Slovenia: Tactics and challenges in the ongoing social uprising [radio podcast and full transcript]
Anarchistisches Radio Berlin (A-Radio Berlin) spoke recently to a comrade from the Federation for Anarchist Organizing (FAO) in Slovenia and Croatia. Amongst the topics discussed were the ongoing social uprising in Slovenia, the dynamics and challenges of such a movement in the Covid-19 context, state repression and neonazi attacks as well as a comparison to the 2012/2013 uprising. Last but not least our comrade offers an analysis of the tactics used in the struggle and how to possibly go forward.
You’ll find the audio, to listen online or download, here (Length: 27½ mins, August 2020):
or play from here (in English after a short intro to the internet radio station in German) …
The Anarchist Radio Berlin had the opportunity of talking to a comrade from the Federation for Anarchist Organizing (FAO) in Slovenia and Croatia. Amongst the topics were the ongoing social uprising in Slovenia, the dynamics and challenges of such a movement in the Covid-19 context, state repression and neonazi attacks as well as a comparison to the 2012/2013 uprising. Last but not least the comrade offers an analysis of the tactics used in the struggle and how to possibly go forward.
A-Radio Berlin: Ok! As a start, could you present yourself shortly, and tell us about your involvement with the recent uprising in Slovenia?
Ramona: Hi everyone, my name is Ramona, I am part of Anarchist Initiative Ljubljana, which is a part of a Federation for Anarchist Organising in Slovenia and Croatia. We have been very active and present on the streets since the beginning of the pandemic and are still actively present in the ongoing protests in Slovenia. Other than that Anarchist Initiative Slovenia has been active since 2008, 2009, and even before that we had some different anarchist initiatives so we are quite a common initiative in Slovenia.
Perfect, thank you. So, can you tell us how this all started, was there a specific trigger?
Ramona: Well, the whole wave of unrest started I would say long before the first protest. The Slovenian new far right government under the leadership of Janez Jansa was appointed on March 13th and on March 12th Slovenia declared quarantine and pandemic under Covid-19. So the situation immediately started to feel very claustrophobic in the society, on the one hand everyone including the social movements were dealing with the question of how to, you know, make sure that we form a different kind of solidarity that would involve of course protecting each other from the virus, and protecting those who most need protection in terms of the virus, in terms of more elderly or more susceptible to the new disease. But at the same time also creating a collective response to the very authoritarian measurements that were immediately introduced by the new far right government. So what started immediately after the beginning of the lockdown, or even before that, was that this lockdown of course also prohibited any form of protest or gathering that was not with your immediate family members, but the city walls also immediately became full of anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist messages. A lot of people were inventing sort of like solo or individual critical actions on the streets from some more creative situations like jogging with banners, with political banners, or, and this went viral immediately, to the sort of actions in front of the parliament, for instance at one point people plastered the entire huge square in front of the parliament with black crosses marking marking 1.5 metres social physical distance that would enable people to protest. So there were a lot of things happening, and sort of in the air, in the city, and then we decided quite soon, in the beginning of April, about two weeks into the quarantine, that we need to start pushing against this idea of re-patriarchalisation and re-traditionalisation of the society. What I mean by that is that during the lockdown it was immediately sort of the discourse of the power became, how to say, the only safe place is your home and your immediate family members, and everything else presents danger, it’s filthy, it’s dirty, it’s dangerous, and that in itself is a very fascist argument, that we often hear when it comes to migrants and so on. But we found that it is very crucial to sort of make sure that we can change the places in which people live from this patriarchal family kind of social organising into a political terrain, so what we did is that we encouraged people to create sound demonstrations on their balconies, and put banners and different messages of political dissent into their windows, just mark with their flags with messages of political content, in order to stop this patriarchalisation of society. This actually caught on quite well, and it offered a kind of way for neighbours to get to know each other, to do some kind of collective yet individual action, to just bring people together in dissent to get to know each other. After a couple of weeks, on April 24th, we decided that it is time to take things to the streets again. It was very clear for us that we have to carefully think about the methodology of the protest, because we were aware that at that time people were actually scared of the virus. The virus of course is and was real, and the deaths were real, so we went back into the old textbook of the late 1990s and we decided that critical mass, the bicycles and the cycling in itself, can perhaps be a very good way to combine two things that we really wanted to. One is to protect each other from the virus, and the second one was to sort of still create the kind of collective body. This actually worked very well, actually I should add that this call for the sound demonstrations in the balconies was a combination of a wide front that consisted of different autonomous and anarchist and anti-authoritarian initiatives that we know each other for a long time, so this was a collective call of a lot of different initiatives, and it has proven to be very good. Immediately at the first demo we had almost 500 people on the streets, we completely blocked the centre, police was let in complete shock because it was completely unexpected, the traffic chaos that followed and so on. This well-attended protest was in itself, at that time we figured, probably one of the first global responses to the pandemic, but not only to the pandemic but also to these authoritarian and restrictive measurements that different governments were imposing on its civilian populations under the pretence of fighting the virus. Because in Slovenia for example the government almost immediately tried to send military police onto the streets to police the civilian population, which was of course completely unacceptable, and in itself a very militaristic step towards a totalitarian regime like we have seen in the past. So this was, we believed, a very positive message that it is still possible to create a kind of protest in this newly changed environment. What followed was massive mobilisation for May Day, and that actually created an amazing response, we have more than 15,000 people on the streets for May Day, cycling around the city creating a big traffic chaos, completely blocking the city centre and surrounding crossroads, major roads and so on. The streets were filled with anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist messages and in itself we believed that these two protests broke down the claustrophobic attempt, and the first attempt of the new far right government to introduce an authoritarian state.
And you are talking about Ljubljana or also other places, and can you give us a bit of perspective of what that means in respect to figures in a country like Slovenia?
Ramona: Well yes, of course we are perfectly aware that 15,000 or 10,000 or even 500 people means nothing in some of the bigger cities around Europe and the world, but in Slovenia I would say that the biggest self-organised protests usually gather around 2000 and maximum 3000 people, so that means that this was a huge number that went beyond the mobilisation potential of the anti-authoritarian movement. Slovenia of course has 2 million people and Ljubljana has 350,000 people. So, for the situation which we are living in and the political sort of terrain in which we are working, this is actually a big success. I would also like to add that it wasn’t just Ljubljana, of course the biggest demonstration was in Ljubljana, but already immediately after the first smaller protest on April 24th, many different smaller cities at some point around May Day, around 15 of them, already organised their own cycling. Some were cycling in small numbers, some like Koper actually gathered quite a lot of people on the streets, and this decentralisation of the protest was something that was giving a lot of strength to the movement in itself, and was definitely one of the most positive effects. These decentralised forms of protests have been continuing for months since.
And is still going on?
Ramona: Yes, it does not really seem to stop, or slow down. Of course during the summer, as in many other countries, Slovenia gets a little bit more empty. It is also clear that there is a certain kind of demobilisation going on, but nevertheless on the last protest we had again more than 3000 people and this was probably the smallest number so far. That simply means that the people are angry and continue to be angry, regarding the authoritarian measurements and fascism of the new government. We believe that with the crisis we are entering a new political terrain, because in the past we were kind of used to having an intense period of mobilisation, maybe for a week, maybe for a couple of weeks, but even during the 2012, 2013 uprising, that lasted for 6 months, the intensity of this protests is much less than it is now, it is not just the Friday protests, we are basically on the streets maybe two or three times a day, different actions are happening in front of different ministries. Smaller, more particular issues are being addressed, like the cultural workers for instance are protesting in front of the ministry of culture on a regular basis, and so on. So the whole political terrain is now more and more it seems going into the direction that we are having a very ongoing set of unrest, which of course changes the way that we operate on the streets, because activist burnout is a real thing, and so we have to find new ways to be present and active on the streets, while at the same time not jeopardising our ability to continuously form social movements, autonomous spaces, and other initiatives during this period.
So as you are probably aware, there is a kind of anti-corona virus protest going on in Germany, with a strange mixture of conspiracy theorists, right wing people and other sorts. How did you manage, or did you manage to keep these people out of your protests?
Ramona: Well the thing is, perhaps the difference is, in Slovenia the protests were immediately started by, the call that started the protests was actually issued by anarchists, by anti-authoritarians and autonomous initiatives. That means that the content of the protests was at first very dominated by this kind of political content. There was not a lot of space for this kind of conspiracy theories and sort of doubt over the existence of the virus, because already in the call we were talking about being safe and being responsible, socially responsible to each other, and everyone who particularly needs that, but at the same time we have to differentiate between social solidarity in the fight against the pandemic, and the authoritarian measures that the government are accepting in restricting our freedoms under the pretence of fighting the virus. And because this was very much present from the beginning of this unrest, of course there was not much space for these different sorts of conspiracies, and denials of the existence of the virus, there simply wasn’t enough space. Of course, there are a couple of people that you can see on the streets, but are organised in a separate way. Their numbers are never bigger than maybe 10 or 20, and it is clear that it is irrelevant in terms of the general anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian discourse that is present through banners, through speeches, through flyers, and all other forms of expression on the streets.
Can you tell us a bit if there have been fascist attacks, or attempts at attacking these protests, and also how have the government reacted to all this?
Ramona: Yes, well. Two things, police repression and fascist, or, I would say, neo-Nazis, because they were specifically neo-Nazis. These were the two characteristics that marked the dynamics of the protests about a month after they started. First I would like to say a couple of words about the repression. From the beginning the state really went into heavy policing, the kind of heavy policing that we are not familiar with, or that was not very common in the past. In Slovenia of course we have been targets of repression in the past, but we do not really remember the extent of policing in such a way, because immediately it was not just the black bloc that was targeted, it was actually just the ordinary people who came to the protests, the police were taking their information, are still receiving penalties from the state for breaking the quarantine, and supposedly endangering other people. You know, the special task police and riot cops were detaining people far out of the protest area simply to make sure that all known activists or anarchists did not even reach the area of protest. So, this has actually meant, this kind of policing which was recognised as an attempt by the government to determine what is the new notion of public space and how much dissent is actually allowed in this public space, this sort of policing was immediately met with huge anger from the crowd. We had some good examples when riot police were attacking either random people or black bloc or whatever, it was the majority of the crowd that actually went and protected them, or at least didn’t fell back, like these other protests where the majority who are not militant and fall back, and give a lot of space to the police to operate and persecute and beat and so on anarchists and anti-authoritarians. In this case it was actually not the case. Quite soon after May Day I would say, these protests actually got a huge anti-police character that was combined with the general trends that we were seeing in the United States and around the world at that time after the killing of George Floyd in the United States. I should mention that a lot of solidarity actions also happened outside the United States embassy here in Ljubljana. So, this kind of anti-repression, anti-police work, led to unprecedented responses, not just in the media but also for the first time there was the independent monitoring of the protests regarding police violence in Slovenia that was introduced by the ombudsman in Slovenia and so on. So this went beyond the usual, how should I say, ways of policing.
Now, in terms of the neo-Nazis, we believe that at the point where it became clear that the government has used and failed every measurement that they often deploy. So for instance because they could not stop the protests by repressing it, when they didn’t manage to divide the protests because immediately the prime minister and the government in general and the government-controlled media started to call the black bloc, the anti-fa, terrorists who were hired, and so on, other participants in the protests refused to be divided, and then made several statements of accomplices, and simply declared solidarity with the black bloc and anti-fa and so on, so when the government failed to divide the protests they used the last card that they had, in order to change the terrain in their favour. Immediately they sent out very well connected neo-Nazi party who are, and that has been proven in the mainstream media in the past and again now, they sent the neo-Nazis who are connected with the leading far right political party. They have not been many, never more than 50, usually even less, but they appeared on three protests, as gilets jaunes, the yellow vests, trying to mobilise a counter sort of protesting, and I think failed to do so and gave up eventually after three protests in which they have been effectively pushed out of any kind of political significance on the streets.
And are you still on the bikes or how is the protest going on right now?
Ramona: Well, the bikes had of course its benefits and its, I would say, not such a good way. I think for anti-authoritarian and anarchist initiatives, it was always crucial how to create the political conflict on the streets, and the first two protests definitely created that by simply creating a collective body on the bicycles. Afte that there have been several attempts to reconfigure the terrain of the protests and the methodologies.
At some point it became very clear that of course bikes allow people to move very fast around the city, they are excellent for massive blockades of the streets and traffic, they are very good if you want to cover more terrain and be unpredictable around the city, but they also lack certain kind of visibility of messages that blocks on foot actually can create. So like I said there have been several changes in methodology. For many weeks people have been on bikes, and then they changed the call itself from the bikes to the feet, and then when the second wave of Covid-19 started to happen in Slovenia a couple of weeks ago, this changed again into reintroducing bikes, and then changed again into not introducing bikes. And so the protestors are playing with different notions, sometimes going into the streets with bikes, sometimes without, sometimes moving throughout the city, sometimes being more static, which creates this kind of more unpredictable situations.
We already talked to you in 2013 during and after the last uprising in Slovenia. Do you see similarities in the two movements?
Ramona: If your perspective is from, I would say, far away, they might look similar, in terms that they are ongoing, in terms that it is the same prime minister that was forced to resign during the 2012, 2013 uprising, he is again on the power, again introducing more fascist and authoritarian policies and measurements, so these two things are of course similar, but I think that this is probably where the story ends in terms of similarity. First of all we think it is wrong trying to recreate something that has or has not worked in the past, because in the second that you become ritualistic or nostalgic, you sort of lose the ability to be confrontational, and we believe that protest has to be that, a political confrontation, a political conflict. I also believe that the 2012, 2013, uprising was marked by the devastating financial crisis that really contributed to a lot of people losing their abilities to pay rent, losing their jobs, losing the social welfare security that they were used to. So it was a completely different social circumstance and economical circumstances that brought people onto the streets. Also we have to say that the protests of 2012, 2013 were much more confrontational than this wave of unrest. In 2012, 2013 we have seen massive riots and that was not the case this year. So, yes and also I would say that the simple fact of the circumstance of Covid-19 changes the way that people are engaging in these protests. Like I say it’s very dangerous to try to just re-enact something that has worked in the past. I think that the challenge for everyone is trying to create new ways of being disobedient.
Of course, and speaking about that, what do you think are some ways to go forward now?
Ramona: Well, I would say first of all that there is a danger of ritualisation of these protests that we are I think living now. Like I said before, one of the positive aspects of this protesting is that we have three blocks that are mutually supporting each other. One is the environmental, one is the anti-capitalist, and one is, the third is the cultural workers block. These are the three blocks that are most present and most visible on the streets and mutually supporting each other, and accepting the fact that they all have kind of different methodologies of struggle, different ideas, different levels of militancy and so on, but this diversity of tactics is actually something that they all welcome in a common political space in which everyone is allowed their own autonomy. So this is very positive. The danger of course is that it is very hard to maintain the militant approach in a very socially claustrophobic environment where the amount of militants is relatively small and the repression, social and police, is very big. So, in the absence of more militant actions, it is clear that what is gaining more ground is sort of communication-created actions that perhaps look very good, are even participatory, I’m talking about, I don’t know, raising different banners, or say hundreds and hundreds of people with the same flyer which they raise in the air, but are of course insufficient when it comes to creating more direct political conflict. I simply believe that we need to find ways to have both. If we have only more militant approaches without, you know, more massive situations of political dissent, then of course those militants are most likely to be very much scrutinised by the police, and to be repressed and arrested and trialled. If we only have these big communication massive actions, of course the lack of political conflict and confrontation leads to the neutralisation of the movement. So you probably need to have a way to have both, and I think that this is the challenge in movements that are going on for a long time, because, like I said, it is sometimes harder for many months to keep on creating a situation of unrest. It’s easier to fall back into kind of making a protest a kind of cool, feel-good cultural event. This is the danger, like culture or creative action or communication actions should never replace the political content of the protests.
Perfect, let’s hope you find your way. To close the interview, is there anything else you would like to add?
Ramona: Perhaps just a small but I think important fact, when this protest started it felt like we are very much alone in the world, it was very hard to figure out whether or not we are doing the right thing, or are we massively endangering each other through the virus and so on, but I think that it soon came to a simple fact that there are some people dying and simply standing back and waiting for the authoritarian state to take over our lives, our freedom, our ability to struggle, is simply unacceptable, even if it means that we are risking a lot by going on the streets. I think that a lot of people around the world have since come to a very similar conclusion, and it has been very inspirational for us to see that we are not alone, that massive unrest and riots are happening all over the world, and it seems to me that it is very important, that as anarchists, we are actually part of the struggles, that we show that it is not the fascists or the conspiracy theorists, or the liberals if you want, or the NGOs, or other state or parastate players, that are determining what it means to struggle in the Covid era. I think that Covid will be here with us for many years to come and we simply cannot leave the streets to the initiatives that are, in itself, a danger to freedom, to self-organization, to horizontality, to anti-authoritarianism. I think it is sort of our historical duty to fight and show people what it means to fight as anarchists. So I think that I would conclude like this.
Thank you very much.
Ramona: Thank you.
So, and to all our hearers out there, if you like to listen to our last audios on Slovenia, just check out our website, aradio-berlin.org, and search for Slovenia. Till next time!