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„Narobe means Wrong.“ - Roman Kuhar, editor-in-chief of Narobe magazine and blog (Ljubljana), in conversation with Tea Hvala.

Grassroots media in Europe
LGBT and queer issues
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46° 3' 5.1336" N, 14° 30' 21.4776" E

Roman Kuhar: “Narobe” ( and means “Wrong”. It‘s a kind of subversion which we wanted to have in the title of the magazine. People keep on asking us why the magazine is called Wrong, isn’t it supposed to be a magazine which affirmed with the LGBTIQ community? The fact that we get this kind of feedback is a sign that choosing this name was a good decision. There is also a subtitle – “a magazine where everything is right” – which, in my opinion, makes our message quite clear. There were several names, several titles we were choosing from and we had a long discussion about it at the editorial board. At the end we simply voted and “Narobe” got most of the votes.

Roman, please can you introduce yourself shortly?
I am a sociologist, working at the University of Ljubljana. I lecture gay and lesbian studies, sociology of families, and popular culture. I used to work at the Peace Institute as a researcher and even before that I was a journalist at the Radio Slovenija, where I learned all I know about journalism. Well, not all I know about journalism, as the research projects I was involved in at the Peace Institute – and I worked there for over ten years – were partly also connected to media, to media analysis, discourse analysis, and in a way that was even more important. At the radio station, I learned the techniques, at the Peace Institute I learned how to think about the media. I am also a gay activist. The beginning of my activism dates back to late nineties, but especially to 2001, when I was one of the presenters on the stage of the first Slovenian Pride Parade in Ljubljana. That was my public coming out. The activism very much influences what I do, how I think, and especially how Narobe, the magazine, looks like.

Was that the way how you come to LGBTIQ theory and activism?
Yes. First I joined Legebitra in 1998. Legebitra was a GLBT self-help group at the time, a discussion group, we would meet every Friday afternoon and discuss GLBT issues. These meetings helped me finding myself and coming to grips with my sexual orientation. Then slowly but surely my personal story also became a story of an activist. I had huge support from the Faculty of Social Sciences where I studied. There were especially two persons, Tanja Rener and Mirjana Ule, who were really supporting and encouraging. Their lectures and the lectures of Maca Jogan were also the main source of my knowledge in feminism at the time.
It’s very hard for me to separate feminism from GLBT or queer activism, for me it goes hand in hand. I believe feminist theory helped me in later reading the queer theory, GLBT theory etc. As far as the theory is concerned, it started with seminar papers and the Faculty of Social Sciences, and later I decided to do my BA, and also MA and PhD on this topic.

Do you also consume LGBTIQ and feminist media (print, internet, TV, radio etc.)?
Yes, I do – but more or less accidentally. If somebody sends me a link or I find something myself, then I would check that and read it. However because of my work I read mostly theory. As far as Narobe is concerned, Lesbo, the Slovenian lesbian magazine, and even before that Revolver, the gay and lesbian magazine, would be two major influences, also in the sense that I was growing up as a gay person reading these two magazines. But otherwise, you know, an article in ČKZ [Journal for the Criticism of Science (Sociology and New Anthropology)], an article there, an article here, a TV show here, a TV show there, a lecture here, a lecture there.
When we were setting up Narobe, I did check some other GLBT media that was available online, a French magazine which I cannot remember the name of, some Spanish GLBT media, and of course Gay Times and Advocate … all these mainstream magazines. I checked these magazines in order to learn how not to do Narobe [laughs]. Of course I came across also other non-mainstream media, such as Hungarian GLBT magazine Mások. It depends on who’s producing it, the finances, also on the editor’s background, on the group of people who are working on it.

Could you tell more about the whole process of formation of Narobe? How did it come from the idea that it would be nice to have this type of magazine in Slovenia in Slovene to the actual “product”, the first issue?
Maybe I should start with the IGLYO conference in Barcelona, which I attended in late 1990s. There we had different workshops and I attended a workshop on GLBT media. We discussed how to make a GLBT magazine, what such magazine should include, how it should look like etc. As part of the workshop we had to sketch the contents of the magazine we would produce. But it took almost fifteen years to make this idea happen. On the personal level I entered into a partnership with a person who is working at Legebitra. When we were discussing different issues, I told him that my ideal job would be an editor of GLBT magazine – that’s something which would combine journalism, what I did before, and media, which I was interested in. And he simply invited me to do such a magazine.

So, the whole idea was born in Legebitra?
The magazine Legebitra was publishing at the time, called Legebitrina oznanila, was more of an internal type of a newsletter. They published 60 issues and they were running out of energy, lacked ideas, and were trying to figure out what to do next. They then invited me to a meeting and asked me to make an outline of the magazine. That is when I remembered my sketch of the magazine from the Barcelona conference. The eL magazine in Maribor started roughly at the same time when the first issue of Narobe was out. At the time there were no other magazines out – Lesbo lost its finances, and Revolver was not published since late nineties.
The second part of the story was that the community was in need of such a magazine although we were also thinking of whether such an archaic type of media, a printed magazine, is still something we would need in 21st century. The community moved to virtual space, a lot of things were going on in forums, websites, stuff like that, so we really weren’t sure whether a GLBT magazine is something that would be well received by the potential consumers. Anyway, that was the beginning.
Another part which is maybe also important is that at the time when Revolver was published, the mainstream media didn’t really report on homosexuality. When Narobe came out, it was a different time. Mainstream media was reporting on GLBT issues, a lot of these questions were reported in the media, but we wanted to start from a different position, from a very non-objective GLBTQ position. The best comment I got on Narobe was from a colleague of mine who said that Narobe is very charmingly non-objective. The mainstream media is obsessed with what’s called “being objective” and that’s what we are not. Our position is very clear and we are not concerned with balancing our issues with pro et contra while the mainstream media is. This is where I saw the niche, this is where I saw the place for media that reports on these issues.

How many issues did you put out by now?
The 14th issue is coming out now. It’s the fourth year.

How would you estimate that the project “progressed” in these four years? Do you feel any qualitative change?
If I take a look at the first and the last issue, I can see a progress. For example, more people are now writing for it, thematically we have cover a variety of issues etc. We have identity problems in the sense that we cannot call ourselves strictly GLBT, and also not only queer. We also include feminist issues. I see progress in the sense that we are broadening the scope of issues we cover. When we started putting out this magazine, we agreed that all of our texts will be signed by our name and surname, because I think that we cannot go back to the 1990s and use nicknames. We also have a special coming out section in every issue, four pictures, photo portraits of GLBTQ people, and I think if there is a difference between the GLBT media published in the 1990s and Narobe, the difference is linked to the visibility, the names, the faces.

How many people are involved in the process of making Narobe?
The editorial board has approximately ten people, and that includes one photographer, one designer, and the guy who knows how to deal with the internet. This is the technical part of the editorial board. Then there are 7, 8 people who are writing for the magazine. This is the core and then in each issue we have guest writers. So there are more than ten people involved in every issue. We produce four issues per year, because this is what we are capable of time-wise and money-wise. I asked Legebitra to give all the writers a very small financial reward but I’m sure all of them would be willing to write also without this reward.

Who are the people involved (age, education, occupation, background)?
The people are from mid-20s to mid-40s. People who are involved are mostly activists in one way or another, or are sensitive enough to activism. I try, as far as I can, to work with young people or students who are just starting to write articles.

How stable is the group of people working on the magazine?
This is the fourth year and the group is for now totally stable. This – a core editorial board – was also one of my conditions at the beginning because the problems they had with Legebitrina oznanila was that they didn’t have a core editorial board. So I thought when we were planning Narobe that the wise and important thing is to get a small group of people who is constantly working on this magazine. I approached each one individually. I presented the idea we came up with in Legebitra and I asked them to join the group. I think for the continuation of the magazine it is very important that we have this core. For the variety of issues, covered in the magazine, it is also very important that we invite people from outside. In these four years, some people joined the editorial board. For those who have produced texts for every issue, it became natural that they have been invited to come to the meetings. We have one meeting per issue where we roughly discuss what we’ll do and how we’ll do it.

Does Narobe co-operate with other LGBTIQ and/or feminist media?
There is no established co-operation with any magazine. There are writers who write for different magazines. Just recently we were contacted by Queer Zagreb as they set up a new page and we made an agreement: I have already contributed one text for their webpage, and we said that they will use some of our articles and we can use some of theirs – it is an exchange based on creative commons rights. Narobe is protected by Creative Commons, which means you can use our articles and products as long as it is for non-commercial use and as long as you name the source.

Are you part of a LGBTIQ and/or feminist network?
I am part of the queer-feminist network in the sense that I am on the mailing lists that these groups and movements have. I am sometimes also participating in the events they organise, or I’m organising them myself, or helping out with the organising, although I have to say that now Narobe is my main source of activism. Narobe is produced within the community and for the community and it’s grassroots in that sense, I would say. This network is also reflected in the magazine: people who are part of the network are writing for the magazine as well.

Do you get funding for your media?
No, unfortunately not. We wanted to apply for funds and I guess we would have good chances to get some funds from this fund for the “Pluralisation of Media” at the Ministry of Culture but one year we couldn’t compete because the condition was that the magazine is issued monthly, while the next year they changed that condition but the problem is they wanted the media to be sold. We would have to put a price on it. And our aim is not to make any money with Narobe, but to distribute the ideas, that’s why it’s free. So we couldn’t compete for that as well.
Legebitra includes Narobe is the applications for their projects. For example if there is a project on AIDS, they would write “dissemination of results” in the magazine Narobe. So we would then feature articles on AIDS. This is one of the main sources to get the money. It’s literally impossible to get the money only for the magazine. We were looking for such funds, but couldn’t find it, so we are basically finding a way around.

How do you promote and disseminate Narobe?
This is the point where we are very weak. The magazine cannot be bought in the kiosks because we want to make it free and of course they wouldn’t want to make a space in the kiosks for a free magazine. We are distributing the magazine in Infopoints, mostly in Ljubljana, but also in Koper and Maribor. The main channel of distribution is the internet. After the print version of the magazine is out we immediately put it online. We have a Narobe blog and Narobe Facebook page and on this pages we also disseminate information.

Is the contents of Narobe blog the same as in the magazine?
We soon realized that the news section in the magazine is out of date quickly. So we made the blog to put new, short information about what is going on in queer, GLBT issues. It’s not the same as what we publish in Narobe. Then we also have an email list, so I send out an email info each time the magazine is out. Just recently we finally found a way how we can send the magazine to home addresses to those who want it. It’s 10 Euro for four issues, if you want to get the magazine at home and this is basically just to reimburse for the postage and packing, not for the magazine. Unfortunately, not a lot of people order it. I guess for most reading it on-line is the easiest.

What are the challenges of producing Narobe?
The main obstacle is time, at least for me. Financial, I think, we can find a way around it. Of course it would be nice to have more money but at the same time I think the fact that we have limited money is also very good because we would otherwise become spoiled. [laughs] Another obstacle is… this is our fourth year and I am afraid of repetition. There’s a point where you become framed in your little box. You can progress to a certain extent but to get out of that box, you need a new editor. I’m pushing for change, that somebody else would be the editor. I would still write, I would love to write, but I would just put this editing business to somebody else because this would make the jumping out of the box into another box probably really possible. This is one obstacle I am at least now aware of.
And the other thing is dissemination. Although I cannot think of another way to disseminate it. It’s easily accessible, it’s free, but of course, at the same time, I don’t know who’s reading it. We put out around 800 copies … On the webpage we are approaching one million clicks in total, on the blog we would go up to 600 clicks per news maximum.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Roman Kuhar
Tea Hvala
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