The People Returns: A footnote to protests in Slovenia

by | 16 Jan 2013

cv_morsHistory repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, Marx wrote in his Eighteenth Brumaire. This famous remark fits well to the current situation in Slovenia, when the country experiences the largest protests since 1989. The person standing in the centre of these protests is the same, Janez Janša. In 1989 he was a journalist of the leftist weekly Mladina, who revealed military secrets of the Yugoslav army. Today he is Slovenian prime minister, who has become a synonym for both political corruption and the corruption of politics. The 1989 mass demos took the legal process against Janša and three other protagonists of the affair as a case of what was wrong with the former socialist regime. Today the protests demonstrate that Janša himself turned into a political farce and has become an instance of what the participants of the 1980’s protests were marching against. But Janša is not the reason for the massive protests, he is merely the symptom, the surface, the paradigmatic case of a much more fundamental dissolution of Slovenian political space, and the embodiment of alienation of politics from the people. At the very core of the protests there is the clear recognition that the state was hijacked by political elites, and that in this respect Janša is merely the poster-boy of a much broader farce that is Slovenian politics. The parole that has accompanied the demonstrations since the very beginning addresses this fact very clearly: “They are finished!”

The protests were triggered by an apparently insignificant and marginal issue in local politics. In Maribor, the second largest city of Slovenia, the city mayor committed a private company to install cameras across the city, in order to control the traffic and penalize the violations of speed limits. The main problem was that the penalties would be paid to the same private company. This then added fuel to the already founded accusations of corruption in the city council and notably in the mayor’s office. The occasional protests culminated in what became known as the “Maribor uprising”, where, for the first time in the short history of Slovenian independency, the police used excessive violence, water cannons, helicopters etc. The combination of local issues and cynical political reactions from the governing parties lead to the situation in which a vast majority could recognize their own dissatisfaction and frustration with the governing politics, and more broadly with the problematic political tradition in Slovenia. The initiatives for protests spread across the country and the majority of organising was conducted through the social networks.

The governing Slovenian Democratic Party from the very beginning accompanied the protests with cynical comments, and some even claimed that they mobilised right-wing extremists to provoke violence and attack the police during the protests. This is not unlikely given the fact that the party publicly displays its authoritarian aspirations and uses dirty tricks in order to discredit its political opponents: controlling the media, manipulating “legal evidence” (in 2011 they “leaked” a fake document that was supposed to prove the involvement of the president of the state in a terrorist attack in Klagenfurt, Austria, in the late 1970’s), preparing or opting for lustration of the public sector of all the supposed leftists, hijacking the constitutional court, who recently blocked two referendums with a vague excuse that they would additionally destabilise the economy and hence the country, and so on.

But the cynicism backfired. During the first “Slovenian uprising” in Ljubljana (21 December 2012) the Slovenian Democratic Party described the event as the “uprising of zombies”, thereby trying to discredit the movement with the fact that some participants were waving the flags of the former Socialist Republic of Slovenia. However, in this they actually formulated their own political status, as Alenka Zupančič has recently pointed out. The political elite, in its complete alienation from the people, is incapable of understanding the message of being politically dead. They live on, but as political zombies, who merely strive to preserve in power with more and more desperate and legally questionable attempts. The last parliamentary elections (December 2011) clearly demonstrated the deep corruption in Slovenian politics: one of the newly formed political parties turned out to be a Trojan horse, destined to help Janša in seizing power even if his party would loose the elections. Which turned out to be the case. The other newcomer in the political arena, the mayor of Ljubljana, Janković, won the election but failed to form a government. Yet what appeared as a political alternative at the time was permanently discredited a few weeks ago, when the Commission for the prevention of corruption released its report showing that both Janša and Janković failed to provide sufficient explanations of the origin of their fortune. The allegations of corruption thus became more than mere “speculations” of the leftist media, but the parties nevertheless failed to take distance from their compromised leaders, expressing them full support instead. Nevertheless the report managed to destabilise the government, which is now on the edge of collapsing, leaving Janša’s party alone with its delirious theories of conspiracy.

The specificity of Slovenian protests lies in the absolute mistrust in the existing political options. The protesters are denounced to be nihilistic for not presenting a positive political programme. What is lacking is a party like Syriza, which would be capable to mobilise the people’s resistance against the economical “thought experiment” that the neo-liberal government tries to impose at all costs. It is more than clear that the majority of Slovenian politicians would do everything in order to present themselves as good pupils of those political forces, who advocate austerity measures in order to produce oases of cheap labour within EU. The protesters express a justified anxiety that the current politics, behind the now officially public corruption, authoritarian aspirations and political cynicism, is above all pushing the country towards the Greek scenario. The protests address all of the political elite with the demand to transform the conditions of possibility of politics as such, and not merely to send one or two corrupted cases into political oblivion. As naive as the demands for the transformation of the “financial democracy” into a democracy of the people may sound, they nevertheless reintroduced an absent agency into Slovenian politics, the people themselves.

1 Comment

  1. Despite a few English errors I commend this as an accurate factual narrative.

    Slovenia needs to move its administrative capital to Tolmin. Ljubljana is too foggy and this is creating a grey pall over the nation.

    It is 2013. I just spent the day trying to find out why my bank account was frozen, over a 50 euro bill, which was for having a little man come and pester me to sign a piece of paper I couldn’t read – he was delivering me a summons – in a case I subsequently won…in 2007.

    Despite winning the action, which I had not initiated, I had paid the bill for the sake of a quiet life.

    This obviously flagged me as a target for database-based mass robbery by the Slovenian “justice” system. Six years went by, and the bill suddenly appeared again! I ignored it and the bank was blocked.

    Neither the bank, the court, or the customs office (which administers their bills) could even explain what the bill was for.

    It is nothing to do with the Tax Office, so the bank sent me there. As soon as THEY helpfully rang them, the court DID know.

    After spending literally days of my life on this, and without a bank account for weeks, they quickly “discovered” it had been paid, and withdrew the second bill.

    No guilty person could be identified. On the contrary it seemed as though the staff were asking me to observe how this justified their whole existence.

    Slovenia couldn’t understand why I wasn’t grateful! Like two oranges and a lemon, I was expected to see this as a “win” – rather than merely the unravelling of a completely pointless load of old bollocks, to save 80 euros (including the fee for blocking the bank), for something for which I ought not owe anything to anybody – but had paid once anyway.

    I asked how much I could expect to receive from the authorities for successfully tackling this attempted theft, their waste of my precious lifetime, and no banking. They seemed amazed at the very idea, and offered vague directions to a different office…

    Back at the bank, the numbers didn’t match up and they will send it to their lawyers.

    But of course I will need my own lawyer if I want to claim compensation.

    This is what drives the Slovenian economy: between them they consumed a post-it note, some sheets of A4, toner, electricity, they had furniture in the office. All that’s missing is a product, and the raw material: one victim.

    Kafka. Brazil. Nuff said.

    The National Poet Of Slovenia In A Language People Understand interprets important Slovenian affairs for the non-Slovene speaking world.


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