Miha Mazzini: Slovene Mentality

From the book If You Don't Like It Here, Move Out!, essays about the Slovenian mentality, customs, culture and way of living, written for www.siol.net between May 2010 and June 2011. The book is mostly valid for all Balkan nations too.

Published by Goga, 2011, ISBN: 978-961-277-016-7.


Slovene Mentality

Under foreign control

Slovenes long ago adapted to life under foreign control. The top positions were occupied by foreigners while the bottom of the pyramid was reserved for us. We lived within the equality of serfdom and we got used to it – the same pay, the same conditions, the same careers and the same life for everyone. The proverbial Slovene egalitarianism.

The path to success

Let’s have a look at what happens if someone detaches himself from the crowd and begins to climb the ladder.

Perhaps a future political leader who will sooner or later provoke a conflict with the occupier? Remember Roman slaves, whose lives and fates were also equal and then suddenly Spartacus appeared on the scene and led them into battle. And you haven’t forgotten how it all ended, have you? A small nation can afford a Spartacus only once in a while as otherwise the occupier’s revenge would soon annihilate it. So the emerging leader has to be blocked by the nation itself, thwarting him even before the occupying force has even noticed any signs of movement.

What if it is an artist or a scientist who lifts his head? If he is talented, the occupier will suck him in and we lose a member, while the foreign forces grow in number. It’s much better if we knock him down ourselves, let him stay among us, but as an equal to us. This is why the names of all the professions where individuality is a must (artist, philosopher) are used as insults or as a synonym for confusion or even madness (scientist, for example). The archives of foreign universities are full of the names of our students who graduated with distinction and stayed abroad.

The way back

The individual who stands out must thus get a beating from his compatriots; the sooner, the better.

There develops a society that anthropologists describe as a reverse dominance hierarchy, in which it is not the strong who control the weak, but just the opposite – the weak stand together and make sure that no one escapes. I call this negative selection, as such a society pushes upwards those that are the least capable (i.e. the ones the occupier does not want anyway) and recruitment is seen as a form of social support.

Gradually, quite a number of the members of such a society try to escape upwards, but all get knocked down again. This creates a nation of broken heads, and discontent and dissatisfaction become widespread.

If the occupier had beaten them, the general public would blame the occupier, which would lead to revolt. But as the people themselves have beaten each other, it leads to nothing but a high degree of aggression which, however, must be kept safe, directed inward or at those close to us (suicide, depression, aggression within the family, suing the neighbours, etc.) rather than at the occupier.

The way down

No society can have a completely flat structure and so even societies complying with the negative selection principle have their safety valve. If someone wants to stand out, but cannot go up, he must go down.

In such societies the role of the village idiot, i.e. an individual who makes a fool of himself and poses no threat to either the equality of all or the occupier, is freely available. Such a person will not lead us into rebellion or towards artistic or scientific achievement. He simply offers harmless entertainment and poses no threat to equality.

In connection with this I have noticed an interesting discrepancy in how those playing the village eccentric are looked upon at home and how our view of them changes as soon as we are abroad. We are well aware that what we are dealing with here is a private joke within our egalitarian society.

Imagine that you are a bus driver taking the most famous Slovenian celebrities, selected according to how often they appear in the media, to an international gathering. You arrive at work and in the seat at the front there is our most famous woman Urša Čepin, next to her our most popular singer Damjan Murko, behind them the intellectual about whom the media writes most often, Dr Anton Štern, and so on. Everyone is happily greeting everyone else, but as soon as you cross the border, some of you feel increasingly uncomfortable. And when you arrive at your destination, you tell the people there that you don’t actually know a lot of the people on the bus, they must be from Slovakia or somewhere.

Dr Artur Štern is a very educational example. He had spent many years looking for fame. Initially he tried as a scientist (going up), but didn’t get anywhere. Then he was a writer (going up), but nothing again. In his third attempt he took on the role of the village idiot (going down) and his ambition was realized.

Independent Slovenia

Twenty years ago, we became independent. This is our group photograph:

The occupier is gone, we are alone.


The success story

We all leapt up.

Up, higher, where the occupier used to be. To wealth, fame and glory!

But we did not want to be divided according to class, we did not want to change our programming. We wanted to be launched towards the stars together, in a single package.

Initially, things looked more than promising: the new property law allowed even the poorest people to buy their formerly state owned homes at a pittance, the state gave us some kind of privatization certificates, we were investing in systems which make it impossible to lose, like catch the cash.

There appeared funds, shares and other financial instruments we were quite familiar with from socialist times – the theory was perfectly clear to us: you buy 100 German marks today and you sell them at a 20 percent higher rate tomorrow. The value never falls, just like the value of property.

The sinking story

Then things started turning sour and in spite of the joint leap upwards, some became richer than others. The Ponzi schemes did not bring a profit, nor did funds and shares, and even property prices are kept high only by our faith and considerable assistance from the state (i.e. our pockets).

Does the way up really mean the destruction of our egalitarian society? We must never allow that.

And at the same time: the journey up is nothing but a great deal of effort, work, hard graft. If you live in an egalitarian society you adjust to the level of the weakest and use only a small proportion of your abilities. And now you’re supposed to give it your all – what for?

There’s another way, also an ancient one – collective sinking.

At first glance it seems that the new narcissism has reached our homeland, too. But don’t be fooled, it’s just Slovenes once more pushing their compatriots into the role of village idiot.

Suddenly, on television, in newspapers, everyone is making fun of everyone else, everyone is mocking everyone else, everyone is making an idiot of those around them and we are all happy again. Yes, that is it: the only way in which we can be different from the others but still classless lies in a general idiocy in which everyone jokes and makes sarcastic remarks, even those in the government and the parliament.

We’ve never had it worse since independence, but at the same time we’ve never had so much fun.

And the worse it gets, the more fun we’ll have.

Because just as the way up has no limit, the way down to idiocy has no end either.

The crux of the matter

Let’s look at a person who has found himself in one of the worst positions: luck paid a visit to someone close to him.

Look at a colleague of yours and imagine that he suddenly begins jumping up and down, saying he has won a few million in the lottery. Why him? It’s not fair. Such a dimwit and millions. While you, a near genius and undoubtedly deserving…

In sport, this is known as the second place phenomenon – the winner is jumping with joy in the middle of the winners' podium, the person in third place is happy to have managed the bronze medal, whilst the one in second place is cursing the person above.

In short, you’re having an attack of envy.

Envy gets stronger the more you can imagine yourself in the place of your colleague, be it in sport, computer programming or anything else.

That’s normal and human.

Envy is an emotion.

Why do we have emotions? Why did nature bestow them on us?

The answer is simple: emotions are the amplifiers of movement or pre-movement states that encourage us to move. Let’s take a fight as an example: if we didn’t have emotions, we would still fight. But the one who strikes with hatred, strikes more strongly, which gives a biological advantage. Love is a better encouragement for procreation than impassivity.

Envy is thus intended to cause movement and it emerges when someone is doing better than us.

It makes us act.

But there biology ends and social programming begins.

Cultures differ from each other in how children are taught to deal with envy.

There are only two possibilities:

  1. the energy of envy is directed into bringing the other person down. This is the way in which societies following the negative selection principle function, including ours. Someone near you succeeds and you start thinking how you can bring him down, or you spread negative rumours about him, you diminish his success, you despise him, in short, you try to get him back down to your level. This results in general passivity as no one can get anywhere because everyone is suppressing everyone else.

  1.  you direct the energy of envy into an activity with which you will catch up with your colleague or even overtake him. If the other person has managed to invent something, you begin working on your own inventions; as a writer you begin writing a new novel, as a sportsman you train even harder, etc. The consequence is an active society where people try to surpass each other.

Some cultures thus use envy as the driving force of progress and others as the cement that keeps things as they are. In the former people want to overtake each other and in the latter run each other over.

Saving independent Slovenia

is very simple: we must train ourselves to use envy in the second way described above.

Slovenia’s options

If we want to change our way of thinking, we first have to be aware of the problem. In order to make it even more understandable, let me describe it in another way: we are trying to succeed in a post-industrial society with a feudal way of thinking. We want an independent state, but at the same time we want to behave like serfs. We want to remain extremely passive, but compete among the extremely active.

Others who have dealt with the characteristics of Slovenes reached similar conclusions. Slovenian writer Edvard Kocbek thus insisted that a very important Article 4 was included among the fundamental principles of the Liberation Front: “Through the liberation campaign and the activation of the Slovene people the Liberation Front will change the Slovene national character. The Slovene people struggling for their national and human rights are creating a new image of active Slovenism.”

This is it – stated with no biological or anthropological explanations.

What are the prospects? The crisis offers an ideal opportunity to reshape the national character and that is what is already happening, isn’t it?

It doesn’t seem so.

At least secondary school students should be made aware of what sort of society they are living in and will be working in. Reforms should not be just down to economists, but should also involve other professions, including anthropologists.

There is no sign of any of this happening.

Dear readers, ask yourself this and give an honest answer: if society becomes structured according to ability, you’ll have to struggle with the pain you feel at the sight of a person who is twice as capable as you and has twice as much, this is what you are afraid of and I understand that.

But then think about your current pain in a society that is divided on the basis of (political) connections and acquaintances and which you feel when you see someone who is five times less capable than you being five times as rich as you. Am I not offering relief?

P. S. "Even America isn’t what it used to be"

I initially drew the sketches for this article with my finger on a table in a restaurant as I was trying to console a friend who was feeling down. He had just received an important award for his writing, but he was sitting there looking very glum. When after the award ceremony the lights went off, he found himself amidst the members of the judging panel. They told him that what was on offer that year was really bad, his competitors were nothing but rubbish, the quality of writing in Slovenia was going down, etc. They gave him an award and then made sure that he felt like shit. “As if I’d done something bad,” he said.

And that was why my finger stirred into action and I explained what you’ve just read.

The judging panel members felt a strong egalitarian impulse to educate the award winner that he was nothing special, that he did not really stand out, that he was just a pen pusher and that he should under no circumstances feel conceit. He should not go upward. But if he wanted to, he could definitely get drunk and use his dick to sign his name on a wall while the tabloids take a photograph (the way down).

Can you imagine what a nightmare those dinners after the Oscars ceremony must be? The Oscar winners leaning on the tables, sighing that nothing but shit has been made this year, so they gave them the Oscar as there was no one else to give it to, oh dear me.

Slovene programming is obscenely funny – but only if you see through it and it does not influence your fate in a specific situation.

This is why I have decided to carry out an experiment. In the company of a few people involved in culture, I mentioned a highly respected American award I had just received. They congratulated me, rather coldly, but in an appropriate enough manner. Then the conversation turned to other things and after a while reached the modern empires, in connection with which those around me said how even America is not what it used to be, that its time was over and now it was China on top, and so on.

It was a pleasure to watch how their unconscious was directing them into true Slovene behaviour. Even the creme de la creme of the Slovene intelligentsia is no more than a finger puppet in the hands of the long gone Jansenists of the 18th century.

If You Don't Like It Here, Move Out!

Miha Mazzini

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