The Raging Anti-Gorilla (report and interview)
Thousands of demonstrators showed up on the Square of the Slovak National Uprising last Friday to protest against government officials implicated in the Gorilla scandal. Fellow members of Perspectives as well as myself went to see the demonstration, so we could provide you with a first-hand account of the event.
Subarctic temperatures could not quell the outrage felt by the nation against widespread corruption in government that was revealed by the Gorilla files. The whole square was crowded with demonstrators disappointed by our country’s political systems. The Square of the Slovak National Uprising has not witnessed such a massive public gathering since 1989. People joined the demonstration with various slogans. Some warned that Fico and Dzurinda were two ravens of the same sort, some demanded direct democracy, and the majority castigated the politicians for looting the country; it would be remiss of us if we were not to mention slogans against the controversial A.C.T.A.
The inception of the demonstration was marked by motivational speeches presented by the organizers to boost the morale of the demonstrators, to clarify the aims of the protest, and to dissuade the crowds from vandalizing private property or from getting into skirmishes with the police patrolling the demonstration. The organizers called for direct democracy and pointed out the flaws of our political system and how our so-called “representative democracy” is not really democratic at all, since the whole system is controlled by various financial groups that purchase politicians. They lacerated the current system as being rotten from within and highlighted the necessity of completely changing the system from its foundations. In addition, the organizers asked us to refrain from acting out of hate and suggested we should act out of love instead. We also heard a speech from Tom Nicholson, the reporter who helped uncover the Gorilla, announcing that the District Court in Bratislava has prohibited the publication of his book regarding the Gorilla affair. Nicholson called the injunction absurd, implying that the action will do more harm to the current political system than to his own person. One of the most interesting comments made by the organizers was a suggestion that if people cannot choose among the existing political parties, they should cast at least an empty ballot at the polls to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates or refusal of the current political system; they argued that if many people act in the same manner, it will send out a strong message to the politicians. They also suggested curbing the funding of political parties to ensure that financial institutions are deprived of a wedge by which they could influence the political system.
The crowd on the square exuded an aura of unity, which could make one feel proud to be a part of the country. One could see the great resentment of the people towards the politicians looting the country for 22 years with a smile on their faces as if nothing is going on. If any politician from the traditional parties had shown up, he would have had an array of objects thrown at him from all directions. Slovakia has simply finally woken up from its slumber, as our national anthem says.
The crowd mostly comprised individuals of college age and teenagers, which proves that the new generation is not the couch potatoes the older generations consider them to be. Even though it was not clear what their political beliefs were, one thing is certain: they shared a disdain for the current state of affairs in the country. Some of them may have come to hear a different political perspective than the one omnipresent in the media, which are staunch supporters of the status-quo. The high number of young people in the demonstration should be a warning signal to the politicians: the new generation evidently has no faith in the traditional parties.
The protesters’ slogans evidently highlighted the fact that people are fed up with both the left wing and the right wing and desire a different system altogether. People not supportive of Dzurinda, Fico and their respective allies feel like outsiders in our political system; the only current political parties truly opposing them are the far-right People’s Party and the Communist Party of Slovakia, desiring a complete return to the old days. Thus, young people in our country disillusioned with the current system, and not interested in Tiso or Gottwald, feel completely left out from our political system.
The crowd was mostly very peaceful until a minority of extremists unleashed their anger at the Cabinet Office, the Presidential Palace and later at the parliament, although the last two were not meant to be visited by the crowds according to the organizers. It was there that things got out of hand and some police officers and demonstrators were injured. The yard of the Presidential Palace was littered with bananas and bottles. Posters were also placed at the gates, some calling for heavy punishment for all implicated in the Gorilla scandal.
One of the weaknesses of the whole anti-Gorilla movement is that it lacks a concrete vision and has no official plans to enter politics. As there are no political parties matching most of the demonstrators’ views, the movement might seem otiose when thoroughly examined. The movement is collecting suggestions from disillusioned Slovaks from all over the country to use their feedback to create a political ideology and a party based on those principles. The people are so disgusted by the traditional parties that a charismatic party with a unique vision would have great chances of gaining their votes.
Mário Regec: The organizers should team up with intellectuals and more experienced people
Perspectives had the opportunity to talk about the second anti-Gorilla protest to Mário Regec, a young student of architecture. He has already attended a number of public protests and offers an interesting view of the recent event.
Why did you decide to attend the anti-Gorilla protest?
I have attended many protests and I think it is a good way of presenting one’s ideas and drawing the general public’s attention to social problems. Although I am not entirely supportive of the protest’s aims, I wanted to go there. I have to admit that I was partly only curious. I wanted to hear the speeches of organizers and supporters. From previous experience I know that information available in the media is often influenced by the subjective choice of journalists and distorted.
Do you think that people came only to support the Gorilla investigation or did they also have other reasons?
Of course, they had “other reasons” as well. The extremists aimed for destruction of public property or other forms of vandalism and peaceful protesters, supporters of the anti-Gorilla protest, are not homogeneous either. It was obvious when one looked at the banners the people were carrying. They used the protest as a form of expressing their own dissatisfaction with problems they consider the most important. One couldn’t overlook the group of people who commented on the crisis of representative democracy with banners “We want direct democracy” or “Power to the people”. Others wanted to point to problems in judiciary and the police or reprimand the president for his refusal to appoint the new Attorney General with slogans such as “President, act or resign.” There were also people who were calling for the abolition of legislative immunity that protects legislators from liability not only for administrative delicts, but also for criminal offences. There were also protesters who came to voice their disapproval of the European A.C.T.A. I also noticed a group of people pointing to the problem of increasing public debt and disagreeing with the European rescue fund. Very interesting was a woman with a baby in a pram which was carrying a banner “I am only 141 days old and I already owe 5,000 euros.” I should also mention original banners with slogans “Don’t steal, policemen don’t like competition” or “If you want immunity, drink Actimel, stinkers!” and other interesting T-shirts, masks, etc. As can be seen, there were many reasons for the protest; everybody pointed to problems which concerned him/her. I think it is natural because the protest didn’t have definite goals and leaders to identify with.
How were you satisfied with the organisation? Do you think that the protest was well organized?
I’ll speak of the organisation from two viewpoints. The first is the organisation of the movement, its ability to reach some goals and have a society-wide impact. The second is the organisation of the march itself.
I view the organisation of the march positively. There were several speakers on the stage, artists and a young man with a guitar performed a song composed specially for this event. Many interesting ideas were voiced, but there were also thoughts which are harder to identify with. However, a plurality of opinions is welcome. Organizers said that their goal was to mobilize people and provoke a social discussion, and I think that they fulfilled this objective. The march was calm and safety secured. In a nearby restaurant tea for “the hunters of Gorilla” was served.
The organizers of the event are now in a peculiar situation. They have big power in the streets, but their proposals and solutions do not always have a realistic basis. I would suggest they team up with intellectuals and more experienced people. They should start communicating with the parliament, trying to push through their goals.
I am also not completely sure if the organizers are aware of the social impact they have already generated. Their event has influenced political surveys and election polls. As voters of the left are indifferent to certain problems, we have to admit that the protest has had a great impact on the political scene.
We have to realize that the Gorilla file was not published before the parliamentary election by coincidence. The next fact we should be aware of is that many similar protests are products of backstage intrigues of politicians and started by secret services. We shouldn’t take it as a conspiracy but as an established fact. I say it as a person who has some experience with similar events. The majority of protests serve to distribution of power among target groups. What is very strange is the fact that the organizers did not know each other before the protest and even now they do not completely know all the members of the organization team. The next interesting fact is that according to the organizer Lucia Gallová, they had got the requirements they consequently declared at the gathering on Friday from “one man” whose name she did not know. I believe that at first they had really good intentions with the protests, but I am worried that organizers became only puppets in the hands of politicians and when they found it out, it was too late. It was, sadly, confirmed by the organizer for SME: “It is just a big political game. I don’t like it.” If the protest is just part of election battle, it is very simple to find the backstage party and its prey. It’s enough to look at the polling results and their development since the publication of the Gorilla files.
Were there any spontaneous responses which influenced the protest?
Spontaneous responses are very common at events like this; otherwise, they would resemble the May Day parades where everybody was told what to do and where to go. People behave as one unit. I remember a protest three years ago when a funny and fitting slogan came to my mind. I called it out three times and then I heard thousands of people repeating it to the rhythm of drums. In the evening news it was used as a headline and the next day we could follow the responses of politicians to this statement. Almost every reaction of an individual can influence the protest. But it is important for people to act level-headed and calm and not to let the crowd manipulate you.
What do you think of the police intervention? Do you think that the protest was calm and safe or were there any dangerous moments?
I would divide the protest into two parts: the official and the unofficial part. During the official part there were no disturbances. On the SNP Square several people made speeches and then we came to the Cabinet Office. There the protest lacked any substance, which I consider a great mistake. When people lose sight of the objective, they start to create it, which manifested itself when a group of three people set fire to the banners standing next to the fence. Armed men came to put out the fire and then went back to the protected building. The organizers, who were worried about what was going to happen next, dismissed the gathering. At that moment the unofficial part began and some people headed for the National Council building.
The police acted very professionally and I would say that even with restraint. When I came to the National Council building, the policemen had helmets and shields covered with eggs and they did not even move. They just held the line to protect the buildings. I was really surprised because a few years ago people would have been arrested in a similar situation. When I noticed that some people had become aggressive and started throwing bottles and cobble stones, I decided to go away. Half an hour later I heard that the policemen had used a water cannon and tear gas. I consider their response appropriate.
Despite these incidents, I consider the protest to have been safe because the people who did not want to be in the centre of aggression were not hurt in any way.
Why do you think that people finally decided to go out into streets and show their opinions?
Some people say that the situation in the Slovak Republic has only reached the end of the rope, but we have to realize that Gorilla is not an isolated case, but in recent years we have had much bigger cases, e.g. Interblue Group, Tipos, etc.
I personally ascribe the great public interest in the protest to media coverage. Since December 22nd when the file was posted on the Internet until today, more than 50 articles have appeared in the media. Besides that, many new blogs appeared and politicians made statements concerning this topic. The word Gorilla was continuously repeated in all the media. In January organizers on the social network made a survey if people would be willing to attend a protest march. After thousands of people registered, the anti-Gorilla protest saw the light of day.
If there is another anti-Gorilla protest, will you attend it? Will you support the ACTA protest as well?
Whether I will attend the next anti-Gorilla protest or not depends on how the whole anti-Gorilla movement will develop. I will definitely go to the ACTA protest. It is a document which is more important than many people think. I personally think that the ACTA protest is of greater importance than the anti-Gorilla protest.
Do you think that people can achieve something with these protests?
I believe they can, but timing is very important. And a clear definition of goals. Every protest is individual and it is important to sit down at the table with the government at the right time and find compromises. I am not sure if the anti-Gorilla protest as it is will have a positive impact.
SNP Square (c) Katarína Koreňová
(c) Mário Regec
Tom Nicholson (c) Katarína Koreňová
(c) Katarína Koreňová
Alena Krempaská, one of the organizers (c) Katarína Koreňová
(c) Katarína Koreňová
(c) Mário Regec
(c) Mário Regec
(c) Katarína Koreňová
"Fico is a reincarnated magpie" (c) Katarína Koreňová
"Tea for gorilla hunters" served by Alojz Hlina, (Obyčajní ľudia political candidate), in front of his restaurant (c) Mário Regec
"If you want immunity, drink Actimel, stinkers!" (c) Mário Regec
Some protesters attacked the police with eggs (c) Mário Regec
A statue of Július Satinský (c) Mário Regec
"Promises are made and fools are happy" (c) Mário Regec
(c) Mário Regec
Hodžovo Square after the protest (c) Katarína Koreňová
Man facing a moral crisis (c) Katarína Koreňová
Diskusná téma: The Raging Anti-Gorilla (report and interview)
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