Ljubljana – Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Ljubljana on Friday protesting against the government’s actions and calling for an early election. The rally included various groups and movements and was supported by trade unions and part of the opposition. PM Janez Janša said spreading Covid-19 with unregistered mass rallies was a crime.
A mass of protesters first filled Prešeren Square and then marched in the streets of the capital. The initial plan was to arrive in Republic Square in front of the parliament, but the police rerouted the unregistered rally, so the protesters gathered at an intersection of Celovška, Tivolska, Bleiweisova and Gosposvetska streets, where speeches were delivered and musical performances staged.
Representatives of the country’s main trade union associations, the Friday bicycle protest movement, NGOs and people from the academic and cultural circles addressed the rally to criticise what they see as problematic measures and laws by the government, highlight a lack of social dialogue and stress the need for an early election.
Lidija Jerkič, the head of the ZSSS confederation, and Branimir Štrukelj, the head of the KSJS association of public sector trade unions, said they had to participate in the protests because social dialogue had been extinguished by the government. Štrukelj also said the KSJS rejected repression against the media, expressing solidarity with the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).
Oto Luthar, the head of the ZRC SAZU research centre, warned that freedom, democracy, the legal system as well as solidarity were at risk. Tea Jarc, the head of the Mladi Plus youth trade union, noted that the resistance was not emerging only in Ljubljana but across Slovenia. She thinks Janša is afraid of the Slovenian people because he is aware of low public support for his government and the fact that he no longer has the majority in parliament.
The protest has been dubbed Pan-Slovenian Uprising for Early Election by the bicycle protesters, who said ahead of the rally that Slovenia’s reputation was tarnished every day. The movement believes that a great majority of Slovenians is unhappy with the government’s work and the state of democracy in the country.
Some of the opposition parties have announced their support for the protest with the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) and the Left announcing they would join in. The Left has also protested over a police panel that has been erected around Republic Square.
The SocDems said it was best to be silent today and listen to the people. The party also supported the protests, urging for peaceful demonstrations. The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said it supported peaceful protests, noting that today’s rally should remain the protest of civil society.
Coalition New Slovenia (NSi) MP Iva Dimic was meanwhile critical of the parties’ involvement in the protest, saying that the political parties’ arena for expressing opinions was parliament and not the streets. She added that peaceful protests were part of the democracy.
The police presence was boosted during the rally and movement in the vicinity of government and parliament buildings restricted. The area was placed under video surveillance. The Health Inspectorate joined the police in enforcing coronavirus restrictions and measures.
Ahead of the rally, the protest movement called for peaceful demonstrations and urged the police to allow the protesters to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and protest without using excessive force.
Amnesty International Slovenia and the Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy monitored the protests to detect any potential violations of these rights. Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina visited the Ljubljana police operational-communications centre to review the police work at the protests. His office added that if need be, he would also visit the detention centre.
Accusing police of using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators at the protest a week ago, the protest movement had filed a criminal complaint with the prosecution and called on Svetina to look into alleged violations, which the police had denied.
The Commission for Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services (KNOVS) visited the SOVA intelligence agency and General Police Administration today to make sure that the police and SOVA are acting in line with their competences when it comes to protests, said the commission’s chair Matjaž Nemec of the opposition SocDems.
Janša meanwhile said on Twitter that spreading Covid-19 with mass unregistered gatherings was a crime as there were more than 300 infections confirmed a day and the protest was held in a region with the third worst Covid status in the country.
He added that freedom of expression and the right to assembly were constitutional rights, however they could be restricted by law under the constitution. He also took a jab at the centre-left opposition, saying they could have waited for a month longer to protest at the end of the epidemic, but instead they were jeopardising a return to normal.