The Zonards

Welcome to Ljubljana, dear women and other humans, welcome to the open zone. Today, in the second year of civil resistance to the current government, we are still desperately fighting to preserve our once won rights and to make space for new struggles for new rights. Every Friday, you’ll find us in the streets protesting against a previously unthinkable push to restrain, limit, and destroy our lives. We protest against the backlash and its aim to reintroduce 19th century rules for women and other humans. We want social development, progress, and change for everyone: humans, animals and nature.

Some of you will recognise this struggle as you are facing the same threats, distortions and anomalies in your own cities. The cut is deep, so deep that we all have to consider the dystopian possibility that the backlash is there to make sure that the privileged minority will be the sole survivors in the coming ecological, social and pandemic disaster. That minority is causing, rather than solving problems; it is threatening our very existence. In Europe, our parents and grand-parents have been through that, and very soon, could be as soon as the next year, we might be the next in line. Do not be fooled by crazily expensive outer space tourism: the privileged will not leave.

Which of the existing institutions will be able and willing to stop the process? Probably none of them. Hence it is us, people of all generations and colours, angry people from all walks of life who must put an end to such lethal politics and never forget anybody who is repressed on this planet. With good organisation, all of this is possible. We must regain trust in the sciences, the arts, and intellectuals; in health care, education and culture, as it has been fatally weakened by social media. They are our allies, and the frontline is everywhere: every inch of the disputed territory is to be taken and adjusted to human needs.

In the past year and a half of protests, we have learned that culture is indeed the best ally for invention, understanding, development and enjoyment. Cultural events, actions and retractions were crucial in empowering us to stand our ground when faced with repression. Allied with culture, we were able to laugh at stupidity and ridicule the threats, we were able to rethink our own insolence and forgiveness, and to reflect, speak, and sing without pause. We were able to refuse the imposed “tradition” and create new, democratic, alternative, and subversive traditions.

It is on you, our visitors, to take on this enormous responsibility and reaffirm the crucial importance of culture. In return, we’ll welcome anything you may offer. We’re ready to love every one of you and envision the City of Women as a revolving stage where every type of struggle for women and other humans is possible. Let’s call ourselves The Zonards, as the French term goes, let’s become the urban-friendly culture mob: knowledgeable, passionate and courageous beyond limits.

Welcome to Ljubljana, welcome to the City of Women!

Svetlana Slapšak,

Honorary President of the City of Women Association


A Temporary Venue of Persistent Hope

The state of emergency brought about by the pandemic on the global level and its coincidence with an authoritarian, oppressive regime on the local level, has reminded us that people are extremely vulnerable, as well as social and solidary creatures; the 27th City of Women Festival therefore strives to bring people together: to strengthen our social bonds through community-based art projects.

The exploitation of the pandemic to introduce new forms of control and “old traditions” (the latter are often made-up and no older than their advocates) has made us realise that we must continue to keep alive the collective memory of the work, efforts and dreams of our ancestors – not least because, as Svetlana Slapšak puts it, they have seen it all before. The programme includes several events that focus on the artistic or scientific study of women’s history and create immaterial memorials that allow us to remember them together.

Discussions about the various normalities during the pandemic, which merely increased the existing inequalities, also directed our attention to the self-evident truths that conceal many social issues, conflicts and opposing demands. As women working in culture, we are well aware of the clash between the demand for productivity, efficiency, discipline and flexibility on the one hand and the demand for a creative-entrepreneurial verve, curiosity, stubbornness, originality and erudition on the other. We also feel the gap between the equality guaranteed by law (for now) and actual gender inequality. And because such contradictions and gender stereotypes and prejudice start in school, part of the programme is dedicated to the hidden curriculum or the everyday school routine that teaches students something different than the official syllabus and textbooks. We believe that the answer to the question of what kind of society we want is inextricably linked with the question of what kind of school we want.

But can the future be any different than the past and the present? After nearly three decades, on the threshold of the 27th edition of the City of Women Festival, we have come to the conclusion that we have no choice: it has to be different. Can Ljubljana be different, too? At least during the festival, we will try to make the city a temporary venue of persistent hope: resistant to pressures and open to a bold, critical and socially engaged art that refuses to be measured and framed.

City of Women team