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Monday, December 5, 2022

Young Academic On Tackling The Epidemic: We Blew It

By: Gal Kovač / Nova24tv

An essay has recently appeared online that exposes the power of Robert Golob and his coalition partners from the inside. A young academic, Tadej Troha, PhD, a representative of the younger generation of Slovenian intellectuals, had joined the National Institute of Public Health’s working group on the social and communication aspects of the epidemic. They made recommendations, made them public, and then… Nothing. It quickly became clear that in the fight between the authorities and the experts, the authorities had won. Claiming to lean on the opinions of the profession was nothing more than a marketing ploy. What followed was Troha’s resignation from the working group and the present account, which shows the guts of the Robert Golob government. And it is not a pleasant sight.

The Freedom Movement party (Gibanje svoboda) and its central identification point, the party President Robert Golob, the “misunderstood genius of Slovenian energy,” who has even been called the Slovenian Steve Jobs in the past, announced a new way of managing the epidemic before taking over the reins. An unwritten pact was formed among a section of the public that was dissatisfied with everything, and nothing in particular, to start listening to those who know the most about epidemics and viruses. The doctors will be listened to, of course! And at the same time, they also promised freedom. It was clear to those of us who follow politics closely that this was an absurd thesis. Not because doctors should not be listened to more, but because they were already being listened to before. At the time before the elections, the contenders for power announced freedom from the masks and, with the help of sympathetic media outlets (about 90 percent of them, that is), created a discourse in the public that the profession would be the one to decide. In doing so, they set the basis for a schism. Namely, what happens when “freedom” and the profession no longer agree on something? When they become opposites?

This is where Dr Tadej Troha’s account comes in. In mid-July, the philosopher, an academic of a younger generation, joined a working group at the National Institute of Public Health to discuss the social and communication aspects of the recommendations for action, with a desire to take the new authorities at their word, so to speak, but with an eye on the new political reality that has emerged since the elections. “I knew that any significantly different strategy in this socio-political constellation was ruled out in advance, and it was clear to me that it would be almost impossible to avoid developments in which the already soft recommendations would be further softened, relativised, and de facto nullified by the decision-makers,” he writes. The authorities have decided to excommunicate the virus. To expel it from society, but not actually. The actual virus was left free to run wild. The virus had to be expelled from society only in word and thought, it had to be banished from public discourse.

As it happened, the working group made communication and other recommendations based on the lowest possible denominator that could unify the profession and the authorities. Masks should be offered again in areas where it makes sense to wear them, meaning indoors – to remind the public, who have already banished them from their consciousness, to wear them again. These and other recommendations were then forwarded to the Consultative Group and later published in the Expert Basis, the parent document, “which, I believe, should be followed by every government that has promoted itself before and after the elections as one that listens to the experts in an epidemic,” Troha wrote. As his account makes it clear, the recommendations are indeed based on the lowest possible denominator. People would be encouraged to wear masks, masks would be available outside the entrances to closed spaces, and visual communication devices – stickers – would be used. But none of this has happened. The stickers are apparently stuck at the Ministry, the masks are nowhere to be found, and the guidelines given by the consultative group are being ignored. A few months after coming to power, the schism is being realised.

Or, as Troha writes: “The phrase that the government will listen to the profession, which neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Health tires of repeating, was not invented by me, nor by the members of the working group, nor by my colleague Podjed, nor by my colleague Fafangel, but was proclaimed by these very authorities as their credo. And if the guidelines are being ignored, even when a loosely agreed relationship is explicitly drawn up, and a commitment is written down as a reminder, it becomes clear that we have a problem – that we have a politician who listens to the profession in the way a boss listens to its subordinate’s suggestions: if he likes them, he appropriates them, if he doesn’t like them, he abolishes them as irrelevant. You are the experts if you think the way I think; if you think differently, I become the expert.”

The author of the essay, as he himself admits, joined the group with an agenda, perhaps even a political one. We should add that perhaps it was even because of a (shy?) affinity for the new government. Insightful as he is, he obviously quickly realised its true nature, at least as far as the management of the epidemic is concerned. The political opposition had already warned of the developments we are witnessing today before the elections.

Let them die if they want to
In a situation where the word “freedom” hides much more than the word itself suggests and where the word “expertise” hides only expertise (knowledge), “freedom” will always prevail. The Freedom Movement did not enter the National Assembly as a party of expertise and knowledge but as a party of interest, using expertise as a rhetorical figure. Freedom in the context of the Freedom Movement means freedom to make brutal personnel changes, freedom to excommunicate part of the political body from public life, the de facto political persecution of the media that are not in favour of the current authorities, the usurpation of the police, the political turn towards Russia, and so on. It is simply the debris of Slovenian political reality, which keeps in touch with the public by riding the waves of a mood that is not in favour of epidemic measures, by not even talking about the virus, while on the other hand, it accelerates the cleansing of the country of unwanted political elements. All this culminates in a tragic logic that could be summed up in the slogan – let them die if they want to. But we will rule.

Troha concludes his writing with the following: “Perhaps this is not the most obvious thing, and perhaps it never will be, but this government has long since excommunicated even the formally constituted profession. The unravelling that was almost inevitable is now finally realised – and realised with an excess of failure. Recommendations that we had hoped would be at least minimally taken into account, despite contrary tendencies, are being considered even less with each passing day. And therefore, at the end of September, I nevertheless decided to formally excommunicate myself from the working group, without the slightest resentment towards my colleagues and in the hope of remaining constructive.”

In short, you are very welcome to read the entire essay that Troha wrote, entitled “How We Excommunicated A Virus,” which was published on the website Disenz – you can access it here – but unfortunately, it is only available in Slovenian.
Behind the writing, however, which is admittedly more demanding than daily journalism, lies an important and valuable insight into the workings of Slovenian politics and society.

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