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Looking back at 2020 – Slovenia

As is practically a tradition, in early 2021 we publish analyses of last year’s events from the pens of our comrades from Croatia and the region. In the next few days and weeks we will publish articles on workers’ struggles and the political situation in Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia in 2020, which we believe will be of interest to everyone interested in reaching a better understanding of the working class and the possibilities for the development of the socialist movement in the wider region. To begin with, we present you with an analysis by our comrade from Slovenia, which has already been published in Slovenian:

We ended 2019 with a disintegrating coalition – the centrist minority government suspended cooperation with the party under the name of The Left (“Levica” in Slovenian).  In 2020, we were looking forward to the minimum wage being raised according to a new calculation. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia has mobilized its forces directly at the workplace. Mailmen showed us how the labor movement in the land of the hard-working could be revived. The environmental crisis has encouraged a mass civil society movement. Yes, all of it on the scale of Slovenia – as Lenin said: politics begins where there are millions, and as Agropop said: only a million of us remains. Luka Mesec, the coordinator of The Left, summed up Lenin and 2019 as a year full of weeks where decades happened.

For obvious reasons, we followed last year’s events mostly on the internet. It is all well and good that Janša is such a skilled shitposter that Slovenian doomscrolling is of world-renowned quality. In early January, the minority government of Marjan Šarec resigned. The stumbling block was the healthcare reform: the Ministry of Finance did not agree to the demanded blank bill of exchange when abolishing supplemental health insurance. With good poll results, Šarec was counting on early elections, but two former coalition parties – the Party of Pensioners DeSUS and the Modern Centre Party, SMC – started flirting with Janša. During February, the anti-Janša part of civil society was mobilized, as is tradition. Demands, petitions and rallies have not prevented the formation of a new (far) right government – DeSUS has no opposition program, and the SMC has already invested too much to dare to run in the election with such low public support. The year 2020 is marked by the culture war between Janša and the anti-Janša camp.

In Slovenia, 2020 was marked by conflicts between the Prime Minister Janša and a wide range of “anti-Janša” parties and movements (photo: telegram.hr)

The beginning of the new government coincided with the first confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Slovenia. The first act of the government was the establishment of the Crisis Staff of the Republic of Slovenia in March. Janša embarked on his term in a nostalgic fashion, stating that we are entering the second biggest crisis in Slovenia. If the parable of independence and Janša’s heroic period was not obvious enough, he hired Jelko Kacin, an official spokesperson during the 1991 Ten-Day War, as the government’s official (crisis) spokesperson. The 1980s and independence will be permanent reference points for the mainstream (left-wing and right-wing) political establishment in 2020 because the Slovenian political space is still structured by the same (post-)transition interests.

As mentioned, the SMC is strictly invested in working with the government, any government. Polls give them zero support, and the expectations of supporters (capital investors) are high. The SMC is in control of the Ministry of Economy, which at the beginning of the epidemic was responsible for purchasing protective equipment, from masks to clinical devices. In April we had our own whistleblower who exposed corruption in procurement. Mainly the SMC, and in part the NSi – Janša’s second coalition partner – was discredited, but not the SDS (Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party). Janša’s political savviness is admirable; in this constellation, all parties are his hostages. The entire anti-Janša firepower kills smaller parties organized around Janša, so Janša is always guaranteed a stable government in which he has a majority within the coalition, and the anti-Janša camp is guaranteed only fragmented minority governments.

Measures to contain the epidemic have been accompanied by various scandals and right-wing opportunism. The civil society reacted strongly against them, starting with the Friday protests on balconies. With the partial relaxation of the measures, the protests transitioned to bicycles (because gathering in public places is still forbidden, and cycling does not count as public gathering). A total of 25 (!) consecutive protests on Fridays were organized. Without long-term political substance, protests were organized in relation to the current measures: for example, against militarization, when Janša’s government tried to activate the article of a law that would grant police powers to the army, or in support of a whistleblower who exposed corruption, or in defense of the media when the government reformed media legislation, or in defense of cultural institutions when the government began to take over staffing in those institution. If there was no current issue in relation to which we could organize at the anti-Janša level, the protest would revolve around a certain topic, so on 1 May a protest for workers’ rights was organized. The circumstances of the Covid crisis have blurred the line between opposition to the introduction of Orbán-like measures and the general New Age suspicion of the very existence of the coronavirus. For that reason, the protests were partly a platform for anti-5G and anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories, as Janša’s government dealt relatively successfully with the first wave of the contagion, while the anti-Janša opposition had not yet been organized around a meaningful program.

The measures were adopted in the so-called anti-coronavirus packages issued approximately once a month. As we have already mentioned, the integral parts were the right-wing attacks on Janša’s opponents from civil society (media, NGOs), repressive measures that at one point restricted the movement of Slovenes within the municipality (with approximately 200 municipalities, the surface area of the average municipality is 100 km2, while the surface area of the smallest one is barely 36 km²) and (surprisingly) a lot of state subsidies for the economy and consumers. Thus, each citizen received a voucher worth 200 euros for spending in the Slovenian tourism sector, the clergy was used for testing the universal basic income in the amount of 700 euros, the self-employed received compensation for loss of income, and companies received subsidies for workers who are on hold due to the suspension of public life. Social groups such as pensioners and students also received solidarity allowances. These allowances are small in amount, but given the history of previous center-left governments and their social and economic policies, Janša has disrupted the assumptions regarding the left-wing and the right-wing and their position on unconditional money and redistribution of money.

The cynical remark to the effect that Janša, as a student of Orbán’s, is overtaking the Slovenian liberals from the left is exclusively a critique of the Slovenian left, and not an accurate description of the actual policy of the current government. The economic interests of the ruling class are implied in every measure because all repressive measures are accompanied by permissible exceptions, which serve the function of preserving the economy (even to the detriment of human life). After successfully surviving the first wave, Slovenia became one of the worst-affected countries during the second wave. Most cases of infection occurred at the workplace, and representatives of capital, both in the economy and in the parliament, insist on factories and offices remaining open for business, even though official experts recommend closing them down, and even though we have already closed down everything else and introduced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Small entrepreneurs (cultural workers and entrepreneurs in small-scale sectors who cannot do their jobs online) are at a disadvantage due to the suspension of public life, and they also form a significant part of the anti-Janša protest base.

While we are all hostages of the culture war between Janša and the anti-Janša camp, the partial interests of the factions of Slovenian capital are asserted in a creative way. In December, news broke that Janša would stop funding the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and that a local critical rap star would be deleted from the register of the self-employed in culture, just as the government approved the purchase of tourist facilities run by foreign companies by the National Tourism Holding Company. The managers of these companies are, of course, Slovenian managers and giants of the political and economic transition who have invested in the existence of this government. In this context, state tourist vouchers also function as fuel for conspiracy theories, but all we get is a combined anti-vaxxer and anti-Janša position and liberal comparisons between Janša and Tito (Janša was nicknamed “Marshal Twito” because of his Twitter activity and his past in the Party).

This is a true feature of 2020 in Slovenia. Redirecting political debates from any class basis to fixating on Janša’s Twitter profile and the search for petite bourgeois martyrs. However, the culture war did not hinder all workers’ activities. One of the stories that took place last year dates back to 2003, when Slovenes decided in a referendum that shops would be closed on Sundays. Trade union collectives have long been preparing for the proposal, and the obvious opportunity presented itself when shops were closed on Sundays during the epidemic as a measure against the coronavirus. In May, the trade unions and The Left submitted a proposal that would have shops closed on Sundays even after the epidemic. The proposal enjoyed widespread public support, so it was initially supported by parliamentary parties. The challenge posed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry was successful, so the adoption of the law was not self-evident. The debate on the constitutionality of the proposal from the point of view of free economic initiative was, naturally, accompanied to a certain extent by a liberal emphasis on the debate on the secular nature of the state. The extensive and organized on-site research work carried out by the trade unions prepared shop workers so they could defend the closure on their own terms. The law was passed without any exceptions (such as restocking on Sundays). Of course, the struggle is not over: adjusting to online sales due to the coronavirus and the persistence of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry will for some time result in looking for loopholes in the gains realized through this labor struggle, but we can be partially satisfied since in 2020 we witnessed an increase in union activity in discount store franchises, where traditional union organizing is always difficult.

Organized capital did not rest in other sectors either. Even before its formation, the Association of Employers of Slovenia supported the government of Janez Janša. In addition to anti-coronavirus packages, we also witnessed several contributions to the legalization of accelerated deregulation of working conditions. The government has adopted a proposal to amend the Road Traffic Act and opened the door to Uber and other digital platforms in the field of road traffic. The government also established a Strategic Council for Debureaucratization, which prompted tax reform with its proposal for “debureaucratization”. The proposal consists of 74 measures that, among other things, reduce the tax rate on income from capital, reduce taxes for 13 thousand managers and formalize work performed by pensioners. Of course, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia, which in 2019 also called for a violation of the new definition of the minimum wage, also participated in formulating the proposal. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other employers’ organizations have been lobbying all along for freezing the minimum wage. Under the current regulation, the minimum wage will increase from 1 January. Representative trade union centers have announced a general strike in the event of a freeze. So far, freezing the minimum wage has not been introduced in any anti-coronavirus package, but lobbying carried out by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry will continue in 2021.

At the initiative of the Slovenian Varoufakis, Jože P. Damijan, the KUL – Coalition of the Constitutional Arc, was formed. It is an incentive to unite anti-Janša political forces under one program. The initiative for KUL, among others, was signed by Slavoj Žižek. All parties (except SDS) are invited to participate. Currently, KUL consists of all opposition parties and DeSUS, which is still a part of the government (meaning the vast majority of it is of the same composition as the failed Šarec government). Since the initiative began, Slovenes have been assured that they can secure the 46 parliamentary votes needed for the dismissal of the government. On 15 January 2020, a vote of no confidence in the government was proposed with 42 votes. At this rate, it is more probable that Janša’s term will end regularly and the opposition will have to prove itself in the regular elections.

In early November, riots broke out in Ljubljana, to which the police responded for the first time by using water cannons (photo: dnevnik.si)

After successfully facing the first wave of the epidemic, the world media described Slovenia as a success story. Slovenia was also the first country in Europe to declare the end of the epidemic. However, the second wave is a completely different story. The main reason is the late reaction (during the first wave, stricter measures were taken with smaller numbers of infected people). The numbers are now really tragic, and during December we reached a 100% increase in the number of deaths compared to normal years. Over time, the high numbers paralyzed protest rallies as well. The general dissatisfaction with the suspension of public life was also expressed in a unique event in the history of Slovenia. It was unique also because no one can reasonably place it in the context of the more general mainstream political options. Ljubljana was rocked by riots on 5 November, and Slovenian police used water cannons for the first time. “Anonymous Slovenia”, for which we cannot know whether it exists as anything more than a profile on social media, claimed responsibility. Everyone was in a hurry to explain the event by reference to various conspiracy theories about how coalition or opposition mercenaries are involved in some sort of tension strategy, as if in 2020 young people lack reasons or inspiration for riots and violent protests.

The year 2020 was full of weeks where decades happened. On the one hand, decades of nothing while we waited at home for the epidemic to end, and on the other hand, decades of intensification of the relationship between capital and labor organizations. Despite the unconvincing mobilization and operational capabilities of anti-Janša civil society and opposition parties, it should be stressed without cynicism that Janša is well on his way to regulate the Slovenian media and civil society space on the model of Orbán and his Hungary. However, there must already be a specter somewhere, because of which Janša defined his policy as distinctly anti-communist and anti-Marxist at the conference “Europe Uncensored“, with quotes from the Communist Manifesto. We want the phantasms of the Slovenian pro-Janša and anti-Janša to come to life in 2021, and we want their anti-communist rhetoric to face an authentic communist threat.

(cover photo: kurir.rs)

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