04 Jun 2020, 11:29 AM

STA, 3 June 2020 - Defence Minister Matej Tonin set out a plan to invest EUR 780 million in defence over the next six years as he joined President Borut Pahor for the viewing of a military exercise on Wednesday.

Tonin and Pahor as the supreme commander were hosted by the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) for a presentation within a series of exercises dubbed Leap 2020 in Babno Polje in the south of the country.

The minister commented that the name of the exercise suggested the SAF's challenge was to "leap into a new reality, to be able to confront the crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, and, above all, to be able to act in aggravated conditions".

The exercise is special in that it is not being held in the country's main military exercise grounds, but in local communities, which Tonin said welcomed SAF members well. Such a format of the exercise is meant to bring the army closer to people.

Tonin repeated his pledge to work for amendments to the defence act and defence investment act, with talks under way with opposition deputy factions on the former, which requires a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass.

The gist of amendments to the defence act is to tackle the status of soldiers beyond the age of 45 when under the current law they are required to retire. "The best promoter of the SAF is a satisfied soldier," said Tonin.

He was happy to announce that that the ministries of defence and finance had agreed the final wording of the bill amending the defence investment act that foresees EUR 780 million investment in SAF over the next six years. Tonin will now seek the coalition's support for the bill.

Pahor noted that the needed major investments in the army could not be planned over a single government term, declaring that the planned investment would "allow the SAF to continue as the military pillar of Slovenia's security".

The president underscored that Slovenia being a safe country was one of the major achievements since independence. He said Slovenia had no enemies in the world, but had many friends and was acquiring new ones.

"It's an achievement that is the merit of the security system," the president said, noting the contribution of the police force and other factors aside the army.

The exercise, which also involved overflights by US F16 fighter jets and Slovenian Pilatus aircraft, was also viewed by other senior guests, including US Ambassador Lynda C. Blanchard, the chair of the parliamentary Defence Committee Samo Bevk and Interior Ministry State Secretary Franc Kangler.

The Leap 2020 exercise has been running since 11 May at various locations across the country. A total of 2,500 service members will have been involved in the tactical drills until 19 June.

02 Jun 2020, 16:18 PM

STA, 2 June 2020 - More than 1,000 additional police officers were dispatched to Slovenia's border with Croatia on Tuesday to tight border control until Friday, as the police say an increase in migrants on the Balkan route has been detected.

The aim of the mission, ordered by acting Police Commissioner Anton Travner, is to show migrants and smugglers that an attempt to enter Slovenia does not pay off, Deputy Police Commissioner Jože Senica said on Tuesday.

Police are using all technical measures available, including surveillance drones, thermal cameras, motion-sensor cameras and helicopters.

Police officers are assisted by the military, Senica said in a statement on Tuesday, speaking at one of the points where the control has been beefed up in the area of Kočevje, south.

Apart from regular patrols, mounted police officers, the canine unit, a specialised border control unit and the special weapons team have been sent to the border, said Senica, adding that additional auxiliary police had also been mobilised.

Moreover, a special debrief police team has been set up. Its members, specially trained officers, will try to gain information from migrants about the routes they are taking and smugglers organising the border crossings.

Senica said that migrants are becoming increasingly cautious, travelling through remote areas and at night.

He said that the number of people on the Balkan migration route had increased in the past two weeks after countries started lifting restrictions they had had in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the beginning of the year, Greece moved several thousand migrants from islands to the mainland, while Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have abolished movement restriction, the deputy commissioner said.

"This has created additional pressure and encouraged migrants to continue their journey towards Slovenia," said Senica.

In the past days, several groups of migrants have been detected trying to enter the country illegally and continue their journey towards Italy.

According to police data, there are more than 10,000 migrants in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina who want to continue their journey to the EU.

The General Police Department said today that it had detected 3,139 attempts at illegal border crossing in the first five months of the year. Last year, the figure for the same period stood at 4,426. The police attributed the drop to strict border measures accompanying the coronavirus pandemic.

02 Jun 2020, 13:21 PM

STA, 2 June 2020 - A primary school pupil in Maribor has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in what is the first positive case among children after they started gradually returning to schools on 18 May, and the first confirmed case in the country's second largest city after 30 April.

The head teacher of the Ludvik Pliberšek School wrote on Tuesday the school had been notified of the infection by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The 17 classmates of the infected third-grader, who was asymptomatic, and teacher were sent into a two-week quarantine, while the remaining pupils at the school will continue going to class. The classmates' parents are allowed to continue going to work.

This decision was made after the NIJZ conducted an assessment of the situation, establishing all of its preventive measures were being implemented. The NIJZ told the STA the infected child had not had close contact with children from other classes.

Mario Fafangel of the NIJZ later told the press that this was probably a case of an infection contracted within the child's family, with other family members also infected. One case was confirmed on Monday by midnight while an infection was also confirmed today for some of the contacts.

While the detailed figures will be published on Wednesday, the tracing of contacts is continuing. The original source of the infection has not yet been identified.

The development comes after the first three grades returned to school on 18 May. Ninth-graders followed a week later and the remaining primary school children returned on Monday.

It also comes after Maribor declared itself a coronavirus-free zone last Thursday, having been without a new Covid-19 case since 30 April.

Two new coronavirus infections on Monday, no deaths reported

STA, 2 June 2020 - Two people tested positive for coronavirus in Slovenia on Monday, raising the total number of infections recorded so far to 1,475. Five people were still in hospital, the same as the day before, of whom one was in intensive care. No deaths were reported, meaning that the national death toll remained at 109.

On Monday, 659 tests were conducted, putting the total number of tests performed so far at 79,698, or roughly 39,000 tests per million population.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia

02 Jun 2020, 09:03 AM

STA, 1 June 2020 - Slovenia is assuming on 1 June the one-year chairmanship of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative and of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR). The main focus of the country's chairmanship of both platforms will be green cooperation, the Western Balkans, and EU enlargement.

Foreign Minister Anže Logar presented the priorities during last week's videoconference with the foreign ministers from all participating countries.

He said Slovenia would strive for the "recovery from Covid-19 to be a green recovery".

He finds it key that the participating EU member states insist on their commitment that joint macro-regional priorities of strategic importance for the Adriatic and Ionian region are considered when funds from the new EU financial perspective are allocated.

He also announced Slovenia would make an effort for the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, entailing its meeting the EU's decarbonisation targets, to be implemented.

A special focus will be given to continuing the EU enlargement process, so Logar said he was happy Albania and North Macedonia were starting their EU accession talks.

Logar believes that Slovenia's chairmanship of the two initiatives is an introduction to its presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2021.

This is Slovenia's third stint at the helm of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative, coming after 2003-2004 and 2012-2013, and the first EUSAIR chairmanship.

The Initiative brings together nine countries, apart from Slovenia also Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

It was formed in May 2000 in Italy's Ancona, with Slovenia one of its six co-founding members.

Slovenia takes part is another two of the EU's four strategic macro-regions designed to promote cooperation between the EU and the regions, namely in the initiatives for the Alpine and Danube regions.

EUSAIR meanwhile brings together Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and Greece as EU members, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania as EU candidates or aspiring countries. Its four pillars are blue growth, environment, tourism, and transport and energy.

01 Jun 2020, 12:07 PM

STA, 1 June 2020 - Slovenian frontline staff will get an unprecedented thank you for their work during the coronavirus epidemic as military planes and US fighter jets conduct a flypast of the entire country on Monday, the first day after the formal end of the epidemic.

Three Slovenian Pilatus PC-9 will be joined by for the six American F-16 fighters, taking off from Aviano air base in Italy, will join up around Jesenice in the west just after 1pm and then fly a loop over the entire country east and then back west.

The flight path

The flypast will be in two echelons a mile apart at an altitude of about 1,200 metres and a speed of 425 km/h.

The commander of the Slovenian air force, Lt-Col Janez Gaube, said on Friday that the flypast was "a clear, loud and visible thank you to all the people who gave it their all in the fight against Covid-19."

Lt-Col Ben Shaha, the US military attaché to Slovenia, added that the virus may have slowed down cooperation a bit but could not defeat the alliance.

31 May 2020, 13:50 PM

STA, 30 May 2020 - The National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) is in for a very difficult summer because of preparations for a second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, NIJZ's new director Milan Krek told the STA. "The idea that the epidemic is over is actually fake news," he said about the formal end of the epidemic, warning that the second wave might be worse.

Apart from dealing with its regular work this summer, NIJZ will also make preparations for the second wave of the epidemic and try to help people deal with the recession that is expected to hit in the coming months if not years.

NIJZ is monitoring the epidemiological situation in Slovenia and other European countries and beyond. "We are on alert to see what could start where; we are also very active in controlling the crossings of the border. We are writing recommendations to many in Slovenia to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading."

A Covid-19 information system is being set up, but NIJZ is primarily working to increase the number of people who could help with epidemiological activities during the second wave, meaning in identifying those infected and ordering isolation or quarantine.

Currently, 29 NIJZ epidemiologists are working in the field, which Krek thinks is not enough to be able to respond to new outbreaks efficiently. He is hoping for some 130 people, which should be enough to control up to 30 new cases per day.

If isolation is ordered for those infected on time, the current situation could be maintained. "This means health treatment will be available, and health centres, schools, universities etc. open." But if the situation gets out of hand, the second wave could be worse than the first, Krek warns.

He says there is also a very small possibility that there will be no second wave. "But right now all signs point to a second wave, because we have very low immunity to the virus and because it is still out there, just waiting for favourable conditions to start spreading again."

The chances os the virus starting spreading again are increasing with the easing of restrictive measures, and with people not taking preventive measures, Krek says. "This gives it a change to find a nest again, and cause problems again."

The NIJZ head therefore believes people should not think the epidemic is actually over. "The idea that the epidemic is over is actually fake news. The fact is that we are in a different phase of this epidemic. We have a low number of infections, but that does not mean we're safe. We're not on the safe side."

NIJZ will thus promote preventive measures even when there are no more infections in the country. This means keeping a 1.5-metre distance between people or wearing protective masks. "In other words, this means that if you are taking a bus, we will still recommend you to wear a face mask."

Hygiene requirements and coughing etiquette will also remain in place, and NIJZ is planning to launch a big awareness campaign. Krek says that efforts to change habits such as hand-shakes and hugs should continue.

In case of a second wave, NIJZ will try to isolate the outbreak. "If it happens in a factory, it could be shut down if necessary. If it happens in a school, it will be closed as a last resort, and a quarantine will be set up. We're also thinking of putting entire towns in quarantine if there is a strong outbreak there."

An epidemic will be declared again if there are not enough hospital beds or if the NIJZ epidemiological service is not able to trace all infected persons.

Krek says the institute is doing all it can to make sure lockdown will not be necessary again but nothing is excluded.

Although his predecessors got into some quarrels with the government in the past months, Krek says the relations between NIJZ and the government are very good now. "I don't know how it was before, but right now we are an important player."

Krek says the decision to declare the end of the epidemic, which will step into force on Sunday, had been discussed for almost four weeks beforehand. "We were sending signals that it would make sense to consider ending this state of epidemic. And the government then adopted this decision."

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here

30 May 2020, 13:00 PM

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, 22 May
        PIRAN - The Slovenian and Croatian foreign ministers, Anže Logar and Gordan Grlić Radman, had their first meeting in person. They discussed the reopening of borders but offered no specific solutions as yet.
        LJUBLJANA - Austria remains rather inflexible about reopening its border with Slovenia, although Slovenia's epidemiological situation is the same or even better than Austria's, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Geržina told the STA.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor and his Lithuanian counterpart Gitanas Nauseda highlighted the role of a joint European response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic in the EU as they spoke over the phone.
        LJUBLJANA - The cycling protests against the government's actions and policies continued for the fifth Friday running, with several thousands protesters reported again in Ljubljana. PM Janša lashed out against the protesters by comparing them to the self-styled paramilitary units or nationalist home guards that recently made headlines, arguing both were extremely offensive to the police.
        LJUBLJANA/LONDON, UK - Speaking to the BBC on 21 May, Slovenian PM Janez Janša said that tourism was the mainstay of Slovenia's economy and announced that the season would kick off on 1 June, and assured that holidaying in Slovenia would be safe in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
        LJUBLJANA - The energy group Petrol saw its sales revenue drop by 15% year on year to EUR 916 million in the first quarter, due to lower prices and a drop in the sale of petroleum products. Still, net profit of the group was up 20% to EUR 21.8 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The central bank amended the rules for calculating creditworthiness, allowing banks to exclude the months with temporary lower income of their clients from creditworthiness calculations.
        LJUBLJANA - As many as 66% of those polled by market research agency Aragon are against coronavirus contact-tracing apps, labelling them a harsh encroachment on privacy and a violation of human rights. Some 31% meanwhile consider them a necessary measure to contain the spread of the virus.

        LJUBLJANA - Bojana Beović, the head of the Health Ministry advisory task force for coronavirus, told the STA that all efforts should be directed at preventing another nation-wide lockdown if a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic occurs.
        LJUBLJANA - Although the party is well below the parliament threshold in recent surveys, coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) president Zdravko Počivalšek believes that the threshold is reachable even if elections were held now.
        LJUBLJANA - Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) president Aleksander Čeferin told the newspaper Dnevnik that football with fans in the stands could hopefully return by the autumn. He also denied speculations that he was interested in entering politics.

SUNDAY, 24 May
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor told commercial broadcaster POP TV that self-styled uniformed village guards or militias should not be allowed in Slovenia. He thinks such activities should be banned by law.
        AJDOVŠČINA - Bia Separations, a Slovenian biotechnology company, announced it would expand its production facilities in Ajdovščina and Italy's Gorizia due to increased demand. The company's investment plans to launch production in the US have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will go ahead as soon as possible.

MONDAY, 25 May
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs discussed the opening of the border with his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer, with the latter saying that Austria was worried that Italians and illegal migrants would enter Austria via Slovenia and Croatia. LJUBLJANA - In his first questions time in parliament since taking office in March, Prime Minister Janez Janša told MPs there was not enough money in the budget to compensate for all losses incurred by the coronavirus pandemic, but that the government could mitigate the consequences to the greatest extent possible. He said no major cuts into people's income was planned.
        LJUBLJANA/TRIESTE, Italy - The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) denied its member being involved in an incident near the border with Italy in early May after the Trieste-based newspaper Primorski Dnevnik reported that a dual Slovenian-Italian citizen had been stopped at gunpoint by a man in a military uniform in the Hrpelje-Kozina community.
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the weekly Reporter that he expects the authorities to take action against the organisers of the mass anti-government protests on bicycles.
        LJUBLJANA - Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj and Health Minister Tomaž Gantar defended action to contain the spread of coronavirus at care homes in parliament as the opposition sought answers about the high proportion of Covid-19 fatalities at care homes and about media reports that care home residents had allegedly been listed as to who should get hospital treatment and who not if infected. Gantar denied the existence of such lists.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Janez Janša announced potential changes to tax legislation and media funding as he gave a weekly interview with the private broadcaster Nova24TV. He said, however, that fast tax cuts could not be made due to the coronacrisis and said the Culture Ministry was already working on changes to public broadcaster funding.
        LJUBLJANA - The Covid-19 lockdown meant Slovenia recorded no tourist arrivals in April, while the number of recorded overnight stays was 11,000. This is 99% less that in April 2019 and was mostly accounted for by ongoing student exchange programmes.
        LJUBLJANA - A sharp increase in Slovenia's registered unemployment total caused by the coronavirus crisis was brought to a halt last week with the weekly figure rising only by 59 to 90,272 compared to the previous week, according to interim data from the Employment Service.
        LJUBLJANA - After plummeting by an unprecedented 35.8 percentage points in April, business sentiment in Slovenia improved somewhat in May, with the relevant index standing at -33.1 percentage points, or 6.5 points higher than in April and 40.8 percentage points lower year-on-year.
        LJUBLJANA - Electricity consumption in Slovenia declined by 15% year-on-year in April, the first full month of coronavirus lockdown, and by 19% compared to March, an indication of a sharp decline in economic activity, Statistics Office data show.

        LJUBLJANA - The government added new exemptions to the quarantine requirement for EU and Schengen zone citizens that in effect allow citizens from across the EU to enter the country as tourists, as long as they have a confirmation of booking. The same applies to owners of property in Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs talked over the phone with his Maltese counterpart Byron Camilleri. While the latter urged Slovenia to help with the relocation of migrants rescued at sea, Hojs said Slovenia's capacities were full and it could not do that at present.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia pledged a humanitarian contribution of EUR 10,000 as part of an international donor conference in solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and migrants in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
        LJUBLJANA - In the first four months of 2020, the Slovenian police recorded 2,394 illegal crossings of the border, which is almost 25% less than in the same period last year. The decline is at least partially a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and the related stricter measures on the border.
        LJUBLJANA - The government received a letter from the Green 10, a coalition of ten of the largest environmental NGOs in Europe, which expresses concern over pending legal provisions limiting the involvement of NGOs in environmental permit procedures.
        LJUBLJANA - The Chamber of Small Business (OZS) called on the government to start working on a fourth stimulus package to help the industries that have not been covered in the third stimulus package.
        LJUBLJANA - Culture workers covered the front of the building housing the Ministry of Culture with hundreds of pieces of paper with appeals for action to help the sector hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic as part of a protest targeting what the organisers described as the ministry's silence and inaction.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia placed seventh according in the 2020 KidsRights Index, released by the KidsRights Foundation, an international children's aid and advocacy NGO. The country received 0.897 points overall, chalking up the highest score in protection and the lowest in the child rights environment category.

        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia will be eligible to receive EUR 5.071 billion from the EU's coronavirus recovery plan, according to European Commission documents. It will be able to receive EUR 2.579 billion in grants and EUR 2.492 billion in loans.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly passed a set of changes limiting the involvement of environmental NGOs in administrative and court proceedings. Under the changes, public interest status will be recognised only for groups with at least 50 members, at least EUR 10,000 of assets, at least two fully employed persons who have tertiary education level degrees and two years of experience in environmental protection.
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry would not comment on a new remembrance day declared by the Trieste city council. The Slovenian Cultural and Economic Association (SKGZ), one of the central organisations of the Slovenian ethnic minority in Italy, said the holiday was divisive and "reviving old conflicts".
        LJUBLJANA - Defence Minister Matej Tonin spoke with his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer via videolink to express satisfaction with the countries' cooperation in defence and look for opportunities to strengthen it further.
        LJUBLJANA - Parliament confirmed Klemen Podobnik as the candidate for one of two Slovenian judges at the EU's General Court in Luxembourg. The remaining two nominees, Jure Vidmar and Nina Savin Bossiere, failed to secure the absolute majority required.
        LJUBLJANA - Marko Bošnjak, one of the five vice-governors of Slovenia's central bank, tendered his resignation in the aftermath of accusations that he evaded taxes on rental income.
        LJUBLJANA - Heads of the parliamentary deputy groups and parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič discussed reforming the electoral law, with a majority agreeing that the relevant ministry should be tasked with drafting proposals for redefining the electoral districts. A day later Zorčič and President Borut Pahor urged all stakeholders to find a solution by December.
        LJUBLJANA - Retail sales plunged by 22.6% year-on-year in April to the lowest level since 2006, show fresh Statistics Office data. At the monthly level the decline was 8.8%, following a 12% contraction in March.

        LJUBLJANA - Dejan Židan resigned as the leader of the opposition Social Democrats. Vice-president Tanja Fajon, an MEP, will run the party for the time being at his request. Židan said he saw the change of leadership as an opportunity for the party to gain in the polls.
        DOLGA VAS - Slovenia and Hungary lifted restrictions on the crossing of state border for the citizens of both countries based on a favourable epidemiological situation in both countries. The announcement came after talks between the Slovenian and Hungarian foreign ministers, Anže Logar and Peter Szijjarto.
        LJUBLJANA - The government decided that primary schools would open in full next week. It also allowed the gathering of up to 200 people. Hotels, gyms and spas will also open on Monday. The only establishments that will remain closed are night clubs.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Labour Committee okayed the EUR 1 billion third stimulus package, which provides a short-time work scheme and support to the tourism sector, primarily in the form of tourist vouchers for all residents.
        LJUBLJANA - The SID Banka export and development bank has secured EUR 200 million in liquidity loans and another EUR 150 million in insurance and re-insurance deals to sole traders, SMEs and big companies as well as cooperatives during the Covid-19 epidemic.
        LJUBLJANA - The retail group Mercator generated EUR 1.1 million in net profit in the first quarter of 2020 after a net loss of EUR 3.7 million in the same period last year. Revenue increased by 10.8% to top EUR 530.48 million.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Commission increased more than five-fold the Just Transition Mechanism funds for Slovenia, from EUR 92 million to EUR 538 million.
        LJUBLJANA - Ernest Petrič, a seasoned diplomat and former Constitutional Court judge who is currently an adviser to President Borut Pahor, was named by the government as Slovenia's member of the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, for a four-year term.

All our posts in this series are here

30 May 2020, 09:47 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 29 May 2020. All our stories about coronavirus and Slovenia are here

Mladina: SDS to be left without partners in 2022

STA, 29 May 2020 - The left-wing weekly Mladina says in Friday's editorial that the ruling Democrats (SDS) have turned a lot of people against themselves and set in motion a rising opposition movement including people who did not define themselves politically prior to the current situation.

"Unless [Janez] Janša introduces one of the numerous possible forms of undemocratic or semi-democratic regimes, the SDS will leave the government offices together with its perennial leader after the regular election in 2022 at the latest."

The paper argues that the more Janša and his allies keep "destroying Slovenia's immune system", including state institutions and civil society, the stronger response they will face in the next election.

A number of individuals and groups are ready to enter politics and oppose the current government, says editor-in-chief Grega Repovž, adding that UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin probably won't do that. Nevertheless, Čeferin's recent statements and actions have shown that a clear opposition to Janša has been formed.

The Friday anti-government protests on bicycles have moreover revealed that people are increasingly determined to speak out and point to the prime minister's attacks, says Mladina.

Janša is aware that after the election he will not be able to form another coalition. Apart from New Slovenia (NSi), his party does not have any other serious partners left. "The Modern Centre Party (SMC) will not make it to parliament anymore, whereas the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) could achieve that feat only by turning away from Janša."

SMC MPs entered the SDS-led coalition with relatively simple intentions; they just wanted to somehow politically survive and secure jobs for later, Repovž says.

"From a perspective of someone who considers an MP status a job and has never deemed politics a calling that is an utterly normal and human approach."

Both parties, SMC and DeSUS knew then that this coalition would raise dust and that ideological issues would be reopened, says the editorial, headlined Putting Yourself in SMC and DeSUS Shoes.

However, they have failed to predict that such mass protests will be held every Friday and that European ambassadors and established international organisations promoting democratic standards will be expressing concern over the situation in Slovenia.

The coalition knows that protesters will soon come to the rallies without bicycles. Janša is thus trying to "behead and silence [public broadcaster] RTV Slovenija before that happens, whereas DeSUS and SMC are looking for "a political way out of this situation".

The two parties are under pressure with certain members up in arms. "Moreover, many a DeSUS and SMC member has spent past few Fridays on a bicycle."

Demokracija: UEFA boss to blame for Lombardy tragedy

STA, 28 May 2020 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija takes aim at the UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin in the latest editorial, suggesting the Slovenian lawyer may soon be forced out of the job because of his role in the Atalanta-Valencia Champions League fixture in the fatal Covid-19 outbreak in Lombardy.

The editor-in-chief, Jože Biščak, writes that experts all but agree that the 19 February match in Milan's San Siro stadium was a "biological bomb that largely contributed to the epidemic disaster".

"Not just Atalanta fans, Valencia supporters too entered a Petri dish to go down in history as part of an unplanned experiment how mass sports events can become an epicentre of a global pandemic."

Biščak says that people of Lombardy were the first to point their accusing finger at UEFA and its boss Aleksander Čeferin, followed by others and that today UEFA is spoken of in social media "as a mafia responsible for the deaths of thousands".

He says the European football decision-makers could have cancelled the match or have it played to an empty stadium if they listened to epidemiologists rather than the WHO.

He says that instead of an apology or admission that UEFA takes part of the blame, Čeferin later chose to threaten national football associations that their clubs would not compete in European cup competitions if they ended football season early due to the pandemic.

While he says the support voiced for Čeferin in Slovenia is part of the deep state's strategy to clear him of all responsibility, Biščak adds: "Western Europe will never forgive Čeferin for his viral indifference and almost dictatorial attitude to some national associations.

"UEFA is not an organisation independent of political flows [...] Those in the know about (football and political) behind-the-scenes know well which political group contributed its decisive votes in 2016 and why he was the only candidate in 2019. And that no interview with the Guardian or such rags will help him [...]

"Humanity will defeat the virus and so will football survive the pandemic, no worries. Not because of UEFA, but despite it. Čeferin, who opened the Petri dish, may soon end up in it himself. Along with the company that befits him," concludes the piece headlined Petri Dish for Aleksander Č.

All our posts in this series are here

30 May 2020, 09:04 AM

STA, 29 May 2020 - Several thousand people flooded the streets of the capital Ljubljana for what is the sixth Friday in a row that protesters, most of them on bicycles, expressed opposition to government policies. Smaller crowds also gathered in other cities around the country.

The nexus of the protest, held Fridays at 7pm, is the square in front of Parliament House and the adjacent streets, where the government, the president of the republic and several ministries are seated.

Many protesters were wearing banners targeting specific government policies, including its perceived crackdown on environmental NGOs in favour of large infrastructure investments, neglect of the arts, and irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment.

bike protests sign 01 jl flanner.JPG

For culture, for nature, for free media

bike protests flags jl flanner.JPG

In front of the parliament, during a plenary at which the third economic stimulus package and several other key laws were debated, protesters staged a collective turning of backs in a message of no confidence.

Several large banners were unfolded in front of the Presidential Palace mostly focusing on environmental issues.

The protests are spearheaded by a loosely connected group of activists and organisations, including anarchists and environmentalists.

bike protests caviar jl flanner.JPG

bike protests hungary jl flanner.JPG

Slovenia is not Hungary

One of the figureheads of the protests, theatre director Jaša Jenull, was involved in a minor altercation with the police in front of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) headquarters.

Police said he was violating public law and order by drawing a slogan on the sidewalk with chalk.

In Maribor, Večer newspaper reports several hundred people gathered chanting similar slogans. Smaller protests with a few dozen participants have been reported in cities including Lendava, Ptuj, Slovenj Gradec and Celje.

Slovenian protesters also received a message of support from the Slovenian community in the German capital Berlin, who cycled through the streets chanting slogans targeting the Slovenian government, according to social media posts.

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29 May 2020, 16:57 PM

STA, 29 May 2020 - After two months and a half of severe air traffic restrictions due to the Covid-19 epidemic, regular passenger transport services resumed at Ljubljana airport on Friday. The first flight was operated by Air Serbia with the airport expecting most airlines to return by early July.

The return will depend on efforts to lift border restrictions and promote the destinations, said airport operator Fraport Slovenija, adding that the airport had been forced to rationalise expenditure, including in investment projects, due to a major loss of revenue.

Following today's landing of an Air Serbia aircraft coming from Belgrade, Fraport Slovenija director Zmago Skobir said that other flights were to follow in the coming weeks.

The relaunch of regular services will take place in three parts: by 15 June, the airport expects to see the return of Lufthansa, Montenegro Airlines and a Polish carrier; by the end of June, Swiss Air, Air Brussels, Transavio and British Airways; and after 1 July, the return of other airlines.

Meanwhile, Iberia and Finnair have decided not to fly to Slovenia in this year's summer season.

Charter flights are also scheduled with key Slovenian tour operators announcing the first flights for the second half of July and in August.

Since Slovenia's border with Croatia has been reopened, flight services between Ljubljana and Dubrovnik are in the pipeline. Providing a connection with Greece is slated to be next.

Air Serbia Director General Duncan Naysmith said today that flights to Ljubljana meant resuming regional air traffic. Between 29 May and 21 June, the carrier plans to carry out eleven return flights. Air Serbia hopes that the demand will be big enough to warrant an increase in the number of weekly flights to Ljubljana.

Services will still be restricted this year given that carriers have been reducing their fleets. Skobir has pointed out that securing passengers' trust in the safety of air travel will be one of the key factors in resuming services.

Since international air passenger transport was banned on 17 March, Fraport Slovenija has recorded only 15% of normal revenue.

The operator has urged the relevant ministries to provide aid, however, according to Skobir, air transport has not seen any special stimulus measures designed to help mitigate the economic fallout so far.

What exactly cost-cutting efforts mean for employees Skobir could not yet tell. "The number of redundancies will depend on the forecasts of air carriers," he said, adding that the situation was uncertain.

The airport's major investment in expanding the passenger terminal is currently still planned to go ahead, however the project could be postponed due to the extreme circumstances.

All the anti-Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines, proposed by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), have been introduced at the airport to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.

Only passengers and staff can enter the terminal, mask-wearing is mandatory as well as using hand-sanitisers and maintaining physical distance.

Protective glass panels have also been set up to reduce contact between staff and passengers.

Temperature screenings have not been introduced so far since the institute has not deemed this measure obligatory or necessary.

Skobir added that in case the EU authorities proclaimed the measure mandatory, the airport would implement it.

The institute has also coordinated with the airport response protocols regarding potential cases indicating suspicion of infection with coronavirus.

In terms of passenger arrivals, all the measures in place for crossing Slovenia's land border apply.

The passengers arriving from Serbia, a non-EU country, today will thus have to be quarantined, except for Slovenian citizens, those owning a property in Slovenia or those with diplomatic passports, said Skobir.

Some 24 passengers, flying from Belgrade, landed at Ljubljana airport today, whereas about 40 flew back to Serbia on a return flight.

Among the first group was also a Slovenian who lives in Belgrade and tried to return to Slovenia multiple times during the epidemic but failed to do so until now due to lockdown measures.

The passenger reported that the flight had been without complications and that all the passengers had worn face masks with some even going as far as wearing gloves.

Government spokesman on coronavirus Jelko Kacin told the press at today's briefing that a total of twelve passengers arriving from Belgrade had to go into quarantine, whereas some preferred to return to their starting points after finding out about the measure.

Kacin pointed out that all the persons arriving from a third country had to undergo a mandatory quarantine period upon entering Slovenia regardless of their citizenship and residence.

29 May 2020, 11:42 AM

STA, 28 May 2020 - President Borut Pahor and parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič met on Thursday to discuss the required reform of the electoral law, urging all stakeholders to find a solution to implement the relevant decision of the Constitutional Court by December. Pahor said he would like to address the National Assembly about the issue in June.

The meeting comes after the heads of parliamentary deputy groups and Zorčič agreed yesterday to leave it to the relevant ministry to draft proposals for redistricting.

The reform has hit a standstill after a bill which sought to abolish electoral districts and introduce a preference vote at the level of the existing eight electoral units narrowly fell short of the needed two-thirds majority in parliament in March.

Pahor, who has so far coordinated relevant meetings and consulted representatives of the parliamentary parties, experts and other stakeholders, said today that, after the latest failed attempt, politicians should find a solution by December.

Changes are required in line with the Constitutional Court's ruling from December 2018 that gave parliament two years to re-establish the one-person-one-vote rule, distorted by huge differences in the sizes of electoral districts.

Pahor, Zorčič and heads of the parliamentary deputy groups agree that the Public Administration Ministry come up with a redistricting proposal, which would then be discussed in the National Assembly.

This requires a smaller majority, at least 46 votes in the 90-member legislature, but the president warned that this would nevertheless be "very sensitive work politically".

Pahor and Zorčič agree that a relevant bill should be tabled by deputies. "It must not happen that the vote on the bill becomes a vote on the government," the president said in a press statement after the meeting.

Pahor also informed the speaker that he would like to address the National Assembly at the June session about the electoral law reform as "currently the most important issue regarding democracy".

The two agreed that a solution which would implement the Constitutional Court's decision should be found by December, otherwise Slovenia could be in a situation where the legitimacy and lawfulness of elections and democracy would be threatened.

Pahor said he had also discussed the issue with Prime Minister Janez Janša, who agreed that a solution needs to be found by December. The president hopes that Janša's Democrats (SDS) will support the redistricting, as the party is against their abolition.

Zorčič assessed that implementing the decision of Slovenia's top court was a first-rate political issue which transcended the division to the coalition and opposition, so he believes that all deputy groups will start solving this issue.

Janša told the public broadcaster TV Slovenija in the evening that the Constitutional Court had not requested that electoral districts be abolished, but that their borders be changed so that they represented a similar number of voters.

The prime minister pointed to the vast differences in size of electoral districts, which puts candidates in unequal position. He believes that the problem is easy to fix and announced a solution "which will hold water" for the autumn.

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