Slovenia's Search for Identity

Slovenia's new, globalized culture: A flier advertising a Ljubljana nightclub features "hip hop, breakbeat, drum and bass, and visual communications."

The rockers sing like they used to do—in Serbian or Croatian. Nevertheless, the crowds of young people pack into “k4.” “All my love under the sun belongs to Tito,” are the words of a song blasting out of the disco, and the young crowd drinks and dances to it. This is a “Balkans Party.” Ljubljana’s students, who grew up after the collapse of the south Slavic federation, are having a good time to hits from the Yugo-rock wave that are older than they are. The “Balkans Party,” just a few years ago a phenomenon of the capital’s underground scene, has long since become mainstream. What is behind this bizarre trend? Nostalgia? Certainly. Homesickness for the multicultural state? Hardly.

The young are distancing themselves from the Balkans. “Balkans” means violence and chaos, poverty and dirt. Tradition is ignored, heritage destroyed. What then is drawing them to the “Balkans Party”? Perhaps the feeling of loss. Perhaps the awareness that in that closed room they possess something that distinguishes them from the teens and 20-somethings in the West. Perhaps the wish to hold on to something, to belong to something again, something bigger, stronger. Perhaps.

“Slovenia has always feared becoming lost,” the songwriter Ales Steger remarks derisively. I ask him about Yugoslavia. It was “a wonderful country” because of its multiculturalism. At the same time it was a country of repressed emotions, “a country that bloomed early and whose bloom just as soon faded.” The 28-year-old Steger is certainly not typical. “I was,” he tells me, “not often in the other republics when I was a kid.” Now, however, the south is important to him. “My generation fell between the cracks. We grew up under socialism; in 1991 we were still too young to play a role in the revolutions and get positions. Back then, there was a time change of generations in which we had no part.”

And the people who are even younger? “They’re bored with everything. They think about Ecstasy and want to go to Paris and London. They drink, or smoke their joints, listen to techno music, hang out.”

Sociologists are clueless: What do young people today think and feel? What distinguishing characteristics do they have of their own besides an undefined, flexible lifestyle in answer to the fragmentation of society? The very young, the researchers claim, are living in a historical void because their history after 40 years of communist rule was rewritten as anti-communist.This is the cause of the Yugo-nostalgia felt by so many: What kind of country was it where our parents lived? What had happened to it? The young are obviously having an identity crisis. They are uncertain, confused.

Back then, in the 1980s, provocative projects like New Slovenian Art (NSK) and the rock band Laibach made sensations across Europe. The avant-gardists from that time mutated into pop icons.

Tanja Soklic, 26, would rather listen to Elvis than Yugo-rock. What do young people in Slovenia want? “The same thing as young people everywhere.You don’t want to be left behind; you want to be with the people who are in the lead. The European Union will bring a lot of bad things with it. But we want to be a part of it.”

Back in Ljubljana: There is one place where you don’t feel any of that sleepy self-satisfaction: the culture project in the Metelkova Ulica. Steger calls the place an island, the only one of its kind. Metelkova, a sprawling complex painted dirty yellow, was for 130 years—through all the radical changes—an army barracks.

After the flight of the Yugoslav People’s Army, the alternative scene showed an interest in parts of the buildings. A network of the city’s subculture negotiated with the officials; an agreement was reached, and then one night the wrecking cranes showed up. “At that point we decided to occupy the thing,” explains 41-year-old Andrej Morovic. There had been three months of creative chaos, then the city government gave permits for electricity and water, sinking Metelkova into years of agony. Then the junkies arrived.

Ever since, Metelkova has reawakened, and is now living without an overall concept or commission. Some of the buildings are works of art. About 100 people work on the grounds, mostly artists in their early 20s. There are classical music concerts and performances by experimental bands. There are gays and lesbians, feminists and drag queens, foreigners and handicapped people. There is a “union for the protection of atheistic feelings” and the Macedonian Cultural Society. There are galleries and studios and, of course, the Gromki Klubsamt Theater.

How would Morovic describe the outlook of the average young person? “Totally apolitical, consumer-oriented. Suddenly comes this enormous pressure: ‘I must be successful, make money, have fun!’ Metelkova is like an island of calm in all that. It certainly does not correspond with the zeitgeist. But the people come anyway.”

Do they ever have “Balkans Parties” in the old barracks? “Noo,” says Morovic in his Berlin accent. “They’re way too trendy.”