April 9, 2019
Last week ended with news of a strange diplomatic move on the side of Hungarian government, whose diplomatic representative to Slovenia, Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi, sent a verbal note of protest (an official diplomatic tool of interstate communication) to the Foreign Ministry of Slovenia, demanding it “prevent” further “politically irresponsible” “incidents” on the side of the Slovenian media. The note was prompted by the cover of Mladina magazine depicting Hungarian president Viktor Orbán in a Nazi salute, guarded by three Slovenian SDS party members, all in presumable reference to the SDS’ struggles to prevent Orbán’s Fidezs from being kicked out of the European People’s Party. “We give up Europe, but we don’t give up Orbán”, read the title.
Over the weekend, media outlets in Slovenia that are part-owned by Hungarian interested that were established and run by sympathisers of the Janez Janša and members of his SDS party, issued a series of articles, that praise the formal and informal Hungarian protests and criticise the Slovenian government and Slovene Association of Journalists (SAJ) for having double standards with regard to media freedom. As a proof of the latter, Demokracija reminds readers of its own cover, which was not that long ago a target of criticism by both the SAI and the government for “spreading hate speech”, since, according to Demokracija, “these terms are arbitrarily defined by the left political pole”. Furthermore, Demokracija emphasised that following a “really tasteless depiction of a foreign country’s prime minister”, Mladina then “instead of normal communication, which would become a supposedly serious news media” went on to make jokes on account of the Hungarian ambassador’s protest.
Before news of the official diplomatic note of protest broke, it was only known that the ambassador had sent an awkwardly assertive letter to the magazine, expressing “a protest against the way in which Prime Minister of Hungary was depicted”. Also in this letter the Hungarian ambassador wondered whether Mladina’s goal was to “stoke hatred among nations”, reminded the editor that such “distortions of truth” are “especially severe and unacceptable in times of election campaigns”, and concluded with an appeal to Mladina “to stop the negative campaign against Hungary”, since “you offend millions of people by doing so”.
Mladina then responded with another, “corrected” version of the cover and an “apology” letter by the cover’s author, Tomaž Lavrič. Lavrič, the no. 1 Slovenian comic book artist who received a Medal of Merit for his Exceptional Contribution in the field of Slovenian Illustration, as presented by President Borut Pahor in 2015, along with the Prešeren Foundation Award in 2017, has collaborated regularly with Mladina as its “house caricaturist” since his first Diareja strip in 1988.
Much Honourable Madam Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary,
Accept my sincere and profound apology for a rude and completely untruthful depiction of your president Mr. Orbán on the cover of Mladina, which justifiably instigated your feelings of indignation and sadness.
After reading your concerned letter, I turned inside myself and realised my fault. I know that the anguish caused cannot be erased, but in my defence allow me nevertheless to explain that I myself am also just an innocent victim of objective circumstances. Let me point my finger at the real culprits of this undesirable scandal. These are:
- First, of course, a long-term communist education system which washed my brains and numbed my sense for nation and religion.
- Next to blame are my lackadaisical and inattentive superiors at the editorial board of Mladina, who should have better supervised me and stopped in time, as they know well that I am irresponsible and naïve in political matters, and just think that everything is allowed.
- And last but not least to blame is our permissive judiciary system, which fails to harshly and swiftly punish such social deviations.
I am urging you, madam, not to give up on us, but to continue to kindly help us with your advice and benevolent criticism, so that we too can achieve an exemplary state of objectivity and speak in one voice, as you have managed to establish in the Hungarian media, and that one day we too can live our lives under the rule of order and peace, national purity and Christian love for all the people behind the wire fence, as commanded by your mild and righteous beloved leader V. Orbán.
With all due respect,
Tomaž Lavrič, house caricaturist
To explain the main problem behind the “outrageous” cover of Mladina, Demokracija also quoted the Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács: “It’s an outrage and unacceptable first and foremost to the memory of the victims of that horrible period [World War 2]. Little surprise that the leftist editors at Mladina dislike the policies of the Orbán Government, but comparing the events of today’s Europe with the Nazi era trivialises what really happened in that dark time. (…) According to the author, Hungary’s firm opposition to immigration under the Orbán Government and our determination to protect European culture, which is deeply rooted in Christianity, is akin to the notorious German concept of Lebensraum.”
To understand the line of deduction here one might perhaps begin with the premise outlined by Milan Zver, MEP (depicted kneeling on the cover of Mladina) in his 2017 speech at the Pan-European Memorial for the Victims of Totalitarianism in Brussels: “Slovenia is the only state in the EU that has survived all three totalitarianisms: Fascism, Nazism and Communism. While the first two have practically disappeared, the process of the degradation of Communism has been too slow.” To paraphrase, we should not worry much about Nazism and Fascism, they are history. The Nazism of today is Communism, everything else is freedom fighting.
Furthermore, Kovács writes that “while everyone has the right to express an opinion, there’s also the matter of discretion and professionalism” and notes that Mladina’s function used to be the one of a “mouthpiece of the youth wing of the Communist Party”. Surely the Hungarian government spokesperson is aware of the fact that the lack of “discretion and professionalism” on the side of Mladina’s editors allowing for “juvenile and cynical” behaviour of its journalists has a long history which includes the imprisonment of three of its journalists (and one YPA sergeant) by the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1988, one of whom being no other than the leader of the SDS and admirer of Viktor Orbán’s policies, Janez Janša. At the time the arrests sent people onto the streets and launched Janez Janša’s career as a hero.
Another article by Nova24TV that followed on Monday, takes a similar path with regard to newspeak on contemporary sources of totalitarian danger. The author finds the Hungarian diplomatic protest “reasonable” since “if you were labelled Nazi by the media in the former Eastern bloc, which also included Hungary and Slovenia, it meant you were already on your way to gulag or being covered by soil. Also in Slovenia. The reaction [to the Hungarian reaction] bares a witness that this tradition is still alive. When a leftist weekly calls you a fascist, you aren’t even allowed to express your disagreement.”
If we may interrupt this narrative with a little correction – while Hungary was part of the Eastern Bloc and one of the Soviet satellites, Slovenia was not really, and certainly not since the Tito-Stalin split of 1948. Nova24TV then continues with a speculation on possible reasons behind the “panic on the left”, caused by the Hungarian diplomatic note of protest: “it is probably a combination of pre-election time, when the left is hoping for new voters with the use of an old policy of attacking external and internal enemies (fascists and such) and fear, because Orbán in fact exposes their modes of handling and controlling the media.”
Following this, Nova24TV published another article in full support of Generation Identity, a far-right movement associated with the recent “lone wolf” terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, titled “The Truth is our Weapon Against the Mainstream Media Lies”.