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What is going on in Slovenia with Degrowth?

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The term “degrowth” is neither well aceepted nor understood in Slovenia. However, there is a variety of degrowth activities around the country. Various alternatives exist such as urban gardening, cycling networks, seeds library and local farming. People are again coming back to cooperatives as a form of business: the first fair bank has just been established by a development cooperative; during the national wave of protests in 2012 and 2013 people started to self-organize and meet at the public assemblies, etc. Nevertheless, all of the above are just small-scale practices that do not attract much attention neither of political and economic decision makers nor of the big media houses that would report about good practices or success stories to the wider public.

In the first part of this article we will discuss ourinvolvement in the campaign ‘Enough’ that questioned the idea of a consumption society, and explain why ‘degrowth’ was not used as the campaign’s title. In the second part, following next week, we will present how the two NGOs (Focus and Humanitas) implemented the campaign, talk about their struggles, motives and lessons learned. At the end we will sum up with the considerations related to future developments in Slovenia.

The “Enough” Campaign

In 2011, the campaign ‚Enough‘ (Dovolj in Slovene) started. The overarching objective of the campaign was to stimulate a different understanding of the concept of quality of life among young people, families and trendsetters. The campaign aimed at stimulating a change in the commonly accepted understanding of the concept of quality of life. We promoted a concept of life quality entailing that material goods are means of living, not the goal for living. We aimed at an understanding of quality of life where balance among economical, social and environmental aspect of sustainability is actively sought on a daily life basis, as well as in social and political processes, and where we all take full responsibility for our actions. The specific issues that the campaign focused on were consumption, passivity of people, information, and feeling of powerlessness, time, social pressure, growth, development and safety.

The first phase ‘Think’ wanted to encourage people to start thinking differently about the concepts addressed by the campaign. Then the campaign aimed to inspire people to change their habits, to promote and to demand a different ‚quality of life‘, which was called the ‘Act’ phase. The purpose of the last phase, called ‘Change’, was to highlight the need to change the institutional framework e.g. for supporting different quality of life.

In the Think phase the campaign tried to challenge people’s perceptions of the standard understanding of the concepts such as development, growth, safety, employment, … through questions that stimulate critical thinking. Various materials and communication helped suggesting different ways of grasping these concepts. In this way, the campaign built on the understanding of ‚Enough‘ as a measure that enables to tell us what we really need in order to live a high quality life. The Act phase was meant to redefine the concept of quality of life – by trying to change a few habits – as a vision for trendsetters and to activate people. This should be led by raising awareness of people to demand a different quality of life from institutions, which were the focus of the third phase: Change. The campaign was looking for clarifications and alternatives to the system’s barriers to redefine quality of life, in part by questioning that very institutional system. Moreover, it tried to contribute to debates about the development strategies of Slovenia and eventually ending with the concept of Enough and moving on to the concept of degrowth.

The term degrowth in Slovenia

However, in Slovenia the term degrowth is not accepted very well. People think that we are still in the EU’s periphery hence we need to grow to catch up. Degrowth is in Slovenia perceived as a concept that moves us away from the benefits of development. This is usually the perception even among the people who are looking for alternatives to the current economic system. Therefore, the use of the ‚D-word‘ is not the most productive as it creates an obstacle for debating solutions that can be otherwise accepted by all sides of the debate (e.g. basic income, fairer division of work). Some even understand degrowth and its practices as going back to socialistic economic model, especially when talking about the cooperatives. In this respect it might even have a negative connotation when referring to different alternatives as degrowth alternatives. Another issue is the translation of the word degrowth to Slovene, as the word cannot be translated properly; the closest Slovene translation would be the term non-growth (in Slovene: ne-rast), which is not suitable. Moreover, it narrows down the field of discussion to the issue of growth vs. degrowth, while in a wider meaning of the term the discussion should cover the change of economic, political, environmental and social systems (compare, for instance G. Kallis interpretation of the concept: Sustainable degrowth is a multi-faceted political project that aspires to mobilise support for a change of direction, at the macro-level of economic and political institutions and at the micro level of personal values and aspirations. Income and material comfort is to be reduced for many along the way, but the goal is that this is not experienced as welfare loss). For these reasons we decided to call the campaign Enough. However, discussions on how to translate the concept of degrowth and define it suitably are still ongoing among several NGO activists, who constitute the core of the degrowth movement of Slovenia.

Lidija Živcic is currently a senior expert in Focus Association for Sustainable Development in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her topics are sustainable development, climate, energy, transport, consumption, active citizenship and as of recently also degrowth. After completing her undergraduate studies of economics in Ljubljana in 2000, she completed a MSc course in Environmental Science and Policy at Central European University in Budapest. In 2012 Lidija earned a PhD degree at Biotechnical faculty, University of Ljubljana, with the dissertation on raising awareness on climate change in Slovenia. /// Ajda Pistotnik is currently freelance researcher. She also has working experience as a project manager and coordinator while working for NGO (Humanitas) and as an analyst at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. She completed her MSc in Political Science from the University of Ljubljana in 2012 on the topic of Human right to Water and Business. Moreover, she took part at the Erasmus exchange program at the Copenhagen University and attended the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Washington College of Law in 2009. Ajda is Slovenian editor of the initiative TroikaWatch, she also contributed to Shadow Report on the economic, social and cultural rights in Slovenia, for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2014 and is an author to contribution to the annual report for Social Watch Report 2013: Means and Ends - Slovenia. Moreover, in 2014 she participated at EURODAD's conference on Alternative Solutions to the Debt Crisis and at Degrowth conferences (Leipzig and Venice). She presented her working paper at the conference Beyond Territoriality: Globalization and Transnational Human Rights Obligations in Antwerp in 2011.

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