U.S. Politics and the Economy

Slovenia Hit by ‘Zombie Uprising’

By Brigita Gracner

The central European nation of Slovenia is being shaken by the first huge uprising since it became an independent country in 1991. The protests are directed against all political elites, austerity measures, and the capitalist system as a whole.

Since November, there have been 42 protests in all major Slovenian cities, with more than 110,000 participants altogether. The protests are mostly peaceful and decentralized, but a few hundred people have been arrested and many injured.

The protests started in November in Maribor as a response to corrupt actions of Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler in a dispute over the placement of new traffic enforcement cameras. The cameras were cited by the Municipality of Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest local authority, as a public-private partnership with a Slovenian firm.

The project was believed to be corrupt and lacking transparency after Kangler had allowed a private company to set up cameras all over the city and collect money from speeding tickets instead of directing it to the city budget.

The protests started with small demonstrations in front of Maribor’s city hall in October, and escalated on November 21 into the first big protest. The protesters demanded Kangler’s resignation, chanting, “He’s finished!” in the Slovenian Styrian dialect (“Gotof je!”).

This would become the most popular slogan for all the protests. Kangler was accused of corruption by the official Commission for the Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia and eventually resigned at the end of last year.

The protests spread throughout the country during November. On December 21, the first “All Slovenian People’s Uprising” took place in the capital, Ljubljana. This was followed by another on January 11.

One of the most important reasons the protests spread to other cities was a report by the anti-corruption commission that accused Prime Minister Janez Jansa and leader of the largest opposition party, Zoran Jankovic, of corruption.

Neither could explain the source of some of their income in recent years. Jansa is also suspected of being involved in a corruption scandal involving the supply of Finnish armored vehicles.

On February 8, two rallies took place in Ljubljana. The pro-government “Assembly for the Republic” organized a protest in support of Jansa, at which about 5000 people gathered. In the afternoon, however, more than 20,000 people took part, in the same place, in the third All-Slovenian People’s Uprising to protest against the ruling political elite.

This was the biggest anti-government gathering since the protests began.

Protest organization

From the outset, the protests were organized with the help of social networks—mostly through Facebook. Later, a coordination committee was formed, but did not act as an organizer. None of the protests had been reported to the police in advance, as is legally required.

Apart from All-Slovenian People’s Uprisings, the Coordination Committee of Culture of Slovenia, which combines the organizations of Slovenian cultural workers, also organized “Protestivals” with a cultural program in protest against government cuts in the funding of culture.

The movement is very diverse and consists of many social groups and initiatives: there are students and lecturers, trade unions, precarious workers, pensioners, anarchists, ecologists, socialists, and others, all demanding deep social changes.

Among the new groups the most prominent are the General Assembly of the All-Slovenian People’s Uprising, the Committee for Social Justice and Solidarity, the Coordination Committee of Slovenian Culture, the Committee for Direct Democracy, the Movement of the Responsible, and Today is a New Day.

There are also groups and parties that were active before the protest wave, such as the Federation for Anarchist Organization, the Workers and Punks’ University, the student association Iskra, the Invisible Workers of the World, The Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia, the Pirate Party, and the Party for Sustainable Development.

Among these groups, the Workers and Punks’ University has been prominent: it is a collective of students and activists who organize an annual series of public lectures and regularly intervene in the social struggles with their theoretical analyses and political statements.

Austerity and severe recession

Although the protests started as a response to local problems, the protesters soon started demanding the resignation of all political and economic elites regardless of their political affiliations.

But the protesters are also targeting the austerity measures, and some the capitalist system as a whole. Slovenia is experiencing the second-sharpest drop in GDP of any European Union member as a result of the economic crisis.

Jansa and Slovenian President Borut Pahor have meticulously followed the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They have imposed harsh reforms, which cost many jobs and social rights, leaving people (especially the young) with no hope for a secure future.

The government has already imposed a reform that raises the retirement age, and wants to reform the labor market with the intention of reducing protections against layoffs. Public sector wage cuts are also being planned.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court found a potential referendum on a law setting up a so-called “bad bank” and a sovereign holding company to be unconstitutional. In effect, the Court banned a popular vote on the matter.

The government also proposed a constitutional amendment that would reduce the chances of submitting a request for a referendum and reduce the potential to resort to this instrument of direct democracy.

The official response

The government, particularly Jansa’s leading party, and their media supporters failed in criminalizing the movement by describing the protesters as “communist zombies” led by “the uncles in the background.”

This evoked creative reactions at the second uprising, at which many of the protesters wore zombie masks.

During the protests, however, the word “communist” grew from a definition of former officials and the presumed “uncles” to a label for any opponent to the austerity measures.

Moreover, at the protest of the pro-government Assembly for the Republic, a speech by Jansa recorded in Brussels was broadcast in which the prime minister drew an analogy between the methods of his opponents and those of Nazis at the beginning of the Holocaust. Jansa called the protesters “left fascists.”

Regardless of Jansa’s abuse of historical events and misuse of terms, it is the first time in 25 years that some of the media and groups taking part in the movement have spoken of socialism in a positive way.

Jansa’s attempts to criminalize and discredit the movement are logical, since his two junior coalition partners left the government because of the corruption scandals. This deprived Jansa of a majority and may bring about early elections.

On February 22, the pensioners’ party quit the government, reducing Jansa’s coalition to just 36 of 90 parliamentary seats. The opposition is now trying to agree on a new prime minister, but no official candidate has been proposed so far.

Despite the fact that the situation will probably lead to a provisional government, or to early elections, which would postpone some reforms, the protests in Slovenia will continue.

The fourth All-Slovenian People’s Uprising took place on March 9 in Ljubljana.


In a way, the situation is reminiscent of the one in 2011, when the so-called 15 October movement (15O) organized similar protests as a response to austerity measures. The movement occupied the platform in front of the Slovenian stock exchange for a few months as a sign of protest against the worldwide financial crisis.

The government had fallen a few months before, and the public looked to the 15O protesters to produce an alternative.

However, it failed in the end to offer any concrete solutions, and at the same time refused any kind of institutionalization in more formal political structures. Hence, although 15O gained great support from the public at the start, it was overshadowed by elections held in December 2011.

Despite the new government, the political elite continued austerity measures, with the only party that opposed the neoliberal reforms in its program completely defeated in the elections.

As there will probably be early elections this year, it will be essential to consider new forms of organization. Although the movement seems stronger than the one in 2011, there lies a heavy task in front of it.

It appears that some parts of the movement will attempt to form parties, but since the movement consists of many groups with different positions, it will be essential for the socialist left to argue for its positions within this process.

This will give Slovenia the chance to prevent a forming of a government that would continue with the planned reforms.

Reprinted from Counter Fire. Brigita Gracner is from the Workers’ and Punks’ University, Ljubljana., March 13, 2013