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Friday, March 1, 2024

Was NSi “teased” by their visible member Lojze Peterle? The latter has already gained the right to the name Slovenian Christian Democrats

By: Gašper Blažič

Despite the fact that the current Slovenian People’s Party is the legal successor of the Slovenian Christian Democrats due to the merger of the “old” SLS and SKD in 2000, NSi carried out a renaming of part of its name at the congress in Vransko ten years ago. Before that, it was called “NSi – Christian-People’s Party” and then “NSi – Christian Democrats”.

At that time, there were several questions in the public about the true succession and the use of the Christian-democratic name. Let us remind you that the SKD party was established towards the end of 1989 as a new alliance of members of the then well-known Slovenian Christian-Social Movement, led by Peter Kovačič Peršin. Lojze Peterle became the president of SKD, known at the time as an active Christian intellectual in Ljubljana with the Episcopal Committee for Students, and he was also the editor of the magazine Bilten or Tretji dan. Peterle originated from a circle of Christian laypeople who were involved in the creation of the Revija 2000 magazine.

Often critical of the leadership of NSi

As known, SKD became part of DEMOS. Due to the agreement that the prime minister after the 1990 elections would become the president of the party that (within DEMOS) would achieve the most seats in the socio-political assembly, Peterle became the president of the first democratic and simultaneously independence government. Later, in the second Drnovšek government, he became the foreign minister, but mostly serving as a member of the parliament. He once again became the foreign minister in the Bajuk government (2000), and from 2004 until the last European elections in 2019, he was a Member of the European Parliament.

While SKD formally ceased to exist in 2000 with the merger with the People’s Party, the name SLS+SKD persisted for some time. In the initial months, Peterle was the vice president of the new united party, and later became a co-founder of NSi. Speculation arose later about whether he might run for the presidency of the party, as he had been critical of the previous presidents. However, in 2008, he did not join the Christian-Democratic Party, which emerged from the Kresnica party (the well-known party in Gorizia in which the current Prime Minister Robert Golob was involved for some time). The possibility of Peterle’s candidacy for the presidency of NSi was particularly speculated upon in 2012 at the party congress in Vipava, which Peterle did not attend, causing considerable outrage. During this time, the then president of the party, Ljudmila Novak, publicly criticised Peterle, claiming that he had a poor understanding of the real situation in Slovenia from Brussels.

In recent months, there has been much talk about Peterle’s meetings with some former active members of SKD, which is not entirely new, as Peterle is said to have contemplated the revitalisation of Christian democracy during his years in Brussels. When he was pushed to the side-lines in the last European Parliament elections – remember that he was only third on the list, with Novak and Jožef Horvat ahead of him – he apparently began to slowly distance himself from NSi politics. He became the president of the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence and also forged closer ties with the SDS leader Janez Janša. Meanwhile, after the last parliamentary elections, NSi started actively cooperating with the Gibanje Svoboda party, especially evident in the recent constitutional changes when the NSi youth cynically declared a coalition between SDS and old judicial influencers. Apparently, this is how the NSi leadership envisions Christian democracy.

On another note, there was a lot of noise about the renaming ten years ago. Incidentally, Jernej Vrtovec, now a member of parliament and former minister, was the spokesperson for NSi at that time:

Did Peterle legalise the ten-year-old full name of NSi?

Apparently, Peterle is now striking back, as he met with the president of SLS, Marko Balažic. They signed an agreement transferring the use of the name SKD to Peterle. Simultaneously, Peterle is establishing the Alliance of SKD, which is not intended to be a party but rather a civil society group for discussions on key issues in Slovenia and the EU. The goal is to contribute to strengthening the Christian democratic line in European and parliamentary elections, says Peterle, who was among the initiators of conventions on the future of Europe and the future of Slovenia twenty years ago. As he pointed out, the work of the Alliance of Slovenian Christian Democracy (SKD) will be dedicated to Slovenia, just as the work of Christian democracy was once dedicated. They aim to address everyone in either party, as well as those in the so-called abstainers’ party. Many Christian democrats are in the latter because they view the political situation critically and do not see a basis for their involvement, believes Peterle, also a co-founder of NSi.

Solutions for strengthening Christian democracy can be diverse, and further discussions will reveal what the first steps will be, according to his words. “Divided, we will not address more voters,” he emphasised. “DEMOS succeeded because we first discussed what comes first, and then we discussed who will be first. It would be wise to follow the same sequence now,” he drew parallels with the time of the first multi-party elections in Slovenia. Peterle assures that the alliance is not being formed with the intention of urging people to join “here or there”. “We are not above the parties, we are not against them, but we are for them. We want the parties to come together and achieve a good result,” Peterle emphasised. According to him, he is concerned about the situation in Slovenia, where the concept of an enemy is returning. In Peterle’s assessment, after just over 30 years of independent Slovenia, there is still much unrealised, and the best way forward is not in “inventing a new person and new leaders, but rather looking at our roots a bit.” He also believes that the train for cooperation on the right in the upcoming European elections has not yet left. He thinks that much will also depend on the ambitions that will be revealed within the alliance.

Possibilities for a joint appearance still exist

Despite the fact that SLS rejected the invitation for a joint appearance with NSi, SLS President Marko Balažic stated today that the doors are by no means closed. He believes that too much energy in Slovenia, even on the right, is being lost on “who is not with whom”. He assessed that if Slovenia wants to move forward in the face of the challenges ahead, the moment for the formation of an alliance is right and affirmed that SLS “understands this call of history”. Balažic emphasised the need for non-partisan civil activism in the face of increasing polarisation in Slovenia, stressing that time should not be wasted.

Responding cautiously to the announcement of this agreement a few days earlier, NSi President Matej Tonin stated that granting permission for the use of the SKD name is “positive and collaborative for someone who has dedicated his entire life to Christian democracy”. “I understand it as a contribution to strengthening Christian democracy in Slovenia,” he said. However, it remains to be seen if this assessment was genuinely sincere. A decade ago, NSi somewhat “snatched” the Christian democratic title, but due to legal obstacles, it had to renounce the entire SKD name. Now, Peterle is outpacing Tonin “on the right”.

Despite the high electoral threshold (ten percent) for electing at least one member to the European Parliament, it appears that NSi still maintains the ambition to easily achieve this. Therefore, they reject collaboration with SLS. The latter recently announced that the head of its list will be Peter Gregorčič, former president of the Programming Council of RTVS, civil society activist, publicist, and professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, who also attended today’s event. It seems not excluded that SLS and SDS could collaborate in the European elections (similar to 2019), regardless of NSi’s reservations about such cooperation.

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