“End Israeli occupation and apartheid” was one of the very first signs Schmiel Meriom, Israeli ambassador from Austria, noticed when arriving to the opening of the photo exhibition Changes taking place in Maribor, 2nd largest town in Slovenia. Several Slovenian activists gathered in front of the venue to make a statement: Israeli-Palestinian history
should not be changed through or in the name of culture.
The photo exhibition Changes, taking place within Maribor’s European Capital for Culture (ECC), is part of the town’s program called Cultural embassies. Cultural embassies enable various countries (mainly from the EU) to present their art, culture and traditions. Through its embassy in Vienna, Austria, Israel is one of the countries presenting itself in Maribor.
Photo exhibition Changes aims to present developments Israel went through since it was established. Give or take a decade. It seems that historical time frame is not very important, since the invitation starts with: “In the last 100 years Israel went through dramatic changes. Many new villages developed, old villages became towns, towns became cities.” The historical Palestine is not even mentioned but is reduced to “once undeveloped region of Ottoman empire”, “deserted, dried out land” and “barely populated areas”.
In their protest letter sent to the public on 24th May, Association for development of humanistic studies from Maribor Zofijini ljubimci called for the boycott of Cultural embassy of Israel at the Maribor local authorities: “We are appalled by the cynicism of the state of Israel that tries to mask their politics of imperialism and apartheid in the international public arena by portraying idyllic picture of state building”. “Its politics of occupation and apartheid”, it continues, “is also enabled by the support of international community”.
On May 24th, at the opening of the exhibition, several activists gathered in front of the venue to address the Israeli ambassador directly. Although only 10 people carried signs that read “end Israeli apartheid and occupation” Israeli ambassador Schmiel Meriom nevertheless left the venue through the back door. The police also came to the museum to “talk” to the protesters. One of the protesters commented: “We could not enter the exhibition because we didn’t have the invitation. We had some leaflets and posters where we explained why we call for the boycott of the exhibition but the police didn’t see these as the entry ticket. We only saw the ambassador for a brief moment when security escorted him to the car through the back door. One of the journalists present at the exhibition later told us that the ambassador is sending us a message that we have been brainwashed.”
The protest calling for cultural boycott of Israeli state was one of the first in Slovenia and was supported by the BDS Slovenia initiative launched end of March 2012 with the Israeli Apartheid Week. Various journalists, NGO workers, students and other activists already joined the civil initiative. Although still in its infancy BDS Slovenia already organized several events all around the country aimed at raising awareness and is currently making strategic plans on how to approach the boycott in Slovenia.