By: Lea Kalc Furlanič
We talked with SDS MP Alenka Jeraj (on Friday, July 15th, 2022) about current topics in our society. We touched on both the amendment to the Act on RTV and other changes in legislation introduced by Golob’s government. She is very concerned about the amendment to the Act on Infectious Diseases, which deprives the government of the opportunity to act quickly. “We can only hope that it will not be as bad as it was, because according to the amendment, government representatives will analyse and discuss, and people will die in the meantime.”
DEMOKRACIJA: Let us first touch upon a hot topic in Slovenian politics and the public at this time – amendments to the Act on Radio Television Slovenia (RTVS): in the Parliament, when the new law was adopted, you said that in 2005, when the Act on RTV in force until then was adopted, it was modelled on the regulations in other countries. What and why was it good?
Jeraj: In most developed European countries, citizens pay a contribution for the operation of public radio and television, so everywhere they looked for a variant that the programming world is represented to the greatest extent possible by representatives of these payers, viewers, and listeners. We also followed this in Slovenia, and 16 members out of 29 are appointed by the National Assembly on the proposal of viewers and listeners, who are proposed by various societies and organisations in the fields of culture, science, sports… Before that, we had a kind of delegate system, when it was just determined which organisations can nominate members of the programme council. At that time, for example, The Olympic Committee of Slovenia proposed as a member a former important functionary of the Union of Communists and long-term president of the United List of Social Democrats, or party Social Democrats. For several years, he was then the president of the programme board of RTV, which means that the political influence, especially of SD, was great.
DEMOKRACIJA: The youngest member of SDS, Andrej Hoivik, very tellingly commented on the amendment of the RTVS law at the Culture Committee: “The priority of the government is to decapitate RTV Slovenia, so that there will be no more Igor Pirkovič, Jože Možina and those ‘couple’ who also show the other side of the coin.” What is your comment on the new RTVS law and everything that is happening around it.
Jeraj: There is a feeling that the new coalition wants to replace the management of RTV Slovenia as soon as possible. The most terrifying thing is that former RTV journalist Mojca Šetinc Pašek appears as the main executor, who apparently wants to take revenge on everyone who she does not like at RTV. Last year, when Igor Kadunc’s term as general director expired, the programme board chose Andrej Grah Whatmough as director, who until then held the position of president of RTV’s supervisory board. While supervising the work of the management, he saw what the main problems were and decided to try to solve them together with the team. He presented his vision for the development of RTV, and the programme councillors, who were mostly appointed during Šarec’s government or coalition, appointed him general director. In February of this year, at the suggestion of viewers and listeners, an additional eight programme councillors were appointed, as the current law on RTV Slovenia provides a safeguard to prevent a one-sided composition of the programme council, that half of the councillors change every two years. In this way, there is never a situation where the entire programme council is appointed by the same coalition. In this way, diversity is ensured, which in fact is already provided by proposals, since a large number of organisations, faculties, and institutions, as well as individuals, can nominate a member of the programme council. The current amendment, which was adopted in the National Assembly, completely excludes viewers and listeners. So, they can pay a contribution, but they will not have a say. In addition, the programme council, which all comparable countries (Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Austria…) have, is combined with the supervisory council, so that the institution’s council will perform all functions, both substantive and supervisory. RTV is supposed to be managed by a four-member board. The council will elect a president, who will then nominate two more members of the board, such as the director of television and the director of radio, while the employees will nominate a labour director or member of the board.
DEMOKRACIJA: Abroad, because of Golob’s words that “it is a good thing that we have a wave of covid-19 in the summer, that we have vitamin D and that we can go to the sea and heal ourselves there”, they are writing about a scandal. How do you comment on his statement?
Jeraj: I wonder if the gentleman is sane. We know that people died from covid-19, doctors had to help them breathe with ventilators, etc. It certainly would not be enough to sunbathe more. The Prime Minister is mocking the people and the medical staff who have done so much in the last two years to prevent the spread of the disease and treat patients in extremely difficult conditions. As if he did not live near the border and saw what was happening in Bergamo. Only because of the responsible government under the leadership of Janez Janša, such a scenario did not repeat itself in Slovenia. Fortunately, now there are indeed milder forms of the disease, but still weaker ones can die from covid-19, and it also leaves various consequences on the health of people, all of which we do not yet know. Such underestimation and mockery are unbecoming of a Prime Minister. That he went too far is also shown by the fact that they now want to explain what he meant and repair the damage he did with his statement.
DEMOKRACIJA: Could Golob’s statement be just his skilful manoeuvre so that the public would be more concerned with his senseless and unreasonable statement than with the real problems of this country and the moves of the government that will hurt people?
Jeraj: I hope we do not have to deal with covid-19 very seriously again in the fall. In recent days, we have recorded a high number of infected people, and the question is what will happen in the fall. Otherwise, I do not want to scare anyone, but I am afraid of this government, which I do not believe will be able to deal with the problems that the epidemic can bring. An amendment to the Act on Infectious Diseases was adopted, which should implement the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia. The government is deprived of the opportunity to act quickly, since every measure will have to be approved by the National Assembly. Before that, an expert commission will be established for each situation… A lot of administration and procedures that take time, but there is no time in an epidemic. We can only hope that it will not be as bad as it was, because in accordance with the ZNB amendment, government representatives will analyse and discuss, while people will be dying.
DEMOKRACIJA: On Thursday, in addition to the RTV Act, several more laws were adopted. What does the adoption of Act “March 8th”, which interferes with a whole range of laws, mean for Slovenia? What will be the result of the abolition of the “harmful” laws of Janša’s government?
Jeraj: A law that amends several laws is a problem. You can do this in exceptional circumstances, such as the epidemic, and we passed several PKP laws to quickly respond and remediate the problems that arose as a result of the epidemic. With their law, we return to the composition of councils in educational organisations (schools and kindergartens) at 5:3:3, i.e., 5 of them are provided by employees, 3 by parents, and 3 by the founder. We do not think this is right, because the founder contributes most of the funds and thus has no proportional say in the business. Employees will e.g., support someone for the principal who will not be too demanding of them, who will allow them freedom, but not someone who would take care of order. We have seen how helpless some principals were, who in a crisis situation, in an epidemic, did not know how to organise anything and needed instructions for everything. The rotation of police chiefs is being abolished. We are going back to the life mandates of some commanders. We know that if someone is in one place for too long, they lose motivation, they can be more susceptible to corruption, etc. Thus, younger colleagues were prevented from reaching management positions. The rotation ensures quality work and is certainly not bad. We have also established that environmental protection organisations can participate as an interested public in major state construction procedures, if they have a certain number of members who are experts in the field and have a certain education. It is not possible for just three people to call for a civil initiative and then without arguments oppose, for example, 2nd track or highway to Koroška. This is now being cancelled and we are returning to the old way, that a civil initiative, even if there are no experts in it, can stop a state project. There are even more such bad solutions that were eliminated during the period of our government precisely because they inhibited development and because changes have been required for years, by e.g., municipalities and other experts.
DEMOKRACIJA: Does the health law adopted on Thursday actually improve the situation – as the coalition presents it, or is it just paving the way for “medical profiteers”?
Jeraj: We cannot do anything to improve the state healthcare system, as we have it in Slovenia, with such firefighting laws. Even as a candidate for minister, the minister said that he would include all the available capacities that we have. But today, the Levica party, which Golob invited to the government, is preventing him from doing so. At this time, we have the highest employment in the history of Slovenia and the health fund is full, which means that we could eliminate waiting lines very quickly if we included everyone who, e.g., can operate on the hip. But the ministry insists on public institutions and concessionaires, who already work a lot and cannot do more than that. And everyone is exhausted because of covid-19, which required more equipment, procedures took longer because it was necessary to test, care for patients, make sure that there were no infections… The previous government already analysed where delays occur and prepared a tender for the granting of additional concessions in areas where doctors and staff are most in short supply. But the new minister stopped the tender and now it is not clear when it will be announced. But it was about urgent matters – orthodontist, periodontologist, where waiting lines are long. It is no use if you get an orthodontist’s date in a year and a half. By that time, so much will be missed that it will not be able to be corrected anymore. It seems to me that we are experimenting again. We will give more money, but public institutions will not be able to complete the task because they cannot do more than that. We have seen it all before and it did not work. It is also bad that the reference prices and the office that would take care of it are being abolished. The previous government wanted to prevent overpayments in public institutions and therefore introduced this. Now, even before it has taken off, it is being cancelled. Have you ever heard of a concessionaire or private individual overpaying for the material or equipment they need for their work? No. Because he works with his money and will not spend it unnecessarily. In the public institution, no one cares about that.
DEMOKRACIJA: After the latest debates and the course of proceedings in the National Assembly, it seems as if the Levica party opposes the majority party of the coalition, the Gibanje Svoboda party, in some points. Am I wrong? Where does this lead?
Jeraj: After the elections, we were surprised that Golob invited the Levica party to join the government. But he is clearly paying the bills for winning the election with such a majority. Arguments and critics of Janša’s government from KUL contributed quite a lot to this. I do not think they will last long together. If the Prime Minister does not throw them out of the coalition, sooner or later they will leave on their own, because they will not be able to implement most of the programme that they managed to get into the coalition agreement, because the ideas are too crazy. They will also differ on issues related to health care, because they have completely different views on how to solve the health care situation. They will also disagree elsewhere.
DEMOKRACIJA: What does the long-term care law’s implementation being delayed mean for retirees?
Jeraj: This means that we will not receive between 300 and 400 million euros from the Recovery Fund, which was a condition for adopting the law. Above all, it will be felt by our elderly, who will not be able to use the benefits that the law brings.
DEMOKRACIJA: The government also cancelled the withdrawal of Slovenia from the Forum of Slavic Cultures (Russia…). What did it show by this?
Jeraj: That some people still dream of Russia as a great friend of Slovenia. We do indeed have some imports and exports with Russia, but due to its aggression against free Ukraine, it should be clear to everyone that Russia under Putin does not conduct the policy as advocated by the EU and Slovenia as its member. But this is all the result of propaganda in Slovenia, because according to analysis, we are one of the more Russian-friendly countries.
DEMOKRACIJA: How successful do you think the anti-crisis measures will be, i.e., price regulation, doubling of commodity food reserves (“we will fill granaries”, “increase strategic fuel reserves of all types, from oil derivatives to gas and coal”), setting the highest electricity prices from September 1st 2022, to August 31st, 2023, a 50% reduction in the network fee and contribution for renewable resources, which, as Golob predicts, “will be accepted all summer until autumn”?
Jeraj: We will see. Janez Janša and Matej Tonin will also meet Golob this week. I hope they agree on such measures that will be useful. So far, that was not the case. The Prime Minister caused real hysteria with his announcements about the increase in gasoline prices. Even with the words about the purchase of wheat… He is a little too quick with words. It is necessary to think things over, discuss, make the best decision, and implement it. He still has a lot to learn.
DEMOKRACIJA: Minister Tatjana Bobnar commented on the decision to remove the wire fence on the southern border, saying that the wire fence is a completely disproportionate measure. According to her, security will be ensured in other ways… What do you say about the removal of the wire fence and the minister’s statement?
Jeraj: I think this is a wrong decision. In recent months, the number of illegal crossings has been increasing precisely because of such announcements. Meanwhile, Austria, Italy, and Hungary are strengthening border controls with Slovenia to prevent illegal refugees from coming to them. This complicates the migration of Slovenes who legally cross borders for work or other purposes. I think this will come back to us like a boomerang. We do not have enough policemen to protect 200 kilometres of the border. It is good for us that Croatia will enter Schengen and the EU border will move lower. But by then, a lot of damage will have already been done.
DEMOKRACIJA: Demography is one of the biggest challenges for the future of the EU, which is why the European Commission has even established a special department for demography. Commissioner Dubravka Suica says that Slovenia has one of the worst demographic forecasts in the EU. It is very sad that the Slovenian government is abolishing the Demography Office instead of strengthening it, according to MP Romana Tomc. What do you think the abolition of the Demographic Office means?
Jeraj: We will go back to the beginning again. If a problem is not talked about and not reported, some people think it does not exist. Well, it is, and if you do not save it, it keeps getting bigger. Our government had a plan on how to increase the birth rate, separate social policy from family policy, how to create good conditions for young people to become independent… Now this will again be the task of the ministries, and no one will be directly in charge of solving this problem. In a few years we will find that we are worse off than we were. It is a great pity that the office is being discontinued.
DEMOKRACIJA: Do you think the presidential race will be interesting? Why?
Jeraj: It seems that it will be, since there are quite a few interesting candidates. I hope that the confrontations will be substantive and that we will gather the best president of the Republic of Slovenia. Borut Pahor did his job quite well. He tried to be everyone’s president and I want the new president to be like that too. I will vote for Dr Anže Logar.