Friday marks the start of another weekend of relative freedom. Liberated by the relaxed rules for social distancing, our new normal provides us with another opportunity to appreciate some of the many things we once took for granted. The ability to congregate, socialise and to interact - not so long ago perhaps less appreciated than our handy mobile phone apps - are now rightly valued as never before. And nowhere is this re-evaluation of freedoms more visible than downtown Zagreb, on the Square of the Croatian Republic, just outside the Croatian National Theatre.
Since guidelines changed, this grandiose focal point in the heart of the Croatian capital has been the site of a new youth phenomenon. What was formerly a spot for a small number of students has become the de facto meeting place for the city's young residents. The small alternative cabal has grown to embrace every type of peer group imaginable; sports students, football fans, young patriots, LGBT teens and devout Christians sit beside punks, rockers, bohemian musicians and ravers. Everyone gets along. There are no special seats, no VIP room that the privileged can pay for. They sit on the floor, some dance, they play cards, drums, guitars and violins. Most of all, they smile, enjoy and talk above the sound of several small, competing soundsystems.
Nobody is really sure exactly how this happened. We do know that everyone wants to join in. Outside HNK Zagreb on a Friday or Saturday night, you can meet young people from every Zagreb suburb, plus those from different towns and cities such as Ivanić-Grad, and Zabok, Karlovac, Zaprešić and even Rijeka, all of them drawn to these spontaneous gatherings via word of mouth.
'We are extremely happy and positive that our theatre has been recognized as a place of gathering and sharing positive vibrations between generations,' said the Croatian National Theatre when Time Out Croatia asked them what they thought of the partying on their doorstep. 'Ever since 2014, our hope was to create a warm and welcoming feeling here for everybody, for all age groups and different audiences; to make theatre alive outside the building walls.'
Although there are some unhappy people who feel unfulfilled unless complaining about others having fun, no harsh judgement can be cast on most gathered here. It is naïve, incorrect and highly misanthropic to write off this remarkable spectacle as merely public drunkenness. Impromptu rap concerts and street theatre have been performed. This is Zagreb's residents reclaiming their streets. They are not lurking in the shadows of a park, making the city streets a no-go area after dark, as they do in many London suburbs. They are sitting in one of the most brightly lit squares in the country. The buildings, institutions and streets surrounding will soon be the responsibility of the young people gathered here. They are merely assuming a sample of their stewardship early. And in their hands, Zagreb appears to be safe.
Just as nobody really knows how this has happened, nobody knows exactly when it will end. Zagreb's police have so far displayed a commendable maturity and understanding in their handling of the situation. How long that will continue remains to be seen. For sure, at least one insecure member of the partying congregation tests their resolve every evening. Such selfish attention-seeking and provocation have not yet destroyed this beautiful gathering but, at present, it looks much more likely to do so than any actions by the (so far) patient police.
But we can worry about tomorrow when it comes. For now, this mass meeting is teaching us a much more important lesson; that this day should not be taken for granted, it should be - it can only be - enjoyed today.Share the story