One of the largest projects the anarchist collective took on during Maple’s time with them was the Free Store. Hoping to invent a new space for exchange and interaction in their neighborhood, Jelena, Fistra, Dado, and friends refurbish an abandoned building and collect donations of clothing before the police take notice. Read More
The Cronomerec neighborhood, especially along Zagrebacka Road, gives a sense of just how rapidly the wider urban landscape has been altered by deindustrialization and a transition to a consumption-driven economy. It’s fitting, then, that the collective chose to open a Free Store in this area and demonstrate that other forms of exchange beside market ones are possible. The chosen site in which to squat and open the shop is also a direct response to the local setting. Adjacent to a Billa parking lot, the collective occupies an abandoned printing press of the struggling publishing firm Tiskara Znanje. Znanje lost most of its market with the break-up of Yugoslavia and is now partially bankrupt and in state hands.
The Free Store, called Take It Or Leave It, is imagined as a space where community members could leave goods they no longer needed and take ones they did without any cash changing hands. The collective drew inspiration from barter systems established in the wake of the financial crisis in Argentina as well as the “Give-Away Shop” established by the Eurodusnie Squat in Leiden, The Netherlands.
In some ways, this endeavor by the collective mirrors that of a non-governmental organization working as part of the Croatian civil society. Indeed, at one point during the dispute with police, one activist suggests registering as an association in order to gain legal status for the Free Store. This proposal is rejected by the collective, in large part due to the activists’ negative perception of “civil society” in Croatia. Though the organizations associated with civil society are often represented as the connective tissue of a democratic culture–as an intrinsically positive entity–these Zagreb anarchists challenge this notion and are often in conflict with officially recognized and largely internationally funded NGOs in the course of their activist interventions.
These anarchists believe that civil society is dependent on and subservient to the state, a particularly troubling reality if, like the collective, you seek to work outside and often against the state structure. Zagreb anarchists also differ from civil society in their notions of appropriate resistance, especially during mass protests. During the protests against the US-led invasion of Iraq (watch Not in Our Name), for example, anarchists believed NGOs and other civil society organizations were overly concerned with civil or polite behavior. Many activists are also highly sensitive to the perceived civilizing mission behind civil society’s activities and their self-representation as both an index of and vehicle for the modernization and Europeanization of the Croatian state.
As a result of these views, Zagreb anarchists often work outside the framework of Croatian civil society to foster and experiment with different forms of associational life that may not be easily recognizable from the West. The Free Store is one of these experiments.