Slovenia’s Roaring Answer to the Economic Crisis

Protestor hold up says that read: Cayman Islands  Photo: Riley A Arthur

National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia- 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Without legal documentation, these people could not legally travel, own property, obtain medical care, vote, marry, attend school or work without a visa. A decade later, the community is still fighting for documentation.


It began in November 2012; a student led anti-capitalist protest movement swept Slovenia. The country hit hard by a crushing economic crisis cried foul against their politicians. Before long, the protests and complaints of unemployment, lost wages, and hard times were on every local’s lips.

With a socialized education system, Slovene students attend school for free. A majority take advantage of pursuing Masters and Doctorate degrees, but upon graduation find themselves unable to find employment. While this is not a unique problem to Slovenia, I found the general population to be the most educated unemployed populace I have ever encountered. Thus, an enraged group of students, and young people was born.

The growing up-rise movements had two main targets: Former Major of Maribor Franc Kangler, and Former Prime Minister and right wing leader Janez Janša. The growing popular consensus was that these men needed to be removed from office on the grounds of corruption.

Police and Protestor
Police and Protestor. Sign reads: Jansa and your clique thevies are made. Photo: Riley A Arthur

To the Erased, the economic crisis had strong repercussions. The Erased won a class action suit at the European Court for Human Rights in June 2012; a compensation plan while in the works has still yet to be finalized. Slovenia’s economic crisis raises doubts in many of the Erased we interviewed, that the country will not pay the court ordered compensations.

Many of the politicians responsible for the Erasure are still in office, which continues to worry the Erased; during most of my fieldwork one of those men was Janez Janša. Several of the Erased expressed distrust of this man, and regularly attended public protests with other members of the three Erased led activist groups.

“Zombies” perform onto of a statue on Congress Square. Photo: Riley A Arthur

Living in Ljubljana from November 2012 to March 2013, the protest movement was palpable. Seemingly every week there was another round of protests. On multiple occasions my buzzer was pressed as excited protestors made the rounds trying to rally up more participants, each time they were met by a confused English voice on the other end politely trying to use what little Slovene I knew before they gave up.

When I inquired as to what was being protested the general answer was: corruption. It seemed a difficult question for people to answer specifically. Slovenia has seven political parties, a prime minister, local majors and president. During the most escalated periods of protests, several of the political parties refused to function as their own protest. It was an exciting time to be in Slovenia.

Protestors Gather around the stage
Protestors Gather around the stage. Photo: Riley A Arthur

I attended the largest of these protests held on February 8, 2013, in the capital of Ljubljana, where an estimated 20,000 people picketed, marched, chanted and rallied in front of the parliament building. I had hoped to meet up with some of my Erased colleagues, but it was impossible to make a phone call or find anyone among the sea of people. Local actors mimed as zombies urging voters not to sleep walk through this period. People wore masked, manned puppets, and bands played.

Marching Band leads the protest down Slovenska Cesta toward Parliment. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Marching Band leads the protest down Slovenska Cesta toward Parliment. Photo: Riley A Arthur

The Commission for Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia accused Franc Kangler and Janez Janša of corruption. Franc Kangler backed down after protests in December. On February 27th, Janez Janša was ousted and was later sentenced to prison.

Protestor in Yugoslav military uniforms. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Protestor in Yugoslav military uniforms. Photo: Riley A Arthur

I don’t presume to know all the intricacies of the politics during this period, it was inspiring to see protests that rallied a population and successfully demanded a change.

Puppet towers above crowd with Ljubljana Castle in the background. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Puppet towers above crowd with Ljubljana Castle in the background. Photo: Riley A Arthur

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Photographer, islander, environmentalist, gelato eater.