The Occupation Cookbook

Posted: October 7, 2011 by globaloccupation in 2009, croatia, date, pamphlet
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The Occupation Cookbook is a “manual” that describes the organization of the student occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences that took place in the spring of 2009 and lasted for 35 days. It was written for two reasons: to record what happened, and to present the particular organization of this action in such a way that it may be of use to other activists and members of various collectives if they decide to undertake a similar action.

The Cookbook is currently being translated into several languages. At the moment, all but the final few chapters have been translated into English, and the Introduction has been translated into Spanish. For a full page version of the English translation follow this link, or simply click on the link to any of the chapters listed below. {Order print copies of the English version from AK Press.}


Foreword by Boris Buden
The Organization of Student Control at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
How to Organize a Plenum?
The Plenum
The Rules and Guidelines of the FHSS Plenum
Code of Conduct During the Student Control Over the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
The Plenum Minutes
Delegates and mandates
The Media Strategy, the Media Team and the Media Working Group
The Operational Tasks, Logistics and Security Team
The Program and the Program Team
The Inter-Plenary Working Group
The Plenum Technical Issues Working Group
The Document Analysis Working Group
The Mini-Actions Working Group
The Working Group for Spreading Direct Democracy
The Blog/Portal and the Blog Team




A Miracle in Moscow

by Boris Buden

Imagine: in Moscow, a miracle happened. Lenin has risen. Anyone who dreams of a radical change, hurries to hear from Vladimir Ilyich the answer to an old, well known question: What is to be done? But his words, the first after more than eighty years in his glass coffin, leave everybody speechless: I am hungry.

Now it is time for students in Zagreb. For they have a cookbook at the ready, or more precisely an Occupation Cookbook – a practical guide for the preparation and implementation of faculty occupations in the historical context of the struggle against neo-liberal transformation of education. At the same time, the brochure tells a story of the actual occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, one of the largest and most prominent educational institutions in Croatia, which was under the student control for five weeks in the spring of 2009. So the booklet, which summarizes the experiences and reflections of the protagonists, is an account of a true event. Thus there is something to be learned here. The experience of the revolt is the lesson of those who learn.

But beware! To really learn means to question yourself. This is especially true for those who confuse their view on political reality with the view of the history itself. In principle, there is no center and no periphery. A gaze that imagines a periphery out there looking down on it, is the gaze of the current hegemony and not the one of the centre itself, or rather, it is the gaze of a power relation. Thus, if one takes the Zagreb Cookbook thinking: ‘Let me see if they, down there in the post-communist Southeast, have by now grasped something of the world’, it is him that hasn’t grasped anything. The reason that the student protest in Zagreb could have taken place at all lies precisely in the fact that it was, at the same time, articulated as a protest against global hegemony, which alone yields the local power relations their historical legitimacy. What we are talking about here is the teleology of the so-called post-communist transition that has been determining the whole political life in Eastern Europe since 1989/90. In this particular case: the introduction of the tuition fees, which has directly provoked the student protest, is justified in Croatia as a necessary process of modernization on the country’s path to the European Union. In the jargon of post-communist transition, this is merely an adaptation to the ‘European standards’. The local elites sustain, in the words of the students, ‘the myth of the EU as a zone of general prosperity’ thereby justifying ‘the abolition of acquired social rights’. This also makes it clear where the true ideological effect of the European integration lies – not in spatial, but rather in temporal exclusion. It is not so much that it divides us into the ones that are inside and the ones that are out, but into those that are always in step with the times and those who are late and first have to catch up with the missed development. ‘The belated modernism’, was how the post-communist East was referred to twenty years ago. But today, this difference does no longer mark the outer borders of the EU. Rather, it is immanent to the project of European integration, insofar as it is bound by neo-liberal reforms. In Europe today, wherever people resist in the name of the old social rights, they become the enemies of progress and prosperity, freedom and democracy; in short: they become the enemies of Europe whose acquired social rights, such as the right to education, appear as the privileges of the social parasites, which are to be abolished on the road to better future. So this is how it has been in Zagreb last year, this is how it was and is in Vienna and wherever one dares to challenge the existing hegemony. But what divides this world, what the students have stood up against to, unites them too, wherever they raise their protests. Thus, they are today fighting neither in the center, nor in the periphery of the neo-liberal capitalism – they are fighting this very difference, that is to say the hegemony that forces us do differentiate the world in such a manner. Solidarity is neither the prerequisite nor the product of this struggle, but its actual form.

Therefore, a cookbook and not a manifesto or a proclamation, an open letter or theses, for example the ‘April’ or ‘May theses’ or the ’six’ or, why not, ‘21 Theses’. One is invited to the kitchen and not on the stage of world history. In fact, the occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb was neither a theatrical acting out, staged for the gaze of others, nor a passage à l’acte, the heroic leap into the chasm of radical negation. It was humbly called: ‘the student control over the faculty’. Quite untypical for a classic youth revolt, in the Occupation Cookbook one talks time and again of control, meaning first of all self-control: order, discipline, punctuality, systematicity, coordination, cleanliness, … Student protest in Zagreb was completely post-hysterical, there was no oedipal drama, no authority crush, no collective hormonal outburst, no generational clash. After all, are not these traits today more typical for the ways of neo-liberal appropriation and securing of power. Thus, the experiences of the Zagreb students are all the more useful. They have been gained, reflected and now presented in the Occupation Cookbook, ‘in order to help other students (and members of other collectives, such as workers in factories) do the same in Croatia and abroad’, for instance, to establish and organize a direct democratic, collective organ, the plenum. In Zagreb, it worked perfectly for five weeks. Nevertheless, the goal – the complete abolition of tuition fees, i.e. free education for all – was not achieved. And yet one continues to cook. This time, however, not without a cookbook.

And Lenin? To him we also bring a delicacy from the Zagreb miracle kitchen so he could, well-fed, sleep once again.


The purpose of this manual is to describe the functioning of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Filozofski fakultet) in Zagreb while it was under student occupation in the spring of 2009. The occupation of the faculty lasted for 35 days. The students’ demand was ‘free publicly financed education on all levels available to all’ i.e. legal abolition of all fees within the educational system. During those 35 days, around 20 faculties and universities in 8 Croatian cities were occupied at some point. The purpose of this manual is twofold. The first one, the less important one, is historical – a wish to record what happened. The other purpose, the main one, is to present our experiences in this way so that they might be of use to students at other universities (and perhaps members of other collectives, like factories etc.) who decide to undertake a similar action.

We believe that a description of our system of university occupation, which is somewhat unusual in certain regards, will be interesting to other student activists. First of all, the faculty was not occupied in such a manner that access into the building was physically forbidden to all but the occupying students, as is sometimes done. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to this as ’student control over the faculty’ than an ‘occupation’. Only regular classes were blocked, everything else was allowed to function as usual (the administration, the library, the bookshop and other facilities within the faculty building were working normally while the professors could work in their offices as usual). Secondly, the faculty was open to everyone (students from other faculties, regular citizens, journalists etc.). Thirdly, plenums (plenary assemblies) at which all decisions were made concerning the functioning of the occupied faculty was also open not only to the students of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb (FHSS) but to everybody. Anyone who came to the plenum had the right to participate in it and to vote.

It is necessary to point out that some of the issues are discussed more than once in the text, but we think this is appropriate as it is useful to explain certain details from more than one angle. The first chapter (’The Organization of the Student Control of the FHSS’) gives a general overview of all aspects of the occupation. The second chapter (’How to Organize a Plenum?’) functions as a sort of a less formal historical introduction and it anticipates some of the issues which will be later explained in more detail. After these chapters, a detailed description of the plenum, working groups and other aspects of the occupation is given. The last chapter focuses on the social context of the struggle for free education within which this student action took place.

Finally, a note on the authorship of this manual. Since all our actions are collective and anonymous in nature, this manual is anonymous as well. And it is a collective work indeed. All of the chapters were written by a different author or authors. The authors are mostly the people who have dealt with certain aspects of the action thoroughly and are quite familiar with the issues. However, the whole text was later edited, amended and corrected by all interested participants in a direct democratic manner.

The Organization of Student Control at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

The student control of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, that took place in the spring of 2009, was organized in the following manner: the three main organs of the student control of the faculty were the plenum, the working groups and the security.

The Plenum

The plenum (plenary assembly, general assembly) is the central organ of student decision making at the occupied faculty. At it, all decisions are made in a direct democratic manner, including whether the student occupation of the faculty should be continued or ended. The plenum is an assembly of all interested students and other citizens (unlike some other plenums in Croatia, the FHSS plenum was open to everyone – the decision on the degree of openness is made by individual plenums depending on the circumstances). At the plenum, everyone has the right to speak and vote. All decisions are made by the majority of all present participants. Every plenary session is moderated by two different moderators and at the end of each session two new persons are elected to moderate the next session. During the occupation, plenary sessions are held every day and in other times once a week (or more frequently if necessary).

The Working Groups and Teams

The working groups and teams are specialized groups of the plenum whose task is to deal with specific important issues. The difference between a team and a working group is the fact that the plenum gives the ‘teams’ the mandate for the work they do, while working groups are, simply put, meetings that all interested participants are invited to. Teams have permanent members (although their names, of course, are not publicized – the mandate is given to the whole group and not to individual members), while working groups, being meetings of all interested participants, do not have permanent members and the participants of a particular working group are not known before the meeting itself commences. The teams are given mandates because they perform tasks which often need to be completed immediately and thus cannot go through the regular plenum or working group procedure, and also because of the specific nature of some tasks which cannot be performed by a different group of people every time or by a large group of people. The mandated teams are: the program team, the media team, the blog team, the security team and the Skripta team. Since one cannot expect that the whole plenum or regular working groups who have undefined members will deal with many practical problems of organizing alternative lectures, writing press releases, maintaining the web site, dealing with security or writing the Skripta (the official publication of the FHSS plenum), the plenum gives mandates to certain teams so they could perform those tasks, while retaining the possibility to recall a specific team’s mandate or change the members of particular teams (the teams can also recruit new members if necessary). Some examples of the working groups are: the inter-plenary working group, the document analysis working group, the plenum technical issues working group etc. In some cases, there is both a team and a working group that deal with the same issues – for instance, there is the media working group (a meeting of all interested participants) and the media team (the mandated team in charge of writing press releases and maintaining contact with the media). There is also one mandated working group and that is the mini-actions working group. Although it has no permanent membership the group was given the mandate to plan and perform smaller actions. This means that the group does not have to ask for plenum’s permission for everything it does since it is not possible to plan all the details of a particular action at the plenum. Instead, all interested participants take part in the meetings, to which everyone is invited, and plan the actions.

The plenum can at any time recall the mandates it has given the teams and the mini-actions working group. Also, the actions of all working groups and teams can be discussed at the plenum. The working groups and teams are required to operate in accordance with the conclusions and decisions made at the plenum.

Just like the plenum, the working groups are also open to everyone but due to their very nature are not frequented by as many people, since only people especially interested in a particular topic would attend them (during the occupation period there are usually around 30 people at the working groups meetings, while in the post-occupation period there are generally 5-10 people). At the working groups meetings, the participants discuss particular problems and form suggestions which are then (together with a short overview of all arguments) presented to the plenum. The working groups do not have the power to make decisions on their own (except in the aforementioned case of the mandated teams/working groups, but they still operate within the boundaries set by the plenum) – every conclusion or suggestion proposed by the working groups must be approved by the plenum (or else it is sent back in order to be discussed again at the groups meetings). The working groups will discuss particular issues that cannot be resolved at the plenum (due to the shortage of time, a specific topic etc.). The purpose of a working group is to work out specific problems in details, to suggest possible solutions and to present them in a systematic and clear manner to the plenum so that the subject may be discussed as constructively as possible at the plenum and that an informed decision can be made. The working group can suggest more than one conclusion/suggestion, all of which are subsequently discussed at the plenum. This is in fact preferable since it gives the plenum a greater variety of choices and a greater possibility of coming up with a solution not thought of by the working group. The potential number of working groups is unlimited. They can be formed according to the need to deal with specific problems and they can be shut down if no such need exists anymore. In opposition, the number of mandated teams is more or less fixed because there is no need for a great number of them.

During the student occupation and after it ended, the following working groups and teams were in existence at the FHSS:

  • the plenum technical issues working group – deals with the technical issues of the organization of the plenum, draws up the plenum agenda and prepares and instructs the moderators on how to moderate the plenary session
  • the media team – maintains contact with the media, implements the media strategy (sanctioned by the plenum) and writes press releases
  • the inter-plenary working group – coordinates students from different plenums/faculties
  • the mini-actions working group – deals with the organization of various (usually smaller) actions outside of the faculty in order to promote the idea of free education (actions include performances, protests, exhibitions etc.)
  • the working group for situation assessment and further actions – analyses current situation and discusses possible future actions
  • the document analysis working group – analyses in detail various official documents (laws, memorandums, statements etc.) that are important for the action
  • the information working group – deals with the activities concerning the Skripta (the official publication of the plenum), its production and distribution
  • the working group for spreading direct democracy – this working group, which was formed in the post-occupation period (the autumn of 2009), is concerned with spreading direct democracy outside the university and student framework (for example among workers, in factories etc.)

Besides these most important groups, there were/are some other groups, like the forum working group (which was concerned with organizing the internet forum connected to the official web site), the petition working group (which was in charge of organizing the petition for free education that collected some 100 000 signatures), etc.

The Security

The security was in charge of the physical control over the faculty during the student occupation. The security maintains the order on the premises and takes care of the faculty property. The membership in the security is free and rotating.

Except for the three mentioned axes of the student control of the faculty (the plenum, the working groups and the security), the following are also important:

The Program Team

The program team is a group of people in charge of organizing the alternative educational program that takes place instead of regular classes during the student occupation.

The Skripta

The Skripta is the official publication, i.e. the medium of communication of the FHSS plenum. During the occupation, the Skripta is published every day or even twice a day while in post-occupation times it is published usually once a week. In it, one can find the student press releases, various notifications, and articles concerning education and related topics (such as social rights, transition in Croatia, neo-liberalism, workers’ movements etc.).

Blog/Portal the Blog Team

Since the very beginning, an important medium of communication was also the blog (later the web portal) named Free Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Free FHSS). The address of the Croatian version of the web site is while information in English (and other languages) is available at Free FHSS functions as the virtual archive of the student action for free education.

The Functioning of the Faculty during Student Control

During the student occupation, the Faculty was, except during the night, open to all the citizens, as were the plenum, the working groups and the alternative educational programme. The only exception was that the media could record only the beginning of the plenum (i.e. the notifications). After that, the journalists could participate in the plenum as citizens, but no recording was allowed.

During the student occupation, apart from regular classes (which includes the postgraduate courses), everything else at the faculty functioned as usual (the faculty administration, professors’ consultation hours, the library, the Foreign Languages Centre, the Centre for Croatian as Foreign and Second Language, the private copying shop and bookshop at the faculty, as well as some forms of additional classes, the exams that were held in professors’ offices and the exams for older (pre-Bologna) students, scheduled conferences etc.). In several cases, where some questioned whether a particular activity should or should not be allowed at the occupied faculty, the plenum discussed it and decided whether to allow the activity or not.

Direct Democracy

An important component of the student self-organization was the direct democratic manner of decision making. Beside the goal itself (’free education available to all’), this was one of the main aspects of the whole action. Direct democracy is a system in which all (the most important) decisions are made in an absolutely democratic manner, with the majority of the votes of those present. As opposed to the system of representational democracy, in which a smaller number of representatives are elected in elections held every few years and given a mandate to make autonomous decisions, without immediate democratic supervision, in the direct democratic system all decisions are made directly by the majority. Thus direct democracy encourages people to be active and interested and to participate in decision making. All decisions made during the occupation, as well as after it, are made in such a democratic manner. The direct democratic system is organized through plenums – general assemblies of all interested individuals at which everyone has equal right to express their opinion and at which everyone can vote. All decisions are made by the majority of the votes present. The plenum, by the majority of the votes present, decides on the continuation of the student control of the faculty and on all further actions (during and after the occupation). Particular problems, if such a need arises, are first delegated to be discussed by the working groups (which are also open to all interested parties) and subsequently decided upon at the plenum.

The advantage of the direct democratic, plenary, manner of decision making is in the fact that all actions and issues are decided upon in a completely democratic manner, that there are no leaders and that this manner of decision making greatly decreases the potential for manipulation. Within the system of representative democracy, where elected leaders can make decisions on their own, there is a considerable risk of manipulation (during negotiations, one or several of the representatives could be persuaded to comply or even bribed or threatened). The advantage of the plenary way of decision making is the fact that all decisions must be made collectively on plenums by the majority of the votes present. The plenum cannot at any time elect a representative that can make decisions or agree to certain terms on his/her own. The plenum can only elect delegates, which communicate the decisions and the will of the plenum, as well as pass back offers and questions to be considered by the plenum. This method of electing delegates, which is the only truly democratic way, excludes the possibility of manipulating individual representatives.

The Independent Student Initiative and the Plenum

The initial group of people that started organizing the faculty occupation, before the first occupation plenum was held, acted under the name the independent student initiative for the right to free education (ISI). However, the plenum transcends the ISI because it deals with more than just the right to free education and also because it expresses the will of all students, as everyone has the right to participate in and vote at the plenum. Thus, the decisions made at the plenum need to be considered as the decisions of all students and not as those of the ISI. Still, the ISI remains the name for the group of activists who are fighting for the right to free education, while the plenum is open to all students, regardless of their political orientation and their opinion on certain issues such as free education. The plenum, although an offspring of the struggle for the right to free education, is a central organ of the direct democratic decision making of all students and should not be equated solely with the struggle for free education.

How to Organize a Plenum?

1. Introduction

Simply put, the plenum is a meeting of all interested members of a collective. All members of that collective have a right to take part at the plenum, which makes the plenum democratically legitimate, although it is not necessary that all members of the collective participate at every plenary session. What is important is that, at the plenum, all those present participate equally in decision making – there is no possibility of any one person representing another person or a group of people (and their votes). The plenary manner of decision making implements the methods of participatory or direct democracy. The direct democratic manner of decision making that is employed at the plenums is the only consistently democratic way of making decisions that concern the entire collective.

The main purpose of organizing plenums is to include all those interested in the process of decision making, especially when it comes to issues of greater social importance, such as the right to free education, free healthcare, labour rights etc. The possibility of participating in the decision making process motivates those often described as inert, uninterested or apathetic to participate in political actions. Reasoned public discussions demystify the decision making process, giving importance to the opinion of every individual who participates. A decision that is made is binding for all. However, one might ask: who are those “all”? Behind a decision made on the grounds of rational argumentation stand all members of the organ that made that decision. The basis of this manner of decision making is that anybody who wants to may take part in it. It must be noted that the plenum does not use force to implement its decisions, but the power of reasoned arguments – those that do not participate in plenary sessions are not obliged to except a decision that is made, but they are nonetheless informed about it. The important effect of this kind of decision making is the dispersion of responsibility to all participants who are aware of the fact that the decision was not made by some superior authority, organized clique or executive committee, but by the participants of the voting process themselves only. Those who become actively involved in the decision making process can no longer be set aside as passive, disinterested or irresponsible bystanders.

Here, we shall concentrate on the organization of a plenum in emergency situations such as occupations and takeovers of working or educational facilities. We deliberately make a distinction between an occupation and a takeover. The institution can be said to be taken over only when the plenum, which consists of all members of the collective, or at least those interested enough to participate at it, has voted to take over the institution.

Depending on the circumstances (like the size of a collective, the possibility of sabotage, threats of sanctions etc.), the occupation can, but need not be, planned in relative secrecy. In that case, the action itself is the first thing that must be done; afterwards, the takeover is finalized by post hoc legitimization of the action. Of course, it would preferable if the action were legitimized by all interested participants before it is done but that is not always possible for reasons already mentioned. If one were always to wait for the explicit previous consent of the majority, then it would often be the case that, for practical reasons, it is not possible to do anything. Complete democratic legitimization from the beginning cannot and must not be an obstacle to direct action, although it is of the utmost importance that the action itself be organized in a direct democratic manner from the very beginning. In case of relatively secretive action, it is important to set the grounds in such a way that as many members as possible know (or have some idea about) what is going on. This is also important because it gives an opportunity to try to assess the general opinion concerning the problems that are the reason for starting an occupation.

2. Plenum – how and why?

The question that arises is how would one even organize a collective body that functions on the principles of direct democracy?

We shall not go into theory too much. Our aim is to describe the process of organizing this kind of direct-democratic collective body at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb and point out certain problems we have encountered. This experience should be of help to other collectives trying to organize a similar political body.

The action was prepared through unofficial channels, and was fully legitimized post hoc through the decision of all students who voted that the occupation be continued. However, it is important to note that anybody could have joined in the planning of the occupation (nobody was forbidden from joining), although it was not possible to openly announce it (except immediately before the beginning of the action itself). All meetings held during the planning of the occupation also functioned on the principles of direct democracy. Those were a sort of pre-occupation mini-plenums (although one should rather characterize them as open meetings at which decisions were made in a direct democratic manner). The first pre-occupation larger plenary session was held five days before the occupation of the faculty when a public discussion on free education (at which some 200 people participated) spontaneously turned into a plenum at which the majority voted for the occupation of the faculty. The occupation was then confirmed by a big plenum held on the first day of the student control of the faculty.

During the preparations for the action, there were some dilemmas with regard to who should have the right to participate at the plenary sessions and how to make them inaccessible to those who are deemed to not have that right. It has been decided that, apart from the students of the faculty, the right to participate should be extended to interested citizens as well – which would include the staff of the faculty, students of other faculties and universities, the workers, and so on. Since the demand for free education for all is one that concerns the general public and since the university is a public institution, the “open door policy” was considered to be the only consistent one.

This approach had proven to be the right one as the plenary sessions attracted both the citizens and students of other faculties – and occupations of other faculties soon followed ours. The major objection to this policy of unrestricted participation was the fear that malevolent individuals or groups might try to obstruct the functioning of the plenum. This did not happen. On the contrary, the equality of all participants and the inclusion of all into the decision making process proved to be real cohesion builders. Before the occupation, some people feared that a direct democratic manner of organization might not function at all – however, the occupation clearly showed that those fears were completely unfounded. The dominant view was that if the fight for a fundamental human right such as the right of free education cannot attract enough interested participants, the moment for such a fight is obviously not right and the whole action is doomed to fail.

Already on the first day of the occupation, some 800 people gathered in the lecture room that has 350 to 400 sitting places. The decision to continue the occupation was made by a great majority of all the votes. During all 35 days of the occupation, there were no incidents at the plenum or inside/outside of the faculty building.

During the preparatory meetings, there were big discussions about the organization of the occupation. Is it necessary to block every activity at the faculty or should some activities be exempt? Should the entrance to the building be physically blocked? In the end, it was decided that only regular classes would be blocked, while the faculty staff and workers would have access to the building and their working places at all times. The entrance would be open to all, otherwise it would make no sense to have an alternative educational program (focused on free education and related topics).

Due to this kind of approach, from some of the faculty employees supported the student action. Although it could be considered to be ideologically inconsistent, the decision to allow normal functioning of certain private businesses at the faculty was motivated by the wish to do no harm to the employees of those companies as well as to avoid conflicts with the police, which might be inclined to intervene in order to defend private property rights.

As the condition for the end of the occupation a single demand was made: free education on all levels for everyone that satisfies the criteria for enrolment into the faculty. The idea was that one firm demand of general interest would be much better than many disparate demands.

But how was the whole action prepared?

3. Preparations

The whole thing started with the idea to block classes as a means of warning the public about the dangers of the commercialization of the university sector. This was not particularly revolutionary since this is a method widely used in the world. However, this method was relatively unknown in Croatia. In Croatian, there had not been serious student protests for decades.
The initial group’s basic task is to win support for the action from the wider student population. At the same time, they are trying to gauge the positions of teachers and professors. It should be mentioned that support for the demand for free education existed since the protest held on November 5th 2008, at which some 1500 people participated (primarily from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences). Further mobilization was done by organizing a public discussion on free education after the protest (the occupation itself began on April 20th 2009). It is important to point out that students were aware of the demand for free education as it had been made before. Thus the November 2008 protest, at which numerous students participated, gave a certain additional legitimacy to the organizers of the occupation.

Two issues were of essential importance for the organization of the occupation:

  • a) The organization of taking over the faculty building and blocking the classes
  • b) The direct democratic model of deciding whether to continue or end the occupation.

In the organization phase, the group expanded to include some 50 interested people. It was mostly made up of students who had been involved in student activism in one way or another, or of those who, sometimes accidentally, had come to one of the preparation meetings and decided to join. However, certain circumstances facilitated the organization of this type of complex action:

  • a) Previous political actions initiated by the students of the FHSS, such as the protest against the law on Student Council held in 1996; the protest against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and especially the petition against Croatia’s entrance into NATO in 2008; the protest against masters course fees held on May 7th 2008, as well as the most important first protest for free education held on November 5, 2008;
  • b) Intensive discussions of issues and problems caused by the Bologna process reforms
  • c) The existence of active student organizations
  • d) The fact that, unlike at some other faculties, the legal student representative body at the FHSS was not corrupted or under the control of the political parties’ youths
  • e) The existence of autonomous student space at the faculty (The Club of the FHSS Students)

However, the protest held on November 5th should be singled out as the crucial moment, as the idea of the fight for free education on all levels was defined during the preparations for that protest. This protest and the preparations for it drew people’s attention to the problem of free education and helped to create an activist base that would later take part in the occupation of the faculty. Also, the result of the protest made it clear that conventional methods of protesting (such as one-day demonstrations) are very limited and non-efficient and that different and more radical methods of fighting would be necessary.

Those were some of the main preconditions that made it possible to organize a larger action at the faculty. After the occupation began, it became necessary to confront the widespread belief that precisely the FHSS was somehow predestined for this type of action. This type of romantic idealizing frequently leads to defeatism when reflecting on the chances of organizing similar actions elsewhere, which then results in nothing being done at all. The aforementioned favourable circumstances that facilitated the occupation of the FHSS are not in themselves inherent to social-humanistic educational institutions. Concrete actions, good organization and the determination to fight were crucial for the success of the organization, not the assumed favourable institutional context (although, of course, it is not unusual that students of humanities and social sciences are more inclined to reflect critically on social processes).

However, the question is what to do in a case when one has to start from scratch and whether it is even possible to organize a plenum in that kind of situation? Based on our experiences, we shall try to come up with ways to organize a plenum in a short period of time and in the conditions where basic infrastructure does not exist.

4. The Plenum in a Desert

As already said, the organization can start (and usually does) with a very limited number of people. Depending on the size of a collective, even just one person can provide the crucial initial momentum, but five to six people should usually be enough to get an action started. We would like to emphasize this in order to, at the very beginning, suppress the defeatism and inactivity that often appear in smaller collectives that falsely assume the masses cannot be moved without a large number of activists. The other common mistake is to naively believe that some kind of ‘revolutionary’ atmosphere, perceivable dissatisfaction or special conditions have to be present in order to even begin something. The fear of failure often hampers the starting of an action. What one has to always have in mind is that there is no ideal situation in which everything will just happen spontaneously. Even more importantly, the ‘revolutionary’ atmosphere does not occur spontaneously, it is created – usually by methods that, at first glance, may appear banal.

Let us start from the beginning. The first thing that needs to be defined is the goal. The goal should be clear, succinct and have its basis in one of the basic human rights. One might argue that something that is based on basic human rights cannot be clear and succinct but is rather by its nature abstract and hard to comprehend. But only goals that are based on the fight for equality have the potential for wider mobilization. Free education, free health care, takeovers of the working collectives – these are some of the things we consider as examples of fighting for equality. The trap that must be avoided is setting a goal that does not concern all members of a collective. In spite of differences of opinion, different affinities etc, it is crucial to insist that everyone be included. Everyone has to feel invited to participate. If that is not the case, if certain members of the collective are excluded from the very beginning, the likelihood of the action’s success is greatly reduced.

After the goal has been defined, the group of initiators needs to promote it. We used posters to promote our ideas. Handing out pamphlets that discuss important issues for the collective is another good way to encourage people to start reflecting on matters that concern them. The next step is to confirm that these actions have been successful. The ideal way to do that would be to organize a public discussion featuring a few well-know speakers who support the goal. The issues that were the subjects of the posters and pamphlets should be discussed at that event. The response to the discussion would be a good indicator of the number of interested individuals. The discussion would also be useful for motivational purposes as it can and should be used to clear up certain issues as well as to encourage those who might still be undecided. We could say that, after the goal has been set and actions have been taken to promote it, a public discussion would provide a real indicator of the current situation and a guide for further actions.

5. Two scenarios

After the public discussion, the situation could develop in either of two directions. The first one is the positive one. The discussion was a success; a large number of interested people was present, ready to go to action. The initial actions have been successful and now it is time to move on to the next phase, which is broadening the initial group of organizers to include all interested participants. This process has a specific dynamic to which we shall return later. First we must address a more challenging issue: what to do in case of a bad turnout at the public discussion or in case of fervent disagreement or attempted obstruction of the action.

So let us try and describe the second possible development. Again, the situation could develop in two different ways. In the first one, the public discussion went unnoticed. Obviously, a mistake was made in one of the first two steps: either in the setting of the goal or in the promotion of it. Therefore it is necessary to analyze what had been done, learn from the experience and correct any possible mistakes. Believing that the action should be abandoned because the community is apathetic or the moment is not right often turns out to be a premature and hasty conclusion. Starting an action is often the critical point after which the difficult part of the work has already been done and the rest is, often, just a matter of choosing the adequate tactical approach.

What needs to be done in case there is disagreement or obstruction?

Disagreement usually means that the turnout at the public discussion was not bad and that a certain success has been achieved. Disagreements are to be expected and should not be avoided. One could even say that this type of development is a positive outcome of initial actions, and is a result of a successful beginning. The process of discussing and resolving differences is something we shall elaborate in the chapters that describe the situation on our faculty. Before that, we shall consider an especially interesting issue of obstruction. Obstruction can usually be expected from the administrative structures and their devotees, who try to thwart all forms of self-organizing. This is something that was encountered at a number of faculties that started the occupations following FHSS. The basic problem there was the lack of time for quality preparations, as well as lack of organizational experience and positive practices in the past. Still, an obstruction is a clear indicator that the action has had a certain effect and that the scope of the action has to be broadened since the obstructions are a valid threat only to insufficiently organized movements. To an organized and self-aware movement obstructions will often ‘help’ to mobilize previously inert parts of the collective.

However, let us return now to the first development, which unfolded during the occupation and takeover of our faculty.

6. The Beginning Was Successful, What Next?

A large number of people showed up at the public discussion, meeting or some other kind of assembly. Obviously, there is interest in the issues. What are the next organizational steps?

It is necessary to organize a meeting with all interested participants in order to discuss the strategy and further actions. The organizers must not fail to take advantage of the initial enthusiasm and increase the number of participants. However, the starting point should be a discussion on the goal of the action and the method of achieving it. Until there is agreement on these issues, it is not possible to move on to the next, practical organizational phase. It has already been briefly described what the goal should be like. What about the method? The method is the occupation and legitimization through direct democracy. From our experience, people are at first opposed because of ignorance or fear or because they have certain wrong, preconceived ideas which they had acquired through the media or through institutional education. But it is astonishing how quickly the people will rise to support the fight for basic human rights and direct democratic manner of decision making if these are explained with clear arguments and positive experiences from real life. By adopting the direct democratic model of decision making the organizational matrix of the action is set. In that situation it also becomes clear what it means exactly that “decisions made by the plenum are binding for all”.

After the participants have accepted the direct democratic model and the goal, supported by all members of the collective, has been formulated, it can be said that two basic components for the organization of a plenum are present. This, of course, implies that all previously described actions were done in a relative secrecy which will be ended at the moment of the occupation and subsequent takeover of the institution (working, educational or some other). In order for the plenum to be fully functional, it has to be completely public. In other words, everyone who might want to participate (and has a right to, in accordance with the model of participation set by the particular plenum), needs to know where and when the plenum is held.

What is left to be described is the third basic component of organizing a plenum, which becomes important after the first two have been formed, i.e. at the moment when there are clear indications of the future plenum. The issue in question is the issue of the relationship with the media and the closely related issue of leadership.

7. The Question of Leadership and Relations with the Media

Clearly, a non-hierarchical, direct democratic model of decision making completely eliminates the need for leaders, ‘expert’ negotiators and representatives. It is extremely important that the movement decides on the question of leadership at the very beginning. In the plenum model of organization the decisions are made collectively; there are no representatives, which means that there can neither be prominent individuals who would aspire to be the voice of the movement. It is of utmost importance to suppress the ‘leadership tendencies” from the very beginning. This should be done at the beginning because it is often hard to erase the first impression that is made as it leaves an imprint that is hard to get rid of – both internally, within the movement itself, and in the public perception. Leaders and the dangers they bring are easier to prevent than to annul once they have gained some weight in public perception and have become potentially outside of the control of the plenum.

The first real tests appear when it comes to dealing with the media. It is usually presumed that occupations and takeovers require professional spokespersons, i.e. one or more persons that will communicate with journalists. But this practice must be abandoned if one does not want the action to be personalized or the function of the plenum overshadowed by privileged spokespersons. The most efficient way to avoid these dangers is to preserve the anonymity of all members of the collective. The anonymity is a great defence against the formation of leaders – if the individuals who present the views of the collective in public are anonymous and never the same, there is no possibility of an individual standing out amongst the many and becoming a representative of the whole movement. Needless to say, this method of continuous rotation of members in public also leaves an impression of the strength of the movement.

A common opinion is that media attention can be gained only by playing by the rules set by the media, which mostly means submitting to the logics of the supply and demand of spectacles of personal stories and indiscreetness. Even purely politically motivated actions need to be translated into personal narratives and schematic ‘human motivation’ stories, supposedly in order to guarantee a better reception in the public. In this way the action’s political aspect itself is sacrificed at the moment of its public articulation. An emancipatory movement must be progressive in all aspects of its actions which includes the media relations as well. What the media want from the movement is unimportant; what is important is the message the movement is trying to convey. It has been shown that the most efficient way to coerce the media to convey the message as intended is by completely avoiding the personalized spectacle and by insistently controlling the articulation of the action’s goals by means of written press releases.

It is necessary to reject the mistaken belief that a movement cannot succeed unless it has leaders and employs a conventional approach to the media. Just the opposite, it can be argued that amongst the major strengths of our movement were our specific media strategy and a complete lack of leaders.

Different spokespersons every day, carefully prepared press releases and the fact that we insisted on the importance of the collective averted two serious dangers: the impositions of leaders and media instrumentalization.

8. Plenum: 1, 2, 3

What did the plenary sessions themselves look like? The first issue that needed to be addressed was the question of the moderator, i.e. the person that would in a way mediate and coordinate the happenings at a plenary session. It was decided that two moderators would be needed to facilitate the functioning of the plenum since the sessions were expected to be well visited. The role of the moderator was reduced to that of minimal technical contribution – the moderator’s tasks are to help during the preparation of the daily agenda and to observe the order in which participants at the session are allowed to speak. That means that the moderator does not have the powers usually given to persons in that position. He is not above the plenum; his task is simply to implement a minimal set of rules devised by the plenum.

The rules and guidelines of the FHSS plenum (which define how the plenum and plenary sessions function) are a reflection of practical problems we have encountered. We would like to emphasize that these are not rules that must be valid for all circumstances and situations. They are essential procedural rules agreed upon and followed by the plenum, but can be changed by the plenum at any time if necessary. Naturally, this does not mean that the plenum functions according to obscure and arbitrary rules. The plenum has to follow democratic principles at all times, which means that any form of compulsion (bar the ‘compulsion’ to follow the plenum’s decisions) is entirely unacceptable.

Over time, we have come up with certain technical solutions that significantly facilitate the functioning of the plenum. One such is the rule that a member may speak only if he or she holds the microphone – in this way, the participants learn not to interrupt the speakers but to wait until they get the microphone themselves. It has been shown that the use of microphone has a positive effect on the flow and manner of discussions at the plenary sessions. Another important innovation is projecting the minutes onto a wall during a plenary session, so that everybody can read them as they are being written. The minute-keeping is thus completely transparent, which eliminates the possibility of a mistake or manipulation by the minute-taker.

9. Controversial Issues and the Function of Working Groups

The plenary model of decision making is often criticized because it is allegedly illegitimate, orchestrated (claiming that the decisions are made beforehand), and because more skilled orators have a disproportionately higher influence on it. The question of legitimacy is easily countered. The plenum is open to everyone, every session is announced well in advance, everyone has the right to speak and influence the process of decision making.

For practical reasons, because it was not possible to discuss all topics in great detail at the plenary sessions, the concept of working groups was introduced as a means of dealing with particular issues. The meetings of working groups were always publicly announced in advance and are also open to all interested participants. If a problematic issue arises during a plenary session, the advocates of opposing opinions are always encouraged to form a working group and try to find a platform that would offer a satisfying resolution to the issue in question.

The greatest problem is the third issue, namely the comparative advantage of those more talkative and more skilled orators. We have to honestly say that we have not resolved this problem; the only solution is to constantly appeal to those who speak often to be responsible, not to repeat themselves and not to privatize the plenum. It should also be mentioned that the working groups functioned as a kind of workshops where one could, in a smaller group, practice speaking in public and accepting different opinions, which contributed to the group cohesion. Encouraging unrestricted forming of working groups, which can (but need not) function as the plenum’s advisory organs, has proved an excellent supplement to the plenary sessions.

10. Conclusions

The basic criteria for organizing a plenum:

a) Setting the goal
b) Direct democratic method of decision making
c) Media relations strategy
d) Suppressing leadership and authoritarianism

The combination of these four criteria should result in:

a) many people joining in
b) the formation of a strong plenum
c) opening a public discussion about the problem that the action is focused on
d) a step forward towards realizing the set goal

The Plenum

The plenum exists only in those moments when members of a collective are taking part in the general assembly we call the plenum. There are no plenum members. There are only plenum participants. Outside that act of assembling in one place, discussing and making decisions, there is no plenum. The plenum is not a formal body like a parliament that has its own building and employees – the plenum does not constitute the collective, the collective constitutes the plenum.

The Functioning of the Plenum

Technical Personnel

The technician – prepares the microphone, the sound system and other technical equipment used at the plenary sessions. Technical personnel arrive at the lecture hall ten minutes before the session is to start, in order to plug in and test the sound system, the computers and other necessary equipment.

Two moderators – they moderate the plenum, read out the agenda, moderate the discussion, summarize the arguments and formulate the questions that the plenum will vote on.

The minute-keeper – s/he is in charge of keeping the minutes of every plenary session. During the sessions, the minutes are projected onto a wall and are thus visible to all plenum participants. After the plenum, the minute-keeper uses the rough draft of the minutes to compile a session report which is published on the plenum’s official website. Thus all those who were unable to participate at the session can still be informed about the discussions and decisions made. The minute-keeper is also in charge of keeping track of how long the discussions last – after thirty minutes of discussing one particular topic, the minute-keeper informs the moderators that they may interrupt the discussion and ask the participants if they wish to continue with the discussion, move on to vote or to discuss other issues. The minute-keeper also arrives some time before the plenary session is to begin, in order to prepare the materials needed – documents, videos etc.

One person is in charge of registering the order in which participants have asked to speak (it is recommended that there be two persons in charge of this at sessions with more than 200 participants).

It is also necessary that a number of security guards be present at a plenary session – their tasks are to maintain order during the session, pass on the microphone and count the votes. They also pass on written messages from the plenum participants to the moderators.

The plenum’s agenda is compiled at the meeting of the plenum technical issues working group, which takes place two hours before the plenary session. All clearly formulated suggestions sent to the working group via e-mail are included into the agenda (suggestions for the agenda can also be made by other means defined by the plenum, depending on technical possibilities, for instance by putting written suggestions into a suggestion box etc). The working group’s meetings are, of course, open to all interested parties. At the group’s pre-plenum meeting, the moderators of the upcoming plenary session are prepared for their role (preparation is necessary because new moderators are chosen for every session). In general, the moderators of the previous plenary session should also be present at this pre-plenum meeting.

Insisting on having different moderators for every plenary session comes from the very idea of direct democracy, which emphasizes egalitarianism and equal sharing of responsibility. It is also one way of getting a wider circle of people to participate more actively in the plenum. How often moderators are allowed to reprise their role depends on the size of the collective.

The Course of the Plenum

The moderators greet the plenum, introduce themselves and the session begins. At the beginning, one of the moderators reads the first article of the plenum rules and guidelines. After that, the moderators read out the agenda, note any possible objections to it and modify the agenda if necessary (the agenda does not need to be voted on).

The first item on the agenda are announcements and notifications. These topics are usually not voted on and the journalists are allowed to tape and photograph this part of the session. Announcements and notifications include various information that has been received via e-mail since the last plenary session, or news related to actions that involve the plenum, the Faculty, the general social situation etc. After the announcements, the moderators ask the media to stop recording the session.

Following the agenda, the moderators read out the materials or give the floor to members submitting reports on various working groups’ meeting and actions. The working groups’ reports are submitted first, and afterwards the plenum moves on to discuss particular topics that have been included in the agenda (that is, the topics that were submitted via e-mail before the beginning of the plenary session – although occasionally topics that are not on the agenda can be introduced in the middle of the session, if necessary). During the student control of the faculty, the regular (final) topic on the agenda is the issue of ‘the continuation/ending of the occupation’. A vote can be held after every item on the agenda is discussed, but it is not always necessary. Sometimes, after one item more than one vote can be held. Some topics can be referred to the working groups for further elaboration and the voting on them postponed. Every decision of the plenum can be changed at the very next plenum.

After an item on the agenda is presented, participants can open a discussion on the subject which may last for 30 minutes before moderators ask the plenum if it wishes to end the discussion (before doing so, the moderators give a summary of the discussion up until that point and inform the plenum of what will follow if the discussion is ended: if the plenum will move on to another item on the agenda, vote on this item, or something else). Before the plenum votes on whether to continue the discussion, those members who had already expressed their desire to speak should be given the chance to do so. Technical personnel’s task is to register the order in which participants have asked to speak and to pass on the microphone to the person who’s turn is next. The moderators are required to warn the plenum if certain arguments are being repeated and they should also, from time to time, summarize the arguments made so far. For a better overview of the flow of the discussion, it would also be useful if the minute-keeper would write down the arguments.

If it comes to a vote, one of the moderators or any participant of the plenum suggests the form of the question which will be voted on and which needs to be written on the screen, visible to all participants. The question has to be formulated in a way that participants may vote in favor, against, or cast an abstention vote. If necessary, the question can be formulated in the form of a multiple choice question (a, b, c, d…) and the plenum then votes for/against all of the options. If there are no objections to the formulation of the question, i.e. if the plenum agrees on the formulation of the question, the vote is held. Voting is by show of hands, and if the results of the vote are not apparent, the security guards count the votes. During the counting, no one is allowed to enter or leave the hall.

At the end of the session, the participants choose the date the next session will be held, the moderators and, if necessary, delegates. Only those present at the plenum can be suggested for the roles of moderators and delegates. Those who have been suggested must accept the nomination and the plenum must approve them by voting.

After the plenary session has finished, the moderators must not leave before they obtain the contact information from persons who have been elected as moderators and delegates. Every session is moderated by two new moderators, and individuals may moderate only one plenary session in the academic year. The minute-taker sends the minutes via e-mail to the plenum technical issues working group (in order for them to be able to refer later to the decisions made by the plenum) and writes a report of the plenum which is published on the plenum’s official website.

The Rules and Guidelines of the FHSS Plenum

The Rules and Guidelines of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Plenum

The purpose of this document is not to formalize or codify the plenum but to help its functioning. Therefore, it is subject to suggestions, criticisms or improvements which can be sent via e-mail to the plenum technical issues working group. All suggestions that are received will be discussed at the group’s public meetings and at the plenary sessions.

A) Rules

1. All interested people have the right to participate in the plenum – whether they are students of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences or not. The plenum makes its decisions by the relative majority of the votes during which the plenum tries to achieve consensus. The discussion before the vote is held in a respectable and orderly fashion according to the rules and guidelines set by the plenum, and which are implemented by the moderators. The decisions made by the plenum are binding for all.

2. Plenary sessions are held when necessary, or at least once a month. The time and date of the next plenary session is decided by all the participants at the session. An extraordinary plenary session can be called by the plenum technical issues working group at the suggestion of any working group or individual. The plenum technical issues working group must hold a meeting to discuss and decide on holding an extraordinary plenary session, and the time and the topic of this meeting must be publicly announced (via the official website, notice boards at the faculty etc) at least 24 hours in advance. The time and date of the extraordinary plenary session must be announced at the website at least 24 hours in advance as well.

3. The technical personnel of the plenum includes:
a. security guards and their coordinator
b. the minute keeper
c. the technician (a person in charge of taking care of the microphones, loudspeakers, computers, the projector etc.)
d. a person in charge of registering the order in which participants have asked to speak
e. a person in charge of reading written suggestions that participants send during the course of the plenum

4. Every plenary session is moderated by two new moderators, with the condition that a person may take on the role of the plenum moderator only once per academic year. Individuals who are not eligible to be moderators (having already performed that function in the current academic year) may be elected as spokespersons, and the opposite is true also. In principle, when electing individuals to perform these functions, preference is given to individuals who have not yet performed either. Before moderators and spokespersons are elected by the plenum, it is necessary to ask if there are any comments or objections regarding the candidates.

5. During the plenary session, only technical personnel (listed in rule 3.) are allowed to sit at the table next to the moderators. Nobody else has the right to sit at the head table. The plenum agrees that technical personnel need not rotate or be elected, although this option remains available if need arises. Both the moderators and the technical personnel can voice their opinions at the plenum under same conditions as everyone else – by asking to speak and waiting their turn.

6. The working groups that are crucial for the functioning of the plenum, like the plenum technical issues working group, have to be reachable at all times and thus need to have: a) their e-mail address posted on the official website, b) a clearly marked room at the Faculty where they meet, c) a meeting time in between two plenary sessions announced on the website 24 hours in advance.
The groups should reply to received e-mails in a reasonable timeframe, for example, within two days.

7. The plenum technical issues working group is responsible for the technical preparation of plenary sessions, which includes:

a. coordinating technical personnel listed under rule 3.
b. instructing the moderators on the rules and guidelines of the plenum, on previous decisions made by the plenum and on how to compile the agenda
c. calling extraordinary plenary sessions.

The basis of the plenum technical issues working group is formed by the moderators of the previous and the next plenary session, and everyone else interested in participating. Apart from holding a meeting in between plenary session, the group is also required to hold a meeting on the day of the plenary session.

8. The suggestions for the agenda need to be sent no later than 24 hours before the plenary session. The agenda is compiled by the plenum moderators on the day of the session, during the meeting of the plenum technical issues working group. We would like to emphasize that the meeting is open to all interested people. A suggestion that was not sent in time, but which a plenum member believes is too important not to be included, can be suggested at the plenary session after the moderators have read out the agenda. In order for this late suggestion to be included in the agenda, the member needs to explain why s/he was not able to send the suggestion in time and why it is important that it be discussed at that particular session. If there are suggestions that were received in time but were not included in the agenda, the moderators are required to explain why this was so.

9. The discussion is held after every item on the agenda is read out. If no members are interested in the discussion, a vote can be held immediately.

10. Before any delegates are sent to an event, the plenum has to discuss if there is any need to send delegates. What functions delegates are expected to perform is not crucial – what is important is what functions the plenum is willing to allow them to perform. If the plenum decides to send delegates, the following requirements have to be met:

a. The plenum must clearly define the delegates’ mandate.
b. If there is more than one meeting, different delegates should be present at different meetings.

When it comes to electing delegates:

a. There is no limit to the number of possible candidates.
b. The candidates have to be present at the plenum and accept the candidacy.
c. Arguments for and against a candidate need to be allowed.
d. Future delegates have to be confirmed by a vote.

11. A decision should not be overturned at the same plenary session it was made at, unless in case of a procedural error or of additional crucial information coming to light.

B) Guidelines

1. Plenary sessions are moderated by two moderators; one follows the discussion and summarizes the arguments approximately every ten minutes. Meanwhile, the other performs other moderating duties, for example: s/he invites members to refrain from speaking if the argument they wish to present has already been presented by another speaker, or reminds them to shorten their argumentation if they have been speaking too long, etc. The moderators take turns summarizing the arguments made during the discussion.

2. Before asking ‘Does the plenum wish to end the discussion?’ the moderators must summarize the discussion so far and announce what will follow if the plenum decides to end the discussion. Therefore, the question moderators ask should be ‘Does the plenum wish to end the discussion and move on to the next item on the agenda?’ or Does the plenum wish to end the discussion and vote about (the topic)?’ Moderators must allow for at least 30 minutes of discussion before asking the plenum if it wishes to end it.

3. The person who suggested an item for the agenda should, if possible, when presenting the topic also formulate the question that the plenum will vote on. Any participant of the plenum may formulate the question, not just the moderators. The minute keeper should not influence the formulation of the question. Before the vote, the question needs to be clearly defined and, preferably, displayed on the screen, blackboard or the wall. The vote should not be held until the complete question is written and displayed for everyone to see. Once the question is formulated, before the vote, the moderators ask: ‘Does anyone wish to comment on the formulation of the question or object to the procedure before the vote?’

4. All decisions made at previous plenary sessions are compiled so that moderators can use them to adequately prepare for their tasks. The minute taker should be the one who compiles plenum’s decisions.

5. Technical advice for moderators: one should be calm, restrained and objective; refrain from abruptly interrupting off topic discussions; not be condescending towards participants; refrain from enforcing one’s own conclusions upon the plenum; above all avoid any form of authoritarianism; employing humor is welcome etc. If participants suggest topics for the agenda that have been discussed before, these should be addressed at the beginning of the session, during announcements. Recurring topics need not be included in the agenda, but if a topic is not included, this should always be announced transparently in the introductory part of the plenary session.

6. Participants who present reports from various working groups leave their seats and stand in front of the plenum to do so, after which they go back to their seats from where they answer questions.

7. The basic structure of the agenda:
a. Reading out the agenda – during which moderators also explain why some suggestions were not included and give participants the opportunity to suggest an urgent topic that they were unable to send in in time;
b. Announcements;
c. Reports from the working groups;
d. Current issues – includes topics suggested for discussion;
e. Setting the time for the next plenary session and electing moderators and spokespersons;
f. Miscellaneous – suggestions, comments, news and similar items that have been received in writing during the plenary session.

During b. and f. there is no voting.

8. Successful functioning of the plenum will require:
– at least two microphones (one for the moderators and a wireless one for the discussion) ;
– loudspeakers;
– a computer;
– video-wall/projector so that the participants can read the plenum minutes while they are being written and so that the voting question can be clearly displayed for all to see before the vote is held.

9. If the decision is not clear, i.e. if there are many abstentions or if the number of those in favor and those against is close, the moderators ask if the plenum needs to discuss whether to accept the voting results. The next step is to ask: ‘Does the plenum accept the results of the vote?’

C) Annex

  • The rules are binding while the guidelines are merely advisory. Every guideline may become a rule if the plenum so decides. The addition of new guidelines is welcomed. New rules should be added with caution in order to avoid excessive formalization of the plenum.
  • All presented rules and guidelines have been discussed at the plenum technical issues working group and at the plenum itself.

Code of Conduct During the Student Control of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

  1. During the student control over the FHSS, entrance into the Faculty is allowed to everyone according to the Faculty rules that normally apply. Nobody has the right to prevent in any way Faculty staff from coming to work. The only activities that will be obstructed without exceptions are the classes. The faculty teaching staff will be prevented to hold lectures, seminars and exams in lecture rooms and halls. On the other hand, they are free to hold consultation hours, exams, etc., in their offices.
  2. All active participants in the occupation of the Faculty, as well as visitors and employees, will treat each other and the Faculty staff and property with utmost respect and will try not to jeopardize anyone or damage anything.
  3. Only the student security has the right to physically prevent someone from doing something, but even these interventions must be conducted in as peaceful and non-violent fashion as possible. Others are only allowed to join the security in an intervention if the security guards decide that they cannot control a given situation on their own and ask others for help.
  4. Everyone must obey the guards’ instructions without complaining. During the occupation, the freedom of movement at the Faculty will be restricted, and we must all understand that this restriction is necessary for the success of the action.
  5. All laws of the Republic of Croatia and the regulations of the FHSS that ban the consumption of illegal drugs and alcohol at the Faculty premises will be enforced without exceptions.
  6. If you see someone breaking the rules, you should warn them not to do it. If they persist, you need to report them to the nearest guard, who will act in accordance with the guards’ duties.
  7. In case of a police intervention at the Faculty we will use passive resistance. If the police arrive, everyone should sit down on the floor and refuse to move. If provoked in any way, they must not respond with violence, whether physical or verbal. The only way to remove the protesters is to carry them away.
  8. All decisions concerning the further functioning of the student control over the faculty, the continuation of the occupation, the changing of the program or the code of conduct etc., will be decided at the plenary sessions in accordance with the rules and guidelines of the FHSS plenum.
  9. During the student control of the faculty, plenary sessions are held on a daily basis.

The Plenum Minutes

What are plenum minutes for?

  • They serve to inform all those who were not able to participate at a plenary session about what was discussed and voted;
  • It is very useful to have in writing everything that the plenum voted on: as many decisions are made over time it becomes impossible to remember everything (or some things are remembered incorrectly) so it is necessary to consult minutes from old sessions;
  • If the minutes are displayed on a wall via a projector the participants can follow the discussions more easily.

Technical suggestions:

  • The minute taker should use a laptop or a computer to take minutes as this facilitates archiving and later use of the minutes;
  • If possible, the computer should be connected to a projector which should display the minutes in such a way that they are clearly visible to all participants. It would be best if the minutes were displayed on a wall above or beside the moderator (if the minutes are projected onto a wall, all participants will be able to read them and thus control the minute keeper and intervene if necessary).

How to take plenum minutes?

Every record must contain:

  • The date, for example: The minutes from the May 26th 2009 plenary session.
  • The time when the session began and when it ended.
    After the session ends, the minute taker checks the time and at the end of the minutes writes: The session was concluded at 11.56 pm.
  • An estimate of how many people were present (not always necessary).
  • The session’s agenda: the minute taker writes down the session’s agenda, which was prepared by the moderators, at the beginning of the minutes. If the minutes are being projected onto a wall, this part of the session’s minutes needs to be displayed before the session begins so that the participants may comment or make an objection.
  • After the session begins the minute taker simply follows the session’s agenda and the moderators: s/he writes down every agenda item in the form of a title, and records the happenings at the session related to it. For example:
    • Item 2 of the agenda: reviewing the new draft of the law
      The contents of the new draft of the law were presented to the plenum…
  • It is not necessary to write down everything that is said but it is useful to write down the main arguments of the discussion. For example:
    • Some plenum participants point out that this draft of the new law is unacceptable because it does not apply to part-time students…
  • After the moderators open the discussion, the minute taker needs to write down at what time the discussion started. For example: The discussion started at 8.16 p.m.
    After 30 minutes the minute taker signals to the moderators that half an hour has passed since the beginning of the discussion.
  • If certain documents are needed for a discussion, the minute taker opens and displays the documents on the screen when instructed to do so. Additional documents are made available to the minute taker before the plenum begins and it is best to open them straight away and have them ready to be displayed.
  • After the voting question is formulated, the minute taker writes it down so the plenum participants could comment on it if they wish so.
    It is not the minute taker’s task to formulate the question but s/he can make suggestions.
  • the minute taker must not forget to write down the result of the vote!
    Unless the situation requires, or the moderators ask specifically, it is not necessary to write down the exact number of votes in favor and against and the number of abstentions.

Tips and tricks:

  • It’s best to copy and paste the session’s agenda below the original one, and leave spaces in between the topics on the second list – and then proceed to write down what is being said in those spaces between each item. That way, whenever the plenum finishes discussing (and voting on) an item on the agenda, the minute taker is ready to move on to another one without the need to scroll back to the top of the document to copy the title of the next item. This is useful since the plenum can sometimes move on to another topic quite fast.
  • The agenda should not contain the names of the participants of the plenum.
    The exceptions to this rule are: contact persons, delegates, spokespersons and moderators of the next plenary session (but in these cases, only names or nicknames are given, but not surnames). It is allowed to write the names of public persons in the minutes.
  • The minute taker should not panic if s/he is not sure if something is important enough to be included in the minutes – s/he should rely on her/his instinct and, if still in doubt, it is always better to write something down. Also, the minute taker can always rely on plenum participants to correct or add to the minutes.
  • The minute taker should take note of the suggestions made by the plenum participants.
  • It is useful to have a person sitting next to the minute taker and helping her/him with formulations, reading information from paper documents, remembering what needs to be written down (e.g. e-mail addresses, telephone numbers) when the minute taker doesn’t have time to do all that by herself/himself etc.
  • It is OK for the minute taker to be funny from time to time but s/he must not be frivolous and s/he should not privatize his/her position or put himself/herself above the plenum by adding personal comments to the minutes.

Delegates and Mandates

The plenum is a political subject which makes decisions in a direct democratic manner, by the majority of the votes of all present participants. It is at the same time a platform that articulates the will of the majority, and its symbolic representative. All political decisions are made collectively and are binding for all. That is why the plenum cannot be represented by anybody besides the plenum itself. It does not need representational structures, bureaucracy or administrative bodies to make decisions in its name.

However, plenum decisions regularly have to be either implemented in practice or made known in circumstances which do not permit the participation of a greater number of people. That is why it is necessary to pass the responsibility for the implementation and communication of decisions to few individual participants or smaller groups concerned with a concrete issue. There are two functions that enable this: delegates and mandates.


During the student occupations of the faculty, as well as afterwards, there were frequently situations where the plenum’s decisions had to be communicated or explained to various individuals, organizations, collectives etc. The plenum was often invited to present its political goal and the action itself at various round tables, conferences, other faculties, in front of various organizations and citizen groups. Also, during the occupations, there was often the need for more direct communication and a more detailed transfer of information between different plenums. Less frequently, there were also calls to participate in closed meetings with prospective political allies.

In these kinds of situations, the plenum first has to decide if it will even establish a connection to any of these different organizations, after which it chooses the delegates who will be in charge of that. Because the idea of individuals representing the plenum poses a very delicate problem, and because of all the implications of establishing connections with organizations of different profiles, it was always necessary to discuss in detail if the delegates are at all needed (or if it would suffice to simply send a letter, for example) and, if they were, to define precisely their powers and duties. Regardless of the differences of the delegates’ tasks and powers in particular situations, one thing was always the same: THE DELEGATES HAVE NO RIGHT TO MAKE DECISIONS IN THE PLENUM’S NAME. They can act solely as conveyors of information and, when they speak in the plenum’s name, they are limited by the boundaries of the plenum’s decisions (which is why they need to be familiar with these decisions in detail). The delegates should always be very careful and should avoid making presumptions about the outcomes of discussions that have not yet been held at the plenum. If they are asked their opinion about something the plenum has not yet decided on, they have to decline answering, in case their individual opinion is mistaken for that of the plenum. Also, and not less importantly, the delegates are obliged to submit a detailed report to the plenum regarding their activities and convey all information they managed to gather.


Mandates are given to individuals or groups so they could implement plenum’s decisions in practice. As opposed to the one-time duty as a delegate, mandates are often permanent and are given to groups of individuals in charge of doing tasks that need to be done frequently and/or continuously. These tasks include such activities as writing press releases, administrating the web site, communicating with the faculty administration, conceiving art performances etc. Same as with the delegates’ duties, the mandates have to be precisely defined. However, the individuals to whom mandates are given have the liberty to make the final decisions on how they will perform their tasks in plenum’s name; in other words, they have a certain amount of freedom of creativity and individual assessment. This introduces the possibility of manipulation which is why the plenum can at any time withdraw a mandate that was given. Any group’s mandate can be raised as a subject for discussion at the plenum at all times and the plenum will withdraw the mandate, if there are persuasive enough reasons for it to do so.

Regardless of the fact that groups who were given mandates are allowed a certain amount of liberty in their actions, they have no right to act on their own unless the plenum approves it. For example, during the student occupations, press releases were written on a (near) daily basis even though the plenum didn’t vote on that issue every day. Now, after the occupations have been suspended, whether plenum will react to any event by issuing a press release is first discussed at the plenum, after which the authorized individuals may write up the press release, preferably at a group meeting that will be open to all interested persons.

A mandate, as well as the delegate’s duty, can also be a one-time job, like the role of a plenum moderator or a spokesperson.

The Media Strategy, the Media Team and the Media Working Group

The Media Strategy

The main goal of the media strategy was to clearly present the students’ demands to the public, i.e. to clearly present the demand for free education. However, this was purposely not done in the usual manner, which consists of indulging the media and their tendencies towards sensationalism and spectacle. Therefore, the media strategy was often met with journalists’ disbelief and misunderstanding, especially at the beginning, but it was also praised as innovative. Because the media could not be relied upon to be benevolent or supportive of student demands, all public statements had to be as precise as possible and to the maximum possible extent immune to distortions or to being taken out of context.

The most important trait of the media strategy was depersonalization. That means there were no professional spokespersons and no one was allowed to represent the plenum in the media (to make statements in the plenum’s name) under their own name. It was suggested that even unofficial statements given to the media (in one’s own name, not the plenum’s) should be anonymous. The reason for this was not because students feared possible sanctions, but rather because they wanted to emphasize the collectivity of the action and the general demands which concern not individuals but the society in general. This was also a way to avoid creating leaders and recognizable individuals who might avert the media’s attention from the action and its goals, reducing it to a vehicle for turning several “leading” students into new media stars. This concept of the media strategy was directly related to the direct democratic method by which the plenum and the student occupation functioned. Since there were no leaders and all decisions were made collectively, by the majority of votes, it was logical that there should be no professional spokespersons to represent the students in public. The continuous rotation of spokespersons (as well as delegates and plenum moderators) served to ensure that the plenum is the collective and only political subject of the action.

This is the reason why the plenum elects three new spokespersons to represent it at every press conference (which were held daily during the occupation). Same as plenum moderators, spokespersons are not allowed to reprise their role. The plenum also elects a one-time delegate (always a different person) whose task is to convey the plenum’s message if there is a need for a public appearance (in front of specific organizations, public gatherings, the media and so on). Such public appearances in the plenum’s name have to be approved by the plenum. The students were, of course, always allowed to give statements in their own name to the media, but the appeal was always made to follow the principle of depersonalization in those cases as well: it was recommended that they do not tell their names to the media. On several occasions, the plenum discussed whether to send delegates to particular live TV-shows, but on every occasion it decided not to as it concluded that this would not fit the media strategy and would diminish the plenum’s control over the public presentation of the action‘s goals.

Besides preserving anonymity in the media, the important task was to make sure that this explicitly politically motivated action is not reduced to individual personal emotional stories, impressions or emotions. The mode of public appearance was conceived in direct opposition to the dominant tabloid logic that depoliticizes political events by exploiting them in the media, using them as an excuse to produce generically predetermined narratives, starting with the genre of the student rebellion as politically necessarily confused and naïve youthful ’spring cleaning’. This was how the media approached the student occupations, expecting the students to merely delegate necessary faces which would then ‘sincerely’ act out their predetermined role in front of the cameras. This refusal to emphasize the micro perspective of the so-called ‘human stories’ stems from the fact that the broader social and political dimensions of our efforts would have become incomprehensible by accepting the confessional first person mode and the obligations of presenting diffuse, generically predetermined impressions. Within such parameters, its self-conscious political articulation would have necessarily been reduced to redundant ‘intellectualistic’ ballast.

In charge of the media relations was the media team, to which the plenum had given the mandate, confirmed on several occasions. Students communicated with the media in various ways – journalists called the media team phone number (various rotating anonymous members of the media team were in charge of answering phone calls), via e-mail and the web-portal Free FHSS etc. The main means of communication, however, were the press conferences that took place every day during the occupation (at every press conference different spokespersons represented the students). At the press conferences the spokespersons would read out the daily press release, which reported the plenum’s decisions, further explain the demand for free education and answer various questions and problems if any were brought up. After reading out the press release, the spokespersons would answer journalists’ questions, confining their answers to the decisions plenum had made so far.

It needs to be said that the language of the press releases did not conform to the usual journalistic style and manner of writing. That was a conscious decision that served to avoid the usual media empty phrases, clichés and stereotypes. The language of the press releases purposefully avoids the ideology of communication which currently dominates not only the marketing sphere, from where it was directly taken, but also the field of party politics. It is the ideology that addresses the recipient in an attempt to produce as direct as possible a consent to the demand directed to him/her, instead of addressing him as a full-fledged politically conscious being. In such strategies, the trivializations and simplifications are not only a welcome tool, but also a desirable professional standard. The final outcome of such logic is that, under the assumption of an incompetent public, the assumed incompetence is merely produced and deepened. Furthermore, it was important to us to place the issue of commercialization of education within the framework of wider social processes outside of which this issue cannot be fully understood. Even if it was not possible to fully explain this context in each particular press release, each of them nevertheless contained a sufficient number of signs and indicators which pointed towards the social macro perspective. This apparent ‘excess’ of information is what the dominant ideology of PR and communication strategies rejects as the noise in the channel and unnecessary complicating of the problem. The introduction of these indicators of the macro context and theoretically more dense spots stems directly from the fundamental belief in the possibility of politicization and political self-education of the democratic majority. A democracy which is not based on the assumption that the majority is capable of fully participating in a political process – and being adequately informed is a necessary assumption here – ceases to be a democracy and becomes a manipulation of the masses by the meritocratic minority. The political ‘immaturity’ of the masses, produced and maintained by the media, becomes in this scenario a cynical legitimation of paternalistic manipulations of those same privileged groups who owe their privileged status to these very manipulations in the first place.

The Media Team and the Media Working Group

The media team came into existence during the pre-occupation meetings, and has since then functioned as the mandated team in charge of media relations. Its mandate was confirmed at the large plenary sessions that took place during the occupation, and the media strategy itself was discussed at open workshops during the occupation. The media team needs to have the mandate to perform its tasks so as to be able to respond quickly when it comes to writing press releases and also to be able to have regular contacts with the media via phone, e-mail, etc. Beside the mandated media team there is also an open media working group that, like any other group, holds meetings that are open to all (during the occupation meetings are held on a daily basis, and in post-occupation times meetings are held when necessary, i.e. when the plenum calls for it). The media working group discusses the media strategy, suggests issues to which plenum should respond, topics which should be mentioned and similar.

During the occupations, due to existing circumstances, the press releases had to be written in a very short period of time – between the 12 o’clock news of the Croatian Radiotelevision TV channel, which informed of the latest events and the government’s statements, and the regular press conference that was held at 1 PM at the occupied faculty. The press releases are written at the regular meetings of the mandated media team in the following way: at the beginning, for practical reasons, everyone agrees on what exactly will be included in the press release (keeping in mind the discussions and decisions made at the plenum and the discussions at the working group’s meeting), and then one or two people come up with a rough draft of the text, which is then collectively edited. During the occupation the media team wrote daily press releases, as well as all other necessary correspondence (open letters, reactions to certain statements in the media, etc.). In addition, the media team was in constant contact with the media by telephone and e-mail. During the occupation, members of the media team would also frequently give anonymous statements, interviews, etc., which were, of course, within the parameters set by the plenum’s decisions. The media team also prepared press conferences during the occupation and coordinated the preparing of spokespersons. Also, the production of various publications and articles related to the initiative was largely coordinated at the media working group‘s meetings – 5do12 (’The Eleventh Hour’), educational brochures, FAQs, a selection of texts for Free FHSS and Skripta, etc.

The Team for Operational Tasks, Logistics and Security

This mandated team was established primarily for the purpose of implementing control over the Faculty during the student occupation. In addition to matters of security, this team is also in charge of securing basic conditions for holding plenary sessions, which includes preparing the technical equipment (the microphones, amplifier, computer, video projector, etc.) and maintaining order at the sessions.

The security guards form the basis on which the entire organization of control over the Faculty building and premises is built. The guards are student volunteers (during the first occupation, for tactical reasons, it was initially demanded that only students of the FHSS be allowed to be guards), who carry out the control over the Faculty during the occupation. The guards were organized in shifts (determined by the shift manager). Every guard was told when to report to duty and was assigned to monitor a specific part of the Faculty premises. There were guards on duty during both day and night, and they patrolled and secured not only the interior of the Faculty but also the ramp at the entrance to the Faculty parking lot (where cars were not allowed to park during the occupation). Several or more guards could patrol in one shift, depending on circumstances and how many were available. No professional security guards were employed and all participants of the occupation were encouraged to volunteer as guards for at least few shifts.

The guards’ duties included guarding the building and property, as well as cleaning and performing other activities that require physical involvement, such as moving things or setting up and removing obstacles and barricades where they are needed. Guards also, with the help of other students if needed, interrupted lectures if any professor tried to hold classes (which was a common occurrence at the beginning of the occupation). Interrupting classes was always done in a non-violent manner, usually by talking with the professor and his or her students or by making noise which made holding the class impossible. The guard’s duties did not end with the end of his or her shift. Whenever the guards on duty needed assistance it was expected from all other present members of the community to help. During the students’ control of the FHSS this help mostly included cleaning or interrupting the lectures.

The guards were positioned so that all of the strategic parts of the Faculty would be secured – the ramp at the parking lot, the entrance to the building, all of the corridors on all floors. It was necessary to control all parts of the Faculty in order to be able to successfully prevent any teacher’s attempt to hold classes as well as to prevent any attempt to steal the Faculty property or some other incident.

Regulating the guards’ shifts and organizing other tasks that this team is in charge of, is the responsibility of the team’s coordinators to whom the plenum had given the mandate to perform these tasks. The number of coordinators will depend on the number of tasks and their scope. If the initial group of coordinators has the mandate defined in these terms, they can appoint additional coordinators when needed (of course, the plenum has the power to annul their appointment). This practice has proved to be successful.

The guards and their coordinators also held control over all lecture rooms at the Faculty and had their keys, and they determined which rooms will be used for working groups’ meetings, which will be used as sleeping rooms, etc. Their activities also included the logistics – acquiring and delivering the required amount of food and beverages, its storage and preparation, as well as acquiring and delivering necessary materials.

It was thanks to this kind of organization that the student control over the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences was so successful. The Faculty was more open to the public than ever before, all citizens were free to come to the alternative lectures which the students organized in place of regular classes, all were allowed to sleep and eat at the Faculty, journalists could move around the building with a lot more freedom than they are normally allowed, all Faculty services operated without interference (the library, the bookstore, the canteen, the photocopy shop, the Faculty administration, Dean’s office, the department secretariats, etc.), two international symposia were held and theft and damage to property were reduced to zero, which is not the case when the Faculty operates as normal. No incidents were reported during the occupation.

The Program and the Program Team

The program that was organized at the Faculty during the occupation was a kind of alternative to regular classes. Before the occupation begun, the intention was to create a program which would give the students of our Faculty, whose days are normally filled with lectures, a platform to educate them and engage them in a dialogue about important issues concerning the system of higher education as well as about the broader social and political situation. Via lectures, workshops, films and concerts that were held throughout the day, we tried to provide the students, teachers and all interested citizens with a program that focused on different aspects of the problem of social inequality.

Believing that the higher education system is flawed in many aspects, we devoted the first week of alternative lectures to these fundamental problems. Thus the main topics of that week were ‘What is the price of the tuition fee?’, ‘Croatian education – general confusion,’ ‘Emancipatory education and social dimension of the Bologna Process’ and ‘Neo-liberalism, transition and economic democracy’. The issue of tuition fees in higher education system is just one of a number of social issues we considered to be neglected and insufficiently discussed in public. The occupation was, therefore, a unique opportunity to open a discussion on such topics.

Creating a diverse and extensive program took place on a daily basis. The program was being created in an unconventional manner – the program team received via e-mail suggestions from students, professors, intellectuals from various fields, NGOs, etc. All of them suggested topics for lectures, discussions and workshops they would like to see organized or were offering to hold themselves. At the same time the program team was actively looking for lecturers and experts on specific topics of general or narrow student interests.

Some of the issues featured in the program during the occupation were: the problems in the Croatian health care system, the issues of workers’ rights, censorship in the media, the commercialization of public space, transition, student movements in the region, the inequality of educational opportunities, and many others.

The Inter-plenary Working Group

The task of this group is to establish contact, communicate and hold meetings with students of various faculties for the purpose of: organizing and coordinating joint actions; exchanging information and knowledge related to organizing student occupations and achieving occupations’ goals; helping students of other faculties in organizing their own plenums and creating a network of student activists; resolving any problems and misunderstandings among students at different faculties either through direct communication, or through assistance in organizing discussions etc. The group also deals with issues that transcend individual plenums and concern the joint decisions of all plenums involved in the same action/struggle, while functioning as a communication channel, conveying information about events at other faculties, plenums and cities to the plenum.

Group meetings are open to everybody, but are mostly attended by students enrolled at different faculties. Students from other faculties who come to group meetings (their participation is not only desirable but essential ‒ the inter-plenary group makes no sense otherwise) are equal participants and have the opportunity to convey specific information about events at their plenary sessions or about other students and their faculties. In this way, through direct contact with colleagues from other faculties, is the process of bringing together individual plenums advanced. The conclusions of the inter-plenary group (concerning necessary actions, events, suggestions and requests related to other plenums) are conveyed to specific plenums. The group participants are not delegates and do not have the power to make decisions, and the same goes for the group itself. But the participants have the freedom to organize direct actions of organizational, operational and communicational character in order to improve coherence, organization and relations of different students and plenums. Due to the scope of the task, but primarily because of the desirability of maintaining permanent communication between different plenums, the group should meet regularly, preferably every day during the occupation, and at least once a week in the period between occupations.

Actions that the participants of the group can take at their own initiative, if such actions are necessary, include addressing the current problems and ambiguities relating to the method of organizing students during the occupation and the methods and goals of the occupation. This is done via direct communication (in person, by phone, e-mail, etc.) with interested students, by attending informal meetings at other universities or through other kinds of assistance in organizing activist student bases at other faculties. The group also helps to organize panel discussions and workshops with the aim of educating students and introducing the goals and methods of the action to hitherto less informed students. These actions are not performed officially on behalf of the plenum, but by each student personally, at the invitation of interested students of other faculties. In this sense, the inter-plenary working group represents a channel of direct communication and mutual education among students from different faculties with a common goal of spreading the knowledge and experiences of the objectives and methods of the fight (in addition to existing channels such as web-portals, brochures, newsletters, etc.).

The group also monitors student affairs outside of the country and presents useful and relevant information to the plenum. The group also organizes large meetings of student activists from across the state (and beyond), and is open for cooperation with potential non-student (worker, farmer, etc.) plenums.

The Plenum Technical Issues Working Group

This working group was created in order to resolve the issues concerning the functioning of the plenum in a transparent and direct democratic manner.

This includes receiving suggestions and feedback concerning the functioning of the plenum, collecting suggestions for the plenum agenda, preparing the moderators for their role, drawing up the agenda and compiling any additional necessary information and documents relevant to the plenary sessions. The group is also responsible for calling for an extraordinary plenary session if one is necessary.

In order to facilitate the functioning of the plenum, the Rules and Guidelines of the FHSS Plenum (see above) were developed. They contain a description of the functioning of certain aspects of the plenum and proposed solutions of technical issues that arose during plenary sessions.

The working group first began to meet a few days after the start of the occupation, when the need for a systematic approach to solving current problems in the functioning of the plenum arose. The group was also envisioned as a place for discussing the plenum and direct democracy in general: what it is, what may be done via direct democracy, how it may be used and what the future of such political organizing could be. Over time, the working group took form of a group that tended to resolve the practical problems of organizing the plenum and working groups, more than it focused on theoretical discussions of direct democracy.

During the student control over the faculty, the need for transparent and effective functioning of the plenum was resolved as follows:

  • the plenum technical issues working group held daily meetings – these were publicly advertised, open to all interested parties and a current plenum moderator was present at each meeting
  • suggestions, comments and questions (general or topics for the next plenum) could be put in a mailbox in the Faculty lobby or sent in via the group’s e-mail address
  • every suggestion received was discussed at the group meeting; the group tried to find a solution and presented to the plenum every such case

Through such action, the group formulated the Rules and Guidelines of the FHSS Plenum in order to facilitate the future functioning of the plenum as well as to avoid having to repeatedly address questions that have already been discussed. Rules and guidelines are nothing but a record of solutions that have proven useful in practice and as such are not a fixed law that would be above the plenum. All rules and guidelines were confirmed by a vote at the plenum.

During the temporary suspension of student control over the faculty, the plenum technical issues working group functions as a sort of plenum ‘hard-drive’ ‒ it provides transparent communication in terms of informing the plenum about the current topics and news through drafting of the agenda of the next plenary session, it deals with preparing moderators for their role and, if necessary, calls for an extraordinary plenary session. Working group meetings are open to all. The continuity and transfer of information on current topics is ensured through an obligation that moderators from both the previous and the next plenary session be present at the meeting. In addition to meetings between two plenary sessions, the group is required to meet two hours before each plenum.

The Document Analysis Working Group

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
~ Edmund Burke ~

The document analysis working group was formed during the spring 2009 occupation, primarily because of the need for a close examination of the memos and documents of governmental and other bodies, and an adequate interpretation of those documents.

When it comes to official documents such as statutes, regulations, reports, etc., the task of the group is to read the text carefully and consider all the implications that arise from it. The group is free to consult any person that it judges can assist the group in its work, although the group participants are in charge of presenting the final analysis.

The group’s central task is to read official documents, especially in situations when the pressure is being made on different institutions (e.g. on the Ministry of Education), and there are no channels open for direct communication (because, for example, the plenum decided not to negotiate about the main demand). In this situation, the group has to read the official documents, interpret them and explain them within the parameters of the existing set of laws and regulations. Official documents are regularly not written in plain language, but in a relatively dense bureaucratic-legal jargon, whose primary function is to disable reading. Because of this, the group must carefully decipher each sentence and ultimately try to bring different parts of the text into a meaningful whole. This task requires a high level of concentration and composure. Therefore, it is recommended that the number of participants at a group meeting does not exceed ten people (although the group, of course, is open to all). It is also recommended that the group does the work without any major breaks in between the sessions. Optimally, the work on a particular document should take two or more days in a row, at meetings that last several hours. It can be counter-productive (although this cannot really be prevented) if the initial configuration of group changes, because it then takes time for the new participants of the group to get acquainted with the topic, which leads to breaking the work dynamics and creates a psychological pressure on other participants, while leading to superficiality. This can largely be prevented by meticulously keeping the minutes.

The document analysis group is typically convened ad hoc, according to need – there is no need for this group’s meetings to be held continuously. Once the group is convened, in order to function effectively, it should act according to the above guidelines. The group inevitably needs a moderator and a computer with an overhead projector so the document that is being analysed would be visible to all group participants.

The point of direct democratic decision making lies in the egalitarian approach to the knowledge of all those involved in decision making. The purpose of the document analysis working group is to contribute to this through its work.

The Mini-actions Working group

The mini-actions working group was formed as a platform for organizing various actions and interventions in the public sphere. Thus it primarily sought to function operatively through articulating ideas in the form of public performances and/or actions. One the group’s main postulates is informal organization with a tendency towards engaging in unconventional and subversive activities. Such activities include, for instance, hanging banners on public buildings, unannounced performances bordering on public assemblies, night actions with different interventions in the public space, as well as all actions that require coordinating large groups of people, depending on the spatial-temporal context. It is important to stress that the activities are not illegal by themselves, but are intended to affect the public as directly as possible, which sometimes includes methods that are not entirely legal.

Like all other working groups, the mini-actions group is also open to all interested parties. The group seeks a special mandate from the plenum when it undertakes larger projects, but functions independently when it comes to organizing smaller operations, i.e. some actions, especially the ones that are performed repeatedly, do not require the plenum’s explicit approval every time, since the group was given the mandate to perform smaller actions. Such actions are not performed at the plenum’s instruction, but are initiated by the participants within the group. Reports on the group’s work are regularly submitted to the plenum and, if need arises, all actions are subject to discussion at the plenum. The interdisciplinary character of the group has to be emphasized – the group cooperates with students from other faculties, artists and interested citizens, as well as with other working groups, for example, it cooperates with the information working group concerning the distribution of information materials, etc.

The functioning of the mini-actions working group can best be illustrated with examples of the most important actions:

  • ‘The Eleventh Hour’
    The mini-action ‘The Eleventh Hour’ was the result of collaboration with contemporary artists. The action is a kind of public performance that enables all citizens to symbolically express the solidarity with the student’s demands. The performance lasts for five minutes during which the participants stand in a queue waiting, symbolically sending a message that it is high time for the government to change its attitudes towards education. The action has achieved an exceptional response and has expanded outside Zagreb, where it was originally conceived – in fact, it is often performed in Zagreb and other cities in Croatia simultaneously. The advantage of this type of action is that it citizens are not required to devote much time to participate in it, it is visually compelling and it is performed in the most frequented public spaces which makes it very attractive to the media. It should be noted that there is also a publication of the same name that provides information about the students’ demands and actions in a witty and informative manner.
  • ‘Honk for education’
    ‘Honk for education’ is an action that allows people to express their solidarity with the students in a very clear and easy manner: by honking their car horns. A group of two or more students stand beside a main road holding a banner with the message ‘Honk for education’ on it, while the passing drivers honk in support. It’s best to perform this action during the rush hour, i.e. around 8 a.m. or around 5 p.m. The action is highly motivating for all participants, as well as interesting to the media because of the unbearable noise that tends to develop. ‘Honk for education’ was also performed not only in Zagreb, where it originated, but in other cities in Croatia as well.
  • Max art fest
    The FHSS plenum accepted the invitation to participate in a three-day art festival MAX ART FEST and gave the mini-action working group the mandate to come up with a concept for it. At the festival, the students were given central exhibition space in a pedestrian underpass in down town Zagreb. The program of the students’ exhibition was designed within the thematic framework of neo-liberalization and privatization of education, efficiency of the Bologna process, solidarity with other social groups and the principles of direct democracy. It was similar to the alternative educational program that took place at the Faculty during the occupation, and it consisted of informative screenings, photo exhibitions, normal and videowall lectures, workshops, art installations and performances. The students also manned a petition booth at the festival and handed out informational materials. The festival was visited by numerous intentional visitors and random passers-by. An action like this contributes to raising the morale of the participants through socialization and communication with supportive citizens, but another important aspect of it is also the opportunity to contact and inform random passers-by, as students are situated in a frequently visited public space. These larger projects, such as participating in MAX ART FEST, require a significantly greater number of active participants, as well as more time and effort, than one-time performances, but in turn have the potential to reach a greater number of people.
  • The ethical interpellation gauntlet
    This was a mini-action directed towards the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, in an effort to persuade the members of the Council to show tangible, and not merely declarative, support for the students’ demands. The students stood in two rows between which Council members walked as they went to the Council session. The students handed them informational materials as they walked by, which reminded them of the students’ presence and of their ethical views on the Council’s stance, in order to put pressure on them and possibly influence the decisions of the Council concerning tuition fees.
  • Action of support for the farmers
    This was a form of an ad hoc subversive night action that required the coordination of a large number of people. The idea was to express direct support for farmers during their protest in front of the Ministry of Agriculture. The students brought for the farmers issues of “The Eleventh Hour” magazine and the student publication Skripta, as well as food and beverages. The action itself was organized in a little over an hour via mobile phones. The action, which was intended as a show of logistical and moral support for the farmers, evolved into a protest that included a prolonged blocking of a major avenue in Zagreb, which ended after the police intervened.

Finally, it should be noted that the mini-action group is a multidisciplinary working group based on students, but open to all interested citizens. Although some of its actions resemble art performances, their primary intention is nonetheless political action. The actions allow citizens to express their support for the students’ objectives and also to deepen their understanding of the students’ demands. Therefore, the desirable results of the actions are informing and mobilizing the general public, either through media coverage of the actions or through direct contact with citizens while the action is being performed in public space.

The Working Group for Spreading Direct Democracy

This group was started with the aim to spread the idea and establish the practice of direct democracy. This kind of activity necessarily includes the criticism and active opposition to the capitalist political-economic system.

The group first convened in autumn 2009 in order to draft the ‘Shipyards FAQ’ – a pamphlet that was meant to encourage workers in shipyards, and the wider community, to oppose the privatization of Croatian shipyards. During 2009, the group held only one more meeting and only in 2010 did it become truly active – after more intensive contacts with workers were established during and after the second occupation of the FHSS (which was held in November 2009).

One of the group’s first steps was to assemble people from different social groups and parts of the country, so that the group is now comprised of participants from about a dozen cities – students, university teachers, unionists, journalists and others. The group’s meetings are, in accordance with the plenum’s and other working groups’ existing practice, open to all.

Some of the group’s activities include:

  • Writing, printing and distributing the pamphlet ‘Workers and Workers’ Rights’ (supplemented with the transcript of the lecture on how the workers of Croatian factory Petrokemija successfully fought off the attempts to privatize the factory), which was done in cooperation with trade unions. The pamphlet aims to position the workers within the existing political-economic system and unmask concepts and processes such as ’social dialogue’, ’social partnership’, ‘crony capitalism’, etc.
  • Visiting occupied companies or companies in strike in order to express solidarity, discuss the prospects and possible collaboration, distribute pamphlets and organize screenings of documentaries related to workers’ issues (such as the film The Take about Argentina’s workers-run factories).
  • Holding lectures in high schools on direct democracy.
  • Organizing public discussions at the FHSS on issues related to the working class (eg. lectures by workers of occupied factories).

The Blog/Portal and the Blog Team

At the beginning of the spring 2009 occupation of the FHSS, the students started the blog Slobodni Filozofski which can be found at (the international version of the website – Free Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – is located at The initial purpose of the blog was to inform the students and the general public about the current events concerning the student occupation. Administrators of the website regularly published information about plenum’s activities or the coordination of the working groups (all working groups’ meetings are announced at the website). Slobodni Filozofski eventually evolved from a blog into a full-fledged web-portal that monitors student activism at Croatian and foreign universities and publishes pieces on the commercialization of higher education. It also has an educational role in that it publishes texts and videos concerning the broader issues of neo-liberalism, economy, the struggle for social rights, etc (these educational articles are frequently published in the category entitled ‘The Summer School’).

The administrators of the blog/portal (i.e. the blog team) have a mandate from the plenum. The blog team, therefore, has a degree of editorial freedom and autonomy, but within the parameters of plenum’s decisions. When needed, new members can enter the editorial board. The website publishes original articles and translations, as well as texts from other media. Pieces published at the website are frequently published in Skripta as well. The international version of the website is located at and publishes news and texts in several languages. Some of the texts (e.g. translations of press releases) were produced by the translation working group during the spring 2009 occupation. Texts that are published at are selected in coordination with the team. collaborates with other student websites in the country and abroad.

Skripta and Information Working Group

During the planning of the spring 2009 occupation, the first printed materials were posters that informed students about the decision that all graduate students will be paying tuition fees starting the following academic year. Following that, the students distributed posters and leaflets announcing the public discussion ‘Right to education’ that was to be held at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. This public discussion turned into a plenary session at which approximately two hundred students participated and voted to occupy the Faculty.

Over a thousand copies of the first issue of Skripta (the official newsletter of the occupation) were printed on the first day of the occupation. It contained two proclamations of the independent student initiative for the right to free education, a text on direct democracy as a model of decision-making, two FAQs, the code of conduct during the student control of the faculty and the schedule of the alternative educational program for the first two days of the occupation. The proclamations and FAQs were published in numerous subsequent issues as well. During the occupation, Skripta was published every day and sometimes even twice a day (morning edition usually featured texts that had been published on the website while the afternoon edition featured FAQs and the daily press release). After the occupation, except during a short summer break, Skripta was published once (sometimes twice) a week. Each issue is published in 1500 to 4000 copies, depending on donations and help from the supporters of the initiative.

The team working on Skripta has a mandate from the plenum and Skripta itself was conceived as a newsletter that provides a wider number of people, those interested in the student movement and the occupation, information about the occupation and the fight for the right to free education. Numerous theoretical texts that are published in Skripta are also related to the struggle for social and workers’ rights. Their purpose is to put the fight for free education within the broader context of the struggle against neoliberal reforms that are trying to eradicate those rights. Skripta’s purpose is to contribute to the public circulation of critical analyses of social and historical processes.

Skripta is, therefore, not only a student newsletter, but a newsletter for all those who wish to gain a critical insight into the state of society, politics and economy, and to acquire basic knowledge needed for strategies of resistance to socially destructive processes. Skripta is distributed at several locations: primarily at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences but also at numerous other faculties in Zagreb and other cities as well as in places like the Student Center, the Cultural and Information Center, cinemas, libraries, copy shops, restaurants, etc.

Skripta has featured some of the following types of texts: the plenum’s press releases, reports from the plenum, letters of support from various organizations and prominent individuals, including those from abroad. The students of the FHSS have also – having decided to do so at plenary sessions – sent their letters of support to other groups in Croatia, but also abroad – for example, to students in Brazil, Germany, Pittsburgh, California, Austria, Tuzla, etc. Various special editions of Skripta have also been published on special occasions: Skripta – Entrance Exams was a special issue handed out to the candidates at the FHSS entrance exam; the High School Skripta was a special issue aimed at high school students; the Economic Skripta was issued at the occasion of an international student conference that was organized by students of the Faculty of Economics and at which delegates of the FHSS plenum participated; and the Review Skripta was a special issue that featured various texts that provide a basic insight into the context of the struggle for the right to free education.

During the occupation and afterwards, many other faculties have also published and distributed their own newsletters, modeled on Skripta. They featured articles relevant to particular faculties and their problems, as well as texts on free education and the fight for free education. These editions had different names, such as SkRIpta (in the town of Rijeka) or Panda (in the town of Split).

What is required to successfully publish a newsletter are organization and teamwork in all phases of the production and distribution. A number of people select, collect and translate texts to be published in the Skripta and on the official website ( Foreign texts are translated and Croatian texts are republished from other sources. The selection of texts in Skripta is usually adapted to current needs, actions and events.

The folding of Skripta (its format requires folding) takes place at the information working group’s meetings (but in other circumstances as well, such as during the plenary sessions or at various social events and actions). While they are folding issues of Skripta at the group’s meetings, the participants are chatting or watching video-lectures and educational films or brainstorming new methods and forms of spreading information. This working group is also in charge of putting up posters that advertise plenary sessions and workshops at the Faculty and outside it. The distribution of Skripta at different locations in the city (if necessary) is also organized by the group.

Skripta can be downloaded online at Also available at the website are videos produced by SkriptaTV, which was launched in late 2008, but is so far still in the initial phase. Its purpose is to bring to everyone interested primarily an educational-activist TV-program of a similar content to the one that features in Skripta and on the website.

The Social Context of the Struggle for Free Education in Croatia and the Motivation for the Action

Prior to the student actions in Croatia, the introduction of tuition fees into higher education system was not a subject of critical discussions. Among the parliamentary parties and other ’social factors’ (such as the media, various ‘experts,’ NGOs, etc.) there existed either an explicit or tacit consensus that the introduction of tuition fees was, in principle, indisputable. Typically, it was represented as an issue of necessary ‘modernization’ in the process of gradual abandonment of the so-called ’socialist legacy’ and moving closer to ‘European standards.’ In the Croatian public space, after nearly twenty years of ‘the transition process,’ it suffices to justify the interventions in the social structure by invoking the ultimate goal of future membership in the European Union, in order to spare those interventions any critical questioning whatsoever. EU membership is presented as a guarantee of the establishment of the welfare state, therefore all sacrifices that this goal claims are automatically justified. Meanwhile, the media and the political elite avoid asking questions about the real structure of the European Union today and to what extent it is still compatible with the inherited notions of the Western European welfare state. The Lisbon Treaty – the basic document of the new and neo-liberal European Union – is mostly unknown in Croatia: even the so-called experts are not familiar with it, and a public discussion that would inform the wider general public about the Treaty is completely absent. Instead, the myth of the European Union as a zone of universal welfare is still uncritically supported by the elites. Moreover, it is used today to justify the abolition of acquired social rights. This fundamental contradiction – the abolition of social rights that define the welfare state which is done in the name of future membership in the zone of prosperity – thus remains unspoken and unresolved.

The Attack on Acquired Social Rights

One aspect of the strong ideological justification for the attacks on acquired social rights are uncritical claims that the EU is a future guarantee of prosperity. It is one tactical branch of the manufacture of the majority’s consent by which the majority agrees to the reduction of its rights and a calculated subservience to the interests of capital (an important example of the latter are moves such as the so-called ‘flexibilization’ of labor – which, in essence, entails making it easier for employers to lay off workers, disguising this as being in the long-term interests of those same workers).
Another way to manufacture consent is to stop treating rights – such as the constitutionally guaranteed right to education – as rights. Instead, the acquired rights are treated and attacked as irrational privileges inherited from socialism. Since socialism is understood as a historically defeated project, anyone insisting on the acquired social rights is, according to ideological automaticity, disqualified. Thus, through symbolic intimidation – by threatening to label the critics with ‘Yugo-nostalgia’, ‘backwardness’ or ‘parasitism’ – any criticism of the attack at social rights is silenced.

Another important aspect of these strategies of manufacturing consent is the narrative of the budget deficit. With regard to this, the issue of tuition fees and their introduction into higher education is not a question of a political turning point (against the interests of the majority), but rather a purely fiscal, administrative question, and therefore a question of objective necessity. Following the irrationality of the system of socialist privileges, supposedly necessarily comes the rationalization of public expenditures. However, even when there’s an actual budget deficit this type of reasoning remains problematic. According to this logic the question of the desirable social structure – social rights being its institutionalized minimal framework – is silently subordinated to the question of its technical feasibility. So, rather than asking: ‘What needs to be done in order to preserve accessible health care, education and pensions for all,’ these objectives are tacitly rejected referencing fiscal limitations. What is ignored in the process is the fact that the revenues that make up the budget are collected from the taxes paid by the working majority, which believes that the government will manage the collected funds having in mind the interest of the majority. The conclusion that the fiscal deficit leads to a necessary reduction of social rights of the majority is not a matter of objective, logical necessity. On the contrary, such a conclusion is based on a tacit political decision to act against the interests of the majority. The very fact that, in discussions about the budget deficit, the possibility of a more progressive tax policy – for example, taxing the profits of banks or telecommunication companies, which are exported outside of the national economy without any legal obstacles – is a priori rejected or refused to be mentioned, is a reliable indicator of a tacit consensus among the political elites in favor of capital and against the interests of the majority.

The Meaning of Democracy

All of the above begs the question of the nature of democracy in which it is self-explanatory that the political elites work against the interests of the majority. As has been said already, the historically acquired social rights constitute the minimal institutionally defined interests of the majority. The attack on those rights is an unequivocal decision against democracy. That is, if we take democracy to really mean the rule of the majority in favor of common good, and not an empty ritual of choosing among members of the political elite, which differ only by the names of the parties of which they are candidates. Representative democracy is not a form without inherent dangers and contradictions. Nominal representatives of general interest are easily corrupted or subordinated to the very real power of capital. And a significant aspect of the power of capital is that it is exempt from the obligation to undergo even an imperfect democratic call to responsibility every four years. The power of private property is not subjected to questions about its contradictory relationship with the alleged rule of the people. In this context, anyone who takes seriously the idea of democracy is required to challenge these contradictions critically, especially where they result in what are obviously anti-democratic political practices such as the neo-liberal attack on social rights.

In this light, the student fight for the right to free education should be understood as part of a more comprehensive struggle to defend the interests of the majority, and not as a particular and selfish aberration, as some media and politicians are trying to present it.

In addition to everything that has already been said about direct democracy as a form of decision-making, this should be added as well: at a certain level, direct democracy is a direct consequence of representative democracy’s unfulfilled promises. When representative democracy does not fulfill its promises, direct democratic decision-making turns into a guardian and reminder of its fundamental meaning – a spectre that does not cease to haunt.


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