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An Interview with Tea Hvala at Red Dawns, Slovenia, 2009

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46° 3' 5.1336" N, 14° 30' 21.4776" E

DW: Please introduce yourself.....

T: My name is Tea, I’m 29. I have been involved in a lot of organising in the former squat (that now has a sort of an in-between status between legality and illegality), now Autonomous Cultural Center Metelkova mesto in Ljubljana. It is a big space where there are a lot of alternative cultural spaces. I was organising a lot of concerts and other events, including Red Dawns, obviously, but personally I am really really interested in writing so basically that is my priority – fiction, essays, translation.

DW: How many Red Dawns have you been part of organising and what has your role been?

T: I think since the second one, so for like nine years. In the beginning I was mostly just helping out with the music programme because I love music and was always following what was going on. So I would find bands, and gradually I got more and more involved with the rest of the programme. It’s not really a clear division of work since everybody does everything. I also do writing and text editing because I am pretty good with words. It’s a pleasure to do the editing but I do everything really; everybody does sort of everything.

DW: How did you first hear about Red Dawns in the beginning?

T: I saw the posters, I was interested and just showed up. I saw Jane Graham, aka Minx Grill perform her very interesting feminist strip tease and some other events that were really cool, so I asked the girls if they needed help because I wanted to be part of it.

DW: How has the festival changed over the time you have been organising it?

T: It’s changed a lot, I think primarily in the beginning it was really a DIY, locally based festival. The girls who started it wanted to show that actually a lot of the organisational work in the squat – it was a squat at the time – as well as the artistic production – is made by women because it was not very visible. So it was just to get to know each other and get to know each other’s work, you know, to connect with the women in the squat, that was the basic original idea. So it was very local, then slowly it spread since and other Youth Centres and cultural centres around the country became interested in our work, and we started exchanging programme so it became a locally travelling festival. Then gradually we got more contacts and more connections so it became more and more international, and at a certain point, I think 3-4 years ago we realised that we felt a bit uncomfortable calling it a women’s festival because we felt that it would be a lot more demanding for us, and also a lot more political, if we actually called it feminist and opened it to everybody. It was never only for women, it was open to everybody, but we wanted to make it more explicit. The queer element came later as we managed to have more and more connections with specifically lesbian groups or gay groups who are co-operating with us.

DW: How did that change the content of the festival?

T: The contents were always very varied so it’s hard to kind of fit it all under one term, but I would say that definitely, one change was that the programme became more international, first spreading to former Yugoslavian area and then to Italy, Austria, other neighbouring countries. Content wise I would say we tried to have less entertainment and more educational stuff – workshops, lectures, debates – that was one move. In the beginning it was more focused on exhibitions and concerts and that’s it and then we tried to spread also in the field where you can actually get to discuss things. Get to know who is there and what they think.

DW: How does the festival relate to the local women’s/ feminist scene?

T: It’s hard to speak of a feminist ‘scene’ because I don’t think it really exists but there is a small critical mass of people in Ljubljana who are involved in any kind of political/ cultural/ artistic work. It’s the same people circulating through different kinds of initiatives and groups be it contemporary dance, be it video, etc. If you were to make a map, the same person would connect to three different or four different initiatives and these initiatives cross again, so I would say that the festival is connected to all the efforts that exist in the independent cultural space. As for concrete alliances, they change each year, we co-operate with different people and groups, mostly those that are based in Metelkova. It is practical to have all events located in one larger space, rather than spread out all over town.
DW: How does holding the festival in Metelkova influence the space?

T: It definitely clarifies the points of common interest between certain groups that are stationed here but also acts in the opposite way, so a separatist way, with the people who are not interested either in feminist politics or in actually doing more non-profit stuf.

DW: Have you participated in any other queer feminist here and throughout Europe?

T: Yeah, I mean locally, I was helping out with the other festival – City of Women ( – and then a little bit with this queer group which no longer exists, Alter Šalter. They were doing performances in public spaces. As a writer, with Narobe (, a fairly new LGBTIQ magazine; with Borec magazine ( which is focused on literature, history and anthropology. It is quite theoretical and I have done some interviews with women I find politically interesting, also some reviews, translations, etc. I guess I’m trying to survive as a freelance journalist…

Internationally, Red Dawns have been trying to set up a network of similar festivals in the region of the former Yugoslavia, which right now operates more or less only as a mailing list where we try to exchange ideas, programme, let each other know what we are doing. We went, for example, with some friends, to Sarajevo, to Zagreb, just to support what they do, just helping out, not really doing programme.

Lately, and seemingly because I started publishing stuff on the internet and in English (on my blog, and on other sites), my writing and work became more accessible for people from the wider Central European and Western European region. I was quite surprised at the feedback I got for the workshop I did in Amsterdam (about writing science fiction collectively), the lectures I did about feminist science fiction, the lectures about street art and street actions, and so on. In the last year, I was invited to Vienna (PostProloClub,,
Berlin (Lad.i.y.fest,, I though that was pretty impressive. Before that, it was more local: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia.

DW: How do the feminist ideas that are being developed in Slovenia – and perhaps through this festival – contribute to the wider feminist scene in Europe?

T: It’s hard to say because I don’t think there is an issue, or a theoretical or political position that is so specific that you could call it endemic, that it’s originating from here. What I think is different – and not only true for this festival but I would say also for women’s and queer festivals in the former Yugoslav region, something that I don’t see in Western Europe, is what could be termed as politics of memory. And, also, attempts to create public spaces, reclaim spaces, because of course that is a general issue in feminist politics anyway, but here it is linked to the very fast privatisation of public spaces and to the introduction of neo-liberalism. It’s specific for the countries that have a similar, socialist history.

DW: Can you say a bit more about the politics of memory in relation to those countries?

T: Yeah, in short I would say that it’s a double issue: on one hand, since the mid-90s, feminism has been gradually introduced into academia here. So, today you have undergraduate and Masters Gender Studies courses available and women of my age, or, let’s say, women between 20-30 years of age, are the first generation that have had the opportunity to have an institutional introduction to feminism, a feminist education. For me, one of the things that I find disturbing is that if you look at the curricula, most of the sources are from Western Europe and United States. Of course it’s important to know them but there’s no balance between those and local sources even though there is a whole lot of research being done locally: from labour politics to reproductive rights, from gay and lesbian fights to other issues, there is a lot of stuff happening. In academia, this aspect is in minority position, so you get the feeling of some sort of cultural colonialism taking place. Also, you know, the ‘sex/gender’ divide and debate was a direct import from English language and theory and a lot of older feminists say that because this terminology was imported exactly at the time when shit started happening in the Balkans, the rise of nationalism, with the war, the introduction of neo-liberal economies and so on, this discourse which had a completely different set of problems related to it, over shadowed the issues that were relevant for this space at that moment. So, that’s one side of the story, right.

Then, the other side of the story is related to the politics of memory. It is an important and relevant issue, not only for us but for a lot of groups here, and I don’t mean only feminist ones. With the fall of Socialism and the introduction of neo-liberalism there have been serious attempts at rewriting history. Of course, that didn’t include only the renaming of streets and removing of statues, revisionism also happened at the level of producing theory and political rhetoric that interprets history through a very neo-liberal and right wing perspective, equating anti-fascists with fascists, fascist collaborators with Germans, all anti-fascists with communists, all left-wing people with communists as they were after Second World War – you know, it goes all the way back. It also has to do with the fact that all the ideals and ideas that were promoted in Socialism – including solidarity, you know, a very basic concept – have been disqualified in these discourses through the disqualification of Socialism as it was, like state Socialism which was obviously not the perfect system. It means that today, if you talk about solidarity, people say ‘Oh you are one of those nostalgic old Communists, go fuck yourself.’ So, while these ideas have been discredited, what is the alternative? It’s consumption, even identity as something you can buy, which can be appropriated. And then you can hope that it will make you feel safe in society. So that’s the other point.

The politics of memory, building connections between generations, but also reclaiming the terminology and meaning of solidarity, alliances, left-wing politics in general – it is very important and very controversial because you are going against the current, popular discourse. You see it in Bosnia, for example, the girls who organise Pitchwise festival ( have been asking questions like who are your heroines, female heroes, just to map what is remembered and what is forgotten, because they have the same thing happening there. In Bosnia, after the war, a lot of money came in through NGOs and NGOs have different political priorities than local groups, even if they are feminist. So, again, it’s the same situation, or, in fact, it’s more extreme than in Slovenia. And you see it in Croatia, too. For example, the street renaming action we did in Ljubljana in 2006 when we renamed around 60 streets by replacing names of famous male painters, writers, etc. with female painters was great. The crazy thing was that, without direct communication about it, the same type of action also happened in Zagreb, in Kutina, in Sarajevo, that felt great! And it’s not telepathy; it’s about similar political problems and similar strategic answers to them. In that sense, politics of memory are among the important issues. Also, the whole Sunday programme of Red Dawns is about this.

DW: Just to return to the organisation of the festival. You said that everybody does everything; does that mean you have a horizontal organising structure? Or do you have a hierarchical structure for the sake of getting funding?

T: Yeah, exactly. Association Kud Mreza ( is the legal organiser even if most of us who organise the festival are not even part of the association, not formally anyway. Still, we use it because it allows us to apply for money. The association has rules to follow, so it has a President, and a co-President, all these official functions. So it is hierarchical, of course, but it’s more or less just a way... it’s not even the same people who are actually organising the festival. Informally speaking, I would say the structure of the organisational group is also hierarchical simply because some of us have been doing it for 9-10 years and others joined last year, and that inevitably means that you – whether you want it or not – have more experiences and you are in a position where it’s easier for you to decide certain things. So there is this hierarchy for sure. I don’t like it personally and that’s why I’m really happy that two girls who were last year invited to show their videos, they liked the idea of the festival, and obviously they felt like there was enough space for them to join, that this year, they are organising the debate about feminist art in Slovenia, two art video exhibitions plus they are presenting their art projects, so they got really involved in the course of one year. To me that is a relief because it speaks of the fluidity within the group. I feel like I can leave without a problem now - which I’m planning to do, actually. The feeling of being irreplaceable is gone and that’s good.

Tea Hvala
Affiliated organisation:
Debi Withers and Elke Zobl
03/05/2009 - 03/08/2009
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