Dialectical Anthropology

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 295–315 | Cite as

Contesting household debt in Croatia: the double movement of financialization and the fetishism of money in Eastern European peripheries

  • Marek MikušEmail author


Croatia has experienced a marked boom in household debt in the 2000s. Much of this lending took high-risk and predatory forms that transferred significant risks to debtors, which in turn became the target of contestation by debt activists. This paper uses the Polanyian idea of “double movement” to show how the Croatian debt contestations responded to the distinctively peripheral form of financialization in Eastern Europe, characterized by unequal geoeconomic relationships and an intensified expropriation of debtors. This framework further highlights the importance of money in contemporary credit/debt relationships and their contestation, which has so far received insufficient attention in relevant anthropological scholarship. Instead of the currently fashionable credit theories of money, the paper uses the Marxian concept of the fetishism of money to unpack the roles of money in these processes. The analysis of discourses and practices of two groups of debtors and activists reveals how they used nationalist ideological frameworks and institutional channels such as litigation, again largely ignored by existing anthropological literature, to challenge the particular inequalities of peripheral financialization and the expropriation of debtors through the lenders’ predatory manipulations of the money fetish.


Contestation Croatia Eastern Europe Household debt Money Financialization 



I undertook the research for and writing of early versions of this paper as a Research Fellow and a member of the “Financialisation” Research Group at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology. I made later revisions of the piece as a Research Fellow in the project “Western Banks in Eastern Europe: New Geographies of Financialisation” (GEOFIN), which has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program (grant agreement no. 683197). The early versions were presented in October 2017 in a weekly seminar of the Department “Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia” of the Max Planck Institute and at the EASA Anthropology of Economy Network workshop on “Deservingness—power, morality and inequality in contemporary Europe and beyond” in Vienna. I thank all who read the drafts and offered comments on those and other occasions, including Tristam Barrett, Charlotte Bruckermann, Christoph Brumann, Natalia Buier, Kirsten Endres, Chris Hann, Don Kalb, Dimitra Kofti, Patrícia Matos, Petra Rodik, Andreas Streinzer, Jelena Tošić, Theodora Vetta, and Hadas Weiss. I also thank all my research participants in Croatia, who indebted me by sharing so much about debts of their own and others.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Fellow, Department of GeographyTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Associate, Department “Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia”Max Planck Institute for Social AnthropologyHalle (Saale)Germany

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