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Artist who represented Slovenia at 2015 Venice Biennale detained as country enters eighth week of anti-government protests

Jasa Mrevlje Pollak was thrown into the back of a police van during a demonstration last week triggered by corruption allegations

The Artist Jasa Mrevlje Pollak, who represented Slovenia at the 2015 Venice Biennale, is among several people detained at a protest last week after scaling a fence and throwing large paper planes at police outside the country’s parliament.

Around 8pm on 12 June, a crowd of approximately 5,000 people gathered at Trg Republike Square to voice opposition to the handling of the coronavirus crisis by Prime Minister Janez Jansa's government.

Several demonstrators built airborne projectiles out of posters that read “Death to Jansism, Freedom to Everyone” (Smrt Jansizmu, svoboda vsem), a word play on a popular partisan slogan from ex-Yugoslavia “Death to Fascism, Freedom to the People” (Smrt fassizmu, svoboda narodu), which they aimed at police clad in riot gear.

Mrevlje Pollak, one of Slovenia’s most high-profile contemporary artists, is shown in a video climbing a police barrier in an effort to reach the parliament doors.

With paper airplanes hurling from the sky, the artist is removed by police, hand-cuffed and thrown into the back of a van, while people in the crowd can be heard calling for his release.

“I became suddenly paranoid and gripped in a claustrophobic nightmare,” Mrevlje Pollak wrote in a Facebook post following his release. “I found myself in four cubic meters of complete darkness, with no air, I felt scared, humiliated and embarrassed.”

After around 20 minutes, an officer let Mrevlje Pollak out out of the van; he was not charged with any criminal offence.

Over the past eight weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets of central Ljubljana (many of them on bikes) to protest against the government of Prime Minister Jansa and corruption allegations levied against his government.

In March, Jansa’s four-party coalition imposed strict anti-virus measures, but his government was soon dogged by corruption allegations around the purchase of PPE and ventilators. The government denies any wrongdoing.

The protests have had broad support among artists and culture workers, including the well-known Slovenian poet Boris A. Novak, the artist and philosopher Marina Grzinic, the political art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst, the theatre director Jasa Jenull, and the influential hip-hop MC Miha Blazic N'toko; the latter two were also detained in last Friday’s demonstrations.

According to Dusan Smodej, the director of Fotopub—one of Slovenia’s longest running contemporary art festivals—the government’s response to the culture sector during the pandemic has been "disastrous". With cultural spending suspended and uncertainty over existing contracts and payments, Smodej accuses the government of dragging its feet.

“It’s only adding to the unrest,” Smodej says. “This government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of most of the country’s artists and it’s really starting to show. The entire situation is full of uncertainty and distress.”