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A City Worth Fighting For: Accidental Environmentalism and Resistance in Post-Industrial Society

Une ville pour laquelle il vaut la peine de se battre : environnementalisme accidentel et résistance dans la société post-industrielle
Sanja Potkonjak et Tea Škokić

Résumés

S’appuyant sur une étude de cas ethnographique de la désindustrialisation de la ville de Sisak (Croatie) et faisant suite à l’émergence d’un groupe « accidentel » de femmes militantes, cet article offre un bon exemple de protestation environnementale initiée par la communauté locale contre les politiques non transparentes et les intentions cachées de l’industrie de la gestion des déchets. Dans un premier temps, l’article traite de la fin de l’ère industrielle dans une ville industrielle socialiste yougoslave de taille moyenne. Ensuite, il met en lumière le développement ultérieur de la ville. Nous soutenons que l’émergence de la subjectivité et du militantisme post-industriels est survenue après l’effondrement de l’industrialisme en tant que stratégie particulière pour négocier les conditions de vie dans le paysage industriel et lutter contre le fardeau de la pollution industrielle laissée en héritage.

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Texte intégral

Ethnography of post-industrial pollution

  • 1 Vobruba Georg, “Globalisation versus the European Social Model? Deconstructing the Contradiction Be (...)
  • 2 This work has been fully supported by the Croatian Science Foundation under the project “Transforma (...)
  • 3 Braičić Zdenko, “Razvoj metalurgije i njezin utjecaj na urbanu preobrazbu i stambenu izgradnju Sisk (...)
  • 4 Sisak Ironworks used to be the largest single employer in town. It provided income for young men, u (...)
  • 5 The total area of the Sothern Industrial Zone and its new extension called Southern Industrial Zone (...)

1The consequences of deindustrialisation and the collapse of large manufacturing plants for industrial workers and communities have been well-described in the anthropological literature. These processes equally affected developed Western Europe, North America and Eastern Europe, albeit at different times. However, despite the differences in economic and political systems between the West and the East, workers everywhere were faced with losing jobs and the lifestyle they knew. One reason was the shutdown of industrial giants, and the other was prompted simultaneously by globalisation and its “intensification of economic exchange and competition by means of the worldwide spread of markets for goods, services, capital and labour.”1 Our research was concentrated on deindustrialisation in the medium-size Croatian city of Sisak (FIG. 1), once a Yugoslavian industrial powerhouse with many co-dependent industrial plants such as a steel mill (Sisak Ironworks) and oil refinery, as well as enterprises in the textile and chemical industries, beverage and food factories, and river transport, transhipment, and storage companies.2 Sisak was most famous for its steel industry. Steel, along with the oil refinery, ensured well-being and prosperity for their own workers and for the entire community. In the late 1980s, at peak production, Sisak Ironworks employed almost 14,000 workers;3 the town itself had only around 50,000 inhabitants.4 The 1991-1995 war played a rather prominent role in decreasing the number of people employed at Sisak Ironworks. Yet another major reason for layoffs and cut-downs in production was the privatisation cycle that started as early as 2000. In fewer than 20 years, Sisak Ironworks lost most of its workforce and stopped being the largest employer in the city and the region. Through what became a series of misfortunate transfers of ownership (from 2003 to 2004, to the Russian metallurgical plant Mečelj; from 2007 to 2012, to the American company Commercial Metals Company (CMC); and since 2012, to the Italian Danieli group Acciaierie Bertoli Safau (ABS), only around 150 workers kept their jobs at the factory. In winter 2015, the factory was at a minimum operational capacity, employing not more than 50 local workers to dismantle the factory and wrap up its manufacturing history in the city of Sisak. With the gradual closure of the Sisak steel industry and the shutdown of other major and supporting industries, the urban landscape fell into decay: urban infrastructure deteriorated, small businesses closed, population declined. The post-industrial landscape of the city of Sisak was crowded by industrial rubble, landfills, decaying industrial architecture, and ill-maintained industrial infrastructure that accounted for a significant share in the total surface area of the emerging landscape of ruins.5 By the time we began our fieldwork in 2015, the vast complex of the Sisak steel factory was guarded by private security to protect the remaining property from theft or vandalism.

Fig.1. Map of Croatia

Fig.1. Map of Croatia

d-maps.com (open source)

2For those who remain, the landscape also conceals shady activities related to hazardous waste storage. Here, the question of how to deal with socialist industrial remnants is yielding actual post-industrial ecological disputes. Over the last few years, these disputes have become ever more apparent.

3We developed the concept of accidental environmentalism, which we use interchangeably with accidental environmental activism, in order to grasp the social agency that is not focused on one type of environmental concern, and is not permanent, but is accidental in how it came to being and how it unfolds. The example of accidental environmental activism encountered during our fieldwork impelled us to investigate the resistance to secretive political efforts directed at using the backyards in the Novo Pračno settlement in the Southern Industrial Zone (FIG. 2) for building an underground landfill for medical waste disposal. Thus, we unexpectedly ventured into the ethnography of post-industrial pollution and came to recognise its interconnectedness with post-industrial anthropology.

Fig. 2. Screenshot, South Industrial Zone, vicinity of Novo Pračno

Fig. 2. Screenshot, South Industrial Zone, vicinity of Novo Pračno

Physical Planning Information System, Ministry of physical planning, construction and state assets, online: https://ispu.mgipu.hr (accessed in January 2021).

  • 6 Little Peter, “Another Angle on Pollution Experience. Toward an Anthropology of Environmental Ecolo (...)

4Most of the ethnographic research upon which we built this paper was carried out during 2019 following a fallout of waste management licenses granted to two waste management companies to establish and expand their operations in Sisak. We talked to residents of Sisak and interviewed a group of women who started the environmental initiative called “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers.” We had encountered a locally based artist and a young female entrepreneur who voiced strong environmental concerns in their interviews. Lastly, we consulted a Sisak-born environmental expert and activist to contribute to our understanding of the local environmental dispute from the nationally established eco-environmental perspective. We focused on our informants’ affective responses to what they see as a peril brought upon the city and its neighbourhoods by the rise of a new type of industrial activity. Following Peter Little6 in his claim that emotions are central to how ordinary people respond to environmental risks, we approached the idea of emotional reactions from the small-scale perspective and from below. We aimed to show that the affect depends on ecological awareness and arises, in the case of Sisak, only when industrial subjectivity is abandoned or disappears, and a new one takes the social arena. We argue that the social reality of local inhabitants describes best what we call a post-industrial subjectivity. It reflects the social experiences coming from being a descendant of at least one generation of a working-class family living in a decaying industrial landscape. It informs the subjectivity shared by people who have a common experience of vanishing industrial cultures to which they once belonged. We use the concept of post-industrial subjectivity to describe a subject’s position shaped primarily by entanglements with the industrial past and burdened by the legacies of industrial pollution. Lastly, we consider post-industrial subjectivity to stem from responding to the everyday challenges of deindustrialisation and industrial ruination that comes with life after industry.

5One of the main focuses of the paper is to recognise the emergence of a reluctant and cautious subject – an accidental activist, filled with suspicion and decidedly active about a particular social issue of immediate interest, but otherwise lacking in ecological agency, knowledge or networking skills. These accidental activists learn indirectly, prompted by a specific incident that affects local life. They are often mobilised by a particular problem, which motivates them to expand their activism to other topics of local importance.7 In the context of Sisak, it is exemplified in the activity of five women who gathered in an initiative that opposes the construction of two processing facilities for the Rijekatank and Remondis Medison corporations in the Sisak industrial areas. Their initiative gains visibility in three ways – through public actions, protest appeals and through the public Facebook group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!” (“Sišćani ne žele biti smetlišćani!”). The Facebook group has served as a platform for the initiative since the beginning of 2019. Declared as a civic initiative, in April 2019, the women started the petition “Siscians do not want a city known for pollution and hazardous waste!” to rally citizens against the recycling and hazardous waste management industry establishing itself in Sisak.8 The moral ecologies9 under which they operate reveal a complex landscape of co-existing interests in which they play the role of concerned residents who demand inclusive and just urban plans, transparent developmental policies and a safe environment.

Ethnography of late industrialism in the light of environmental entanglements

  • 10 Fortun Kim, Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders, Chicago and Londo (...)
  • 11 Fortun Kim, “Ethnography in Late Industrialism,” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 27, no 3, 2012, p. 446 (...)
  • 12 Ibid., p. 458.
  • 13 Walley Christine, Exit Zero: Family and Class in Post-Industrial Chicago. Chicago and London, Unive (...)

6Compelled by the effects of 1984’s Bhopal disaster on the community’s social life,10 Kim Fortune analyses the agency and ability of ethnography to act proactively in “late industrialism.” This period is characterised, says she, by neglected industrial infrastructure and an exhausted paradigm employed to address capitalism’s global ecological fallouts.11 Fortun claims we require “new knowledge forms” while we “work with toxics” to approach the hidden, unknown, risky and unimaginable.12 In our case, finding a new paradigm entailed critically observing the consequences of untackled ecological disasters and weighing the possibilities to grasp them retrospectively. It also encompassed a grasp of the emerging emotions over expected and future disasters. It required us “to consider the environmental fallout of both industrialisation and deindustrialisation… how its toxic legacy has become part of residents’ bodies even as it also constrains possibilities for the region’s post-industrial future.”13 Finding a new paradigm asked us to consider the past and present of the ecological disturbances; real and perceived threats; pollution that happened and that is pictured to be awaiting citizens if the post-industrial economic setup takes a specific course.

  • 14 Bonfiglioli Chiara, Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Se (...)
  • 15 Jovanović Deana, “Prosperous Pollutants: Bargaining with Risks and Forging Hopes in an Industrial T (...)
  • 16 Rajković Ivan, “‘Rivers to the People: Ecopopulist Universality in the Balkan Mountains.’ Theorizin (...)

7In the last decade, a growing number of works on deindustrialisation have significantly changed our perception and understanding of the consequences of late industrialism. Many scholarly works on the region have been helpful to set a topography of deindustrialisation’s most harmful social, economic and political effects.14 However, only a few works deal with the ecological issues15 and emphasise a role for informal groups of residents who partake in environmental disputes.16 We consider the ethnography of post-industrial pollution as a manner of thinking about places, people and processes exposed to the toxic effects of crawling deindustrialisation. Nevertheless, we see this crawling deindustrialisation as a series of slow changes and adjustments that spatial, environmental and human ambiences and industrial citizenship go through during and after the abandonment of industrial work culture. At the time of a decline in industrial production and the emergence of the post-industrial age, industrial citizenship is faced with the question of what to do “after work” and what to do with environmental pollution generated by industry (FIG. 3, FIG. 4. and FIG. 5).

Fig. 3. Vacated architecture of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2020

Fig. 3. Vacated architecture of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2020

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

Fig. 4. Abandoned infrastructure of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2021

Fig. 4. Abandoned infrastructure of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2021

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

Fig. 5. Vacated liquid and solid waste pits, Oil refinery, Sisak, Kupa riverbanks, January 2021

Fig. 5. Vacated liquid and solid waste pits, Oil refinery, Sisak, Kupa riverbanks, January 2021

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

  • 17 Fortun, “Late Industrialism,” op. cit., p. 446.
  • 18 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 129.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 119.

8Landscapes of hazardous waste, pollution or toxicity refer to space, but not solely. The hazardous waste landscapes are also created discursively through the experiences and ideas that a community forms toward them; these are further drawn from the community’s intimate understanding of what it means to be living near industry, with industry, and from industry. Landscapes of toxicity are landscapes of late industrialism that emanate from what Fortun calls the “risks of industrial order” and the “degraded state of industrial infrastructure.”17 These are the “devalued landscapes”18 born during the collapse of industry. The course of their collapse presumes their transformation into “post-industrial wasteland” with evident “rapid expansion of landfills and waste disposal sites.”19

  • 20 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 121.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 121.
  • 22 Jovanović, “Prosperous Pollutants,” op. cit.
  • 23 Pellow David, “Environmental Inequality Formation. Towards a Theory of Environmental Justice,” Amer (...)
  • 24 Ibid., p. 586.

9Narratives about city pollution told by residents of Sisak hardly ever touch on the legacies of industrial pollution. They do not comment beyond the statement that the city “doesn’t smell anymore, as it used to.” We perceive this omission of reference to the magnitude of pollution as unprocessed historical heritage, an ambivalent industrial legacy, unaddressed in the name of prosperity and work. The relationship between “prosperity and pollution,” as entangled phenomena that carry a positive connotation for industrial workers, holds many contradictions and paradoxes,20 as the industrial workforce repeatedly met the challenge of preserving jobs at the expense of health. Elsewhere, this association has been documented in common utterances such as “The more smoke, the better – it means there’s food on the table and the kids are eating”;21 or in ideas such as “prosperous pollutants.”22 Post-industrial society is still influenced by these associations as they encounter now false dilemmas between exclusive options such as “dangerous job or health”23 or “job versus the environment.”24

10The new dilemmas incorporate a feeling of having no real choice – only a helpless choice of a greater or lesser evil. In the past, they believe that they chose jobs. Job had a clear priority, even if health was risked and pollution produced. When one of our interlocutors casually mentioned that “[other citizens] do not want ‘green solution but pollution’” and concluded that “‘green and clean’ means nothing to us,” he spoke about the environmental classism typical for working-class communities. “Just give us pollution and contamination, and we’ll be fine,” the saying goes on. The resulting logic is that the city’s past polluting industry was not to its detriment, but to the benefit of workers. This kind of pollution is narrated as inevitable; it should not be fought against as long as it ensures livelihood. When asked about the pollution in the city, one of our informants recalled his youth:

  • 25 From interview with S., an architect and designer, mid-thirties, born in Sisak, September 2020.

There wasn’t much talk about it. “The refinery smells bad” and that was it. It was a normal thing. I remember waking up in the mornings to close the window because of the smell from the refinery brought in by the southern wind. … Actually, I [lived] not far away from the refinery because … maybe about two and a half kilometres away as the crow flies. But the pollution. ... My folks used to tell me that no questions were asked about the pollution because it was a kind of by-product ... you know ... “Let’s grin and bear it because we have factories, we have jobs.”
If I remember correctly, the talk picked up in 2004 or 2005. There was even a demonstration called “bal gas-masqué.” I was a teenager, in high school, and there was a stage set at the city’s main square, in front of the building of Veliki Kaptol. One of the radio announcers hosted the event. There was a protest line stretching all the way to the refinery. That was the time when everything started to crumble and the question was, like, “Why do we have to breathe that bad air?”25

11The awareness about choosing the greater evil, as we named it, is integrated in the industrial subjectivity and inseparably linked to class subjectivity, which associates the burden of pollution with industrial workers. As one of the informants told us, aware of the impossible choice:

  • 26 From group interview with members of civic initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers,” Sisak (...)

They were all polluters, but back then, you knew the reason why. You had a job. You had moved to Sisak. You knew that’s the price of earning the livelihood for your family. To live in a polluted city. And that’s it! Today? Today you don’t have a job, but you sure have the pollution. ... It used to be like “... in sickness ...”[she laughs at her allusion to marital vows as if the citizens were married to industry and rightly stayed married to it in good and bad times].26

  • 27 From interview with a professional environmental activist and scientist, Sisak/Zagreb, May 2020.
  • 28 Fish from the Sava River and the Kupa River were both undesirable. The refinery wastewater was rele (...)
  • 29 Lora-Weinwright Anna, Resigned Communities: Living with Pollution in Rural China, Cambridge, Massac (...)

12In ecologically endangered communities, where survival was ensured by the productivity of high-polluting industry, the voices of resistance were silenced entirely. “We didn’t talk about pollution, as people who live in pollution usually don’t,”27 one of our informants commented matter-of-factly. The danger of pollution, although not blatantly obvious was still present in the background. Its presence was revealed in habitual preventative gestures and daily rituals of “guarding against pollution,” such as not eating fish from the local river, asking what river the fish was caught in,28 closing windows to keep out the unbearable sulphur smell from the oil refinery, and picking up the clothes drying out on the line when Ironworks was in operation to prevent rust from soiling them. The presence of pollution was recognised in common knowledge that even snow turned red in the area around the Ironworks from oxide dust, and that fruits grown in home gardens should be soaked in a mixture of baking soda, water and salt to wash off lead before consumption. These forms of the communal experience of pollution and response to it are the types of resigned activism described as the “modes of living with pollution.”29

13Completely different narratives about urban environmental pollution emerge in the people-driven activist organisation and their activities around the newly opened waste processing plants. We interpret these narratives through the lens of a “historicised curse.” The “curse“ results from the existing industrial waste generated by the manufacturing processes of long-closed factories and the anticipation of future pollution, stemming from the announced construction of a liquid medical waste storage tank and waste incineration plant. As we strolled along the city walkway, from a small elevation, we could see the landfills packed with chemical waste from crude oil refinement along the banks of Kupa River. At the entrance of the former chemical factory Radonja, on the other side of the city, where a few small brownfield facilities for processing and storage of hazardous and non-hazardous waste have been located for a while, the nameplates appeared, featuring the names of waste processing companies. As our informants implied, Sisak has slowly but surely become a legitimate place of work for the Croatian “king of waste,” Petar Pripuz.

  • 30 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 140
  • 31 Ibid., p. 4.

14Like many deindustrialised cities, Sisak has seen neither reindustrialisation nor renewal.30 Industrial buildings and sites were left to newly established small and medium-sized private businesses to use for storage and waste processing, operating, as our interlocutors implied, in a dubious and non-transparent way. In Sisak, brownfields and new developments are the reminders that the “past haunts the present.”31 Shown the pictures of new waste management developments on the premises of her old factory, nowadays a waste management facility, a retired chemical engineer told us: “God knows what they are poisoning us with. See the incinerator? [pointing] They are using it, and it is operating. ... You shouldn’t have shown me those pictures. I won’t be able to sleep at all tonight!”

  • 32 Fortun, Advocacy after Bhopal, op. cit.; Petryna Adriana, Life Exposed: Biological Citizenship afte (...)

15The images of a toxic landscape and environmental hazards described in disaster anthropology32 are not identical to those we address. The case of Sisak is not a one-time disaster. It is not an example of a long-term, systematic struggle of a community to minimise the detrimental or lethal effects of pollution caused by one disaster. It is more about the fear of looming disaster that elicited a response from an accidental environmentalist group. Fear is the main anticipative event and the motive for the community to get organised and express resentment.

“Siscians don’t want to be scavengers” – activists accidentally

  • 33 Public Facebook group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!,” post by Marija Končar, 7 July 2020.
  • 34 Klarić Sandra, “Prosvjednici u Sisku poručili: Ne opasnom otpadu u Gradu Sisku i SMŽ” [Sisak Protes (...)

16“Let’s do something to bring beautiful Sisak and its periphery back from the dead. It’s so close to Zagreb, and so far away, forgotten and empty.” So reads a post in the Facebook group from May 2020.33 By this time, news about the protestors had been circulating in mass media for several months: “The protest was initiated by the initiative which opposes the announced construction of Rijekatank plant in the Southern Industrial Zone, in Pračno quarter, and the relocation of the Remondis Medison medical waste management plant to Sisak.”34

17After having learned in 2019 that two companies were granted the license to build plants for hazardous and non-hazardous chemical and infectious waste management, including the right to build an underground waste storage pool and waste processing facility, the civic initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers” started with intensive public activities. We arranged an interview with several female members by phone and met with them in the centre of Sisak one late Sunday evening. We were told that they usually met once a week to debrief and plan new actions – we had been invited to attend that week’s meeting. Tatjana greeted us in front of the jazz club Mali Kaptol, where they usually meet. After everyone had arrived, the group moved down the walkway along the bank of Kupa River because the club had been reserved for a private event. We sat at a nearby bar in Tuškanova House and introduced ourselves to Tatjana, Katarina, Snježana and Andrea. Katarina was first to speak as the most vocal among them. She was publicly recognised as the representative of the group. Tatjana confirmed our impression a bit later, telling us that each of the women in the group played her own role. For herself, she said that she was the bully – loud and ready for action, even a violent one, if need be. She is in charge of writing objection letters and requests because she is sharp-tongued and feisty. Katarina is the spokeswoman, Snježana is a researcher and internet-savvy person, Andrea is backing them up when needed.

18Our conversation started with the question about how they formed the group. They highlighted two things essential for understanding their resistance – first, they decided to stay and live in Sisak and fight against the notion that the city has no future. Second, they did not want the resources of the ruined industrial landscape to be used as an industrial waste storage site.

  • 35 For the protection of interests of our informants, their individual opinions and statements are cit (...)

S1:35 Sisak has no finances anymore. The city had no idea where to get money from after industry died. Actually, it didn’t die, it was robbed and ... what I wanted to say is that they see their interest and source of income in waste management. No matter how much we fought against it, waste industry will come to Sisak. … We are horrified by the fact that Sisak is playing with the thought of becoming the city of waste. They need to fill the budget. ... They have to find the money somewhere. … There is a lot of crime, a lot of mafia in the city. These companies have been located here for a while, but in principle. ... They run a semi-legal business.

19Another woman joins in:

S2: Those are sister companies. ... And you don’t know who’s behind them. There were eight of them. In the end, when these octopus tentacles were untangled, it turns out that the head is one and the same company in Zagreb, the mother to all of these eight companies [for hazardous waste management; authors’ commentary]. And we have [discovered] twenty-seven of them ... companies dealing exclusively with waste, at the moment. … Waste management! That’s right! With eight of them having the license for hazardous waste management. When you look closer, you see that a single man owns all of these eight small companies.

20While explaining the context that brought them together and the mechanisms they used for exposing the connection between politics and the waste management industry, one of the women said that the ownership links among the companies were concealed behind an especially suspicious and symptomatically corruptive model of the waste industry development in Sisak.

S1: We, the citizens, didn’t know about it until the beginning of this year when the information surfaced. Completely accidentally ... a journalist found out. ... So we were totally uninformed, and their intention, their goal, was to keep us uninformed.

21The clandestine information they learned about made them extra alert. Thus, the post-industrial community was formed when this information was published, reacting to the potential ecological provocation.

S1: Look, in the beginning, we weren’t careful. … We were like ... I, specifically, live in the village where we found out overnight that hazardous chemical waste was to be disposed of.
S2: A suburb neighbourhood! I mean really …!
S1: Ok, so, a suburb neighbourhood … Novo Pračno … It’s about seven hundred meters away from the school. A kilometre away from my house …
S2: Eight hundred meters from my place …
S1: And that’s where the hazardous chemical waste was supposed to be deposited. Thirty thousand tons. We were horrified when we saw it.

22The initiative acts and explains its motivation based on the experience of being horrified. Out of it comes the public protests, the attendance of open sessions of the City Council, the formation of the “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers” group, the investigative work on the circumstances under which Rijekatank and Remondis Medison set up their business in Sisak, the networking with other similar initiatives in the neighbouring cities, and the appeals and petitions. In trying to gain more support, the initiative exposed their findings in a Facebook post:

  • 36 The public Facebook group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!,” post by Snježana Sužnjević Vago, (...)

Why are we here?
The civic initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers” was formed online, through social networks, because of the concerns that arose around the recent events in the city of Sisak and other cities in Sisak-Moslavina County, related to the arrival or announced arrival of companies that do hazardous and non-hazardous waste management. In a broader context, we are concerned about the announced nuclear waste disposal in Čerzekovac near Dvor na Uni, asbestos in Glina, communal waste from Zagreb in Novska, and everything else included in the notifications and pilot projects in Sisak. In Sisak, there are 28 companies that deal with hazardous and non-hazardous waste management, 5 of which work with hazardous waste. Sisak-Moslavina County is slowly turning into one big disposal site and landfill for different kinds of waste, the place intended for disposal of anything that richer and more developed countries don’t want in their backyards.
We are being assured that this hazardous and non-hazardous waste is not harmful, that it can be processed and managed without having any detrimental effect on people and the environment. At the same time, nuclear waste is being disposed of as far away from Zagreb and tourist areas as possible, and, for example, Zagreb communal waste is transported by train to the small town of Novska instead of to the incinerator that was supposed to be built in Zagreb. The company from Rijeka that has moved to Sisak is the company that was expelled from Rijeka because of multiple breaches of regulations, because of the bad smell it produced, and because of the protests of locals accusing it of causing them health problems. Other companies that arrived to Sisak in the last several years, or are about to arrive, are companies that filed papers because of their involvement in various ecological and safety incidents. At the same time, there is unprecedented deforestation and forest devastation across the County. Trees are disappearing, as well as animal habitats. We are consternated by the magnitude of the damage done, and we fear possible consequences. For these reasons, we as the citizens organised this group, and we are building networks with similar civic initiatives in other cities and towns in the County and beyond, whose goal is to protect the environment and prevent its further devastation.36

  • 37 Franquesa Jaume, Power Struggles: Dignity, Value and the Renewable Energy Frontier in Spain, Bloomi (...)

23Their fight against becoming a “European wastebasket” also includes civic actions in front of the City Council, city marches, and protesting at locations they deem crucial for revealing the scale of pollution and danger it presents for Sisak. While contesting and refusing to accept being peripheral to powerful economic centres, the initiative evokes and reiterates a notion of the periphery as waste.37 In addressing core vs. periphery dynamics, they underline that the periphery is always seen as a place of lesser value and a place where one can cause disorder without being held accountable for it. For them, the battle for a clean environment devoid of future pollution is a way to counter politics that jeopardise the city’s future.

  • 38 Klarić, “Prosvjednici u Sisku“ [Protestors in Sisak], op. cit.
  • 39 Prerad Danijel, “Prosvjed građanske inicijative ‘Sišćani ne žele biti smetlišćani’” [The Protest of (...)

24The local newspaper that covered the initiative’s gatherings during spring 2019 shows that the protests involved a relatively small number of quite vocal women who tried to increase their visibility and elicit a public and political reaction to the situation through visually dramatic and well-thought-out artistic actions: staging a scene that showed people relaxing in the city park, next to an artificial lake in the vicinity of one of the biggest chemical waste disposal areas; dressing in nuclear protection suits; appearing to background music provided by Zli bubnjari (Evil Drummers); wearing tape over their mouths; putting gas-masks on the local public sculptures; etc. (FIG. 6). Their protest banners read things like, “Here rests the freedom of speech and public gatherings in the city of Sisak”;38 “This is a sacred ground, don’t dump waste on memories”; “Two-thousand-year old city won’t be a landfill”; and, “Our backyards are not your landfills.”39 From these banners, we may conclude that their actions sought to shape public sentiment by agitating for symbolic cohesion of the community and recognition of the common good. They invoke the city’s long history and call for communal solidarity, warning citizens that their backyards, homes, and part of the land are at stake. When asked about the delicate environmental implications related to the waste management industry, they drew the connection between the unbalance of national political power and economic impoverishment of their region and their city on the one hand and the lack of solidarity from the entire country toward Sisak on the other:

S1: We were also … hurt, as citizens, because it seems that we are discriminated against compared to the rest of Croatia. Because of the waste problem, some people in Zadar County will comment when they see us on the news, “Oh, poor Siscians. Poor, poor them.” But they won’t say: “OK, we’ll take on part of the waste because no one wants the waste.” Because the entire Croatia is glad that it won’t end up in their backyard. And then, in principle, we were discriminated against, we felt like we were, because nuclear waste is about to be dumped in our county …. You know that (…).
S1: Well, I got us thinking, why is our health less important than the health of those living in Zagreb? Your child is as precious to you as mine is to me. What would people in Zagreb say if our waste was dumped in their city? I mean, who’d want it? We also feel discriminated against in that respect. If that waste is so harmless, why has it not remained in its city of origin? Because it is not a big plant, it’s a really small plant. It’s about four times this cafe in size. So it’s not such an amount of waste that Zagreb could not find any room for. But, as it seems, there’s no room for it. But, as it seems, it’s not as harmless as they say. ... It wouldn’t be transported all that way, every day, for sixty kilometres. ... That’s how we see it. So it is the discrimination that bothers us. We have been chosen as the target city for all the crap.
S3: Because this area is poor. The entire county is poor. And the city was going down the tubes. Like, really falling to ruins all by itself. And on top of all that, we have to put up with this now. It could be organised differently. The entire story may be turned upside down. Given the poverty ... the pollution is not as bad as it could have been. So, why not make the most of these potentials? Why kill the possibility to bring all those healthy solutions here?

Fig. 6. Protest against hazardous waste recycling and deposit sites, members of the initiative, May 2019

Fig. 6. Protest against hazardous waste recycling and deposit sites, members of the initiative, May 2019

Courtesy of Danijel Prerad.

25Being placed at the margin of economic activities, at the national economic periphery, the city has been perceived as poor and, thus, powerless. In other words, it became the perfect place for projects in waste management (FIG. 7, FIG. 8 and FIG. 9).

Fig. 7. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, now Remondis Medison waste processing company, construction and demolition waste containers, August 2021

Fig. 7. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, now Remondis Medison waste processing company, construction and demolition waste containers, August 2021

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

Fig. 8. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, reclamation and recycling facility site, compact and baled waste deposits, August 2021

Fig. 8. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, reclamation and recycling facility site, compact and baled waste deposits, August 2021

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

Fig. 9. Premises of former Sisak Ironworks steel mill, waste disposal site and baling waste facility, August 2021

Fig. 9. Premises of former Sisak Ironworks steel mill, waste disposal site and baling waste facility, August 2021

Photo Sanja Potkonjak.

26The initiative used a conventional approach in expressing its opposition to the city authorities and its non-transparent corporate development plans. However, although the Facebook group counts over 2,000 members and 1,347 people signed the petition, citizens-at-large do not always, or not often enough, recognise them as a positive initiative.

27Certainly it is not easy to categorise this initiative. With their firm grasp on pollution issues and peripheral position vis-à-vis the political mainstream, the members of the initiative do not resemble a typical community-organised ecological group or movement. However, they do not resemble typical activist organisations either. They are women with professions – a physician, an investigative journalist, a city politician, an ecologist, a librarian, of diverse political loyalties, different lifestyles, and social standing.

28Perhaps this in-between status explains why their fight for ecological justice has not received wide recognition. They do not have wide recognition either among the well-off or the poor and unemployed citizens of Sisak. Neither did they get strong support from city politicians. Moreover, they are symbolically punished at work and among their acquaintances for their petitions and vocal expression of distrust in the City Council. Such behaviour violates the norms and calls for stonewalling and blaming because most people still have ambivalent (if not still positive) feelings toward industry as a provider of secure jobs. One member of the initiative recounted, “at a meeting for coffee with girls, a friend of mine, a colleague who works at the County Council, said to me – and she was sitting right there – she told me: ‘Yes, the refinery is being closed down because of the likes of you.’”

29Upon hearing this comment, retold during the group interview, the other women burst into cynical laughter. Ironising their responsibility for the collapse of Siscian industry, they started exchanging jokes at their own expense, interrupting each other, and exclaiming: “But of course, it’s us. … Yes!, we are to blame for the refinery being shut down.” One woman was adamant that people wronged them by accusing the initiative of certain actions: “It’s awful to imply that we stole all the material resources and industrial supplies! People don’t have a clue what this is all about.” Suspicions abound that their activity has a political background; they face accusations of conspiracy; and are dismissed as simply lacking common sense for rebelling against the prospect of new jobs. “Simply put, we were called ‘fucking hags’… [they said] we don’t want them to get employed.” But one of the members explained: “They [the waste processing companies] will employ ten people. … If they would employ a thousand people, if they did everything by the book – we’d say go for it!”

30Another thing people found unusual was that only women were active. One of the women we interviewed said: “A friend of mine asked me: ‘Why are only women here?’ And I told him: ‘You tell me why only women are here. Do you get it?’” Another woman continued the explanation: “We have children, and it’s understandable our thinking is different. … Female energy...” Yet their roles as mothers are also raised to deter them: “I was told, ‘You don’t understand what you’ve got yourself into. You have kids and a family.’”

31However, their impression was that they “did not present danger” and they “really did not put anyone at risk.” By the time we interviewed them, members of the initiative were disillusioned. They had asked for a change in the general urban plan, but they did not get it. They had asked for a ban on issuing licenses, and that did not happen. They had asked for a clear response as to why the city – which publicly claims to support sports and sustainable development – had been turned secretly into a city-landfill; they had never received an answer.

32The experience of this initiative is instructive for better understanding the possibilities for grassroots environmental activity. We can conclude from this case, that it is almost impossible to realise the interests of a post-industrial community, especially those related to work and pollution issues, without strategic support and systematic networking of an environmentally-aware community in a broader sense. Existing collaborations have not yet yielded a sustainable model: one of the women in the initiative had become a member of the Sisak Environmental Protection Committee – itself newly established – but she resigned after only a few months. She thought it was something of a success that she made it into the committee and, indeed, that such a body had been formed at all. But the committee’s actions were as unsuccessful as those of her own initiative. The public response rate was low. If anything was achieved, it was simply that the “politicians stopped for a moment, wondering if there really is someone who wants and can show resistance.” Resistance, however, was something yet to come; something the members of the initiative were beginning to think was necessary as part of the community’s maturation and as a new type of social action. Current politics, she concluded, are corrupt: “They’ve got money, and money is the law here. If you’ve got money, you’ve got the power. You have everything you need! It’s something we should stand up to.”

33Though the founders of the civic initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers” were pessimistic when we interviewed them, their own actions – as well as their reflections on the small successes that had been made – indicate that a post-industrial ecological community in Sisak is present. This community emerges from the experience of living in an industrial landscape, but the former experience of powerlessness to influence the political and economic structures that make decisions about strategic development means that the community acts almost accidentally in response to local events – in this example, it was the acute fear of living next to a toxic waste landfill that prompted an improvised series of actions. Though initiatives within this community may be unplanned, it is an increasingly informed community that thinks about life and work after industry, conceptualises the future effects of pollution, and brings the topic into the public space for discussion.

Active but not local activists – Ana, Marijan and Ivo

34To show another side of the post-industrial ecological community in Sisak, we turn to describing some other citizens who see themselves as “active” but not as “activists.”

  • 40 For the needs of this article, we will call our informant Ana; interview carried out in July 2019, (...)

35For example, there is Ana.40 An ecologist by education, Ana works as a manager in one of the family-owned companies in the Southern Industrial Zone. Her family is actively involved in the high-tech optical industry and owns several small- and medium-size businesses in Sisak. We interviewed Ana initially because she matched our profile of interest for people who had found meaningful life and work in the post-industrial city. As it turned out, Ana was the first to direct our attention to the brownfield problem in the city and to note that the municipal authorities were (mis)representing the brownfield developments as greenfields or sustainable investments.

  • 41 Ana, excerpt from the interview, July 2019, Sisak.

The city promoted it as money incoming, as new jobs. (…) But, it is not an industry that employs hundreds of people. Also, it is an industry that brings down the value of other things, of arable land, organic food production, generally, of the property. Ironworks’ real estate is known to have the lowest market value in Croatia.41

36Ana’s insights are based on her ecological education and in her desire to live in a healthy and peaceful city, oriented toward sustainable development and a green economy. Her emotional and robust account during the interview showed us that there are citizens who are neither positive about, nor ambivalent to, the effects of industrial pollution. These citizens are available to gather in an ecological initiative; they are convinced that industrial pollution brings intolerable risk; and they have a vision for the future of the city. Moreover, they have developed an assessment of the underlying reasons why Sisak was identified as a location for brownfield development; and project that this logic will lead to a further vicious circle. For example, Ana believes that the earlier and yet-unaddressed industrial pollution, public image of a collapsing city, known loss of jobs, and presence of abandoned factory infrastructure made it easy for developers and public authorities agree that brownfield developments could do no heavier damage than had already been done, and might even do some good. Yet as Ana sees it, double damage will be done: further pollution will be worse and the new industry in waste management will make the city’s image so unfavourable that it will not be able to attract any non-polluting development projects.

  • 42 While Ana is no longer an offical member of the initiative, she still aligns herself with the initi (...)
  • 43 Ana, excerpt from the interview, July 2019, Sisak.

The prices [of real estate] will drop even more if people avoid moving into the city, if they show no desire to live here, and they won’t have any desire to live in a place where hazardous waste is being processed. Second, we are surrounded by rivers. This is a flood plain, clay soil, and the waters drain further down into the rivers, meaning that we contaminate our own river. More so, our landfill, Goričica, is located at the bank of the Kupa River, that is, Sava River. … These are the problems of the old industrial town, of the urban plan, that we as an organisation42 see as important. I’d say that Sisak is seen, in the eyes of the entire country, as: “Oh well, nobody else wants it, let’s move it to Sisak. It has always been the most contaminated area, so let’s keep it on like that. We need a place where to dump the worst waste.” So that’s it.43

  • 44 Interview with Marijan Crtalić†, Siscian artist; November 2019, Zagreb, Club Booksa.

37Interviews with other ecologically “active” individuals provided similar analyses. For example, the artist Marijan Crtalić, who engaged in some of the artistic protest actions undertaken by the initiative, told us the following: “Sisak is the arena of ecologically stupid moves. Refineries, incinerators, whatever not, is polluting the city. Plus, nobody knows what kind of waste is transported here and stored wherever, nobody knows where.” Explaining the reasons for his artistic activism and disapproval of how the problem of ecological sustainability of his hometown is being solved, he added: “This is a poor county, useful only as a dump site ... for any kind of junk: human, political, material ...”44

38So far, the perspectives voiced by active but non-activist citizens would seem to be similar in their level of analytical sophistication to those of professional ecologists. Sometimes even much more sophisticated. For example, Ivo, othervise a professional ecological activist and scientist living and working in Zagreb, whom we contacted to get an expert opinion on brownfield developments and potential ecological catastrophes, answered with a reminiscence from the childhood years he spent in Sisak:

  • 45 From oral interview with a professional environmental activist and scientist, Sisak, May 2020.

I wasn’t really aware of it, except for the smell from the refinery. It was a sulphur smell, like rotten eggs. As for the smell from Ironworks, people said that it was iron dust and they couldn’t dry their clothes outdoors and stuff like that. But you should really ask my Mum. ... I was too little for doing the laundry.45

39He also remembered an occasion in a new school he attended after his parents relocated him in 1991 because of the war. It was the comment made at that time by the music teacher when he introduced himself to the new classmates: “‘Oh yeah, I know Sisak. Children, it’s the place where the snow is black in winter.”” And I said, like, ‘no, it fucking isn’t.’ Because it fucking isn’t!”

What stands between them?

  • 46 As revealed in the interviews we conducted, a little research turned up Pripuz as a covert owner of (...)
  • 47 Another example Ivo mounted in his interview of how local politicians may be vulnerable to greenshe (...)

40Today, looking at the pollution from a distance, Ivo is more worried by the political aspect of the pollution in Sisak. He sees the potential for interplay between local, regional, and national political and economic players in which the ecological aspects of planning a sustainable community and encouraging a degrowth economy is of secondary importance. He thinks this interplay already explains why national-level activists have not participated in actions initiated by “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers.” The political alliances of actors on various sides works against them: On the one hand, the group’s member who initiated the public discussion about pollution following the permissions issued to Rijekatank and Remondis Medison is known to be a member of a right-wing populist party – and thus leftist activists withdraw their support. On the other hand, local left-wing politicians are also suspected as potential collaborators and indirect political debtors to the “Croatian king of waste,” Petar Pripuz46 as well as other environmentally-dubious businessmen.47 This connection is distasteful for national activists and a powerful weapon among right-wing politicians who seek to discredit the “left” altogether. Thus, no one speaks out in support of local initiatives for fear of the political damage that might be done to themselves.

41However, the political interplay is not conducted on an even field of party-politics. By making a connection between the situation in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and the main concessionaire for hazardous waste management, Ivo expressed a common suspicion, which surfaced in other interviews with members of the initiative and with individual citizens, that the king of waste wielded exceptional power to stifle environmental activism.

  • 48 Pellow, “Environmental Inequality,” op. cit., p. 590.

42In addition to political interplay, Ivo pointed out that small and informal groups that form around themes of environmental justice may have contradictory and changeable interests. Ivo, as a professional activist and scientist, has identified an ultimate goal of ecological activism: he wants a degrowth economy, and organises his activities accordingly. Local ecological initiatives on the contrary, are more likely to calculate for the lesser evil (e.g. industry or environment) in any given situation. This divergence in approach makes it hard for national and local environmental groups to align for any length of time. In other words, “there are no two identical fights for environmental justice.”48

43Professional ecological activists in Croatia, as globally, aspire at participating in public policy formation at national and international levels. Even without Petar Pripuz, they would be likely to view local actions as primarily an interplay of “politics, money and pollution.” Moreover, professional activists are concerned that local actions provincialise the fight against pollution and have a “modest reach” and myopic perspective. Because they act at two levels, the global and national ecological activism of degrowth economy and the local action either do not recognise each other or do not cooperate. Although attempting to draw the attention of leading ecological organisations, local action belongs to the realm of localised ecological subjectivity. The accidental nature of their activity results from living in and being inextricably intertwined with the toxic post-industrial landscape. It means that the everyday relationship with the source of pollution – watching it, smelling it or just hearing machines running – is a source of frustration, helplessness, anger and rage, leading to affective action of limited insights and limited reach.

Conclusion

44Research into post-industrial cities and communities necessarily entails a journey into their industrial past. In the context of the pollution research that is unfolding in these cities, it is almost impossible not to come across the narrative and circumstances related to the industrial pollution of the past. However, as revealed by the example of Sisak, our interlocutors associated the earlier industrial pollution with jobs, employment and secure livelihood. As they explained, the pollution that is going on in Sisak today is the result of the lack of jobs, industry and employment. Sisak has become a peripheral disposal site for hazardous waste, the “waste yard” of nearby Zagreb and a potentially toxic living area.

45In our article, we focused on a group of Siscian women who actively and publicly tried to articulate that threat, shown primarily as their fear for themselves and their families in the future. We called them bearers of accidental environmentalism because they joined up and directed their activities at a specific environmental problem in the community. At the same time, they were ill-equipped for local politics, not connected with national experts in environmental protection and have not joined environmental coalitions. Actually, they have not perceived themselves as ecological activists at all. Our description of these accidental activists who recognised that waste management is no less threatening than industrial pollution is completed by the equally critical insights of an environmental expert, a local female entrepreneur and a local artist. These three individuals have been exceptionally interested in environmental issues, but have taken a different approach to the pollution and waste industry issues. Advocating a sustainable development and green economy, they have departed from raising questions based on fear and danger and focused on political decision-making on the waste industry, deliberated on green economy aspects and advocated environmental justice.

46In Sisak, accidental activism and local professional activists do recognise each other, but their association and mutual cooperation has still been limited. All the while, a somewhat eerie transformation of the city unfolds.

Post scriptum

47One week after we finished this article, on December 28, 2020, Sisak was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter scale. A day later, there was another strong earthquake of 6.2 with its epicentre in the small town of Petrinja, 16 kilometres from Sisak. The latter earthquake rocked both towns, causing extensive damage in populated areas. In the following days, several newspaper articles problematised the issue of building hazardous waste deposits and the plans to build a nuclear wastesite in a county known for its high seismic activity.49 For a few days, we waited for an upswell of environmental activism. However, the opposite happened. As the local communities dealt with the immediate destruction caused by the two earthquakes, all concern for the environment seemed to disappear.

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Notes

1 Vobruba Georg, “Globalisation versus the European Social Model? Deconstructing the Contradiction Between Globalisation and the Welfare State,” Sociologický Časopis/Czech Sociological Review, vol. 40, no 3, 2004, p. 261-276 (262).

2 This work has been fully supported by the Croatian Science Foundation under the project “Transformation of Work in Post-Transitional Croatia” (IP-2016-06-7388).

3 Braičić Zdenko, “Razvoj metalurgije i njezin utjecaj na urbanu preobrazbu i stambenu izgradnju Siska” [The Development of Metallurgy and its Influence on the Urban Changes and Housing Development in Sisak], Geadria, vol. 10, no 2, p. 211-228 (214).

4 Sisak Ironworks used to be the largest single employer in town. It provided income for young men, usually adult male family members. In some cases, both men and women from the same family were employed in industrial setting related to the Ironworks cooperative. It was not unusual to encounter two or three generations of men and women, the members of one extended family, working in the same steelwork. Sisak Ironworks was also a major driver for the development of the city’s industrial neighbourhoods. The city’s growth in the second half of the twentieth century was related to the development of industrial facilities which made daily commuters from nearby rural regions to become urban dwellers and residents of industrial neighbourhoods.

5 The total area of the Sothern Industrial Zone and its new extension called Southern Industrial Zone – Novo Pračno covers around 55 ha of industrial land. Online: https://sisak.hr/investitori/ (accessed in December 2020).

6 Little Peter, “Another Angle on Pollution Experience. Toward an Anthropology of Environmental Ecology of Risk Mitigation,” Ethos, vol. 40, no 4, 2012, p. 431-452 (432).

7 Ollis Tracey, The Pedagogy of Activism: Learning to Change the World,” International Journal of Learning, vol. 17, no 8, 2010, p. 239-250 (248).

8 Online: https://www.peticija24.com/siani_ne_ele_grad_prepoznatljiv_po_zagaenju_i_opasnom_otpadu (accessed in December 2021).

9 Scaramelli Caterina, “The Delta is Dead: Moral Ecology of Infrastructure in Turkey,” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 34, no 3, 2019, p. 388-416.

10 Fortun Kim, Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2001.

11 Fortun Kim, “Ethnography in Late Industrialism,” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 27, no 3, 2012, p. 446-464.

12 Ibid., p. 458.

13 Walley Christine, Exit Zero: Family and Class in Post-Industrial Chicago. Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 6-7.

14 Bonfiglioli Chiara, Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector, London, I.B. Tauris, 2019; Rajković Ivan, “For an Anthropology of the Demoralized: State Pay, Mock-Labour, and Unfreedom in a Serbian Firm,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 24, no1, 2018, p. 47-70; Modrić Dragana, “Kako (je) tvornica mijenja(la) grad: primjer tvornice Dalmatinka” [How a Factory (has) Changed the City: The Example of Dalmatinka], Narodna umjetnost vol. 55, no 2, 2018, p. 129-146; Jovanović Dragana, Bor Forward >> Zamišljanje budućnosti [Bor Forward >> Imagining the Future], Bor, 2013.

15 Jovanović Deana, “Prosperous Pollutants: Bargaining with Risks and Forging Hopes in an Industrial Town in Eastern Serbia,” Ethnos, vol. 83, no 3, 2016, p. 489-504; Matošević Andrea, Baćac Elis, “Kamena vuna prijepora. Suživot s tvornicom Rockwool na Pićanštini” [Rock Wool of Dispute. Co-existence with the Rockwool Factory in Pićanština], Etnološka tribina, vol. 38, no 45, 2015, p. 139-149.

16 Rajković Ivan, “‘Rivers to the People: Ecopopulist Universality in the Balkan Mountains.’ Theorizing the Contemporary,” Fieldsights, Cultural Anthropology website, 2020, March 24, online: https://culanth.org/fieldsights/rivers-to-the-people-ecopopulist-universality-in-the-balkan-mountains (accessed in September 2021); Doričić Robert, Škrbić-Alempijević Nevena, Rinčić Iva, “Grad, industrija i zdravlje. Naracije lokalnoga stanovništva o koksari u Bakru” [City, Industry and Health. Local Narratives about the Coke Plant in Bakar], Etnološka tribina, vol. 50, no 43, 2020, p. 89-110.

17 Fortun, “Late Industrialism,” op. cit., p. 446.

18 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 129.

19 Ibid., p. 119.

20 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 121.

21 Ibid., p. 121.

22 Jovanović, “Prosperous Pollutants,” op. cit.

23 Pellow David, “Environmental Inequality Formation. Towards a Theory of Environmental Justice,” American Behavioural Scientist, vol. 43, no 4, 2000, p. 581-601 (583).

24 Ibid., p. 586.

25 From interview with S., an architect and designer, mid-thirties, born in Sisak, September 2020.

26 From group interview with members of civic initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers,” Sisak, December 2019.

27 From interview with a professional environmental activist and scientist, Sisak/Zagreb, May 2020.

28 Fish from the Sava River and the Kupa River were both undesirable. The refinery wastewater was released in one, and the other was polluted by waste that saturated underground waters.

29 Lora-Weinwright Anna, Resigned Communities: Living with Pollution in Rural China, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, The MIT Press, 2017, p. XIV-XV.

30 Walley, Exit Zero, op. cit., p. 140

31 Ibid., p. 4.

32 Fortun, Advocacy after Bhopal, op. cit.; Petryna Adriana, Life Exposed: Biological Citizenship after Chernobyl, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2003.

33 Public Facebook group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!,” post by Marija Končar, 7 July 2020.

34 Klarić Sandra, “Prosvjednici u Sisku poručili: Ne opasnom otpadu u Gradu Sisku i SMŽ” [Sisak Protesters Demand: No to Dangerous Waste in Sisak and the Sisak-Moslavina County], in Radio Banovina portal, online: www.radio-banovina.hr/prosvjednici-u-sisku-porucili-ne-opasnom-otpadu-u-gradu-sisku-i-smz/, 2019 (accessed in July 2020).

35 For the protection of interests of our informants, their individual opinions and statements are cited by adding the letter mark S and a number, indicating one of the four women who participated in the group interview. We use this technique to distinguish their voices. At the same time, we respect their intention to present the interview as the attitude of the group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers,” a collective and group attitude of the representatives of this initiative.

36 The public Facebook group “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!,” post by Snježana Sužnjević Vago, 7 March 2019. All italics added for emphasis by the authors.

37 Franquesa Jaume, Power Struggles: Dignity, Value and the Renewable Energy Frontier in Spain, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2018.

38 Klarić, “Prosvjednici u Sisku“ [Protestors in Sisak], op. cit.

39 Prerad Danijel, “Prosvjed građanske inicijative ‘Sišćani ne žele biti smetlišćani’” [The Protest of the Civil Initiative “Siscians don’t want to be scavengers!”], posted at Lokalni.hr, online: https://lokalni.vecernji.hr/gradovi/prosvjed-gra-anske-inicijative-siscani-ne-zele-biti-smetliscani-15528 (accessed in August 2019).

40 For the needs of this article, we will call our informant Ana; interview carried out in July 2019, in Sisak.

41 Ana, excerpt from the interview, July 2019, Sisak.

42 While Ana is no longer an offical member of the initiative, she still aligns herself with the initiative’s general cause.

43 Ana, excerpt from the interview, July 2019, Sisak.

44 Interview with Marijan Crtalić†, Siscian artist; November 2019, Zagreb, Club Booksa.

45 From oral interview with a professional environmental activist and scientist, Sisak, May 2020.

46 As revealed in the interviews we conducted, a little research turned up Pripuz as a covert owner of smaller companies for waste management which were launched in the previous several years in the industrial zones in Sisak.

47 Another example Ivo mounted in his interview of how local politicians may be vulnerable to greensheen, which “spins the waste industry as [offering] ‘super safe’ jobs,” pointed out that the mayor of Sisak “had her photo taken with some, I don’t know, businessman who opened the whole thing, showing a certificate that [was supposed to prove], ‘of course it’s not dangerous.’”

48 Pellow, “Environmental Inequality,” op. cit., p. 590.

49 Online: https://static.lupiga.com/vijesti/potres-upozorava-na-oprez-hoce-li-hrvatska-zaista-napraviti-odlagaliste-radioaktivnog-otpada-na-trusnoj-baniji [earthquake-warns-of-caution-will-croatia-really-make-a-radioactive-waste-dump-at-a-seismic-banija] (accessed in December 2020); https://www.telegram.hr/politika-kriminal/centar-za-radioaktivni-otpad-gradi-se-40-km-od-epicentra-detaljna-analiza-potresne-opasnosti-tek-se-treba-provesti [centre-for-radioactive-waste-is-being-built-40-km-from-the-epicentre-detailed-seismic-hazard-analysis-yet-to-be-conducted] (accessed in January 2021); http://www.energetika-net.com/vijesti/energetsko-gospodarstvo/cerkezovac-je-za-potres-sigurniji-od-zagreba-31669 [cerkezovac-is-for-an-earthquake-safer-than-zagreb] (accessed in January 2021).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1. Map of Croatia
Crédits d-maps.com (open source)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 103k
Titre Fig. 2. Screenshot, South Industrial Zone, vicinity of Novo Pračno
Crédits Physical Planning Information System, Ministry of physical planning, construction and state assets, online: https://ispu.mgipu.hr (accessed in January 2021).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 420k
Titre Fig. 3. Vacated architecture of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2020
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre Fig. 4. Abandoned infrastructure of Sisak Ironworks, South Industrial Zone, June 2021
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre Fig. 5. Vacated liquid and solid waste pits, Oil refinery, Sisak, Kupa riverbanks, January 2021
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre Fig. 6. Protest against hazardous waste recycling and deposit sites, members of the initiative, May 2019
Crédits Courtesy of Danijel Prerad.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 231k
Titre Fig. 7. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, now Remondis Medison waste processing company, construction and demolition waste containers, August 2021
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Fig. 8. Premises of former Radonja/Herbos chemical factory, reclamation and recycling facility site, compact and baled waste deposits, August 2021
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Titre Fig. 9. Premises of former Sisak Ironworks steel mill, waste disposal site and baling waste facility, August 2021
Crédits Photo Sanja Potkonjak.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/docannexe/image/3535/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
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Référence électronique

Sanja Potkonjak et Tea Škokić, « A City Worth Fighting For: Accidental Environmentalism and Resistance in Post-Industrial Society »Balkanologie [En ligne], Vol. 16 n° 2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2021, consulté le 25 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/balkanologie/3535 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/balkanologie.3535

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Auteurs

Sanja Potkonjak

Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb
spotkonjak[at]ffzg.hr

Tea Škokić

Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Zagreb
tea[at]ief.hr

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