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Laibach and Fascism

Originally written by Terre Thaemlitz and revised by Peter Werner and later myself

I've been following the threads on Laibach and fascism, and I thought there might be a few things you might like to know which may fill in your picture of Laibach. You might even already know it.

As I'm sure you know, Laibach is from Yugoslavia. I'm getting my information from my (torturous) years of art school with a close friend of mine who was also Yugoslavian. The Neue Slowenische Kunst affiliated with Laibach is a very active and visible part of contemporary political art, and until recently Laibach was considered more of a performance art group rather than musicians. Let me say you are not the first to "not get it," as I once saw someone stand up at the end of an NSK lecture/ slide presentation against neo-conservatism in Yugoslavia and ask why they would show the image of a swastika. The person had never thought of fascism as taking hold in any country but Germany, and never thought of it beyond the scope of anti-semitism.

Laibach and the NSK's primary critique was that of the conservative Yugoslavian government. With their popularity, this seems to have expanded to include critiques of other European and American social structures as well. However, their earlier works (if you've heard them) are much more specific in their commentary. Their primary method of critique was to portray the current politics of the conservative Yugoslavian state in a way which made people aware that it was fascist, and that these fascist tendencies had a specific history in their country. (A classic example of this would be "Krst Pod Triglavom - Baptism," which is a soundtrack by Laibach to a performance dealing with the construction of Yugoslavian history from a contemporary neo- conservative viewpoint.) Many of the lyrics in their earlier tracks were fascist commentaries made by Yugoslavian leaders of the past. Their objective was to break peoples complacency with the current government and address the mind-numbing affects which conservatism had set upon the country. Their performances were banned by the Yugoslavian government early on, although current changing situations may have reversed this ban. Laibach and the NSK's use of John Heartfield images and collage techniques are a reference to anti-fascist movements of the 30's, which also had a wry cynicism to them. Part of Laibach and the NSK's message involves the fact that an image like the Heartfield axe-swastika can be taken as a pro-fascist symbol today, simply because people are not informed on the history of fascism and the struggles against it. This is particularly true in the US, where we tend to believe fascism fell with Hitler. But political views do not change that easily, and much of Eastern Europe has yet to openly confront its conservatism. As it is, people generally ignore the topic.

Like outright fascism, neo-conservatism has to do with a sense of returning the state or country back to it's origin and traditions. The search for a "pure heritage" means wiping out social differences and imposing conformity on all peoples. This is the irony behind Laibach's "voice of the state" (the deep authoritarian demon voice) singing the Beatles' feel good lyrics "Get Back! Get Back! Get Back to where you once belonged!"