STA, 5 April 2019 - The weekly Mladina revealed that the Hungarian embassy had protested with the Foreign Ministry asking it to intervene over a Mladina cover portraying Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán as a Nazi. The news prompted condemnation from journalists and a joint session of the parliamentary culture and foreign policy committees is to be held to discuss the issue.
The ministry confirmed it had received a verbal diplomatic note from the embassy protesting a "politically irresponsible cover of Mladina" from 22 March and asking the ministry for "assistance in preventing similar incidents in the future".
The cover shows cartoons of the Slovenian Democrats (SDS) head Janez Janša, SDS deputy Branko Grims and SDS MEP Milan Zver snuggling with the towering Orban, who performs the Nazi salute in front of a Hungarian flag with the Slovenian coat of arms.
The note says that the "cover violates the principles of freedom of the press and expression and that the acts such as the publication of the cover harm the otherwise excellent bilateral cooperation of our countries".
The ministry answered by saying it "consistently respects the principle of freedom of the press and expression and that it neither encroaches upon editorial policy of the Slovenian media, nor assesses it."
The weekly said that the note followed a letter sent to Mladina by Ambassador Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi, in which she said that Mladina did not strive for friendship between the two nations and that its articles did not reflect facts.
Also writing about the cover this week was Orbán's spokesman Zoltán Kovács, who said he was "not surprised by the historically confused and unprofessional stance of Mladina", which he labelled the "former mouthpiece of the Communist Party".
The weekly attributes Hungary's reaction to the cartoon going viral last week in the public, with "almost all of the remaining independent Hungarian media reporting on it".
The embassy's note was condemned by the Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS), which said the embassy wanted the ministry to "encroach upon the editorial autonomy of a media outlet", and that it was "proof of the seriousness of the situation in the so-called democratic Europe."
The association said that the embassy's comments were not only completely unacceptable, but also an "unheard-of expression of a conception of complete control and disciplining of the media by the authorities".
"At the same time, the note is another concrete example of how the government of an officially democratic country, a member of the EU and NATO, perceives the role of the media in society," the DNS added.
A joint session of the parliamentary culture and foreign policy committees is to be held to discuss the note.
The session was requested by coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) deputy Gregor Perič, who welcomed the "determined response by the ministry", labelling the Hungarian embassy's request as "completely unacceptable".
"It points to a huge departure of the Hungarian authorities from freedom of the press as it is generally understood by the majority in the joint European family," added the member of the EU Affairs Committee.
The chair of the Foreign Policy Committee, Matjaž Nemec of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), welcomed the initiative and said he expected the joint session to be called within the shortest possible time.
"Such inadmissible (non-)diplomatic pressure should be opposed in the most determined manner possible," Nemec said, adding that freedom of the press was one of the fundamental values of Slovenian society.
The chair of the parliamentary Culture Committee, Violeta Tomić of the Left, also supports the idea of the joint session. She said that in Hungary critical and free media had virtually disappeared under Orbán.
Mladina said that many tenured diplomats said they had never seen such a note. Roman Kirn, the former foreign policy advisor to the prime minister, said "such notes are unusual for countries where freedom of the press is respected."
The weekly said Hungary's influence on Slovenian politics was not negligible. "The largest Slovenian parliamentary party, the SDS, is today the biggest debtor to Orban, whose regime controls a part of internal affairs in Slovenia."
"We had the opportunity to learn this during the debate within the European People's Party (EPP) on the expulsion of Orban's Fidesz from the group: the Slovenian representatives defended him the most," added Mladina, which also dedicated today's editorial to the issue.
In the commentary, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž said the protest note was "not very diplomatic, but unusually sharp," and added that the response from the ministry was a response "of a serious country - cold and not allowing any debate."
Referring to Hungary, Repovž said that the entire Europe was dealing with "a country which dares to demand from another country's government to act against journalists", labelling it a serious security threat to the entire region.
He went on to say that Hungary was a "country which does not hide that it tries to encroach upon the autonomy of the Slovenian state with capital and all other ways."