Several thousand bicyclists gathered on Friday in several Slovenia cities to protest against the government, but their demands were overshadowed by one photo. Namely, it was a photo of one of the protestors with a police officer on a motorcycle that has divided the public in the country.
As soon as the photo was published on social networks, the officer became a target of online criticism, prompting the police trade union to issue a letter of support.
“As police officers, performing the tasks of ensuring the safety of people and property, we always follow our basic mission! Our main concern is that the participants of gatherings and events, as well as our colleagues, return home safely to their loved ones. The police officer, who was the target of the discrediting, was showing tactical discretion at the time and by his actions made it clear to the participants in the rally that his task was to ensure the safety of the people. In situations when the atmosphere is already so tense due to the crowds, police officers sometimes have to react to provocations with a smile, and we must not make the situation worse with our actions. And we, the police, are capable of that, because we do our job impartially, dedicatedly and professionally.
Moreover, the Union claims that the police officer, through his spontaneous actions, also provided greater security to his colleagues who were involved in the protection of public order and peace. With a simple, human gesture, he showed the protesters that we were carrying out our tasks for the benefit of the people and thus prevented the possibility of the crowd directing its anger at other police officers”, stressed Union in the announcement.
However, on Saturday, minister without portfolio Zvonko Černač, tweeted: “Such officers make up less than a 1% of the police force. They are an insult to thousands of their colleagues. Therefore they need to be removed of their masks and should switch from riding motorbikes, paid by the taxpayers, to bikes”.
Prime Minister Janez Janša responded to the union’s letter, tweeting that Slovenia was the only country in the world where a police union is fighting against measures to make police officers’ life easier and supported violations of the infectious diseases act.
The photo and reactions to it have stirred a variety of responses, among them by former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who expressed support for the officer. The police officers’ “job is hard enough without threats from the minister”.
The protests themselves were also criticised by the ruling coalition. Janša indicated on Friday that they had been orchestrated by the “extreme left”, sharing a photo of Social Democrats (SD) members at the protests and a photo of a man waving the Yugoslavian flag at the Maribor rally.
MEP and member of the SD Tanja Fajon tweeted in response that “this was not a protest of the extreme left, but a peaceful protest of the civil society across entire Slovenia against a populist right-wing government”.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Matej Tonin tweeted that the message of the protestors must be taken seriously and that the society must do its best to preserve democracy and develop it through dialogue and within the democratic institutions.
Tonin also tweeted that he perceived the protests as a reflection of people being tired of limitations and fearing for their future. Tonin later deleted the tweet, saying in a Facebook post on Saturday that he had done that after realising that a part of the opposition abused the protests and was incited with false arguments.
The police have meanwhile said that 23 warnings had been issued at the protests, which were staged despite a ban on public gathering still in place in Slovenia.
It forwarded 49 reports to the National Institute for Public Health (NIJZ), the body with powers to impose fines for the violations of relevant health legislation. Moreover, the police also initiated three misdemeanour charges for public order violations.
Rallies were staged in many towns across the country, the biggest was held in Ljubljana, where, according to police estimates, some 5,500 people rode their bikes around the city centre./ibna