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Saturday, July 2, 2022

(INTERVIEW) Romana Tomc: “Only with servile media that peacefully accept dictatorial statements can someone establish absolute power”

By: Lea Kalc Furlanič

“I think that after the government of Janez Janša, we will still have a hard time. Some people already regret buying a cat in the sack, but we will all have to live with it,” said Romana Tomc, MEP, when asked if the new Golob’s government would be able to achieve Janša’s success.

When handing over the business to Robert Golob, Janez Janša pointed out quite a few successes of his government. He emphasised that the mandate of the epidemic, the mandate of recovery after the epidemic and the mandate of the EU Council were behind us, that a lot of funds had been obtained for the further development of Slovenia and that public finances were in good condition.

With such achievements, it is therefore very disturbing to listen – both in the election campaign and now – to leftists who use in their rhetoric the claim that our country needs to be normalised. Of course, in the spirit of many achievements of the outgoing government, this sounds almost absurd, as Slovenia is a normal country.

DEMOKRACIJA: But perhaps it would be good to normalise the thinking of those who are still convinced that only some are created to run this country?

Romana Tomc: I agree that much remains to be done to place Slovenia alongside developed democracies. In the last two years, many important steps have been taken to enable the development of the individual and society in the broadest sense. I do not want everyone to think the same, but there are basic standards by which we can compare countries. The mere fact that some take the exclusive right to decide what is normal and what is not is unacceptable. It is obvious that some understand normalcy as a state in which they have complete power, allowing them to maintain and regenerate the monopolies from which they have lived for decades. A change of government is disastrous for them, and they perceive it as a state of abnormality.

DEMOKRACIJA: What is Slovenia’s reputation in the EU now and why is it so? Can you predict whether our reputation will deteriorate with the new government? If so, why? And what might this cause in international politics?

Romana Tomc: We could say that in the political sense, the EU and the world finally know that Slovenia exists again. The days when Slovenian prime ministers failed exams in the European Parliament are gone. Foreign policy in the last two years has been wise and intense, with speeches by Prime Minister Janez Janša reverberating. We were not just observers, but we became active and brave. Everyone who means anything in European politics knows about Janez Janša’s visit to Ukraine, as well as about his constructive role, when disagreements between EU members had to be settled. When there was discussion about the economic consequences of the epidemic, we were set as an example. Sometimes one of my colleagues surprises me with his knowledge of the situation in Slovenia, but most of them do not know much. I can understand this, because everyone first deals with their own problems, which are not few in these times. Certainly, the presidency of the EU Council has improved this knowledge a bit, but they still do not understand many things. For example, they were shocked to learn that Prosecutor General Šketa visited Russia at the time when Navalny was being tried, and we strongly condemned this process in the European Parliament as well. This, together with the statements we have heard from the leading politicians of the current coalition, raises concerns that Slovenia’s foreign policy will turn in the pro-Russian direction. Each new day brings a new confirmation that it is so. Although they try to deny and conceal this in their statements, their actions caught them lying. Moves such as the appointment of a national security secretary, who has even been ambassador to Russia and is accused of spying for Russia, are also being seen in the EU.

DEMOKRACIJA: “Ljudmila Novak’s attack on Janez Janša, which was at the level of the left, was substantively wrong and politically inappropriate. It aroused a lot of surprise in the EPP Group. Resentment is not the quality of a good politician, much less a Christian Democrat,” you wrote on TW. Why was her commentary substantively wrong and politically inappropriate?

Romana Tomc: At the time of the said group meeting, I was on my way. I asked Milan Zver if he could give a short report on the results of the elections in Slovenia, which is usually the case every time elections are held in one of the countries. It is difficult to comment on why my colleague Ljudmila felt obliged to supplement his report. However, I was extremely surprised that she descended to such a personal level and even accused Janez Janša of purges on public RTV. Do you think such an accusation is true and substantive? Moreover, it is unusual in the political arena for coalition members to criticise their own government.

DEMOKRACIJA: What do you attribute her response to? And what are its implications for the EU institutions and colleagues?

Romana Tomc: Probably personal resentment is in the background. I am sorry that this is the case, as the left is happy to take advantage of this. The resentments on the right are certainly not nearly as severe as they are on the left, but they know how to cover them up well, as two years ago they publicly insulted each other, and today they are smiling in front of the camera. Therefore, it would be good for the right to be finally resolved as well. Nova Slovenija is neither an SDS satellite, which is encouraged by those who want to ignite a rift, nor an extension or any of that. I hope that I can say that we are partners who have similar values and views on the development of Slovenia and that we will continue to do so for a long time.

DEMOKRACIJA: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is being taken over by Tanja Fajon, who, through her actions (tribute and wreath-laying to post-war communist criminals), is publicly showing her fundamental European values. Some foreign media have already responded critically. What kind of foreign minister is to be expected in these values of hers? And what is the response of foreign politicians? Is glorifying totalitarianism and post-war massacres acceptable in the EU?

Romana Tomc: We have seen many times that on the left they have no problem saying one thing and doing something else. On paper and in words, they are committed to cooperation, and in their actions they are exclusive. What they do themselves, they accuse others. Tanja Fajon knows how to turn words around nicely, but the speeches in Brussels are something completely different from concrete decisions that have consequences and require courage and responsibility. The previous government knew and was able to do that. I hope that the foreign policy of the new government does not lead us to dependence on Moscow, nor to Macron’s lap. There is no need to reopen tensions with our neighbours. It is no secret that the Croatian media were very attentive and critical when appointing the new government.

DEMOKRACIJA: Golob formed the government, the voters influenced the composition of the National Assembly, and these days there are personnel changes. The selection of ministers, MPs, and secretaries is far from professional. After the defeat in the elections and in this event, do you ever feel as if – symbolically speaking – you should now cast pearls before swine? In the sense that the successors of Janša’s government will not know how or want to handle its achievements properly?

Romana Tomc: The first moves of Golob’s government indicate that a dictatorship will prevail. The Prime Minister will have the first and last word, and he may or may not consider the proposals of the ministers. There is no sign of the democratic decision-making process. The personnel tsunami triggered on the first day after taking power is frightening. It is normal for governments to replace e.g., the director of Sova and some key people, however, it is not clear why the director of the Slovenian Tourist Agency should be replaced on the first day. Ordering the preparation of lists of all jobs, redeployments and promotions throughout the public sector is a prediction of the most brutal purge that any government has ever afforded. Of course, this is unacceptable from the point of view of all labour law regulations, and they certainly know it. That is why such moves, which the media is silent about, are all the more horrifying. They let us know that they know they are breaking the rules, but they do not care. They have the rule and they have the power. Otherwise, what the government of Janez Janša has done in the last two years will be known for some time to come. The economy also survived the crisis with the help of government measures, which is reflected in higher payments to the budget. We have maintained people’s employment and social security. We have obtained a record amount of European funds; investment projects are being implemented throughout Slovenia. Long-term care was provided, although every effort was made to prevent it. The positive effects of pension changes will also be known in the long run. Some measures simply cannot be undone and that is a good thing. However, I believe that they will try to achieve change, reallocate resources and, above all, set up staff to implement and support their policies. Of course, we will hear all the time that this is a profession.

DEMOKRACIJA: Do you think that the promises made by the election winners are feasible? Which are and which are not, and why not?

Romana Tomc: The promises of Golob’s government are mostly populist. They promised what people wanted to hear. Some voters have already stuck to these promises several times and have not wondered if they are feasible at all. We could see this even before these elections, when Golob’s media agencies presented it as the best choice. And if you keep repeating it long enough, people will buy it too. The media, with the abundant support of non-governmental organisations, are most responsible for the election of Golob’s government. A few 10 cycling activists were given more media space than important anti-crisis measures, and even more, there was a complete blockade of reports on the excellent achievements of the Janša government. These cycling activists have had established preferences in politics, and some are already in positions today. In the pre-election battle, we even heard from journalists that party programmes are irrelevant. Of course, since Golob had no programme. If we did not have this strong media support, everything would be different.

DEMOKRACIJA: Central or most of the Slovenian media eat out of Golob’s hand. Where is this going?

Romana Tomc: The media is co-responsible for everything that is happening. Servile media are necessary for someone to establish absolute power, and lead to dictatorship. Without critical distance they praise the rulers. Journalists are degrading by not asking additional questions to government officials who make illogical, unrealistic, even false statements, but just nod and turn off the microphones. Calmly, even with approval, they accepted Golob’s statement that his word in government will be the first and last. This is the statement of the dictator. Cull lists are lists made under dictatorial regimes. The media are obsessed with Janez Janša, formerly the Prime Minister, now the opposition, he obviously brings them the most clicks. By spreading lies, however, they deliberately create a rift. The damage is not only to Janša and the Slovenian Democratic Party, but to the entire right-wing option, and in the end, especially to Slovenia.

DEMOKRACIJA: How will the new government stop the human capital flight, which it wrote in the coalition agreement? With the new Personal Income Tax Act, Janša’s government has taken the first step towards relieving wages, and the new one has announced an amendment to this law. It is also changing other things. The damage will probably not be small, will it?

Romana Tomc: The new government will certainly not stop the human capital flight, but will, given what we know, encourage it. With tax announcements, they are discouraging young people from planning their careers in Slovenia. Why not, because abroad they can earn more for the same work. Inadequate tax policy means less investment, entrepreneurs behave pragmatically. Who would want to invest in Slovenia if they can make more profit elsewhere? With the measures envisaged by the new government, such as a ban on the afternoon work of doctors, the damage will be even greater, the human capital flight puts us in a vicious circle that we can already observe in other countries. Let’s look at what is happening in, say, Romania. The only goal of young people is to emigrate elsewhere in the EU. Do we want the same thing to happen in Slovenia? With the measures planned by Golob’s government, we are well on our way to this.

DEMOKRACIJA: What about other areas? Justice, health, culture?

Romana Tomc: Of course, shifts are needed everywhere. But first, we should regulate the media landscape. If the media performed their role, kept a close eye on each government, reported honestly and as objectively as possible, then they would reveal irregularities in all these systems as well. This would rid the systems of corruption and nepotism. See the case report of Masleša. If people knew what was going on, it would have ended differently. The most important things are usually the ones that our leading media, which declares to be the most independent, do not report and hide. Thus, they also hid all of Golob’s irregularities.

DEMOKRACIJA: Sparks have already begun to ignite in the National Assembly, and the Chairwoman of the National Assembly Urška Klakočar Zupančič has taken an aggressive approach, sublime, and threatening rhetoric even to her own. Is it just her performance, is it a misunderstanding of the function she occupies, or an ignorance, her character?

Romana Tomc: These performances are really something special. Slovenians love to watch reality shows. Perhaps we could draw parallels here. Certainly, this has nothing to do with responsible politics, which does not make a circus out of the most important decisions. In my opinion, such rhetoric is unacceptable for the Chairwoman of the National Assembly. She obviously does not understand the role and position of this function, but she knows how to use it very well.

DEMOKRACIJA: What do you hope for Slovenia in the next four years?

Romana Tomc: I hope Slovenia wakes up. Some of the government’s moves are unacceptable, they still do not have a clear programme, and based on what we have seen so far, we may be afraid for our common future. Golob’s government will not care about the common, but above all about its future. It has shown very clearly that it separates people according to their political affiliation, systematically creates division, and feeds on this division. This is essential for its survival. They will continue to work on this. Nevertheless, I hope the damage will not be irreparable. I really want to move forward as a country and as a society, so I will also praise the good moves if there are. First and foremost, I want us to do good for the people, regardless of political colour. I want us to be able to regulate the health and pension system as well as other systems so that people will live in an orderly country. However, to achieve this goal, the coalition will have to significantly change the way it behaves in both the government and the National Assembly. I am afraid that these are too high expectations and I find it hard to believe that the government of Robert Golob would succeed.

DEMOKRACIJA: What about the SDS party, how will it work in the opposition?

Romana Tomc: Constructively. Of course, we will be critical of the government’s moves, which we believe are detrimental to the people and the economy. That is the task of the opposition. However, by no means will we be as destructive as the last opposition, which destroyed all measures, regardless of whether it also meant enormous damage to the people. The SDS is and will remain the largest Slovenian centre-right party. We have strengthened our ranks in the National Assembly, we have excellent and experienced MPs. We will certainly not change our values because we believe in them. However, we will probably have to adjust the way we operate, especially in terms of accepting the new media reality in which social media plays an important role. Young people are not interested in politics, membership in political parties is irrelevant to most. But it is all the more important for them to get as many likes as possible on Facebook, TikTok, and other social networks. Today it is no longer the way it was in the time of our parents, grandmothers, when people debated the content of whether it is better to have high or low taxes and wondered what best suits their expectations. Today, an insignificant video reaches hundreds of millions of YouTube users, and the same users do not know the basic elements of the constitution that determines their lives. We will have to face such a reality and know how to not only offer the best content, but also sell it.

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