silicon Valley takes over the world and the problem of the Left is that they don't even notice it. They don't deal with new technology and are completely oblivious to this new world being created based on individual control."

Assange and Horvat drank some wine and had a conversation that covered Syria, Sweden and Angela Merkel. Then Horvat asked Assange how he was really doing: "'I have a glass full of wine, some friends are with me – I am OK,'" said Assange. And you see that this man, who despite everything is keeping it together. He knows that even with a small group of associates, he can really challenge all the powers struggling to discredit him," muses Horvat.

A desire to keep it together is one of the reasons why Horvat recently decided to take on a couple of new hobbies – running and writing something that resembles a journal. "It is never too late and never too soon to start with the things you have never done and to discover a new part of yourself and become – what you already are," he references Nietzsche.

As we talk, I'm beginning to realise that the strange combination of anti-communist sentiment and nostalgia that's been keeping the Balkans in the darkness, is gradually withdrawing. Thanks to their progressive ideas and their willingness to act, people like Srećko Horvat are becoming the leaders of a generation that has so far been invisible, or, at best, marginalised. Since it's not looking like the temperament of the people in the region will change any time soon, we have to create opportunities for the kind of people we are. Thank fuck Horvat has taken it upon himself to "create new worlds" then.

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