Latest Articles

Alberto García Palomo

Femen, seed of sextremism

Whatever happened to FEMEN, this protest movement from Ukraine that uses a subversive mix of politics, sex, scandal, and pop art feminism to point to misogyny, homophobia and authoritarianism? Alberto G. Palomo reports. [ more ]

George Blecher

Alone and tired

Eurozine Review

The Lilliput syndrome

Katja Garmasch

A new start that's full of contradictions

Andrei Sannikov

Existence without life

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

The Lilliput syndrome

'Transit' responds to Russia's politics of fear; 'New Eastern Europe' condemns human rights pragmatism; 'Index on Censorship' defends the right to anonymity; 'Vikerkaar' talks trees; 'Czas Kultury' considers conspiracy theories; 'Ord&Bild' reports on heritage wars; 'dérive' confronts the new housing question; 'Letras Libres' declines populisms; and 'Vagant' has no fun with industrial.

Eurozine Review

The violent closet?

Eurozine Review

Peak democracy?

Eurozine Review

Critical junctures

Eurozine Review

The narrowest of margins

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

More fascist than fascism

Volk, latest album from the Slovenian band Laibach, subjects national anthems from all over the world to blatant manipulation and merciless interrogation. Le Monde Diplomatique (Norway) asks whether Laibach's aesthetic is an expression of neo-fascism or a critique of the same.

"Laibach" is German for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, and the city's original name, dating back to 1144. However most Slovenians today connect the name to the year 1943, when the Nazis occupied the city and brutally subjugated its population to the fascist ideological apparatus of the Third Reich.

The Slovenian state's political and historical self-awareness had been based on notions of socialist progressiveness, national independence, and the fight against fascism. Therefore, that a group from the youth culture of the early 1980s (shortly after the death of Tito) should choose to step into the public arena bearing the name "Laibach" was highly problematic. The name has a strong but ambivalent politicising symbolism. Laibach developed this in their theatrical punk-rock concerts, in which the lead singer posed as Mussolini, and in media appearances, in which the band dressed in military uniform and robotically read aloud from their manifesto. This led to a long and multifaceted controversy resulting in the group being officially banned from performing in Slovenia under their own name from 1983 to 1987. Instead, they chose to tour both sides of the Iron Curtain – their "Occupied Europe Tour" – and co-founded the collective Neue Slowenische Kunst, a state (with its own diplomatic passport) defined not by geographic territory but by the intellect's power of abstraction.

But what meaning should one read in the name in relation to Laibach's greater scheme? That they have for more than 25 years, and in similar ways, problematised other instances of power (including those beyond the Slovenian context), for example Nato, the rock concert, Western democracy, the pop industry, and most recently, the national anthem? Is their use of arm-bands, flags, hunting horns and projections of war scenes an expression of neo-fascist aesthetics? Or an ironic critique of the very same? It is difficult to decide because the name is symptomatic of and forms part of a complex interplay of references to everything from Marcel Duchamp and Malevich to Marx, the Beatles and Opus Dei, where meaning is constantly shifted and fragmented to form a disjointed whole. Laibach is an ambiguous quantity. They shroud their art in mystery and never reveal their political affiliation. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has put it: "Laibach does not function as answer, but as a question."

The first question one might ask, of course, is: "Are Laibach really fascists? Is their use of props serious?" Simply responding "no" and "yes" (respectively) misinterprets the radical nature of the question. For Laibach, it's all about involving oneself in fascism, which they see as representative of all types and ages of totalitarian regime, from "God's will to evil", as they sing. Instead of rejecting fascism from a socialist or moral standpoint, they identify with fascism to an extreme degree – Zizek defines this using the psychoanalytic term "over-identification". One could say that Laibach come across more fascist than fascism.

Zizek has also written that a characteristic of real fascists is that they do not behave like fascists. On the contrary, they deliberately present a human face in order to create the mass-illusion that their politics serves the people, while behind this human facade they continue to practise violence against that very same people. Through over-identification, Laibach expose this hidden flip-side, fascism's true nature, which must remain invisible and unsaid in order for it to hold sway over the people. They depict fascism in all its totalitarian rhetoric and ritual, as part of a strategy that confronts us with fascism – where its power of fascination and spectacular self-direction is at its most brutal, cynical, and potent. It is also here that fascism's mendacity, hypocrisy, and inconsistency are most apparent. Only in this exposed and alienating position is it possible to see through the illusion and develop a real awareness about and resistance to fascism in all its aspects. That is what Laibach mean when they say: "We are shepherds disguised as wolves."

Laibach's primary medium is the rock concert as ritual mass-event and totalitarian political manipulation. Instead of the "real love" that Robbie Williams invoked, they proclaim that "The time for peace is over" and subject the audience to "systematic psychophysical terror" through a chaotic and violent bombardment of sound and images. They incite and play on an ambivalent blend of fear and fascination, individual alienation and total mass-surrender. Extreme manipulation of the audience that is supposed to awaken the last remnants of constructive emotion and critical awareness, while giving the concert a "purifying and regenerative function".

At the same time, Laibach consistently and cynically reject all forms of identification on the part of the audience and repeatedly dashes their expectations to smithereens. A case in point is illustrated by their performance at the Bach festival in Leipzig with their interpretation of the composer's magnum opus, Die Kunst der Fuge. The concert, which had attracted a huge crowd of dedicated fans, started twenty minutes before schedule, while most people were still at the bar. After playing with their laptops for 15 minutes, the band left the music to its own devices and sat around a table in the middle of the stage playing four-man chess, smoking cigars and drinking brandy. For an hour. An aristocratic display of power and an illustration that "no-one owns Laibach".

Another related anecdote tells of the time punks and neo-Nazis spent an entire concert discussing which group were Laibach's true fans. This story is a striking portrayal of the effectiveness of Laibach's double entendres and of the group's fundamental aloofness, as a mirror for the audience's own thoughts and feelings, projections and interpretations.

It is interesting to view Laibach in relation to the preoccupation of other contemporary art with the possibility of politicised, ideologically-critical, and socially engaged art. Several theorists have stated that art can establish discursive and productive free spaces beyond power, that art represents and creates good. For Laibach, this is a mistaken and naïve assumption because historically, art has always been connected to power. If art does not reflect this problematic relationship in both its formal expression and its conceptual self-awareness, it will trivialise and reduce the reach and significance of power and eventually run the risk of serving it. "In art, morality is nonsense and Laibach's only responsibility is to remain irresponsible," as their spokesman has put it. The notion that power can be abolished or that it does not exist in art is just as dangerous as power itself. For this reason, Laibach are not interested in power for its own sake, but in the relationship between art and power. Their art operates with and within power's reality, because, as their manifesto states: "All art is subject to political manipulation except that which speaks the language of the same manipulation." And instead of serving a utopian vision of a better world, Laibach presents an evil and illusion-free reality. They oppose all forms of aesthetic accord, social consensus, and political homogeneity, they consistently and radically insist on heterogeneous, antagonistic and paradoxical expression. This is art's only opportunity to develop a credible critical language in relation to contemporary politics, where the illusion of the liberated and enlightened individual is power's strongest weapon. But where, at the same time, its accepted truths and established authority are destined to crumble.

In other words, Laibach's art gives us nothing, no values to adopt, no guidelines to follow, and definitely no method to the madness. It is up to us to find it, abandoned and intimidated in front of power's empty stage. As the last verse in We Are Time explains: "When our beat stops / And the lights go out / And when we leave this place / You will be left here all alone / With a static scream locked on your face".


Published 2007-01-09

Original in Danish
First published in Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 12/2006

Contributed by Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo)
© Jacob Lillemose, Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo)
© Eurozine

Focal points     click for more

Ukraine: Beyond conflict stories
Follow the critical, informed and nuanced voices that counter the dominant discourse of crisis concerning Ukraine. A media exchange project linking Ukrainian independent media with "alternative" media in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Greece. [more]

Ukraine in European dialogue
Post-revolutionary Ukrainian society displays a unique mix of hope, enthusiasm, social creativity, collective trauma of war, radicalism and disillusionment. Two years after the country's uprising, the focal point "Ukraine in European dialogue" takes stock. [more]

Culture and the commons
Across Europe, citizens are engaging in new forms of cultural cooperation while developing alternative and participatory democratic practices. The commons is where cultural and social activists meet a broader public to create new ways of living together. [more]

2016 Jean Améry Prize collection
To coincide with the awarding of the 2016 Jean Améry Prize for European essay writing, Eurozine publishes essays by authors nominated for the prize, including by a representative selection of Eurozine partner journals. [more]

The politics of privacy
The Snowden leaks and the ensuing NSA scandal made the whole world debate privacy and data protection. Now the discussion has entered a new phase - and it's all about policy. A focal point on the politics of privacy: claiming a European value. [more]

Beyond Fortress Europe
The fate of migrants attempting to enter Fortress Europe has triggered a new European debate on laws, borders and human rights. A focal point featuring reportage alongside articles on policy and memory. With contributions by Fabrizio Gatti, Seyla Benhabib and Alessandro Leogrande. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
In memoriam: Ales Debeljak (1961-2016)
On 28 January 2016, Ales Debeljak died in a car crash in Slovenia. He will be much missed as an agile and compelling essayist, a formidable public speaker and a charming personality. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Mobilizing for the Commons
The 27th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Gdańsk, 4-6 November 2016
The Eurozine conference 2016 in Gdańsk will frame the general topic of solidarity with a focus on mobilizing for the commons. The conference will take place in the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk thus linking contemporary debates to the history of a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement which has started in the city's shipyard in 1980. [more]

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Neda Deneva, Constantina Kouneva, Irina Nedeva and Yavor Siderov
Does migration intensify distrust in institutions?
How do migration and institutional mistrust relate to one another? As a new wave of populism feeds on and promotes fears of migration, aggrandising itself through the distrust it sows, The Red House hosts a timely debate with a view to untangling the key issues. [more]

Editor's choice     click for more

Jürgen Habermas, Michaël Foessel
Critique and communication: Philosophy's missions
Decades after first encountering Anglo-Saxon perspectives on democracy in occupied postwar Germany, Jürgen Habermas still stands by his commitment to a critical social theory that advances the cause of human emancipation. This follows a lifetime of philosophical dialogue. [more]

Literature     click for more

Karl Ove Knausgård
Out to where storytelling does not reach
To write is to write one's way through the preconceived and into the world on the other side, to see the world as children can, as fantastic or terrifying, but always rich and wide-open. Karl Ove Knausgård on creating literature. [more]

Jonathan Bousfield
Growing up in Kundera's Central Europe
Jonathan Bousfield talks to three award-winning novelists who spent their formative years in a Central Europe that Milan Kundera once described as the kidnapped West. It transpires that small nations may still be the bearers of important truths. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by