ON THE EDGES OF SPECTACLE
A small group of lesbians (and one gay man), along with members of the Autonomous Bloc, the collective of Metelkova anarchists, social activists from Rog, various groups for rightful globalization and a handful of university intellectuals, always join the workers’ demonstrations in Ljubljana. This is not only a display of lesbian solidarity with the workers, but also an identification with the class conflict as open homosexuality always highlights the issue of class. As a rule, the Slovenian public sphere is imbued with homophobia; with the exception of activists, and the resulting professional derivatives of homoactivism – writers or poets – there is not a single lesbian or gay in it. What definitive consequence this has for the survival of homosexuals is needless to speculate: the closet or poverty. Anyway, to the April workers’ demonstrations (Ljubljana 2008), I, a poet, a lesbian activist and a voracious reader, brought with me two recently published books Zbornik postkolonialnih študij (The Miscellany of Postcolonial Studies) edited by Nikolai Jeffs, an unemployed intellectual from Ljubljana, and a collection of short-stories Česa nisem nikoli razumela na vlaku (What I Never Understood on the Train) by the homeless lesbian writer, Suzana Tratnik. I took the books along if we would, by any chance, stop in the hustle and bustle to which no one, neither politicians, employers nor workers, ascribed much importance to changing the workers’ conditions. Or – if we were to be, like so many times before – stopped by the police. And so it was: The police stopped us at the crossroads of two Ljubljana streets in the center of the city, Robbova and Linhartova, that form a kind of blind meander of visibility, and was a spot so conveniently chosen for the police, as it was a blind spot only a few hundred meters away from the journalists and the cameras (that were documenting the international workers’ march on the main Ljubljana center street know as Dunajska). We, a group of about twenty from Metelkova, carrying three anarchist flags, were only a few minutes away from joining them, when surrounded by the riot police, who parked three vehicles to vigorously cordon us off and take down all of our names. Why? “You’ll see why,” uttered one of the policemen, “because you didn’t register” hissed one of his colleagues, evidently not familiar with the orders after which a third one jumped in with the ultimate answer: “On suspicion of a criminal offense.”
At that moment, a bouquet of unionists wrapped in red nylon passed by. They were staring at us, a scene they had probably seen before – a massive riot police squad surrounding a tiny group of “anti-globalists” – a scene they obviously felt had nothing to do with them, with the workers’ demonstrations, with the struggle for a decent and a dignified life, the struggle for social solidarity and justice. Not one of them stopped to inquire what was going on. Perhaps they did not recognize the anarchist colors, perhaps the media successfully implanted the image of hooligan anarchists in their heads. Whatever the reason, there was no solidarity and no identification. Being a lesbian, murdered a thousand times over, I had experienced this before – a thousand times over in thousands of other contexts and situations. They were looking at us with unabsorbed curiosity and paced forth without halting. They must have been in a hurry, as it was nearly two o’clock, just about time to line up for the parade. Meanwhile, the prime minister, the bearer of the radical neoliberal politics, already made a promise to the unionists showing agreement with their demands. The salaries would rise in three years time for, say, half a cent if inflation does not exceed thirty percent, of course. The protocol rolled through to the satisfaction of the spectacle of class struggle. As always, the true repression was whelping somewhere else, not too far away, just around the corner. If anyone wanted to see it, they could.
How then, are we, the red lesbians, anarchists, communists and radical leftists supposed to show that the class struggle is our struggle as well? By joining the union of seafarers? Perhaps the workers passing by thought our anarchist flag symbolized a small enterprise about to go bankrupt? The police most certainly did not. On the contrary, the police knew exactly who they were dealing with: they knew they were intimidating a tiny group demanding uncompromising equality, they knew they would try to stop the group before their ideas spread through a society that hardly ever questions the self-evident class hierarchy. This time, we were stopped, away from the eyes of the public. But those eyes will not be an obstacle in the future. The absurd reasons for our detainment – which already exist as legal facts – namely, reveal what the near future holds for us, the future of criticism and protests: in a violent way, but protected by law, the police intend to intervene with each attempt of radicalization of class struggle, in other words, each jump out of the sphere of the spectacle. Criminalization of an anarchist group and the entire Autonomous Bloc that identifies itself with class struggle, and wants to participate in it, reflects the authorities’ desire to define the notion of class struggle and exclude from it everything that would interfere in their definition. The content curtailment of the workers’ demonstrations, as seen at this time, more or less extends the spectacle of the workers’ power. And the police force, once again, showed itself as the master of this ceremony, the guardian of the definition, the armed force of capitalist ideology. One of the ways to rebel is by not participating in the spectacle. One simply sticks to one’s private micro-spectacle. But the webs of the spectacle may be avoided, by way of finding its edges, the edges of our, your and their spectacles, and positioning oneself onto them. The workers’ demonstrations may be a farce, but their borders are protected by the riot police. Are you angry about the closing-down of the experimental and art cinema Kinodvor in Ljubljana? Or perhaps you would like to know how those who lost their jobs, due to this sudden act of closure will survive – and more importantly, how had they been given the sack without public resistance and media attention in several consecutive waves? This is a major issue, as is the fact that from now on, you will not be able to watch art films (in Kinodvor), for example, the one about lovers who slept through the revolution of 1968 and felt good about it. Can you remember how they – long ago, before they restricted your newspapers – fucked up by totally striking gay and lesbian magazines we had been reading in the past like Revolver, Lesbo, and Sektor? What happened to the people who used to work and write for them? Would you like to know how they live? Dreadfully badly!
The police do not intervene just anywhere. They do not enter the nuclear family. They also would not enter the homosexual nuclear family, but there are places that they visit regularly. That place is Metelkova, in Ljubljana (in the 1990s, the squatted, empty ex-Yugoslavian military barrack complex in the city center). The police take down the names of people who create cultural events, work at the bar, smoke or chat with friends at the Square of No Historical Memory within Metelkova “city,” in the city of Ljubljana. Police pay regular visits to the Rog Social Center in Ljubljana (an abandoned factory complex in the center of Ljubljana that started to be temporarily used for social and cultural projects by activists in 2006) looking for beds, blankets, stoves, artists and the homeless. They come to Monokel, the country’s only lesbian bar, situated in Metelkova. Monokel is illegal. As our lesbian library (situated in Metelkova as well) lacks funds for copyright payments, we are not able to issue loans from our extensive collection of lesbian and gay films, even though they are not available anywhere else in Slovenia. Furthermore, the Ljubljana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is bound to eclipse due to the closure of its host Kinodvor. If the library loans out R.W. Fassbinder, Bruce LaBruce, Barbara Hammer or Monica Treut, the police turn up. The police do not show up at the Ljubljana University, except when it is occupied by protesters who demand its autonomy. That is why Mattilda, also known as Matt Bernstein Sycamore, America’s prime queer activist, the initiator of Gay Shame, writer and editor of several theoretical miscellanies with a counter-assimilative perspective, earns her wages as a sexual worker. When the police acts, then a border is set up around the spectacle. If, wherever you have been for the last few days, doing whatever it is you do, the police have not taken hold of you, if you are not punished in a society which punishes vigorously – with radical poverty, illegal status of your culture and other forms of violence of governmentality – then you are also responsible for the persistence of spectacle.
I was not able to read Jeffs and Tratnik at the demonstrations. I read them at night, worried to the point of insomnia about how to pay my bills for the coming month, before the morning came, and I sat down to write an unpaid article of 7,000 characters for Reartikulacija, a new magazine for social criticism, in which lesbians have their space. Paid newspaper articles about homosexuality are written by straight lecturers and integrationist homosexuals inspired by the Catholic God. They write about guilt, psychiatry and forgiveness. We, the unpaid lesbians, write about their responsibility, your responsibility, our anger, our memory. We calmly write sentences that you cannot buy.
Nataša Velikonja is a sociologist, poetess and lesbian activist. She lives and works in Ljubljana.
Translated from Slovenian by Jernej Možic.