Climate activists from across the Balkans and beyond came together at the end of August for the 2nd annual Adriatic Climate Camp, culminating in nonviolent direct actions against a liquified natural gas, or LNG, terminal, which were met with violent aggression from police and private security forces.
LNG is advertised to the public as a clean “bridge fuel” that will enable a transition away from oil. Unsurprisingly, this dangerous claim is based on flawed industry-financed research. More recent studies have shown LNG and coal to have closer overall emissions, and sometimes it is even more emitting than coal. The war in Ukraine and potential fuel shortages has allowed the industry and supportive politicians to further accelerate LNG expansion, while continuing to lie about emissions.
Leading up to these actions, the Adriatic Climate Camp was both an activism training program and, crucially, a community building space. Both actions could have seen violence escalate very dangerously if the participants hadn’t acted with clear purpose, calm and discipline. After the fact, such repression often results in diminished hope, fear and infighting.
Yet, organizers are already eagerly planning next year’s camp and attracting more participants. Repressive state and corporate reactions have only galvanized commitment as this grassroots movement continues to grow and diversify locally, as well as to strengthen international ties of solidarity. This points to an incredible amount of trust, good faith and shared vision between people — in other words, strong community.
To discuss the actions, the camp, organizing lessons and possible paths for journeying from frustrated citizen to community activism, I spoke with Lora, a co-founder and organizer of the Adriatic Climate Camp and a member of political groups based in Zagreb such as Extinction Rebellion Zagreb, Food Not Bombs Zagreb and Vrrrane, an anarchaqueer-feminist group.
You were involved in two recent actions calling attention to the dangers of LNG expansion that were met with brutal and illegal repression. Tell us about these actions and XR Zagreb’s strategy going forward.
This year’s five-day Adriatic Climate Camp was centered around community, learning and the peaceful disruption of a nearby LNG terminal on the island of Krk, Croatia. To be exact, the camp was organized in protest of the planned doubling of the capacities of the LNG terminal, announced earlier this year. This is the place where liquified natural gas is imported from other countries (previously Russia, now usually the U.S. and Qatar).
First was the kayaking action — activists rowed out into the sea in front of the LNG ship, but were quickly met with aggression from police and security service boats, including being shot at with a water cannon. The activists refused to be stopped — their training, commitment and bravery shined through as they put up quite a resistance, even creating an hourglass [the symbol of XR] formation with their kayaks. Eventually, their banner was taken away and they had to retreat back to the shore.
The second action took place the following day. We traveled from the city of Krk, where the camp was situated, to Omišalj, where the LNG terminal is located. There we met activists from the local community and together (a total of around 120 people), marched from the city to the LNG terminal.
Despite the right to peaceful gathering being set in Croatian law, and despite XR Zagreb liaising with the police over safety, this final protest at the state-owned LNG terminal, which is a large international importer for the EU, was met with violence. We encountered several riot police cordons there waiting for us, but we stayed and rallied with speeches, chants, drumming and a die-in. A self-organized group then separated and entered the premises of the terminal and displayed banners, quickly supported by those outside with chanting.
At this point, we were aggressively attacked by private security personnel and police officers. Protesters were pinned down and kept in painful pressure holds. All participants showed peaceful and nonviolent resistance. Nonetheless, the riot police violently threw 26 people into police vans and drove them to custody cells where we were held in inhumane conditions for up to 10 hours with no food, water, medical help or phone calls.
Even with the challenges, the actions were a success and provided valuable lessons for improvement in the future. We are committed to adapting the camp and our wider organizing strategies going forward.
Despite the violence displayed by the police and security services, we are persevering together with high spirits. We are now even more determined to fight against the system of capitalism, backed by the state, which places profits in front of people and uses repressive methods to protect the fossil fuel industry which is taking away our collective futures. Their brutality has in no way diminished our hunger for climate justice. In fact, you could say it just further proves that we have to come together and rise up in community.
Adriatic Climate Camp actions against an LNG Terminal in Croatia, 2023. Nonviolent civil disobedience was met with violent police and private security responses. | Photos: XR Zagreb
Could you tell us about how the camp developed, who participated and especially about the attention to community building?
In 2022, the first edition of the Adriatic Climate Camp was wildly successful, despite being organized by just two people. It became clear that there is a widely shared desire for both community experiences and communal resistance experiences — so naturally, the second one had to be bigger and better. Enthusiasm grew and several more people joined our organizing team. It was still a very small team for this large-scale endeavor, but it was a dedicated one.
I’d also like to highlight that the organizing team is entirely composed of queer persons who are either non-binary or women. This kind of representation is not often seen in the Balkans. We’re very proud to be breaking with oppressive traditions through our organizing and to be accompanied by people of all genders.
Since we wanted to host more activists at this year’s edition of the camp, and to have more impactful actions, we had to look for a way to finance these high ambitions. We were shown real solidarity from fellow members of the global climate justice movement and are grateful to our friends in XR Serbia for helping to connect us with Extinction Rebellion Global Support for funding. XR Global Support empowers local XR groups to act together across regions, nations and continents, peacefully disrupting business-as-usual. This year’s camp definitely wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Not only were we able to host 160 rebels at our camp, double the amount of last year, but we were also able to cover the costs of the logistics necessary for traveling to two actions which were situated on the opposite part of the island. The cooperation with XR Global Support was super friendly and we felt supported along the way — their motto “We are all crew” rang very true. Our XR Zagreb team was also very happy that some of our Serbian friends, including Scarlett who was our main contact for the financing, joined us at the camp so that we could meet in person to share experiences and activist stories.
Can you describe the camp itself and what participants engaged in on a day-to-day basis?
After six months of planning and meetings, our five-day climate camp was finally under way at a commercial campsite near the LNG terminal targeted by our protests. Set up beneath olive and fig trees, the camp included an info point, a kitchen area, several large tents for workshops, a lost-and-found spot, and space for sleeping tents.
Most days began with a morning plenary session for all participants where the day’s program was introduced and roles were delegated for joining the kitchen, cleaning and awareness teams. We were especially proud of this year’s camp program, because it included a wide array of activities and topics — from “classic” activist topics such as NVDA (nonviolent direct action) and legal workshops, to lectures on radical organizing, the effects of capitalism on food systems, digital activism, artivism, talks on off-grid living, herbalism and foraging, and kayak training. For deeper community building, which includes fun, we included “lighter” activities such as drumming workshops, climbing, speed dating, standup night, movie screenings, yoga and silk dancing.
The camp gathered a wide variety of people and not just ecoactivists, but also members of the local community, anarchists, LGBTIQ+ rights activists, permaculture practitioners, etc. Participants came from all over the region and beyond — with a few even traveling from as far as New Zealand and the U.S. In addition to opposing LNG expansion, the camp was also a space for human rights, for the rights of nature, and for living according to the values we seek for a better world. Together, we formed a community running the camp and joined forces for the two direct actions. After the last detained protester was released, the camp concluded with a big celebration on the beach.
2023 Adriatic Climate Camp on the island of Kirk, Croatia | Photos: XR Zagreb
You and your fellow activists have learned and achieved much over the last few years — looking back, could you have imagined what you were able to achieve and the community you have built when you got started? What would you say to others who feel frustrated and don’t know where or how to begin their own activism journeys? Everyone’s circumstances and paths are different, but perhaps you can share a little about your own story, as an example of one person’s path to action.
I’d say that I first became an activist in 2019, because that’s when I left my soul-sucking corporate job that turned me into an anticapitalist. (I was fired because I complained about the unpaid overtime.) While I was working there, I spent my limited spare time reading and educating myself on the ecocidal horrors being committed by the capitalist economy, backed by unjust neoliberal politics. I also learned about positive alternatives to this system that people were fighting for, like degrowth.
I felt like being stuck up in a corporate office day in and day out was not only making me miserable but also complicit in the crisis. It was frustratingly meaningless and the opposite of what I should be doing with my life, if there was any possibility of trying to live differently. And so, when I was fired, I took a chance and started my small freelance business so I could finally prioritize my free time and dedicate as much of it as possible to environmentalism and climate activism.
I think it’s important to emphasize the fact that not everyone is as privileged to be able to go freelance and have more freedom in organizing their time. I’m not prescribing this path for everyone, just describing my path. Not everyone can quit their job, but everyone can confront the reality of the climate crisis and find ways to prioritize some form of resistance. Everyone can seek communities of change and lend a hand in their own ways. My path from frustration to action also depended on more than changing my work. It resulted from a series of small steps that gradually led to more and more.
What were those other steps, outside of educating yourself and figuring out how to make time for activism? What is the “more and more” that your activism has brought into your life?
2019 was also the year when Greta’s movement gained momentum and the Croatian scientist initiative “Scientists For The Climate” sent a public appeal to the government asking for an urgent declaration of the climate crisis. Shortly after, I attended the 2019 autumn eco-seminar run by Zelena akcija (a local environmentalist NGO, part of Friends of the Earth), where I met the people who would soon become my fellow rebels in XR Zagreb. Despite the fact that the group was formed in 2020 during the Corona pandemic, and having faced many challenges of grassroots horizontal organizing in the Balkans, we are still growing strong. For me, it has been a profoundly life-altering experience.
To me, what really helps reduce the feelings of dread and anxiety induced by the climate crisis and biodiversity loss crisis, as well as other anthropogenic crises we may expect in our lifetimes, is learning about the issues while focusing on the solutions. Discovering concepts such as anarchism, a beautiful way of egalitarian anti-systemic local organizing; permaculture, a way of producing food and living with nature while caring for it and restoring its diversity; and degrowth, envisioning an economy that focuses on fulfilling essential human needs while bearing in mind the limits of the biosphere, all brought a lot of joy and peace into my life.
This grounding in positive vision is also guiding my activism towards expanding my knowledge and learning skills and practices that are prefigurative, in the sense that they reflect the future I would like to live, but are also making my life in the current capitalist system a lot more bearable and even enjoyable. I get to live pieces of my dream for a better world while continuously building it with others.
Learn more about eco-activism around the world every month by subscribing to XR’s Global Newsletter and consider providing material support so that the Adriatic Climate Camp and many other international projects from Mexico to Kenya can continue and grow.
ZNetwork is funded solely through the generosity of its readers.Donate