The “predictable” surprise coming from Croatia’s general elections held last July and the local elections of May 2021 was the success of the Mozemo! (“We can!”) movement.
Mozemo comprises a group of leftist parties that formed an alliance based on a self-defined political platform. Surprisingly, the left-wing group, which assembled just one and a half years before the 2020 parliamentary elections, won seven seats, becoming the first Green-Left party to enter the 151-seat parliament in modern Croatian history.
Two weeks ago, Mozemo’s leading figure, a grassroots activist and the leader of “Zagreb is our initiative” Tomislav Tomasevic won 45.15 percent of the first round of Zagreb’s mayoral elections, and won the second round on May 30 with 62.5 percent. This is the most votes that a mayoral candidate has received in the history of Zagreb.
“Thank you for your trust, thank you for your hope, and for your persistence for real change to be possible,” said Tomasevic on May 31 after his election victory.
It was a fair manifestation of fate that his opponent in the second round was right-wing populist Miroslav Skoro. Closely aligned with the extreme right, Skoro is known for inciting hatred for Serbs, Roma, the LGBT community, and basically anyone who is not “purely Croat”, reusing neo-Nazi ideology and its slogans in the EU member country.
Skoro had also run for the country’s presidential office last year but lost receiving only 24.5 per cent of the total vote.
After the first round of local election results was announced, Skoro decried Tomasevic’s success, exclaiming that Mozemo was “neither green nor left, they’re extreme left and will be stopped in the second round, so help me God”.
While true that Skoro needed God’s help to win, less so is the claim that Mozemo is “extreme left”. Unlike Croatia’s right-wing populist movements, Mozemo is a heterogeneous political platform that freed itself from extreme elements who found a place in the group in its early days. This was the key to Mozemo’s success in courting voters who espouse diverse political views.
However, it would be a mistake to classify Mozemo as a typical Green party. Mozemo is essentially an alliance that fulfills the need for an alternative and innovative left in a Southeast Europe suffering at the hands of autocrats and populist politics. Considering the region’s desire for transformation, the entry of the Greens and a new generation of left-wing groups, including democratic socialists, into the mix might breathe new life into the overall political environment of the Balkans.
Long synonymous with the word “left” in Croatia is the mainstream centre-left opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP); but considering its loss of 15 parliamentary seats in the last elections, the SDP may well be being slowly superseded by Mozemo within the Croatian political scene. Such is the case of generational politics taking the place of mainstream politics that is seen throughout much of Europe.
As we saw in Moldova’s general elections and in the Budapest, Sarajevo, and Istanbul mayoral elections, mainstream politics and the faces associated with it are losing their seats one by one as younger, energetic, and visionary politicians take the stage.
Many of these politicians have already emerged as the main rivals of their countries’ strongmen. Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, who is a liberal but supported by left wing groups, announced that he will challenge Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year’s elections. Further south, in the Balkan Peninsula’s largest city, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading in polls forecasting the outcome of Turkey’s next presidential elections.
In recent years, the mainstream left has begun to lose ground on two fronts: on the one hand to populists and on the other to emerging contemporary left parties that build wide coalitions of leftists, revolutionary Marxists, Greens, democratic socialists and social democrats centered around demands for deeper reforms.
While the mainstream left is making room for rightwing politics in this way, the alternative left may be coming to the rescue. In this sense, Mozemo embodies this new left with its aim to unify social opposition by prioritizing social rights under one platform and by challenging the rise of security-focused discourse promulgated by the right.
Understanding the foundations of this rescue mission, Josko Klisovic, the candidate of Croatia’s main opposition SDP, called on his supporters to vote for Tomasevic.
Rightwing and far-right parties have dominated the politics of Europe and South East Europe over the last decade, and the traditional centre-left and social democrat parties have not been able to challenge the rise of rightwing strongmen.
However, a new generation of leftist politicians (or supported by new leftist coalitions) seen in the likes of Zagreb’s Tomasevic, Istanbul’s Imamoglu, and Budapest’s Karacsony is now coming to pose the greatest threat to existing rulers and their modes of oppression. Emphasizing the virtues of freedom, rule of law, and equality, these new leaders offer hope for people stifled the decades of polarization under today’s political elite in Europe.
*Abdullah Sencer Gozubenli is a Zagreb based doctoral research fellow at Abo Akademi University in Finland and editor-in-chief of the Adriatic Report. Gozubenli focuses on the Balkans, minorities, and transnational identity politics. He can be found on Twitter, @sencereu.
*Hamdi Fırat Büyük is a Sarajevo based political analyst and journalist covering the Balkans, Turkey and Europe. He is also the managing editor of FeniksPolitik. He can be found on Twitter, @hfiratbuyuk.