The art of balancing (and compromising) between security and freedom during a global health crisis

Jože Biščak

It was almost exactly three years ago when the police knocked on the door of the then journalist of RTV Slovenia Jure Brankovič and had an informative conversation with him. The visit followed his post on Twitter, on which he was asking whether anyone would organize a rally in front of the Spanish embassy in Ljubljana, and the police was suspicious of the possible unreported rally.


I do not recall (if I am wrong, I apologize) that the mainstream media or some journalistic society started shouting and screaming and informing the international public about the occurrence or condemning the conduct of the police, which was then under the control of the government of Miro Cerar. Somehow, it seemed logical and normal for the police to do their job and to monitor the various accessible internet networks in order to ensure public safety. And if they detect calls or suspicions of a public gathering on the social networks, especially if the rally is not registered, they respond. In short, at a time when no one on the sunny side of the Alps had ever dreamed of a pandemic, the press community and the entire civil society apparatus calmly accepted the fact that the police knocked on Brankovi
‘s door and asked him if he is planning to organize a rally.

But then this year the government changed. Marjan Šarec resigned, and a centre-right government was formed. And it all started. Unregistered rallies have been taking place for several months. I have a hard time believing that the police is no longer following what is happening on social media, but I have not come across any information that the police knocked on Jaša Jenull’s door and asked him if he is organizing an unreported rally. If it had done so, I am sure, left-wing activists would have made such a fuss that due to their loud outrage Martians would have flown in from space. Despite the fact that no one wants to do anything to “protesters, ” they “protest” and demand the resignation of the government at undeclared rallies endangering public health and claiming that the government (and with it the police) is totalitarian or if that is not the case yet, then at least everything is being prepared for Janez Janša to establish totalitarianism in Slovenia. And even tonight, despite the restricted movement between 9pm and 6am under the Infectious Diseases Act, some have publicly announced by name and surname that they will knowingly violate this restriction and (unreportedly) gather, yet no one from the police came to visit them. Well, at least I am not aware of it. Such a totalitarian state, isn’t it?

This is, to put it mildly, ignorance. Hypocrisy. Proven many times. Those who shout that restricting movement is a disproportionate measure and a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms have until recently celebrated and welcomed restrictions on freedom of speech (threats to online police, attacks on Demokracija, Nova24TV and Bojan Požar). Systematic human rights violations in court proceedings (Patria and France Kangler cases), destruction of private entrepreneurial initiative (increased tightening of anti-smoking laws, bar owner is not free to decide whether or not smoking is allowed in his bar, which is a crime against property rights ) and perversely prevented political competition (in 2014, the then opposition leader Janez Janša was imprisoned and unconstitutionally deprived of his parliamentary mandate) have been completely (or intentionally) overlooked. They disregarded the rule of law and betrayed fundamental values: freedom of expression, the inviolability of private property, the autonomy and privacy of the individual, a fair election race, the impartiality of the courts.

At a time when there was no virus, that has so far claimed more than 1.1 million lives worldwide, those who are appalled today by the only logical measure in this crisis (if we want to curb the spread of infections) wanted totalitarian measures. They at the time argued that nothing is absolute (not freedom of speech, not private property), but today they would like absolute freedom of movement, although they know very well that this is not a permanent but a short-term measure triggered by the difficult epidemiological situation. Furthermore, they encourage people to boycott the government measures. But no one blames the latter. Freedom of speech is guaranteed, everyone thinks about what they want and can share their views freely (without fear of the wrath of the authorities). None of these “doctors” (from Marjo Potrč through Tanja Ribič to Werner Brozović) have yet been imprisoned for spreading their views on COVID-19. Many want (and demand) that they are silenced, but I will be the first to stand up for them and say that they have the right to express their views. It depends on the people listening what will they take from it.

If you place supreme evil above the values of freedom and democracy, there, you will recognize, dear leftists, yourself and your sympathizers as guardians of this evil and destroyers of freedom. In these times of crisis, the centre-right government is trying to find a balance (in a way, a compromise) between security (public health) and freedom. Personally, I think it is succeeding and (maybe someone will be surprised) that some measures are still too lenient.

A crisis situation is always a temptation for any government (especially if it is receptive to stories of planetary doom) to remove articles from the constitution and freely dictate restrictions. An epidemic is one such matter when this temptation is very great. But I am sure this government will not do this. This government does not want an omnipotent state, nor any draconian regime that would drag on first for months, then for years. I am confident that it will remove the restrictions as soon as possible. And rightly so. The essential difference between this and previous contributions (Cerar’s, Šarec’s) is that Janša’s government imposes restrictions due to the health crisis, while Šarec’s and Cerar’s had done so when it was (if I may call it that) “peaceful”. Both Šarec and Cerar wanted to create a crisis situation (from “hate speech” to threatening “global warming”) and establish a dictatorship (restrictions on freedom of speech, private property, etc.). They wanted to create a despotism of “sun kings”. And it is characteristic of autocrats that, because of the nature of the regime, they never come into conflict, into the dilemma of how to reach a compromise between freedom and security. It is known what the priority is for them. It is security. But not for the people, let the people pay the price. In the first place, there is their security, concern for their own privileges, and the privileges of concubines and flatterers who have nothing to do with either freedom or democracy. For them, it is über alles. The current government, on the other hand, has shown that it can find a balance between prosperity, health and freedom.

I would like to say: Dear leftists, it would be good for you to shut up! But I will not. I respect freedom of speech too much and fight for it. Even in these difficult and crisis times. I do want to say something about the current government. Whether measures to curb the spread of the infection in the second wave will work or not depends not only on the government, but above all, on us. We will judge them later, it takes some time. There will still be plenty of time for protest rallies and defiance to the authorities; and no one will hinder it. But I am sure of something. This centre-right government will certainly never introduce a dictatorship. Do not worry: freedoms will not slip through our fingers, freedom, democracy and the rule of law will not fall victim to the health crisis. The good government has taken (for freedoms) bad powers, but in the future (which will come soon) they will not hold on them, but release them. This government will. I am sure.