From crisis of socialism to financial crisis

By Barbara Beznec, Valter Cvijić, Sara Pistotnik, Žiga Podgornik – Jakil, Danijela Tamše

A research paper developed in the Summer School “Teaching the crisis – Geographies, Methodologies, Perspectives”
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In the first years after its independence in 1991, Slovenia, a post-socialist country with two million inhabitants, witnessed the first cycle of dispossession in the form of privatization of what was in the socialist era considered social property. In the following decade, the Slovenian political elites have chosen to follow so-called gradualist approach, rejecting the severe neoliberal model imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Consequently, the first stages of transition were relatively smooth, with only few major social conflicts – at least those visible –, also due to the relatively high power of trade unions and channelling of the social discontent through the process of social dialogue. By the middle of the first decade of the new millennium the full inclusion of the state into the Euro-Atlantic integrations was accomplished: Slovenia entered the European Union and NATO, adopted the common European currency Euro and was frequently labelled as a success story, a model transition country with the highest Gross domestic product (GDP) among post-socialist countries. Still, the combination of privatization, deindustrialization and the loss of former Yugoslav markets had pushed some regions, especially the eastern part of the state, into a mode of deep social and economic devastation. And some cities, like the city of Maribor, which is the second largest city in the country, never recovered from the impacts of these processes.

Parallel to the integration into the global market and into what are considered to be the most important Euro-Atlantic connections were the processes of the rise of the service sector and with it the rise of new subjectivities of labour, which consequently brought about new subjectivities of struggle. This was the period of the start of what is called flexibilization of labour that resulted in the rapid rise of precarious forms of employment. More and more people became excluded from the processes of social dialogue and the social state. This new generation of precarious labourers is prevalently young, highly educated, extremely mobile and flexible, working mainly in the cultural, media and scientific sphere. Despite the rise of a whole new generation of working poor that compose what has been in the literature of the last decade called cognitive or immaterial sector, the structure of the Slovene economy remained very much inflexible, based on export-oriented industry with low added value, trade and construction.

In economic terms, the most important sector was construction, which contributed the highest part to the national GDP for many years. It was – and remains – almost entirely depended on migrant labour, with workers coming mostly from the states of the former Yugoslavia, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina. The political organization of labour migration in Slovenia, that is a state-defined visa regime, does not differ significantly from other European countries and therefore we can define it as a system of extreme exploitation, which is being secured through the strict bond between the work permit and the residence permit.

The first impacts of the global financial crisis came at the end of the year 2009, but initially they were felt almost exclusively in the lateral labour markets of migrant and precarious workers. The former were subjected to losing legal ground to stay in the country (their bosses simply would not prolong their permits to work and stay) and the latter were the first ones to lose a job because of a low level of protective measures in their contracts. The implementation of severe austerity measures by the second half of 2011 spread the crisis to all social segments. Public debt and unemployment were growing while the cuts in public spending, mostly in education, culture and welfare, were worsening everyday lives of the citizens and non-citizens. Elements of systemic corruption became more and more visible, and this combination led to a deeper social and political crisis in the following months. First major organized struggles against austerity measures in Slovenia took place in the #15o movement that has come about mainly from the convergence of those who gathered on the global day of action on 15th October 2011. Only about a year later when the impacts of austerity measures taken became crystal clear and subsequently caused a major public discontent the uprisings all over the state erupted:  the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 were rebellious as no other period in the history of the independent Slovenia.

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