By: Ž. N. (Nova24tv.si)
“It is time for the two-legged disgrace – also known as the Minister of Culture, Asta Vrečko – who is responsible for this debacle, to resign,” former Prime Minister Janez Janša said of the Frankfurt Book Fair fiasco. Minister Vrečko poured a lot of taxpayers’ money into the event, which was ruined by the appearance of the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Dr Slavoj Žižek. In addition to criticism of the event itself, he became a target of the German media. A real scandal was created, but the Slovenian media kept it all from the Slovenian public.
Although the Slovenian mainstream media reported that the well-known Slovenian philosopher Dr Slavoj Žižek had merely “spiced up the opening ceremony,” in an attempt to spin the matter as if it had been no big deal, the coverage in the German and other European media painted a very different picture. In fact, questions and harsh criticism were raised about the performance, where Žižek relativised the attacks and killings of innocent civilians carried out by the terrorist organisation Hamas against the independent State of Israel. “An event misused for current political and domestic rabble-rousing. Žižek, Vujnović, Laibach, Kovač, etc., are dancing, and we taxpayers will pay anyway,” historian Dr Andreja Valič Zver was critical of Žižek’s speech.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper ran an article on the event under the headline, “With Heydrich’s quote, a line has been crossed.” “Slavoj Žižek caused a stir with his opening speech on Israel and Palestine,” wrote the German newspaper Spiegel. Although it is known that the Frankfurt Book Fair opens to the professional public on Wednesday morning, according to this newspaper, the first scandal had already taken place before then. “Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher from the host country Slovenia, sparked outrage with his speech on the Middle East conflict.”
The speech by Žižek, who said that he condemned Hamas’s terrorist attacks on the Israeli population, but that he believed that the Palestinians should also be listened to, and their background taken into account if the conflict was to be understood, caused a stir, they said. “During the speech, some guests left the hall. The Commissioner of the Hessian State Government for Jewish Life and the Fight against Anti-Semitism, Uwe Becker, objected to Žižek first in front of and then directly on stage.” According to the statement, Becker accused Žižek of relativising the crimes of Hamas, left the hall several times, but finally returned accompanied by local Frankfurt politicians. According to Spiegel, the director of the book fair, Juergen Boos, also tried to calm Becker down.
After the event, Uwe Becker told the German news agency (dpa) that we can talk about anything, including the rights and suffering of the Palestinians, but not in the form of equating it with injustice, mass violence and terrorism. “That is not possible,” he said. “Even freedom of speech has a limit where it relativises, trivialises and equates things in a context where they cannot be equated,” he added.
According to the Hessen Minister, Žižek abused his role
“A scandalous speech at the opening of the book fair!” reported Germany’s Bild. “Uproar at the opening ceremony – Slovenian philosopher Žižek’s speech sparks controversy,” the German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk quoted the German public radio station. The Frankfurter Rundschau, in the wake of the opening of the fair, which it also described as having a scandalous start, discussed the reasons why members of the Hessen regional government and a Frankfurt judge left the hall during Slavoj Žižek’s speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Becker, the Commissioner for Anti-Semitism, told the press that if one looks at the barbaric crimes of Hamas, while many families – including many Germans – still fear for the lives of those who have been kidnapped, and while Jewish parents in Germany fear for their children because of Hamas’s calls for violence, and equates the terror mentioned with Israeli policy, such a speech simply cannot go unchallenged.
Angela Dorn, the Hessian Minister of State for Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts, criticised Žižek – even though he distanced himself from Hamas, he still repeatedly equated the actions of the terrorist organisation with those of Israel. She also decided to leave the Chamber in protest because of the contradictory nature of Žižek’s speech. “Freedom of speech is valid and must be respected,” she believes, but adds that the same applies when there is a contradiction. The keynote speaker and “star” from Slovenia, she believes, abused his role. The Mayor of Frankfurt, Mike Josef, described Žižek’s speech as disturbing. “Freedom of expression and culture of debate are important. But when Žižek quoted the SS man, Reinhard Heydrich, he crossed a line that goes beyond provocation,” he believes. Frankfurt’s Vice-Mayor Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg was particularly bothered by the fact that Slavoj Žižek’s speech linked the current terror of Hamas to the unresolved conflict of the Palestinians, thereby relativising it. “I find this relativisation intolerable and unpalatable.” In her view, nothing can justify terror.
The German Focus published an article saying that it was a scandal that Žižek had even been invited to the opening speech of the book fair. Die Welt, for its part, noted that Žižek often makes historical statements that are difficult to understand. “The speaker himself was audibly agitated and upset, which made it even more difficult to understand,” they added, referring to the speech, which, according to their information, was written by Žižek in a very short amount of time.
“Slavoj Žižek causes a stir in Frankfurt with a speech on war in the Middle East,” reported the Austrian Standard. The event did not go unnoticed by the Austrian Kurier either, which published an article headlined “Uproar at the Book Fair: philosopher Žižek highlights Palestinian rights.” An article headlined “Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek sparks protests at Frankfurt Book Fair with statements on Israel and Hamas” appeared in the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung. An article headlined “Uproar over speech on Israel and Palestine at opening ceremony” appeared in the Luxemburger Wort, a German-language daily newspaper in Luxembourg.
Although we have highlighted only a few examples of coverage by various European media, it is more than obvious that Žižek’s speech triggered a wave of outrage, which brought international shame to Slovenia. Accordingly, on social media, people began to wonder whether the Minister of Culture, Asta Vrečko, would resign and thus take responsibility for what happened. Among those who believe that she should resign is the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS) MP Branko Grims, but it seems that this will not happen. In fact, the Minister told the media outlet N1 that she saw no reason to resign, as she said that Slovenia and “its authors” were “excellently represented” in Frankfurt. “The Slovenian Pavilion is full of people, and the events are extremely well attended. A lot of effort has gone into getting the project to the point where we can all be proud of the book presentation in Frankfurt,” she insisted.