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Jaša Mrevlje Pollak. Photo: Jože Suhodolnik.

Artists in Ljubljana Join Anti-Government Protests

On Friday, Slovenian artist Jasa Mrevlje Pollak was among seven civilians who were briefly detained in Ljubljana for taking part in the ongoing anti-government protests against Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The artist, who represented Slovenia at the Venice Biennale in 2015, was held in a police vehicle for half an hour after trying to scale a police barrier and was released without criminal charges on June 12, when some five thousand people gathered at Trg Republike Square to protest the center-right government’s weaponization of the pandemic to increase police powers, fuel anti-immigrant sentiments, and clamp down on freedom of the press.

Officials have been accused of favoring select companies in the sale of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks and ventilators, and since April, protests in Slovenia have occurred weekly, with thousands taking to the streets of the capital, often by bike, to protest state corruption. According to the Art Newspaper, the protests have had widespread support from the arts and cultural sector, including from poet Boris A. Novak; artist Marina Grzinic; collective Neue Slowenische Kunst; theater director Jasa Jenull, who was also detained Friday; and Dusan Smodej, director of the contemporary art festival Fotopub. Smodej said: “This government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of most of the country’s artists and it’s really starting to show. The entire situation is full of uncertainty and distress.”

Remarking on his experience at the protest, Mrevlje Pollak wrote on Facebook: “It was this crowd that reminded me of the power of community and the fact that we stick together with clear and strong principles.” He added: “We will not let ourselves be afraid and scared [by] violence [and] aggression. . . . Together we will win.”

The Associated Press reports that the seven people who were detained for “[attempting] to pull down a security fence” separating protesters from the parliament building in Ljubljana were later fined for violating public orders. While Pollak was not mentioned in the article, he admitted to jumping the fence in order to help a friend on the other side, who was forced to the ground by the authorities. Pollak described the incident as unsettling because of the mass demonstrations against police violence currently taking place around the world. Earlier that day, an action was held in solidarity with the global anti-racist movement, which was sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in the United States, outside the city’s US Embassy.

In May, the Slovenian president called an end to the coronavirus—making it the first European country to announce the pandemic’s official conclusion—and loosened social distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, the government is also facing backlash for pushing for legislative amendments to limit the rights of environmental groups and bar them from participating in the review of construction and infrastructure projects, declaring the move as necessary for boosting the country’s economy.

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