There’s one outstanding debt to settle. More than a week ago news broke of police bringing writer Goran Vojnović in for questioning. Due to shitload of work and other excuses, pengovsky failed to write it up, but some ten days ago Patrick brought it up in comments. Even more to the point, St. Luka has an excellent post on this, unfortunatelly in Slovenian 🙂
Cover of Vojnović’s book
Goran Vojnović is a writer, a columnist and author of a critically acclaimed and somewhat successful book “Čefurji raus!” about difficulties young people of ex-Yugoslav descent face in Slovenia. The book is a work of fiction and its main character Marko is a “čefur” (a derogatory term used by Slovenians for people from former Yugoslav republics), who – beside having trouble of fitting in, facing racism and other social issues – also has a problem with the police, which he refers to by a plethora of other derogatory terms. Pigs, tit-heads, bacon, coppers, scum… it was all there (well, Slovenian equivalents of those phrases, actually). Apparently the book was so succesful that someone in the Association of Police Officers actually read it and was insulted by all the colourful language and promptly filed criminal charges against Vojnović.
Needless to say that this came as a shock. There were already cases of police officers suing writers for libel in work of fiction (which is a contradiction in terms, but hey…), but after some curious legal decisions in favour of the plaintiffs/police officers, where judges proved that they too suffer from a lack of imagination, it was up to the Supreme Court to set the record straight and strike down rulings in favour of the suing police officers. But never before in Slovenia were criminal charges filed against an author for writing a book.
A mild shitstorm ensued, especially since it transpired that the charges were acted upon by Matjaž Šinkovec, who shortly after became Acting Director General of Slovene Police. At that point the new interior minister Katarina Kresal, who appointed Šinkovec, stepped in and denounced actions by the police. Humiliated, Šinkovec stopped the investigation and offered to resign. He also apologised for his poor judgement, whereupon minister Kresal refused his resignation.
So, all is well that ends well? Not exactly. OK, so the Slovenian police (or at least part of it) lacks imagination and a sense of humour. Too bad. But the problem arises when the only organisation which can legally use force against a citizen starts using these powers to curb freedom of speech,thought and artistic expression. Sure, file a libel suit against a writer for writing a work of fiction. Make a fool of yourself. But treating a work of fiction as a criminal offence is dangerous.
Šinkovec got away with a slap on the wrist. Lucky for him. I think that from now on cops should be made to read at least two works of fiction per year as a part of their training. It’ll do wonders, I’m sure.
P.S.: regarding the title of the post (I’ve used it before): it refers to a legendary children song Milicija trenira strogoću (Police Trains for Toughness) written by Goran Bregović, which – performed by a kid – can be understood as a nod to the cops until you realise that it is actually a snub. Yugoslav cops never got it.