Aggressive “freedom-loving” or cultural struggle 2020

Dimitrij Rupel

Towards the end of the 19th century – mainly in Germany, but later in Austria as well as in Carniola – political disputes broke out, which historians call the cultural struggle (Kulturkampf). The fundamental cause of ideological and physical confrontations was the new relationship between Church and State. With the establishment of the German Empire, the influence of the Church was correspondingly reduced, and a new liberal policy was introduced, which corresponded to the new social and economic conditions. Slightly later than in Germany, the dispute flared up in Austria, and in Slovenia it appeared in the form of strict ecclesiastical supervision or undermining free-thinking and freedom-loving literature, as presented by Simon Gregorčič, Josip Jurčič, Janko Kersnik, Fran Levstik or Ivan Tavčar. In 1888, Bishop Anton Mahnič founded the Roman Catholic magazine to support the conservative cultural order. In 1891, Ivan Tavčar took revenge on him with the satirical novel 4000. Later, for example during the Second World War, the cultural struggle in Slovenia spread and intensified considerably. Partisan or communist cultural policy was once defined by Boris Kidrič: “We will let the nightingales sing, and we will teach the bullfinches.”


After the end of the Second World War, i.e. during the Cold War in the socialist countries, e.g. in the Soviet Union or in Yugoslavia, liberals were not intimidated by the Church, but by the Communist Party or State Security Administration, which made excuses that they must protect the revolutionary tradition. A kind of cultural struggle also emerged in the United States in 1950, where purges among intellectuals claiming to be communists were carried out by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. In China, the party dispute with reactionary intellectuals was called simply the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and about three million people were killed in its name. In Slovenia, we experienced a “mild” cultural revolution in the 1970s. The introduction to the re- “Stalinisation” was a letter from the president and executive bureau of the ZKJ presidency on September 28th, 1972. Professors Vladimir Arzenšek, France Bučar, Tine Hribar, Janez Jerovšek and Veljko Rus were outraged by the party leadership, and the main sinner was Edvard Kocbek because of his interview about the killed home guards. Exclusions and dismissals lasted until Tito’s death in 1980.

In the 1980s, there were changes and complications among the actors on the cultural and political scene. The party still felt responsible to call, to judge, and persecute various cultural phenomena, such as Nova revija, Pisateljska ustava, Mladina or Dnevnik and the Memoirs of Stane Kavčič (1988). But these Slovene phenomena took place against the background of great international movements (the Polish Solidarity movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Paris Charter, the collapse of socialism…). The “cultural struggle” has become significantly more even. At first glance, with the establishment of new parties, elections and a plebiscite, there was a change of roles. But this was only at first glance, as traditional actors (orthodox and democrats converted to democrats, even liberals) had abundant reserves and political experience that the dissidents did not have. Traditional players – understandably on the one hand – accused the new (Demos) government of disregarding them, but on the other hand their position was quite solid and enduring. After the self-abolition of Demos, the old “luminaries” returned to the political scene, skilfully arranging their financial, media and propaganda hinterland. There are several reasons for such a situation. Due to the confrontation with Belgrade, Demos could not afford a domestic “war”, on the other hand, many leading structures (in banks, in larger companies, in the judiciary, education, in the media…) remained virtually intact. In the midst of the independence commotion and hustle and bustle, there was not much time for personnel replacements. In addition, the members of the aforementioned collectives acquired powers with which they systematically privatised the former social or state property. This has proven to be extremely useful in the former regime media. Former directors and editors continued their mission as private owners.

Cultural warriors for more socialism

Today, the cultural struggle is not as equal as it was in the beginning of an independent state. The most aggressive and persistent cultural warriors regret the lack of policies and measures that were once characteristic of socialist Slovenia. On the one hand, these are groups and organisations associated with so-called left-wing parties. At a time when these are in power – about four-fifths of the time since independence – they are more or less discreetly cheering for the government and criticising the opposition. They represent a kind of agitation and propaganda department. The activity of this department is extremely lively in those times when, by chance, it comes to – or there is a possibility of – a conservative (center-right, liberal…) government, and when its godparents are temporarily stuck in opposition. (So far, the so-called left has never spent more than four years in opposition.)

At the time of a so-called right-wing coalition, at the end of 2007, just before the start of Slovenia’s presidency of the European Council, Blaž Zgaga and Matej Šurc prepared a Petition against Censorship and Political Pressure, signed by 571 journalists. There were even more of these petitions and declarations. In addition to journalists, the so-called left intellectuals, professors, doctors were also signed… In 2012, there was a “Maribor uprising” that overthrew the local (right) mayor Franc Kangler, and which continued with the Ljubljana and all-Slovenian “uprising”, which goals (excluding general complaints of non-compliance of ambitions of the protesters) were not entirely clear. In February this year, at a time when “negotiations on the possible formation of a coalition led by the SD” were taking place, 75 intellectuals from the predominantly left political pole (with the first signed Rudi Rizman) addressed the public. Their warning was entitled Let’s protect sensitive Slovenian democracy from authoritarian rule. Rizman’s group opposes the agreements between Slovenia and the countries of Visegrad groups that can “take Slovenia into the circle of those EU member states that are today on the black list of violators of the basic principles of protection of democracy, the rule of law, media independence and human rights.” This summer, the FDV – edited by Slavko Splichal – published a collection of texts defending the inviolability of RTV Slovenia, entitled Reflections on the Future of Public Media. A few days ago, a group led by doctor Dušan Keber protested against the government of Janez Janša in front of the National Assembly; On October 28th, a letter signed by 22 Slovenian media editors appeared: “In such circumstances, the pressures of the authorities, which most of us face every week, if not every day, represent an additional burden and complicate quality journalistic work…”

Non-liberality and authoritarianism could be attributed to left-wing parties and groups

The situation is extremely unusual. Our leftists, let’s call them caviar protesters, oppose repression, censorship, authoritarianism, and often call it “non-liberal” and “fascist” power. The problem with these performances is that they are not based on facts, but are media constructions. In Slovenia – except in “media constructs”, in various petitions and declarations that give the impression that they are copied from old party manuals, there is no fascism! Non-liberality and authoritarian rule would be much more justifiably attributed to left-wing parties and groups. To make the situation even more unusual, the most ardent cultural warriors incite non-liberality to groups and individuals who are recognised and confirmed freethinkers and libertarians, founders of an independent state, presidents and leaders of classical liberal institutions, authors of a universally recognised liberal constitution, judges of the Constitutional Court, academic and university individualists. Our caviar protesters are attacking a policy that is prevalent in the European Union and is represented by the European People’s Party (EPP), based on conservative-liberal, Christian-Democratic and center-right values. The EPP is identified with the beginnings of European integration.

Thirty years ago, when I participated in the establishment of a democratic Slovenian state and when I convinced my foreign interlocutors of its justification, I naturally also thought that all possible criticisms and attacks would have to be endured in a democracy. I remembered Voltaire’s sentence: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Of course, I did not expect what was happening today.