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A Look at the Nationalist Štajerska Garda Border Patrol Militia in Slovenia
In April 2022 Slovenia’s far-right politician Janez Janša was voted out in the country’s general election. He was replaced by Robert Golob, a social democrat, who formed a coalition with several smaller left-wing parties.
Observers hail this as a victory over the far-right in Slovenia. The country is known for being a bastion of liberal thought in an otherwise volatile region. But the 2020 election of Janša, a nationalist who is close to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, appeared to be a symptom of a wider rising far-right movement across Europe. Now with the most recent election, a sense of normality has returned.
However, far-right sentiment continues to draw on public animosity towards EU institutions and the ongoing refugee crisis in the Balkans. This has spawned several fringe organizations that seek to exploit the situation. Chief amongst these is the Štajerska Garda, a self-styled militia organisation whose aim is to patrol the borders of the country. The group appears to be part of a broader organisation Slovenska Varda, or Slovenian Wardens, which according to the group’s Facebook page is a “civil society initiative” and “voluntary defense community of free people.”
Štajerska Garda, which translates to “Styrian Guard,” was founded in 2018 by former football hooligan and far-right politician Andrej Šisko, who organized routine patrols along the borders with Hungary and Croatia. This is ostensibly to keep out migrants taking the ‘Balkan Route’ to reach destination countries in Europe, such as Germany. Styria corresponds roughly to a region of both Slovenia and Austria whose geographic designation dates back to the medieval era.
Šisko was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for 22 months for being charged as an accused accomplice in the attempted murder of politician Milan Klement in 1992. He styles himself as a Trumpian figure, complete with a red baseball cap and there are various photos of him posing with weapons. In a separate case, Šisko was charged with kidnapping the coach of the Slovenian national football team, but was later acquitted.
According to information on the group’s social media channels, their main intention is to interdict refugees and they present themselves as a sort of local militia. Various pictures show members of the organization training with guns, dressed in balaclavas and combat fatigues.
The group makes heavy use of symbols that draw on Slovenian history or pay tribute to specific figures from the Slovenian national movement. Of note is the insignia of a black dragon on a white shield. This symbol has been prominently used by the far-right in Slovenia and in Austria.
In 2019 the group was investigated by the police and disarmed after being spotted carrying weapons close to the border with Croatia. Members of the Guard claim these were airsoft rifles and just for show. However, the Slovenian legislature since made changes to the law to fine anyone wearing military fatigues or carrying weapons close to the border areas of the country. Šisko was again arrested after refusing to comply with this law and members of the Guard marched in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana in protest. This was carried out in front of members of the state security services and it has led many to question whether authorities in Ljubljana were willingly turning a blind eye to the group.
Slovenska Garda is still active but is unclear how much involvement Šisko has. A recent interview with the website Pravda suggests that one of his subordinates, Ivan Bolfek, has taken over day-to-day operations of the Guard.