Slovenia: Janša urges von der Leyen to send a fact-finding commission

Slovenia: Janša urges von der Leyen to send a fact-finding commission

Accused of being responsible for the lack of media freedom in Slovenia, PM Janez Janša penned a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Dear Madam President,

European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová recently recalled the accusations regarding the freedom of the press in Slovenia. These accusations followed several similar statements by spokespersons of the European Commission, who on various occasions, without any evidence, based only on individual media reporting, questioned the freedom of the press, the rule of law, judicial independence and the state of democracy in Slovenia in general.

Starting with 1 July 2021, Slovenia will assume the presidency of the Council of the EU.

We faced a similar situation leading up to 2008, when our country chaired the Council of the EU for the first time. In a comparable fashion, a letter signed by 571 journalists and editors from Slovenia circulated throughout Europe. The letter literally characterised Slovenia’s forthcoming presidency as a big threat to the whole Union.

Even then, many European media outlets picked up such absurd indictments as objective reporting and continually repeated them. Our first EU presidency proved not to be “a big threat to the Union”; instead, our dedicated work for the common benefit of all EU Member States was key to its success.

Despite this fact, the second presidency of Slovenia is preceded by similar attempts organised by the same protagonists from the list of 571 journalists as in 2007; we regret to note that, this time, with the participation of some officials of the EU institutions.

As we are all fully aware, the EU is facing many significant challenges. Cognisant of the pandemic, Slovenia is responsibly preparing for the presidency. Thus, we do not wish for our work be overshadowed by absurd charges that can be dismissed by anyone who, accompanied by a capable translator, would spend a day or two following Slovenian media and political dynamics.

Therefore, I invite an ad hoc working group, composed of representatives of the European Commission, to visit Slovenia at their earliest convenience to observe first-hand the state of democracy, rule of law, judicial independence, and media freedom and plurality in Slovenia. However, if you consider it appropriate, this group may also include representatives of the European Council and the European Parliament.

We do in fact have a problem with the state of democracy in Slovenia in general. However, I must point out that the roots and causes of this problem are much deeper and older – linked to Slovenia’s communist legacy. Let me quote a shrewd observation by professor Bugarič, a distinguished legal scholar and former insider: “… many ‘rule of law’ institutions (courts, the civil service and the media) have been deeply politicised by the former ‘nomenclature officials’. Instead of defending the rule of law, these institutions, unable to withstand the strong political pressure of their ‘principals’, were engaged in legal enforcement favouring partisan political interests. Since the left-liberal political bloc – former communists (Social Democrats, SD) and the reformed Communist Youth Organisation (Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, LDS) – had dominated the political space for almost fourteen years, this strongly affected the formation of the Slovenian elite in general. Consequently, the majority of Slovenian elites gravitated towards the ‘retention’ elite, represented by the LDS and SD political parties. This elite managed to create better contacts with the business sector, media, academia and, most importantly, with a substantial part of the public sector, including the judiciary, civil service, state-owned companies, etc. – Bojan Bugarič, ‘Crisis of Constitutional Democracy in Post-Communist Europe: “Lands In-between” Democracy and Authoritarianism’ (2015) ICON 229.”

This assessment dates back to 2015 while my government started its mandate less than a year ago, at the very beginning of the epidemic. Hence, a visit of the proposed fact-finding mission from the EU institutions would provide an opportunity to assess the breadth of the situation and unequivocally answer the following questions:

Is it in accordance with European values, norms and the fundamental principles of the rule of law that in an EU member country:

  • A journalist who reports on the corruption of local tycoons connected to the previous regime is brutally assaulted and beaten almost to death and yet, after more than a decade, the perpetrators are still not convicted?
  • The state press agency brutally harasses a journalist because he does not write reports according to the manager preference and is then fired when he is diagnosed with cancer and dies shortly after?
  • A prime minister presses charges against a journalist that in 2015 resulted in a suspended custodial sentence of five months just for publishing a photo of her texting during a publicly transmitted session of parliament?
  • A prime minister publicly calls on state-owned and other companies in 2018 to not publish advertisements in those media that criticise the government?
  • Ninety per cent of all media is owned or managed by people that publicly endorse one side of the political spectrum?
  • Ninety per cent of all media promote people who oppose preventive measures adopted to tackle the COVID pandemic and most of them also promote people who publicly threaten members of the government, parliament and governmental epidemic experts? (2)
  • There have been systematically unlawful (in)actions by the governmental authorities and state universities: first, to prevent the establishment of a private higher educational institution (New University); second, to impede its lawful functioning and, third, to enforce the dissolution of the university in order to stall its educational activities by way of amendment of the Higher Education Act?
  • The leadership of the judicial branch of government includes judges who have been found to have violated human rights in their work in the previous totalitarian communist regime?
  • The judges that have “examined” the killings of civilian refugees on the border or sentenced individuals to death in “kangaroo courts” also make up the leadership of the judicial branch of government?
  • The Chair of so-called independent institution (the Court of Audit) who has violated the prohibition of conflict of interests and the rule of law continue to remain in office as if nothing had happened?
  • The judges take an active part in political party events, dressed in symbols of the totalitarian regime?
  • The Judicial Council and Supreme Court object to any increase in transparency and publicity of their functioning and at the same time push towards getting out of the system of checks and balances (recent judgments that limit public access to court documents or another that prevents judges from being questioned before a parliamentary inquiry committee in addition to a firm objection to digitalisation and the publication of all judgments)?
  • There are serious challenges to internal judicial independence and impartiality as seen in a number of attempts to silence and remove whistle-blowers among judges and prosecutors (Radonjić, Testen, Kotnik, etc.) and that there even exists a final ruling of the Supreme Court in which the latter established that its President, informally, by telephone, intervened with the Public Prosecutor General to resume a halted criminal procedure?
  • More than a dozen constitutional court rulings continue to remain unimplemented and that in some cases the Constitutional Court, once its composition was changed, justified such inaction ex post facto by providing a non-reasoned change in the established case-law?
  • An opposition leader whose party is projected to win the elections is sentenced to prison three weeks before the elections under a false indictment?
  • A political party, represented in both national and European parliaments, a strong critic of Israel and supporter of Hamas, operates from a villa confiscated from a Jewish family that perished in Auschwitz?
  • Police unlawfully raided the headquarters of the main opposition party, trying to confiscate its server under the pretext that it did not exist?
  • The police unlawfully raided the headquarters of the National bank and confiscated the archives of the ECB to put pressure on the governor of the National bank to step down?
  • More than one billion (!) euros was laundered by a state-owned bank for a foreign regime and its terrorist branches under international sanctions while – after more than ten years – the perpetrators remain unindicted. Despite the fact that plenty of evidence about the biggest single act of organised international crime in our history is provided by foreign investigations and through the work of the Slovenian parliamentary inquiry committee. Where 90% of the media in the country remains silent (where did a commission estimated between €300,000,000 and €400,000,000 go)?
  • The complete leadership of all government branches of power, during a public event, is enthusiastically singing and applauding a song titled “EU is a gang of thieves”?

Dear Madame President,

I do not want the saga of unsubstantiated accusations about the current Slovenian government to continue spreading across Europe – sadly with the help of the EU institutions – as it mostly serves to cover up the real problems faced by our democracy.

Thus, I propose that we reach a prompt agreement on forming the aforementioned fact-finding group and make arrangements for its visit to Slovenia. Within the scope of its competencies, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia will ensure that the members of the group have access to all the desired information.

We would be very happy if such a group, within the framework of its “fact-finding mission”, would also propose measures in line with European norms, with which Slovenia can resolve the problems described above. As soon as we agree on the details of the mission, we will send you detailed evidence of the issues mentioned above.

Dear Madam President,

As set out in the Treaty on European Union, I expect the Commission to act in accordance with the principle of loyal cooperation between the European Union and the Member States and the implied mutual respect, for which an objective, comprehensive and impartial treatment and respect for actual facts are of key importance.

Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration. /ibna