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The response to the petition of 150 foreign academics

We are publishing the response to the petition of foreign academics, who express their concern over the state of autonomy of Slovenian academia.

Dear esteemed members of the Academia!

Given that you are not intimately familiar with Slovenian state of affairs, internal political struggles and media manipulations we are not blaming you, that you were so thoroughly mislead by the Slovene radical left academia in believing that academic freedoms in Slovenia are being eroded.

What is described in your petition has no common denominator with real life.

You write that since “rightist politician Janez Janša came to power, the government has refused to reappoint several museum directors and one director of a research institute” and further state that scholars “must be allowed to work without this kind of political and governmental interference”.

The Government is thoroughly committed to following due process and pays utmost attention to rules and regulations that govern appointments of the directors of public institutions. A public competition has been carried out for each appointment, with strict standards and rules governing who can apply for the position. After the Selection board of the Ministry of Culture has suggested the most appropriate candidates (based on competency) to the Minister, he  has always diligently followed its proposal. The Minister steadfastly preferred the candidate which was objectively found to be the best on merit. However, when it comes to appointments of directors of public institutions, the law states that the selection of candidates selected by the Selection board must always be sent to Councils of the public institutions, which are eligible to give their opinion on which candidate is more suited for the function. Due to sheer number of years left-wing coalitions have been in power, those councils have always been selected by left governments, so they tend to negate the Minister’s preferences (which is, as a rule always the top candidate in the selection process) and give their opinion that another candidate  is more suitable - usually the current directors or a candidate aligned by left-wing centers of power. The government is not trying to undermine the professionalism of such Councils; however, it is important to note that they have been indeed nominated politically and their role as an independent consulting institution is at best doubtful. Another thing to stress is that the Minister of Culture in not bound by their opinions. Their role is purely advisory. This is due process in Slovenia, and it has been the same for three decades. In fact – when the Minister uses his power of discretion it is exactly a tool which eliminates the potentially politically biased opinions of the Councils of the public institutions.

The system is inherently political, since the Councils themselves are appointed politically, yet the left-wing governments never took issues with it in the past.  Accusations of political interference only surface once a right-wing government is in power and never during a quarter of a century when left-wing governments have governed. The Minister’s reliance on due process of picking the best candidates is the only line of defense against a politically appointed apparatus. 

The new appointments of various directors have been slandered in public by the media (which by inertia is predominately left-wing) and leftist academia alike. Accusations have been made that candidates are professionally incompetent; some even go so far to call them apparatchiks and SDS shills. This is an enormous insult to these prominent candidates, who came through the selection process with all the required competencies required for the position. These are highly regarded experts in the field, known both domestically and internationally, yet they do not fit into the inner circle of political candidates appointed to these positions in the past.

Next, the petition talks about plans to establish a new Museum of Slovene Independence, claiming that the new museum would be a propaganda institution, promoting nationalist narrative about the past aimed mainly at buttressing the ideological agenda of the ruling Slovene democratic party.” A statement like this is insulting, outrageous, preposterous and an outright attack on Slovenian sovereignty. 

National independence and freedom it espouses is not an ideology. It is a universal value shared not only by Slovenians, but all humanity. The museum will be part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Slovenian independence. It will be subject to international standards and curated by professional historians with no political affiliations, to ensure proper representation of Slovenia’s struggle to break loose from the communist dictatorship.

Many post-communist countries that broke the shackles of oppression, have a museum dedicated to those fateful times in a nation’s history.  Croatia has its Homeland war museum, Latvia has the Museum of the occupation of Latvia, Lithuania has the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights etc. It has nothing to do with nationalism. It is a celebration of freedom and humanity. Independence was a project of all Slovenian citizens (not just ethnic Slovenians!), who have decided by an overwhelming majority to live in a free, democratic society during the 1990 Slovenian independence referendum.  This event is the only one in history that properly united all Slovenian citizens.  To say such a museum would be a propaganda institution is an outrage.

In closing, we fail to see, how appointments of directors of public institutions and an establishment of a Museum of independence would have any effect on academic freedom in Slovenia. It seems like a complete non sequitur. For decades appointing new directors has been a routine during left-wing governments. It is a political process, but a process that requires regular transitions of power, which Slovenia sadly lacked for most of its independent history. It is highly curious that matters put forwards in the letter are precisely the same matters which professional left-wing Slovenian activists had issues with, in the past. In fact, they have written a very similar petition to Slovenian media outlets. Therefore, we strongly suspect that the undersigned have no proper understanding of internal goings-on of our country and have merely signed a letter which was written in Slovenia, by Slovenians and for Slovenians. 

Yet, it is important to highlight that the Government of Slovenia firmly believes in autonomy and freedom of the academia, which has never been undermined or threatened during the course of this Government’s mandate.

Finally, we would also like to highlight that the Government lead by Prime minister Janez Janša is not a “rightist” government, as the petition is suggesting. It has two liberal left-wing coalition partners, both members of the ALDE European alliance. Slovenia only had homogenous governments when left-wing parties formed coalitions. In fact, during the last decade the left-wing coalitions have been in power for 9 out of 10 years.