Politics

11 Jan 2019, 16:20 PM

Mladina: Low Salaries in Slovenia are Because of Company Policies, Not Taxes

STA, 11 January 2019 - The weekly Mladina says that wealthy entrepreneurs are preparing the battle field ahead of a tax reform planned by the government. They are narrating a story of an engineer who is paid poorly due to high taxes and decides to leave the country to work abroad where taxes are lower. This, as it turns out, is nothing but a myth, Mladina says.

Under the headline “Abused Engineers”, the latest editorial of the left-leaning magazine says that engineers do make less in Slovenia than they would, for example, in Austria.

But this is not because of higher taxes but because company owners, Mladina specifically points to the owner of a successful exhaust maker Igor Akrapovič, do not give them higher pay.

Moreover, engineers are actually paid far less than what the entrepreneurs claim, the paper says, suggesting the bosses are actually talking about themselves.

In fact, income taxes for what engineers actually make in Slovenia are lower than in Austria. Only if they were paid as much as company owners claim they are, would the income tax be higher, a Mladina journalist has found.

He also busted the myth that engineers are leaving the country, providing numbers that only 70 engineers left Slovenia between 2012 and 2017. Most of them went to Croatia, which suggests that they were Croatian citizens studying in Slovenia who returned home after graduation.

"Will we allow yet another coup of demagogy? Will they abuse our empathy again?" the weekly wonders.

Reporter: President Pahor is an inclusive statesman

Note: this editorial is actually from last week

STA, 31 December - The right-leaning weekly Reporter commends President Borut Pahor in its latest commentary for his effort to be a voice of reason and a statesman who wants to build bridges rather than ostracise.

As he addressed an open day at the Presidential Palace to mark Independence and Unity Day, the president said he wanted more mutual respect in the coming year, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla notes in More Respect in 2019!

He adds that Pahor had asked at the national holiday more than 500 visitors to carry on his call for mutual respect, understanding and respect of differences.

The president's words are welcome and they again confirm that Pahor is or at least tries to be the president of all Slovenians more than any of other presidents before him.

"He is making an effort to be a voice of reason, a statesman who does not exclude, but connects."

According to Šurla, in the increasingly politically polarised world, full of ostracising and hatred, such a stance by the president is not always welcomed, unfortunately.

Pahor is being attacked more from the left than from the right, which is very telling. What the leftist ideological extremists have been bothered by most during Pahor's reign is his normal relationship with the political right, concludes the commentary.

All our posts in this series can be found here

09 Jan 2019, 19:34 PM

STA, 9 January 2019- The EU's future and challenges such as Brexit, migration and the upcoming Euro elections topped the agenda as Prime Minister Marjan Šarec received the visiting Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis on Wednesday.

According to the prime minister's office, the two officials called for a strong, unified and more effective EU, one that respects the values and principles underlying its foundation.

They agreed that migration was a problem common to all, so it should be addressed through a common, systematic and sustainable approach with the involvement of all member states.

Slovenia's position is that it is necessary to enhance cooperation with third countries, especially in Africa, in a bid to tackle the root causes of mass migration, and to protect the EU's external borders.

Šarec and Anastasiadis agreed that the Brexit agreement with the UK was the best possible, but they expressed the concern that the UK may leave without a deal.

The pair also expressed concern about growing populism in Europe, agreeing that the developments made the elections to the European Parliament in May the more important.

They also touched on the situation in the Western Balkans with Slovenia's position being that the prospect of EU membership for the region was an important motive for peace and stability in this part of Europe.

Anastasiadis also met parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan. Their meeting also revolved around the future of the EU and the upcoming elections. The pair also touched on the rise of right-wing populist movements in the bloc, the National Assembly said in a press release.

Over lunch, the speaker and the president also talked about the countries' healthcare systems and the importance of improving healthcare, and touched on the Middle East.

09 Jan 2019, 14:44 PM

STA, 9 January 2019 - After the Constitutional Court recently decreed a reform of the electoral law to re-establish the one-person-one-vote rule, the new chief justice Rajko Knez told the STA in an interview that introducing a preference vote in the general election would go in the right direction.

In its December ruling, the court declared the legislative provisions determining the size of electoral districts unconstitutional because their varying sizes meant that the votes of constituents who cast their ballots in smaller districts count more than those of constituents in larger districts.

Slovenia has ten electoral units, two of which are set aside for the Italian and Hungarian minorities to elect each their own MP. Each of the remaining eight units is divided into eleven districts to elect 88 MPs.

The court ordered the National Assembly to amend the legislation within two years. While it did not say how, the belief is the legislature may either change the sizes of the electoral districts or abolish them and introduce a preference vote at the level of the larger electoral units.

Speaking to the STA after assuming his three-year term as president of the Constitutional Court in December, Knez said it was not up to the court to say which solution would be the most suitable.

"However, introducing preference votes would go in the direction set out by the Constitutional Court because preference vote increases the individual's say on the outcome of the vote," he said, quoting a constitutional provision saying that voters should have a decisive say on which candidates get elected.

Chief Justice suggests reducing duties of the Constitutional Court to streamline its work

Knez would like for the Constitutional Court to be able to speed up processing of cases, which he says would be possible by reducing the scope of cases that the court has to admit. However, this would require amendments to the relevant law as well as to the Constitution.

"The Constitution, in Article 160, imposes a great number of responsibilities on the Constitutional Court, something that is perceived as peculiar by some of our colleagues abroad. It would be worth considering amending the article, or reinforce the court's staffing.

"One possible solution would be to limit constitutional appeals against court decisions to decisions of only certain courts, for example to those of the Supreme Court or those of the Administrative Court, as is the case in Austria."

However, Knez is somewhat reserved about the idea that Constitutional Court judges should be given the discretion to choose themselves which cases they would hear and which not.

Knez has already talked to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec about the need for changes and he says Šarec was open to suggestions, but no concrete steps have been taken yet. "I'd like for the government and parliament to hear us. Data on court case resolution time and the growing caseload call for action."

One of the things the court is deliberating on at the moment is whether to step up sanctions for the failure to implement the late-2014 ruling decreeing full state funding for private primary schools with publicly-approved curricula.

The National Assembly has already sent in its response, which means the case may be prepared for deliberation at a Constitutional Court's session, but Knez could not say when this will happen, because much depends on the rapporteur judge responsible for the case, but the matter is treated as an absolute priority.

The appearance of impartiality must be preserved

Knez, who has served as a judge on the Constitutional Court since April 2017, is not opposed to public appearances by judges, but advises restraint and preserving the image of impartiality, something that he believes judges stick to.

"We are as a rule careful where to appear and what to say, which is right," Knez says, so he does not see the need to place any additional restrictions on public appearances.

Asked to comment on an opinion aired by former Constitutional Court president Miroslav Mozetič about declining democracy and rule of law in the country, Knez said that he believed Slovenia to be a law-governed country.

"We can talk about whether there's more or less rule of law, but the fact is that mistakes also happen in older democracies," Knez said although this does not justify systemic mistakes.

Slovenia’s young legal system is a work in progress

In cases he has encountered so far Knez as a rule has not come across obvious or intentional abuse of the Constitution in decision-making, but there are "often mere nuances in understanding constitutional norms".

If there are violations, the reason may be legislation, legal voids. "We started building the Slovenian legal system only 28 years ago, which is a relatively short period of time. In 1997 we started adapting to the European system (...) Given the circumstances, it would be an illusion to expect nothing would go wrong."

Knez supports the introduction of a trial term for judges and conditionally also the transfer of appointments of judges from parliament to the Judicial Council, both of which are planned for this year, but he opposes limiting judges' terms once they are awarded a life-long tenure.

To prevent the judiciary shutting itself in when appointments are taken to the Judicial Council, Knez proposes fully professionalising the body and enhancing its independence by appointing relevant external members.

"Every system that within its frameworks functions as its own master may go awry in the long run, getting entangled in its own paradoxes and partial interests," the justice warns.

09 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 8 January 2018 - The Celje Higher Court has upheld a court ruling under which Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša has to pay RTV Slovenija journalist Mojca Šetinc Pašek 6,000 euro in damages for an offensive tweet. The damages are now final and he will also have pay the costs of the appeal procedure.

In a civil lawsuit brought against Janša by Šetinc Pašek, the Velenje Local Court ordered Janša in November 2016 to pay her the 6,000 euro, setting a 15-day deadline.

In March of the same year, Janša posted a tweet labelling editor Šetinc Pašek and journalist Eugenija Carl "washed up prostitutes" who offered their "cheap services" to the public broadcaster.

This was after Carl run a report on the SDS, which Janša found "containing a bunch of despicable lies about SDS members".

The latest ruling comes after a tug-of-war in which Janša had claimed he had missed the deadline to respond to the lawsuit because it was not handed to him in the standard procedure.

He had also disagreed with the sum he should pay, arguing the tweet could not have caused such anguish to Šetinc Pašek to warrant such high damages.

The Higher Court has now upheld the original ruling and also established that the lawsuit had been handed to Janša in the right manner.

It also agreed the tweet was offensive and going considerably beyond the freedom of speech, with its only intent being "insulting the claimant in the general public".

A similar lawsuit had been brought against Janša by Carl, but in her case, the Celje Higher Court sided with Janša's appeal, ordering a retrial last November.

Both journalists had also filed criminal lawsuits against Janša over the tweet.

In November, the Celje District Court sentenced Janša to a three-month suspended prison sentence on one-year probation for defamation and ordered him to pay for the costs of the trial. Janša's lawyer Franci Matoz announced an appeal.

All our stories about Janez Janša are here

06 Jan 2019, 15:09 PM

January 6, 2019

2018 was marked with several centenaries, WWI in particular, as well as two elections and the emergence of a new political star, a comedian turned politician, Marjan Šarec, who made a name for himself as an impersonator of various politicians, including the current opposition leader Janez Janša.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics

The year began with a pre-Olympic scandal. Biathlete Jakov Fak stepped down as a candidate for flagbearer at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, because some were bothered by his Croatian origin. Fak then won a silver in the men's 20km individual biathlon competition and became the highest ranking Slovenian competitor at the Games. A second, bronze medal was won by Žan Košir in the parallel giant slalom.

Slovenian president Borut Pahor was also in PyeongChang. He cheered for Slovenian sportsmen and then visited the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. He describes the situation at the border in the following words: “Sorry to say, but this is bizarre.”

Slovenian armed forces

Also in February, a NATO evaluation of the 72 brigade of the Slovenian army marked it as “combat not ready” in four out of five fields of scrutiny.  The Chief of General Staff of the Slovenian armed forces was thus replaced with Alan Geder, who remained in office until November, when he was replaced by the first female chief of a NATO army, Major General Alenka Ermenc.

Read more about the Slovenian military here.

Public sector on strike

The first two months of 2018 were also marked by several major strikes in the public sector, with staff demanding that the remaining austerity measures be removed.

A second wave of public sector strikes forced the Minister of Public Administration, Boris Koprivnikar, to resign. The Secretary General of the Government, Lilijana Kozćovič, then took over as the chief government negotiator.

By March 12th it seemed that negotiations were coming to an end, when just a few hours later the proposed agreement is abandoned and another strike is confirmed for March 14th. On this same day Prime Minister Miro Cerar resigns from his post, although for different reasons.

Second track of the Divača-Koper railway and resignation of PM Cerar

“Today was the last straw” said Miro Cerar, who resigned as Prime Minister after the Supreme Court declared the second track referendum invalid due to a biased government campaign.

Although the infrastructure project does not really need a new law to commence, certain other claims of the government in relation to this project raised eyebrows, including one that insists on Hungary investing €200 million in the project, a 1/5 of the cost, which would give the Hungarian party a 49% share in the project’s 2TDK company.

Campaign

With Cerar gone, Pahor decided not to look for another Prime Minister but to set an early election date instead. Regular parliamentary elections were expected for June 10, and it was initially suggested that early elections would take place in the second half of May.  

NSi (the former Christian Democrats) seize the opportunity for an eventual right-leaning coalition by replacing their party leader. Ljudmila Novak is thus replaced with Matej Tonin, hoping the latter will have more success in dealing with the SDS’ leader Janez Janša.

The SDS was believed to be financing its campaign using Hungarian money obtained via their media outlets such as Nova24TV and Demokracija. Janša was on the search for campaign resources himself, borrowing €450,000 from an alleged Bosnian businesswoman Dijana Đuđić, who is unable to show where the money came from. 

Why did Janša not borrow the money from a Slovenian bank? “NLB laundered a billion euros for terrorists, if this is a more credible institution, I don't know where we live”, Janša answered.

Investigations

Several parliamentary investigations came to an end in 2018. One of them was that into the bank liquidity gap under the leadership of SDS Anže Logar. The results revealed suspicious to businesses  in the Balkans and Russia, where the money seems to have disappeared without a trace. The commission indicted many of the bankers in charge at the time, who were unable to remember anything during interrogations.

Because the commission didn’t investigate money laundering in detail, another investigative commission was established, headed by Janko Moderndoerfer of the SMC party, which also investigates the problematic SDS loan. The commission found out that Iranian citizen Iraj Farrokhzadeh and his business with the NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka) was not a case of an individual doing business in Slovenia, but rather part of an Iranian state bank scheme to break through financial sanctions with the use of the Slovenian state-owned bank. The commission issued no indictment against those responsible at NLB, as their actions were “not criminal offences”. Unlike NLB, the investigation into NKBM (Nova Komunalna Banka Maribor) revealed strong suspicions of money laundering by Italian organised crime syndicates as well as Slovenian citizens, some of them even bank employees. One person indicted was Primož Britovšek, who joined the bank on the invitation of the board president Aleš Hauc as a deputy chief for money laundering and terrorism financing prevention although he proved to have no adequate knowledge for the post.

All our stories on money laundering are here.

The investigation into the vascular stents procurements in Slovenian hospitals also came to an end with seven indictments to the relevant authorities, revealing one of the fields of systemic corruption of the Slovenian health system.

President Pahor discovers his Barbie origins

Meanwhile the Slovenian president continued to entertain the public with his Instagram posts. His first notable post of the year, in which he complains about his wrinkles is followed by another in which he discovers why he was destined to become Barbie.

Elections and the new minority coalition

Meanwhile, the election campaigns formed around the migration crisis, problems on the border with Croatia, selling NLB, public sector strikes, corrupt bankers and a disintegrating health system.

The polls showed a high possibility of an SDS victory, although in the debates nobody seemed to be willing to join a coalition with the SDS leader Janez Janša, who eventually takes 24.96% of all the votes, far ahead of the runner up Marjan Šarec’ List 12.66%. President Borut Pahor does his job and first proposes Janša as the Prime Minister and coalition leader. Janša fails to gather the support of 46 votes in the 90-seat strong parliament to make the government operationally possible and steps back into the opposition, while Marjan Šarec forms a left-leaning minority government with a support of Levica (aka the Left), who decide to remain in the opposition. The coalition agreement includes raising the minimum wage and pensions, as well as lower taxation of labour, supplemented by higher capital gains tax.

All our stories on the elections are here.

Disputes with Croatia: NLB and maritime border arbitration decision

In 2013 the then leader of the Slovenia, Alenka Bratušek, claimed to have saved the government from bankruptcy by promising to privatise NLB in return for state recapitalisation of the bank, which in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 amounted to €2.2 billion, in addition to €2.3 billion of the bank’s bad debts that were transferred to The Banks Assets Management Company (BAMC), or the so-called “Bad Bank”. 

In 2018 NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka, since 1994) lost two cases with regard to the Croatian savers in LB (Ljubljanska Banka, until 1994), an issue Slovenia wants to put in the context of other remaining issues that originate from the dissolution of Yugoslavia. However, the bank might now need to pay about €400 million to the Croatian savers, which is why before the elections the SDS tried to pass a constitutional law that would presumably protect the bank from having to make such payments.  

A Croatian company from Umag extended its shellfish farm in the Bay of Piran, which Croatia continues to treat as part of its territory, while for Slovenia the arbitration decision on the disputed territories – which grants Slovenia most of the Bay – entered into force on January 2018. Slovenia wrote a protest letter to the European Commission, but no one seemed to take it seriously. Slovenia hence decided to file a lawsuit against Croatia for not following the arbitration agreement.

More problems in the health department

In February Aleš Šabeder took up leadership of the chaotic University Medical Centre in Ljubljana. Soon he faced mounting problems at the paediatric heart surgery department, where due to in-fighting there is a continual loss of surgeons. By the end of 2018 the health minister Milojka Kolar Celarc found an ad hoc solution by establishing a National Institute for Congenital Heart Disease, which would allow hiring foreign doctors on much higher pay than domestic ones, a move which now appears to be causing more problems than it solves.

All our stories on Slovenian healthcare are here.

September 13: New government’s constitutional session

The first surprises came with the first session of the new government. Ministers confirmed new state secretaries, among them Damir Črnčec, who became National Security Secretary in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. A former close colleague of Janez Janša, Črnčec is also known for his anti-immigration tweets, which compare refugees to cancer and call for their deportation. Šarec tries to calm the upset voices on the left by guarantees that if Črnčec continues to express such views he will have to go.

Among the tasks Damir Črnčec and Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar face are not only the challenges of migration, but also the case of a paramilitary group, the so-called Styrian Guard, formed by self-proclaimed Duke of Styria Andrej Šiško during the summer.

Work then begins, as Šarec first travels to Brussels, then to Berlin, and then meets with the head of NATO.

Minimum wage

The Left began pushing for a two-stage rise in the minimum wage, something that was part of the coalition agreement. Accordingly, the minimum wage would be raised from the existing €638 net to €667 in 2019 and to €700 in 2020.

Business representatives were unhappy with this, as well as with the proposed rise in corporate income tax, currently at a nominal 17% one of the lowest in Europe. Ivo Boscarol, the CEO of Pipistrel, a successful light-aircraft company that in earlier years was a regular recipient of state subsidies, denounced the proposal and threatened to move his company to Italy. Pipistrel, despite the less favourable tax environment across the border, in fact built a factory in Italy in 2012 so that its aircraft could be licenced for export to the United States.

Another successful businessman, Igor Akrapovič, joined the threats to take his business out of Slovenia and the positions of both men were supported by Sonja Šmuc, the executive director of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.

When Levica finally prepares a bill for a rise in the minimal wage in November, Ms Šmuc explained to the national broadcaster that the raise “wouldn’t make anyone satisfied but instead make a lot of dissatisfied people: someone who now receives €700 will then be seen as if they are on a minimum wage, and therefore we are creating a country of the wealthy poor.” She later claims that her statement was taken out of a context.

Medical achievements

While the new government faced a plethora of problems with a corrupt and dysfunctional health system, this did not seem to have affected the level of medical expertise. Dedicated teams of doctors and nurses at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana successfully carry out the first transplantation of both lungs in September, effectively establishing the lung transplantation programme in the Centre.

One month later there was another breakthrough in the field of plastic reconstructive surgery.  A patient who lost her entire nose to cancer was provided with a new one, constructed from the patient’s own tissue, which grew on her arm for about a month before being successfully transplanted to her face.

NLB finally sold – cheaply

On November 14 NLB shares were finally listed on the London and Ljubljana Stock Exchanges. Alenka Bratušek thus fulfilled her promise to Brussels, but was unlikely to be satisfied with the price. The State sold its 59% share for a mere €608.6 million, much less than Slovenian taxpayers had invested in it.

All our stories on privatisation in Slovenia are here.

First minister of the new government falls

The beginning of November saw a second round of election campaigns, as new mayors and city councils were to be chosen on November 18, when foreign residents also had a right to vote.

On November 13, the new Minister of Cohesion and former mayor of Komen Marko Bandelli was forced to step down after sending an inappropriate message to the new mayoral candidate:: “I’ve been informed that you are running for mayor’s office. (…) If your campaign is all about fighting the neighbours, then you should know that no support will come from me. And you know yourself the importance of un-support from the two important departments such as cohesion, EU regional development funds and above all infrastructure.”

It is not the first time Bandelli doesn’t  seem to understand the gravity of the matter. He had previously used the emergency blue lights on his official vehicle for no reason other than he was late, telling the media that he had the right to do so. This time he admitted his mistake, adding that he could redeem himself by doing a good job. Prime Minister Šarec had other reasons for wanting him gone, however, as Bandelli also failed to prepare a presentation for the Finance Minister on the situation with regard to drawing on EU funds. When the 5th of November deadline for this task had passed, Bandelli then asked to be given more time.

Pensions

The party leader Alenka Bratušek was surprisingly protective of Bandelli, although he still lost his job. She stated that she expects equal treatment by Prime Minister Šarec for all government officials, and at the same time seized the “opportunity” to strike back. She reminded Šarec to respect the coalition agreement and government commitment to raise pensions, or else...

Marjan Šarec’ comment on the demand by SAB (Stranka Alenke Bratušek) is that “to claim that only one coalition party cares for the pensioners is quite pretentious.” Was he worried that SAB was about to leave the governing coalition? “They didn’t show much of intention to leave.”

SAB stops pushing on this issue and proposes Iztok Purič as the new cohesion minister.

All our stories about pensions in Slovenia are here.

SDS against the Global Compact for Migration

In the second half of November the SDS began its campaign against the UN pact on migration that would be signed at the UN conference on December 10-11 in Marrakech. The SDS claims that the agreement does not differentiate between legal and illegal migrations and demands an advisory referendum on whether or not Slovenia should join the agreement.

The temperature went up at an irregular parliamentary session on the matter, where we could hear everything from curses to orders to take a member out of the parliament.

All our stories on migration in Slovenia are here.

Local elections 2018

At the local elections on November 18, citizens elected new mayors and local councillors. Ljubljana re-elected Zoran Jankovič, while another well-known mayor, Franc Kangler, lost his seat in Maribor to a challenger, Aleksander Saša Arsenovič.

In Koper the incumbent Boris Popovič lost to Aleš Bržan, with a mere seven vote difference. Popovič filed a series of complaints and when a mistake was discovered at one of the polling stations the difference went from seven to seventeen and Bržan became the new Mayor of Koper.

The end of strikes

At the beginning of December and after two months of negotiating the government and unions sign an agreement which will raise almost all salaries in the public sector. 

Impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec

On December 21 Janša's SDS and Jelinčič' SNS filed an impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec due to his government's failure to secure full financing of private schools. The impeachment was not supported by the opposition NSi, and Šarec responded that while this particular attempt to remove him from office was not to be taken very seriously, it should serve as a reminder that there is an opposition in Slovenia and that it’s not going to sit around idly.  

In 2018 Marjan Šarec also became a regular character impersonated on the Radio Ga-Ga  show, where he began his career as one of the show’s performers.

04 Jan 2019, 17:56 PM

Mladina: Protests in France are a sign of widespread economic insecurity

STA, 4 January 2019 - Commenting on the anti-government protests in France, the left-wing weekly Mladina says in its latest editorial that French society has finally realised what its main problems are.

Looking at the poverty statistics for Slovenia and Europe, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says that a high poverty rate is the reason for the French protests.

In Slovenia, 268,000 people lived below the poverty line in 2017 but as many as 345,000 were at risk of social exclusion, meaning one in six citizens. And Slovenia is among the countries faring rather well in Europe, he notes.

Until late autumn or early winter 2018, European and Slovenian politicians had been ignoring these people. They never perceived them as a political force.

"But there is hope that the protests in France will bring change. Because what we have seen on the streets in France have been protests that started among the poor and their message and frustration was quickly heard and understood by everyone but the French elite - at least for a while."

Most French citizens were able to identify with their feeling of despair that they will not be able to catch up and improve their lives. "Why? Because this is also how the middle class, which has been regressing for decades, feels."

The last crisis has left everyone feeling that no job is safe anymore and that the future is not bright, Repovž says. Save for a few exceptions, this is a source of constant and immense stress for Europeans.

Almost all European societies have become pressure cooker societies. France is important in this respect because it is almost always the first one to explode.

According to Repovž, the social stratification between those with no future and those choosing among the latest models of electric vehicles coming with state subsidies is a source of discontent, which extremist policies feed on.

But the French protesters have shown that most of the society has seen through smokescreens and realised what its actual problems are. People realised that they are not in a difficult situation because of immigration or a neighbour who receives social transfers but because of those who are in power.

"What a twist. And what a warning," Repovž says under the headline 345 Thousand People.

Demokracija: New York Times is wrong to attack Trump on Syria withdrawal

STA, 3 January 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija takes issue with The New York Times' comments on the US's involvement in the Syria war. In January 2018, the "lighthouse of global journalism" attacked President Donald Trump for keeping US soldiers there and only a year later it criticised him just as strongly for announcing a withdrawal from Syria.

"The situation was tragicomic. [Defence Secretary] Jim Mattis, who was the most hated person in the White House after Trump, became a hero of the left overnight. He was described as the 'last adult' in Donald Trump's administration," says editor-in-chief Jože Biščak.

Any reasonable man must have trouble understanding such a U-turn in the editorial policy of the paper boasting as many as 125 Pulitzer prizes, Biščak says.

"Trump is undoubtedly a unique president, even controversial at times. It is still too early to say how he will be judged by history. The mainstream media have already passed judgement and labelled him the worst president in history.

"But Trump has an effect on these journalists like no president before him. They are changing views and opinions, giving up their editorial policies exclusively based on what Trump says or does. No, he simply cannot do anything good."

The media have completely ignored the fact that Trump is a businessman and as such he knows that wars do not bring prosperity, new factories do.

The media attacked Trump in October for withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia but the criticism quickly died down after some Pulitzer laureates actually read the deal and found out it only concerned land missiles and not the sea-based, air-dropped and space nuclear weapons, Biščak says.

And that the US is far ahead of Russia in nuclear systems for launching missiles from the sea and land.

Similarly, the withdrawal from Syria means that 2,000 soldiers of US land forces will return home but the US will still have troops in the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean and in the 5th fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Secondly, the move is in line with Trump's plan to end the oil conflicts in the Middle East. The US no longer needs Arab oil. Thanks to innovation by US energy engineers, focussing for example on shale oil, the US has become a leading superpower in oil and natural gas production.

"This has not only caused a drastic fall in oil prices in the US, it had also led to a new political strategy in the Middle East, as Trump is taking Islam's strong weapon (oil), which it had been using against the Western civilisation for more than a hundred years."

These are the things that the global mainstream media (including in Slovenia) refuse to see and accept. And it is what destroyed its reputation permanently, Biščak says under the headline The Time It Takes for Earth to Circle Around Sun.

"The media turned out to be much more ferocious than Trump, who actually cares most for peace and his citizens."

All our articles in this series can be found here

28 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

Mladina: Fake news at Spiegel shows how important it is to stick with reality

STA, 28 December 2018 - The latest editorial of the weekly paper Mladina looks at Spiegel's Claas Relotius scandal as a symptom of a spectacle-seeking media landscape that has been compounded by new media forms. These are cashing in on the credibility built by traditional media in the past while only mimicking real journalistic tenets.

Serious print media, which actually are the only ones with enough room to carefully dissect social events and processes, find it hard to compete and attract readers these days.

While facing competition from thousands of new platforms, traditional media are also suffering under commercialisation, under the need to only have content that is extraordinary, giant, surprising.

The Relotius case is of course a warning to the media, whose existence is a basic condition for democracy but also has the potential to cause enormous harm.

It is a warning to everyone, to journalists, as well as to the public. It shows that reality is not always interesting, shiny, explosive, extraordinary. It is often banal, a little grey, frequently even uninteresting, full of data, some of which paradoxical, sometimes without a guilty party and simply a result of unexpected circumstances.

However, it is worth hanging on to such a reality, even if it is not be as juicy or attractive as videos of accidents on YouTube or emotional posts on Facebook.

Reporter: A welcome inquiry into the Bank Asset Management Company

STA, 24 December 2018 - Reporter welcomes in its latest commentary the establishment of the opposition-initiated parliamentary inquiry into the Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC), which according to the right-leaning weekly is "one of the biggest hotbeds of white-collar crime in recent years".

In the commentary headlined “Self-service Bad Bank”, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla says that "we are living in a country which has all the elements of a parallel state, where informal levers of influence are stronger than formal ones in many fields."

According to him, networks from behind the scenes actually rule the country. Unlike the government, which is supposed to work in principle in the public interest, these networks take care primarily of the interests of its members, so that as much public money as possible ends up in their private pockets.

Welcoming the parliamentary inquiry into the bad bank, the commentary notes that many bad things happened and are still happening behind the walls of the BAMC. There were probably some criminal acts committed, but they have so far not been discovered by the Court of Audit or criminal investigators.

Soon after being established in 2013, the bad bank turned into a self-service restaurant for networks, where a lot of tycoons, who first dug a hole in state-owned banks, made profits.

The new inquiry, which will probably be headed by New Slovenia (NSi) MP Jernej Vrtovec, should be welcomed, as the deputies intend to investigate both the transfers of assets to the bad bank and the possible involvement of public office holders in these transactions.

"Of course they were involved, because it is well known who made the staffing decisions at the BAMC in the recent years, who let the Scandinavians be chased away from there and merged the in-house banks of Kučan's Forum 21 - Faktor Banka and Probanka with the BAMC and then even employed their people in it."

All this happened in the term of the government headed by Miro Cerar, or actually headed instead of him by people from behind the scenes while he was consciously looking away, concludes the commentary.

Other posts in this series can be found here (note that sometimes we use another right-wing weekly, Demokracija)

23 Dec 2018, 12:31 PM

STA, 21 December 2018 - The autumn Eurabarometer poll shows that 38% of Slovenians have a positive attitude towards the EU and 18% have a negative attitude. In general, 43% of Europeans think positively about the EU and 20% have a negative attitude towards the bloc.

Half of Slovenian respondents said that they felt like their voice mattered and 45% said it did not. Moreover, 72% said they felt like EU citizens, while the average EU share was at 71%.

The poll also shows a record 75% support for the economic and monetary union, as well as the euro; the support is highest in Slovenia, at 86%.

Nearly 50% of Europeans believe that the bloc's economy was doing well, while 38% think the opposite. In Slovenia, 65% believe the EU economy is good and 29% think the opposite.

The poll suggests that 40% of Europeans are concerned by migrations, 20% are worried about terrorism and 19% by the state of public finance.

In Slovenia 58% of the respondents are worried by migrations, 20% are worried about terrorism and 13% are worried about the economy.

The Eurobarometer poll was carried out between 8 and 22 November. It included 32,600 people from across the EU.

You can get the full PDF report, in English, French or German, here

22 Dec 2018, 10:12 AM

STA, 21 December 2018 - President Borut Pahor has called for a concerted cooperation-based effort for changes that will keep Slovenia safe and economically robust in the face of pending global turbulences. He spoke to TV Slovenija about the need for structural changes, electoral reform, for a multilateral approach to migration, and for protecting free speech.

Pahor feels the level of cooperation in Slovenia is adequate for the present challenges, "but it is not sufficient for the demands of the times ahead."

Dangers ahead on multiple fronts

"I feel that we're all not really understanding yet that the times around us are changing, that the situation is changing at home and in particular in the international community and that a time is coming, without fail, which we all have to get ready for, as a state, its decision makers, as a community, as people, as a society."

Pahor fears Slovenia is relying too much on the recent positive trends. He argued that while "on the surface things are looking stable politically, right under the surface the rocks are hiding of party and bloc divisions".

He argued that in "the coming months, years this surface level will drop a little, as expected, and then these rocks will start sticking out sharply".

Pahor would like to see a sense developed that "we owe it to each other to cooperate, trust each other more, even if this will not happen overnight, because certain grudges remain".

"The problems ahead should not inspire fear in us, but are still a valid cause for certain concerns."

Security and the economy depend on cooperation

Listing the main priorities, he said Slovenia first and foremost needed to remain a safe country. It also needs to make its economy more "robust, resistant to the business cycle blows and perhaps recession".

Perhaps the most important thing however is cooperation. "We depend on each other" and "realising this and relying on each other would keep us on track no matter what lay in store".

"In the coming year, when it seems that this will be the last year of relatively favourable economic circumstances, the government and everybody cooperating with it have to create conditions for structural adjustments," Pahor said, arguing this would also boost the country's credibility and scope for action abroad.

Slovenia will win Croatian border dispute, and it’s electoral system will be reformed

Turning to the border arbitration impasse with Croatia, Pahor said it was important for Slovenia to have good relations with all neighbouring countries.

"I think it could be good if we'd give the debate on arbitration some time to calm down, while in the meantime I'd strive for constant dialogue between Zagreb and Ljubljana, including on how to implement the arbitration award."

He however stressed that "alternatives are not an option for us". Still, "there is no need to be nervous, impatient, because in the end, sooner or later, the border will be on the lines drawn by the tribunal".

Pahor "cannot imagine any scenario - peaceful, without the use of force or any major public opposition, possibly conflict-causing - that would lead to a different outcome of any sorts".

Touching on the Slovenian political system, he said he had taken the task upon himself, "one that everybody agreed with", to convene a meeting of parties in January to "start the very demanding discussion on a reform of the electoral system".

Arguing the sense in the public that politics is too self-involved is somewhat justified, he said the direction of electoral reform, also demanded by the Constitutional Court, "is more or less clear".

Finding a redrawing of election districts impossible, Pahor feels it more likely that more prominence will be given to electoral units and to the possibility of a preferential vote.

Pahor defends Catalan meeting

Quizzed about the tensions with PM Marjan Šarec over Pahor's decision to receive Catalan President Quim Torra, Pahor said that talking about major discrepancies in foreign policy was an exaggeration and that Šarec and him simply thought about the situation independently.

Pahor said his initial decision had been not to receive Torra. "It would't have been a wrong decision, but it was not good enough for me. Somehow, my heart did not allow it, I have to be honest here," he said, noting the tradition of good relations with Catalonia.

Meanwhile, returning to global politics shifts, Pahor stressed he was not a nationalist but still wanted Slovenia "to strengthen all the attributes of its statehood and sovereignty", as some of ripples of the changes could also reach Europe.

On the other hand, while nationalist forces are building ties in Europe, "we, who believe in European integration, have been unable to cooperate".

He still feels things are controllable, and urges a perspective that is out of box and that may raise eyebrows but could be a solution. Pahor would like to see another push for a constitutional process in the EU and plans to contribute with initiatives, including as part of what is known as the Ljubljana Process.

TEŠ6 and corruption

Quizzed about the TEŠ6 generator scandal, fears that the case will become statute barred and the general sense that the judicial system in protecting the elite, Pahor said he felt there was enough material available on the TEŠ6 case now to get to the bottom of things.

This would be good for future project too. There is a lack of trust presently stemming from bitter past experience that we haven't learned from, Pahor said.

"I wish things would move faster and express my trust that the legal institutions will deliver," he concluded.

As regards the situation of the current government, Pahor is happy that it has a solid support level even though it is a minority government and believes it should utilise this to secure structural reforms.

"Cooperation with the opposition will be necessary here, but I see problems here that could prove bigger in the coming years than it seems today," said the president, who announced he would continue to host consultations to try to find consensus.

Controlled migration depends on an international order and rules

Turning to migration, Pahor said he had felt he had to take an early stance on the UN migration compact, because of the "fear in part of the public that the compact will lead to an open doors policy or be seen as such by migrants".

"This is definitely not the case," he stressed, while arguing Slovenia's response was more than just about refugees, it was also about its identity and about its approach to multilateralism.

Situated at a very sensitive geopolitical location, Slovenia is in fact protected by the international order, Pahor said.

"We are the ones who need to push for these rules to be respected - the big ones can perhaps get away with violating them, but they are vital for us", he said arguing the joint UN approach will "only strengthen our ability to deal with the situation".

Free speech vs hate speech

Meanwhile, asked about his refusal to take a clear stance on the spreading of hate speech in Slovenia, Pahor said he called for tolerance and respect in practically all of his speeches but was careful when confronted with demands to take a stance on specific issues.

Moreover, Pahor is a strong believer in the freedom of speech and fears issues related to the blurry line between acceptable and hateful speech. He feels the situation required personal and political responsibility to be kind and respectful.

"We'll only get through these tough times be speaking our mind openly," he said, while asserting he is "not among those who believe there is more hate speech today".

"It is just more visible and more present because of social as well as traditional media...It is more present in a qualitative sense," Pahor said, while noting some similarities with the 1930s. "And I'm concerned, that is why I call for tolerance."

21 Dec 2018, 17:00 PM

STA, 21 December 2018 - The opposition parties the Democrats (SDS) and the National Party (SNS) launched an impeachment motion against Prime Minister Marjan Šarec on Friday. The parties decided for the move after the SDS's latest attempt to secure more funds for private schools failed in parliament yesterday.

MPs defeated in a 44 to 31 vote yesterday legislative amendment designed to implement full government funding of publicly-approved curricula at private primary schools as mandated by the Constitutional Court in 2014 in what was the fifth time that the party attempted to get the motion through.

The Constitutional Court ruled in December 2014 that the current 85% state financing of publicly-approved curricula at private schools was not in compliance with the Constitution.

The issue is an ideological one considering that two primaries in the country are operated by the Catholic Church. The previous government sought to enact the ruling, but the legislative process was stalled by the Social Democrat-led initiative to amend the Constitution, which eventually failed.

Šarec's government opposes the SDS-sponsored legislative changes, arguing that they tackle the issue of financing of private schools only partially.

This was repeated by Education Minister Jernej Pikalo in parliament yesterday. He announced a comprehensive solution would be sought at the beginning of next year and definitely before the start of the next school year.

The SDS, New Slovenia (NSi) and the SNS deputy groups were considering impeaching Šarec over the government's failure to implement the 2014 Constitutional Court ruling already at the beginning of the month, but decided to wait for the parliamentary session.

The SDS announced the move yesterday and the NSi was also to join the campaign but eventually opted out.

The party explained its decision on Twitter. "After Minister Jernej Pikalo announced the Constitutional Court's decision will be implemented by the beginning of next school year, the impeachment motion no longer enjoys the support of the necessary 46 MPs."

Noting that impeachment was a "strong tool of the opposition", the NSi said that if it were to stay this way it should only be used on sufficient support.

The initiators of the motion claim that Šarec as prime minister insists on discriminating children who attend the obligatory primary school programme at private schools. Thus, inequality is being created and the Constitution violated, the SDS and SNS claim.

The two parties are accusing the prime minister of failure to act, which caused "irreparable damage and the loss of trust in the institutions of the rule of law and welfare state."

They also claim Šarec is guilty of negligence at work, violation of several articles of the Constitution and the government act.

During yesterday's debate on the school funding, MPs of the coalition pointed to the different interpretations of the Constitutional Court's decision and labelled the impeachment motion a "populist gesture".

This is the fourth impeachment motion against a prime minister in Slovenia's history. In order for the Constitutional Court to decide on the motion, it would need to be backed by 46 of the 90 MPs, which seems very unlikely.

So far, all impeachment motions have been filed by the SDS and none of them even made it to the Constitutional Court.

21 Dec 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 20 December 2018 - The National Assembly formed on Thursday a parliamentary inquiry into financing of political parties from abroad on an initiative from the coalition and the opposition Left. It will focus on the allegedly suspicious financing of the centre-right opposition Democrats (SDS), which believes it is an attempt to hamper its work.

The commission is to determine possible violations of the law prohibiting financing of parties from abroad and the role of the media in the financing.

The parties based their request on a report by the Court of Audit with the SDS, the only implicated party for the moment, but Jani Möderndorfer of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), who is to be appointed commission chair at its next session, said that the inquiry could be expanded if there were indications of other parties' questionable actions.

According to Möderndorfer, there was controversy about the financial support that companies with alleged ties to Hungarian ruling parties provide to some Slovenian media and its effect on the election campaign.

Möderndorfer mentioned the media house Nova24TV, magazine Škandal24 and the weekly Demokracija, whose ownership is linked to the SDS and Hungarian investors.

Related: New York Times examines Orban’s media allies in Slovenia

The commission will focus on the events between 2012 and 3 June 2017. The provisions on the financing of political parties stepped into force in 2012.

Robert Pavšič of the Marjan Šarec List (MLŠ) said on behalf of the initiators that the potential result of the inquiry could be thorough changes of legislation regulating money laundering prevention, financing of parties and election campaign and issuing and financing of media during election campaign.

Möderndorfer said that the inquiry had been endorsed because the issue had been dealt with already in the previous term and that the findings of the inquiry on suspected money laundering in the NKBM bank would also be included in the investigation.

He said that the SMC would propose at the first session of the commission that the Court of Audit be called to inform the MPs whether any party other than the SDS had "problems with financing".

Marko Koprivc of the Social Democrats (SD) said that it should be established what was wrong with the system which allows for suspicious financing of parties.

Koprivc added that the loan given to the SDS by Bosnian citizen Dijana Đuđić, who appears to have used NKBM accounts to extend millions in suspicions loans in Slovenia, and the suspicious manner of financing of the media owned by the SDS should be finally investigated.

Related: Politico on Janša and Orban

Franc Jurša of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said that the inquiry could indirectly help strengthen the system of prevention of money laundering, financing of terrorism and tax evasion.

Nataša Sukić said that the law and supervision of transparency and lawfulness of financing of parties and election campaigns cannot keep up with the increasingly innovative and complicated financial flows, with the SDS being a leader in this department.

"The funds being transferred between foreign countries and the party are increasing. We are talking about a propaganda machine financed from Orban's Hungary, about money laundering suspicion, illegal transactions and interference in Slovenia's internal matters."

The SDS meanwhile believes that it is about the left-leaning coalition attacking the SDS. "It is more than obvious that the purpose of the inquiry is to get insight in the guts of the SDS, discredit it maliciously, try to paralyse it and hamper its work," deputy Dejan Kaloh said.

Kaloh added that the subject of the inquiry should be expanded with the question of how much foreign capital was involved in the promotion of the five coalition parties and the Left and "what share of the commission the leading officials in the LMŠ received from the EUR 1bn laundered for Iranian terrorists through the state-owned NLB bank."

New Total Croatia Info Site

total-croatia-montenegro.jpg

Editorial

Photo of the Week

Photo galleries and videos

This websie uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.