Say what you will about the current crop of Slovenian leaders, but their blandness does have an upside. As boring and forgettable as they are, they’re also several orders of magnitude more civil and restrained in their public communication as their immediate competition. Not that the bar is particularly high, though…
Case in point leader of the SDS Janez Janša who seems to have developed both a knack for uttering things beyond the pale as well as a surprisingly thin skin. Days ago, for example, he picked on a private citizen, an entrepreneur who took issue with one of his more absurd and incendiary Facebook posts of late.
A young woman reported the post and tweeted about it which was enough for the Glorious Leader to quote-retweet her twice thus setting his troll army on her, subjecting her to some of the worst abuse we’ve seen on Slovenian twitter lately as well as attempts at abusing her family via email. But first, a little background
This sorry excuse for a country celebrates its Culture Day (or Prešeren Day) on 8 February, the day the great poet France Prešeren died (don’t ask) and on the eve national holiday (yes, we really get a day off for celebrating culture, how cool is that?) a ceremony is held where the political class gets to hobnob with the cultural class and the two exchange vows of mutual admiration and dissatisfaction.
Well, the latter usually goes one way only as culture is considered one of the cornerstones of Slovenian national identity. Take language: the first book in Slovenian language was printed mere years after Gutenberg unveiled his contraption but it would take centuries more for Slovenians to live in an independent country. Which is why political class always looks to cultural class for validation and legitimacy. And when the cultural class is pissed with the political class (for reasons both real and imagined) the latter is expected to simply suck it up and smile.
The core of this – often-times sordid – ritual is the Prešeren awards ceremony, a recognition despised and coveted in equal measure which is supposed to celebrate the best, most accomplished and/or most profound in what authors in all disciplines have created lately. Among the recipients this year were Maja Smrekar and Simona Semenič, artists whose work which merited the awards included but was not limited to posing pregnant in a torn Slovenian flag (Semenič) and having a dog lick milk off the artist’s breast (Smrekar).
Since any excuse to fan the flames of the culture war is welcome, the rabid element of the right wing zoomed on those two performances (among countless others by the two artists) with great vengeance and furious anger, as the quote goes. Forget what the artists really wanted to communicate. It was what the commentariat saw in these performances that mattered. And as they included only scantly clad female bodies, the prudish perverts were out in full force.
Sure, the debate on what constitutes art is always legitimate and the debate on just how much (or whether at all) public money, meagre as it is, should be spent on artists and their work is always inevitable, but to go from “how is this art” to “treacherous leftard dogfuckers” in less than 24 hours is a bit of a stretch even for the poisonous public discourse in Muddy Hollows.
On that note, it’s amazing how we are nearing the third decade of the 21st century and there still is a not-unimportant number of people in this country who get all worked up at the sight of a female body. Yes. Women have boobs. They even have opinions. Why all the commotion? Just got dumped by your left hand? What happened? Sheesh…
Because for all the brouhaha over art and patriotism and whatnot, one cannot help but notice the fact that there are other performances that include misuse of national symbols. From writing slogans on the national flag during sporting event to waving the same tri-colour but with insignia of WWII collaborators, the Home Guard, and everything in between, none of this is considered an appropriate use of the national flag and national symbols. And yet, no one really cares. Logic therefore dictates that is the half-naked woman trying to tell us something that is the problem.
This is where Janez Janša comes in. Still reeling from the financial and PR disaster that was the Bosnian loan fiasco, The Glorious Leader needed to throw some red meat to the base. What better way to do it than to use the anti-intellectual discourse on art in general and on the two artists in particular, crank it up all the way to eleven and post the following:
Slovenians! The degenerate left is mocking you on Culture Day like never before. It desecrates our common national symbols and Slovenian families and calls it “art”. If you disagree with it, you’re labelled as intolerants and idiots. And then it lavishly funds, with money taken our of your own pockets, these creatures who desecrate everything that allowed us to stand firm and survive as a nation. Enough, DOWN WITH PARASITES!
You’ll notice the shameless 1930’s narrative, but let’s take it apart, step by step:
1) First, a shoutout to “Slovenians”. Addressing a specific ethnic group rather than the entire citizenry.
2) Not mincing words (after all, attention on social media is a fickle thing) he hits it right off the bat and labels the left wing as “degenerate”. Just in case anyone was still unsure how to think of the political left.
3) He also established the continuity in that same sentence with “mocking you … like never before”. They’ve always mocked you but this is, like, way worse.
So far, pretty standard stuff, right out from an inter-war 20th century playbook. But then the man who once chaired the EU Council gets creative.
4) “Desecrating our common national symbols”. Errr… Are there any other? Maybe national symbols that are not common? Seems Janša was either getting carried away or was trying to hammer down the point by squeezing in as many keywords as possible. Probably the latter as he referenced “Slovenian families” (see Item 1) as well and air-quoted the word art, to delegitimise it further.
5) “You’re labelled an intolerant and an idiot”. Here we see how he establishes an us-versus-them relationship. And in all honesty, there is a small sliver of truth in this statement. Often people who understand art and its undercurrents will look down on people who don’t but will still pass opinion on it. But this is not only the case with art. It happens in sports, politics, architecture, yoga and day-care centres as well (to give examples at random). And it has nothing to do with ethnicity of anyone involved. In fact, many people regardless of their origin and world outlook can relate to this particular point. But since the narrative was already established, they can now be led down a very slippery slope.
6) “They’re lavishly funded with money taken out of your pockets”. A classic example of pot calling the kettle black, given that Janša’s pay-check has been a line-item in the state’s budget for the last quarter of a century (indirectly even longer than that), that the SDS is being funded by budget contributions and membership fees (effectively, out of people’s pockets) and is soliciting additional donations (again, from people’s pockets) in the wake of the Bosnian loan fiasco. But hey, the your-tax-dollars-at-work move is a classic.
7) “Creatures who desecrate everything that allowed us…” Dehumanisation at its best. The left and artists in general, and these two women in particular, are not people but creatures. And they should be treated as such (presumably, artists who adhere to Janša’s understanding of art as a function of nationalistic narrative are exempt).
8) “Stand firm and survive”. In Slovenian this reads “stati inu obstati” and is a direct reference to Primož Trubar, a Lutheran priest and author of the first Slovenian book in the 16th century. Again, keywords aimed at addressing a specific demographic as Trubar was a fairly liberal character in his day and age, was persecuted for his views by his compatriots and run our of Ljubljana more than once.
9) “DOWN WITH PARASITES!” More dehumanisation, just in case you didn’t get Item 7.
That’s a lot of messages in less than 70 words. Janša is nothing if not effective.
Right-wing commentariat will often label acts of individual progressives as “virtue signalling”, whatever the fuck that means, anyhow. It seems more often than not this is just one of those shifty accusations conservative types throw around when they run of arguments as if it somehow invalidates their opponent’s viewpoint.
But what we have here is signalling of a different sort: a carte blanche for Janša’s followers to go after not only the two artists but after anyone who as much as disagrees with the Glorious Leader let alone takes the artists’ side. These things used to be subtle, hence the term “dog whistling”. But the leader of the SDS took it to another level. Call it “hate signalling”.
And sure enough, the signal got through.
When @russhie, a young entrepreneur from Krško reported Janša’s Facebook post (presumably for hate speech) and tweeted about it, the man himself took notice, quote retweeted her and included a communist-era reference to VKP(b), an old-school designation for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Zagotovo bo o tem pogumnem dejanju pisala zgodovina VKPb2 https://t.co/yj73RJw9Gi
— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) February 10, 2018
Truth be told, his original post did lack a specific reference to communism so Janša may have only been trying to rectify this glaring omission. But one has to wonder how is it that a person as rabidly anti-communist as Janša routinely comes up with communists references that would make even the most hard-line apparatchik connoisseurs foam at the mouth with joy while the supposed leftards such as this author have to google this shit.
But just to make sure everyone got the message Janša did it again only minutes later, this time with a cynical remark about @russhie being eligible for Prešeren award.
Še ena kandidatka za prešernovo nagrado. Le kako so jo tokrat spregledali? https://t.co/ZoO12pOEOO
— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) February 10, 2018
Taken unto itself, the response is nothing more than a cynical remark by a thin-skinned politician. But in combination with his sponsored(!) Facebook post, this was akin to putting a target on @russhie’s back and letting his army of sexist trolls do their sick stuff. Sick as in people hurling zoophilia-laden abuse at her (think “leftard dogfuckers”), harassing her family members with it and at least one attempt at doxxing (in this case, publishing a general location of her place of work).
Channeling his inner Trump
Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere for the past couple of years, parallels with Donald Trump’s vitriol and hate speech are obvious. Indeed, this seems to be the general theme here. Janša is no longer trying to hide the fact that more and more his political survival depends on the underbelly of Slovenian society. He is stoking their fears and fantasies and will do his utmost to create a connection between these people and those who endure genuine hardship, be it social or otherwise.
It remains to be seen whether or not this will translate to actual votes come June but it can hardly be a coincidence this particular mental excrement hit the social media just before the polls showed SDS significantly dropping in popularity, most likely due to the fuck-up with the Bosnian loan. Be that as it may, the genie is out of the bottle as other people who took a stand on the artists’ issue were subject to the same vitriolic abuse.
And it will only get worse. For if the mud @russhie was dragged through was too much even for some self-appointed free-speech advocates loosely in Janša’s orbit, precious few of those took issue with his original Facebook post and are trying to walk a perilously thin line between the two.
Odds are this position will become increasingly untenable as elections near. Eventually, it will come down to whether one supports free speech of private citizens or a bully and his troll army trying to shut down dissent.