23. feb. 2012

Nova Slovenija against women

When the right had been in charge the last time around, I dreamt that Ljubljana had been occupied by neonazis. The city was watched over by gangs of boys, armed with fists, knives, clubs and dogs. If anyone got away from them, the soldiers took care of it. They were not uniformed and the army was not officially involved in the street fights but we nevertheless knew who we were dealing with; such an effective weapon could only be afforded by their (and our) master, the church-and-state as one. As crowds of hungry, tired and scared people were hiding in cellars, the Cankarjev dom (house of culture), the opera house, the national theatre and other cultural institutions in the city centre were being turned into an enormous armoury.

The visions from my nightmare would haunt me for the rest of the day. When I described my dream to a friend, I jokingly remarked that the unusually vivid imagery was doubtlessly indebted to my menstruation. She gave me and wry smile and shook her head. „A friend had a similar dream,“ she said: „and he doesn't menstruate.“

In the following days, the details of the dream evaporated. But the fearful feeling that the left was defeated remained.

Once I learned that Nova Slovenija (the New Slovenia party or NSi) would be taking part in the decision making of the new ruling coalition alongside SDS (Slovene democratic party) and others, my head began to swim. Then I remembered the occupied Ljubljana from the satirical dystopia 4000  that Ivan Tavčar had written in 1891. In the work, which he wrote as a response to Anton Mahnič's conservativism, Emona (the ancient Roman name for Ljubljana) has been „The Pope's province number LII“ for over two thousand years. The church has taken over the country, the only thing that's still being printed in Slovene are prayer books and the last foreigner that set foot in the city was burned at the stake. The first and last rebellion of the „at least 4000 heroines“, that fought for equal rights, was quelled in 3919. The population is divided based on gender and class; a high wall and an army of „old spinsters“ defend the unmarried women against the unmarried men. The only exception is the married people ward, where „the Maker exalts all the couples that remained faithful till death“. The women that interrupted their pregnancy („the sinners, that single-handedly murdered the fruit of their own bodies“), are condemned to unending psychological torture, situated on top of a cliff that offers a vista of a green meadow, where sweet, angelic children play under the watch of god's childbearing women. Any woman that attempts to reach the meadow is driven back by an army of angels with „bloodied swords“, chased back to the cliff where there is only „crying and the gnashing of teeth“.

Tavčar's liberal mockery of the catholic demonisation of women may allow a feminist interpretation, but it should be known that in 1905 he voted against the introduction of a general right to vote that would be equal for men and women. It is common that in democracies in a patriarchal society even the most ideologically divergent and quarrelling political parties will identify feminism as the common enemy. It is telling that we always find some excuse for the sexism pronounced by a male politician, but never for the same opinions of a female one. So I found myself wondering why Franja Tavčar, Ivan's wife, also opposed the female vote, even though she established a number of women's associations and shelters in Ljubljana; how could she have excluded herself from the women's ranks and resist the female political emancipation?

The same question arises in the case of the female president of Nova Slovenija and her views. Ljudmila Novak regards women from a patriarchal, national and population policy viewpoint and thus sees „mothers and wives“ as and only as a way to reproduce the workforce, free of charge. And if until now her antifeminism was supported only by God, „nature“ and the moral majority, the state has now taken her side, too. If the sexist, homophobic, islamophobic and racist opinions of Nova Slovenija could have been dismissed as mere demagogy in the past, their new-found power will allow them to beatify the heterosexual family as „the most important cell of the nation“. This will be followed by restrictive regulations, punishment and stigmatisation of all those of us that are not fulfilling our patriotic mission. All signs suggest that such treatment of gays and lesbians will then be applied to women.

In a public chatroom interview for RTV Slovenija's MMC (the state broadcasting company's multimedia centre website) in December 2011, Ljudmila Novak wrote that „the right to life once conceived is greater than the right of a mother to abortion“. When a reader asked how she is able to deny other women the right to terminate a pregnancy as a fellow woman, the president of NSi seized the moment and during the public discussion „lay aside“ her political function, power and responsibility. She began to reply as „a woman an a mother“, that has the right to her own opinion, with which she „isn't condemning anyone“. With this move she reduced the political programme of her party to her personal opinion, but as female citizens of Slovenia we can't afford such a reading since her position could soon interfere with our rights. Ljudmila Novak opines, as a politician, woman and mother (she could not in the end refer to her expert qualifications), that the artificial termination of a pregnancy leaves „lasting psychological and physical consequences, and thus young girls should be helped otherwise.“. She was not thinking about sex education or aspiring to a friendlier reception in hospitals or making an effort to de-stigmatise women that had had an abortion. It seems clear that she is more concerned about raising the natality than about the psychological and physical health of women, since she suggested that adoption was a „more adequate and humane solution than forcing girls to terminate their pregnancy“.
Ljudmila Novak is not an anti-feminist because she would be aware of feminist arguments against the instrumentalisation of women and tried to counter them. She doesn't need to do this since feminism in Slovenia is not strong enough that anyone other than the feminists themselves would consider it as a political movement. Together with her coalition partners from SDS she can continue to refer to God and nature without worry. If nobody will stand up to the conservatives that have taken power, sooner or later they'll be able to refer to the constitution which currently says that one is „free to decide about giving birth“.

I am fearfully awaiting my next nightmare. If the image of the neonazi occupation of Ljubljana from my first dream will merge with Tavčar's image of clerical fascism, Ljudmila Novak will be marching in front of the paramilitary angelic forces with a baby in her arms. She will be zealously reciting the thoughts of Pierre Bayle, the French philosopher that in 1740 praised the „motherly instinct“ as highly as he could. „The motherly instinct is god's gift,“ she will shout: „it ensures that women will continue to multiply even in the face of their unenviable position of giving birth and taking care of children.“

Translated by Gregor Vuga
First published on February 15th 2012 at the LifeTouch portal.

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