Former Yugoslavia Between Europeanization and Democratization: Case Study: Alternative Organization of Economic Activity in Bosnian Factory “Dita”

Friday, June 24, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
201 Moses (Moses Hall)
Filip Balunovic, Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence, Italy

  1. 1.       Theoretical framework

Theoretical aim of my paper is to critically observe the process of Europeanization in the region of former Yugoslavia. I will address the contradiction of the two most general properties usually attributed to the concept of Europeanization. These are: nation building on one side and internationalization, on the other. The mainstream literature on Europeanization of the Eastern Europe (in general) and the region of former Yugoslavia specifically, identifies the process of Europeanization to be a simultaneous follower (and/or pusher) of another process that concerns me here, which is democratization. With regards to the two most general properties, it embraces both of them – arguing that nation building was an initial step towards internalization. In other words, nation states had to be established in order to firstly, leave the authoritarian Yugoslavian past behind and consequently, to start seeking internationalism within the “family of European nations” (the EU). Opposite from the dominant perspective, I argue that Europeanization of former Yugoslavia had only one, out of two possible and indeed, contradictory general properties - that is, nation – building. This property further leads me to argue, that the bloody path of nation – building processes in former Yugoslavia could not represent the basis for democratization.

Firstly therefore, I argue that Europeanization should rather be defined as the opposite tendency from democratization when European periphery is concerned. Secondly, my position is that the process euro – integration, which tends to be seen as a sort of “internationalization”, represents something that I would call “inter – elitization”. When it comes to the second theoretical concept of my paper, which is democracy, I will also assess its operationalization from the anti – mainstream perspective. In literature we might often find the sharp line drawn between democracies and non – democracies, and further, within democracies themselves – between liberal and “illiberal” ones. Often, it is claimed that the reason for lack of democracy among the so called “new democracies” (in Eastern Europe for instance), is its “illiberal” nature. On the contrary I will argue, this lack of democracy in former Yugoslavia persists precisely because its milestone is embodied in Europeanization, understood as a combination of nation – building and “inter – elitization”.


  1. 2.       Case study and empirical  application of the theoretical framework

The case upon which I will rely in my paper is the Bosnian city of Tuzla and more concretely, the case of Tuzla’s detergent factory “Dita”. This case tackles the main economic pillar of Europeanization (or euro – integration), which is the process of privatization. In the case of former Yugoslavia, most of its industry has been destroyed throughout the transitional period after the collapse of real – socialism. Democratization, which should have followed or simultaneously occurred along with Europeanization, appeared in the economic sense as transformation of ownership and relations of production. The outcome of this process was thousands of factories staying without production capacity and thousands of people staying without job.

Given that the Tuzla used to be the industrial “capital” of former Yugoslavia, the happenings in this city are paradigmatic for what has been happening with workers and industrial production all around the region since 1989 onwards. “Dita” was privatized in two rounds, in 2001 and 2005, when most of its shares were bought by “Lora”, the retail chain from Sarajevo. In 2012, “Dita” officially went bankrupt due to number of loans that new owners took on behalf of “Dita”. The money, as in numerous other cases of privatization in former Yugoslavia (see for instance, Balunovic, Filip, On Phenomena in the Process of Privatization in Serbia, in: The Overview of the Restoration of Capitalism in Serbia, Rosa Luxemburg Schtiftung South East Europe / CPE, Belgrade, 2015), suddenly disappeared and this is why the factory had to declare bankruptcy. From this moment, the workers of “Dita” have spoken up even more loudly about the “robbery” in the privatization process.  For more than two years, they have been guarding the factory in order to prevent the owners to remove machinery and assets from the factory. It turned out very soon, that series of strikes conducted by the workers of “Dita” (but also other factories from Tuzla such as Konjuh and Aida), triggered the larger wave of social protests and the rise of social movement all around Bosnia (though mainly in one of the two existing entities called “Federation of BiH”).  Finally, in Jun 2015, the workers took over the factory and launched production by themselves. The old Yugoslavian model of “self – management” regained public reputation and the workers received wider support from Bosnian and regional public. Musicians and other artists started making videos and calling people to buy “Dita’s” products in order to help its production to become sustainable.          


  1. 3.       Concluding remarks

What is than “Dita” factory, the case of? I will argue that this example may lead us to define Europeanization of the economic periphery of Europe, as “inter – elitization”, rather than internationalization. Consequentially, this leads to the confrontation between democratization and Europeanization (which may be partially operationalized as the process of euro – integration). Since the milestone of this process is privatization, I will argue that corruption which characterizes privatization in former Yugoslavia represents its “natural” inner property, rather than deviation in otherwise, democratic process. This alternative economic activity of the workers in Bosnia therefore, may signify the radical shift in economic organization of the peripheral labor and social movements. As indicated above, a radical breakthrough of the self – management mode of production in the city of Tuzla, has already gained popular social support, but also triggered further intensification of demands for democratizing both political and economic sphere of life in Bosnia and the whole region.