Prime Minister Janez Janša had an interview for the Indian national television Doordarshan.
Interview was conducted by Ramesh Ramachandran and was focused on questions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, fight against the virus, Slovenian-Indian relations, events in the Indo-Pacific region, EU-China relations and other geopolitical issues.
Below you can find transcript of the interview.
Hello and welcome. You are watching a special broadcast and with me is a very special guest prime minister Janez Janša of Slovenia to talk about bilateral, regional and global issues of interest or concern to both Ljubljana and New Delhi. Mister prime minister, welcome. We wish you a very happy new year.
Thank you and a very happy new year to you and everybody who is watching your channel.
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Before I come to bilateral and regional issues, may I start by asking you about the Covid situation in Slovenia. How is Slovenia coping with the pandemic and how is vaccination coming along?
Well, it could be better, but also, it could be worse. We were quite heavily hit with the last wave of pandemic, during the last months of last year. And now omicron is coming to Slovenia also, as is the case in whole Europe. Fortunately, the numbers of people affected and hospitalized are still manageable. We hope that we will reach the peak of this wave within next two weeks and then everything to calm down. We hope that the current level of vaccination which is not as we wish it to be, but still, we successfully fully or partly vaccinated 80 % of all people about 50 and close to 70 % of all adult population. We think that this level will help us to fight this last omicron wave of Covid. We are looking to Great Britain, Denmark, Portugal and some other European countries, where they have high numbers of infections, but not so high numbers of hospitalized people and we hope that the same situation will appear in Slovenia during next two weeks.
Talking about the pandemic, Mister Prime Minister. Do you have a view on the origin and strength of the virus from Wuhan in China to all continents of the globe, also it started in South Africa and omicron wave from South Africa was detected quickly and alerted the world, unlike China with the case of Covid-19 corona virus two years ago?
Well, exactly what you said. In January 2020 I was on the official visit, political visit in Indonesia and I saw with my own eyes that pandemic or the corona virus is topic number one already in Asia. But in Europe this was not the case. I think that we will never 100 % know what is the origin of this virus. Was it artificially developed in laboratory or it was some kind of accident or it was of natural origin. But we surely know that China didn’t behave in good faith in the beginning. We were not informed, what’s really happening. We knew that they cancelled internal flights from Wuhan to other cities in China, but at the same time the international flights went on. To Italy, per instance. Italy was the first European country to suffer a lot exactly because of many people coming from China to this part of Europe. I think that we are to discuss this issue and we have to make China’s authorities accountable.
Indeed. Mister prime minister, let me now come to Slovenia, India relations. Slovenia and India celebrate 30th anniversary of establishing the relations this year in 2022.You are joining us from Slovenia, India and around the world. India recognized Slovenia in 1992. And ties established in 18th May 1992. India’s president visited Slovenia in 2019 and from Slovenia the prime minister visited India in 2011 and Foreign Minister in 2013. Mister Prime Minister, you share your birthday with Prime Minister Modi of India on 17th September. How would you describe bilateral tie between India and Slovenia as they exist today and looking ahead as well?
I’m really glad that we established our diplomatic relations on the same year as Slovenia was recognized as independent country. Exactly 30 years ago. We are celebrating this start of heavy weight international recognitions from 1992. And in May there was a peak and we will celebrate this peak too. Since establishing official relations between Slovenia and India our relations have developed every year. Have developed every year. And I’m really glad that also during last year, when Slovenia hold presidency of the Council of the European Union, we were able to make some progress also on the bilateral relations between the European Union and … presidency. We realized after frank discussion that we are strategic partners and maybe those relations between European Union and India are in current very complicated global situation the most promised across the globe. And whatever we can do as a country to contribute to this situation to be exploited and our common goals to be fulfilled, we will do our best.
Indeed. And talking about bilateral ties, mister prime minister. I’m told that traditional Indian medicine, also known as Ayurveda is popular in official practice in Slovenia. It’s classified as a complementary and alternative medicine practice. I’m curious to understand, do Slovenian people in general, what do they know about India in terms of maybe Indian films or yoga or food or traditional medicine for that matter?
All this, I think that knowledge about India in Slovenia is quite high. I think you’re the first Asian country regarding the mount of knowledge about any country in the continent and tens of thousands of my compatriots already visited India. Ayurveda is very popular here. Also the Indian cuisine is becoming more and more popular. But also I’m glad when I meet tourists from India coming to Slovenia, to Bled, also for skiing. Last time, I saw a family from Kolkata. So I think that we have many opportunities to exploit and also our economic cooperation, taking into account the size of our country and our economy, is quite good. India is our second biggest economic partner from this part of the world and we are cooperating in many areas, electronics, solar power, hydropower plants, technology. Also, we are glad that Slovenian company, which is producing the training planes for civil purposes but also for the army, signed a huge contract a few years ago with your government for training. So, there are many areas where we are cooperating, not only tourism.
In September, Indian foreign minister visited you in Slovenia and you put up a speech saying that you discussed relations between India and Slovenia, India and the EU and global situation, in particular about political changes or challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. And you put out two hashtags, #SouthChinaSea and #Taiwan. From Slovenian perspective, how do you see Indo-Pacific and your relations with China in the recent times?
Well, very complex question. I will start sharing with you my experience from my meeting with your foreign minister, because we had a very frank discussion and his assessment of the situation in South China Sea and in the Pacific or Indo-Pacific region was very accurate. I can say that we agreed on the picture that he delivered and he was very precise. And also my belief and this is also the majority belief inside of the European politics is that this is now despite all these problems happening between Russia, Ukraine and other things, but the key issue is Pacific now. And India is a crucial country here. It’s a crucial country for balancing those tensions there, for aligning with all other countries for the whole planet but also for this specific part of the globe to live in peace. And you asked about Taiwan. I think that for everybody, who knows the history and knows that the legitimate successor of China, what was the rest of China, escaping to Taiwan, knows that we support the sovereign decision of Taiwanese people. If they want to join China, if it’s their free will without any pressure, without any military intervention and without any blackmailing, without strategic cheating as it is happening in Hong Kong currently, then we will support it. But if Taiwanese people want to live independently, we are here to support also this position. And I think this is the main issue. All division regarding the question of Taiwan is focused on this issue and I think we are to be principal and I think that we have to work together. And as I said at the beginning, India is a crucial factor here to guaranty the balance of power and with this, the very foundation of possible peaceful solutions.
And talking about Taiwan, Mr Prime Minister. Does the Slovenian struggle for independence hold some lessons for Taiwan also? Do you for instance support a proposal for a ban on imports from Xinjiang in particular, given the forced labour?
Well, this last issue, we would like to have more firm EU politics, because sometimes this question included, we are very strong on words, but not as strong in deeds. And Slovenia is fighting, also because of our experience you mentioned partially, because of our struggle for independence, for this gap between words and deeds to be as narrow as possible. And we firmly supported the government of Lithuania and we are still supporting it during this pressure happening, because, frankly speaking, there is a vast majority of the EU member countries holding some kind of representative offices with Taiwan. Lithuania is not an exception. There are some slight differences in naming the missions, but this is not important. I think that China changed this … China protested every time some European countries established such offices, but they never went as far as they did in this case. It’s terrifying trying to isolate a small country that also fought for its independence 30 years ago. I mean, that … Well, formally the European Union backed Lithuania, and I think that any kind of proceeding pressure on Lithuania and some other countries in Europe will not benefit China’s government. Good trade relations are a common interest. If one side is trying to hurt these relations, maybe they could benefit short-term, but long-term we are all losers.
Since you spoke about Lithuania, Mr. Prime Minister, how do you see the Chinese economic coercion using trade as a weapon? Also, like Lithuania in 2021, are you considering for instance quitting the 17 + 1 rule or elevating your ties with Taiwan going forward?
Actually, we have normal relations with Taiwan. Last year, when we saw some good anti-pandemic measures in Taipei, I personally called the health minister of Taiwan and we had an audio-video conference, exchanging our experiences. I personally visited Taiwan four or five times so far. They are a democratic country. It’s difficult to listen to a capital with a one-party system lecturing about democracy and peace around the world. You know, a country which is democratic and respects all international democratic standards, international law included. And it’s such a pity that China is opposing the membership of Taiwan in the World Health Organisation. I think it would also benefit China to have a neighbouring country be a member of such an organisation, because we saw exactly in this pandemic situation that the virus doesn’t know any borders.
So, as you say, you support Taiwan’s inclusion in the World Health Organisation, as Taiwan is a democracy, unlike China which has a one-party rule. In that context, do you see yourself elevating your ties with Taiwan going forward, similarly to what Lithuania has done?
Actually, we are working on establishing … Well, on exchanging representatives. Of course, this will not be on the level of embassies. It will be on the same level as many of the EU member countries already have them. And frankly speaking, if we had stronger coalitions in former years, I think we would have established such trade representative offices already in the past, because this is an issue of common benefit. And also, when I spoke with our businessmen who are trading with Taiwan, they told me that we are trading with Taiwan, but those companies from Taiwan are also trading with mainland China. So, it’s … They are doing this amongst themselves, but at the same time they’re opposing the same relations between Taiwan and other countries, which is ridiculous.
Let me now come to the other issues confronting Slovenia in general and Europe in particular. That’s the situation on the border between Poland and Belarus, the migrant crisis is number one. And number two, the EU-Russia tensions over Ukraine. Would you welcome or favour direct US-Russia talks, and where do you want to see Ukraine, in NATO or as a buffer between the two parties, so to speak?
When we are speaking about Ukraine, we are speaking about a sovereign country of 40 million people. We are speaking about a country which has suffered a lot. The worst suffering happened during the Soviet time, when Ukraine was ruled by a brutal communist regime and millions of people starved to death or were killed. I completely understand that they don’t want to come under the authorities of the same capital again. It doesn’t matter that some things changed in Russia during this time too. Imagine somebody speaking about India or Slovenia being a buffer zone. Nobody wants to be a buffer zone. I wouldn’t wish it on any country or any nation to be treated as a buffer zone. It’s humiliating. So it’s on them. If Ukraine wants to become a member of the European Union, if they decide, if they have a referendum, they vote for it, they have all our support. If they don’t want to, they also have our support. It’s their sovereign decision. It’s not the decision of Brussels, neither is it the decision of Washington or Moscow. Regarding the talks between Moscow and Washington now, I think that first of all, the EU has to be involved, because this is our neighborhood and the vast part of Europe is part of NATO. I think that both Washington and Moscow have to respect this situation. The European part of NATO also has to do its homework and not only expect that the difficult task will be fulfilled by the Americans.
One quick follow-up question. Given what is happening between the EU and Russia on one hand and the situation in Indo-Pacific. From the Slovenian perspective: what do you see as a greater threat to a larger EU. Is it Russia or could it be China?
Even if this is not the case, but I’m afraid it is, I’m speaking about the possible coordination between Beijing and Moscow. There is some strange situation across the globe. And I’m afraid that some people in China and Russia want to exploit this situation and this is why I think this pressure on Ukraine and on NATO at the same time from Russia and from Beijing on Taipei in Taiwan, they are somehow coordinated, because if somebody is pushed to deal with two crisis, two major crisis in two different parts of the world, one has to split diplomatic, economic and military efforts. And this is why those threats or conditions are somehow linked, coordinated and we have to be aware of this because this is making everything even more dangerous. Next weeks and months will be of crucial importance for both areas.
Indeed. I want those, who are watching this interview to get to know you better. You are prolific on the social medium Twitter. How do you manage your time? How do you get the time to be so active on Twitter and what are your views on social media in in general?
Social media are tools, like TV stations or newspapers in former times. With some specifics of course. You can use those tools for good or bad things. It’s always on us. This has to be first approach when we speak about social media. They are a reality. They make real-time interventions, real-time actions, when those actions are needed, where you have to inform your public, your country, they make that possible. I don’t glorify the social media; I don’t think that this is the worst thing that happened. They are just tools. Just like military tools, you can use them to defend or to attack.
Mr. Prime Minister, the mountains brought you and your wife together. But at the same time, are you going to tell us about the story behind the lost engagement ring?
How did you learn about this?
Well, I did good research, I guess.
Very thorough research, congratulations. Well, this was something that almost changed my life. A coincidence that obviously sometimes happens. She lost it somewhere and didn’t know where. After months somewhere in the wild, we parked the car and I found it. I could never believe if somebody told you that. But I didn’t know that this story is well known. I just described it once.
Mr. Prime Minister, you are a man of many powers. You love the mountains, you’re a mountaineer. You love football, golf, skiing. You are a full-time 24/7 politician, you founded an IT company, it was called Mikro Ada. You wrote books, you dabbled in journalism, you applied for a post in a newspaper in 1985. If I were to ask you, what’s your first love, Mr. Prime Minister, what do you love doing the most out of these things?
Currently my first love is my family. I have two young boys; they are 8 and 10 years old. This means there is no golf, not much time for mountaineering so when we have time we go family skiing, also cross-country skiing during the winter, but we go hiking during the summer. Maybe when we’re in the opposition, everything is much easier. We have the government, the Presidency, the pandemic. Time is very scarce and this is the most precious thing in our life.
We thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for taking the time to talk to us. Thank you.
Thank you. I congratulate you for your thorough research.
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, appreciate it. Thanks for watching, bye-bye.