About the research

“If Borovo collapses, Yugoslavia will also collapse”, Borovo workers repeated in the late 1980s. This remark will not mean much to an average reader. They might think that the workers referred to the 23 nationalities working at the Combine (kombinat); but it's only a part of the story. Vukovar as a city with a strong workers’ tradition has been completely wiped out of our collective memory. Along with it, everything connected to labour, workers and industry that sustained the city has been lost; class experience and class perspective have been disregarded.

The research* entitled “The Continuity of Social Conflict in Croatia 1988-1991: the Borovo Combine,” is a case study of the connections between workers’ strikes, i.e. class conflicts of the late 1980s, and the outset of violent conflicts in the 1990s. Starting from the 1988 strike, we attempt to reconstruct Borovo workers' experience up until the summer of 1991, as they tried to redefine their position in relation to the changes in the Yugoslav society, and find available strategies for the articulation of their interests; primarily the resistance to the general deterioration of the standard of living, impoverishment and the precarisation of labour. To succeed in this reconstruction, we consulted the Borovo Combine weekly periodical (also called Borovo; hereafter referred to as “the Factory newspaper” or “the Weekly”)   and in-depth interviews with former Borovo workers.

The research has presented us with a series of challenges and problems. Some are practical: the Combine’s records about the period of interest are unavailable (destroyed or missing), several issues of the Factory paper could not be found in the Vukovar Municipal Museum, some people involved in the events were out of reach. Other problems are the result of the ideological transformation we are interested in: from the perspective of our research, the city of Vukovar, currently reduced to the status of victim, emerges as an industrial and workers’ city, where multiethnicity is a simple fact of life, and whose inhabitants are primarily interested in daily sustenance. In order to get acquainted with this Vukovar, it is necessary to resist retroactive interpretations of history, and to go beyond the framework of national projects arising from the ruins of Socialist Yugoslavia. This approach also allows us to understand the present moment in light of everything that has been repressed from social memory.

We believe that our research could contribute to the progressive social change today, when we can detect trends similar to those of the late 1980s. It addresses burning questions, not only related to memory, but also to organization, support and solidarity: why did the workers’ mobilizing potential in the 1980s not bring about the desired social change? What were the reasons for the weakening and fragmentation of workers’ resistance? What forms of alliance could have been formed to make the most of the workers’ rebellion? And how do these lessons relate to the current states of emergency?

The Borovo Group

* The research started in 2013, as a part of the course entitled “Economic Inequality and Workers’ Rights,” offered at the Peace Studies, an informal educational program of the Centre for Peace Studies, and in cooperation with the Organization for Workers’ Initiative and Democratization (OWID). A small group of enthusiasts interested in this subject gathered and dedicated themselves voluntarily to the research. We are deeply grateful for the invaluable and unselfish help from former Borovo workers Ivica Žabić and Ivan Hubalek.