Maribor mayor Franc Kangler resigned on Thursday, effective 31 December. Three protest, several dozen wounded and tens of thousands of euros in damage later the original demand of the people of Maribor was met. Alas Kangler was a day late and a dollar short. Protests have now spread all over the country (Koper, Kranj, Ljubljana and even Bohinj being the latest flashpoints) and what started as public show of discontent against a specific mayor is fast turning into a popular uprising of sorts. In fact, Thursday was a rather good day for protesters. Not only did Kangler call it quits in Maribor, but another rally in Ljubljana also forced last-minute changes in the budget which the parliament passed later that day. Namely, several thousand students and teachers from universities in Ljubljana, Maribor and Koper converged in front of the parliament and demanded the monies for higher education and research not be further slashed in the next two years. Surprisingly, they succeeded.
Protesting students formed a human chain around the parliament on Thursday
The university protest was the first such rally with a specific agenda. On one hand this might herald the next stage of the protest movement, where various groups will put forward their agendas, but it also shows that it was the initial stage of complete and utter public contempt for all things political which paved the way for a more targeted agenda. Namely, if it wasn’t for the massive, general and non-discriminatory protests (violence we could do without), then the agenda-driven ones would be flat-out ignored. As was usually the case in the last 20 years.
If protests are really to achieve something, they need content beyond just seeing heads roll. To be sure, Kangler is out. It seems possible even that the entire Maribor city council will dissolve itself and call for early elections in the city. Which is entirely legitimate and probably not a bad thing for the second largest city in the country. But this would only give us one election more and put the process front-and-centre which doesn’t really solve the problem. I mean, it should, but it doesn’t
As pengovsky wrote a couple of days ago, the problem are not just the specific people in power, but the entire political class and the unrecognisably bent rules they’ve set for themselves during the last twenty-odd years. The problem is a complete and utter de-legitimisation of the political process. Better yet, the people have (correctly) diagnosed a disconnect between the “political” and “democratic” and sided with the latter. Hence the protests in the streets and the nervousness in political offices. It must be said, however, that siding with the democratic sentiment can quickly dissolve into more sinister things. For example, just as they stole the country, the political class can also steal the revolution (yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point). Take a look at Egypt.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, the protest movement must start forming its agenda. Or, rather, agendas, since the movement is decentralised. A part of this agenda is already forming. That students and professors succeeded in preventing more budget cuts to higher education and research is worth noting. But that was just a budget item. The potential of the “uprising” is much greater. Think new social contract. Think sustainable development. Think human development index.
This has the potential to be it. The political class is scared. If it weren’t, it would have simply ignored the university protests on Thursday. It is and it didn’t. The people have shown that they have the guts to go out in the street. Now they have to show the guts to think. And the political class has to show the guts to listen. Because it is finished, one way or another. But if it starts to listen, the head-on with reality will be much less brutal.
So, start thinking, people. My two cents: stop tinkering with the constitution, start tinkering with universal basic income. And institute preferential vote in elections. Somewhere along the road we might even stop calling each other names.