Offensive “freedom-lovers” or cultural struggle 2020

Dimitrij Rupel. (Foto: STA)

Towards the end of the 19th century – mainly in Germany, but later in Austria and also in Carniola – political disputes broke out, which historians refer to as the cultural struggle (Kulturkampf). The fundamental cause of ideological and physical confrontations was the new relationship between the Church and the State. With the establishment of the German Empire, the influence of the Church was correspondingly diminished, and a new liberal policy was put in place that suited 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 in other words, in undermining of 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 and in Yugoslavia, liberals were not intimidated by the Church, but by the Party/Udba, which claimed that it 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-“Stalinization” was a letter from the president and executive bureau of the ZKJ presidency on September 28, 1972. Professors Vladimir Arzenšek, France Bučar, Tine Hribar, Janez Jerovšek and Veljko Rus incurred the wrath of the party leadership. The main sinner, however, was Edvard Kocbek because of the 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 as if it is its role 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 Slovenian phenomena took place simultaneously to the 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 tied. 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 the traditional actors (orthodox in democrats or even in liberals converted communists) had abundant reserves and political experience that the dissenters 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 resistant. After the self-abolition of Demos, the old “luminaries” returned to the political scene, skilfully arranging their media, propaganda and financial hinterland. There are several reasons for such a situation. Due to the confrontation with Belgrade, Demos could not afford a domestic “war”, but 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 privatized 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 tied as it was in the beginning of our independence. 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 organizations associated with the 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 criticizing 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, exceptionally there is a “threat” of possibility – a conservative (center-right, liberal…) government and when their godparents are temporarily stuck in the opposition. (So far, the so-called left has never spent more than four years in opposition.)

At the time of the so-called right coalition, at the end of 2007, just before the start of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, 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, they were signed by left intellectuals, professors, doctors, etc. 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”, whose goals (excluding general complaints of not taking ambitions of the protesters into account ) 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 titled Let’s protect the sensitive Slovenian democracy from authoritarian rule. Rizman’s group opposes the agreements between Slovenia and the countries of the 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 Faculty of Social Sciences published a collection of texts defending the inviolability of RTV Slovenia, entitled Reflections on the Future of Public Media – edited by Slavko Splichal. 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 28, a letter appeared, signed by 22 editors of the Slovenian media: “In such circumstances, the pressures of the authorities, which most of us face every week, if not every day, represent an additional burden and make quality journalistic work difficult…”

Illiberality 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 called “illiberal” and “fascist” rule. The problem with these appearances is that they are not based on facts, but are constructed by the media. In Slovenia – except in “media constructions”, in various petitions and declarations that give the impression as if they were copied from old party manuals, there is no fascism! Illiberality and authoritarian rule would be much more justifiably attributed to the left-wing parties and groups. To make the situation even more unusual, the most ardent cultural warriors depict groups and individuals who are recognized and confirmed freethinkers and libertarians, founders of an independent state, presidents and leaders of classical liberal institutions, authors of a universally recognized liberal constitution, judges of the Constitutional Court, academic and university individualists, as illiberal. Our caviar protesters are attacking a policy that is prevalent in the European Union and is represented by the European People’s Party (EPP), which is 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 independent Slovenian state and when I convinced my foreign interlocutors of its justification, I knew that democracy would have to withstand all possible criticism and attacks. I remembered Voltaire’s sentence: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But, I did not anticipate what is happening today.