A post by Frances Northrop, manager of Transition Town Totnes, reporting on her recent trip to Zagreb. “From the moment Fiona’s email dropped into my inbox to ask me to represent REconomy at the inaugural Good Economy Conference in Zagreb I had a good feeling. Of course that was partly the opportunity to travel to a new country but it was also to spend time with part of the Transition family I had yet to meet.
From the moment I was welcomed at the airport by Ana I knew it was going to be a very special trip and had a real sense of that lovely, very specific feeling when you arrive in another country coupled with a strong feeling of being at home. This feeling was only enhanced by a great conversation on the way into Zagreb and then meeting the other members of the Green Network of Activists Groups (ZMAG) and the other speakers in a restaurant in the city.
The other speakers were from a range of organisations across Europe and were all fascinating, inspiring people. There was Christian Gelleri, the founder of the Chiemgauer, a regional currency in Bavaria, Marie Brandt, the Co-ordinator of the “collectif pour une transition citoyenne” (Collective for a Citizen Transition) in France, Karl Heinz Slabsci from the Austrian based Economy for the Common Good and John Rogers, the Co-Author of People Money: the promise of regional currencies.
The conversation that evening was mostly of the polite kind, finding out more about each other but over the course of the two days we had some really interesting conversations ranging from austerity in the UK and why we hadn’t taken to the streets, to the history and the motives of the Lidl family, how transition looks in a post communist country and big bang theory. Really enriching stuff.
Staying in a modern hostel in the centre of Zagreb was a real treat, as was the walk to the conference on that first day. In beautiful bright sunshine we followed the tram lines, past some incredible buildings, a quite fabulous mix of grand Austro-Hungarian architecture which shouts culture and later socialist architecture which shouts counterculture, a heady mix.
The setting for the conference was also really impressive, just across the street from the Opera House, it was held in the Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography. Entering through an iron gateway into a beautiful courtyard which was an oasis of calm, the conference itself was held in a large room in the Institute.
As the delegates arrived and the anticipation built there was a real sense of excitement in the room, from the delegates but also from the organisers and the presenters, it felt like we were part of start of something with huge promise and this feeling continued and grew throughout the two days.
In the morning there was a good mix of my context setting presentation about the work of REconomy in the UK and beyond and then a panel with local people who were already involved in developing a good economy in Croatia talking about what that looked like to them. They were joined by a very brave chap from the Croatian equivalent of the economic development department of the council who had to rather sheepishly keep defending their recent policy for not acknowledging this work. Sounds familiar!
Lunch was a wonderful affair with ZMAG activists, and one very charming toddler, laying out a delicious spread outside in the courtyard. This peaceful place rang with excited conversation about the morning’s programme.
The afternoon followed in the same vein with really interesting presentations from Christian about the Chiemgauer and the work Marie was doing through the Ethical Finance Cooperative for the Citizen Transition and a panel discussion which related more closely to grassroots activity on the ground in Croatia. After the conference closed for the day I took the opportunity to explore Zagreb further and enjoyed a lovely walk for a couple of hours, wandering down back streets and through several of the beautiful squares and parks that pepper the centre of the city.
We were looked after so well and Nenad and Drazen gave us a choice for something to do that evening together – we could go out for a meal or we could go to meet some friends of theirs on the outskirts of the city who used an artist’s atelier as a base for a bread CSA using a wood fired brick oven. The offer was that they would take wine and pizza ingredients and their friend would cook them and we would eat there. We obviously opted for the atelier and were driven there by Ana and Drazen. The atelier was great, a room on the side of a house which was built from salvaged materials with the oven in one half up some stairs.
Slaving over the oven was a man who was topless (Goran) and alongside him, Katerina, another friend of ZMAG and while we were there several other people came and joined us. I have to say this was probably one of the favourite evenings I’ve ever spent. The welcome was warm, (and not just from the oven which was fierce), the conversation fascinating and funny and the sense of solidarity was immense.
Drazen told the story of the permaculture community where ZMAG were based, how they started with a field left to one of the members by their grandparents and the anecdote about how they dismantled a wooden house to relocate it on the field for a common house and got the rebuild wrong by one metre so that it still leans. He also told us how they are growing the community by buying more fields around it, sold to them by local people who have children who are leaving the area and are grateful to ZMAG for taking the land and ensuring it remains productive.
There are also other traditional wooden houses to relocate as the trend is for people to replace these with new houses, as with many places this is seen to be progress…. After all having a go at making a pizza we were whisked back to Zagreb for a good night’s sleep before the final day of the conference.
We got to the institute early the next day for interviews with a Croatian National Television programme dedicated to the Good Economy conference (watch this mostly in English). While others were being interviewed I took the opportunity to walk out around the Opera House where I had the most sublime experience. Pausing in the bright sunshine by an open window I heard them rehearsing Tosca which was the opera being performed there.
Nothing can quite sum up the uplifting nature of that experience, it was a real privilege and it was hard to tear myself away. But I did and really enjoyed both Karl Heinz’ presentation and John Rogers who summed up the whole conference by ending his presentation and the conference itself by playing a version of the Happy video by Pharrell Williams filmed in Split (well worth watching). Fabulous.
I spent the rest of the day exploring further afield by tram, including the Modern Art Museum and then being taken out again by Nenad, Drazen and Gordana for a final meal before we left. The next morning I got up early for my long train journey back to Devon looking forward to the chance to have the space to think about what I had heard and seen and to relish the experience. I wasn’t disappointed, a nine hour journey to Munich through the alps was a perfect setting and I returned feeling happy and hugely inspired by the work unfolding there.
The event ran on the 21st-22nd March 2014.