8 May 2020 – Thousands of protesters on bicycles took to the streets of Ljubljana, Marbor, Celje, Koper and elsewhere to peacefully protest against the government limiting civil liberties during the coronavirus epidemic, while the ban on public assembly is still in place. The Ljubljana rally was by far the biggest, bringing together some 5,500 by police count.
Run under the slogan You Won’t Take Our Freedom, the protests were a joint effort of various civil initiatives, which had however called on protesters to respect all the measures to protect public health.
The protesters gathered opposite the National Assembly in Ljubljana’s Republic Square, which was cordoned off so that the protesters – some media reports put the figure at 10,000 – could not approach the Parliament House.
They later took a ride past several state institutions in the city, and were cheered by locals clapping their hands from nearby windows.
The police said the Parliament House was cordoned off for safety. The police used megaphones to warn the protesters to respect the rules and that video surveillance was used. They also monitored the area from a helicopter.
Some protesters carried banners critical of the government and of President Borut Pahor, most their bicycle bells and some used cow bells.
Support was also expressed for Agency for Commodity Reserves employee Ivan Gale, who has recently publicly spoken about the pressure on the agency during the purchase of personal protective equipment.
The protesters mostly wore face masks, and shouts “criminals” could be heard. T-shirts with a Wake Up slogan were being sold in nearby Slovenska Street.
The protesters’ anti-government sentiment seemed quite clear. “I came here to celebrate Victory Day and I hope we’ll also celebrate another victory … when we topple the government,” one protester told the STA’s reporter.
Another one said he was sick of the situation in Slovenia, where he believes “a silent coup d’etat is taking place”.
Some were more positive, with one saying he wanted to show support for a more positive approach to the situation. “I’m not against, but for better politics, for better conditions, life.”
Another protester said he protested against corruption and the leading media outlets, which he accused of bias and questioned the gap between a low Covid-19 death rate and the fact that everything is in lockdown.
Some politicians could also be seen there, including opposition Left head Luka Mesec, whose party was the only one to explicitly support the protest.
Other opposition parties had said the place for politicians to resolve problems was parliament. Trade unionist Branimir Štrukelj was also at the protest.
Much fewer people gathered in Maribor, Koper, Celje, as well as other, smaller towns across the country. Several hundred protesters gathered in Maribor for a protest very similar to the one in Ljubljana.
In Koper, several dozen carried banners saying Government Should Resign, and Criminals to Prison, Freedom to the Nation. The informal anthem of the Primorska region, a WWII anti-Fascist song, could also be heard.
Already last Friday, some 3,500 protesters took to the streets of Ljubljana in a similar protest. The 1 May protest came after a protest series started with protests at home and on balconies.
Meanwhile over 100 signatories of the Forum for Democracy, among them many established university teachers and researchers, also support the protests.
In a public letter they said that “if the people’s rule is at stake, the people should claim it back”.
The letter noted that their fears from a similar February letter that the Democrat (SDS)-led coalition would take Slovenia toward authoritarianism were coming true.