Geert Lovink: Let’s speak about the role of intellectuals. Before 1989, there was a strange relationship among intellectuals and those in power in Eastern Europe. Both bureaucrats and dissidents had some sort of relationship with politics. Even now, this is partly the case. In Western Europe this phenomenon disappeared and it is hard to see any relationship or even dialogue. What should be the role of intellectuals?
Slavoj Zizek: Partially this is true. For me what was partially so attractive, so sympathetic about real socialism, despite being a corrupt, cynical system, was the belief in the power of the spoken word. Some twenty years ago, I was editor of a small art-theoretical journal with a circulation of 3,400. Once we published a small, obscure poem, incomprehensibly modern, but between the lines there was a dissident message. If the power would have ignored the poem, nothing would have happened. But there was an extraordinary session of the Central Committee. Okay, this is repression, but what I like about it is that the communist power took the potential, detonating force of the spoken word very seriously. They were always interested in arguing with intellectuals. Let’s take an artist like Tarkovski, who was half dissident. He was half allowed to work, even if they suppressed some of his films. They were impressed, they bothered. Fredric Jameson made a nice point about this: we are only now becoming aware that what we liked about East-European dissidents like Havel is only possible within a socialist system.
Our influence, beginning in the mid-eighties, was at that time incredibly large, especially the philosophers, sociologists, literary theoreticians. But this was a very limited conjunction. Now there is the pure ignorance of the regime, which is simply not interested in ideological questions. I feel sorry for those countries in which writers nowadays play an important role. Take Serbia, where this nationalist madness was fabricated by writers. Even in Slovenia it’s the same with the nationalist writers, although they do not have much influence.
Lovink: But you are involved in politics yourself, up until this moment. There are a lot of controversies in Ljubljiana about your involvement in the governing party and the fact that you write speeches for them.
Zizek: There is a messianic complex with intellectuals in Eastern Europe. Nothing against it, but it becomes extremely dangerous in Slovenia when this messianic vision of intellectuals is combined with a vulgar anti-Americanism, which is a very popular political attitude of right wingers. America for them means no national solidarity, filthy liberalism, multi-culturalism, individualism, the market. They are afraid of a pluralistic democracy and there is a proto-fascistic potential in it. This combination of nationalist writers, whose obsession is how to retain national identity, and an anti-capitalist right-wing movement is very dangerous.
I did something for which I lost almost all my friends, what no good leftist ever does: I fully supported the ruling party in Slovenia. For this all my leftist friends hate me and of course the whole right wing. What the liberal democratic party did was a miracle. Five years ago we were the remainder of the new social movements, like feminist and ecological groups. At that time everybody thought that we would be vanishing mediators. We made some slyly corrupted, but good moves and now we are the strongest party. I think it was our party that saved Slovenia from the fate of the other former Yugoslav republics, where they have the one-party model. Either right wing like in Croatia or left wing like in Serbia, which hegemonized in the name of the national interest. With us it’s a really diverse, pluralist scene, open towards foreigners (of course there are some critical cases). But the changes of a genuine pluralist society are not yet lost.
It’s typical that this position triggers an enormous hatred against me. Slovene media absolutely ignore me, there is never an article about me. On the other hand, if some nationalist poet publishes a small poem in some obscure Austrian journal, it’s a big success in Slovenia. I am rather perceived as some dark, ominous, plotting, political manipulator, a role I enjoy immensely and like very much.
Lovink: You have not become cynical about the current power struggles you are involved in?
Lovink: What is your view on the work of the Soros Foundation and the concept of an “open society”?
Lovink: The campaign in Holland, Press Now, supports so-called independent media in the former Yugoslavia. One of its premises is the idea that the war started with propaganda from above through state-controlled media. Seeing that any Western intervention already came too late, it states that, for example, through independent media, one could work on a long-term solution. Do you agree with this analysis?
Lovink: In your speech during the Ars Electronica conference, you emphasized the fact that after a phase of introduction, the seduction of the new media will be over and so will “virtual sex.” So the desire to be wired will be over soon?
Lovink: You are famous for your film analyses. But can you imagine also using examples from computer networks, analyzing the storyline of a CD-ROM or using television material?
Lovink: We recently celebrated the centenary of cinema. What’s the condition of current film theory? What will come after the critical, semiological and gender approaches? It is still useful to see film as a unity or should we surf through the media, like the users do and use a variety of sources?
Lovink: You have been to Japan. What’s your opinion on the technological culture in that country?
[Extract. Appeared in ctheory on February 21st 1996.]