Note from LeftEast editors: this post was first commissioned by French Left publication Contretemps, and you can read it on their website in the translation of Celine Cantat.
To update the discussion on Zagreb je Naš/Možemo!, in the local elections held on 16 May 2021, the left-green coalition won 40.8% of the votes and 23 out of 47 seats in the City Assembly. Together with the five seats won by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), there will be a stable centre-left majority in the assembly. The platform’s candidate for Mayor, Tomislav Tomašević, won 45.15% of the votes in the first round and faced a run-off against his closest rival, the right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro from the Domovinski pokret (Homeland movement) who polled 12.16% of the votes just ahead of three rivals. In the run-off held on 30 May 2021, Tomašević won a resounding victory with 65.25% of the votes and, indeed, the most votes, almost 200,000, ever achieved by a candidate for Mayor in the City. Crucially, the coalition also controls most of the lower tiers of City government, allowing it to continue to tap into local concerns.
In the first handover of power in the City for twenty years, Tomašević, an environmental and right to the city activist, and his two deputies, Danijela Dolenec, a professor in the Faculty of Political Science, and Luka Korlaet, a professor in the Faculty of Architecture, both of the University of Zagreb, formally take over on Friday 4 June 2021, for a four-year term. One of the first challenges for the new team is to assess the competences and commitments of some 27 heads of department, all of which have employment contracts that do not require them to step down when there is a change of government, and many of which were appointed based on party affiliations. In the longer term, a restructuring of the City administration is meant to lead to no more than 16 such departments or, in effect as Tomašević calls them, City Ministries.
Although negative campaigning and scare tactics against the coalition began long before the first round, these increased immensely in the run-off, with Skoro using the time to enhance his standing on the right, suggesting that the left had to be stopped at all costs. Members of his team, on a daily basis, produced so-called ‘evidence’ that leading members of the platform were connected with civil society organisations that had both taken public money to fund their activism and were in the pockets of foreign powers, including Soros, of course. At its most absurd, right-wing former Minister of Culture Zlatko Hasanbegović suggested that the platofrm was composed of theorists (he used the masculine form of the noun) of lesbian-syndicalism. The nature of the response from Tomašević, the platform, and its supporters can be seen as a classic ‘how to guide’ for the green-left in terms of winning elections. When Skoro placed billboards revealing that the platform was like a watermelon, green on the outside but red on the inside, many of the facebook pages of supporters displayed watermelons proudly. Tomašević continued to run a positive campaign, insisting that the focus should be on the problems of the City and often demonstrating his opponent’s lack of knowledge of these.
Of course, the potential disconnect between winning elections and taking power noted in my earlier text remains. Expectations of the new administration from a public eager for change are high and Tomašević has acknowledged this but also urged a degree of patience, not least because there is the need for a thorough revision of the City’s finances. Nevertheless, the extent of the victory, and the refusal to be drawn away from a radical vision of change, bodes well for other parts of the country, where Možemo! did well and, indeed, where another activist, Suzana Jasić, was elected Mayor of the town of Pazin in Istria, and for the wider region, indicating a rejection by voters of decades of clientelistic politics and the possibility of grassroots-led radical change.