New, Alternative or Grass-roots Social Movements

Grass roots movement

The emergence of new, alternative, or metaphorically called grass-roots movements in our country occurred immediately after the emergence of such movements in developed Western democracies. The strong student movements that emerged in 1968 at the University of California, Berkeley, influenced the emergence of student movements at other American universities, and found a strong echo throughout Europe, even in the then SFR Yugoslavia. Our young generations from the 1960s were, like their peers in the West against the US war in Vietnam, and for equal rights of citizens, regardless of their racial affiliation and skin color. This can be explained in part due to the active participation of the then Yugoslavia in the formation of the non-alignment movement in the early '60s around the time when the so-called third world countries (Africa, Asia, and South America).

In social and political theory, it is considered that student movements represented a kind of watershed between old or classical and new movements. The old or classical ones mean the workers' and their close socialist and social-democratic, then the conservative and liberal movements of the higher and middle social strata. New or alternative movements, or grass-roots movements, marked the last decades of the twentieth century and had great support primarily in the younger generations.

It is interesting that new or alternative social movements in our country have developed almost according to the same matrix as in Western democratic countries. After the student movement, the baton was taken over by the neo-feminist movement, followed by peace, environmental, and other spontaneous movements (antinuclear, antipsychiatric, movements for freedom of sexual orientation, movements for alternative education, and others).

The rise of new movements in American and Western European societies was accompanied by a strong countercultural charge, especially expressed in the lifestyle advocated by the hippie movement, one of whose strong features was the proclamation of sexual emancipation and free love. In our country, the influence of counterculture was primarily felt in the musical taste of young people, and partly in the fashion trends of clothing (jeans become a common way of dressing young people in our country as well).

Immediately after the end of the student protests from '68, the already existing nucleus of the neo-feminist movement began to operate actively in Belgrade (Žarana Papić, Anđelka Milić, Daša Duhaćek), Zagreb (Vesna Pusić, Rada Iveković, Slavenka Drakulić, Blaženka Despot), in Ljubljana ( Ingrid Bakše, Danica Fink-Hafner, Silva Mežnarić), in Sarajevo (Nada Ler Sofronić). In 1976, the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade organized a significant international conference with the most prominent representatives of neo-feminist movements from Europe. After that, centers for women's studies began to be formed as non-governmental organizations (citizens' associations) in which women are educated to fight for the expansion of their rights. In the first decades of the 21st century, feminists (or women's, or gender studies) are increasingly entering the curricula of the faculties of social sciences.

In the early 1970s, individual and group environmental initiatives emerged. One of the first examples of such initiatives is the „Porodica bistrih potoka“ -"Family of Clear Streams" - the departure of Božidar Boško Mandić in 1971 to live with his family in nature in the village of Brezovica on the Rudnik mountain. It is an ecological and cultural commune that lived under the motto: ecology, humanism, and culture.

In the mid-1980s, a strong anti-nuclear movement was formed in SFR Yugoslavia after the then federal government (Federal Executive Council) decided to build 16 more nuclear power plants after the already existing nuclear power plant in Krško (on the border between Slovenia and Croatia). The movement was so strong, especially in Belgrade, that it managed to get the Federal Assembly to pass a law on a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants.

This was the beginning of the birth of a new environmental movement in Yugoslavia. True, the new environmental movement was preceded by some movements that had the support of the socialist state, and their activities were focused on nature and its preservation. Such movements were the Mountaineering Association, the Scout Association, as well as the new organization Movement of Gorani, whose organization was initiated by the state in order to afforest the naked with voluntary youth work.

During the '80s, the Eco-center formed at the Institute for the Study of Cultural Development of Serbia began to operate. Activists of the emerging environmental movement are gathering around the Eco-Center, which is connected with the University of Belgrade (especially with teachers from the Faculty of Biology and Agriculture, as well as the Faculty of Political Sciences). At the Faculty of Political Sciences, the subjects of Social Ecology are introduced, and somewhat later, Political Ecology, as well as the Department of Environmental Policy in master's and master's studies. At all Teachers' Academies, later faculties, the subject of Social Ecology is introduced.

The media are starting to pay attention to more and more serious environmental problems, which contributes to the increase of environmental awareness, which was and remains at an extremely low level in our society.

Today's Serbia is a very neglected country in the ecological sense. For many years, economic development has been based on outdated industries that pollute the environment. The most difficult situation is in the energy sector, where power plants based on lignite and low-quality coal dominate so that the plants in Kolubara and Kostolac are among the biggest air pollutants. We have high air pollution in copper mines such as Bor and Majdanpek, in the centers of the oil and petrochemical industry such as Pancevo, Sabac. In big cities like Belgrade, there is a high level of pollution due to the density and obsolescence of the vehicle fleet, as well as due to the large use of coal and wood for private fireplaces. In recent years, Belgrade, along with Sarajevo, is often at the top of the list of most polluted cities. The rapid growth of the construction industry is destroying green spaces in urban areas. A big and difficult environmental problem to solve is the pollution of rivers and groundwater and the lack of sewerage and treatment. Too long a list of problems in environmental pollution is the excessive use of pesticides in agriculture, uncontrolled deforestation even in protected areas of national parks.

With the introduction of multipartyism in the early 1990s, the formation of environmental (green) parties began on several occasions, but their activities were marginal (occasionally with a couple of deputies in parliament).

It is rare for citizens to deal with pollutants, as was the recent case of stopping the construction of a series of mini-hydropower plants on Stara Planina, when locals revolted and stopped their construction by force.

 When it comes to the peace movement in our region, it has experienced a similar fate as the peace movements in Western Europe and the United States. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the so-called cold war between the western and eastern blocs, peace movements on the wider international scene fell silent. Attempts by peace groups in our region to stop bloody interethnic conflicts during the process of disintegration of second Yugoslavia proved to be extremely unsuccessful. There were, of course, courageous initiatives such as the actions of the Women in Black movement, and other peace attempts (example of the Igman Initiative), but the ethnonationalist pro-war euphoria led by new-old political elites and supported by the national chauvinist intelligentsia, with the support of blinded masses, was unstoppable and led to a huge number of casualties and serious war crimes.

In the last few decades, the main actors of new social movements have become non-governmental organizations whose number is increasing not only in these areas but also in the field of human rights, education for democracy, various civic initiatives (such as "Ne davimo Beograd", " Protiv Novog Sada na vodi " and similarly). The young generations are in the lead in most of such actions.