|Austro-Hungarian post office, Slovenska cesta|
|Top-hatted Octopus, Metelkova|
|More than a tinge of Venice here|
|Stari trg (Old Square) in the afternoon sun|
The city today bears strong traces of all its stages of development in the last hundred years. The pearl- like city centre, set around Joze Plecnik's famous three bridges, the Roman Catholic cathedral, and the apartment blocks all bear strong traces of the Habsburg period. Around the River Ljubljanica, with small boutiques, coffee shops and pleasant restaurants, there is an unmistakably Venetian flavour. Around the rather empty Cankarjevo Dom, now a cultural and shopping centre, and office blocks, is the heavy concrete footprint of the Titoist years, given a mournful aspect by the neglected revolutionary monument, constructed in 1975.
|Monument to the Revolution, Cankarjevo Dom. 1975|
The trouble is, what is that alternative? No one knows. The student and anti-captialist protests across the EU and USA in the last year have been spectacular, but unfocused, rudderless and seemingly lacking any kind of political nous, or viable forward strategy. They have made good copy for the 24 hour news networks, but saturation media coverage is of dubious merit now; the permanently-ravenous permanent-breaking-news focus quickly moves on when the protests stagnate, and the collective memory is now so short, addled by the 'net, that such protests tend to blend quickly into one faded cartoon wallpaper.
It may well be fair to say that people are jaded, cynical and sick to the back teeth of a professional, media savvy political class that pursues power as a goal in itself, in a post-ideological age. That acknowledged, the same very old, re-heated Trot and Anarchist slogans, shouted through a megaphone, or written in Gill Sans Bold 48-point on the front page of a newspaper that nobody reads, aren't going to persuade anyone of the viability of a radical alternative. If the forms and articulations of adversarial twentieth century democracy are played out, so to are the wannabe-utopian alternatives.
Revolutions and ruptures reflect the character of the age that produces them. Middle class opinion-formers have seen in the current student protests, a strong echo of their own youth in the late 1960s. However, this generation of discontent is utterly atomised and disunited, held together only by a rather vague, impotent "down with this sort of thing" sentiment, a loose farrago of 101 discontents crashing into one another and cancelling one another out, according to the specific local circumstances of the protest.
The spectacle of unity, the spectacle of discontent, can easily be accommodated in late capitalist society, without so much as a pin prick of damage being caused to its architecture. For every latter-day revolutionary who wants to seize control of the means of production, distribution and exchange, there is a protestor waving a placard because he happens to be worried about his ability to re-pay a mortgage or car loan, in an age of spiking job insecurity. In the internet age, people relate to circumstances around them on an ever-more individualised, consumerist basis, which is a challenge that collectivist and radical strategies have never convincingly confronted.
How is it possible to act on a basis of collective solidarity, in order to achieve collectively agreed aims, when such widely differing viewpoints have to be accommodated, in order to merit the label "collective" in the first place? A further problem is the discrediting of the label "collective" in post-socialist societies such as Slovenia. Here, there are far fewer Yugo-nostalgics than may be found further south and east; the Yugoslav period is seen, at best, as an interesting historical experiment which failed utterly, the political imperatives of that era never to be re-visited.
|One of the few old Yugoslav-era buildings left, across the road from Metelkova|
All of which post-Marxian nurdling leads us, thankfully, back to Metelkova. Such autonomously minded small communities- consisting of only a couple of hundred or so folk at most- may point a way ahead for those who want to effect meaningful change in how their lives and those of their friends- are lived.This must necessarily be done on a very small scale, and incrementally. Over time, communities such as Metelkova have shown that it is possible to live collectively, with little reference to mainstream society. The answer that no one has yet come up with, is how to translate that very small scale, local change into a much wider transformatory movement. Maybe that's why I'm a bit frustrated with the glacially slow progress of the myriad protests around the world this year. Utopianism, a sensitivity to obvious injustice, and a good heart, aren't enough to achieve anything any more. The vague, woolly "it's not fair" sentiment of the protests won't convince a hard bitten political public who worked that out for themselves, over two decades ago.
Never before has a revolutionary moment such as this one lacked, so painfully, a popular political expression and alternative strategy. In an atomised, deeply individualist political culture, maybe immediate local gains, and the gradual transformation of local conditions are the way to start, in an attempt to build, over time, a fundamentally different collective patchwork.