Jelena is a 24-year-old sociology student and activist.
I first met Jelena on a bus carrying former Yugoslav activists to the European Social Forum (ESF) meetings in Florence. Though she often wears a Palestinian keffiyeh as a scarf (and later was actually an International Solidarity Movement volunteer in Palestine), Jelena is less readily identified with the anarchist-punk subculture than Dado or Fistra, the other “stars” of this film. What is more, she is critical of what she calls the “isolationist” and “subcultural” tendencies of the activist scene. She cultivates a broad network of contacts, including artists, intellectuals and NGO figures. Only twenty when we started filming, she has already traveled to protests in Brazil, North Africa, and across Europe.
When asked about recent media stories featuring her alternative lifestyle and politics, Jelena responded with a wry smile. “The role of anarchist poster-child,” she said, “is not one I was trained for from an early age.” Indeed, Jelena was raised in a conservative Catholic family in famously right-wing Zadar. The city scandalized Europe when local officials mounted a three by four-meter banner depicting Ante Gotovina—a Croatian General and international fugitive later convicted of the murder of 324 Serbian civilians. The slogan beneath the picture read “A Hero, Not a Criminal.”
Jelena sees her squat, the scavenging she does at farmers markets and behind supermarkets, as well as her other “freegan” practices, as the basis for a declaration of independence from both her parents and the life of consumerism she sees overtaking Croatian society. It is these tactics—and a small state scholarship to study sociology—that she was able to avoid financial dependence on her parents and the loss of control she felt certain this would engender. This also allowed her to dedicate her life to the kinds of activism she cared most about.
The book’s composite character “Jadranka” has much in common with Jelena.