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Zombies, Pasta, and the Future of Political Protest

Tongue-in-cheek religious movements are a fun way to mobilize for a cause, but this Slovenian zombie church is taking it to the next level.

The new face of European politics

A new faith is on the rise in the small, post-Yugoslav nation of Slovenia. With around 10,000 disciples, it’s now the fifth largest denomination in the country with a population of two million. The new religion isn’t Mormonism or spiritualism or some other globally ascendant force, though, it’s the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing, a faith created specifically to protest political corruption. This undead church shares some irreverent characteristics with other recently invented religions, like the now well-known Pastafarianism, but distinguishes itself in its direct, constructive, and community-building focus.

The Zombie Church grew out of revelations of extreme corruption in Slovenia, once seen as a model of success and responsibility amongst the ex-Yugoslav states. Throughout the financial crisis, which hit Slovenia particularly hard, mounting evidence of rampant corruption emerged in the country, pole-vaulting it up Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (it ranks 39th most corrupt out of 175 nations today). By 2013, strong evidence emerged that two-time Prime Minister (from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2013) Janez Jansa (and many other politicians and clergymen) had bilked the country out of millions of euros, leading to his ouster and arrest. By the middle of the same year, 96 percent of Slovenians believed that endemic corruption had taken hold of their country and that local politics had become nothing more than a bastion of graft and bribery.

During the 2013 protests against Jansa, an activist named Rok Gros, inspired by a slur Jansa had hurled at popular agitators, calling them zombies, transformed the movement into a joke faith, bringing levity to the protests, while driving them forward through community and ritual.

Every Wednesday, the church gathers at the Temple of Corruption (the parliament in the capital of Ljubljana) under the guidance of High Priest Gros, the Keeper of the Pot and Pan, to bang cowbells, pots, and pans to drive out corruption. They make declarations, invoking the holy phrase, In the name of the Bell, the Pan, and the Holy Pot. Bong! (Bong replaces Christianity’s amen.) When not protesting, they voice their shared belief that zombies resurrect daily, indulge in the holy drinks of beer and piña coladas, and worship cows (but recommend the consumption of Kobe beef). It’s a comical gag, of course, but one that gets people back on the streets week after week.

Rok Gros. Photo by MZaplotnik via Wikimedia commons

To many, this might sound similar to Pastafarianism, the satirical faith created in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education’s requirement that schools teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. The faith advanced a belief in a Flying Spaghetti Monster deity and demanded that equal time be given to its own creation myth. So a quip by an isolated individual spiraled into an open-source scripture, love of pirates (they celebrate September 19th, Talk Like A Pirate Day, as a holy event), and perception of heaven as a land of beer volcanoes and strippers.

Yet while Pastafarians sometimes get together for parades and festivals, they started as lone believers separated by great distances and are avowedly individualistic and anti-dogma. They’ve turned into a diverse group of sects, all with different ideas about what Pastafarianism means, united mainly by common symbols. Some now see Pastafarianism as a lark, like the effort to turn Jedi Knights into a census-accepted faith in the UK, while others still use it as a platform to protest legitimate social issues.

Those who use the noodly faith to protest, though, often do so alone—like Austria’s Nico Alm who fought from 2009 to 2011 to earn the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver’s license photo. It was supposed to be a protest of the unequal allowance given to religious people (who are allowed to wear confessional headgear in these pictures), but his point eventually backfired when the state let Alm wear whatever he wanted as a citizen, not a religious individual, so long as it didn’t obstruct his face. Not all Pastafarians approved of Alm’s stance. Not every Pastafarian wants to mock organized religion. Like many satirical faiths (and some actual faiths, for that matter), by now it’s become widely fun and engaging—but in diverse and divergent ways unique to almost everyone who comes across it.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster surveys his creation in Salt Lake City. Photo by Doug Nakatomi via Flickr

However, the Zombie Church does in fact have a dogma and standardized teachings. It does not impose itself or require obedience, but it unites people physically and counsels them on practical matters, like avoiding predatory loans. It organizes food and clothing drives and pushes for set political goals. Rather than simply a humorous seed that has successfully sprouted, it’s humor grafted onto a pre-existing social movement, becoming a new and unique tool for organizing activism and people in Slovenia. “We are a group of intellectuals who instead of caring only about ourselves, decided to care for others,” Ljubljana University English teacher and Zombie Church high priestess Mojca Belak told Agence France-Presse last month.

Maybe this “religious” movement won’t last in the long term, but it’s a cool, substantial concept that could hopefully be repeated elsewhere, or spill over Slovenia’s border, bringing ever more political party monsters into its lighthearted, socio-religious voodoo.

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