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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Prof. Dr Matej Makarovič in an interview for Demokracija magazine: “KUL parties today seem relatively connected, but only because they are in opposition. The experience of Šarec’s government has already shown that in fact this group finds it extremely difficult to cooperate with each other.”

By: Vida Kocjan

Prof. Dr Matej Makarovič is the dean of the Faculty of Information Studies (FIŠ), the first faculty in Novo mesto and the first public faculty outside one of the Slovenian universities. As such, it is also the first pillar of public higher education in south-eastern (SE) Slovenia. Procedures are underway for the establishment of a public university in Novo mesto, the key member of which is FIŠ. In the conversation, we paid attention to the process of founding the university, the operation of FIŠ, the field of education, we did not even avoid politics, because Dr Makarovič is considered an extremely attentive political observer and penetrating analyst.

DEMOKRACIJA: Recently, at the suggestion of the departmental ministry, the government adopted a decision indicating the possibility of establishing a public university in Novo mesto. At what stage are the proceedings and what is the purpose of this?

Makarovič: The founder of public higher education institutions is always exclusively the Republic of Slovenia, represented by the government. The government is thus the only one that can lead this process. The government must therefore first decide to initiate proceedings. It has not done that yet. However, the basis for the formation of an expert group within the competent ministry has been prepared, which will prepare all the necessary documentation. Based on this, the government can apply for the establishment of a university to the autonomous National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NAKVIS), which then professionally assesses the suitability of the application and verifies compliance. The National Assembly is then the one that adopts the decree on the establishment of such an institution. This is a standard procedure that applies to all public higher education institutions.

DEMOKRACIJA: Where did the initiative to establish the university come from?

Makarovič: The initiative is, in fact, quite old and dates back at least to the early 1990s. It could be said it comes partly from the economy and partly from academic civil society. In the 1990s, eminent professors from this environment established the Lower Carniola Academic Initiative, the key goal of which was to strive for the creation of a public university in south-eastern Slovenia. The idea of a university has also always been strongly supported by the municipality of Novo mesto.

The goal of establishing a public university was therefore long ago stated in municipal strategic as well as regional strategic documents. So this is not a new idea, but something that has had the support of civil society, the economy and the local community for a long time. The novelty is that we can now meet all the necessary conditions for the creation of a quality public university. Especially if we are open to including study programmes that already exist in this region anyway.

DEMOKRACIJA: There is still a few months until the parliamentary elections. The KUL parties cannot form a new government without the Levica party, which has an extremely orthodox programme. How do you look at it?

Makarovič: KUL parties today seem relatively connected, but only because they are in opposition. The experience of Šarec’s government has already shown that in fact this group finds it extremely difficult to cooperate with each other. The partners, if we do not consider the Levica as the most extreme party in this union, even had a lot of problems with coordination. I also believe that Šarec had reasons to resign because he was simply no longer able to lead his then government.

We can imagine a realistic scenario that the SDS, as polls now show, will win the election. However, on the one hand, it may not have strong enough partners to work together, and on the other hand, it will not be possible to form a consistent alternative coalition. Above all, this is a recipe for an extremely protracted political crisis, which must be of serious concern to us.

DEMOKRACIJA: Polarisation and exclusion…

Makarovič: The Slovenian political space has recently become extremely polarised. At the same time, the way this space is organised, especially the logic of the proportional electoral system, does not allow for such a pronounced polarisation. Namely, the creators of the Slovene constitutional system did not presuppose such exclusion, but at least a basic ability to cooperate, to find compromises, not necessarily large coalitions, but at least mixed coalitions. This idea was, in fact, present all the time, and most government coalitions in Slovenia so far have been at least somewhat mixed. This was especially true for more successful coalitions. The current one is also mixed, mainly through the participation of the SMC.

I am not saying that large coalitions must be formed as they once succeeded, but at least in my opinion, mixed coalitions are in fact the only way to prevent a long-term political crisis in Slovenia.

DEMOKRACIJA: On the other hand, we are witnessing announcements of merging some parties, e.g. SMC and GAS, there is talk of the project Povežimo Slovenijo. What do you think about that?

Makarovič: I think there is some room to look for synergies, connections, alliances between the center-right and the center as such. We must not forget that before this period of polarisation in 2011, Gregor Virant managed to make quite a breakthrough in the center. This was short-term because it was not built on a healthier and stronger foundation, but it showed that additional potential in this liberal-central space essentially exists.

What we see now is, above all, fragmentation. The SMC party itself is probably too small an actor, it needs to find synergies and allies. I think there is a chance that the project of connecting smaller parties in the center will succeed. It will not be a force that would exactly lead the future government, but a force that could be a tab on the scales in shaping the future government. Personally, I do not believe that an average Slovenian citizen wants polarisation. Public space in Slovenia should not be judged by extreme individuals on both the left and the right, who write incredibly hostile and impatient messages in various forums.

I am convinced that the majority of the Slovenian public wants political moderation, cooperation, integration, not polarisation and exclusion. The more the majority of political parties in Slovenia are aware of this, the better.

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