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Janez Janša on Radio Ognjišče: We are doing everything in our power to retain the potentials of Slovenian people and the economy

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest of today's Pogovor o ... talk show on Radio Ognjišče, where he talked about various current topics, especially Slovenia's fight against the coronavirus and the measures adopted by the Government to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to help the people and the economy.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest of talk show on Radio Ognjišče.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest of talk show on Radio Ognjišče. | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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To begin with, he said that "we are not celebrating a victory yet. It is about containing the first wave. According to the experts, there is always a second and third wave with pandemics, but no one dares to predict the end. We have been learning from the experiences of the past weeks and are preparing plans for a possible second wave during the summer or in the autumn, while adopting measures to mitigate the consequences of the epidemic," he said, adding that we could have been even more successful in our fight against the epidemic were it not for the one-week delay at the start. The Prime Minister also recalled that he himself had publicly called for a National Security Council meeting on 22 February 2020 and for the adoption of some measures, which were relatively mild at the time, to prevent the infections from being passed on in Metlika and Šmarje pri Jelšah.

"On 20 April, we were among the first countries in Europe to start loosening the measures. Therefore Slovenia was among the most successful countries in containing the epidemic, because we did not solely look at what others were doing and waited for them, but we held many long, even all-night, talks with experts in the field of epidemics and deliberated what the right measures for Slovenia were. We did not only look at Austria or Poland, which were successful, but we took into consideration the situation here. I think we were one of the few governments that also dealt with many details which were dealt with at lower levels in other countries. This has, however, meant that, during the last weeks, others have been asking us what to do, even though our mandate only started on 13 March 2020," emphasised the Prime Minister.

Regarding the conditions in Slovenia returning back to normal, he said that the loosening of some measures presents a bigger risk. "When we close or restrict something, the effect can be measured quite accurately, while with opening up some things are harder to gauge," he said, mentioning large systems such as education, which involve a lot of people.

"We prevented chaos, yet some are trying to cause it. There is, however, a reality which is felt by the people, and then there are pictures shown by RTV and Pop TV (Slovenian TV channels). Today they criticise you for not loosening a certain measure; tomorrow they criticise you for loosening a measure. It is a biased view on reality, which we do not really agree with," he answered when asked about the accusations that the loosening of the measures was chaotic.

"All decisions connected to introducing restrictions were hard as we did not have the instruments that other countries had. We did not declare a state of emergency, we did not impose a curfew, we did not have a state of war. I spoke to other prime ministers from the region and, in some places, there is still a state of emergency. In core EU Member States, there are still wartime decrees in place where local authorities can confiscate medical equipment. A wide range of measures adopted by others were exclusively in the hands of the government, while in Slovenia the only real legal instrument was the Communicable Diseases Act. We had to pass every amendment through the National Assembly and wait for its implementation, so we experienced some delays. If we had had the same clearances as others in Europe, we could have implemented many measures earlier and more effectively," he replied to the question regarding which decision was the hardest for him during the epidemic.

"We have by far the best epidemiological situation of all the neighbouring countries. The key to maintaining this situation is in the capabilities of each country or the whole Europe to track the infection. That means that, when new infections are confirmed somewhere, we do not have to close down the whole country, but rather contain the infection," commented the Prime Minister, who added that "without modern technology, the infection is really hard to track". He also emphasised: "We do not have enough personnel, epidemiologists, capacities, and I hope that there will be an app developed within the EU which will comply with the protection of personal data standards and therefore will not present an issue for certain know-alls in Slovenia."

As to the beginnings of the formation of a new coalition, the Prime Minister said that the coalition parties were aware of what would happen in Slovenia without forming a new government. "Commendations also go to the leadership of the SMC and Desus parties for such awareness. Slovenia owes a lot to the parties of this government coalition. It was a matter of a very clear choice of priorities, and we chose care for the general public health, people's lives and the good of our homeland and country. If the SDS had been looking selfishly at the situation, we would have gone to the polls," said the Prime Minister about the beginnings of the formation of the current coalition. According to him, former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec did not even submit the much talked about national plan upon handover of duties, and that a purely technical handover took place at other ministries as well. "The situation at the beginning of March was chaotic and the Ministry of Health, which was affected most, was also in an extremely poor condition. Partly also due to the fact that Prime Minister Šarec simply did not allow his successor, Minister Šabeder, to take some of the measures proposed by the ministry and, at that same time, there was already a major conflict between the experts then in charge, who were pushing for action, and the NIJZ leadership, which provided the public with instructions on how to sneeze into a sleeve and that infection was not transmitted from person to person," Prime Minister Janša described the days of early March this year.

When asked about cooperation with the former Health Minister Šabeder at the time when Prime Minister Janez Janša did not yet have a fully operational government, the Prime Minister said there was a wealth of correspondence about cooperation: "If the competent authorities deal with the omissions of the former Prime Minister, we will make public all the relevant documents to show who is to blame for the chaos that arose at the beginning," he stressed. He also added that Minister Šabeder, after it had become clear that the “joke was over” and when he had received no response from the then Prime Minister, he contacted him and harmonised with him some regulations which had then been adopted. 

In connection with the three packages adopted by the Government to curb the epidemic and to mitigate its effects, the Prime Minister said that there every Slovenian resident and taxpayer will benefit in one way or another from these packages. The Prime Minister also commented on the Government's decision to introduce tourist vouchers: "The decision was easy: allocate EUR 300 million to those laid off and observe the activities that would collapse or give money to people to spend it and allow many tourist facilities to come to life at the peak of the season," said the Prime Minister.

When asked by tradesmen and businessmen about the fourth anti-coronavirus measure, Prime Minister Janša replied that, due to the lack of work, the key measure was to subsidise part-time work, as this measure would also provide state funding for the work performed on a part-time basis. "Slovenia will provide help as there is no other more effective measure to help the economy," stressed the Prime Minister.

"While the extreme left-wing opposition decries onscreen the Government's measures, the European Commission has assessed that, due to these measures, Slovenia's economy will grow next year by as much as it has been expected to decline this year. This Government will do everything within its powers to ensure that the results achieved are even better than forecast, "stressed the Prime Minister, pointing to the act on removing bureaucratic barriers to major investments.

As to the Government's cooperation with trade unions, the Prime Minister pointed out that the Economic and Social Council had not functioned during the term of the previous two governments and that no criticism had been heard on the subject. It was not until April this year that its functions were restored by this Government. "We have taken into account the proposals of the trade unions, as well as the proposals of the Chamber of Commerce. In fact, we have included in economic relief packages significantly more than required by the unions or the Chamber of Commerce," said the Prime Minister.

"What we are doing is because we want to preserve the potential of Slovenia's people, not because of some left or right ideology, and we are making efforts to prevent recession from turning into a depression, as was the case in 2009 due to the left-wing government measures," he said, adding that the measures taken by his Government were more liberal than conservative. "When a concept no longer suits the elite, they invent another", continued the Prime Minister. When I come across such an example, I remember Justin Stanovnik's study which says that the Communist Left killed not only people, but also the word, i.e. the fundamental meaning of a concept.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the opposition's activities during the epidemic. "The harassment during the procedure in the National Assembly, like last night, when trying to prevent through insidious procrastination the timely adoption of the measures to help hundreds of thousands of people, is base and vile," said the Prime Minister, who added that nowhere in the world was there an opposition at the time of an epidemic that would delay all night the passing of a piece of legislation that was distinctly non-political and drawn up to help everyone. He also said that the ruling coalition was capable of cooperation and that all parties had been invited to join it. "When it became known that an epidemic was on the horizon, we invited them to join us, but they refused to come along and help. They were involved in the preparation of legislative packages, we provided them with working drafts thereof, which they then criticised at press conferences, without sending us any comments. But the Government continues to insist that its door is open to everyone who wants to help rather than impede its work."

As regards allegations that residents in homes for the elderly were not administered the necessary care and the accusations of genocide by the opposition Left, Prime Minister Janša replied that the accusation of genocide was made by those celebrating the dictator who actually committed genocide against the Slovenian people. Later in the conversation, he thanked the employees of the homes for the elderly, who made sure that 90% of these homes did not have a single infection. He was also critical of the actions of the management of the Ptuj Hospital, where the hospital director and the town mayor, both from the SD party, decided on a "gross attack on solidarity". "Where there were outbreaks of infections in homes for the elderly, the Ministry of Health responded with help, and not a single person had been left uncared for," said the Prime Minister.

Regarding NGOs' demands concerning destruction of nature and their protests and allegations that the Prime Minister did not care about the environment, the Prime Minister said he was co-signatory of a request for an extraordinary meeting "where we tried to prevent one of the biggest attacks on nature, i.e. building the C0 canal across aquifer in the water protection area." "At that time, no NGO member protested," recalled the Prime Minister, adding that "those who care about nature act where there are problems, but not using EUR 2,000 bicycles on the asphalt in the middle of Ljubljana."

In the conversation, the Prime Minister pointed out that the coalition stands firmly behind Minister Počivalšek regarding his interpellation and left the calls for the government reshuffle and early elections to those who think that this was their life mission. 

As priorities in the government's future activities, Prime Minister Janša highlighted the elimination of bureaucratic barriers, demographic issues and priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council. As regards the EU Presidency, we have some larger ambitions than those written in the priorities by the previous government. At present, our efforts within the framework of the recovery fund and the new financial framework or the EU budget are aimed at providing Slovenia with a position based on which, as early as this year, we will be able to invest in those programmes that will enable Slovenia to make the most of its natural advantages", said the Prime Minister.

As regards the functioning of the judiciary, the Prime Minister expressed his opinion that much remains to be done in this area, since the reputation of the judiciary is low, irrespective of the picture members of the judiciary might have of themselves. The Prime Minister also mentioned one billion euros of money laundered for Iranian terrorists that nobody investigated and 200 million euros which disappeared in overpaid coronary stents. "All this is possible since this branch of power does not function properly, even though there are many honest judges who try their best, but the key functions are in the hands of those who protect the élite, deep state, economic crime and tycoon networks, these are real octopuses of clientelism with tentacles reaching out to the highest peaks of the judiciary, and until this swamp dries up, Slovenia will not be a state governed by the rule of law; there is a lot of work to do in this area," commented the Prime Minister.

When asked about the closure of shops on Sundays, the Prime Minister said that a referendum had been held on the subject with a clear result, but later a compromise was reached between trade unions and retailers and this compromise turned to a different direction from what was decided in the referendum. "In fact, this is not a commitment set out in the coalition agreement, and the coalition parties have different views on this issue. The position of the SDS is that shops should be closed on Sundays. However, wherever shops are closed on Sundays, there are always some exceptions that need to be agreed within the Economic and Social Council," said the Prime Minister, believing that a solution would be reached in a normal way to follow the direction chosen by the people in the referendum.

Last but not least, in the conversation Prime Minister Janez Janša compared the time 30 years ago and today: "There are quite a few parallels that may be made. At the time, we were disarmed and we got empty warehouses, the previous authorities lied to us about the situation, now it was similar, only that this time we found empty warehouses of personal protective equipment and less than 30 free beds available for the epidemic in the intensive care units. The difference is that, after the swearing in of the Demos government, we still had a whole year ahead until the declaration of independence and that we were left some time to prepare; this year, the epidemic was declared on 12 March and we were sworn in on March 13," said the Prime Minister, adding that because there was no serious plan for proper or for routine action, and as solutions had to be found, the entire government went through many sleepless nights, as did those who helped, most of them being health workers and doctors who bore on their shoulders the major burden of the successful fight against the epidemic.

"The optimism, diversity and good cheer that were typical of Bishop Uran was what we missed in these times of crisis. It would make us happy if, instead of the sad news of his death, we had received the news that he had recovered and that again we would hear some cheerful word or song from him. Even when this sad news came, we all remembered the serenity, good will and his approach to the people, which is the most noble thing in the priestly profession," said the Slovenian Prime Minister about the life and example of Bishop Alojz Uran, who recently passed away.