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Prime Minister Janez Janša: We need a clear majority in favour of reason and solidarity

Address to the nation by Janez Janša, Slovenian Prime Minister

Prime Minister Janez Janša during his address to the nation

Prime Minister Janez Janša | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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Dear citizens,

Along with the rest of Europe and most of the northern hemisphere, we are at the beginning of a cold-weather wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic affects everyone. The situation is very serious and there is no point in sugar-coating it. On behalf of the government, let me first express my deepest condolences to all those who have lost a loved-one during the pandemic.

I, as well as several other EU leaders, warned on a number of occasions back in April and May that a new wave awaited us in the autumn, a cold-weather wave that would be more severe if we did not have an effective vaccine and/or drugs at our disposal, or at the very least a mandatory phone app that would allow us to track infections. We still do not have any of these things today. After a great deal of struggle, we set down the legal basis for the mandatory app in July, but its introduction has since become mired in the mud of domestic and European bureaucracy, with misplaced concerns about privacy as well as an inability to find original solutions in these exceptional circumstances at both levels. Many seem to be more concerned about what the information commissioner or the media have to say than about how many people will suffer and die because we have not secured a tool that our digital age can make available to all of us.

Although Europe seems to have woken up since the last meeting of the European Council, we will not be able to make up for lost time.

My fellow Slovenes, citizens and compatriots:

How things progress from here depends on all of us, every individual, and on our dedication, persistence, resilience, courage, stubbornness and solidarity. Winter is before us. We have seen how Australia coped this winter. It was not easy. Something similar awaits us here. This pandemic is not only a challenge to healthcare, but a test for the whole of humanity – and for us Slovenes in particular. Yesterday a well-known Slovene writer sent me a letter in which he asked himself whether a nation that was unable to bury its dead from the last century without quarrel would be capable of showing the right amount of true solidarity with the most vulnerable in our society.

I am convinced that, for the most part, we can show that kind of solidarity, which is not merely a matter of feelings but also of common sense. However, as we have seen in the last two months, a simple majority in favour of success is not enough. What we need is all of us, or at least a very large and clear majority in favour of reason and solidarity.

This cold-weather wave of the pandemic has, in the last few weeks, threatened to overwhelm the best healthcare systems in the world, such as those of the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. No country has an unlimited number of additional doctors and nurses at its disposal, nor is it possible (or sensible) to halt all other urgent medical procedures, as this will only cause further damage, suffering and death. When the number of infections is too high, merely following the basic preventive rules of conduct is no longer capable of stopping the virus with sufficient force.

One way of warding off the general collapse of the health system is to drastically reduce contact with other people. This is something that our generation never had to do to such an extent before this pandemic arrived.

It is understandable that measures to limit inter-personal contact will never be greeted with applause in a democratic society. This is something being discussed among and between experts and politicians everywhere, and these discussions are necessary and welcome in Slovenia as well. No one is infallible, particularly when one has to make decisions in extraordinary circumstances such as these, in a country with sub-systems that have to struggle through obstacles even in ordinary times. I therefore take criticism of the government and its measures as part of democratic discussion. However, lies and disinformation, the blurring of the boundary between truth and falsehood, the use of double standards and the emphasis on reporting actions that seek to deny the need to halt the epidemic and make fun of measures: none of these contribute to democratic debate. But this is not all. They nullify the efforts of the majority, and particularly of those on the frontline of the fight against this disease. I therefore call on those influential voices who claim that the government is adopting measures in order to frighten and terrorise people to stop. Enough is enough. The whole of the democratic world is adopting measures that value and protect life. Exploiting a global health crisis to wreak havoc is an abuse of the distress that people are under, and a wasteful and worthless endeavour.

That said, we have been helped in these last few difficult months by the initiative shown by individuals who have, at all levels and as experts, been involved in monitoring and analysing trends, studying the experiences of other countries, producing protective and medical equipment, and helping to prepare guidelines for the five anti-crisis packages so far adopted.

At the moment the government are finalising preparations for the sixth package of measures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, which will be put before members of the National Assembly next week. Sadly, this will not be the last package we need.

The pandemic itself, as well as the numerous measures being taken to stop it, have placed an exceptional burden on this country and elsewhere. This is not only because of the restrictions placed on our freedom, but also because of the effect on the economy and on most of the other activities important to our lives. This extended period of restrictions on education, culture, religious and other activities, the lifeblood of our community, cannot fail to have a negative impact. Our common, urgent and compulsory strategic objective is therefore to control the epidemic as quickly as possible so as to reduce it to a level that no longer poses a threat to healthcare operations and that allows us once again, as in the summer months, to operate a consistent contact tracing system.

We can do this if we are consistent in our efforts.

Because of the decision of the Constitutional Court, we are confined to adopting measures that can only last a week before we have to assess them again. Despite this decision, it is clear that some measures will have to remain in place for longer. Essentially, what awaits us is at least another month of hard struggle against the virus, followed by several months of heightened caution. The increased availability of rapid antigen tests will make it easier to limit individual outbreaks of the virus.

If we are successful in the coming weeks, we will be able to enjoy Christmas and the New Year in a more normal way than was the case during the half-term holiday. But in any case, it will be a long winter. The last meeting of European leaders involved a discussion on the European Commission’s assessment of whether mass vaccination would be possible between April and June next year. If a vaccine does become available before then, it will first be administered to vulnerable groups.

It will be difficult, but we can do it – because most of us realise that these urgent measures safeguard everything we have in common. In contrast to the pessimism and anger still emanating from many publications, the real work being done on the frontline and the enormous readiness of people to jump in and help is proof that we increasingly understand what lies in the balance. By consciously limiting our contact with other people, this is what we protect. We protect and we ensure that inter-personal contact, meetings and fun will soon once again become part of our normal everyday lives. We understand that we protect our freedoms and those of others by being responsible. No law or measure is able to conquer the virus. Victory is only ensured by reason, which tells us that we should temporarily suspend all non-essential contact, and by mutual solidarity, which tells us to take care of others and to stand by their side without, for now, socialising.

Slovenia does not have the best healthcare system in Europe, but it does have some of the most selfless people working within it. This means that no one will remain without the urgent help or intensive care they require. I salute and once again thank everyone who dons a blue or white gown to go to work.

Although we are not the richest country in Europe, we will help the most vulnerable people in the economy and services sector through the autumn and winter, just as we did in the spring. I would like to thank everyone who, in these trying times, has kept the economy and essential services going, and produced and delivered food and all other items essential for life.

Slovenia does not have a monolithic executive branch, but a coalition government. Together with expert teams, this wider governmental grouping has been engaged in an extremely challenging double task since March, full of difficult decisions, sleepless nights, justified and unjustified criticism, media attacks, and judgements made on the basis of double standards. Indeed, it is something of a miracle that it has been able to operate at all under such conditions. But operate it does – and will continue to do so. We are as resilient as our nation, which no one could dislodge from its land despite centuries of conflict. I thank all my colleagues. The essence is often hidden in the present, only to become obvious over time.

The winter will be long and difficult. For nature, it is a time of rest. We are faced with hard work, many sacrifices, and the need for all of us to show exceptional responsibility to ourselves and everyone around us. We are supporting with all our might our healthcare workers, epidemiologists, civil protection units, care home staff, police officers, soldiers, inspectors, shopkeepers, key workers and everyone else on the frontline. Because if they can do it, so can we all.

And when we look back at today in a year’s time, we will be proud of Slovenia.