Exclusive interview with Prime Minister Janša and his wife for the Prijatelji Radia Ognjišče magazine
Prime Minister Janez Janša and his wife Urška Bačovnik spoke about various topics in an exclusive interview for Prijatelji Radia Ognjišče (Friends of Ognjišče Radio) magazine.
Below is the entire interview conducted by Alen Salihović.
Thirty years ago, when he was Minister of Defence, she was a twelve-year-old girl, not a ten-year old, as we previously wrote in the magazine. They were both aware of the seriousness of the situation then and still are today. Each in their own area, Janez Janša as a politician, his wife Urška Bačovnik Janša now as a doctor. But above all, they are devoted parents to Jakob and Črtomir. I am pleased that I was able to conduct an exclusive interview with them for the Prijatelji Radia Ognjišče magazine on the 30th anniversary of our state. They easily agreed to the interview, which happened at the ordaining ceremony for Celje Bishop Maksimiljan Matjaž that they attended in Gornji Grad. Although I have met them often before, on this occasion in the relaxed and pleasant atmosphere they confirmed that being with people and for people is what counts. At the radio, we are grateful and honoured that we can share their thoughts and memories with you. Enjoy reading the interview and getting to know Mr and Mrs Janša.
Your first memory of June 1991...
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "As a girl merely 12 years old, I didn't quite grasp the uniqueness of that time. I remember that it was a warm summer, holidays had just started and I was riding my bike with my friends. Suddenly, a siren sounded and we all felt afraid. I still remember that day and the fear vividly. My parents came to get me and I had to go to the cellar, which also served as a shelter. The word ‘war’ was an uncomfortable but frequent word in the conversations of adults. However, I also remember the joy and celebration at home when the new state was born."
Janez Janša: "The year 1991 is a year of strong memories. So many events that I can call fateful were packed into a relatively short period. Some nations do not experience that many in a hundred years. But if I have to pick one event as my first memory of June 1991, it would certainly be the oath taken on 2 June by the first generation of military recruits serving in the Territorial Defence forces. This was the first oath in their native language in their native country of Slovenia, the oath of the first 300 Slovenian regular soldiers in the service of their country of the Republic of Slovenia solely in the Slovenian territory. Then, the events of June 1991 followed with such intensity that they are preserved in my memory like the heart of a great novel. Racing against time to harmonise and adopt the Fundamental Constitutional Charter and the Constitutional Act to declare independence; waiting for the ships carrying weapons; the magnificent celebration at Trg republike; meeting compatriots from all over the world who came to the meeting of the Slovenian World Congress; the deep sadness when hearing the news that Edvard Peperko died in the fighting near Trzin, and later Peter Petrič in Brnik and Jernej Molan on the south border; great joy when the Yugoslav Army's weapons warehouse Strmec near Borovnica was seized; disappointment and a feeling of abandonment when there was no help from the international community; joy upon the support of our compatriots from world capitals, who rose to help their home country; the faxes of young Slovenian men from Argentina who volunteered into the Territorial Defence ... Each day of June 1991 was historical."
There are some individuals coming to the forefront who want to turn this period of history into something completely different than the magnificent time it was. Mr Janša, such attacks on those participating in the fight for independence, you were also among them, probably no longer surprise you.
Janez Janša: "Those for whom independent Slovenia had never been a close option came to the forefront immediately after we had, despite everything, won such Slovenia. There is no prominent individual who, during the fight for independence, would counter the real measures of independence by voting against the key acts, the signature of the Declaration for Slovenia's disarmament and similar acts and would not advance in the country they had not wanted. They became presidents of parliament, ambassadors, ministers, rectors, governors of the central bank ... Whatever you can think of. It is understandable that now they try to lie about history, because it nevertheless did not make them right but made right the Slovenian nation, which unified and voted for independence and then successfully defended it in the war for Slovenia."
Where have we strayed from the path for the times of totalitarian regime to have gained in importance?
Janez Janša: "We have not strayed from the path, if you mean the path of independence; that was the right one. We were just too naive to not fortify it in time. Reviving totalitarian leftist ideology and glorifying a time that cruelly violated human rights and deprived people of liberty in a democracy that is relatively young and therefore vulnerable is very dangerous. We who are aware of this danger must all become louder and more determined. Those who threaten this with nationalisation, the termination of parliamentary democracy, the exit from the euro area or even death, are deadly serious. And frankly, if we do not fight them in time, we will also be guilty."
Mrs Bačovnik Janša, in understanding history, the education system is the key, which first includes the role of parents...
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "I belong to a generation that was in their early teens during that period. Except from what we learned from our parents, who wanted to protect us from certain events due to the uncertainties of the time, that time has been somewhat deleted from our memories. A few years later, when I was in secondary school, not one lesson was dedicated to this period in history. At least not as far as I remember. My acquaintance with this part of our history began only after I met Janez. I remember when I first read his books Premiki and Okopi, his gift to me. Every name was unknown, every event was new. It felt like reading a phonebook with names and numbers. Janez wondered and could not understand how me and my generation knew almost nothing about this pivotal period that we had, after all, experienced ourselves. But the fact is that the generation to which I belong, with rare exceptions, of course, does not know, understand or carry this period of history in its heart. I dare to say this. This is why this generation finds it difficult to evaluate or value this time. We are living proof of your statements.”
Patriotism, homeland, home, fatherland – these are the words that some people, so it seems, would like to put aside. As if we were ashamed to talk about such things...
Urška Bačovnik Janša: “Love for your home and homeland begins in the cradle or is placed in our hearts by our parents. It was placed in mine, too. Ever since childhood, I have been proud to be Slovenian, to come from a small country, which feels like a pearl in the middle of the world to me. It seems that big countries or big nations lack this charm. When I was still a student, I wandered around the world a lot and it always felt so unique to tell people where I was from. My relationship with Janez, however, opened a new dimension of patriotism that would otherwise be difficult to discover. I am sure that it is hard to love Slovenia more than he does. In a way, he has dedicated his life to this love, and, without it, he would never have been willing to give up so much. I, who follow his work from day to day, can see it crystal clear. Without people who see this as their life mission, there would probably be no country in the world. If our homeland is our heart, our home is our soul. It would be hard to live and even harder to survive without it.”
Janez Janša: “It is sad to see how some are perverting the basic essence of patriotism, which is, put simply, carrying your homeland in your heart. If you say these days that you are proud of Slovenia, that you are proud of the nation and its achievements, you are quickly declared a nationalist. Or at least a populist. As it is, especially the representatives of the left nomenclature are doing everything to divide and separate the nation based on what has always joined us, connected us and made us united. This is the love for our homeland. Patriotism, which is essentially a positive attachment to one’s homeland, its culture and traditions, especially language, which is associated with the formation of a collective identity on the national and cultural diversity at the global level. Patriotism is important for every nation, every culture, and especially important for small nations, because without patriotism, without an attachment to one's own identity, home and fatherland, small nations would gradually disappear. And if I go back to the tendencies of the left to divide or separate the nation: the grounds for this is the tendency to create conditions for manipulating people and do shady business. Throughout history, representatives of the Slovenian left have mastered this to perfection.”
The time of our independence should be sacred for the present time and for new generations. Even after 30 years, we should believe in a Slovenia without corruption, quarrels, nepotism, lies...
Janez Janša: “For each nation, the time when it gains its independence or autonomy is sacred. This is a time that unites. We still have this time, this centre of Slovenian values. What we voted for in the plebiscite was a Slovenia of unity and well-being. A Slovenia where the values of freedom, justice, solidarity and fairness would go hand in hand with economic success and prosperity. A country that would be a motherland for all its children. I believe that the vast majority of Slovenians, including the younger generations, still share the same fundamental faith in such a Slovenia. This is what has made us stand and withstand in the political tempests of the last few decades. And what will make us stand and withstand in the future, despite problems.”
Urška Bačovnik Janša: “I am an idealist who likes to dream. I could not survive without it. People will probably never live without quarrels because we are not perfect. We must, however, always strive for the good. That is why I believe and hope, especially when I look at my two children, that the next thirty years will be more friendly and fruitful for Slovenia. Also because many have built solid foundations in these thirty years that are behind us.”
Both of you are involved in working for the common good. You, Mrs Bačovnik Janša, as a doctor, and you, Mr Janša, as the Prime Minister for the third time. The epidemic has had a great impact on your work...
Urška Bačovnik Janša: “I often emphasise that the epidemic held up a mirror in which we could observe ourselves. I am certain that it has taught us a lot about both our generosity and our selfishness. It has surely held up the mirror to the society we live in. This period was a great opportunity to teach our children tolerance and solidarity with the elderly, and our young intergenerational coexistence and insight.”
Janez Janša: “It has been a difficult year. With plenty of patience, sacrifices and willpower, we have managed to pull through. We realised how fragile our lives are and how important solidarity between people and nations is in times of trial. I am grateful to the medical staff and to all working in the critical infrastructure who have borne the brunt of this crisis. I am grateful to them for all their energy, efforts and sacrifices, and for not giving up and being a beacon of hope for all of us in this difficult ordeal. I am grateful to my colleagues who worked to the best of their ability, often beyond the limits of their capabilities, to prevent the worst consequences from happening. I am grateful to all the citizens who have respected the Government's measures, who went to get vaccinated in large numbers in recent months in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. I know that we will combat the virus and that the light on the other side of the tunnel is already beckoning. After a long night of the epidemic, the new dawn of life as we used to know will rise. We will be richer for the experience and therefore stronger.”
How has this time affected your family?
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "Very much. But I don't know a family that hasn't been affected by the epidemic. For better or for worse. Remote schooling, which was certainly an interesting and enlightening experience to get to know my own children, was also exhausting. It was sometimes impossible to balance schooling children and my work. I don't think we mothers have ever looked forward to a holiday as much as we have this year. But I am grateful in my own way for this time and this experience. Last March, when we had our first lockdown and there were almost no COVID-19 patients compared to last winter, I was able to stay at home for two months with my children and help them get through the 2nd and 4th grades. Actually, the whole class became one big online family. In a way, teachers not only entered the classroom but also came into our homes. It seemed to me that I was getting to know the children in a new way, seeing them in a different light, getting to know how they perceive schoolwork, their learning habits, their difficulties, and as a result we grew closer. There has never been so much time available for children and there probably never will be again. Because we were not socialising with practically anyone, the bond between us became even stronger. In a way, we re-connected. Now we are back on the merry-go-round. Above all, there is no normal time to relax. But Janez and I spend every spare moment we have with our children. The boys are now big, very fun, happy and active."
Janez Janša: "Because of all commitments, we had much less time than I would have liked and needed, but what little time we had was well-spent. I also believe that, in the future, we will be able to make up for a lot of what we had to give up."
Mr Janša, the Government acted as the head of the family during the epidemic. It was not easy to adopt the restrictions and decisions...
Janez Janša: "The Government's main concern when adopting any measures, which were not the easiest and were also difficult for all of us, was to get us out of the crisis as quickly as possible. We did not forgot anyone with the measures taken. This is also confirmed by the data from various international institutions, which acknowledge that we weathered the health crisis well. Despite all the scaremongering by the opposition, despite all the obstacles, every Slovenian patient with COVID-19 was treated at home, and no patients had to be taken abroad for treatment as, for example, the Netherlands had to do. Our healthcare system managed to provide additional hospital capacities literally overnight. As a result of all the measures taken, we now have an extremely low unemployment rate, we have favourable credit ratings, we have borrowed at a negative interest rate for the first time in history (meaning we are being paid for borrowing money), we have launched a number of investment projects that had been put aside for years, we have an extensive recovery and resilience programme that we are counting on to bring our country back to the top of EU development average scale."
We also witnessed malicious acts, threats...
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "The COVID-19 epidemic has certainly brought a lot of uncertainty, fear and, consequently, anxiety among people. Many are worried how they will be able to keep their jobs and businesses, how they will survive economically. All of this is reflected in hardship, which has manifested in poor personal relationships and different forms of social unrest. Many personal distresses and even mental illnesses are manifested through threats and inappropriate posts on social networks. I accept them as such. I don't want to take them personally. I try to see in them the distress or perhaps the illness of the person who expresses themselves in this way. However, it is right that we all condemn death threats as unacceptable. Whether they have been made against a politician, a public figure or even their children. That whoever threatens another person should be held accountable. Otherwise, threats quickly backfire on the one who turns a blind eye. No doubt, in Slovenia, the level of what is permissible when it comes to political struggle is very much above the threshold of acceptable. It should not seem normal to anyone to kick around the capital's main square a ball in the shape of the head of the Prime Minister or anyone else. Not everyone can identify with a particular political option. Yet it has never occurred to me to attack with such hostility those who think differently. Even at home, I try very hard not to speak ill of other people to my children, even if I disagree with them. That's also part of civic education, isn't it?"
Janez Janša: "Threats, especially death threats against my family, against me or against supporters of our party, against ministers of our Government, against the Church and in general against anyone who dares to defend the truth, are an expression of the intellectual impotence and lack of substance of the radical and, unfortunately, also the majority of the post-communist left in Slovenia. In the absence of arguments and because, despite powerful loudspeakers, the truth cannot be completely hidden by lies, they are resorting to threats, which is both pathetic and dangerous. We must insist that the institutions of the rule of law do their job. It is difficult to turn threats or malice directly into good, but you can prove with your good work, your efforts for the common good, your patience and your perseverance that they are an expression of what I described at the beginning. And in this way they lose their power."
Civil society seems to be growing stronger – from a new perspective. Each of us is a part of this society. Are we sufficiently aware of this?
Janez Janša: "What is presented today as civil society or non-governmental organisations through the powerful loudspeakers of the media is not civil society but mostly a thinly disguised phalanx of the left, shouting about freedom and equality, while carefully guarding and protecting its privileges.A non-governmental organisation cannot depend on the budget, because it is then governmental and not civilian. It is precisely because of this systemic corruption, which takes place through NGOs, that we are facing such strong opposition to measures, given that the left political elite, regrettably, insists on the view that the worse the epidemic, the better it will be for them. Building such a non-state policy and having such an attitude towards a nation whose health is at risk during this epidemic is short-sighted, mindless and, above all, harmful to the nation and the state. Authentic Slovenian civil society consists of thousands of societies and associations in Slovenian villages and towns, the Slovenian Church and other religious communities, etc. And not of the cyclists from Metelkova and Rog."
Mrs Bačovnik Janša, you were among the health workers who were on the frontline during the epidemic. Were you ever saddened when you worked really hard and saw that some people were deliberately going against the measures that were not set by the Government, politics, and ultimately by your husband, but against the measures that were taken by the whole world?
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "To all of us who work in the healthcare sector, especially in the departments where obligations and work tripled due to the new disease, it often seemed, and it occasionally still seems, that we are moving from one world to another. From one reality to another. It’s hard to describe. On the one hand, there was suffering, death, and not long ago, the corridors filled with patients who were waiting for a free bed, and, on the other hand, there was self-centeredness. Of course, on many occasions I felt helpless, sad, and sometimes harsh words slipped out. These were very challenging, stressful situations, when it was difficult to work normally and professionally. We healthcare professionals mostly lack understanding for people who did not and still do not want to understand the importance of these measures. We could have invited them to help with our work as volunteers. I am convinced that many would have changed the way of their thinking."
Slovenia will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of the year. Mrs Bačovnik Janša, have you ever talked about this with your husband and what are your wishes during this time?
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "Actually, our everyday life is such that we rarely have time to talk about anything other than children. During the epidemic, we talked a lot because I personally had to deal with issues in the healthcare system. Regarding the presidency, we have together arranged a few events where my husband expects me to help him. Of course, he would like me to have more time to help him during these six months. We are still coordinating these things. I have ideas and suggestions regarding protocol events; some will be such that the guests are accompanied by their partners. The actual content of the presidency, however, is not a matter of one person, but the result of the work of many. Of course, I often comment on things, events that take place. In this regard, I'm just an ordinary wife... (chuckle). I am aware that in order for a successful man to carry out large projects well, he needs, above all else, understanding and support at home. A refuge of sorts. Regrettably, my job doesn't leave much room for other things either. Sometimes we talk about whose job is more challenging, what it would be like if our roles were reversed. Who would manage better ... (chuckle)".
Mr Janša, we could also use the Slovenian Presidency to promote our natural attractions...
Janez Janša: "Slovenia is truly a beautiful country. We have the most beautiful mountains, peaks, valleys, rivers, lakes, the Pannonian plain, hills, a warm sea... a myriad of natural, cultural and architectural sights. Slovenia is in fact like "heaven under Mt Triglav", as Ivan Cankar called his homeland. Every corner of our beautiful country is worth a visit. Unfortunately, the guests who will come to Slovenia during the Slovenian Presidency will too often only get to know our conference halls because we meet in talks where we have many tough nuts to crack and formulate solutions for complex issues. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure that practically everyone who comes to Slovenia during our presidency of the Council of the EU will be able to visit at least one of our natural attractions."
Mr Janša, which poem or lyrics speaks to you specifically on the occasion of this year’s 30th anniversary of the state?
"A poem by Janez Menart, written for the first oath of Slovenian soldiers in June 1991, the Slovenian Spring".
What are your wishes for Slovenia and its citizens?
Urška Bačovnik Janša: "As someone who spends most of the time among the ill and the suffering in hospital, what I mostly want for us is to stay healthy, both as individuals and as a society. To breathe with the full lungs of a healthy thirty-year-old, to respect and accept one another in diversity, to help each other and enjoy this piece of the world, which is undoubtedly a paradise on earth."
Janez Janša: "Slovenia can celebrate its 30th anniversary with the awareness that we made the right decision at that time and that we are on the right path. We have problems and challenges, but we can deal with them. We heard and understood Pope John Paul II’s message: "Courage counts!" A sincere thank you for this interview and I especially wish all the friends of Radio Ognjišče a healthy and relaxed summer.