By Jože Biščak and Vinko Vasle
Dear everyone, especially NY Times, Politico, Die Presse, API-IPA, Lili Bayer, Darren McCaffrey, Martina Stevis-Gridneff, Grimm, Alex Marshall, Naomi O’Leary, Vera Joureva, Christian Wigand, Frans Timmermans and Guy Verhofstadt,
what is actually going on with you? What, for God’s sake, are you doing? What are you actually expressing your concern about? How did you get the idea of »iliberal« Slovenia under the government of Janez Janša? Where do you get the idea of establishing some kind of autocratic regime? Where do you get the information that the media in Slovenia are not free? Have you ever swept in front of your doorstep?
You are selective and two-faced in your actions! Where are you when conservative or otherwise oriented journalists and editors are experiencing a pogrom not only by the authorities but also by left-wing media? And there are at least 85 percent of them in Slovenia. And these media collect at least 90 percent of the advertising money. Where are you then, we ask you? Why are you silent in such cases, which is indecently and even hypocritical?
On the one hand, we are really surprised by your response because you do not inquire about all the relevant facts and circumstances. The tradition of European democracies is that the alleged culprit is first invited to present his side of the coin. But you accuse Slovenia in advance that it is not a free state in the field of media, the tone of your reactions is rude, unworthy of the institutions and media you represent. It is strange that you are defending someone who refers to completely anonymous sources, someone who did not recap the answers of the official representatives of Slovenia. And now the Politico journalist feels threatened by the response on the social network Twitter.
At every moment in European history, there were views that were not to anyone’s liking. But our famous ancestors stood upright and allowed different opinions on all topics. Despite disagreements and differing opinions, Europe (and the EU) has built a solid foundation on this, and wonderful generations of men and women have grown up to make history. All of this has driven us far ahead, like never before in history. Unfortunately, we note that some, especially conservative politicians, opinion leaders, the media and journalists are falling victim to a new concept, we believe that a kind of new world order. We also note that you are prepared to go very far to meet the demands of those who openly criticize conservatism, even though this ideology is perfectly legitimate and equivalent to your liberal democracy. You can no longer hide that this is not the case. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? An ideology that is disruptive. That is why you have set Slovenia as your target of slander and shame – because we have a center-right government, and the largest government party cultivates conservative values. That is why Poland and Hungary are also your targets. At least be honest and candid.
Let us state some facts about the Slovenian media landscape. In the last 30 months, the editor of the conservative-oriented magazine Demokracija has been in seven (7) criminal and pre-trial proceedings for his critical views on government actions and the magazine’s critical views on migration, LGBT and Islam! He was mostly denounced by the National Journalists’ Association (which is an unprecedented shame). Former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec (a left-wing politician) even urged state-owned companies not to advertise in the media that have »wrong« views and opinions. Did you say anything then? Of course not, how could you, since these views and opinions do not coincide with yours, progressive ones, do they? You speak about the threat to media freedom and expression only when journalists and media that are ideologically sympathetic to you and your view of the world and events are criticized.
What is media freedom anyway? The freedom of the media is that everyone can publish the media, that everyone can spread and express their views and opinions without being restricted by the authorities, or even prevented from spreading the media in public. As far as we know (and believe me, we know what we are talking about), the authorities in Slovenia have not banned the publishing or broadcasting of any media. However, if any authority threatened the media, it was (the last example) the left-wing government of Marjan Šarec, which threatened the conservative media with sanctions. Freedom of the media in Slovenia is not endangered, in Slovenia we have freedom of the media. True, we have an ideologically very unbalanced media space, because, as we wrote, 85 percent of the media openly or less openly support the left ideology, that ideology that you are also in favor of. So what now?
If the current Prime Minister criticizes media reporting, their manipulation and also outright lying, the freedom of the media is not endangered. Where did you get the idea that media freedom would be endangered if Janez Janša appears on the social network Twitter and accuses journalists of lying? This is a critique to which everyone has a right. And if journalists »self-censor« themselves because of criticism, it is their problem, not the problem of the one who criticizes them. But here, too, we encounter a great void of concreteness, since the mere claim of journalists’ self-censorship because they are afraid (!) does not speak of facts, but of repeated manipulation. However, the content insight into these media could be more self-limiting precisely because of their everyday brutal discredits and lies, but it is not. But this would require respect for a high level of journalistic professionalism, respect for those who think differently and respect for their freedom of expression. Even when it comes to the current Prime Minister, who not only receives daily attacks, including private, family attacks in these media, but these media calmly, deliberately and smugly ignore the fact that he is threatened with death on a daily basis. And they do not problematize the irresponsible and dangerous conduct of the prosecution in legally conceiving very serious threats as the right of those who disagree with a politician or policy. Don’t you find that scary? In one of the last such prosecutorial decisions, the »freedom« of threatening the interior minister with »a dog who needs to be shot« was declared an expression of an affected person who simply does not agree with this government. The media pompously declared it in style – well, you see, there is nothing wrong with threats to Janez Janša in the sense of slaughtering him, killing him, shooting him. And similar explanations have surfaced on social media, where the number of threats has therefore tripled. It is not known when the threshold will be crossed, it will happen one day.
On the other hand, retired journalist Martin Česenj, who expressed his views on migrants on Twitter, was just sentenced to six months in prison with a probation period of two years. This is scandalous – not only because the colleague had no chance to defend himself, as the court held the hearing without his presence, he was only informed of the court decision; this is scandalous because the prosecution, in cases where there were threats to the current government, declared this to be a kind of first-class right, because the proper ones are being attacked. In this second case, however, it was a conviction of a second-class man who has no rights.
Are journalists and the media untouchable in criticism? Is no one really allowed to say anything against them? Are they perhaps the owners of the only redeeming truth? And not even all of them, but only selected (read: progressive) media. In free and democratic countries, everyone can have their say. Both, a journalist and a representative of the authorities. And in Slovenia, no criticism of anyone is in any way limited, at least as far as the conduct of the current government is concerned.
The problem for you is that the largest government party supports conservative values and communicates via Twitter. You are disturbed by traditional basis such as nationality, natural family, emphasizing the nation’s culture, clearly defined genders, and opposition to illegal immigration from the Third World. All these policies bother you. But in free and democratic societies, where different ideas and opinions clash, these are completely legal and legitimate views. Such basis have shaped us in the past, they have shaped Europe and Europeans, without them we would not enjoy democracy and freedom today. But the question is, how long will we enjoy them if your opinion, which is totalitarian and tries to suppress any thought or reaction that you do not like, prevails! And you take advantage of your positions to do that. By doing so, you are spreading hatred and encouraging it, your poison darts want to poison common sense and eliminate free expression. This, of course, is our opinion, our view of the world as we see it. Of course, you may have a different opinion. But the difference between us and you is that we allow different opinions, and you want to suppress all the opinions that are different from yours. Who is an autocrat now?
You pick on Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. Which media outlets have been banned by the authorities in these countries? Which journalist was imprisoned by the authorities? In these countries, everyone is free to express and disseminate their views. And what is the situation in your so-called Western democracies? As we can read (of course not in the mainstream media, but on alternative portals) different opinions are persecuted, journalists are fired.
Did you say anything when Eric Zammour was fired for allegedly Islamophobic views on Muslims in France? What did he say? As an opponent of uncontrolled migration (although he himself is of immigrant origin), he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that »Muslims kept to themselves in the suburbs« and that »the French were forced to emigrate« because of the expansion of Muslim neighborhoods outside the cities. Don’t you think that this is why media freedom in France is threatened? Did you say anything when Englishwoman Katie Hopkins was persecuted and fired? And BBC reporters were thrilled with her employer’s move. Don’t you think that’s why media freedom in the UK is at stake? They are not the only ones, there are a whole host of them. Although we recognize the right of media owners to hire and fire anyone they want and for whatever reason. But all of the above were also fired due to pressure from the left political pole, journalists’ associations and NGOs. Don’t you think that this is why media freedom is threatened throughout Western Europe?
There is not a single case when a journalist was fired due to the views, attitudes and criticisms of individual media by Janez Janša. However, there are cases when tycoons, who are the majority owners of the media in Slovenia, brutally dismiss their journalists, who are left without protection, without protection of their rights. These same media are »collegially« silent about this. There is not a single case of a journalist being in court due to opinions about Janša. There is not a single case of the authorities physically settling accounts with journalists, threatening them and making them fear and tremble. The mere claims of your informants from Slovenia that this is happening are not enough – names and other specifics are needed. The only thing that is true is that at some demonstrations of so-called covid idiots, one cameraman and his team were attacked, one photojournalist who was very badly injured, and one TV camera was destroyed years ago. And in no case was the current policy behind these actions, but, according to the evidence, the ultra-leftists who dealt with non-our journalists in this way. The stars of national television first became a rapper, who was even invited to the entertainment programs of the national TV because of the threats and rioting they liked, and a well-known criminal, dealer, who explained his militant view of the current government in some news programs.
It is also known that the national television RTV Slovenia has lists of those who are undesirable in front of its cameras and microphones. It is also known that the left-wing leadership has criminally reckoned with some editors and journalists because it did not agree with some of their journalistic work or views. Your fraternal media in Slovenia have been firmly silent about all this. However, they jump to their feet and immediately inform you if the Prime Minister justifiably publishes a critique of a journalistic article on his Twitter profile, for which he – and not only he – has arguments that it is untrue, that it also uses obvious lies and deceptions. It is, of course, an exaggeration without precedent, when, in fact, tweet-criticism is declared a threat to journalistic autonomy and freedom. In many of your countries, the media and journalists would be happy with such horror on the part of the authorities! Which means you can sweep peacefully in front of your doorstep. And you are also in favor of this hysteria of fabrications and incitements and lies, which is an incredible story about the fall of all criteria of journalistic work in Europe, not only in Slovenia. Even worse, there is a schizophrenic ideological political destruction of the free media space, where the confrontation of different views, ideologies and opinions suddenly is no longer allowed. It is about witch-hunts, incitements of the lowest kind and, in fact, threats to all of us who dare to call upon freedom of opinions and views, which in individual environments of nation-states, including our own, already represents open threats that the time is coming when such people will have to be dealt with one way or another. The Slovenian left has said this very clearly in parliament several times.
These are the horrors that, in one way or another, have led to mass persecutions and massacres throughout history, and which also both of us believed they could not return. It seems that you, too, are bringing them back to our time with your actions and deeds and bowing to them.
We live in a beautiful country. We are grateful to our ancestors who recognized the beauty of the landscape a long time ago and settled in these places. Slovenia is a young country. We Slovenes have been waiting for it for a long time, then we were occupied by Belgrade and we suffered for decades under the autocratic communist regime, which systematically suppressed fundamental human freedoms, including freedom of speech and thus the media. Many leading members of the then regime today hold prominent positions in the judiciary, politics and the media. And these people today mostly snitch and slander Slovenia in international circles.
We love Slovenia. We are proud of it. That is why we will come forward every time someone criticizes it completely unjustifiably. Especially those who have never lived in a totalitarian regime. And most of you are like that.
An open letter from Jože Biščak and Vinko Vasle to the Politico editorial staff and journalist Lili Bayer: You are a propagandist of the radical left, an exporter of fake news and a case study on how to mislead the public
Jože Biščak is the editor-in-chief of the conservative-oriented magazine Demokracija, president of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists and author of the books Zgodbe iz Kavarne Hayek, Zapisi konservativnega liberalca and Potovati z Orwellom.
Vinko Vasle is a longtime journalist and editor, former director of the national Radio Slovenia and the author of several novels, including Purgarji, Darovalec, Arhivar, Prva hiša na Marsu and Pisma podpore in upora.