Guardians of the Schengen Border: Slovenia During the ‘Refugee Crisis’

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Slovenia entered the stage of the refugee crisis in Europe as the last country on the so-called »Balkan route« in September 2015. Weeks before the first arrival of refugees at its borders, the Slovene authorities reassuringly stated that the country is prepared. With around 2700 refugees having passed the borders of Slovenia at Rigonce and Obrežje by the end of September, trouble had already started to stir Slovenian-Croatian relations as well as internally, between the Slovene government and the financially underfed police syndicate. On 19th of September an incident involving a police cordon refusing to give entry to a few hundred exposed refugees, stranded on no-man’s land between Croatia and Slovenia on the bridge of river Sotla at Rigonce border crossing for days, ended with the spraying of tear gas into crowds of refugees and activists. On 21st of October a fire burnt down 27 tents outside the temporary refugee facility Brežice, as a result of refugees seeking warmth after having been exposed in the cold for up to 10 hours. While the exhausted special police unit »protected« the Slovenian border, the prime minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, stated that Slovenia is the »guardian of the Schengen border«.

12665794_10153935151253896_1958983483_nThe need for guarding a “European identity” and protecting the “Christian continent” absorbed fast and well into the Slovenian society, following popular xenophobic trends of targeting refugees as some form of a Muslim invasion and the final beginning of a terrorist era. What had seemingly started out as your everyday “bar discussion” had all too soon flourished among the general public, reinforced by traditional and new media alike. On the website »Zlovenia« (transl. »Evil-Slovenia«) administrators gathered the most infamous examples of recent internet hate speech on the topic of refugees and posted it, together with the author’s photograph and full name. The website was forced to remove the posts after about 2 weeks, the police now persecuting both the administrators and the hate-speech perpetrators, which is met with critiques about how hate speech and warning against it are not the same actions, seriously challenging the question of democracy and free speech, the most treasured and supposedly endangered  European values. The content of posts gathered on »Zlovenija« was of the most fascist nature, with people suggesting »gas showers« for refugees entering Slovenia. If hate was spreading on the internet, it quickly took to the streets: the front door of a cultural centre in Novo Mesto, a place for gathering help for refugees, was broken by a Molotov cocktail on Christmas day. About a month later, graffiti of swastika and xenophobic warnings appeared on its walls. On 13th of January this year, dismantled pig’s heads were found scattered on a building site belonging to the Islamic community of Slovenia in Ljubljana.

Dobova temporary refugee centre

By mid-November, over 180 000 refugees had passed the border of Slovenia. In line with Slovenia’s border protection policy, a “technical obstacle”, what turned out to be a razor-wire fence was erected by Slovenia on its’ eastern border to Croatia. This was by many perceived as a direct insult to the historical memory of the Slovenian province of Ljubljana, which was surrounded by a barbed wire-fence during the fascist Italian occupation during World War II. It seems like Slovenia, as the first ex-Yugoslav country to enter the European Union in 2004 lost touch with some of its shared history of the refugee crisis after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, and has proven extremely liable to European tyranny of fear and the search of a scapegoat for economic and social instability. The logic of taxpayer’s money used for fence-building and helicopter-monitoring of refugee crowds clearly portrays the idea that fear of the unknown Others should be tackled by keeping them at a clear distance, marginalized and susceptible to on-going control and constant suspicion. This can breed nothing else than a growing class of the underprivileged and a block for any attempt at integration, further empowering social instability and the rise of right-wing extremism.

Recently, Slovenia has been following the domino-logic of countries on the Balkan path, returning to Croatia people who cannot prove their status as a refugee fleeing war. Many then decide to cross over illegally and ask for asylum. The asylum home in Ljubljana, the capacity of which is a little over 200 people, is growing, and growing is the fact that Slovenia is not known to have a very welcoming asylum policy. A debate is rising on the topic of unaccompanied minors, a vulnerable group of asylum seekers that Slovenia does not have an appropriate program for, so government and NGO are improvising to find them suitable accommodation, legal help and companionship. Earlier this month a group of six children under 15 were refused accommodation in a high-school student dorm in Kranj, Slovenia, their parents concerned for their own children’s safety.

Graffiti: For easier flow of capital, not ‘refugees’

While fear and self-victimization acts as a clear and unanimous “no” in anything to do with refugees, many people “for” migrants are also failing in their arguments and actions. Many protests have been organised in Slovenia, urging a complete “open-border” policy, utilising slogans of multiculturalism and acceptance of all cultural differences a priori. This romantic, utopian idea of love and acceptance is uncritically left without any action or plan in a concrete situation of our society, and follows the logic of a laissez-faire idea of multiculturalism, where every cultural difference is to be respected and valued as equal, and where integration and assimilation are believed to happen naturally. Only a very small number of academics, journalists and activists in collaboration with some newspapers, new media portals, NGOs, academic institutions and independent art spaces provide a platform of lectures and debates on the topic, with in-depth circulation of knowledge and critical approaches to the problem, aimed at what Slovenian society needs most at this point: education and the deconstructing of several predominant myths about the other and about ourselves.

IMG_0647Article by Marja Kovanda*

*Marja Kovanda was a Slovenian representative and participant of the Youth Forum “Representation of the Minorities in the New Media in Central and East Europe”. She presented in Skopje on the 3rd of March under the panel Ambiguities of Minority Integration: What Civil Society Can Do To Improve It? Her thought-provocative article and portrayal of the situation on migrant crisis in Slovenia caught the attention of the forum participants at large, so it was followed by a hot and productive debate and discussion.

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