My First Protest: What I Learned at UGP Entrepreneur Protest in Zagreb

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Copyright Donatella Pauković
UGP Entrepreneur Protest in Zagreb
UGP Entrepreneur Protest in Zagreb

As I was at a protest for the first time, I expected it to be more organised, moreover due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But since I can’t compare this protest to any other, I just continued to watch what happened.

IMG_20210203_100024.jpgProtesters with the banner saying “Let us work” / Donatella Pauković

In the first few minutes, after the first speaker started to talk, it was clear to me that the protest was not only about entrepreneurs being deprived of work during the coronavirus pandemic, but a lot of people used the opportunity to gather and show their dissatisfaction with many other problems that Croatia faces.

“Why can’t Croatia be economically strong?” read one of the most significant banners of this protest, which indicated that Croatia has all the conditions to be a prosperous country, but it is not. The epidemiological measures owing to which entrepreneurs (most of them caterers) are at risk were clearly just a trigger for expressing dissatisfaction that goes much further.


Banners saying “We are entrepreneurs, and you?”, “It’s enough”, “Entrepreneurs are partners, not a burden!”, “Why Croatia?” / Donatella Pauković

A historic day?

I met a young and energetic guy. Is he a young entrepreneur, a caterer? I wondered. I was interested in what brought him to the protest.

“I came to say that I don’t agree with the direction in which this country is going. I don’t agree with the Government’s economic and social policies. I don’t agree with what the Government, the ruling majority, and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, are doing,” said 21-year-old David Lisica, a computer science student at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing in Zagreb.

He doesn’t plan to leave Croatia. However, he wants us all to build Croatia together, and I identify with him. Therefore, one of the motives for his coming to the protest was the hope for a better tomorrow.

“I think it’s bad politics and I think I have the right to say it. I’m not here to cause destruction but to say that something is wrong. When something is wrong, it should be said that it is not right, and it should be changed,” this young student clearly pointed out.

He was bothered by the discrimination towards entrepreneurs and the private sector, which has only been deepened by this coronavirus crisis. In addition, he couldn’t believe that there was so much contempt for the opposition by the ruling party, and he considered it shameful.

That’s why he made a banner saying “Andrej, it’s enough.” As David said, the famous banner, seen on many photos from the protest, will even be included in the historical material of the Croatian History Museum!


Student David Lisica with his banner “Andrej, it’s enough” / Donatella Pauković

According to some estimates, the protest gathered five thousand people, if not more. Given what Croatia needs, said David, every protest that has been organised in Croatia so far has attracted too few people.

“We don’t need a rebellion, a revolution. No anarchy, no demolition! We need people who will say ‘It’s not right – change this and that!’ Economic policy, uhljebljivanje, mandatory membership and contributions to the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Tourist Board – we do not need that. Entrepreneurs and craftsmen should not be whipped with parafiscal levies – these are not taxes, they are levies,” David says, pointing out that it would be fine if that money would be invested in something useful, but it isn’t.

I watched the gathered crowd. Both older and younger people were all protesting. At one point, social distancing fell into the background and then I got a little scared for my health. I was surrounded by people shouting, and some of them didn’t even wear masks, against which the organisers explicitly warned, but without much success. Luckily, I quickly got out of the way.

Expectedly, there were even some drunk people, using the situation to relax at least a little and thus experience the “old normal.” Gathering at the protest was even an opportunity for some to see each other after a long time, which, understandably, they took advantage of. So, for example, maybe some fellow caterers from Slavonia and Dalmatia finally saw each other and chatted.

Apart from chanting and whistling, applause even broke out for a man breaking through the crowd with a tray in his hand, offering protesters coffee to go in cups designed specifically for the occasion. “It’s enough,” read the inscription on it.


Symbolic coffee to go with the inscription saying “It’s enough” / Donatella Pauković

‘Instead of law, justice must be introduced’

When those gathered had already begun to disperse, and the most persistent continued to protest, my attention was drawn to a sympathetic and seemingly accommodating man with a large banner. However, what he told me has specially taken me aback.

Tomislav Vukorepa, an entrepreneur from Šibenik, besides coming to Zagreb to support all entrepreneurs who are in a very difficult situation, came to point out one big problem.

“We lost five citizens in a shooting in Šibenik, our citizens of Šibenik,” Vukorepa began his story, explaining his banner that read “Pleković, enough of the harrowing, kill me now.”


Entrepreneur Tomislav Vukorepa with his banner “Plenković, enough of the harrowing, kill me now” / Donatella Pauković

“I wrote this because the direct cause of the shooting in Šibenik, in which five people were killed, is a catastrophic judiciary. Who knows how many more such cases are ‘cooking’ in the whole of Croatia! We have to open our eyes because there’s no point in being brutally warned in such a way every now and then. Something urgently needs to change here. Instead of law, justice must be introduced. And that’s a big difference, because the one who is stronger always takes the right to himself and oppresses the one who is weaker. Therefore, justice and truth should come to power in Croatia,” Vukorepa said.

He believes that it’s time for the citizens of the whole of Croatia let it be known that this is not the way to go.

“Those in power should listen a little better to what the citizens tell them, because this country exists because of the citizens, not because of them,” concluded Vukorepa, whose business of sound systems for concerts and festivals has died out in the last six months.


UGP entrepreneur protest in Zagreb / Donatella Pauković

As I have already said, and in the few minutes of talking to this man I confirmed, this was not only a protest against epidemiological restrictions, but also against a system in which the voice of the little man is hardly ever heard.

After two hours on the main Zagreb square, I thoughtfully left the protest. What seemed at the beginning to be an inarticulate presentation of views on the current situation in Croatia, actually proved to be well-founded. What seemed like a protest against the impossibility of drinking coffee for hours, which is the Croatian national sport, has, unfortunately, a much deeper foothold.

I realised that if you want to warn someone about something, a protest is one of the few places where someone will hear or notice you, if you have a banner with a good inscription. You might end up in the headlines as well.

All in all, the real effects of the Croatian entrepreneurs’ protest in Zagreb will only be seen in the coming months. We’re waiting for new steps to be made by those in power, hoping that this time the majority will be satisfied. And that we will soon be able to sit down and have coffee somewhere, which may, at least for those few hours, ease our souls.

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