Ljubljana related

25 Aug 2022, 15:54 PM

STA, 25 August 2022 - The opposition Democrats (SDS) want the Culture Ministry to compile a report on the use of public funds by NGOs in the culture sector over the past decade. The request comes in the wake of a scandal in which Fotopub gallery head Dušan Smodej is alleged to have sexually abused young women. The SDS is worried one minister may have known about this.

SDS MP Andrej Hoivik told the press on Thursday that the SDS had asked for an emergency session of the parliamentary Culture Committee at which it will call on the ministry to produce the report to double-check the publicly accessible data on funding NGOs in culture in the last decade.

He said that more than EUR 55 million had been spent on art production, "from film production to exhibitions and various performances", in this period.

The SDS is convinced that "in a number of cases, cultural figures have abused their status, and their work has not contributed to increasing culture in the region".

Hoivik pointed to several recent art performances of "concern" to the SDS, including a 2021 installation by a group of artists entitled Breathe, in which naked people with bags on their heads stood in the window of the Fotopub gallery.

He said that "the recent developments" pointing at sexual abuse at Fotopub exhibitions showed that public funds are used to fund projects that are hardly "art with added value".

It is also extremely worrying that artists spend public funds on entertainment while not paying their subcontractors or submitting annual reports, as required by law.

Culture Minister Asta Vrečko told a Wednesday news show that the Fotopub Association of Contemporary Culture had not yet produced its 2021 report on the use of public funds.

Hoivik finds this to be unacceptable "given the information about girls, even minors, being abused at the performances organised by Smodej and about unlawful possession of illicit drugs".

The ministry told the STA on Thursday that the Fotopub Association, represented by Smodej, received EUR 57,000 in public funds as part of three calls for funding.

It got EUR 52,800 for the 2018-2021 period for the Festivalpub project and EUR 4,200 in 2015 and 2017, with the ministry finding no irregularities in the use of funds.

The association is, however, behind in submitting its 2021 report and was thus urged to do so by the end of August, the ministry explained.

Hoivik is also worried that some members of the government, or the coalition Left party, may have known about the alleged abuse of young women at Fotopub.

He pointed to "audiovisual evidence" on the internet showing that the Left's leader Luka Mesec, now labour minister, "was spotted at one of the Fotopub exhibitions".

The Left distanced themselves from Smodej and condemned any sexual violence already on Monday.

Mesec tweeted he had nothing to do with Smodej, announcing to press charges against those spreading the allegations, which appeared in several conservative media.

By Wednesday afternoon, no alleged victim reported any abuse in connection with the Fotopub scandal to police nor contacted an NGO which offered to provide them with support and financial aid to cover legal costs.

Police are continuing gathering information about alleged sexual offences, conducting interviews to try to identify possible victims, but so far there has been no positive confirmation, the General Police Department told the STA on Thursday.

Police activities are focused on verifying the authenticity of the accounts alleged victims have recently posted online anonymously.

Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan issued a press statement today, condemning any form of violence and sexual violence in particular. She encourages any potential victims to report the alleged crimes to the police.

Media reports about sexual abuse by Smodej were triggered by an Instagram page called Against Violence by Dušan Smodej which contains a number of testimonies by individuals claiming to have been abused by Smodej or have witnessed abuse of or attempts to abuse young women, and instances of him giving date-rape drugs to young women.

Smodej, a 28-year-old from Novo Mesto, has meanwhile denied any abuse for the 24ur news portal and Slovenske Novice tabloid, insisting the allegations are the doing of a female acquaintance of his who has been sending him death threats and is blackmailing him for money with the online posts.

22 Aug 2022, 10:16 AM

STA, 22 August 2022 - UPDATED 18:45 The police have launched an investigation in the aftermath of media reports and social media testimonies concerning alleged multiple cases of sexual abuse by a prominent member of the art establishment.

The investigation targets "criminal offences highlighted in recent days in the media and in social media," the police said in a statement for the press without specifying who the suspect may be.

The statement comes after several media reported that Dušan Josip Smodej, an artist and leader of a small gallery in Ljubljana called Fotopub, had sexually abused several young women.

The media reports started after an Instagram page called Against Violence by Dušan Smodej was launched. So far more than two dozen testimonies have been published on the page either by individuals claiming to have been abused by Smodej or by people who say they have witnessed abuse of or attempts to abuse young women, including minors, and instances of him giving rape drugs to young women.

Several individuals have also come forward claiming he has defrauded them.

Smodej denied the claims for 24ur, a news portal. He said the allegations were the result of "a female acquaintance of mine who has been sending me death threats this week and is extorting me for money with the posts about me."

"I deny all allegations of sexual violence. If anyone can prove the contrary, I urge them to press criminal charges against me," he said.

The police have urged potential victims to come forward and file criminal complaints.

Potential victims were also urged to report the alleged crimes to the police by the 8 March Institute on Monday. Its director Nika Kovač said the NGO had contacted the administrators of the Instagram profile, letting them know that they can provide support for the victims and help raise funds for legal support.

She underlined that the NGO is following the law in that they would refer to a perpetrator with their name only after they have been found guilty in a court of law.

The institute has been running a campaign dubbed #Ididn'tReport, with victims sharing anonymised stories about why they decided not to go to the police after experiencing abuse.

Many reasons are cited, including fear of what will happen at the relevant institutions, poor experience by others and because victims are often ashamed of having been drunk or under the influence of drugs while being abused.

The police also said today it was investigating "the circumstances of an event in which one person died" to see whether there was a reason to suspect foul play, but added that no foul play had so far been detected.

This is after some media reports unofficially suggested that prominent artist Roman Uranjek had committed suicide, allegedly in connection to the Smodej scandal.

The Culture Ministry meanwhile responded by condemning all types of violence on Monday. Minister Asta Vrečko called for zero tolerance to violence, including in culture, and announced systemic measures.

She noted that a trial had just started where an ex-professor from the Ljubljana Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television is being accused of sexual harassment of female students. "So it is obvious that we have a problem with sexual harassment in the culture sector and it needs to be absolutely and clearly condemned in the strongest terms," she said, adding that sexual violence was a major social issue that was not being addressed properly.

The ministry has launched a review of all its past projects with Smodej, she added in a written statement.

04 Apr 2022, 13:49 PM

STA, 3 April 2022 - Novo Mesto Bishop Andrej Saje, the head of the Slovenian Bishops' Conference, apologised on Sunday to the victims of sexual abuse by clergy on behalf of the Catholic Church in Slovenia, as he marked the day of prayer for such victims.

Listening and hearing, protecting and providing support, both in an emotional and spiritual sense, are key factors, he said in a statement shared on the Church's website.

"No victim is to blame for the evil that was done to them and should never have happened. The full responsibility lies with the perpetrator, and I advocate zero tolerance of any abuse. I express my compassion to the victims and their families," he said.

Saje said he was aware that statements and regulations cannot heal the wounds and pain of individuals, and that unless the perpetrators, or at least those who knew of the abuses, are held accountable, it will be difficult for the victims to live freely.

The Church has made important steps in the past in detecting and sanctioning the abuses, but the road to preventing unacceptable wrongdoing is long and challenging, he said, committing to specific measures to create a safe environment.

The Church will strive for changes to its structures so that they serve people first and foremost, the protection of the person's dignity and spiritual progress, he added.

Last October, the Slovenian Bishops' Conference decided that the day of prayer and reconciliation for sexual abuse victims in the Church and society will be marked every year on Passion Sunday, which is observed today. Believers have been urged to say a prayer for the victims during the Sunday mass and, if possible, light a candle to express solidarity with them.

The Catholic advocacy group for the victims Dovolj.je (It's Enough) has been noting that the Church still needs to do more. They recently called for the inception of a properly-funded independent commission to investigate cases of suspected sex abuse by clergy.

26 Jan 2022, 16:54 PM

STA, 26 January 2022 - Maksimilijan Matjaž, the Bishop of Celje, has founded an office to admit complaints by and monitor the victims of sexual abuse committed by the clergy and other members of religious life in a bid to help the victims and prevent repeat of this type of crime.

A post on the website of the Celje Diocese announcing the formation of the new office refers to an apostolic letter by Pope Francis of May 2019 instructing dioceses to form one or more permanent systems easily accessible to the public to report sexual abuse committed by the clergy or members of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life.

The Celje Diocese office will be headquartered at the Laško address of lawyer Pavel Teršek. It will operate based on the attached statute, in accordance with the mentioned apostolic letter, guidelines for the protection of children, minors and vulnerable adults in the Slovenian Catholic Church, and other binding documents of the Church issued or to be issued by the Holy See and the Slovenian Bishops' Conference concerning sexual abuse committed by clerics or members of the institutions of consecrated life or of the societies of apostolic life, reads the release.

Just yesterday a Catholic advocacy for victims of sexual abuse in the Church that is led by a priest who was victim of abuse himself called for appointing an independent commission comprising individuals of high moral integrity to investigate and crack down on the abuse as soon as possible.

11 Nov 2021, 15:42 PM

STA, 11 November 2021 - A priest from the archdiocese of Maribor has been deprived of priesthood after a Vatican church court has found him guilty of sexual abuse of an underage person, the archdiocese says on its website.

Anton Kmet lost all rights stemming from priesthood in June, and the measure was confirmed by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith in October.

The priest was then informed that the procedure was completed on 22 October, "on which day all rights stemming from being ordained priest ceased".

According to media reports, Kmet last served as priest in Makole and also worked in the parish of Studenice, but was dismissed from both jobs in 2019 when an investigation at the church court started.

Janez Lesnika from the archdiocese told newspaper Večer at the time that Kmet was suspected of criminal acts committed while serving as chaplain in Ljutomer in 1998-2001.

Tabloid Slovenske Novice reported he had sexually harassed an underage girl during a trip to the coast, an allegation Koper criminal police opened an investigation into.

However, Lesnika could not tell the STA today whether Kmet had been defrocked because of this criminal act, explaining the procedure before the church court was not open.

The media have also reported that Kmet was sentenced to ten months in prison in 2010 for groping two girls, and served the sentence.

12 Oct 2021, 12:37 PM

STA, 12 October 2021 - The first evaluation report on Slovenia's implementation of the Istanbul Convention, released on Tuesday, notes a number of positive measures but points out that more attention should be paid to forms of violence against women other than domestic violence. Efforts to help women from socially vulnerable groups should be boosted.

The Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) has highlighted Slovenia's significant progress "towards building a comprehensive legal, policy and institutional framework in the field of prevention of domestic violence" before and after its 2015 ratification of the convention.

The group points to improvements in legislation, including redefinitions of rape and sexual violence based on the yes-means-yes concept and criminalising stalking and forced marriage.

"The measures taken by the Slovenian authorities demonstrate their clear commitment to eliminate gender-based violence against women," said the GREVIO delegation to Slovenia.

However, the report also points out that "less policy attention, funding, and political support is directed towards other forms of violence against women covered by the convention, in particular rape, stalking, forced marriage/abortion/sterilisation and female genital mutilation".

Slovenia is hence urged to step up efforts to address all types of violence against women, particularly sexual violence. It is key the state adopts a new strategic document to improve the situation.

When it comes to vulnerable women, such as Roma and other national minorities or women with disabilities, efforts by NGOs to take into account their specific needs are lauded, but generally speaking, these women still face discrimination, says the report.

"Women victims without a permanent residence permit are of special concern, as they don't have access to safe houses," warned GREVIO, calling on Slovenia to continue with its relevant efforts, including by improving access to shelters for Roma women and migrant women without a permanent residence permit.

Moreover, efforts should be stepped up to ensure that legislative, training and awareness-raising measures to address the different forms of violence against women as a gendered phenomenon.

The report also warns that Slovenia's data collection should be improved to provide an integrated system that would cover all the forms of violence.

A stronger criminal justice response is also needed. What raises concern is "the high level of attrition rates in relation to several forms of violence against women, in particular domestic violence and rape, and the lack of effort to identify its causes".

In response to the report the Human Rights Ombudsman called on the relevant Slovenian authorities to adopt a strategy for the combat against all forms of violence against women.

The ombudsman described the report as an important mechanism for the protection of human rights which sheds light on where improvements can be made.

Noting progress identified by the report, the ombudsman also highlighted issues such as a lack of trainings and protocols that would lead to suitable institutional response, and a lack of coordination at the level of policies.

The ombudsman's office said they had established many shortcomings themselves and GREVIO representatives also met Ombudsman Peter Svetina during their visit to Slovenia.

The ombudsman called on those responsible to examine the recommendations and take measures to implement them as soon as possible.

The Association for Non-Violent Communication fully endorsed the report, its head Katja Zabukovec Kerin telling the STA that a focus in the coming years should be on specially vulnerable groups of women as well as on tackling the issue of parents' contacts with their children when violence is present.

06 Jun 2021, 11:00 AM

STA, 4 June - The National Assembly passed in a unanimous vote on Friday amendments to the penal code that redefine sexual consent in line with the concept that only yes means yes. MPs said during the debate that the credit should go to NGOs, which mobilised the public to create a genuine social movement.

The legislative proposal drawn up by NGOs and adopted by the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), had received unanimous support already at the parliamentary Justice Committee at the beginning of May, and it had no opponents today either.

Justice Ministry State Secretary Matic Zupan said that "as a society we have matured so much that we are ready to protect sexual integrity in a broader sense". The legal system will no longer wonder whether enough force was used in a case, but the use of force will be an aggravating circumstance, he said.

Žiga Turk’s Tweet on Rape Wins “Most Sexist Quote of the Year”

SD MP Bojana Muršič said the initiative for the legislative changes did not belong to any party. This is a law of many citizens, volunteers, who have been working for women's rights for years, and of NGOs.

"We want a more equal society in which we are developing a culture of consent, are learning to ask, hear and respect what is said. The legislative change will not miraculously cure our society, but it is a reflection of strong political will to change the mindset, empower victims and enable more efficient prosecution of perpetrators," she said.

Branislav Rajić from the group of unaffiliated MPs said that the changes to the penal code were sending a message to the victims that they had the support of politicians. "We encourage them to report such actions, as there is no more risk that perpetrators would go unpunished."

Dejan Kaloh from the senior coalition Democrats (SDS) said that the redefinition of violence in line with the only yes means yes model was more than required and a civilizational norm that should have been adopted long ago.

Tina Heferle (LMŠ) added that this was not a political but a social consent, while Predrag Baković (SD) warned that mere legislative changes would not suffice. "Even more resources need to be invested in support to victims, psychological support, support provided by institutions."

Matej T. Vatovec (Left) agreed that a lot of work remained ahead "if we want to remain an open and inclusive society".

Survey Suggests 20% of Slovenes Victims of Child Sex Abuse

The driving force behind the redefinition of sexual violence has in the past year been NGO Institute 8 March. Its head Nika Kovač said ahead of today's vote that the process of adopting the legislative changes had proven that there was a general human value in Slovenia, which was sexual integrity.

She stressed that parties across the political aisle had supported the motion, which clearly showed that "every victim of rape has a voice in the National Assembly". "We are convinced this would never have happened without the mass support of volunteers. Together, we have changed the society for the better."

Over 20 NGOs welcomed the passage as a "big step towards protection of sexual integrity and support to victims of sexual violence" in a joint press release.

"Today is a big day, not just for the victims of violence but for all of us who will be living in a slightly different society from now on," said Katja Zabukovec Kerin, the head of the Association for Non-violent Communication. She added that cooperation with both justice ministers, Andreja Katič and Lidija Kozlovič, and virtually all parties had been exemplary.

Nataša Posel from Amnesty International Slovenije spoke of a "historical moment", adding that relevant institutions and the society as a whole were now in for the important work of implementing the concept of consent.

Darja Zaviršek from the Faculty of Social Work said the legislative change was a "gigantic step towards formal equality between men and women" that will lead to a new understanding of human relations, encourage discussion on new topics among boys and girls, and promote new forms of intimacy between men and women.

06 May 2021, 09:50 AM

STA, 5 May 2021 - The Justice Committee unanimously adopted on Wednesday amendments to the penal code redefining sexual violence. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers had opposed the changes, saying there is nothing wrong with the existing legislation. But MPs sided with the organisations which work with victims of sex crimes.

Under the changes, rape will no longer have to involve force, as the changes incriminate interference in sexual integrity without consent.

Under the changes filed by the opposition based on a proposal from NGOs, those involved must express consent to the sexual act either implicitly or verbally.

MP for the opposition Left Matej T. Vatovec said the proposed changes were the result of a long campaign and battle of organisations dealing with victims of sexual violence.

Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič also endorsed the changes, noting that the ministry had been working on such changes for two years. She said it would take even longer for people's mindset to change.

Supreme Court Judge Marjeta Švab Širok said the debate on the definition of sexual violence had been triggered by one wrong court decision. She said legislative changes were not necessary. Instead, she proposed responding to new forms of crimes.

Supreme state prosecutor Mirjam Kline said that it was wrong to think that victims would no longer need to testify or that they would be more protected. "Mere legislative changes will not do that," she warned. She was also critical of the proposed lowering of the minimal prison sentence from a year to six months.

Mitja Jelenič Novak from the Bar Association said the changes would not improve the penal code but create a more repressive and dangerous criminal law on sexual offences.

But MPs were not convinced. "If experts are aware that we need changes but nothing happens, then politicians make a move," said Predrag Baković from the opposition Democrats (SD).

He said statistics showing that most people accused of sexual violence get probation spoke in favour of the changes.

Katja Zabukovec Kerin from the Association for Non-violent Communication said that statements that there is nothing wrong with the current legislation were dangerous and disrespectful to all the victims who have been warning for years that the system was not good and do not feel safe to speak up.

The head of the SOS hotline, Maja Plaze, said the legislative changes in line with the principle only yes means yes were a historical move.

NGO the March 8 Institute, which has been campaigning for a redefinition of sexual violence, said ahead of the session it expected broad support for the legislative changes. It said the changes would be a step in the direction of victim protection but that sexual harassment and violence would still need to be addressed.

08 Mar 2021, 12:01 PM

STA, 8 March 2021 - Žiga Turk, an opinion leader who served as minister of education, science, culture and sport in the 2012-13 Janez Janša government, has been declared the winner of the Silver Thistle for the most sexist quote in the past year for his Twitter comment on rape.

"If sex is a mere recreation, then rape is no worse than a foul. If sex is not recreation, the basic premise of the progressive view on the issue established since 1968 falls," was the tweet, posted on 5 February, that won Turk the censure.

Out of 23 sexist statements shortlisted, Turk's won the most negative votes in an online vote between 19 February and 5 March involving 1,667 people. The winner was declared at the conclusion of the 22nd feminist and queer festival Red Dawns on Sunday, held online.

In explanation, the web portal Spol.si said the author of the most sexist statement believed the 1968 revolution turned rape into a sporting offence, as if to say that free choice about sexuality should be conditional on accepting the opinion of rape.

According to the portal, Turk's comment relativises sexual violence, which comes at a time when colleges in Slovenia are examining students' allegations about being sexually harassed by professors.

He says it will be perfectly clear to anyone who has read his statement through to the end that he considers rape the worse crime.

He finds the award irrational because he has publicly supported the "only yes means yes" concept of the crime of rape and deems it outrageous because he believes the award is a punishment for his support for the incumbent government.

The Silver Thistle is awarded annually by the Red Dawns collective and the editorial board of spol.si in cooperation with the interested public.

08 Mar 2021, 11:54 AM

STA, 8 March 2021 - The Slovenian PEN Centre and Mira, the women's committee at the centre, warned of violence against women ahead of Woman's Day, 8 March, while the Manager Association warned of inequalities at work, aggravated by the Covid-19 epidemic. A number of online discussions on the problems and potential of women will be held today.

The Slovenian PEN Centre and Mira addressed a letter featuring a list of eight demands to the government, National Assembly and Slovenian citizens ahead of Woman's Day. Their main demand is redefinition of rape and protection of the rights and duties of citizens in line with the Constitution.

They oppose a model of society that does not allow women to decide freely on giving birth, and call for a legal restriction of hate speech on social media.

They also warn of women and female writers being subjected to physical attacks, mocking, censorship and violations of rights in the pandemic year.

Woman who are publicly stating their opinion are often intimidated, and women - be it politicians, authors, journalists, experts or any other public figures - are targets of smear campaigns more frequently than men, they said.


Seen in Ljubljana, Photo: JL Flanner

The PEN centre and Mira believe that the ban on assembly as part of epidemic measures has narrowed down the possibilities of men and women to stand up to this.

Due to the pressure on the STA, public media and government representatives of ministers who cannot directly and independently communicate with the media, the public and media life is being subjected to censorship and self-censorship, which puts the fundamental right of democracy - the freedom of speech - at risk, they wrote.

According to the Manager Association, the epidemic has made differences between men and women in professional settings worse.

Results of last year's survey by consulting company McKinsey show that one in four women in the US is thinking of quitting her job during the epidemic although she did not even consider this in early 2020. This could jeopardise the results of decades of efforts to achieve gender equality in business, the association warns.

However, this crisis is also an opportunity to make companies more flexible and sympathetic, and create equal opportunities for both sexes, the association said, pointing to appointments of several women to senior positions in Slovenia in recent months.

The epidemic has increased gender inequality, because women took on most of the burden related to providing for children and distance learning as well as household choirs, because men mostly work in the more profitable sectors and because the sectors dominated by women have been more affected by the epidemic.

"This is why it will be an even greater challenge to increase the share of women in top positions in business - in Slovenia it currently stands at about 25%, according to data by the European Institute for Gender Equality," the association said, noting this would be one of the goals of the national programme for equal opportunities of men and women until 2030, which is now in public debate.

One of the measures from the programme is also improving digital competences of women. Slovenia is currently faced with a great challenge of gender segregation in the digital sector, as more than 80% of men are currently educated and employed in this sector, the association said.

Several NGOs have also warned that the health, and social and economic crises have deepened the known problems of women and created new ones. Violence against women is on the rise and it is time for action, SOS Telefon and Iskra said in their call to the government, which was backed by the Karitas Safe House for the Primorska region and the 8 March Institute.

The SOS hotline said that between 1 January and 30 November 2020 an almost 13% rise in the number of cases of domestic violence had been processed by police.

Several events will be held today to mark Women's Day. The PEN centre will host an online reading, and the Office of the European Parliament in Slovenia will host an online debate on the role of women in the fight against the virus.

The Association of Slovenia Journalists will host an online debate on female journalists in the Slovenian society and the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts on women's jobs, from factories to offices.

The National Council, the upper chamber of parliament, will mark the day with a debate entitled To Be Successful and to Be Happy.

Women's Day highlights the issue of violence against women every year. In Slovenia, legislative changes redefining rape in line with the principle that only yes means year sponsored by the government, which the 8 March Institute has also been campaigning for, are expected to bring positive changes.

Recently, a debate on violence against women was sparked by actor Mia Skrbinac speaking up about sexual harassment at the Ljubljana Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television.

The United Nations began celebrating 8 March as Woman's Day in 1977 to commemorate the day when women working in the textile industry in New York staged a protest against inhumane working conditions and low pay in 1857.

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