Tear Gas, Muh Freedoms And Fun For The Whole Family

In a reprehensible, yet entirely predictable escalation of a series of anti-covid-pass protests last Tuesday, Muddy Hollows’ capital Ljubljana was the scene of a demonstration-turned-riot that saw liberal use of tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets as well as mounted and K9 units. It was, in short, fun for the whole family.

Police water canon is deployed in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia, surrounded by riot police armed with shields and tear gas
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This was in stark contrast to the week before when a similar but larger protest took place and the police more or less just stood by, dispersing the crowd only when it entered the Ljubljana bypass and briefly stopped traffic. This time around however, everyone was spoiling for a fight. The Covid-sceptic mob, the police and the government. And a fight was what everyone got.

A lot has happened in the three months since pengovsky’s last blogpost (sorry, things to see, people to do, etc.). Most notably, at least for the purposes of this post, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and general covid-deniers have become much louder.

Led by Kranj city councilor and avowed nationalist Zoran Stevanović, this crowd is following in the footsteps of other Covid-sceptics around Europe and has – in addition to holding anger-fueled rallies – resorted to disrupting traffic and public transportation and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

But while Stevanović’s rallies were thus-far peaceful if rowdy (incursion onto the bypass two weeks ago notwithstanding), the scene last Tuesday was much more belligerent.

But muh freedoms!

That is not to say that all of the people turning up at Stevanoivć’s rallies are crazy far-right assholes keen on moving urban furniture. Far from it. It is just that his brand of amorphous populism feeds nicely into their general disgruntlement. And these days it takes very little for the tinderbox

Back in the day, Stevanović – angling to become Kranj mayor but landing a lesser position of a mere city councilor – dabbled in rabble rousing, anti-immigrant and nativist rhetoric. Even though his name and surname suggest some recent family immigrant history. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with recent family immigrant history, but you know – irony.

But clearly this dude has some organisational capabilities which he combined with a very crude version of anti-establishment nativist rhetoric. Combined with Covid-related cospiracy theories, this toxic mix soon started getting traction. At least on street level.

Now, as hinted above, the crowd at Stevanović’s protests are heterogeneous. There are anti-vaxx/anti-mask types and straight out Covid-deniers but also people who are simply angry with the government for fucking up, well, basically everything about the pandemic.

Crucially, however, what these people have in common is demanding (for whatever reason) that the government resign, all Covid-related measures be rescinded and for things to just go back they were.

In short, it seems increasingly obvious that Stevanović’s movement is the Slovenian version of “but muh freedoms“, just without guns.

As these things started spilling over into the general domain, people started asking questions if and (and if, how) Stevanović and his recently formed Resnica (Truth) party are connected to PM Janša and/or people in his orbit.

Soon, old photos started popping up of this character engaging in far-right circle-jerks with other fringe and not-so-fringe extremists, some of which operate well within Janša’s SDS (aka The Party). It all fit way too nicely together to be just ignored.

On the other hand, it all fit just a bit too nicely together.

The main point of contention is the fact that the Glorious Leader and his regime are trying to enforce the Covid sanitary measures any way they can (which, incompetent cunts that they are, is not saying much) while Stevanović and his mob are openly mocking those measures, defying them and daring the regime to have at them.

And as we know from previous experience, the Glorious Leader does not take lightly to his authority being challenged.

Oh, the ironies…

This became very apparent when Stevanović, late last week, with all the decency of a low-level mafia capo, sent a late-night letter demanding immediate resignation and rescinding of Covid measures, or else…

For his part, Marshal Twito replied to that letter with all the delicacy of an apprentice butcher and basically told the newest schoolyard bully to go fuck himself, but in the process (by ways of actually answering the email) acknowledging that same schoolyard bully as a relevant player. So, yeah, great fucking job scoring an own goal there.

But Janša’s “letter of recognition” was nothing compared to president Pahor inviting Stevanović for a goddamn face-to-face meeting, where Pahor – ever the patronising dick that he is – proceeded to explain to Stevanović that he is playing with fire. To which the head Covid denier replied “fuck yeah!” and left, richer for a top-line photo-op with the president himself.

Really, at this stage, with less than a year before his decade in the highest office finally runs out, Pahor really ought to just shut up and doom-scroll Instagram. He’s done enough damage as it is.

So, the Party-folk were now told in no uncertain terms that the Glorious Leader does not approve of the mob of the street.

As as result, when shit proceeded to hit the fan in short order, the Party and its propaganda network picked up on Stevanović’s immigrant background and decided to run along with it, pitting the Ljubljana riot as “those fucking foreigners” vs. “true Slovenians”.

Funny how a mainstream far-right nativist party suddenly disputed the credibility of a fringe far-right nativist party and its immigrant-roots leader. Irony, pengovsky tells you.

Political fallout

The general consensus outside the antivaxx movement right now seems to be that Stevanović’s party has very limited parliamentary potential. That might of course change in the coming months but unless these guys come up with an actual platform, then the very thing that they demand now will prove to be their undoing.

Namely what happens when the mob gets what it wants (in this case, elections)? It fizzles out. And if the vote is scheduled for late spring/early summer when this Covid bastard of a virus receeds a bit? All these sanitary measures will seem slightly less intrusive, decreasing the charge of the mob further.

But even though Stevanović is apparently neither in cahoots with PM Janez Janša nor does he necessarily occupy a particularly large swathe of public opinion, his running around town and making a nuisance of himself does achieve two important things.

First, it pushes Marshal Twito slightly more to the political centre. This by virtue of establishing a political presence to the right of him, not by any substantial change in the politics of the ruling party.

And second, it allows the Glorious Leader to potentially run on a law-and-order platform in the coming election.

Thus, even if Stevanović is not working in concert with Janša, his cunty “muh freedoms” bullshit and running around breaking things still helps the Glorious Leader.

Opposition on a tight-rope

But what of the opposition? Well, they were momentarily in a bind. The four opposition parties finally managed to get their shit together and sign a loose post-election cooperation agreement (in short: no-one deals with Janša and whoever gets the plurality of votes gets first dibs at forming a government).

But the sudden appearance of Stevanović as an actual player threw a bit of a wrench in the works as the mob leader – on the surface at least – shares opposition’s goal of toppling the government and calling an early election.

As a result, SAB, LMŠ, SD and Levica have to thread carefully to stay on the “election now” message (even though it doesn’t really matter if the vote is called now or in three-to-six months) and yet not get slapped with a covid-sceptic and urban redesign sticker. Which are exactly the colours internal minister and Janša’s chief attack dog Aleš Hojs tried to paint them with.

But the opposition parties thusfar managed to avoid any serious rhetoric pitfalls. They continue to differentiate between the right to protest (good) and rioting (bad). Crucially, they’re also navigating between between a necessity for a workable Covid-pass regulation (acceptable) and blanket rule-by-decree approach Marshal Twito is taking (very much not acceptable).

That said, the longer Stevanović continues draw crowds to his rallies, and the longer the cops deploy copious amounts of tear-gas and rubber bullets, the smaller the opposition’s manoeuvring room to make these kinds of distinctions will be.

Good cop, bad cop

As for the cops themselves, they should remember that in the aftermath of Winter of Discontent it took them a really fucking long time to regain their standing with the people.

Back then, the question of whether they were protecting the people or the political class was never really clear. At some point the protesters simply decided that the cops were on their side (or, at least, not really crazy about the government). Everybody just kind of went along with that.

This time around, however, the Glorious Leader is not leaving anything to chance. Following that large-but-mostly-nonviolent protest two weeks ago, Janša let it be known publicly that he expected a more hardline apporach.

Internal minister and his favourite lap-dog Aleš Hojs dutifully obliged and replaced Ljubljana police chief with Eugene Tackleberry lookalike Janez Rupnik. He in turn fully understood his marching orders and told his guys to load up on toys.

Now, pengovsky fully agrees that sometimes a dose of well-directed police violence is necessary. Screw it, such is life. But dousing the entire city centre with tear gas and water canon indiscriminately? That is not just a different ball game, that is a different fucking sport.

You know, hashtag just saying…

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pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

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