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Why Neue Slowenische Kunst in German?

NSK and its groups never spoke the political language of the day. This, however, does not mean that we did not respond to aggressive nationalist politics. We did not want to fall victim to the phantoms of the past, being well-aware that the more that totalitarian and nationalistic symbols were pushed under the rug and prohibited, the more they assumed diabolical power. This was also one of the reasons why, in our paintings, Irwin juxtaposed the motifs and styles of modernism and contemporary art with totalitarian art styles and national motifs. We were aware that there is a wide space between regressive nationalism and “esperanto” internationalism, and that mere criticism of nationalism without reflection would not make it disappear. Interestingly, despite our iconography, we were not of much interest to ultranationalists in the long run. In fact, they were mostly quite disappointed and perplexed when they looked more closely at us. They attended the events of NSK and its groups because our iconography was apparently appealing to them, but its content did not meet their expectations and they did not know what to make of it. Because our artistic procedures and works did not contain a safe ironical distance that would be recognizable at first glance, we were subject, from the very start of our activity, to numerous accusations of being nationalists and flirting with totalitarian ideologies. In time, such reactions slowly died down and became very rare.

The NSK art collective was formed in 1984 in Yugoslavia by three groups active in the fields of visual art, music, and theater: Irwin, Laibach, and the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre. Later, other groups joined in, among them the design group New Collectivism and the Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy. Crucial for NSK’s operations and its development were collaboration, a free flow of ideas among individual members and groups, and the joint planning of artistic actions. In 1992, the NSK transformed into the NSK State in Time as a response to the radical political changes that were taking place in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s. In addition to organizing projects such as temporary embassies and consulates, the NSK State in Time also started to issue its own passports in 1993. Currently, there are approximately 14,000 NSK passport holders around the world.

The NSK State in Time came into being after the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was marked by wars in the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a transnational reaction to the aggressive nationalisms spreading throughout the territory of ex-Yugoslavia.

As early as the beginning of the 1980s, Laibach and NSK triggered debates about nationalism by using German names, which clearly caused discomfort on the part of the authorities. Why the use of the German language for “new Slovenian art”? Why did the Laibach group take on the old German name for Ljubljana, today’s capital of the Republic of Slovenia? Laibach, in particular, sparked lots of hostile reactions from the authorities throughout Yugoslavia. For some time in Slovenia, there was even a ban on the use of the name Laibach, carrying a mandatory fine equivalent to about 500 German marks. Here, I must explain that German culture had exerted a huge influence on Slovenian culture for almost one thousand years. But during World War II, Slovenia, like the rest of Yugoslavia, was under German occupation. Slovenians were subjected to aggressive Germanization and even prohibited from using their language in public. Large numbers of people were killed as hostages or perished in concentration camps. The role that this ultranationalistic and racist project reserved for Slavic nations was, at best, slave work in East European fields and factories. Thus, after the traumatic experience of WWII, the German language was understood in Yugoslavia as the language of the occupier, yet at the same time also as the language of high culture and philosophy, the language of Goethe, Hegel, Mann, and others. The use of German in the name “Neue Slowenische Kunst” indicated this double nature of our experience with the German cultural and national space.

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