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On Pop TV they undertook an attack on Culture Minister Simoniti! Angry because he did not give them a chance to twist his statements!

Slovenian Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti. (Photo: Daniel Novaković, STA)

By Sara Bertoncelj / Nova24tv

The majority media are misleading again, this time the largest commercial television company wants to show that no dialogue can be achieved with the Ministry of Culture and Minister dr. Vasko Simoniti. As many as two topics in the main news programme were devoted to the topic of what everything is supposedly done wrong at the Ministry. Of course, it is again a completely one-sided presentation with a clear political agenda of the oppositional left, which has been selling well-known platitudes and unfounded accusations everywhere. Some time ago, they also exported their story to a New York Times journalist, who then did not include the essential information provided by the Ministry in his article entitled “A populist leader kicks off a culture war in museums”. Unfortunately, we are again – and too often witnesses to an unbalanced journalistic reporting.

“In short, there is neither a right wing government conspiracy nor a reorientation against conservative values in culture. Freedom of expression is sacred to any government that adheres to liberal principles. The current Slovenian coalition is not as homogeneous as the coalitions of the last seven years have been (all of them were left wing parties). The coalition, led by Prime Minister Janez Janša, consists of two right wing and two left wing parties, which are very supportive of NGOs. In fact, this is the first politically heterogeneous coalition of its kind in Slovenia since 2013,” the Ministry of Culture responded to the allegations some time ago. At all costs, it is strived to show that national institutions have become “parking lots of party bargaining”, and the current government and the ministry see cultural figures only as “parasites and unnecessary people who are nerve-wracking”. In the announcement of today’s column Fokus, they wrote on 24ur.com that the foundations of culture are being shaken, and political affiliation is becoming a criterion for running institutions. Colour should be crucial, regardless of professional competencies.

“The discourse that culturists are parasites and suckers on state mangers is inappropriate and offensive. Culture is extremely important for a nation. We Slovenes survived as a nation, preserving our language, and identity. Culture is not measured by watts of a consumer’s budget, but it is on its knees after a year of the epidemic. And crucially – it was left without a key interlocutor – the state,” this was the talking style in the 24UR Inšpektor column. However, the Ministry of Culture announced that the statements of the host of the show, saying that they had been invited to participate in the show in question, were not true. Miha Drozg asked the Minister for a statement, for tomorrow’s Fokus show,” they wrote, adding that they did not receive a response to the request for written questions. As can be seen from the attached email, the ministry replied to Drozg on March 2nd that Minister dr. Vasko Simoniti will answer any questions for the broadcast in writing. It is clear from Drozg’s e-mail that this is the Focus column, and he wanted to talk to the Minister about the state of culture, warnings and protests from cultural figures, the appointment of directors of cultural institutions, and the impact of the epidemic on culture.

Simoniti will discuss all these topics in more detail at the interpellation, and the Ministry’s website also provides answers to most of these questions. Namely, Simoniti was already asked these questions by New York Times journalist Alex Marshall, who later omitted essential information in his article, provided to him by a public relations consultant from the Ministry. For this very reason, the Ministry published the entire correspondence with a journalist from the European Cultural Editorial Board on its website.

Establishment of the Museum of Slovenia’s Independence

Among the answers to the journalist, it was explained, among other things, that the complaints regarding the establishment of the Museum of Slovenia’s Independence were only politically motivated views of left wing opposition parties and to them related political activists. Namely, they are trying to equate the museum with an open radical nationalism instead of presenting is as a move towards a “more patriotic and conservative direction”, as the journalist put it. This is a serious insult to Slovenian citizens and in complete contradiction to the values associated with our independence. For most Slovenes, national independence is the ultimate expression of freedom. This is not an ideology and generally has absolutely nothing to do with either conservatism or nationalism. Independence was a project of all Slovenian citizens who, at a plebiscite on Slovenia’s independence in 1990, decided by a large majority to live in a free, democratic society.

Change of directors of cultural institutions – the “changes” were mainly about the expiration of mandates

The journalist was informed that only one side of the truth was conveyed to him, but like everything in life, the truth is also quite nuanced and complex. In the case of new appointments in public institutions, such as museums, galleries and the like, the government fully complies with the prescribed procedure and pays maximum attention to the rules and regulations governing the appointment of directors of public institutions. Each appointment is subject to a call for tenders with strict standards and rules that determine who can apply for the position. The Minister consistently took into account the proposal of the Selection Committee of the Ministry of Culture regarding the most suitable candidates (on the basis of qualifications). He always selected the candidate who was objectively found to be the most professionally qualified. In the case of appointments of directors of public institutions, the law stipulates that the selection of candidates selected by the Selection Committee must be notified to the councils of public institutions, which are responsible for giving an opinion on which candidate is more suitable for the position.

Because left wing coalitions have been in power for many years and these councils have always been elected by left wing governments, councils are trying to negate the Minister’s preference (which is usually the best candidate in the selection process) and give the opinion that another candidate is more appropriate – usually the current director or candidate, who is aligned with the left centres of power. The government is not trying to interfere with the professionalism of these councils, but it should be emphasised that they have generally been appointed politically, and their role as an independent consultative body is questionable at best. It should also be stressed that their opinions are not binding for the Minister of Culture. Their role is purely advisory. This is the official procedure in Slovenia and has been the same for three decades. The Minister’s discretion is in fact an instrument for eliminating politically biased opinions of the councils of public institutions. The system itself is political in nature, as the councils are appointed politically, and left wing governments have never disputed this in the past. Allegations of political interference only emerged with the appearance of the right wing government, and never in the twenty-five years when the left wing government was in power.

“Forced evictions” of NGOs from Metelkova 6

The building at Metelkova 6 in Ljubljana is owned by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia. It is part of the Old Yugoslav military complex. All other buildings belonging to the complex have already been restored and transformed into state-of-the-art museums. The building at Metelkova 6 is the only one that has remained unrestored and neglected. It is a 19th century building without any major maintenance work. It is statically controversial and dangerous for residents as well as passers-by. The plan to renovate the building and convert it into a museum is decades old. In fact, the last two ministers of culture (both from the SD party, which is now in the opposition) have started the official process of evicting NGOs in order to prepare space for the Natural History Museum of Slovenia. Ever since NGOs settled in a former military facility in 1997, this has always been a temporary solution.

The programmes of all NGOs were funded, although they were not implemented during the Corona crisis. The budget of the Ministry of Culture for 2021 increased by 46.3 million euros, to a record 2.2 percent of GDP. The claim that the Ministry or Government are trying to silence critical voices is a slap in the face to the efforts of civil servants who have done everything they can to provide assistance to the cultural field so that it can survive through these difficult times. In fact, the current leadership is only the second in history to manage to secure more than 2 percent of GDP for culture, the first was in the period 2004-2008 under the same minister, dr. Vasko Simoniti.

The position of the Ministry of Culture (regardless of whether it was led by left wing or right wing ministers) has always been that the Ministry will sooner or later use the buildings as one of its public institutions (museums, galleries, libraries, etc.). These buildings are not their seats, but only their offices. They also have no legal basis for the facility to continue to be occupied. The Ministry of Culture actually receives outraged e-mails from other NGOs and similar associations asking why the current residents of the facility in the elite part of Ljubljana are in a privileged position of being able to live there. Some NGOs in the building have nothing to do with the cultural field, although the building was originally intended as a temporary center for cultural NGOs. “Not to mention that some tenants sublet their premises to other organisations without the consent of the Ministry. It is also extremely unfair to claim that NGOs are being evicted from the building “during the coronavirus crisis”. This is actually not true. The Ministry merely sent a proposal for an amicable termination. If an amicable agreement could not be reached, tenants still have a full year to move elsewhere. The decision for this move was made years ago, and the current leadership is only implementing the measures of the previous leaders,” they also explained.

“The Minister of Culture is always ready to discuss this, but on the basis of documents and facts, not slander, and to paraphrase Judge Peter Mahon, not on the basis of what can only be described as an orchestrated litany of lies, as this topic has been discussed so far. In our opinion, it is extremely important that journalists (foreign and domestic) understand the complex details of Slovenian politics, social dynamics, and culture, instead of succumbing to the unilateral activism of rich politically motivated institutions with strong international connections.”

Some on the social network expressed concern about the readiness of the Minister of Culture to answer in front of the cameras. Spokesman Mitja Iršič replied: “No problems as long as it is live or with a reasonable time. Only in this way can manipulations with creative cutting of contributions be prevented. The Minister has appeared several times in the mainstream media live or on time – in Odmevi, the show Osmi dan, talk shows Radio Slovenia, etc.”

Has a culture, in which more than 27,000 people work, lost its insulting face? In tonight’s 24UR Fokus column, the host and central guest, writer and former politician Tonet Partljič will ask about this. Given Partljič’s political orientation, an objective or at least non-one-sided view is of course not to be expected, so it is already clear in advance which colours will accompany the discourse in the show. The trailer also mentioned Renata Zamida, who was dismissed from her position as Director of the Public Book Agency (JAK) after two years. Let us recall that we wrote about Zamid some time ago, she signed a contract worth a thousand euros with Miha Kovač, namely for printing envelopes. The enterprising father hired his daughter Nika Kovač for the business, who received a thousand euros of net tax-free money paid in cash, as evidenced by the documents.

“There is no dialogue. The government or Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti has his own agenda. Neither letters of support, nor petitions, nor protests stop him,” the 24ur.com portal accused the Minister of not responding to the invitation to an interview and wrote that political affiliation is becoming a criterion for running institutions. Colour should be key, regardless of professional competencies. In psychology, this would be called projection, which is one of the most common defence mechanisms, but it also often occurs in certain pathologies, especially when it comes to the predominant behavioural pattern. Projection takes place when someone attributes their negative qualities to someone else. And we know very well which political option really has the property of being the most crucial colour of all.

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