21 Jan 2020, 09:07 AM

STA, 20 January 2020 - Slovenia's defence budget will finally reach 2% of GDP by 2035, according to a white paper released online by the Defence Ministry on Monday. The document also shows plans for the Armed Forces to gradually grow by more than 1,500 soldiers, reaching 8,000 by 2035.

The long-awaited document shows that the military reserve force is to more than double, going from 700 today to 1,500 in 2035.

The white paper says that unless the measures foreseen attract additional force members, Slovenia will have to "reconsider the concept of the state's defence system, the scope and structure of the Armed Forces, and consider the introduction of other elements of military duty". Thus the country may think about reintroducing obligatory military duty in the future.

In terms of finance, the 2% spending foreseen in the white paper means that Slovenia would finally meet the defence funding target set by NATO in 2035. Moreover, 20% of the funds is to be spent on investments.

This year, defence spending will reach EUR 545.85 million, some EUR 40 million more than in 2019. Another increase is planned for 2021, when the defence budget is to reach EUR 561 million.

When the 2020 and 2021 budgets were discussed in parliament, Major General Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, said that additional funds planned for this year and the next will not allow a development breakthrough for the Armed Forces.

In the white paper, the ministry also wants to introduce territorial organisation of the Armed Forces and ensure that they are involved in local environments.

Moreover, a reorganisation of the military reserve force is planned. Under the plan, a part of the reserve could also be deployed on missions abroad, while the rest would be active exclusively in Slovenia and could be activated as part of the national system of protection and rescue.

The white paper also sees Slovenia becoming more resistant to cyber threats and its civil defence system strengthened.

This regards uninterrupted operation of authorities and branches of power at all levels, uninterrupted operation of public infrastructure and services, and uninterrupted energy supply, as well as ICT support and other sources vital for the functioning of the state and the security of its people.

Moreover, Slovenia is to upgrade its crisis response system, boost the use of ICT technologies in defence and create a comprehensive system for the management of cyber security in defence.

In terms of equipment, the white paper underlines the importance of cost optimisation and purchase transparency, and the possibility of joint purchasing with other countries. The paper also does not exclude the possibility of purchasing used equipment and weapons.

The document, which will not be binding, was drafted under the leadership of former Defence Ministry State Secretary Klemen Grošelj.

He left the ministry in July 2019 after being elected MEP. It took another six months before the document was made available online. Tomorrow, the white paper will be presented at the National Council.

20 Jan 2020, 07:35 AM

STA, 19 January 2020 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar is attending a ministerial meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in Brussels on Sunday ahead of 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day observed on 27 January.

In a press release, the Foreign Ministry said that as an IHRA member Slovenia is aspiring for the preservation of historical memory of the Holocaust and for respect for the victims of Nazism and Fascism.

In his brief address to the ministerial, Cerar said that Slovenians experienced the rise of Fascism as early as 100 years ago when their National Home (Narodni Dom) in the city of Trieste was burnt down.

He pledged Slovenia's continued commitment to preserving the awareness and historical records of the Holocaust, genocide against the Roma and persecution of other victims.

The ministerial is expected to adopt a declaration expressing political support for IHRA's efforts in Holocaust education, remembrance, and research, and support for the efforts to preserve historical records about the persecution of victims at the hands of Nazi Germany, its fascist and extreme-nationalist allies and other collaborators, and for condemnation of present-day anti-Semitism.

Established in 1998, IHRA brings together 34 participating countries, one liaison country, seven observer countries and eight standing international partners, including the EU. Slovenia has been a member since 2011.

20 Jan 2020, 07:28 AM

STA, 19 January 2020 - The Marjan Šarec government is entering a new challenging period as Karl Erjavec, the mainstay of Slovenian government politics for 15 years, announced he was withdrawing from public life after losing the contest for the leadership of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) to Aleksandra Pivec.

Campaigning on an alternative vision of the party's future in a desire to make it more inclusive and collaborative, Pivec, the 47-year-old serving as agriculture minister, won 143 votes at Saturday's congress to Erjavec's 80 in a development that few had expected.

As soon as the results were declared, Erjavec announced his intention to resign as defence minister. Taking a step further, he issued what he described as his "last political statement" on the morning after, announcing that he was withdrawing from public life altogether.

"Since 2004 I have been part of all the governments, served as minister in various departments (...) after the congress's decision that I will no longer lead DeSUS, I see no reason to continue as a minister or government member any longer," the 59-year-old said in a written statement.

While Erjavec is willing to discuss the timing of his resignation with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec so as not to cause any inconvenience to the government, his decision is expected to put the ruling coalition in a tight spot as it struggles to secure a majority to appoint his replacement.

Sources close to the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) say that quick moves are not to be expected, because any potential candidate to succeed Erjavec at the ministerial post would first need to get the endorsement of the party bodies, which are yet to formed anew in the coming weeks following the congress.

While Šarec was quick to welcome Pivec's victory on Saturday night, he has not yet commented on Erjavec's decision to resign as minister, and coalition parties have been mostly muted in their reactions, but appear to be concerned about how to muster a majority needed to appoint a new minister.

Matjaž Han, the leader of the deputy faction of the Social Democrats (SD) is aware that "it will be absolutely hard to get a new minister through parliament".

The narrow vote on Angelika Mlinar, the cohesion policy minister, in December showed how precarious the ruling coalition's position became after the Left withdrew its support, with the opposition National Party (SNS) staying away in order to tip the scales as even one DeSUS member voted against Mlinar.

Rok Čakš, the editor of the news portal Domovina, said that Šarec was probably not happy with Erjavec's standing down as minister, even though he preferred Pivec as a non-confrontational person at the helm of the coalition partner, and pulled some strings to make that happen.

"Not because the prime minister would be happy with his [Erjavec's] work, but because it means he will have to put forward a new ministerial candidate to the National Assembly. As seen in the case of Angelika Mlinar, securing the required parliamentary majority is all but a routine for the Šarec minority government," Čakaš commented.

By contrast, even as admitting that developments remain unpredictable, analyst Andraž Zorko from the pollster Valicon maintained that DeSUS's decision to vote out Erjavec made the Šarec government stronger. What is more, he sees it as a very positive step for further developments in Slovenia.

Another question raised in the wake of the congress was a potential rift in the DeSUS deputy faction, as three out of the party's five MPs backed Erjavec in the leadership contest.

However, all of the DeSUS MPs, bar the rebel MP Robert Polnar, who has withdrawn his support for the minority government on several occasions and who failed to attend the congress, were quick to pledge their support for the new leader, and rushed to assure the public of the deputy faction's unity.

Erjavec's resignation also raised speculation about a government reshuffle, as Pivec indicated she planned to talk it through with Šarec whether DeSUS might assume responsibility for some other ministry than defence.

In her address to the congress, Pivec suggested DeSUS focus on areas concerning its platform in the future, including taking over at the Ministry of Labour, the Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

However, coalition parties expressed their reservations about any broader reshuffle at the moment, and
DeSUS told the STA that the party would discuss changing government departments only if Šarec was considering a reshuffle, but they would not want to interfere in the coalition partners' briefs.

Social Democrat Han said that having a broader reshuffle endorsed by parliament given the current balance of power, would be a "mission impossible", adding that DeSUS would simply need to find a new defence minister.

19 Jan 2020, 11:21 AM

STA, 18 January 2020 - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec surprisingly defeated Defence Minister Karl Erjavec for the presidency of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS). Erjavec announced he would resign as minister.

Pivec, 47, won 145 votes at Saturday's congress to Erjavec's 80 to end his 15-year tenure at the helm of the party, having ran an insurgency campaign that offered an alternative vision of the party's future in a desire to make it more inclusive and collaborative.

Erjavec, one of the most seasoned politicians in Slovenia, had meanwhile pledged to stay the current course of focusing on pensions, brushing off allegations that his leadership style and substance were eroding the party's approval rating.

After the results were revealed, Erjavec immediately announced he would resign from government. "I expected confidence but did not get it ... I followed my conscience and worked to the best of my abilities. The time has come for a new generation and I wish it all the best," he said.

Erjavec, 59, led the party for 15 years, the second longest tenure of any current party president in Slovenia, and has been a minister in successive left and right governments, holding the environment, foreign affairs and defence portfolios.

Pivec said she had expected to win but by a narrower margin and was "humbled" to take over the leadership of DeSUS.

She urged the party to close ranks after the bitter contest, even going as far as implying that Erjavec may have announced his resignation prematurely since she saw no problem in continuing to work with him in government.

"Let's forget bad feelings and some overly emotional statements," she said, as the party has a lot of work ahead and would need the experiences of its senior members.

Addressing the party's core constituency, Pivec said that demographic change required Slovenia to take measures to prevent the older population from falling into poverty and social exclusion.

But she said it was also necessary "to remember the younger generation".

Outlining her leadership plans, Pivec said DeSUS would no longer be so willing to compromise. "We will not accept alliances without assurances of clear measures," she said.

Erjavec had been criticised for a while for the party's low public approval ratings, and Pivec said she would make sure the party is not merely around the threshold to enter parliament.

Under Erjavec's leadership, DeSUS has been in successive left and right governments for two decades, a natural position for a party that had a single issue at its core - pensions. But it performed dismally in the last two national elections and its ratings have stagnated.

In the general election in 2018 it saw its share of the vote more than halved to under 5%, barely past the 4% threshold to enter parliament.

In the 2019 elections to the European Parliament, it won under 6% of the vote and no longer has an MEP.

The congress capped weeks of very public campaigning in the media focusing on Pivec's alleged misdeeds in a period shortly before she became minister, when she was making a significant amount of money consulting for a state-funded tourism project that are now the subject of a police investigation.

She also forgot to report the funds to the anti-graft commission as required by law, a transgression that raises ethical issues but is unlikely to be serious enough to warrant action by law enforcement.

Erjavec, meanwhile, has been under pressure in recent days due to his handling of the withdrawal of Slovenian troops from Iraq after Iran attacked two bases there, with media accusing him of turning a serious matter into a PR stunt to shore up support within party ranks.

The leadership race has also had reverberations in government, with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec seen as implicitly favouring Pivec over Erjavec, leading Erjavec to accuse him of trying to take control of the party by proxy.

Šarec has denied the accusation and said he was ready to work with Erjavec or Pivec as party presidents, but many pundits believed he would have had to take some kind of action against Erjavec over the troop withdrawal in any case.

The election result makes Pivec one of the fastest rising stars in Slovenian politics.

Before she was named agriculture minister in the Šarec government in 2018, she served as state secretary at the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad, a fairly low-key government position that does not provide much public exposure.

But as minister, she has proved to me media-savvy and has made it a point to appear at agricultural events large and small across the country, even as her ministry has so far not produced major new legislation.

Pivec holds a PhD in chemical engineering and had previously worked 17 years at the Scientific Research Centre Bistra in Ptuj, of which six years as director. She comes from a well-known wine making family.  

18 Jan 2020, 15:41 PM

The opposition SDS party tabled a bill for the parliamentary procedure to reintroduce compulsory national service last Thursday. The SDS deputy Žan Mahnič stated for the press that the proposal is likely to pass the first reading, since “the idea is supported by some other parties of the so-called left, including some parties of the coalition"

Slovenia abolished compulsory military service in 2003 when it opted for a defence system consisting of professional army only. At the time SDS was one of the main supporters of the change.

In the last six years, explained Mahnič, members of SDS have sadly watched the Slovenian Armed Forces collapse, pointing out that the number of permanent members is no longer sufficient to defend Slovenia in the event of a military attack or to work effectively in peace. In the event of an armed attack, explained Mahnič, Slovenia does not have a young generation, or even a middle-aged one, who would know how to handle weapons and be aware of basic military techniques. He also expressed a belief that reintroduction of compulsory national service would not only strengthen the Slovenian army, but also patriotism, national awareness and the psychophysical abilities of Slovenian citizens. However, missions abroad would still be performed by a professional army.

The SDS national service bill proposes a compulsory six-month military service for all male citizens aged 19 that can be postponed in the case of university enrolment, and 12 months of civilian service for conscientious objectors, working in non-military position. Women would be able to join on a voluntary basis.

Mahnič also cited an SDS poll which suggests that 70% of Slovenian citizens are in favour of the proposed bill, which will also require €10 million for an increase in logistic capacity and additional €23 million for workforce upgrade.

When asked about the political parties in support of conscription, Mahnič stated that ahead of the last elections coalition’s the pensioner’s party, DeSUS, was clearly supporting the idea, the nationalist party SNS is also in its favour, and it has also been discussed in in the coalition party of Alenka Bratušek (SAB), but their support of the bill remained to be confirmed.

Although having no firm assurance from the left-leaning coalition parties that they would support the bill, the right-wing SDS deputy Mahnič is certain that the bill enjoys support from the left since “the idea about compulsory military service has also been expressed twice publicly by Milan Kučan.”

Milan Kučan was the first president of Slovenia, who in popular right-wing theories is often seen as the main player on the left, albeit one who remains behind the curtain.  

The bill’s first reading has not yet entered the parliamentary schedule.

18 Jan 2020, 11:58 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 17 January 2020

Mladina: Health bill vote may be behind attempt at govt destabilisation

STA, 17 January 2020 - "It is unclear what or who causes hysteria in Slovenian politics," the left-wing weekly Mladina says as it analyses peculiar events before the congress of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and opposition Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša's latest attempt to destabilise the government.

Editor-in-chief Grega Repovž accuses the media for helping create the hype around tomorrow's DeSUS congress by demanding senior DeSUS members reveal who they will support in the leadership battle between incumbent leader and Defence Minister Karl Erjavec and his most serious challenger Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec.

"Is it really unusual that not all DeSUS MPs are behind Erjavec," wonders Mladina on Friday. "Since when is it normal for all MPs to have the same opinion and since when one has to say it loud and clear before a secret ballot which candidate one supports".

What is wrong if there are challengers to the party leader at a congress, Repovž says, but points to the fact that there are many "personal" parties in Slovenia which have the party leader's name in their name so it is hard to imagine them being led by anyone else.

He implies that "such a perception of democracy probably stems from at least some fascination with the only orderly party in Slovenia, namely the SDS, which does not wonder who would stand for party president even if Janša's name in nowhere to be found in the party's name".

However, it is clear that this fire is being kindled by those who would like to destabilise the government - the opposition, says Repovž, but adds there is nothing wrong what that, this is something the opposition does.

Janša's intention is clear, he wants to make coalition parties and the prime minister nervous, Repovž says in reference to his Sunday interview in which he said the government coalition was clinically dead.

But there could also be more substantive reasons to undermine the government, Repovž says, noting a bill to abolish top-up health insurance and stop further privatisation in healthcare will go into third reading at the end of January.

Neither the SDS nor the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) or DeSUS hide their connections with the health insurance lobby, which is trying to undermine the bill at all cost. This could perhaps be the reason for trying to destabilise the government before a key vote, according to Mladina.

Demokracija: Iran-NLB case comes with an inconvenience

STA, 16 January 2020 - While the investigation into the contentious transactions worth US$1 billion by a British-Iranian citizen through the NLB bank is still ongoing, the "inconvenient" thing is that the head of the National Bureau of Investigation is actually investigating himself and "protecting political godfathers", the right-wing Demokracija says in its latest commentary.

The right-leaning weekly refers to Iraj Farrokhzadeh, who is suspected of laundering Iranian money through his NLB accounts in 2009-2010 in breach of anti money-laundering legislation, while Iran was subject to international sanctions.

The commentary comes after the Specialised State Prosecution announced earlier this month it had abandoned a part of the investigation related to abuse of office by bankers at NLB.

The announcement came "at the moment when the democratic world was being appalled by Iran, when new sanctions and similar investigations of money flows from Tehran to cells around the world were being announced".

"The matter is not innocent. Farrokh, the Iranian company owned by Iraj Farrokhzadeh, laundered a billion dollars through NLB between 2008 and 2010, during the government coalition under the Social Democrats (SD) and Borut Pahor."

In the commentary Length of the Shadow of a Dollar Banknote, editor-in-chief Jože Biščak adds that there is suspicion that the money was used to purchase goods that could be used for nuclear armament.

"In other words, at the time of international sanctions against the regime in Tehran, the Slovenian state-owned bank helped Iran break through the embargo."

The investigation is still ongoing, but the "inconvenient" thing is that Darko Muženič, the head of the National Bureau of Investigation, is actually investigating himself and protect political godfathers.

Demokracija refers to Muženič serving as the head of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention when the scandal broke out in 2017.

"He apparently became the boss of the National Bureau of Investigation only to steer the investigation so that only pawns on the chessboard are (possibly) eventually found guilty," it adds.

But those who think that foreign intelligence services (US in particular) are not informed in detail about the true perpetrators and that they do not know what the modus operandi was, are so wrong.

"If nothing happens and perpetrators do not get punished, sanctions against Slovenia, formally still an ally of the US and western democracies, will not be visible and public, but they will be very painful."

All our posts in this series are here

18 Jan 2020, 10:25 AM

What follows is a weekly review of events involving Slovenia, as prepared by the STA.

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 10 January
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor defended Slovenia's decision to evacuate troops from Iraq following an attack by Iran on the Erbil airbase where the six soldiers were stationed, saying a sovereign country had the right to assess whether its soldiers were safe or not. He said the evacuation was merely an early rotation of the team deployed to Erbil to train the Kurdish fighters. In another statement on 15 January, he said the temporary withdrawal would not tarnish Slovenia's reputation in the international community.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar called on the EU to play a greater role in the de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East as EU foreign ministers held an emergency session. He also reiterated Slovenia's commitment to remain a partner in the fight against IS and continue training Iraqi security forces.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian central bank initiated a Constitutional Court challenge against a law that would require it to cover all repayments to those who lost their investments during the banking sector bailout in 2013. The law was passed in late-2019 and provides easier access to recourse for roughly 100,000 potential plaintiffs, both shareholders and holders of junior bonds, wiped out on instruction from the EU.
        LJUBLJANA - Public Administration Minister Rudi Medved tried to reassure the public that concerns about health risks related to 5G technology were given due attention. But while he deems the concerns legitimate, he also said Slovenia needed 5G as he addressed the press after a protest against the technology.

SATURDAY, 11 January
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec criticised the way Slovenian military instructors had been pulled out of Iraq earlier in the week. "The last thing we wanted was media hype," he said on Twitter in reference to Defence Minister Karl Erjavec and President Borut Pahor, supreme commander of the Armed Forces, deciding to bring home Slovenia's six instructors stationed in Erbil after Iran's rocket attack of their base.
        ADELBODEN, Switzerland - Skier Žan Kranjec won the giant slalom FIS World Cup Alpine Skiing race in Adelboden, taking the lead in the giant slalom rankings.
        DRESDEN, Germany - Cross-country skier Anamarija Lampič won silver in the sprint event of FIS Cross-Country event in Dresden, taking the lead in the cross country sprint rankings.
        LJUBLJANA - Renault's Clio, one of the best selling cars in Slovenia since its launch in 1990, was declared the Slovenian car of 2020, in a competition organised by the Slovenian automotive media for the 28th time.

SUNDAY, 12 January
        LJUBLJANA - Janez Janša, leader of the opposition Democrats (SDS), told TV Slovenija in a rare interview that the Marjan Šarec government coalition was "clinically dead". Since the current balance of power in parliament makes it impossible to build a strong alternative majority, he thinks an early election is likely. Opposition New Slovenia (NSi) leader Matej Tonin confirmed on 13 January his party was taking part in talks on a potential new coalition, which were ongoing at all times, but all coalition parties later denied being involved in any specific talks.

MONDAY, 13 January
        LJUBLJANA - Environment Minister Simon Zajc responded to calls for Slovenia to declare a state of climate emergency by saying that "concrete measures are more important than declaring a climate crisis". He believes it should be first determined if a majority in parliament supports the measures that would have to be taken if a climate emergency is declared.
        LJUBLJANA - Five hospitals must return a total of EUR 4.9 million in restructuring funds they received from the state in 2017 to get out of the red because the funds were not spent within the deadline, which was however set retroactively, the newspaper Delo reported. While the Ljubljana Institute of Oncology has already returned the money, the other four hospitals intend to use all legal means to keep the money.
        KRŠKO - Power utility group GEN, part of which is Slovenia's only N-plant NEK, reported EUR 2.2 billion in revenue and EUR 48 million in net profit in 2019. Investments totalled EUR 100 million.
        LJUBLJANA - Austria's Human Rights Ombudsman Werner Amon, who is also secretary general of the International Ombudsman Institute, visited Slovenia to meet his counterpart Peter Svetina. The pair discussed ways of strengthening cooperation between ombudsmen in Europe.
        LJUBLJANA - The Environment Ministry gave out its first environmental award, honouring maritime pilot Andrej Gorup, who prevented an environmental disaster in April 2019 by re-routing a Swedish oil tanker heading towards the port of Koper with an alarming speed.
        LJUBLJANA - Some 84,350 new cars and vans were sold in Slovenia in 2019, a 1% drop over 2018. Volkswagen dominated the market, followed by Renault and Škoda, shows data released by the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.

TUESDAY, 14 January
        JERUSALEM, Israel - The Simon Wiesenthal Center criticised the recent decision by the Slovenian Supreme Court to annul the 1946 conviction of Leon Rupnik, who headed the Provisional Government of the Nazi-occupied Province of Ljubljana. In a letter sent to the Slovenian ambassador to Israel, the centre said the "shameful decision constitutes a shocking distortion of the history of the Holocaust and a horrific insult to Rupnik's many victims and their families".
        LJUBLJANA - The Government Office for Slovenians Abroad confirmed the first Venezuelans of Slovenian descent had already arrived in Slovenia as part of the largest repatriation project in the country, prompted by the Venezuela crisis. The office would not reveal any details, but the government set aside EUR 1.2 million for the project with 53 persons so far applying for resettlement.
        ABU DHABI, UAE - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar attended a ministerial of the Slovenian-sponsored Green Group initiative to discuss preparations for the Expo 2020 Dubai. He also met his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Thani Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, the minister of climate change and environment.
        LJUBLJANA - A higher court threw out the guilty verdict of radiologist Zoran Milošević over bribery because the case had become statute-barred following an appeal. Milošević had been sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of ten months for accepting a EUR 7,200 bribe in exchange for making sure UKC Ljubljana, the country's largest hospital, chose a specific company as the supplier of a medicinal device. Milošević is also the chief defendant in a separate trial related to the biggest health corruption case in the country's history.
        LJUBLJANA - Acclaimed playwright Simona Semenič won publisher Mladinska Knjiga's 10,000-euro Blue Bird Prize for the best as yet unpublished youth novel. Skrivno Društvo KRVZ (KRVZ Secret Society), to be released in April, tells a story about a group of friends and their adventures including dragons and secret maps.

WEDNESDAY, 15 January
        LJUBLJANA - Photographer Stojan Kerbler, 81, and ballet dancer and choreographer Milko Šparemblek, 91, were declared the winners of this year's Prešeren Prize for lifetime achievements in the arts. This is the first time the Prešeren Prize has been given to a photographer. The awards, togehter with six minor Prešeren Fund Prizes for achievements in the past three years will be conferred on 7 February, the eve of Culture Day.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec said there was no reason for his government to fall, as he responded to an assessment by opposition Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša that the coalition was clinically dead. While he admitted problems did exist, Šarec said "if all of us worked for the same goal, we would be able to solve many of these problems".
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec denied interfering in the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) pre-congress developments, and rejected the speculation that DeSUS leader Karel Erjavec's ministerial seat was at stake due to his awkward handling of troops' temporary withdrawal from Iraq.
        LJUBLJANA - Dovolj.je, a Catholic civil society group dedicated to fighting against sexual abuse in the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church called for the resignation of Ljubljana Archbishop Stanislav Zore due to the church's persistent failure to tackle sexual abuse allegations. The Slovenian Bishops' Conference rejected the call, saying it was under Zore's chairmanship of the conference that the church had continued taking action against sexual abuse.
        LJUBLJANA - A group of five Eritrean citizens whose asylum applications were rejected in December staged a protest against what they believe is systematic rejection of Eritreans by state authorities, whose decisions suggest that Eritrea is a safe country while it is actually among the most repressive regimes in the world. The Interior Ministry rejected the allegations, saying all applications were treated individually and all personal circumstances of every applicant were considered.
        LJUBLJANA - Several hundred people turned up to protest in front of Government Palace over a provocative Christmas Eve Twitter post by Education Ministry State Secretary Jernej Štromajer that conservatives had interpreted as deriding Christmas and Christians. The protesters repeated their call for Štromajer's resignation.

THURSDAY, 16 January
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor completed a two-day round of consultations with parliamentary parties on the most suitable candidates for two Slovenian judges at the EU's General Court in Luxembourg. Klemen Podobnik and Jure Vidmar seem to enjoy the most support among deputy groups. Pahor will now have to send his nominations to parliament, where the candidates need to secure 46 votes to get appointed.
        LJUBLJANA - Unhappy with the government's slow tackling of waiting times in the public health system, the Medical Chamber drafted a bill to reduce them, which the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) filed to parliament a few days ago. The chamber's president Zdenka Čebašek-Travnik said the bill would enable the ZZZS public health insurer to temporarily commission all medical services providers, including private entities, to carry out additional medical services.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Left failed in its attempt to make the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee condemn the use of US military force in the Middle East and call on the government to express opposition to the US policy on Iran. Several MPs accused the Left at the session of attempting to score political points.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Democrats (SDS) tabled a legislative amendment to reinstate compulsory six-month military service to deter military threats, strengthen patriotism and improve the mental and physical fitness of the country's male population. The party says it has cross-partisan support.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia remains an attractive destination for Austrian investors; a survey of the representation of the Austrian economy in Slovenia, Advantage Austria Ljubljana, showed 75% of Austrian entrepreneurs believe the country will also be attractive for new investments this year, which is still much lower than the record-high of 91% from 2019.

All our posts in this series are here

17 Jan 2020, 13:52 PM

STA, 16 January 2020 - Businessman Damijan Janković, the son of Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, has been fined EUR 2,000 for abetting a tax fraud scheme involving two luxury apartments that ultimately benefited his business partners at the expense of the treasury. Their company has been implicated in several criminal cases that directly involve the Ljubljana mayor.

Janković's business partners, Ivan Mikulin and Boštjan Stamejčič, received suspended sentences of 14 months and 17 months, respectively, plus fines of EUR 2,550 and EUR 6,000.

The verdict, handed down by the Ljubljana District Court on Thursday, caps a trial that started in March 2019 and focused on the sale of a luxury apartment in Ljubljana and one in Tolmin, western Slovenia.

The court found that by forging documentation, the trio committed tax fraud by declaring the properties as business premises while in fact they served as apartments; Damijan Janković lived in one of them for a while.

The sentences are milder than proposed by the prosecution, but the presiding judge, Marjeta Dvornik, said the panel of judges "may not be guided by public pressure". The prosecutor, Marjana Grašič, said she was considering appealing.

The company that ultimately reaped tax benefits from the fraudulent transactions, Baza Dante, has been implicated in several cases in which the Ljubljana mayor has been a suspect in connection with the construction of the Stožice sports complex.

The company went bankrupt in 2014 and was liquidated in 2018.

16 Jan 2020, 10:16 AM

STA, 15 January 2020 - A group of Eritrean citizens whose asylum applications have been rejected staged a protest in Ljubljana on Wednesday to point to what they believe is systematic rejection of Eritreans by state authorities, whose decisions suggest that Eritrea is a safe country while it is actually among the most repressive regimes in the world.

 The protest by the Eritrean Community of Slovenia and its supporters in front of the asylum centre in Ljubljana comes after the Interior Ministry rejected international protection applications by five Eritreans in late December.

According to the protesters, the negative decisions say that Eritrea is a safe country, which contradicts the fact that Slovenia had until recently been granting international protection to Eritrean citizens as part of the EU relocation scheme.

There must have been a turnaround, which is believed to be politically motivated, said the protesters, adding that the decisions by the Interior Ministry were "unprofessional and inconsistent".

They read a statement in which they called on the Slovenian government to review the decisions and create a policy on Eritrea which would be in line with international standards of human rights protection.

The protesters urged a faster and fair decision-making procedure, noting that Eritrea was the worst dictatorship in the world, where citizens were forced to perform military service for life, which meant slave labour without payment, or death.

Eritreans are thus considered the group who gets international protection in the EU with the greatest certainty. This was so in Slovenia until recently, and it is now the first country in the EU which follows the interpretation that Eritrea is a safe country, they added.

Slovenian asylum activist Miha Blažič told the press that the Interior Ministry had no plan for what to do with Eritreans who drop out of asylum procedure. He believes that rejections are a political decision aimed at discouraging Eritreans from asking for asylum and forcing them to leave the country.

The protesters noted that the ministry had stated that the applicants could have asked for asylum in Sudan, which they believe is not a safe country.

"The ministry asks us what will happen to us if we go back to Eritrea: we don't know, maybe they will kill us, or detain us. Eritrea has no constitution or courts, power is in the hands of the police and dictatorship. We are slaves to the regime," the statement reads.

The ministry rejected the allegations about unprofessional and politically motivated decisions, adding that all applications were treated individually and that all personal circumstances of every applicant, including Eritreans, were considered.

15 Jan 2020, 10:30 AM

STA, 14 January 2020 - The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organisation researching the Holocaust, on Tuesday criticized the recent decision by the Slovenian Supreme Court to annul the 1946 conviction of Leon Rupnik, who headed the Provisional Government of the Nazi-occupied Province of Ljubljana.

In a letter sent to the Slovenian ambassador in Israel, the organisation said the "notorious anti-Semite" had played "a major role in the arrest and deportation of Jews from Ljubljana in 1943 and 1944" and actively participated in Holocaust crimes.

"This shameful decision constitutes a shocking distortion of the history of the Holocaust and a horrific insult to Rupnik's many victims and their families, the centre's director of Eastern European Affairs Efraim Zuroff said.

"We kindly request that you promptly convey our protest to the pertinent Slovenian authorities so that the proper measures can be taken to undo the enormous damage wrought by this unjust decision of the Slovenian Supreme Court," he said according to a press release published on the organisation's web page.

The Jewish Cultural Centre Ljubljana responded to the Supreme Court's decision last week with "indignation and concern", saying that it was the "first step in the politically-motivated aspiration to rehabilitate the criminal collaborationist regime during WWII".

After annulling the Rupnik verdict, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, but since it is impossible under Slovenian law to try a dead person - Rupnik was court-martialled and executed for treason in 1946 - the most likely outcome seems to be a termination of procedure.

You can see videos of Leon Rupnik as the main speaker at a pro-Nazi rally in the centre of Ljubljana, saluting a Nazi flag, below

More on this story can be found here

14 Jan 2020, 14:49 PM

STA, 14 January 2020 - Darko Muženič, the director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI; Nacionalnega preiskovalnega urada - NPU), does not think there are untouchables in Slovenia, but he does think that procedures are taking too long. He also told the STA in an interview that crime investigation and prosecution should adapt to globalisation and new technologies.

In the ten years since its inception, the NBI has handled 1,100 criminal offences, filing 796 criminal complaints for criminal acts that netted a total of EUR 1.048 billion in illegal proceeds.

Calling the decision to establish the bureau visionary, Muženič says that the NBI can respond nation-wide any time and any place with all resources.

The staff includes 58 fully operative investigators, but Muženič would like to staff the bureau up, mainly with operational analysts and computer forensic specialists.

The NBI is looking for experienced crime investigators with specialist expertise to keep abreast with offenders, who use advanced technologies, virtual currencies, and even transport drugs by submarines.

"They are always in step with technological advances to cover up their activities," says Muženič, so he does not think it possible for the law enforcement to work the same way as it did 50 years ago.

The NBI cannot attract staff with wages alone. "People who come to work with us want to investigate crime and do something good," says Muženič, a former crime investigator himself.

He believes that criminal procedures in Slovenia are taking too long, wondering whether sanctions are still effective if conviction follows several years after the crime is first discovered.

He offered Italy as a good example of fast prosecution of corporate crime. "Remember the Parmalat financial fraud scandal? From detection of the crime (...) to conviction and confiscation of property, it took two years. The recent first-instance conviction in the Hypo case in Slovenia followed seven years after the criminal complaint."

Moreover, vehicles confiscated in Italy are made available to public services such as police or social services, while in Slovenia impounded vehicles "are kept stored until all procedures are concluded".

The NBI last year sought temporary seizure of assets as security against illegal proceeds in the amount of EUR 115 million.

Muženič also believes that there is still too little awareness in Slovenia about the damage financial crime causes to the country.

"In the US someone who willingly cheats employees and fails to pay tax is sent to prison for 40 years. In Slovenia such procedures take 10 to 15 years or may even become statute barred."

If failure to pay tax is seen as a sin abroad, it is still seen as being resourceful in Slovenia. "The problem is people's mentality."

Muženič lauded cooperation between the NBI, police crime investigation divisions and the Financial Administration, as well as other state bodies, but noted that resolving corporate crime takes time.

It is lengthy procedures in the past that may have caused the impression in public that there are people who are untouchable for the hand of justice, but he does not think this is true.

Muženič also notes the public misconception that someone who is subject to a house search, for example, must be guilty. This is why he disagrees with media presence during house searches.

"It's also true that when we opt for a house search, we are almost hundred percent sure that the person under investigation is also the perpetrator.

"When we draw up a complaint, we justify why we believe the suspect committed the crime. However, the court has the final say, deliberates whether evidence and our grounding are consistent enough to prove guilt."

Muženič, who took over at the NBI a few months ago having previously served as the head of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention, has made crack-down on money laundering and corruption one of his priorities.

"We don't have big international corporations, professional money launders as they have abroad. It's all done on a smaller scale, but still considerable considering the country's size."

Even though there is not much talk about that in public, the police are working on these crimes, he says.

When it comes to money laundering, Slovenia has a robust preventive system, legislation aligned with the EU, and financial institutions have good systems to detect deviations.

As one of its strategic priorities, the NBI also monitors developments in public investment projects. However, Muženič says that mainly prevention is important when it comes to public tenders.

"Procedures must be conducted transparently and so as to detect flaws on time and notify those in charge. It is the job of those who run public contracting and of effective legislation."

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