For feminist, lesbian, gay and trans activists in Slovenia, March 2015 was a victorious month. We made history by turning it into our story.
Anja Koletnik's trans action
Anja Koletnik turned it into their story already on February 28th when they came out as a non-binary person in Sobotna priloga, the Saturday supplement of the largest daily in Slovenia. Anja Koletnik’s self-declaration as “a person that does not fit, does not feel, does not agree with identities framed within the binary gender system, so as a man-woman” was historic for two reasons. They are among the first people in Slovenia to publicly proclaim their gender expression as non-binary (Katja Zgoznik spoke out as a "lesbian who is partly a man" or "transsexual lesbian" in Večer in November 2014). And they are the first trans activist who advocates transfeminism as a "social movement that recognises and legitimizes transgender people as members of socially marginalised groups, as subjects of feminist movements".
The first person to publicly come out as trans in Slovenia was Salome, the high femme diva who, along with the drag queen music trio Sestre (Sisters), paved the way for greater visibility and acceptance of cross-gender performers in the entertainment industry as well as society at large in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Anja Koletnik are breaking new ground because of their explicitly activist stand.
Their public statement in Sobotna priloga emphasized the need for respect and recognition of non-normative trans bodies as well as the need to struggle against discrimination of trans people, starting with the de-stigmatization and de-medicalization of gender reassignment in Slovene law.
Anja Koletnik, Eva Matarranz, Tadeja Pirih, Andrea Celija, Axel and Salome at the "Trans* – from personal to social" debate. Photo by Rebeka Bernetič.
As one of the founding members of the Transfeminist Initiative TransAkcija, Anja Koletnik addressed these struggles also at TransMission (TransMisija), the first Slovene meeting by and for trans people and their allies, organised by DIC Legebitra, Slovenian Sexological Association and TransAkcija in November 2014. On March 7th 2015, both Anja Koletnik and Salome participated in the public debate “Trans* – from personal to social” (“Trans* – iz osebnega v družbeno”), organised by the 16th International Feminist and Queer festival Red Dawns. These and other events have created a yet unseen level of transgender visibility in Slovenia, a visibility that calls for a celebration.
Cancellation of Femme Feminité festival
An alliance of feminist academics, activists, journalists, media, initiatives and NGOs celebrated a small but important victory on March 5th when the Femme Feminité festival was cancelled due to their criticism. The festival aimed to "awaken, for start, that real woman" by advertising the re-traditionalization of gender roles with strongly essentialist arguments. In addition, the festival’s ideologue Urška Faller blamed the history of struggles for women’s emancipation for all the troubles of "modern women", including unhappiness and cancer. Her solution? Become feminine, become docile – and don’t forget to join the festival. Next to workshops such as "How to be/become the best wife, partner, mother", Femme Feminité’s program consisted of a large business fair for the beauty, health and fashion industry, selling upper middle class ideals to financially less fortunate women.
The festival was supposed to take place in the last days of March in Cankarjev dom, the most prestigious public institution for arts and culture in Slovenia. When the director (and co-founder of renowned City of Women festival) Uršula Cetinski was asked why she tolerates such a sexist event, she replied that she cannot afford to cancel it: in order to survive austerity measures, Cankarjev dom has to host commercial events.
Protests against Femme Feminité culminated on March 5th when twenty-eight groups and over one hundred individuals signed the public statement "No place for sexism in this town!" On the same day, Urška Faller cancelled the festival due to "insufficiently booked capacities and the safety of both our guests and visitors".
This brief note, published on the festival’s Facebook page, did not specify who the threat was. The accusations became clearer in her official statement released on March 6th. There, she wrote that the event was cancelled because of the "intimidation", "violence" and "emotional terror" of "highly educated people, people in public positions, people from educational institutions". In her Studio City interview, Urška Faller finally put the blame on feminists – even though she admitted that "I actually have no idea what they want."
Screenshot from the Femme Feminité website, announcing "Promotion at workshops (Choose your target audience)"
The cancellation of the Femme Feminité festival was an important feminist victory because it proved that the common impression about the invisibility, fragmentation and powerlessness of feminists in Slovenia is wrong.
Still, the victory was small; Femme Feminité is merely one example of a widely spread trend. As the Peace Institute (Mirovni inštitut) noted in its International Women’s Day statement,
"In recent years, Slovenia abounds with some sort of general satisfaction with the normative equality of genders, of men and women. At the same time, a sticky mould is spreading: antifeminist sentiments and extremely preposterous retro-patriarchical stories about the need for some sort of new feminisation of women and masculinisation of men, tendencies to prohibit abortion and reduce rights. In reality, equality – in its political, social and economic sense – is under threat."
Legalisation of same-sex marriage
On March 3rd, Slovenia’s Parliament finally legalised same-sex marriages with an amendment that defines marriage as a life-long community of two persons regardless of their sex. The result of more than twenty years of struggle for legal equality of lesbian and gay couples who want to cohabit or marry was widely celebrated, yet LGBT activists were hesitant to proclaim their victory.
The twenty-eight members of parliament who voted against the amendment counted on the support of the Roman Catholic Church and its civil society organisations. They received it on March 10th when the "secular" coalition It's about children! (Za otroke gre!) collected 80.518 signatures for a public referendum. If it is accepted by the Parliament, heterosexual majority will once again decide on human rights of sexual minorities.
I say once again, because It's about children! – at the time called the Civil initiative for the family and the rights of children (Civilna iniciativa za družino in pravice otrok) already proposed – and won – a referendum on the Family Code in 2012. Fifty-five percent of voters (about 280.000 people) who took part in the 2012 referendum represented merely 30% of all voters yet they managed to stop the implementation of the less discriminatory (but far from non-discriminatory) version of the Family Code.
Today, the same wolf in sheep’s clothing continues to create moral panic. However, activist and theoretician Roman Kuhar noted a significant change of the wolf’s argumentation. Civil allies of the church "increasingly refrain from using ‘biblical discourse’, substituting it with what appears as a rational, scientific discourse molded into reassuring and populist common-sense statements. In such a way, the Church is secularizing its discourse in order to ‘clericalize’ society".
Petition for the amendment to the Law on Marriage and Family Relations. 28.897 signatures and counting...
Nevertheless, a similar referendum is unlikely to pass in 2015 because of the new law on public referendums. This time, the “defenders of traditional family values” and “protectors of children” would have to convince at least a fifth of all voters (about 340.000 people) in order to succeed. In addition, the constitutional court might correct its past mistakes and decide that there is something unconstitutional about public votes on human rights. Still, knowing how easily the rule of law in Slovenia has been defeated in the past, nobody wants to put their hopes in its victory too soon.
Symbolic victories, concrete effects
The symbolic victory of the LGBT community has certainly been won. As activist Miha Lobnik said in the radio show Lezbomanija: "Although it sometimes seems that symbolic struggles are fought for prestige only, for an ideological effect (...), they have very concrete effects on our side – not only in terms of rights but because of the feeling of inclusion, of participation in society".
"And safety," added Suzana Tratnik. The legalisation of same-sex marriages is "a great victory for the whole of society", said Nataša Sukič while Mitja Blažič concluded that it holds an international importance as well, especially in Italy and Croatia where activists can now "massively refer to the fact that they are surrounded by states where these questions are already settled". p>
March was indeed a victorious month – and it isn’t even over yet.
Tea Hvala (1980) is a writer, translator and journalist from Cerkno, Slovenia. She published her first zine in 1997 and has been writing and (self)publishing ever since. She co-organized the Ljubljana-based feminist and queer festival Rdeče zore (Red Dawns) between 2001 and 2013, and ran a series of workshops on collaborative writing of feminist-queer science fiction In Other Wor(l)ds between 2007 and 2013. She co-authored and edited two anthologies: Rdečke razsajajo (KUD Mreža, 2010) and Svetovi drugih (KUD Anarhiv, 2011). Currently, she is the co-author of Sektor Ž, the only feminist radio show in Slovenia. You can find her on her blog prepih.blogspot.com, and we recommend her piece A Personal History of the Slovene Zine Scene.