Interview of Prime Minister Janez Janša for spanish El Correo
Prime Minister Janez Janša, in an interview for the Spanish newspaper El Correo, spoke about his appearance in the European Parliament, where the MEP Sophie in 't Veld, ironically through the very Group that is supposedly the stronghold defending the freedom of speech, grossly censored his address; in the interview, the Prime Minister also discussed the developments in the European People's Party, as well as the communist era in Slovenia and the spread of communist ideas in Spain, and Slovenia's recent history.
The interview with the Prime Minister is published below.
You have recently suffered censorship in the European Parliament, precisely in a debate in which your government was accused of censoring and attacking the media. What is true about these accusations? Who is behind this campaign?
True, it is inconceivable that the European public witnessed the censorship carried out on behalf of the largest democratic institution in Europe by MEP Sophie in 't Veld, ironically, through a group that was supposed to defend the freedom of speech. The Slovenian government takes freedom of speech and media freedom very seriously and does not agree to censorship, especially because the memory of the times when journalists had to sent their texts to the communist headquarters for approval before publishing is still very much alive among the Slovenian nation. I was also brought before a military court by the former regime and imprisoned precisely for exercising my right to freedom of speech, which is also one of the main reasons why I do not agree to such acts. As far as media freedom and freedom of speech are concerned, Slovenia ranks highest on the scales of media freedom during the times of center-right governments and the same applies to the index of democracy. The statement that journalists are oppressed and censored under this government is simply not true, which would be clear to every Spaniard who would follow the Slovenian media together with a translator for a week. Like many other scandals, also this allegations about the suppression of media freedom is exported abroad by the transitional left only so that it can be re-imported to our country again and so that this introduces additional instability and unrest into society.
Have you received the support of your group, the European People’s Party, in this matter?
The response of the European People's Party was rather vague. When talking about censorship and freedom of speech I would expect more from EPP and also more engagement from other parties in the European Parliament. To be honest, I would expect that every group in the EP would stand up clearly against censorship.
Your Chief of Staff, Peter Suhel, wrote in an open letter that censorship in the European Parliament is reminiscent of that suffered in the former communist Yugoslavia. Viktor Orbán has also compared the EU to the USSR. Do you share these views? If so, what do you think is the reason for this totalitarian drift in the EU?
It is less important how you call the fact that the chairperson does not allow a prime minister of a sovereign nation to make an argument during his allocated time for disscussion. The crucial issue at hand is that we condemn such acts. This incident is particularly problematic for the European Parliament, which should be a symbol of EU democracy. Unfortunately, also in other EU fora we have seen similar noncomformity with democratic and EU principles. For example, the recent COREPER decision to circumvent a veto of three member countries which wanted to increase solidarity element in a certain covid related decision. These are worrying events.
Slovenia has very good relations with Hungary and you have a close friendship with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. What do you think of the ongoing demonization campaign against Hungary and Poland? Do you believe that this campaign could lead to a break-up of the European Union?
Slovenia has excellent relations with all other 26 member countries of the EU. Some months ago, Croatian Prime Minister assigned his voting rights and asked me to speak in his name at the European Council since he was absent due to the covid infection. This only happens among strong allies. Founding fathers have built relations in a spirit of mutual respect based on the recognition of the equal dignity of each nation and state. Based on these values and principles, Europe has become united in its diversity. If we are not faithful to this wisdom of the founding fathers, the heritage they have handed down to us and the benefits we receive from it may be seriously endangered. We would be well advised to heed Brexit as sufficient warning.
What do you think of Orbán and Fidesz’s departure from the European People’s Party? How do you see the future of the conservative right in Europe?
I would first like to highlight that politics, unlike values, is dynamic and must be responsive to social change. The traditional political configurations, such as socialists vs conservatives, are slowly making way for new paradigms, new divisions. We can see what is happening in Germany. Parties’ identities are also changing. All in all, we can no longer rely on old labels and models. If you cannot recognise these changes, you are destined to fail. The problem of the large parties is that they are not sufficiently responsive and fall into old routines. In recent years, the EPP, which has been the dominant European party for over two decades, has been heavily criticised for the alleged populism of certain prime ministers from our political family. However, while some talked loudly, those that were criticized worked hard and got results. Let us not forget the basic fact that people vote for those who they believe will do a great job of public service. Our sister parties in western and northern Europe are simply not able to convince their voters of this, which is why the EPP is experiencing problems. Sometimes it seems that the EPP is playing the game exactly how the Socialists and Liberals want it to play and with that it's becoming weaker and weaker. Not only Orban, but others are also starting to recognise this. The right centre space, including that of conservatives, must be modernised. I want the EPP to be part of this process, otherwise it will become dead branch on a tree). The statistics and trends are harsh.
In an interview with VOX MEP Hermann Tertsch, he mentioned your courage at the head of Mladina magazine and in the trial of the four during communist Yugoslavia. However, it seems that many in Brussels are unaware of your trajectory and that of others like you. Do you not find it astonishing that politicians born in free countries pretend to give lessons in democracy to those who stood up to communist tyranny?
Many in Brussels and elsewhere have no historical memory of the period of totalitarianism. But that does not mean that totalitarianism did not exist and that we are not faced with the important specific challenges. Let me remind you of the Resolution 1096 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which is pointing out these challenges. Its most important recommendation is the old structures and thought patterns have to be dismantled and overcome. Sometimes it's hard to listen to people, born into democracy without fighting for it, preaching about democracy to people from countries that had to fight for it. Many do not understand, and some even do not see the need to understand the history, cultural and political specifics of countries that entered into the EU after 2004. This prevents them from truly understanding the real situation, what it takes to overcome totalitarianism and what are the challenges we are faced with. I wish to point out the European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism which "underlines the importance of keeping the memories of the past alive, because there can be no reconciliation without truth and remembrance". It as well stresses the believe "that appropriate preservation of historical memory, a comprehensive reassessment of European history and Europe-wide recognition of all historical aspects of modern Europe will strengthen European integration". The EU needs to understand that one size fits all does not and can not work. We have a common goal but paths to it have to be different, if we want everyone to reach it, since the points of departure are not the same.
In Spain, communists are part of the government and the Minister of Labour has publicly and unashamedly declared that communism means democracy and equality. What has been done wrong in Europe so that these views do not cause a scandal and are accepted by many people?
I will not comment on the internal political constellation of a member state of the EU. But the difference between communism on one side and the democracy and equality on the other is the difference between the Gulag and a free, prosperous society. I do not pretend to know better or to be on a higher moral ground as some in Brussels do. We will go a long way if the truth of Communism is thought properly in schools. The European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism "calls on the Commission and the Member States to make further efforts to strengthen the teaching of European history and to underline the historic achievement of European integration and the stark contrast between the tragic past and the peaceful and democratic social order in today's European Union".
Regarding the worst of the communist past, Slovenia has made a great effort to uncover the places where tens of thousands of people were murdered by Tito’s partisans after World War II. However, tributes to the victims have been the subject of controversy. Has this wound been healed? Have Slovenians come to terms with their past?
In the first years after the founding of the independent and autonomous state of the Republic of Slovenia, democratic culture and reconciliation were expected to quickly become a reality. However, modernisation was not successful, especially in schools and the media environment. The resistance and influence of the old communist godfathers proved to be much stronger than we believed. Because of its totalitarian past, the Slovenian nation continues to be divided into first-class and second-class citizens. Although some important steps have been taken on the path to reconciliation, we Slovenians are still far from reconciling with our past. Post-war killing grounds throughout Slovenia that are being discovered on an almost daily basis reveal the cruelty of the partisan "winners" of World War II and their uncompromising approach to the conquest and consolidation of power. Systemic and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms were not allowed to be discussed under Tito's criminal regime. Udba, the almighty secret political police, had their eyes and ears everywhere. Older people in particular are still afraid today. The dismantling of the remnants of the totalitarian communist system is proceeding too slowly, with the Slovenian peculiarity in this process being that victims are more concerned with reconciliation than executioners. Reconciliation with the past will thus continue to be a task for Slovenian society in the future.