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Prime Minister Janša on TV SLO 1: There are difficult weeks ahead of us

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, broadcast on TV Slovenija 1. The interview was conducted by Jože Možina. Below is a transcript of the entire talk, which focused mainly on the coronavirus epidemic, economic indicators, the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the internal political dynamics.

PM Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, broadcast on TV Slovenija 1.

PM Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, broadcast on TV Slovenija 1. | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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We have just celebrated Christmas, which carries the message of peace. Your Government doesn’t appear to have much of that. How did you spend the holy night?

Fairly peacefully. For us Christians, Christmas is almost the biggest religious holiday, but for all of us, it is also a holiday when the family can feel its home in peace. We did that, and I believe that many of our fellow Slovenians at home and abroad felt the same way, despite the epidemic.

The epidemic has, of course, affected all of us. We are tired, we are waiting for it to be over, though we have nothing to complain about compared to health professionals, especially those in the front line. But still, you being the Prime Minister, when do you think this will end? What will the following weeks and months bring?

They used to call this type of question a "million dollar question". Sadly, despite this being the holiday season, I can’t say the end is near. On the contrary, the highest infection rates, in terms of infections during the COVID pandemic, are likely to follow in the coming days and weeks. I hope, though, not the highest rates in terms of hospital capacities and the most drastic consequences of this disease. We have learned some lessons as humankind, as a community, about what to do or how to fight this disease. But we can certainly say that there are difficult weeks ahead of us. Difficult weeks that will very likely mean having to give up certain freedoms again. The measures being introduced elsewhere in Europe, where the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, has become the dominant variant, are measures that humankind is familiar with, aimed not at stopping the epidemic, but slowing down the spread of infection. It cannot be stopped. We know that. But we must slow it down, otherwise too many infections suddenly lead to too many patients, too many people in need of intensive care. These capacities are limited everywhere in the world, not only in Slovenia. Which means that, if there is too much pressure too quickly, the system starts to fall apart and people, of course, also die for other reasons, not just COVID, and we have to avoid that at any cost; hence the measures that no one likes, least of all the Government, which then has to bear all the responsibility and the anger because it had no choice but to adopt them.

But look, countries that Slovenia often models itself on, mostly Western, Northern countries, Austria, for instance, is planning to make vaccination compulsory as of February for persons over 14. A number of countries are introducing or planning to impose restrictions on public life for the non-vaccinated. What will Slovenia do?

Slovenia can’t do anything that other countries in a similar situation aren’t doing too. Not just because we are part of the European Union and, thank God, synchronise certain measures or at least try to introduce and implement them in the same manner, so that this community, including when it comes to the free movement of people, does not fall apart. However, Slovenia has a few specific problems. While most countries, particularly in the West, can adopt measures either by way of government ordinances or ordinances passed by, for instance, the President of France or the Italian Government and proclaimed by the Prime Minister, we can’t do this. Neither the Government nor, in some cases, the National Assembly, because the Constitutional Court then goes on to overturn one ordinance after another. I’m not saying that all the Constitutional Court decisions have been unfounded, far from it. But if we compare our actions to those of other countries with similar political systems and systems of government, branches of government, and so on, separations of power, we can see that our hands are very much tied. The mere fact that this threat is hanging over all of us who have to make decisions limits our actions. Even the experts don’t dare propose anything that is being implemented in other countries because everyone says that the Constitutional Court will end up overturning it anyway and the situation will be even more confusing. So we are unique in this respect, because some of us who shoulder the responsibility to take action simply don’t act like they’re part of this community. Unfortunately.

One reproach against you is that, if you knew that the ordinances were not the way to go, you could have resorted to acts.

We are resorting to acts. The tenth anti-COVID package has just been passed in the National Assembly. No other country has passed so many pieces of legislation to fight the epidemic. Name one country that had to pass ten acts to this end. All ten anti-COVID packages contain a number of legislative bases, including healthcare-related ones, providing a solid legal basis for dealing with the epidemic. They also contain measures to mitigate its consequences, which are most often the subject of debate, but all ten anti-COVID packages, the main purpose of all these huge projects that took a lot of effort, both professional and political, is creating the legal basis for taking action. Name one country that had to pass ten legislative packages just to be able to take action.

That is an interesting point. When it seemed that your Government was having problems gaining a majority, when predictions of an early election started circulating and so on, you managed to pass this act and a few others this last Monday. Maybe we could say a few words about that. The opposition of course claims that this last act, with which you opened the public purse very widely, as they say, is about handing out pre-election gifts. How would you explain such a broad list of aid recipients under this last act? Who exactly are the beneficiaries?

First, if we look at the financial effects of the ten anti-COVID packages, the last, tenth package, is not the most generous, not even close. It is one of the packages that will actually cost us the least. It is true, however, that this package also partly addresses or solves problems in terms of the financial distress or cost increases of some of the most vulnerable categories of the population as a result of rising energy prices, especially electricity or heating costs. Those most affected are mainly pensioners, the elderly with low pensions, certain categories of disabled people and so forth. And these solidarity bonuses included in the tenth anti-COVID package serve a dual purpose. That is mitigating the effects of these energy price rises or rises in energy prices for a category of people who feel these effects immediately because they have no savings, no reserves. At the same time, they also address everything that affects these groups of people the most because of the measures that must be adopted to stop the epidemic.

The money has to come from somewhere. In this case, the country took on a big debt. The opposition, for example the President of the SAB Party, Alenka Bratušek, says that she is very concerned by that.

We are all concerned. But we have to be realistic here. This money went to the people and businesses. We preserved the capacities of the Slovenian nation, of Slovenia, Slovenian public systems and subsystems and of course the Slovenian economy. And that is where the money comes from. And, in that respect, I have to say that I’m sorry, but the ten packages that made this happen everyone, including external observers, at least the most relevant ones that look at our fitness in a meritocratic way, acknowledges saved our economic growth, that they saved our potentials. For instance, credit rating agencies that either increased or maintained Slovenia’s high credit rating, which meant that we were able to borrow much more cheaply than, for example, Ms Bratušek did in her time. And, above all, real-feel macroeconomic figures show that we made up for last year’s drop in the third quarter of this year and are now growing on a basis higher than the one before the epidemic in 2019. For example, around ten thousand more people are employed in Slovenia today than were before the epidemic. Were it not for some of these measures, we would be in the same situation as certain countries that were in a far worse position and took on a bigger debt than us. During this time, Slovenia’s debt has been one-fifth, so 20%, lower than the average debt taken on by both the European Union and Eurozone countries. All these indicators, which are objective, which the Government can’t make up because we are part of a larger system, like Eurostat, like the European Commission, like international credit rating agencies, show that we did well. Unfortunately by having to gather votes for this package one by one to achieve a majority in the National Assembly. Sadly, the opposition didn’t vote for any one of these ten packages. They always came up with some excuse for not supporting it. And we didn’t do anything that everyone else that has been successful in this fight didn’t do.

The fight with the pandemic certainly has two sides. The second, which you have just mentioned and highlighted, is on a positive path, this means the very high economic growth, close to seven percent I believe, and the lowest unemployment rate, as you say, in our history. Which specific measures contributed the most to this?

If we start with the ones that were also the most costly, they were certainly the measures to preserve jobs. In order to prevent companies from laying people off because there was simply no work or when entire economic sectors, in particular the services sector, were closing, we subsidised from the state budget funds for salaries, temporary lay-offs, short-time working, and even for some fixed costs in certain sectors. We financed basic incomes of sole traders, of people engaged in cultural activities, for example. A lot of money went into ensuring that this potential is preserved… for example, because an activity that goes smoothly but is than stopped either because there are no orders or because it is prohibited. You know, in three or four months, if people, if you have to lay people off, they either find another job or come back and find everything in ruins, then companies close. We can see in some countries which were more stingy in this respect how many jobs they have lost. At the moment, Slovenia has one of the highest employment rates in Europe. We have the highest employment rate in the history of the country, more than 900,000 people in Slovenia work, more than 20,000 more than in December 2019, which means that there are 20,000 more people contributing. First, they can take care of themselves, then they are contributing to the health insurance fund and the pension insurance fund, paying social contributions, spending, paying VAT, and so on. On the other hand, they do not burden the social network, which means that they do not receive social allowances they would have if they were unemployed. This is triple benefit and every new productive job, in particular in the enterprise sector, is, we could say, the realistic indicator of progress and prosperity.

This worked out well for you, this fight with the epidemic, as far as the enterprise sector is concerned and also in terms of the preservation of institutions and the public life in a way. However, the first point of the fight with an epidemic is the protection of human lives. In this respect, Slovenia did not fare so well; at times we have in fact been in a very bad situation, we have lost many lives. Of course, objectively, the Government bears the greatest responsibility in this. Why did this happen? Why we were not better, more successful?

Firstly, every lost human life is a loss too many, and there was indeed a period, in particular one year ago, before the vaccination started, when Slovenia had a very high rate of deaths. I think that for a few weeks we were even among the top ten in Europe and in the world. However, when you take a closer look at the situation and compare or ask yourself why that is not the case today, although the numbers are higher and so on, then you see that, unfortunately, the majority of these deaths last autumn were in homes for the elderly. In homes for the elderly, where the conditions were such that it was simply not possible to arrange red zones and immediately separate the infected from the healthy, there, we paid the highest price. But this cannot be solved overnight. In 15 years, Slovenia has not co-financed a single home for the elderly from the state budget. It has also not built any new homes for 13 years. During this time, we have given hundreds of millions of euros for all sorts of things but have not built any new homes for the elderly or modernised one in a substantial way. This is why we have paid such a price. Not because the epidemic also came to Slovenia like it spread everywhere else. This January, when the great majority of residents in homes for the elderly had been vaccinated, the mortality rate fell drastically. Now we are somewhere at the average in eastern Europe, though not western Europe. This is a phenomenon which is not only Slovenian. At this moment, mortality, the number of people who fall seriously ill and need intensive care and artificial ventilation, greatly depend on the vaccination rate among the population. In this, Slovenia is near the bottom or among the EU countries that are well below the average. On the other hand, we are at the eastern European average. And when I say eastern Europe, I don't mean only in the geographic sense, but also in the political sense. A good map that explains this phenomenon is the map of Germany. There you can see the line between the former Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic. In the east of Germany, the numbers are similar to those in Slovenia or Croatia or, I don't know, the Baltic states, Slovakia, Czechia, Poland… Although Poland is maybe doing a bit better. Hungary is also doing slightly better due to a higher vaccination rate and a specific approach. In short, the higher the vaccination rate in the population, the lower the price they pay. The vaccinated also fall ill and sometimes need intensive care, but the ratio is essentially one to ten.

How much higher a price have we paid because we, because you, did not succeed in bringing together the position and the opposition in the common fight against COVID-19?

The opposition more or less opposed every measure, but I think that this did not have such a great effect on the behaviour of people. Some effect, certainly. A greater problem was that the mass media followed this and that this division with regard to every measure then moved to the public sphere. If this had stayed at the level of a political fight in the Parliament, it would not have had such drastic consequences. It did because it suddenly became a thing that was then debated in the general public as something to be for or against. As many as 98 percent of doctors supported the measures, supported vaccination, supported all that the medical professionals proposed. Only two percent of medical professionals opposed this and in some of the mass media this was presented as a division in the profession. They invited one representative of the 98 percent and one representative of the two percent and said: we have presented all views. This was going on for months and months and only recently it has improved slightly. This has caused tremendous damage. But nevertheless, the main reason for people in eastern Europe trusting science about as much as politics, which means that they mostly do not trust it, is the result of history, a certain historical development. It is, in a way, characteristic of democratic systems that the trust in politics is low. But there are elections every four years, so this is continuously regulated and adjusted. Contrary to a dictatorship, where trust is formally measured as very high because no one dares to oppose. However, in the countries with a long democratic tradition, there is a big difference between the trust in politics and the trust in science. In a democracy, science is normally not misused for political goals, and this is passed from generation to generation, which is the reason that people in the West today have great trust in science and low trust in politics. In the East, the principle is the same. Because at the time of one-party regimes science was misused in every possible way, not only in communism, also in Nazism, if we think about all the experiments and so on. But communism has been alive for decades, Nazism, fortunately, for a considerably shorter time, communism, unfortunately, considerably longer. Now, there is this equating of the two. Science was equated with authority and certain patterns of thought were created. Then Facebook flew in and the issue escalated into the situation we see today in Slovenia or in Poland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, if you will, where there are not only a few percent but several tens of percent of people who trust a fake scientist on Facebook, who they have never met, never seen, and who might not even exist because someone artificially created him, more that the official medical professionals in the country. Because it is ingrained in people’s memories that they had always been deceived in the past and these patterns remained. However, I must say that, everywhere, the media contributed considerably to this and this cannot be overcome overnight. If this was possible, than maybe the map of Germany would have been different. Germany is united today, but united from East and West Germany, and this distrust of science in the eastern part of Germany explains precisely what I am talking about. And those who say that in Slovenia people do not respect some measures because they do not trust the Government… now… the Government has not invented any measures. The Government proposed or adopted measures that were proposed by professionals, and not only Slovenian professionals. Also professionals in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom.

But you have been criticised for communicating these measures poorly.

When you answer that we have been doing the same as they were doing in the core countries of the European Union, somebody says: but you have communicated poorly. I agree. This poor communication is related to the main dependent media in Slovenia. If you compare when the national televisions in the majority of European countries included in their logos "respect the measures", "vaccinate" and so on and when this happened in Slovenia, you will get the answer to this question.

Do you see anything specific about the protests in Slovenia, say this anti-vaccine movement? Is it comparable to what you have described so far?

Characteristic of all these anti-vaccine movements are distrust of science, the creation of conspiracy theories based on a very vivid imagination and the merging of extremes. This is where the left and right extremes meet, all over Europe as well as in Slovenia. This is simply not about reason. It is about a combination of many things and it is very difficult to fight with arguments. But that is the only way. We have no choice but to keep trying. It seems incomprehensible to me personally as well as probably to 80 percent of people in Slovenia. In the beginning, everything was new, there was a lot of guessing and so on. Professionals have also made several mistakes, because it was a new symmetrical danger and threat, but now it has been cleared up. Billions of people are vaccinated around the world, almost a million and a half in Slovenia. We know how it works and we also know the side effects. Let us say we had one or two deaths due to vaccination and its side effects in one and a half million of vaccinated persons. At the same time 6,000 people died of COVID, almost all of them unvaccinated. If we cannot rationally reflect on this, then it seems to me that there is no solution or hope in the expectation that this will suddenly change, because we are not dealing with rational arguments. A great deal of patience is required here.

You are considered a rational person. Some say even too rational. But was it ever hard for you during this epidemic, were you very worried and affected?

I am still worried. It affected me many times, say when my wife explained to me one day when she came home from a night shift in the middle of the day from the previous day’s shift that did not end at six or seven in the morning. She explained to me how young people, significantly younger than me or even her, were also being intubated. Each of them usually had an underlying health condition, but there are hundreds of thousands of people in Slovenia with such conditions who could live for decades longer. In this case many died. Any such death, especially now that the vaccine is available, affects us in some way; it is unnecessary. One must always ask what else could be done to prevent this from happening.

But how much does this anti-vaccine movement cost us, so to speak?

Anyone who needs intensive care or artificial ventilation costs the Slovenian healthcare system a lot. When we multiply it – by ten, twenty or a thousand – the numbers are enormous, significantly higher than the cost of testing or the cost of vaccination-promoting videos by the Government Communications Office. Anyone who gets vaccinated and does not get sick because of this has significantly reduced these costs and these consequences, so it will be necessary to invest in it, even if it costs money. I think that Minister Poklukar recently presented very solid empirical data on how many lives and how much money were saved by this week of vaccination, when tens of thousands of people more than usual were vaccinated. That is, one day of accelerated vaccination saves significantly more than the costs of testing for that day or anything associated with these costs.

Let us move on to the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is coming to an end. Let us recall the beginning, the glorious opening as well as occasional sour faces of the President of the European Commission von der Leyen as well as some commissioners. Now that the story has ended after half a year, the same people showered you with praise. Where does the Slovenian Presidency’s success lie? What was the superlative thing about it?

The superlative thing was the fact that we worked for the cause. Drago Jančar once wrote to Jože Pučnik that he strives for the cause. We strove for the cause too. We know, more or less, about the state of the European Union. Our intimate option is to preserve the European Union, and we have done everything to move many of the issues that stood still, that were blocked, partly because of the failures of previous presidencies and largely because of COVID. We were the fourth presidency during the COVID pandemic and the first presidency to carry out most of the key events in person. People did not meet through the screens and said goodbye after four hours, with some of them already switching off before, which is very simple, but sat at the table; in this way, many compromises can be made that cannot be reached through the screens. The approach, the decision, was hard. It is very easy for the Presidency to say, look, there is COVID, the numbers are growing, let us deal with this, Commission, please do your part.

All these big events were probably very costly.

Although everything was carried out in person, our approach was very rational. I have no comparison for this Presidency yet, but in 2008 we were the first Member State to lead the European Union and spend less on this project than planned. At that time we planned 60 million and spent 55 million, including the construction of the Brdo Congress Centre, which also saved us a lot of costs now because many events could be held there for a reasonable price. This time we planned, realistically speaking, a similar amount as then; nominally it was around 80 million euros. According to the current estimates, we have spent slightly over 50. When all the bills are paid, the sum will maybe slightly exceed 60 million euros. This is significantly less than expected. One such thing that illustrates this rationality is perhaps again the Brdo Centre. We renovated or practically rebuilt the Elegance Hotel, which also significantly contributed to reducing these costs and to rationality, because the delegations stayed and had meetings at the same venue and there was no need to drive far, which is a special complication during the COVID crisis. When this Government was sworn in in March last year, the Secretary-General of the Government had everything ready for the signing of the contract for the renovation of this hotel for 40 million euros. The price set in the tender was 30 million, but then the bidders colluded and the lowest bid was 40 million euros. For the renovation of a single hotel. The pressure was great: it’s only a year left until the Presidency, everything must be done by the deadline... This put the Secretary-General in quite some distress. But then we had consultations and said this is too much, and the tender was repeated. Do you know how much the finished project cost? 11 million euros.

That’s good to hear.

Someone planned to steal 30 million from the hotel’s renovation alone. There was a press conference where it was all demonstrated, but I do not think any major media outlet reported anything about it, it was not deemed important. A single sandwich of Mrs Pivec’s was deemed a thousand times more important.

Such were the times. Prime Minister, perhaps you can name one more thing regarding the Presidency’s success. What makes you personally proud? What do you think is crucial, also from the point of view of the present and the future of the European Union?

There are two things that did not get much attention in Slovenia but had a significant impact in Europe, especially in the decision-making circle. One is that Slovenia, and especially Aleš Hojs, who led this composition of the Council of the European Union, managed to coordinate a unified approach of the entire Union, a unanimous response of all 27 countries and all European institutions after the debacle in Afghanistan. The European Parliament's leadership proposed that Europe open so-called humanitarian corridors for migration from Afghanistan. Some member states jumped on that train immediately, for instance Luxembourg. When I publicly said at the time that the Slovenian Presidency would not work in this direction, I was publicly accused, including by some big names in the institutions of the European Union. But then we put things on the table, the numbers, the legislation, the formal frameworks, and we managed to reconcile the common position of the 27 Member States and all the institutions in a relatively very short time. This position was different than that at the time of the war in Syria. That is why we do not have this wave from Afghanistan today, because we said “there will be no so-called humanitarian corridors”; we will help those who helped us during the NATO mission and whose lives are at risk. But these are not millions. We know who they are. We helped these people, including Slovenia. But corridors such as those from Syria were not opened. As we handed over the Presidency, many heads of state, including the Socialist and Liberal groups, congratulated me as well as Minister Hojs on this success, which has strategically changed the European Union's attitude towards illegal migration. Europe is now different in this respect: it is more realistic, more aware of what is possible and what is not, what is good for us Europeans and what is not good, what is harmful. Based on this, we were able to form a uniform response to the migrant crisis created by the Belarusian regime on the border with Poland. Poland deserves every recognition and praise for closing the border, immediately highlighting the fact that this is not a humanitarian crisis but an attempt by the Belarusian regime to destabilise Poland and the entire European Union. Of course, Moscow is also behind this, although it pretends that it has nothing to do with it. But we coordinated a uniform response of the European Union institutions and supported Poland, which would otherwise have found it difficult to cope, and key people of the European Union institutions then, through diplomatic pressure on governments in Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries, stopped the flights that brought illegal migrants to Minsk. We even went so far as to say that we would ban those airlines that continue to transport illegal migrants with the approval of dictator Lukashenko from the European airspace. It worked and the flights stopped. This is the first such strategic success that we will feel in the future, and I think that Slovenia can be proud of that. Another such strategic success is that we have returned enlargement to the agenda as one of the key strategic projects. There has been a great deal of debate here, and I myself have said a thousand times that after all that we have experienced in the East, after all that we have experienced in the Balkans in recent decades, after all that was happening, after all this stagnation, it was perfectly clear to us that the European Union must get rid of the illusion that things will work out on their own. I have summed up this finding in a single sentence. It has to be made clear that if the space of freedom and welfare is not expanding, or if the European Union is not expanding, something else is.

Others are expanding.

And this worked. The enlargement idea came back. Especially when it comes to the Western Balkans, there is also a lot of opportunism.

But there is no timeline.

One of the leaders, I will not mention his name, but he is from the core group of the EU Member States, even commented in a debate why we should take them into the EU, because now they are a cheaper labour force. That is to say, there are some barriers here, some domination of some selfish, narrow, I would even use the word nationalistic interests of some countries, which is being presented as everything else. Over something which is perfectly clear to anyone who can also see the wood for the trees. The European Union was a project created to make Europe whole, free and at peace with itself and its neighbourhood. For now, it is not yet whole, because there are many countries that would like to join the European Union, and it is not free. Some countries are far from being free, and Europe is not at peace with itself, if we look at all the conflicts. This project should continue and enlargement is an essential element for the continuation of the project.

It is also in the interest of Slovenia that Europe expands.

The main conflict was over a word or two terms respectively. When we were leading the European Union in 2008, we talked about the perspective of membership in the European Union. But then those countries who wanted to put that aside replaced those words with the term European perspective. European perspective. And I myself had to repeat a thousand times what I will repeat to you now, that countries such as Ukraine or Serbia have a European perspective, because they are European countries, they are on the European continent and will always remain there. They wanted to have the perspective of membership of the European Union, but it was difficult to write that down. It has been a great struggle to get it back into the documents where it used to be in the past.

Prime Minister, when you are on the floor with these leading European politicians, prime ministers, heads of state, are these things actually reflected there, such as the Resolution of the European Parliament on Slovenia? After all, your political opponents have succeeded in strongly denigrating your government in some foreign media in the past months at the beginning of the EU Council Presidency. Is this then also reflected in the contacts – do you discuss this with world leaders? Do they mention this to you?

First of all, Europe is not and the European Union is not what probably and unfortunately most the Slovenians who follow or who build their ideas about the European Union on the basis of the reporting of the mainstream independent media imagine it to be. Europe is much more and in some aspects also less. It is not a realistic picture that the average Slovenian has of the European Union.  For part of this dichotomy, part of these differences in the case you refer to, the Slovenian public probably believed that the main thing that was happening during the week in Brussels when the European Council meeting took place and at the same time the voting on the Resolution on Slovenia in the European Parliament was the resolution, that this resolution was the central topic. Nobody knew anything about this resolution. I was sitting together with the leaders of the European Union for two days. I only asked them something given that also representatives of political groups were there who had spoken out against Slovenia in the European Parliament. They had no idea that this was happening at all. The only response was how it was possible that someone had put a resolution against a country on the agenda at the very time that country was concluding its Council Presidency and when by all objective criteria that Presidency was considered to have been a success. This has never happened before. It is the first time it has happened. This was the only response to this issue.

This is our internal political dynamics. At the beginning of our conversation I promised we would also touch on this topic. The elections are, after all, drawing near. How do you follow the activities of your political rivals on the left, where there is a certain struggle as to who will prevail? What kind of dynamics has developed by the arrival of Robert Golob, who announced his entry into politics? What do you think will happen in combination with the KUL Coalition?

First of all, I have to admit that I do not follow this part of political developments in Slovenia that closely and I have not been able to follow it closely enough for the last six months to get a clear picture of where this is all going. I followed the key sessions of the National Assembly where strategic decisions have been adopted, such as the last one, and those where we were adopting anti-COVID packages and some other systemic decisions. Sometimes, when I have time to read part of the clipping, I see that there is a lot of misunderstanding and some noise. But I can hardly make judgements based on clippings. When I get home, there is usually only the fireplace image on the TV screen, everything else is already finished. And I also do not have the time to catch up with this at a later point. But I will have to deal with this more, because we are about to have the first regular elections since 2008. I think that one of the greatest merits of this coalition is that it held out, that it will hold out to the end, because this has brought the much needed stability at this time. Imagine that if in the meantime we had had the dissolution of the government, early elections and three months to form a new government, along with all these challenges, with the EU Council Presidency, the epidemic and so on. Where would our macroeconomic figures be? Do you think we would have 20,000 more employees in comparison to December 2019? We would find ourselves in the situation before 2011, at the time when the Pahor government was falling apart.

A strong polarisation has developed, not only in Slovenia, but also in Slovenia, not only as regards the vaccination and the anti-vaccination movement, but also a political polarisation which shows through strong nervousness, perhaps on the one as well as on the other side.  Are you still prepared to cooperate with all the parties, despite everything that your political rivals say?

This is the fundamental philosophy of the Slovenian Democratic Party and it is not just a theory. Every time we have formed a government, we have invited all parties to coalition negotiations. We have always included in our coalitions those who were willing to cooperate. Even those who, during previous mandates, when we were on different sides, took away our mandates, sent us to prison, etc. This openness and willingness to cooperate is clear – it has been evident since 2004. I think we will be able to say that the Slovenian political community has in a way matured after these decades of life in an independent state when this becomes a general principle. When no one will refuse dialogue in advance. It is clear that coalitions are always formed by parties that are closer to each other in terms of their programmes, this would at least be the right thing to do, and not on the basis of who is being pushed more in a certain direction from behind. We thus need sovereign parties that are confident enough to be willing to negotiate with anyone and cooperate with those with whom they can reach an agreement within the framework of a coalition agreement. When you will hear this principled willingness and openness in the pre-election confrontations in Slovenia, you will know that the time has come for which we voted in the plebiscite 31 years ago. As far as polarisation is concerned, we have this historical disunity. You have described the reasons for it in a very documented way and, I would say, very precisely in your book. I am not promoting your book now, but it is a historical corpus of documents and it offers answers for those who want answers to these questions. Not by imposing anything: everyone is free to form their own opinion. We will continue to deal with this polarisation in the future and in the short term we must learn to live with these differences. Not to hate each other because of what a grandfather or a great-grandfather was way back then. I am more concerned about the polarisation that is emerging now, when some people think that those are more equal who demand the right to live from other people's work than those who demand the right to live from their own work.