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Humanist propaganda: the poster as a visual medium of communication used by 'new' social movements.


Social movements are important drivers of social change, and they are inseparably linked to the processes of democratisation and the expansion of political rights and liberties (e.g. Tilly 2004; Tilly and Wood 2009). Social movements draw mainly from structural changes in industrial societies, primarily those relating to socialisation, the development of the commercial press and the emergence of new kinds of associations (Tarrow 1994, p. 48). In post-industrialism and the advancement of capitalist society, new types of social movements emerged, including peace, environmental, gay and student movements (Staggenborg 2012, p. 23). These 'new' social movements differed from the 'old' movements--most notably the labour movement--in terms of their structure, constituency and ideology. Although the problems in the capitalist class society were the main reasons for the re-emergence of social movements, new grievances resulted in new values, new forms of action and new constituencies (Klandermans 1986, p. 21).

In Central and Eastern European socialist systems during the 1980s, these 'post-materialist' values (Inglehart 1990; 2007) appeared in submerged networks and constructed new collective identities, new cultural innovations and new symbolic challenges. The new ideas (e.g. peace, environmental, gay, punk, etc.) in socialist countries were often appropriated from the West (Erjavec 2003a, p. 18). However, because of specific conditions and different political circumstances, the ground in which these ideas were cultivated was already fertile. New social movements left their mark in the pursuit of expansive, new collective identities, autonomy, principles of solidarity and the perpetual search for the optimal blend of the spontaneous potential of the masses and organised socially oriented political actions (Pavlovic 1987, pp. 7-9). At the end of the twentieth century, new social movements in socialist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) advocated democratisation and significantly contributed to the final breakdown of authoritarian regimes (Gunder Frank 1990). Concerned with the elite's occupation of political power, new social movements have challenged the monistic political order, which has been demarcated by the decadent ideas of a socialist society and the reluctance to transform substantially (Fink-Hafner 1992, p. 41).

An important part of social movement campaigns (i.e. interactions among movement actors, their targets, the public and other relevant actors) is their visual presence, which is frequently in close relation to the political and cultural symbols, ideas and ideologies that they promote (Sawer 2007). The visually mediated socio-cultural reality (Kurtz 2005) that is produced by social movements is predominantly dispersed through mass media (Koopmans 2004), as well as other means of communication and persuasion (Kurtz 2005; Sawer 2007; Ziemann 2008; Carty 2015; Schwartz 2002; Philipps 2012; Cherry 2016; Eyerman 2002; McCaughan 2012; Everhart 2012). In particular, the poster is an inexpensive means of mobilisation and information dissemination (Kurtz 2005, p. 81), which is under the direct control of the transmitter, and it is not reshaped by a mediator (e.g. mass media). Posters are one of the best visual tools that social movements can use to persuade their targeted public audience (Kladermans 1992, pp. 89-90). This mode of persuasive communication is immensely important for regime-critical movements, especially in non-democratic environments. During the collapse of socialist regimes across Europe, posters represented one of the major challenges to established authority, and they were the predominant tool used to express resistance to the regime (Aulich and Sylvestrova 1999, p. 78).

In the present study, we examine the characteristics of the poster campaigns conducted by new social movements in Slovenia from the early 1980s and the new millenium. (4) The purpose of this study is to identify and explain potential differences between the poster campaigns of social movements in the eras of communist monism (i.e., before 1989) and democratic pluralism (i.e., after 1989). We take into account the socio-political context and the utilization of posters by other relevant socio-political actors. By comparing these actors, we provide new insights into the dynamics of the collective actions of social movements.

Using a historical perspective, the text first focuses on the role of the posters used in social movement campaigns and contextualizes them in the Slovenian cultural setting. Based on a detailed description of the methodology, we then empirically investigate the poster campaigns of social movements in Slovenia by predominantly concentrating on their technological and compositional features. We conclude by discussing the identified modes of the poster campaigns and the main rationales for them.

Posters as a visual tool of collective action

Posters are one of the most dominant mediums of political communication used in many countries around the world (Plasser 2009, pp. 35-6). They are a visual means of communicating political messages to a large audience (Muller 2008, p. 626) and a medium of political communication that can be directly controlled by political actors (Maarek 2011, p. 108). Nevertheless, the actors are restricted by the size of the campaign budget, the attentiveness of the public and regime-related limitations. Hence, wide variations in the ways that posters are disseminated are observed in poster campaigns.

As a low-tech and inexpensive medium, posters represent a very cost-effective tool (similar to social networks such as Twitter, which is however used primarily to inform, rather than to promote political ideas--see Godnov, Redek 2014). The impact of posters stems from their accessibility, predominant display, relative permanence and the dominance of the visual over the verbal (Cheles 2001, p. 124). Described as a 'mass art form' (Lincoln 1976, p. 302), posters consist of verbal and nonverbal (visual) elements. The verbal elements generally encompass slogans, appeals and grievances, which typically inform the public about an actor's position(s) while attempting to persuade and mobilise. In contrast, nonverbal elements mainly transmit information about the personal qualities of an individual, such as his or her emotions, as well as his or her personal relationship with the environment (Schweiger and Adami 1999; Latkin 2006). Verbal elements have the capacity to inform and persuade potential voters, whereas nonverbal elements predominantly target persuasion (Lewis and Masshardt 2002; for more on voters' behaviour in general, please see Pilch & Turska-Kawa 2015). In their examination of images used by the precarity movement, Mattoni and Doerr (2007) found that visual icons were at least as successful as text messages in publicising the discourse of the movement (see also Mattoni and Teune 2014). In their analysis of poster campaigns, Muller (2008, p. 628) identified the predominance of persuasion. Such previous findings showed that the purpose of campaign posters is to inform voters by providing information about an actor or an issue, as well as to mobilise and persuade the public to support the cause (Seidman 2008). In addition to their functions of informing, persuading and mobilising, posters have proved to be a significant influence on the development of democratic values in society, particularly in young democracies (Fourie 2008). Post-socialist countries are an especially interesting case because the use of posters in their democratic periods nurtures values that are diametrically opposed to those that shaped the posters that appeared during the rule of the Communist Party.

Social movements use different means of protest to influence social change (Rucht and Neidhardt 2002, p. 9). Regardless of the regime type, social movements have become important actors in the political process, in which, in addition to political parties and interest groups, they act as agenda setters and co-producers of social reality (Koopmans 2007, p. 694). The interaction between social movements and political authorities can be twofold: direct confrontation or indirect, mediated encounters among contenders in the arena of the mass media public sphere (ibid.). Nevertheless, the activities of social movements are mainly connected to mass mobilisation and different forms of protest (e.g. blockades, occupations and petitions), in which the public is exposed to different forms of communication that is used to persuade them to accept the movements' arguments (Klandermans 1992, p. 89). In addition to interpersonal communication, other important tools of persuasion in such campaigns are posters, which convey substantive and emotional arguments for the action.

In the late 1960s, posters played a very influential role in youth protests in Paris, where protesters thwarted authorities by using handmade posters as a tool of communication and mobilisation (Rickards 1971). In addition to their traditional value as a medium of communication, posters have proven to be vital tools in protest movements because of their ability to be produced and distributed easily (Horvat Pintaric 1979, p. 58). With the rise of new social movements during the 1970s and 1980s in the West, the repressed feelings of civil society across socialist countries of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) were provided a new impetus for rebellion. Indeed, regardless of whether they consisted of the revival of autonomous labour movements or a wide spectrum of dissident- and protest-social movements that demanded the democratisation of society, their common ground was the permanent (manifest or latent) protest against the state and the elite in power (Pavlovic 2004, p. 178). The political changes that followed in the region were predominantly initiated by such forms of rebellion, which largely gravitated to posters as a tool of protest (Aulich and Sylvestrova 1999, p. 63). The poster campaigns in Walesa's Solidarity Movement (Solidamosc) (Seidman 2008, p. 198) and the Slovenian art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst are two clear examples of such revolt (Monroe 2005). As an affordable and influential medium, the poster represented an important arena of political protest against the ruling elite (Rickards 1971, pp. 36-9).

Communist poster propaganda and development of a new rebellion Yugoslav poster propaganda

Historically, posters were frequently employed as a tool of agitation and political manipulation in non-democratic regimes (Seidman 2008). Better known as 'propaganda,' such activities comprised an important mode of persuasion based on non-democratic values. Propaganda is synonymous with manipulative communication that contains a large element of falsehood (Lasswell 1934/1995) and ideology (Erikson 1994). It aims to provoke irrational and emotional responses by using various techniques and promoting stereotypes and the viewpoints of the elite. Posters represent an integral part of propagandistic activities because their intention is not to inform or educate but to mislead the public in order to change or solidify attitudes, ideologies or behaviour (Seidman 2008, p. 8).

In the post-WWII period, when propaganda became increasingly identified with the dissemination of communist ideology, the poster played the utilitarian role of a medium of agitation in the service of the one-party system. (5) It was among the leading tools of propaganda because of its technological, persuasive and disseminative attributes (Aulich and Sylvestrova 1999, p. 3). The Communist Party attempted to maintain complete control over this tool (e.g. state policy on posters in the Soviet Union; Lincoln 1976) because the manipulation of the masses was the main mechanism used to preserve the regime. Persuasion was exercised in an even more coercive manner in times of economic and political crisis (Griffith 1980, p. 241). The regime-affirmative poster was based on specialised structures established for the ideological elevation of party staff and the political education of the Yugoslav people, including their values, morals, goals, aesthetics and social behaviour (Lilly 1994, pp. 396-97). Following the Soviet model, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) introduced such structures in the form of federal committees for agitation and propaganda, which were known as agitprops. After 1952, agitprops were replaced by special ideological commissions, which stayed in operation until the late 1980s. The regime-affirmative posters of that era were characterised by symbolism that linked people with each other and reinforced their identification with the state (Predan et al. 2006). Designed by graduate painters and designers, these posters were saturated with colors that represented the republics and the federation, and they featured communist symbols (e.g. the red star, the hammer and sickle, Marshall Tito's figure etc.) (ibid., pp. 41-2).

With respect to Yugoslav propaganda, with its distinct iconography, socialist realism, faith in progress and the promise of a better future, the poster encompassed a wide range of societal activities. These posters also provided one of the first glimpses of the regime's fate. In particular, the economic and political crises in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) during the 1980s, which was accompanied by the intense friction between its constitutive nations, led to calls by new social movements and communist youth for socio-political changes (Vurnik 2005). Because posters represented an affordable and influential medium for the opponents of the regime, they provided an arena for political protest against the party elite. By targeting the prevailing regime's norms, they became one of the main channels of criticism and popular discontent (Pozar 2000, pp. 41-61).

Subjects of political transformation and the 'poster affair'

In post-war Yugoslavia, socialism introduced a politically and ideologically closed society. Every instance of stepping outside the frames set by the Communist Party, whether it was performed by an individual or a group, presented a threat to the regime. Such threats occurred the most frequently in the form of cultural and artistic expression (Erjavec 2003a), although spontaneous protests that were labelled 'anarcholiberalism' also occurred (Pavlovic 2004, p. 174). The key civil-societal actors in the transformation were the new social movements, which consisted of youth subcultures, peace activists, feminists, LGBT communities, ecologists and seekers of new age spirituality, forming a network known as the 'alternative scene,' which represented societal opposition to the regime (Mastnak 1992, pp. 55-56). The alternative scene, which was known for its distinct cultural and artistic expressions (e.g. Student Cultural and Artistic Centre [SKUC]), created a new media environment (e.g., Radio Student (Radio Student) and the regime-critical alternative weekly magazine Mladina [Youth]). The alternative scene laid the groundwork for the promotion of an alternative political culture. Although new social movements had no interest in the struggle for power, the regime authorities perceived them as a political opposition. Combined with the engagement of professional societies (e.g. sociology, philosophy and writing), the new social movements determined the creation of a new democratic political culture (ibid., p. 57). With the support of the communist youth (e.g., the Alliance of Socialist Youth of Slovenia [ASYS]), which was the 'weakest link' in the socialist self-management system (Fink Hafner 1992, p. 250), new social movements restrained the regime's arbitrariness and transformed the political culture of a segment of the political elite (Fink Hafner 1992, p. 45).

Consequently, the youth, who were institutionalised as the ASYS, became a carrier of the new politics (Ule 1988) by providing an institutional and financial shelter for the new social movements (Vurnik 2005, pp. 312-28). On one hand, in the new social movements, the ASYS saw the opportunity to refresh its cadre capacities and reform their working methods in order to self-modernise (ibid., p. 319). On the other hand, some movements stepped into the field of 'legality' to safeguard against the regime's repressive apparatus. Although some stayed outside the institutional umbrella of the regime's most liberal and avant-garde structure, the process of routing new social movements to the existing or supplementary institutions of the regime happened on a large scale, typically through the formation of special working groups within the youth organisation or student sections of the same youth structure.

This amalgamation of new social movements and the ASYS produced calls for immediate democratic reforms. On the symbolic level, the first step in this direction was the transformation of the regime's outer form, that is, the replacement of communist symbols (Stepancic 2006, p. 45). Hence, the criticism of the regime was also directed at the insignias of socialist ideology and its protagonists. The highpoint of protest against the regime's iconography was represented by the creation of a poster for the Day of Youth. (6) The so-called 'poster affair' of 1987 represented one of the last manifest large-scale clashes between the youth culture and communist authorities. It served to ignite the suppressed political grievances, and it cemented the ultimate split between the governing structure and the new social movements, which had been communicated through subcultural artistic expression (Stepancic 2006, p. 44). The poster, which aimed to remake the state holiday into a milestone on the path to democracy (NSK 1991, p. 271), was commissioned by the Association of the Socialist Youth of Slovenia (ASYS) through public tender. The selected contractor, New Collectivism Studio, created a poster that was congruent with the views of the new social movements as well as the ASYS leadership (Stepancic 2006, p. 46). The poster was based on Richard Klein's famous 1936 work, 'The Third Reich', and it carried a twofold message: the manifest affirmation and agitation of the regime and the latent exposure of the issues corroding it (see Figure 2 below). By replacing Nazi symbols by Yugoslav iconography, the design mocked the regime's decaying character and values (Krecic et al. 2009) and transformed the symbolic value of the figures and signs used in the poster (Erjavec and Grzinic 1991, p. 104).

The poster affair had a profound impact on the functioning of Yugoslav society because it reaffirmed the ASYS's reformist position within the institutionalized communist structure (Vurnik 2009), and it radically questioned the federation's identity (Krecic 2009, p. 29). The symbolic meaning conveyed by the poster provoked unrest in political circles and unprecedented turmoil in the media across the Yugoslav republics (Stepancic 2006, p. 44) because of the attack on the national liberation struggle against fascism, the communist revolution and Marshall Tito's public persona (Balazic 2004, pp. 130-32). To exacerbate the problem, the action came from an organisation within the party, which openly began to contest the regime's ideology. The Communist Party legitimised the use of all repressive methods, even the introduction of the state of emergency, by labelling the retrogardist poster of the New Collectivism Studio as promoting Nazism. The New Collectivism Studio exposed the continuing persistence of fascist (i.e., Nazi) tendencies while simultaneously commenting on and manipulating such tendencies. The studio's harsh totalitarian images were frequently used to label groups that were usually fascists or totalitarians as promulgating the totalitarianism of the state and its ideological apparatus (Monroe 2005, p. 71).

Zizek (2006, p. 65) argued that the poster affair was evidence of the material power of ideology because the poster in question managed to overshadow the socioeconomic collapse of the decaying federation. Specifically, the regime played the card of the 'internal enemy' to divert the public's attention from mounting social and political problems. However, this move unintentionally empowered the protagonists of political pluralism, a democratic constitution and the rule of law, who warned against army intervention (Kuzmanic 1987) and empowered one of the strongest forces of democratisation in the state--the ASYS. As a final confrontation between the alternative culture and the state, the poster's subcultural artistic expression and its message proved to be among the most significant moments in the decomposition of the socialist state, its society and its values (Vurnik 2009).

Methodology and data

Our research used quantitative content analysis (see Krippendorff 2003), which is a conventional method used to analyse data about political communication (Johnston 2006; Benoit 2011; Riffe et al. 2005). This approach was shown to be beneficial in cases where it is necessary to analyse an extensive amount of visual data (e.g., Lutz and Collins 1993).

Quantitative content analysis can provide valuable historical (cultural) insights over time though the examination of visual material. This form of analysis can yield insights into complex models of the language and symbols used by social movements (Horvat-Pintaric 1979). However, quantitative content analysis has some weaknesses. It can be extremely time consuming, and it is inherently reductive, particularly when it is applied to complex data (e.g. text, audio or video material). Quantitative content analysis must satisfy the appropriate criteria for reliability and scientific validation without which the generalization and interpretation of findings would be difficult or impossible. However, the significance of the findings of quantitative content analysis depends on the pervasiveness and social importance of the content being explored (i.e., in our case, social movement communication) and the relation of the conceptual categories used in the analysis to society (Riffe et al. 2005, p. 161).

Because of their significant role in the new social movements' visual campaign during Slovenia's path to democracy, these posters are an excellent benchmark for comparison with the current visual protests of social movements against the reemergence of fascism, xenophobia and the deconstruction of the welfare state by crisis-driven neoliberal reforms. In an initial attempt to capture the entire population of (new) social movement posters in the past three decades by conducting allen-compassing archival research, we observed that only the most significant poster campaigns were documented in the relevant national archives. Therefore, we performed a purposeful sampling procedure (see Patton 2002, p. 236). We selected the posters for analysis according to two dimensions. The first sampling dimension was focused on the 'critical' nature of the social movement, which enabled us to draw some logical generalisations from the weights produced by studying several critical cases. Based on existing academic research (e.g. Zizek 2006; Fink Hafner 1992; Mastnak 1992; Bibic 1997; Kuzmanic 2003), archival evidence and their presence in the mass media reporting, we selected poster campaigns conducted by leading organisations to promote new grievances in Slovenian society during the 1980s (7) and those conducted by leading current social movements (2005-2012), which are largely organisational descendants of the earlier movements. The latter were produced in two geographical locations that were the origins of alternative cultures: the Metelkova and the Social Centre Rog. (8) The second sampling dimension was focused on the regimecritical nature of posters that drew the observer's attention by expressing discontent with the regime or its attributes (see Horvat-Pintaric 1979, pp. 47-48). One hundred and sixteen posters were selected: 64 from the first sampling period and 52 from the second sampling period. The posters were obtained from available archival sources, publications, websites and personal records. (9)

The sample of the selected posters was analysed using quantitative content analysis, which is somewhat unusual in the context of visual media analysis because it combines quantitative and qualitative approaches (Rose 2001, p. 55). In addition to the qualities of consistency and replicability, the qualitative aspect of this method allows the relations between categories to be interpreted using an amalgamation of different codes that were previously applied in the theoretical and empirical literature (ibid., p. 65). The posters were coded based on a prepared electronic codebook consisting of 62 theoretically determined variables, which were used to the presence and the character of the observed elements in each poster. Based on the positive results of tests for intra- and intercoder reliability, (10) the posters were coded by two trained independent coders between January and April 2011 and April and May 2012. In accordance with the seminal literature in the field, the set of variables included both verbal and nonverbal (11) dimensions of the selected posters (see Ottati and Deiger 2002). The content analysis also provided the basis for an examination of the technological and the compositional modality of the posters (see Rose 2001). The analysis of technological modality took into account various techniques used in the visual reproduction and the formats of the posters, whereas the analysis of compositional modality focused on content, color and spatial organisation (Rose 2001, p. 17). We classified the visual images according to genre. Images that belong to the same genre share specific features (ibid., p. 19). In the present case, the posters were produced by different types of social movements in two different historical periods. In addition, the quantitatively oriented approach was complemented by proposing and explaining certain key examples of the observed poster campaigns.

New social movements' counter-manipulation strategies

The so-called, counter-manipulative 'humanist propaganda' tried to revalue totalitarian symbols and the symbols of state ideologies (NSK 1991, p. 275) as well as expose techniques of the regime's propaganda machinery. The political manipulation of the totalitarian socialist propaganda machinery was therefore defied by the mobilisation and persuasion of the new social movements, which used the same symbolism (Erjavec 2003b, p. 150). The new social movements fought propaganda with propaganda and applied the regime's own iconography in combination with the iconography of the growing nationalism to illuminate its grotesqueness. The most highly publicly disseminated example is the Day of Youth poster (Figure 2), which caused the poster affair. The revision of the Nazi poster differed from its original in only a few details: the flag, which was changed to that of Yugoslavia; the eagle, which became the dove of peace; and the torch, which was redesigned to accommodate Plecnik's (12) sketch of the Slovenian democratic parliament. This amalgamation of communist, nationalist and fascist iconography on the poster in celebration of the essence of the communist ideology puts forward the notion that various totalitarianisms are equally promoted by the same propaganda mechanisms.

The collective NSK, building on retrogardist ideas, drew on the works of the utopian Russian avant-garde, primarily Malevich's suprematism. Seeking to expose contrasts in the society, it frequently used Malevich's cross and square, and it highlighted the role of the arts in promoting the ruling ideology. To achieve these objectives, NKS's posters were imbued with dark colors, which were frequently combined with dark red, the color associated with the communist regime and the revolutionary force. The combination of black and red--already promoted by Malevich and Lissitzky in the service of Soviet propaganda--was a standard mode used to brand totalitarian regimes (Heller and Vienne 2012, p. 68). However, contrary to celebrating totalitarian regimes, as proposed by some critics of the new social movements, the use of dark colors was very frequently combined with a negative campaign (see Table 1), which was primarily the case in the NSK's posters, whereas the posters designed by the SKUC were straightforward in their visual promotion of the communist regime's actions, ideals, and symbols, all of which were accompanied by sarcastic statements conveying anti-regime values. Hence, the regime was surreptitiously criticised by its overaffirmation (Stepancic 2006, p. 47), which deliberately frustrated the ruling system and its ideology, as the promotion was not based on reification but on (ironic) overidentification (Zizek 1993).

To be precise, the majority of the posters produced in the period 1980-1990 used the branding of communist ideology and the ruling regime to associate them with other totalitarian ideologies or frame them with the values of the new social movements. The ideological discourse (e.g. Zizek 1993; Erjavec 2003b; Mastnak 1992) that characterized the posters of the new social movements was demonstrated in various ways. In addition to the already mentioned predominance of dark colors and the combination of black and red, the dominant visual feature of many posters included ideological symbols and abstract artistic forms that were related to avant-garde art. Figure 3 shows the percentage of posters in the 1980s that contained ideological symbols and abstract forms (SKUC 12.5%; NSK 27.3%; ASYS 36.4%). The SKUC primarily toyed with communist symbols and monuments, whereas the NSK's posters featured the amalgamation of retrogardist (suprematist), nationalist and communist symbols using typically fascist iconography. In contrast, the ASYS, primarily after the poster affair, frequently designed posters that drew on Dali's anarchism, suprematism, and the Bauhaus and post-Cubist pictorial modernism. These designs were very different from the regime's propaganda machine, which had already started to introduce axioms of political marketing (see Dezelan and Maksuti 2012). Figure 3 also demonstrates the practice of introducing rural and urban life and landscape as the focal visual aspect of the posters. This aspect was archetypal in the posters of socialist realism produced in the 1950s, which promoted industrialisation and agrarian advancement.

The elimination of an (ideological) enemy was also a common ideological topic of the protest posters. These posters reproduced the ideological confrontation between the Communist Party and the Quislings immediately after WWII. The protest posters of the 1980s, with the exception of those of the ASYS, could not engage in such a straightforward attack on a regime of which it was a part. Therefore, they either mocked the repressive actions of the regime (SKUC) or depicted repression under the veil of fascist iconography and nationalist and communist symbols (NSK) (see Figure 3). In most cases, the new social movements' explicit use of ideological statements and iconography, as well as their overt identification with the elite's political ideology, prevented the actual regime's ideologues from establishing any distance between the ruling ideology and its postmodern critique, which otherwise would have allowed the rebuttal or effective neutralisation of the dissidents (Erjavec, 2003b, p. 149). For example, the SKUC's posters frequently 'promoted' major communist celebrations and events, whereas the NSK focused on exposing the main actors or the target audience (see Figure 3).

The dominance of the visual over the verbal, which is inherent in political posters and propaganda (Cheles 2001, p. 124), is evident in the posters produced in the 1980s. Only a fraction of the number produced in this period relied on the 'manifesto's' design (see Heller and Vienne 2012, p. 57), and the verbal dominated the visual (see Figure 3), which was primarily the case of the SKUC and the NSK, as shown in Figure 4. Figure 3 shows high levels of nonverbal elements in their posters. These predominant nonverbal elements were visual representations of the movements' programmatic or ideological stance (on average, the SKUC's posters contained 4.1 elements, the NSK's posters contained four elements and the ASYS's posters contained 1.5 elements). Visual content dominated the protest posters produced by all the new social movements. However, the practice of including visual elements of the system in the posters indicates the counter-regime's orientation, as we explained earlier (on average, the SKUC's posters featured 1.2 elements of the system, the NSK's posters featured 0.8 elements, and the ASYS's posters featured 0.2 elements).

Drawing on the wave of protests by new social movements in the West, the technological modality of the poster protests in Slovenia in the 1980s continued the same rationale as in the Parisian experience (see Rickards 1971). The reprographic revolution in the 'do-it-yourself' principle of poster production (ibid., 36) was also reflected in the layout of the posters. Ad hoc graphic design is apparent in the posters produced by student protesters in the 1980s. With the exception of the ASYS, which had significant funds at its disposal, the majority of the posters were produced by woodcuts, linocuts, screen printing or a small lithographic press. Thus, labour-intensive printmaking techniques dominated the production of the NSK's posters (95.5%) and to some degree those of the SKUC (37.5%) (see Figure 5). The ASYS was able to afford lavish graphic reproductions, and it utilised designs based on paintings and photography. In that respect, the movement was a part of the regime's structure. In contrast to that, the drawings and photography in the SKUC's posters were reproduced by using embryonic printmaking techniques, or the recently developed photocopy machines. Unless it was used in constructivist collage, color photography was very rare because in addition to high reproduction costs, it was increasingly used in the regime's political posters (Dezelan and Maksuti 2012). The inclusion of photography also negated the 'underground' protest poster trend. It was increasingly applied because of its similarity to the quality of TV images (Rickards 1971, p. 35).

Visual collective action in the era of political pluralism

The existence of a dominant communist state ideology presented a challenge to the new social movements. This challenge sparked creativity, which is evident in various aspects of their collective protest. The resulting collapse of the ideological hegemon signified the demise of ideologised discourse (Erjavec 2003b, p. 170). The era of democratisation and the emergence of political pluralism also denoted the end of the cycle of the new social movements (Pickvance 1999). The social movements that rejected becoming part of existing and supplementary structures of the regime were institutionalised as either political parties or important 'arms-length' civil-societal actors, or they were submerged in the subcultural milieu (Fink-Hafner 1992).

In the early 1990s, there was a decline in the activity of the social movements, some of which formed new political parties. Thus, at this time, poster campaigns began to regress, exhibiting an increasing number of elements associated with the political marketing model. (13) The protest poster campaigns began to display a less radical character as they adapted to the context of political pluralism and marketisation principles. New professionals who were available to any client with resources, specialised distribution networks, affordable printing houses, regulated posting sites and the newly introduced billboards, relegated the 'underground' protest poster to oblivion, because most protesters failed to resist the temptation to hire professionals.

The new open political contestation environment, which initially lacked a hegemonic ideological enemy, is clearly evidenced. First, the dominance of verbal elements appeared to be much greater than during the 1980s among the observed poster campaigns. Specifically, the text was usually the dominant visual content in several of the observed posters (A-FED 87.5%; Peace, LGBT campaigns 37.5%; AntiFa, 15o, Msu, IWW 28.6% (see Figure 3). Sophisticated typography and graphics were rare. Most posters featured manifesto-like rudimentary designs (see Heller and Vienne 2012, p. 57) and generic pictograms or word-art. These 'poster statements' represented the movement's programmatic position, as well as some biographical information about the actor(s) responsible for producing the poster (see Figure 4). With the exception of the AntiFA, 15o, Msu, and IWW campaigns, verbal and nonverbal elements of the system appear to be absent from the posters, which indicates less direct confrontation with the regime (see Figure 4). The posters used either simple textual statements or actor/portrait photography. The same approach was apparent in the Slovenian election posters (see Dezelan and Maksuti 2012). With the exception of the AntiFA, 15o, Msu, and IWW campaigns, the alternative to the manifesto poster was a photographic representation of the actor or a target group (Figure 5). In effect, this mode of campaigning removed abstractions and distinctive symbolism from the posters.

Hence, we distinguished different modes of protest posters. The first mode is the already described manifesto-like poster, which was not visually advanced because it was dominated by text that had no specific visual function. The text described major grievances, which is pervasive in negative campaigning, and ideological stances were accompanied by some biographical information about the actor. In cases where other graphic elements were present on the poster, they included pictograms depicting the suffering of the target group or clip art depicting microphones, flags, megaphones, the logo of the organisation or the initiative, and photographs of earlier campaigns undertaken by the movement. These posters also showed pictures of members of the political elite, who were primarily neoliberal protagonists sworn to uphold the 'four freedoms' in the context of the EU integration project (i.e., production, entrepreneurship, reducing labour costs, increasing efficiency and maximising the integration of human resources in the productive process) (Offe 2015, p. 83). Specifically, these images were of politicians from the right-wing 2012-2013 Slovenian government, as well as of corrupt politicians at the local level.

These posters were usually in black and white because they were less costly to reproduce. Because resources were scarce, and preparations were ad hoc, these posters were usually designed in haste on a desktop computer, and then reproduced using home and office printing devices and photocopy machines. The underground protest poster campaigns of the Slovenian anarchists (A-FED) are an example of such ad hoc low-budget contemporary protest poster campaigns, which were widespread among movements with scarce financial resources, limited proficiency in graphic design and limited (mostly ad hoc) organisation. One example is an A-FED black and white poster that was displayed during the anti-government protests in 2012, which was reproduced using a home printing device. The poster shows a picture of a young woman holding a gun that she is pointing at her head. The message on the poster says, 'Politicians' dreams are our nightmare. Elections are a farce, everyone onto the streets!'

In contrast to the first type, the second type of protest poster provides a clear example of the influence of political marketing. These posters were based on slick designs prepared by professional companies. They usually featured a portrait of the actor or the target group and a textual message--slogan--that communicated the major message of the poster. In general, as in the case of election posters, these posters included information about the organiser of the campaign, and they were reproduced on high-quality material. Figure 6 provides an example of a poster campaign executed by the Peace Institute and LGBT organisations. This campaign rallied against conservative (governmental) elites that were trying to annul a recently adopted liberal family code. The poster was well designed and reproduced. However, contrary to the first identified mode, it was posted by a commercial distribution service. Because these groups had financial resources, such initiatives were indistinguishable from advertising and election posters.

Until recently, with a few attempts, there was no significant deviation from the two modes of poster campaigns. The first significant deviation appeared in a poster campaign by a group of activists that represented the amalgamation of the precarity movement, the 'Occupy Universities' movement, the 'Occupy the Stock Market' movement, the anti-fascist movement, and some other initiatives promoted by the same core network of activists. Their poster campaign resurrected the use of black and red in ideological discourse. It featured predominantly dark colors and negative campaigning (Table 1), the predominance of the visual over the verbal (Figure 4; Figure 5), and the rejection of political marketing principles. The visual appearance of these posters reinvigorated the traditional totalitarian elimination of the enemy's discourse and reintroduced the struggles of urban (proletarian) life. In addition to that, the visual and verbal confrontation with the regime is evident in the inclusion of the elements of the system (Figure 2).

In these posters, design inspired by constructivist ideology and the notion of art as in the service of the revolution returned to the discourse of the 1980s used in the posters produced by the NSK and, primarily, the SKUC. However, in these current posters, the critique is in line with Mayakovksy's radical approach (see Meggs and Purvis 2012, p. 299). Figure 7 shows an example of a recent poster that confronts the ideological hegemon. In this poster, the combination of black and red is used to illustrate the 'rat' (i.e. the financial and the political elites) that destroyed our banks, which, in the case of Slovenia, are still largely publicly owned. The text urges protesters to gather in front of the Slovenian stock market--the symbol of Slovenia's transition to a capitalist economy--and not on Metelkova, the usual location of protests and gatherings of alternative cultures.

The visual discourse also changed dramatically in the AntiFa, 15o, Msu, IWW poster campaign because traditional printmaking was reintroduced as the main technology of poster production. In the alternative cultural scenes established in the 1980s, the activists were proficient in graphic design, and infrastructure was available in workshops. As a result, screen printing and various other labour-intensive techniques of poster production replaced conventional home and office or large-scale digital print production. These poster campaigns also introduced guerrilla techniques in poster distribution. The activists distributed the posters at prohibited sites, or they affixed them over commercial posters to indicate dissent.


The visual influence of the posters created by new social movements in the 1980s ignited protests against the hegemony and spurred debates about the democratisation of society. Because posters are an affordable and influential medium, the opponents of the regime used them to create an arena of political struggle. The posters produced by social movements thus became and remain a main channel for the criticism of the hegemony and the expression of popular discontent (see Ziemann 2008).

By examining the posters of social movements across time, this study found that the advanced postmodernist visual critique initiated by the new social movements represented the first type of poster campaign, which was demarcated by a sophisticated strategy of dissent based on the visual discourse of the regime's iconography and propaganda techniques. Such mimicking was performed by educated artists that emerged in the alternative cultural milieu and who were inspired by the Russian avant-garde. In the second group, the posters were the products of low-budget 'do-it-yourself' campaigns conducted by loosely organised movements that had few resources and thus gravitated to simple black and white typography to express their grievances. The third modality of poster campaigns featured proficient graphic designs and quality materials, which indicated that professional services had been hired to produce them. However, by adhering to conventional corporate marketing approaches and regulations regarding poster campaigning, this type of poster was not as effective as those produced in the 1980s. This finding alludes to the issue of consumer democracy (Scammell 2014), which is faced by contemporary democracies in which political activism and engaged citizenship are pressured by market norms.

Thus, based on our findings, we conclude that financial and organisational resources, combined with the opposition to an ideological hegemony, determines the nature of poster campaigns and their wide utility. This is demonstrated by the reemergence of the ideological hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, which proved pivotal in galvanizing the contemporary social movement critique. This critique resembles the one conducted in the 1980s, which mobilized the masses in a way that was absent in the era of political pluralism. Because the infrastructure and the expertise of the alternative culture of the 1980s persists in many locations, activists have managed to promote an ideological discourse that warns against the hegemonic features of the current regime. Whether this phenomenon is short- or long-term remains to be seen; however, it is clear that from the 1980s to the present, posters have been the main tool used by social movements to gain support for their cause and convey the grievances of the populace to the ruling elite.


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Tomaz Dezelan, (2) Alem Maksuti (3)

(1) This study was conducted for the scientific project Capital of Election Campaigns and Democratic Evolutions of State and Society (JP-2289), which is funded by the Slovenian Research Agency.

(2) Tomaz Dezelan is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and a research fellow at the Centre for Political Science Research, University of Ljubljana. E-mail: His research interests include citizenship concepts, debates and regimes, new modes of governance, parliamentary cohesion, political communication, electoral studies, youth, gender and civil society.

(3) Alem Maksuti is Assistant and Research fellow at the Faculty of Information studies Novo mesto. His dissertation examines the idiosyncrasy of Slovenian election campaigns during the democratic post-communist period. His broader research interests lie in the areas of political communication and electoral studies. E-mail:

(4) The social movements observed in this study meet Tilly's criteria for campaigns and repertoires, as well as worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment (WUNC) (see Tilly 2004, pp. 3-5).

(5) Visual and verbal rhetoric was used with the intention of instilling and consolidating the concept of 'peopleness', to display 'classness' as the engine of struggle and historical progress and to strengthen awareness of 'partyness' in order to identify people with the party and its aims (Aulich and Silvestrova 1999, p. 8).

(6) The Day of Youth, which is a national holiday, praised socialist youth and Tito's birthday, thus promoting the socialist ideology and Tito's myth (Stepancic 2006, p. 45).

(7) For the period 1980 to 1990, we selected the SKUC, the NSK with Laibach and the New Collectivism Studio, and the ASYS poster campaigns.

(8) For the period 2005 to 2012, we selected the Anti-FA, the Mi smo univerza (We are University), the 15o (Slovenian Occupy movement), the Njetwork (Invisible Workers of the World), the A-Federacija (anarchists), and the Peace Institute poster initiatives (from 2005 to 2012).

(9) dLib (2012); FAO (2012); Grafenauer et al. (2008); Laibach (2012); Lebaric (2012); Maksuti and Dezelan (2012); Mursic (1995); NJETWORK (2012); (2012); Vurnik (2005); Cerne Gallery (2012).

(10) The instrument was tested for inter- and intra-coder reliability, as well as validity. Both reliability tests of every variable exceeded Krippendorffs alpha of 0.7.

(11) The verbal dimension focused on the elements written on the poster (e.g. the name of the protesting initiative or the actor, slogan, issue position, primary concern or contextual information), whereas the nonverbal component concentrated on the photographic material, background elements and symbols shown in the poster. Forty variables were selected to measure the explored dimensions of the poster campaigns; 27 of these measured the presence of nonverbal components, and 13 measured the presence of verbal components.

(12) Joze Plecnik is a regionally well recognised Slovenian architect.

(13) Political actors started to avoid regime symbols and colors that were linked to various ideologies (Predan et al. 2006, p. 43). They preferred branding, photography and portraits in accordance with the process of personalisation (Vreg 2001; Maksuti 2016).

Caption: Figure 1: Three examples of Yugoslav propaganda posters

Caption: Figure 2: Day of Youth poster that triggered the 'poster affair'

Caption: Figure 3. Dominant visual content of posters

Caption: Figure 4: Nonverbal versus verbal content of posters

Caption: Figure 5: Dominant technological modality of posters

Caption: Figure 6: Example of a LGBT poster

Caption: Figure 7: Example of the AntiFa, 15o, Msu, IWW poster
Table 1. Prevailing Colors and Negative Campaigning

In %                     Prevailing dark   Elements of negative
                             colors            campaigning

SKUC                          12.5                 100
NSK                           93.2                 95.5
ASYS                          36.4                 54.5
AntiFa, 15o, Msu, IWW         42.9                 71.4
Anarchists (A-FED)              /                  100
Peace & LGBT campaigns        12.5                 31.3

Source: authors' calculations
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Title Annotation:POLSCI PAPERS
Author:Dezelan, Tomaz; Maksuti, Alem
Publication:Romanian Journal of Political Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXSL
Date:Dec 22, 2016
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