By Gašper Blažič
Many years ago, the thesis was established in Slovenia that the right wing political option has great difficulties in observing the democratic rules of the game. Moreover, the most problems with government interference in media freedom and other autonomous social systems such as the judiciary, education, police, army, etc., occur during the time when center-right governments are in power.
In all this production of virtual reality, it is interesting that it is during the center-right governments that the alleged “war” of Prime Minister Janez Janša with the media appears, but when the government, which is more to the taste of the political underworld, comes to power such “wars” are over, and all of a sudden “normal” situation occur, in which the (right) opposition is a scapegoat again. Of course, the guardians of the Slovenian media grail are counting on the fact that the European public is not fully acquainted with the situation in Slovenia, so they are trying to convince them through commissioned articles in foreign media (such as the Politico portal) that in the second half of this year, EU will be presided by a country where the government has major problems with democracy and media freedom. This is actually nothing new, as similar attacks took place before Slovenia’s first presidency of the EU Council in 2008 with a notorious petition against censorship. And the actors of this event are more or less the same.
The impact of the transitional left on the EU
However, this time it seems that the European political elite is more receptive to the aggressive propaganda of the Slovenian transitional left. There are also objective reasons for this. One of them is certainly that in the last five years the relationship between the European “headquarters” (Brussels) on the one hand and Hungary and Poland on the other has tightened. However, not only European socialists and liberals play a major role in this, but also part of the European People’s Party, as some of its members find themselves in open conflict with those who want to finally “Europeanise” (in a good sense) the transitional environment of former communist countries which, in addition to Slovenia, also include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia (of course, it should be taken into account that the territory of the former German Democratic Republic is also included in present-day Germany). In addition, Slovenia is represented in the European Parliament by two left wing MEPs who are former journalists (Tanja Fajon and Irena Joveva), which means that in this case the transitional left has even more channels to both Slovenian and foreign media, as well as its influence on the European political public is noticeably larger.
Among the important allies of Slovenia’s “guardians of the Grail” is also the Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová from the Czech Republic, otherwise a member of the liberal ALDA. Thus, in addition to Hungary and Poland, Slovenia is emerging as a “problematic” country on the European political stage (during last year’s debates on the “rule of law”) – even though Prime Minister Janez Janša repulsed leftist attacks by constructively participating in a compromise on the division of European financial resources last year, where he obtained a significant share of European (mostly non-refundable) funds for Slovenia.
Invitation for a visit of the EC group
Considering the recent events, when Slovenia and especially its government found themselves on the side-lines again due to the influence of already well-known media and political activists (the names of influential activists such as Blaž Zgaga, Anuška Delić… are also mentioned again), and the writings of some foreign media, Prime Minister Janša once again took the path that is only reasonable in these circumstances, which angered the activist media group. Namely, he sent a letter to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von den Leyen, in which he pointed out that the problems of Slovenian democracy are elsewhere than what the guardians of the media grail and EC Vice President Jourova as well as some other European officials are claiming. In the letter, Janša reminded the President of the European Commission of a similar event in 2008, when he also led the government and some Slovenian activists claimed that Slovenia posed a threat to European democracy. But it turned out to be just the opposite. Janša thus expressed regret that some EU officials were once again taking part in slandering Slovenia. He therefore called on the EC working group to visit Slovenia to ascertain the true state of democracy, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the freedom, and plurality of the media in Slovenia. “If you think it is appropriate, this group can also include representatives of the European Council and the e-Parliament,” Janša wrote in a letter that was published in full on the Demokracija website.
The problems are elsewhere
In the continuation of the letter, Janša reminded the President of the European Commission that we have problems with the state of democracy in general in Slovenia, and the reasons for that are much deeper and older. They are related to the elements of the unfinished transition in Slovenia. In the last three decades, an elite has formed under the strong influence of the SD party and the now-failed LDS party (its representatives have been lost in other parties). Janša went on to point out some concrete examples that completely deny the fact that right wing parties in Slovenia are the source of problems with democracy – in fact, the opposite is true. Janša pointed out some cases of attacks by the transitional left on the media, from the physical attack on Miro Petek, the destruction of Borut Meško, the conviction of Jani Božič by Alenka Bratušek, to the attack of Marjan Šarec on advertisers in media which do not belong in mainstream.
He also stressed the problematic media ownership, which encourage ignoring measures to curb the covid-19 epidemic, the attack of the mainstream media on new private universities, and at the same time protecting old staff in the judiciary, and of course examples that prove that in our country judiciary is not independent, but subordinate to the old center of power. This also applies to the directing of the police and the prosecutor’s office in order for these otherwise independent institutions to direct the election results on paper. Despite all this, the scandal with the laundering of Iranian money in the largest state bank did not experience a judicial epilogue. The political option that supports all this has ridiculed the European Union for years with the “gang of neckties” and “gang of thieves”.
The European Commission has the next move
In order to avoid concealing the real problems of Slovenian democracy, Prime Minister Janša proposes that the EC send observers and “among other things, proposes measures in line with European norms with which Slovenia can eliminate the problems of unfinished transition described above.” “As soon as we agree on the details of the mission, we will send you detailed evidence of the above-mentioned concrete problems facing democracy in Slovenia. It is in our common interest that in assessing the rule of law and the state of democracy, the same rules are used for everyone in Slovenia and in the entire European Union, and that the rule of law is established everywhere and not rule through (abuse) of law,” Janša wrote, counting on the EC to respect the principle of loyal cooperation between the EU and the Member States, which calls for mutual respect, and this is necessarily based on objective, comprehensive, and impartial treatment and respect for the facts.
Responses to Janša’s letter to the European Commission
Dr Ivan Štuhec, professor, publicist, moral theologian: “The only right thing is to call them to Slovenia. There has been enough of the ordered slander of left wing journalists. It is sad how many believe them. They managed to produce two big affairs: The Bells and Patria. Now that KUL has failed, they are making a new affair. These are the ones who demonised Orbán, Trump, and Poland. Anyone who resists cultural Marxism in Europe must count on a media lynching. Very simple: Europe needs to resist a new ideology that is on the rise and promoters of which are neo-leftists in politics, media, and culture. In the 20th century, we have suffered enough from totalitarian ideologies and their systemic solutions. The EU was not based on ideological exclusivism, but on solving concrete problems. If the EU sticks to this, it will survive, but if it intends to promote cultural Marxism and the new left in the name of freedom, it will fail.”
Dr Sebastijan Valentan, theologian, lawyer, and expert on media issues: “Media freedom or rather freedom of expression in Article 10 is protected by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. Of course, this freedom is also protected in the Slovenian Constitution. It is not absolute, but it is limited by the rights of other people, such as human dignity, the right to a good name, or religious freedom. This is an imperative that we must take into account in any advocacy for our rights. When there are potential violations in the field of the media, such as restrictions on media freedom, legal mechanisms are in place to allow the affected party to intervene, starting with national courts and then with supranational courts. This is a legitimate democratic path. Everything else is political theatre, which otherwise fills the web and print pages of the media, and brings nothing but bad will. Of course, to the one who can fall victim to it.”
France Cukjati, physician, President of the Assembly for the Republic, and columnist: “We presided over the EU Council for the first time in the first half of 2008. And what a circus, full of lies and rude incitement, staged by those “571 journalists”, who convinced the whole European media public how Janša appropriates the media and the EU will experience a catastrophe if it trusts the presidency to Slovenia. The same is happening now. Abroad, they are slandering Slovenia in the hope that this will at least slightly tarnish the Prime Minister. However, Janez Janša is not a politician of the rank of Fajon and Šarec. He is a statesman and knows that the trust of European colleagues is also important for the successful presidency and successful promotion of Slovenia. So it is only right that he invited them: come and see! It would not be bad if Brussels bureaucrats sometimes inquired in person before assessing the situation in a particular country. Too much damage has already been done when even the European institutions have made decisions based on biased information or even malicious lies.”
Milan Zver, MEP (SDS/EPP): “In Slovenia, the transition to democracy did not take place as it should, not even in the field of media. For them, one American president said they were even more important to society than democracy. This is an ambiguous statement that could be debated. But the key is somewhere else. The freedom of media is undoubtedly realised in Slovenia. This means that the “producers” of messages have a relatively large freedom. Journalists, especially in MSM, are like sacred cows. They are more protected than politicians. But in contrast to media freedom, we have another fundamental human right that we all too often ignore: it is the right to be objectively informed, which is rooted even in the constitution. Since the media space in Slovenia is not balanced, this means that a good part of the Slovenian public is deprived, not to say discriminated. This is a problem of the Slovenian media landscape and it must be explained to Ursula van den Leyen, Vera Jourova, and others.”
Romana Tomc, MEP (SDS/EPP): “No country has so openly called for scrutiny by the European institutions, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU. In a letter to the President of the European Commission, Prime Minister Janez Janša embarrassed those who spread lies about Slovenia on the European floor. It is not in the interest of the Slovenian left to verify the facts. They are interested in manipulation and deception, and thus, on the basis of untrue media reports, slandering a successful government abroad. We are looking forward to the arrival of an independent commission that will verify the facts in Slovenia. Namely, we do not agree that the opposition is spreading lies and slandering Slovenia in order to achieve internal political goals in the EU. We will oppose this with truth and facts. It is therefore in the interest of both parties to investigate the real situation in Slovenia. However, the examination of the state of the media, the state of democracy, and the rule of law should be carried out comprehensively and in detail, not only on the basis of newspaper articles by the left wing media, the basic purpose of which is to overthrow the current government. They will be amazed at how different the situation is from what was presented to them.”
Franc Bogovič, MEP (SLS/EPP): “The influence of the media on the election results and general political developments is thus more than obvious. And in my opinion, in the last period, after the fall of Šarec’s government, at least three quarters of the media in Slovenia very enthusiastically support the overthrow and a possible fall of the current center-right government. I certainly expect transparent ownership of all media in Slovenia, depending on their overt or covert political editorial policy. In the light of the current debate on media freedom and freedom of speech, it is therefore necessary and right that the EU media ombudsmen – who from far do not know well the transition dynamics and its impact on the ownership of the largest Slovenian media as well as part of media ownership concentration – verify in whole all these facts about the ownership of the media in Slovenia, both those that cover the center-left pole and those that cover the center-right. I believe that they will be able to quickly realise that the Slovenian media space is by no means balanced and that, unfortunately, other interest and political agendas are often hidden by referring to high professionalism and media freedom. I want us to have this open debate in Slovenia once and for all, and that we stop faking ignorance about both politics and the media, and to call a spade a spade. Let’s think about how much more good it would bring for Slovenian society if we had fully transparent ownership in Slovenian media, without hidden owners, as well as greater media pluralism and less concentration of media ownership in one hand.”
The article was originally published in the print edition of Demokracija.