Slovenian PM Janez Janša: Freedom is sacred to me and freedom of expression is something I will always fight for

  • Written by  Jože Biščak in Metod Berlec
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Predsednik vlade Janez Janša Predsednik vlade Janez Janša

We spoke with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, who took over the leadership of the Slovenian government for the third time in March this year, when the coronavirus epidemic hit Slovenia. Before that, at the end of January, the former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned, as his own LMŠ ministerial team gave him a red card, and he proved to be completely incapable of leading the government.

DEMOKRACIJA: Mr. Janša, on Sunday, June 21st, exactly 100 days have passed since the start of your third government. You took the lead at a time when the COVID-19 virus was hitting around the world. Today, we can say with certainty that Šarec's government was not prepared for the crisis. Did you expect something like that?

JANŠA: Well, the general situation was obvious to everyone. From communication with some members of the previous government, who tried daily to persuade the comedian to take action nonetheless, we knew that chaos ruled. However, we were certainly not prepared for what we found out during the handover by departments and in the first days after the ministerial team was sworn in on March 13th. Nothing was prepared. All decrees and measures to curb the coronavirus epidemic we had to write down overnight, from the first to the last letter. I can say that the state was administratively completely unprepared for the virus, which is dangerous, it is transmitted and spread very quickly, and when it gets out of control, it is very difficult to stop or limit it.

DEMOKRACIJA: Can you describe for our readers what was happening in the first 24 hours after the confirmation of your government?

JANŠA: The entire ministerial team, state secretaries and our closest associates were faced with something in the corona viral crisis that has no comparison in Slovenian history. The situation is difficult to describe, and even more difficult to explain to one who has not experienced it directly. We built a house and put a roof on it during a storm. We were building a house and putting a roof on it during a storm. From the first day, we relied on that part of the Slovenian medical profession, which has been warning since January that it is not about just a slightly more severe flu. Looking back today, it seems that at least half a year has passed since March 13th, when the government was sworn in. That period was so intense. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, we lived in a period when the days had no names.

DEMOKRACIJA: Decisions to limit people’s lives were probably difficult. And although the measures in Slovenia seem to have been very strict, in some countries they were even stricter. Nevertheless, the left has accused you of preparing to establish an authoritarian regime. How do you explain that?

JANŠA: All the decisions related to the introduction of restrictions were difficult because we did not have the instruments, as mentioned earlier, that other countries had. We did not declare a state of emergency in Slovenia, there was no curfew, there was no state of war. Unlike many measures taken by other countries and which were exclusively in the hands of the governments of those countries, we went to the National Assembly for each amendment to the law and waited for its implementation. So there were also some delays. If we had the same powers as elsewhere in Europe, many measures could be introduced sooner as well as in a more effective way.

The accusations of preparing the ground for the establishment of an authoritarian regime come from those who left the country naked and barefoot before one of the most difficult trials in the history of this nation. Such talk is frivolous and irresponsible. We coordinated three anti-corona packages, bringing together a total of EUR 6 billion in measures to help the economy and and citizens affected by the epidemic, with all stakeholders, trade unions and the economy, and last but not least, we invited the entire opposition to participate. In view of all this, the allegations of intentions to establish an authoritarian regime do not stand up to common sense. The biggest irony, however, is that they are spread mainly by those who swear by the ideology of communism and who wear a red star on their T-shirts, a symbol of the authoritarian regime. One would laugh if it weren’t all very serious and dangerous. Today, it is confirmed that many underestimated the power of the indoctrination of totalitarianism, conceived in the documents of the commission for ideological and political work of the former ZKS Central Committee at the time when it was led by Milan Kučan. There, decades ago, they formed a propaganda model that attributes one's own intentions to others and renames things according to ideological necessity. On this basis, Nedeljski dnevnik was established and RTV Slovenia was transformed. It would be superfluous to heat up things that are decades old if we were not living these consequences to this day. Namely, RTV Slovenia is still run today, in 2020, by Ciril Baškovič, who continued Kučan's work as the executive secretary for ideological and political work at the ZKS Central Committee.

DEMOKRACIJA: More interestingly, the opposing of the left began even before the government was confirmed, and continues to this day. One finds this difficult to understand. And you?

JANŠA: It is understandable that when it comes to an ideology or belief, we do not share the same views. But health care and concern for the general health of people or the entire Slovenian population is not and cannot be an ideological topic. After all, the virus doesn’t choose whether your belief is left, right, or center. However, we expected more support from the opposition, we also repeatedly called on them to cooperate, but unfortunately it seems that the opposition competed only in how to act as hostile as possible to the government. They reached their peak in organizing ’black shirts’ for attacks on the police and in organized calls for the murder of SDS voters.

DEMOKRACIJA: You then started easing the measures in the second half of April. When will Slovenia return to the usual rhythm as it was before the viral crisis?

JANŠA: We don't know that. We try to make our daily lives as normal as possible with as few restrictions as possible.

DEMOKRACIJA: You have adopted three packages to limit the epidemic and to help the population and the economy, the fourth is coming. Will that be enough? Do you think the economy will recover quickly or will the scenario after the great financial crisis of 2009 follow?

JANŠA: A few days ago, the Standard & Poor's (S&P) credit rating agency confirmed the credit rating of the Republic of Slovenia at AA-. The prospects are stable, and Slovenia is in a good position to deal with the negative consequences of the pandemic. S&P is also convinced that the Slovenian government's response to the situation, together with the monetary policy of the European Central Bank (ECB), preserves the productive capacity of the Slovenian economy. The agency anticipates that the Slovenian economy will begin to recover towards the end of this year. So we are optimistic, because other forecasts of international institutions, the European Commission, the IMF… are also promising for Slovenia.

We also monitor developments and signals coming from the economic environment to which we export the most, and we also intensively monitor economic activity at home. The government has also adopted aid packages to help the economy and the population in order to get out of the coronavirus crisis with as few scratches as possible. We also have high expectations of the European Commission's measures for economic recovery after the pandemic, which aim to support the investments and reforms necessary for lasting recovery, improving the economic and social resilience of countries. I believe that, thanks to the measures that the government has already taken, but also with the help of the packages being prepared by the European Commission, we will be able to overcome the crisis successfully. Of course, it will not be easy.

Let me remind you that during the crisis in 2009 and onwards, the then government provided the most aid to banks. It also adopted a measure to partially subsidize working time, which was the only measure for people. The government I lead is taking measures for people, such as the solidarity allowance for pensioners, the crisis allowance for students, the self-employed, and so on, as for the economy – bank lending to companies, debureaucratization and administrative relief so that entrepreneurship will be able to breathe and create. We will also support restructuring in industries and start the investment cycle with the law we adopted for important or strategic investments.

DEMOKRACIJA: You had to face protests all the time, which took place even at a time when the restrictions were still in force, even with clear death threats. Which is scary.

JANŠA: That is true. It is frightening that those institutions that should have reacted in such cases do nothing, remain silent, or even give the green light with their decisions for organized death threats that are punishable under the Penal Code. In this case, the Public Prosecutor's Office openly opposed the constitutional order of the state, similar to what it did back in 2012.

DEMOKRACIJA: In the first half of May, you wrote a text entitled War with the Media. The media mainstream and the opposition have accused you that this is not the way to do it, that you have crossed the boundaries of good taste and that of what you can and cannot do.

JANŠA: Freedom is sacred to me. Not because it has been unjustly taken from me many times in my life, but because I believe that only a free man can be creative and can live a life worthy of a man. When independent Slovenia was being formed, freedom of expression as a right and freedom was not written in the constitution just like that. We know what it means that because you freely express your beliefs, you are punished and persecuted. That is why freedom of expression is something I will always fight for. As for the text War with the Media, let someone tell me what in it it is not true. Those who found themselves in it came forward. When you step on a cat's tail, the cat squeals.

DEMOKRACIJA: Today, Šarec accuses you that your government no longer has legitimacy. Do you understand what he meant by that at all?

JANŠA: I do not expect a man who does not distinguish between the Council of the EU and the European Council, even though he was the Prime Minister, to know either what is legal or what is legitimate. Let me remind you that this government has both. The SDS won the 2018 early elections. So the voters gave the SDS a mandate to form a government. At that time, the now resigned former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, together with the media, formed a minority government with the supra-coalition Left after the elections, which he directly overthrew with his resignation.

I regret, however, that even in such fateful times as today, some do not know how to overcome their resentments, prejudices and anger. Instead of contributing to the best of their ability, they use the shield of cynicism and, with their words, bring dissatisfaction, unrest, and discord among people in times when they need above all hope and encouragement.

DEMOKRACIJA: One cannot help but draw parallels with what happened 30 years ago. At that time, the left acted in the same way as during the current viral crisis …

JANŠA: A parallel with the time 30 years ago can be drawn in terms of the great unity of the nation and the division of politics at the same time. The laws of independence, which we passed in 1991, after the plebiscite had already been voted on, were for the most part passed by only one or two votes of the Demos majority. That was close. But we succeeded.

In this crisis, the government did not have the illusion that it knows everything, and we have said this many times. That is why we invited the widest circle of experts and other stakeholders to participate in the preparation of individual measures. Unfortunately, the opposition did not recognize this in this way. Unfortunately, both at the time of independence and today, the left was not able to look further into the future and decided on the basis of what is good for them and not what is good for the nation.

 

DEMOKRACIJA: Well, even today her SKOJ successor, the Left party, is strongly opposed to the Slovenian Army. The government coalition recently adopted a plan to equip the Slovenian Army in the coming years. We are already witnessing populist opposition to this plan…

JANŠA: For those who mourn the former totalitarian state, the mention of the Slovenian Army is already a challenge. They know that without the defense power of the nation, which we formed through the MSNZ and the reorganization of the TO, there would be no independent Slovenia. Therefore, unfortunately, even today they are doing everything to reduce the Slovenian Army to an honorary company for Dražgoše.

DEMOKRACIJA: Incredible resistance and distrust to Slovenia's own army is also reflected in the opposition's protesting against the granting of powers to the Slovenian army on the basis of Article 37a of the Defense Act. The border would be more effectively secured.

JANŠA: More efficient and cheaper. But LMŠ, SD and Levica are destroying any proposal for effective protection of the state border and they want as many illegal migrants as possible to enter the country.

DEMOKRACIJA: Much of the uproar among the dominant media was caused by the alleged incident on the border with Italy. It was obviously a deliberate provocation, as the opposition used it to attack the government again …

JANŠA: Either that or to make an elephant out of a fly. Anti-Slovenian work in both cases.

DEMOKRACIJA: This reminds me of an article entitled »Police officers, criminal investigators and intelligence officers do memorise« written on April 24th, 2020, for Mladina by the infamous Drago Kos. Let me quote his message to your government: »However, in their haste, the new authorities have forgotten something very important in dealing with individuals in the security intelligence sector who are not 'ours': in these structures work professionals who do not really care who is in power, but only if the one in power works legally, professionally and for the good of the state. Any other conduct will be easily identified and registered by these people, including for evidentiary purposes, for possible proceedings when the time comes.« In short, Kos is already pervertedly threatening to your government !?

JANŠA: Through his wife Tjaša Slokar Kos, who is the editor-in-chief of the informative program on POP TV, he does this practically every day from the screens of the mentioned television. Drago Kos from the Vič-Holmec affair or the fake Peter of the Sova, as we know him from the Depala vas affair, or the realizer of the big bang from the Patria affair, is one of those faces of the deep state who worries that they will be left without their privileges. Just remember his bills issued to the NLB, where he got the monthly salary of an ordinary citizen in a matter of hours. But they are afraid that they should be held accountable for the illegal work they have done in the past. It is true, however, that in the decades-long staffing of ’first-class people’ in the criminal police and in the prosecutor's office, there are many in both institutions who do not work for the Slovene democracy, but for the Kos’s deep state.

DEMOKRACIJA: If we briefly touch on the government's plans for the future. In front of you are some projects that you announced when you took office, such as deregulation, demography, health care. Due to the viral crisis, this had to wait. When can we expect the first solutions?

JANŠA: At the last extended meeting we had in June, the coalition prepared a set of priorities related to the coalition agreement, which we intend to implement by the end of our term. Although this is a mandate that will be greatly shortened due to the failed experiment of Marjan Šarec, we will do everything to properly renovate social systems, to prepare the foundations of long-term care, to create a demographic fund, to prepare everything necessary for easier and faster placement of projects, to simplify tax procedures, to establish effective protection of state borders. The government I lead will take all the necessary measures to be as prepared as possible for the coming economic and financial crisis and to emerge from it as strongly as possible.

DEMOKRACIJA: Is a project as demanding as the Demographic Fund possible to realize already in this mandate? Given that it is expected to accumulate around 11 billion state assets…

JANŠA: Of course it is possible. The demographic fund has already been discussed in two previous coalitions, more precisely in 2014, commitments were made to form one. Let me point out that demography is one of the fundamental challenges of an aging society, which is why it is important to bring the fund to life as soon as possible. The draft law is already ready.

The difference between our current government and its three predecessors is that we are not talking nonsense, but cooperating, looking for solutions, planning and taking action. And we are proving that Slovenia can do it. The difference is also that the mainstream media portrayed talking nonsense as Potemkin’s rich harvest, and our full and effective action as mistakes. The radically incompetent SD, which controls our mainstream media, has even gone so far that it listed 100 mistakes of our government in 100 days in office. Well, we could in no way list a hundred mistakes for their governments, as they have not taken so many measures in three terms. However, we could, of course, list a hundred or more lost or wasted opportunities.

DEMOKRACIJA: COVID-19 has changed the world, the post-virus period will change it once again. As we are an EU country, we stop there at the end. Brussels did not exactly prove itself in dealing with the crisis, so the so-called solidarity did not come to the fore.

JANŠA: The outbreak of the epidemic surprised all multilateral organizations and most national administrations. This applies both to the United Nations and to a specialized agency, the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, this also applies to the European Union. Initially, national governments responded. Their primary responsibility is to ensure peace and security and to protect their citizens from a variety of threats, including epidemics. These are powers that are at the core of national sovereign powers and have not been transferred to a common or higher level by these countries. However, the EU, as our common organization, has many coordinating and supporting responsibilities. At first, EU activity was lacking. In any case, the Union needs to be strengthened and trained to respond more quickly and effectively to the next such or similar crisis. In particular, the capacity for its anticipation and early warning needs to be strengthened, as well as the development and strengthening of common instruments and capacities to deal with such crises. It turned out that the EU did not have pre-solidarity mechanisms that would be appropriate for such a crisis. The solidarity response was initially based on the concrete actions of individual Member States. Nevertheless, there have been many examples of mutual assistance, especially at the neighborhood and regional levels. Here I would like to point out all our four neighboring countries and the framework of the Visegrad Four.

DEMOKRACIJA: On the other hand, in the long run, the European Union will come to the rescue of EU members through various mechanisms…

JANŠA: This is largely true and we hope it will be so. Soon after the outbreak of the epidemic in Europe, there was a clear recognition of interdependence in joint talks and coordination, and that our common resilience depends on the weakness of the most vulnerable and that it is therefore in our common interest to help the most affected. Thus, this extraordinary crisis has triggered responses that even before seemed almost impossible. The ECB responded fairly quickly with exceptional liquidity and government bond market stabilization measures; the Eurogroup has virtually abolished the conditionality of the use of European Stability Mechanism funds for Member States that would resort to such assistance in order to cope with the costs of the consequences of the crisis; The EU Council confirmed the activation of the general withdrawal clause of the Stability and Growth Pact (thus allowing fiscal measures that will also be reflected in an increased general government deficit), etc. This unprecedented crisis has led to the suspension of many existing norms and rules, which is a remarkable joint political decision that shows awareness of the urgency of the situation. There has been a revaluation of priorities. Of course, this is the beginning. Negotiations will now take place on a proposal for a multiannual financial framework (a total seven-year budget), to which is now added a proposal for a recovery and resilience fund totaling € 750 billion. These are important proposals that point to an evolving solidarity response.

DEMOKRACIJA: In a recent letter, European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni called on you to clarify the change of the Director General of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia. And you wrote to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, regarding the possibility of Slovenia reaching an agreement with the European Commission regarding the withdrawal of the lawsuit due to the investigation in the Bank of Slovenia. How do you see these competencies, the relationship, between the European Commission on the one hand and national governments on the other?

JANŠA: Well, the response of the Slovenian media space and left-wing politics to that is particularly interesting. Namely, in one case we should not look for a peaceful solution, in another we should. The fact is that cooperation with the European Commission is urgently needed. This cooperation is also very good in some areas. Let me just mention the good cooperation with the President of the European Commission, with whom we also had several telephone conversations in the last month, especially regarding the multiannual financial plan and the Recovery and Resilience Fund. It is problematic, however, when individual commissioners, such as Paolo Gentiloni, get involved in Slovene internal political issues at the dictation of the Slovene left, and his letters reach the media rather than the addressee.

DEMOKRACIJA: And for the end. After the official end of the epidemic, will there be any more time to prepare for the Slovenian presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2021? What will be your top priorities?

JANŠA: Of course. Last week, the government determined an enhanced organizational structure for the preparations and implementation of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2021. Priorities in many ways are determined by the present moment in our life together and the challenges we face. After the financial and migrant crisis, this pandemic is the third global crisis in this decade to hit Member States and the EU as a whole. It has shown our unpreparedness, as well as the extreme vulnerability of the whole of Europe. As in the aforementioned crises, this time too, unfortunately, we did not have a pre-planned and agreed-upon steps for a joint response. We were left to improvise in solving individual challenges. We were even placed in a position of dependence on third countries, in which at some point we were even forced to compete with each other instead of cooperating.

One of the main priorities of the Slovenian Presidency will therefore be aimed at improving the concrete capacities of the EU and the Member States to deal with global crises, such as a pandemic or a large-scale cyber attack. We will focus our efforts on the preparation of a concrete action plan for individual phases of sharpening and releasing of such crises, and on strengthening the necessary capacities. The modernization of the European economy will also be a major challenge, enabling a technological breakthrough with the help of all instruments for recovery and strengthening resilience. Only in this way will the European economy become even more competitive and provide a stable basis for the well-being of all citizens of the EU Member States.

We will also pay special attention to the situation in the Western Balkans, the eastern neighborhood and the enlargement agenda. Unfortunately, the vision of a comprehensive and free Europe, a Europe of free nations, made possible by the fall of the Iron Curtain, is still not being realized. It even seems to be moving away with Brexit. With the United Kingdom's exit from the EU, the internal balance is also being upset, calling for new stabilization factors. Slovenia recognizes this current European challenge, has ideas and answers to it and will therefore be able to make an important contribution to solutions. Despite the mischief actions at home in recent months, we have proved externally that Slovenia can do more than just repeat old phrases and blindly follow bureaucrats in Brussels.

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