Cunning persuasion

Dr. Dimitrij Rupel. (Photo: Demokracija archive)

By: Dr Dimitrij Rupel

The parable of the slow-cooking frog – that is, the story of a frog that is unaware of what awaits it when it is thrown into lukewarm water – is used to illustrate the inability of people to react in time to gradual changes that eventually lead to disaster. Last year, Janez Janša used it in connection with the propaganda activities of the transitional left, and Milan Kučan replied that the opposite was true: “that those who cook leftists, socialists, and communists are like frogs,” “authors of another republic”.[1] To make it easier to determine who is more entitled to use such parables, we should add up the years when Democrats were in power in Slovenia and the years when leftists were in power. As has been said countless times, the calculation shows that leftists had much more time for such a kitchen policy (say, three-quarters of the time after 1990). The most critical time was after 2008.

Today, the English word “spin” is more often used than “cooking a frog”, which could be translated as “cunning persuasion” or e.g. “cheering”. We say that an author or a newspaper cheers for this or that person or decision. Here I want to describe a slow, barely noticeable cheering, the subject of which is not only democratic politicians, but all citizens.

After the successful European presidency of the center-right government in 2008, its opponents, then led by the SD under the watchful eye of the Zares and LDS parties, vowed never to allow anything like this government again. After the premature resignation of the government, this oath was threatened by the mayor of Ljubljana, who had founded the party Active Slovenia just in case, but was not the best in political calculations, so Janez Janša took over the government again. Opponents – in accordance with their solemn oath – prepared mass rallies called “revolt”, and their members “revolters”, which Croats would translate as “Ustashas”. For practice they first drove away Franc Kangler from Maribor, then Janša. Surprisingly, the cheering against the Prime Minister was also attended by “independent” media, “independent” courts and various “independent” agencies, e.g. Commission for Preventing Corruption. I have a bad opinion of this commission because of my experience in 2003, when it launched a real stampede against me as a foreign minister (who had – can you imagine? – the intention to support the establishment of the Diplomatic Academy). At that time, I finally formed a bad opinion of the “independent” media, which had already sentenced me to 8 years in prison. Of course, it was not a diplomatic academy, but revenge for the successful – for the opposition sinful – integration into NATO, for which Janez Drnovšek, Janez Janša and I were especially striving for. At the time, I could not yet have had a bad opinion of the courts, as I was acquitted in the case of the Diplomatic Academy. In addition to Drnovšek and part of the government, the judiciary also functioned more or less normally at that time, so it had to be subordinated in the future. The subordination of justice was accompanied by “spins”, increasingly loud cheering or cunning persuasion in the mainstream media. In other words: the frog had to be cooked to completion. By 2012, Slovenia’s deep state had also destroyed the judiciary.

Despite cheering/cunning persuasion, many citizens understood what it was about, but some did not. Perhaps they attribute the heat to climate change. But in all honesty, for the slow understanding of slow cooking the increasingly cunning, albeit essentially accelerated mobilisation of cheering is apparently to blame for. The cunning fans – as has been said many times – gain the appearance of independence also by exporting their tricks abroad, from where they then import them as independent assessments and positions of supposedly undisputed foreign authorities. I am thinking here of empty wording about the rule of law, as if a democratic Slovenia (with a government law that was similar to the current government law) had not emerged from the grip of the state of Yugoslavia without the rule of law thirty years ago, in which the role models or ancestors of today’s cunning fans were ruling.

The top contribution was then – in connection with the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of independence – published by the television network POP TV. Instead of events related to the war against the YPA, it depicted the lives of officers and soldiers in the Vrhnika YPA barracks before the war. The journalist’s interlocutors described this life with a kind of nostalgia as pleasant, almost romantic. On the same day, I was also surprised by national television when it reported on a large gathering of war veterans for Slovenia. Among the speakers filmed by the television camera, I searched in vain for the faces of those who risked the most in those times. I wondered how it was that the article did not mention the Association for the Values of Independence. On Sunday evenings, Tanja Gobec’s polemical talks are on the programme of the same television network.

In the show Politično, more or less kindly – depending on the interlocutors – she presents various current events. In the latest show, she kindly asked LMŠ MP Brane Golubović and questioned NSi MP Jožef Horvat less kindly. At the end of her cursory question, she showed a letter from four “independent institutions”, the Court of Audit, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Ombudsman, and the Information Commissioner (Vesel, Šumi, Svetina and Prelesnik). Vesel’s signature could perhaps be added Veselinović’s, since – while insisting on budget funding – the STA also presents itself as an independent institution. Well, the letter of the four says:

The Heads of Independent Institutions in the Republic of Slovenia note with great concern that in the recent period our institutions have been under repeated political pressures, which are reflected in direct and often coordinated attacks through the media and social networks. We are aware that the scale of the epidemic is a great challenge for all citizens and that such a situation also requires the excessive efforts of all decision-makers. Nevertheless, a number of attempts to overthrow the democratic level can be observed, which make it difficult for independent institutions to exercise their powers properly and ruin their long-established reputation.

More than Golubović’s and Horvat’s answers, there was an important emphasis in the journalist’s question. Namely, Ms. Gobčev intensified the drama of the conversation by saying that it was a protest of “independent institutions”, i.e. not a political dispute, but a non-political assessment, which cannot be challenged, so to speak. Let’s look at where the independence of these institutions comes from:

  1. the Information Commissioner is appointed by the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia on the proposal of the President of the Republic of Slovenia;
  2. the ombudsman is elected by the National Assembly on the proposal of the President of the Republic;
  3. the President of the Republic proposes to the National Assembly a candidate for President of the Court of Audit;
  4. the leadership of the Commission (for the Prevention of Corruption) is appointed for six years by the President of the Republic, after a preliminary opinion of a special selection commission, which includes representatives of all three branches of government and civil society.

All these institutions, as well as the government – as is usual in a democracy – are decided by parliament by a majority vote, which depends on parliamentary elections. All these institutions, including the government, are an expression of the people’s will, and this depends to a large extent on the more or less cunning persuasion of the media, which in Slovenia are largely under the control of the transitional left. It is clear that the independence of all institutions elected by parliament, conditional and relative, depends on the political situation and relations in the country. In all this, an indifferent citizen can ask himself whether not only the judiciary (which insists on choosing only a prosecutor and a judge) are really independent in our country, but also the media, which in their cheering ignore the banal circumstance that no one has elected them. Of course, the independence of judges is also questionable: whoever is dependent on the state budget cannot really be completely independent. As is well known, in the USA, regardless of Slovenia’s democratic concerns, prosecutors and judges are elected in elections.

A beautiful and typical example of cheering appeared in Matevž Krivic’s article for the Saturday supplement. There we read:

Whether regular courts judge, occasionally or more often, even badly or (in my opinion) sometimes quite unworthy – these courts are the only ones we have, and even the harshest criticism of even their worst ‘products’ must of course remain within certain limits. It must also keep in mind that these same courts will continue to rule in many cases – and that, therefore, even the harshest criticism must not discredit the judiciary in a flat manner in front of the public, which expects the judiciary to rule.[2]

Although Krivič’s text needs almost no comment, even an ordinary citizen shudders at the apology of the bad, unworthy and worst products of the courts. Dissuading or even preventing (the harshest) criticism of the bad, unworthy, and worst products of the courts is reminiscent of the old days. The former Yugoslav revolutionary regime did not allow any criticism of extrajudicial trials, let alone criticisms of the courts, even if they were judged on mounted trials (such as the Dachau trial). Even if they were responsible for the murders of innocent citizens.

Dr Dimitrij Rupel is a sociologist, politician, diplomat, writer, playwright, editor, publicist and former foreign minister.

[1]  Janez Janša used the parable on May 11th, 2020 in the text “War with the media”: “If you light a fire under a cauldron and throw a frog into boiling water, it will quickly jump out. But if you throw it in lukewarm and heat it slowly, it will get stuck in the boiler until the bitter end.” Milan Kučan then stated in an interview for Delo’s Saturday supplement on June 20th, 2020, that “the authors of another republic are cooking us like a frog and we will gradually wake up in a trance, in a different country and a different system.”

[2] Matevž Krivic, “On Insulting Responses to an important decision of the Constitutional Court”, Saturday supplement of Delo, June 12th, 2021.