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Interview for radio station Štajerski val

Ljubljana, 03/21/2007  |  interview

President Janez Drnovšek in conversation with journalist Barbara Furman for local radio station Štajerski Val.

A transcript of the conversation is published below.
Date of broadcast: 21 March 2007 at 2.30 p.m.

Announcer: It is nearly the end of the month and here at Štajerski Val it is once again time for A Better World, the programme that we prepare in conjunction with President Janez Drnovšek. This time the subjects discussed will include the President's criticisms of the current government, social conditions in the country, the increase in cases of cancer and also the President's foreign policy endeavours and the consolidation of the membership of the Movement for Justice and Development. Once again the President is talking to Barbara Furman.

Barbara Furman: Welcome once again to Štajerski Val, Mr President. Today I would like to collect some more of your thoughts on various topics, as a way of helping our listeners make sense of their lives. Many people enjoy listening to you and reading what you write. Judging from recent events, however, one could be forgiven for thinking that some people would actually like to silence you. The police are of the opinion that the recent thefts of two computers belonging to people connected with you were not politically motivated. You are apparently still convinced that it is no coincidence. Is that still your opinion?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Well, since you ask… Recently there have been a few of these coincidences, with the result that it starts to look as though they are not coincidences, and that is simply how it is in this world. Negativity is something else that we are constantly having to face, but we must confront negativity with positive energy, in a positive way. Usually methods such as these are used in an attempt to frighten people, to upset them, to agitate them, but this is precisely what must not happen. If we look at what we have already talked about before, this is precisely the point: we must not allow anything to upset us. If something upsets you, if you are angry, if you are frightened of something, that is already bad in itself. When this happens, a person begins to create negative energy. My position is that I finished with such things a long time ago, and so this sort of thing does not affect me in the slightest. Despite the fact that I have recently been confronted with quite a lot of negativity, I do not wish to respond to it in the same way, to descend to a more primitive level. I simply go on with my work and my messages, which are positive.

Furman: 'The worst situation is when new authorities start treating the country with negligence'. This is something you wrote on the Movement for Justice and Development website a few days ago. You say that the State should treat everyone with respect, and not merely the few, those in power and their friends – you call them bootlickers. These are of course the serious warnings of the Head of State as the central moral authority, but I would like to ask you: is it true that you have been receiving anonymous threats?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Recently my direct collaborators, or people who are in some way close to me, have been the target of various attempts of this kind. But as I have already said, these attempts are unsuccessful: they do not cause anxiety, they do not succeed in causing fear. And that is also what I recommend in the article you have just quoted, on the website of the Movement for Justice and Development: my recommendation to everyone in the State administration, where recently many people have been facing various pressures, is that they must not let themselves be intimidated. They must not allow themselves to be frightened but must carry on with their work and be courageous in the civic sense. They must point out irregularities, if they occur, because if we accept them we will then be giving them a kind of right of domicile in our country, and it will be difficult to get rid of them. I believe that we must not allow this. This of course also applies to the media. The media must be independent and autonomous and report on such things when they happen. Recently we have frequently heard from journalists themselves that they are under pressure, and I believe that they must resist these pressures, and not allow this to continue. If they resist, then it will stop. If not, it will carry on and will get worse and worse.

Furman: Perhaps another word or two about the Movement for Justice and Development. On the website you have written, amongst other things, that the membership is consolidating itself. Those who remain are those who have really understood its purpose. What kind of misunderstandings have there actually been?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: In the beginning there were quite a few misunderstandings and questions about what the purpose of the movement was, whether it was a political organisation, whether it was some new political option or alternative, and so many people also sought something like this in the movement, although personally I stated several times that it was not about that. I believe that in one year this has crystallised quite clearly. Those now active in the Movement for Justice and Development are those who really want to do something, to help somewhere. They are involved in ecology, or for example with helping the elderly, or animals, or searching for different, perhaps even more equitable social solutions in our society. But this is not politics, this is not direct political action. Those who remain are those who would really like to do something in this sense, through this kind of voluntary work. Because everything in the Movement is voluntary. The movement does not employ a single professional. To put it briefly, everything that is going on is something that we are doing alongside our other work, and a circle of very enthusiastic people has formed. Some of them are young people – which is very positive – who want to do these sorts of things, and this to me seems right and things will continue in this direction. Those, on the other hand, who want to take more direct action can of course join a political party and be active there. But the Movement for Justice and Development wants to have a positive influence on politics through ideas, by directing attention to real issues; it does not want to take direct political action.

Furman: Mr President, allow me to ask you a slightly more personal question. I would like to know whether your colleagues, your friends, or anyone has ever told you that they can feel this radiation of yours, this positive, friendly, calming energy. Can we trace any connections between the level of consciousness or awareness of the individual and the flow of this energy? Would it be fair to say, in other words, that people who have reached a higher level of consciousness, because the flow of energy in them is greater, are therefore healthier, more intuitive, more creative, and, by contrast, those who are still at a lower level are perhaps more pessimistic, and also more prone to illness. In short, is this connected at all?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: There is no doubt that there is quite a direct connection. A person who has raised his awareness creates positive energy, creates good. He does good things, thinks good things, and this is what differentiates him from the person who has not raised his awareness beyond the level of his own selfishness. People who only think for themselves, who only think about what is good for them and then spend all their time thinking about money or their career, and push and shove to get what they want, often create negative energy, negative emotions, and they also radiate this into the environment. It is also something that stays with them. These negative energies accumulate inside them. On the other hand those who have somehow managed to go beyond the self, their own selfishness, and see other people who are in difficulty, or animals, or nature, and want to help, these people empathise with all of this and actually create and radiate positive energy. When they create good, when they are good, when they wish to do good things, this can often be perceived in them. This positive energy can actually be sensed.

Furman: Have you been picking dandelions these last few days? [Dandelions are a popular salad ingredient at this time of year.]

Dr Janez Drnovšek: It's still a little early. I live a bit higher up, so the dandelions – the real dandelions – aren't quite ready yet. But I picked them last year and I enjoy eating dandelions.

Furman: In Štajerska we are already busy picking dandelions in the meadows. Actually the reason I asked you about dandelions is because I would like to move on to environmental or ecological issues. The reason I bring this is up is the fact that now, for example, the European Union on the one hand has just announced an increased share of renewable sources of energy, while on the other hand there is George Bush's tour of Latin America, where among other things he has been looking for allies, or countries, to collaborate in research into biofuels. Do you think that as a result the level of awareness in these central characters who determine global policy has changed at all? Are we right to be hopeful?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Despite everything, something seems to be moving in a positive direction. I believe that awareness is increasing, in particular awareness about the importance of climate change, and the realisation that something needs to be done. It is slowly penetrating into politics, and these steps you have mentioned must be seen at least partially in a positive light. President Bush's current efforts, for example, to increase the use of ethanol as fuel and to replace traditional petrol are positive, as is the fact that they wish to cooperate as much as possible with South America on this. Despite everything even in the USA, which did not want to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, it appears that something is happening, although many people are still resisting it. I believe that the former vice-president Al Gore has had a significant influence with his book, his film and his recent public appearances, although we can see how some people are trying to discredit him. How those who do not want to change things, who are profiting from the current situation, are doing everything in their power to discredit those who wish to raise awareness and bring about change. This does not only happen here in Slovenia. It happens everywhere.

Furman: Let's stay with energy for a bit – nuclear energy now. Some days ago you met the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr Mohamed El Baradei, in Vienna. You committed yourself to a renewal of dialogue about the Iranian nuclear question. Yesterday I think you also discussed this topic with the Iranian foreign minister. You called, Mr President, for a diplomatic solution, both within the UN and outside it. This means that above all trust and dialogue should play an important role. I would like to know whether there will also be an opportunity to communicate these views during your forthcoming visit to the USA? Will this be one of the topics? Who are you actually going to meet there?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Yes, it's true that I have recently begun to get involved in the Iranian nuclear crisis. This is because at this moment it is probably the greatest threat to peace, and also the greatest potential future crisis. If it comes to a military confrontation, the crisis will be extremely grave, and it will not only effect the Middle East, it will probably have a wider effect around the world. For this reason it seems to me extremely important that we seek a peaceful solution to this dispute, this problem. This is why I have got involved in this; I have written to the Iranian president and Iran's spiritual leader, I met Dr El Baradei in Vienna and talked to him about possible solutions to this question. This is also the reason that the Iranian foreign minister came here yesterday, where we continued these talks. I expect to have discussions on this in the USA too, both with the Secretary General of the UN and in all probability with others too. I believe that we have to do everything possible to put a stop to this crisis and prevent a military conflict.

Furman: Let's end the questions from the international arena in The Hague. I would like to hear your opinion on the recent verdict of the Hague Tribunal that Serbia is not responsible for the genocide in Srebrenica, but also that it did not do everything it might have done to prevent the slaughter. Do you agree with the opinion of some people that on this occasion justice has bowed to politics?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Yes, it's probably true. Above all, a verdict like this has been a long time coming, when memory about what happened and how has actually already become slightly blurred. It is a moot point to what extent it is possible, through legal means and judgments, to reach a fair verdict on what happened. It is undoubtedly very difficult, which means that we have to keep this in view and in all likelihood the verdict in the end did not only take into account the events of 1995 but also the present, and probably the effect of such a verdict on the immediate future of all involved, or of the two countries affected. And so what we have is probably a kind of compromise, like the wisdom of Solomon.

Furman: In your public appearances you encourage us to keep moving forward, towards a fairer and more balanced world. You emphasise that this must be done not through revolution but through awareness. Citizens, I often hear, say that this is the first time they have heard a president speak in such concrete terms, with such clarity. On the other hand it is surprising that people hear you in very different ways. But I would like to continue by giving you two concrete examples that I have experienced personally, on the street, after we have broadcast a radio interview with you, for example. One middle-aged man said to me 'it's easy for the President, he's well off' – the emphasis is on the material – 'but I earn a miserable wage, my wife is unemployed, I don't know whether we're going to be able to pay for our daughter to go to university. In short, how am I supposed to respect politicians or a State that does not provide me with a decent life?' Do reactions like this surprise you?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: No, because they are quite frequent and in a way also expected and normal. People are often in difficult material situations and are interested above all in resolving them. They expect the State to help them in this. Such an expectation is understandable and justified, and the State really must do everything to ensure that there are as few situations like this as possible, and that there is as much social justice as possible. But this is always a slow process and in fact no country in the world has yet managed to resolve this in such a way that its citizens – or even the great majority of citizens – say 'now we're satisfied'. They are more or less successful, and their efforts meet with varying levels of success. Slovenia too, of course. My understanding of the situation is that, despite everything, we are still more successful than many other places. But naturally those who are suffering hardship will see this differently, because it is still hard for them. My function is no longer one that enables me to address problems in a concrete manner. I have not been part of the government for some years now and the function of the president, when I am in fact speaking in my capacity as president, is different in this country. It is not an executive function. In a way, the role of president in all of this is more of a moral role, and therefore I try to help in a different way. I also try to draw attention to the fact that the material aspect is not the only thing that counts in this life, and this applies to everyone. We have a lot of people who are materially very well off, but they are unhappy, they are never satisfied, they always have problems, depression and so on. In short, material things do not resolve existential issues and I am trying to help address the spiritual side of life, which in my opinion is even more important than the material side, so that we can then look at certain issues and problems in a different way. Then sometimes even material solutions fall together in a completely different and more positive way, if we change slightly and put ourselves in a different position.

Furman: But for people to be able to hear that, it is probably something that has to mature in them, isn't it? It probably can't be forced.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Naturally things have to mature, and not everyone is in the same situation. People are in different moods, phases of understanding or openness to certain things. In my experience it is also true that there is no sense in forcing things or trying to persuade people. I do not do that. A truth, or a more spiritual approach to something that can help a person live more easily, this is something that someone can accept. A person who is more open and who has already begun to think in a certain way about these matters will then find a support in this and will find it easier to go on. Those who are utterly trapped in material patterns of living, working and thinking are closed to this; they are not interested at all, they will not react and even with persuasion you cannot convince them. Perhaps their time is still to come. With some people it does not come at all.

Furman: Perhaps we can talk a little more about this social image of Slovenia. Some days ago I was following a very touching story in the newspapers. I would like to tell you about it because I would like to hear your comments. Briefly, the story is about a school in Slovenia that was taking part in an international photography competition for young people. One of the pupils who wanted to enter the competition was a boy from a poor family. Instead of encouraging him, they told him that he could not take part because he didn't have a camera. Some sympathetic person in the school community wanted to let him use the school camera, but the teacher refused on the grounds that he would damage it. Fortunately someone lent the boy a camera. He enjoyed himself taking pictures, and then actually won the competition, which was anonymous. But that is not the end of the story. At the school, they were so mean-spirited that they suspected the boy of stealing the photographs on the grounds that since he didn't have a camera, he couldn't have taken the pictures himself. That something like this can happen today, here in the middle of Slovenia, in a school, seems incredible to me. What would you say?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Yes, that is very sad. That is what happens if people create negative energy. If they are negative, they are capable of creating events and situations like this, and this is actually connected with everything we are talking about. People are unable to go beyond the self. They don't know how to be good, to be sympathetic, they don't know how to understand others, they are incapable of putting themselves in someone else's position and imagining what it's like to be in someone else's situation. If they were capable of this, then they would think and act differently. But some people are not capable of this. They are trapped in their own models, which are often very narrow, and there is a great deal that is negative in them, and they are simply unable to get out. That is why we are talking about this and why we want more good, positive energy and good people everywhere. This cannot be resolved simply with material means, since materialism and a higher standard of living do not provide this. Often a higher standard of living brings more selfishness, and then even more of a struggle for the material, and it is even harder for people to see someone else and their problems. All they are focused on is having as much as possible themselves. In every case we have to create more of this mutual understanding, a feeling of mutual connection, a feeling for others, for the other, in order to transcend the narrow framework of our own selfishness, and then good things happen. If this is missing, bad things happen, like the case you describe of this boy and his school.

Furman: Just one more comment from the public. One lady told me that she had listened to our interview, that she listens to our conversations. She says that she respects you above all because the elderly, the sick, the infirm can understand you. She says that she sends you her regards, that I should pass on her greetings and that I should ask you about yourself, whether you personally are afraid of old age and of the fact that in old age you might be dependent on others. Are you afraid of illness, of suffering, and finally, of death?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Thank you for the greetings. Interestingly, I have just recently been writing something on this subject. About how to overcome fear in life. Fear is actually one of the negative feelings that it is hardest to overcome. A feeling that stays with many people their whole life, their whole journey. We are constantly tormented by worries, by fears, and that is bad. This is negative energy which accumulates in us and which we also transmit to others. So then, overcoming fear is one of the key things. Of course we need to help all those who are in distress. That is clear and essential. Then, of course, there will be less distress, people will be more connected, and finally there will also be less fear. But even so, everyone has to face his own fears, his own worries. We have to realise that one day, in one way or another, we are going to lose everything we have. That is why I say that whatever we are tied to, if we are tied to material things, a house, for example, we can lose it. If we are tied to those who are dear to us, we can lose them. In the end we will also lose our own life, but we have to realise that everything is transitory and we have to establish a kind of distance to this, a certain attitude, so that we are constantly aware of this. And if we are aware that everything is transitory, then we will also live differently and behave differently. We will not drive ourselves so hard for these things. We will also be able to see others, understand them and also help them. In this way we go beyond the self, we are no longer so tied to ourselves, we no longer seem so important to ourselves and we are also no longer so afraid for ourselves and for everything we have. And so in a strange way all of this is connected, and with the fact that a person is able to transcend himself and his own selfishness. When he begins to go beyond selfishness, he becomes a different person. At that point he is no longer a material being, he becomes a spiritual being too. And everything that is transitory is material. But if we create something more than this, we create a spirituality, and it is this that transcends the material. This is the essence, and then we can save ourselves from our fears. If a person finally reaches awareness of the transitoriness of everything, then he is no longer afraid of anything and nothing can affect him. And the interesting thing is, if a person is no longer afraid of anything, than fewer bad things happen to him. It is often the case that if you are afraid of something, it is much more likely that it will happen. But if you are really able to distance yourself from it, you are not afraid, you are positive and you are constantly aware that at any moment you can actually lose everything, then you live peacefully, you are relaxed, and… this is where the best things happen.

Furman: Here we are once again – the more awareness increases, the more fear melts away, and probably also the need to provide some kind of security – we have already talked about this, the fact that people today seek security above all in money. And then there is perhaps also this: we have just had a cancer awareness week. We heard how an increasing number of Europeans are succumbing to cancer. In Slovenia in recent years there have been ten thousand new cases of cancer, which is a fifth more than ten years ago. And sadly there is also the realisation that survival depends very much on what country we live in when we get ill. The success of cancer treatment in Slovenia is apparently still below the European average, but we know that healthcare is a matter of national policy.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: There is of course much that can be improved in our healthcare system, of that there is no doubt. But what I usually like to say to people is that they would be better off trusting themselves and taking their health into their own hands. They shouldn't live thinking that they are going to be left to the mercy of the healthcare system, no matter what it's like, even if it’s the best healthcare system there is. At that point they lose control of their own life, of their own health; they are left wondering whether or not someone is going to be able to do the right things for them. The modern way of life involves an increasing amount of tension, stress and fear, and one result of this is illness, especially cancer. Cancer is a typical civilisation disease that derives from the modern way of life. And this way of life is just what we have been talking about. People strive to obtain material benefits. They are always in a kind of race, under pressure, and therefore they are always struggling and above all – to use the expression I used earlier – they are material beings. They do not know how to establish distance, they do not know how to relax, and therefore to live without worries and fears, and all of this eats into them. All this negative energy that they create themselves and that they also receive in their life from others. All of this creates illnesses. And so what I am saying is not something abstract, it has a major influence on human life. If a person is capable of establishing his own balance, his own peace, if he knows how to be a positive being, than it will be a lot easier for him to stay healthy. He will not be drawn into negativity, he will be able to maintain or establish a certain distance. He will also be aware of the importance of nature and will try and be in contact with it as much as possible, which will help him stay healthy. All of us should of course eat as healthily and as naturally as possible, and at the same time reduce all those strong chemicals that we consume through our food and also through medicines.

Furman: The elderly are particularly sensitive to these conditions in healthcare. You have also written that the attitude to the elderly is a measure of the maturity of a society. How mature in this sense is Slovene society today? Perhaps a general assessment of the situation?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I think we are most probably averagely mature compared to other societies. Personally I have visited quite a number of old people's homes, and many of them are really pretty good. It is very important what the staff are like, the management, what the nurses are like. This is extremely important, since they represent life to these people, and in this period they can significantly improve it, or the opposite. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Some homes are really very good. On the other hand... Sometimes I can't get rid of the feeling that we rely too much on these old people's homes, that sometimes old people are somehow dumped there. We need to do more to help them stay at home, in their own environment or with their family. If they don't have any family, if they are alone, they should be provided with some help at home, for as long as they can still stay at home. So that they can remain in the place where they have spent their life, and so that help is provided for them. This is something that the Movement for Justice and Development has tried to encourage, and also from my position as president: there have been various campaigns designed to find ways for young people to help the elderly, ways to establish contact with them. For example voluntary work by pupils, secondary school pupils, where they go to an old people's home and fetch something from the shop and help them in other ways. They can also take the time to talk to them, since in the end these people are very lonely. But this is good for them too. They gain experience, they learn about life. Intergenerational solidarity can be very positive for both generations, the young and the old. In this way it is perhaps possible for many people to spend their old age in their own local environment, so that they are not torn away from it and placed in a kind of waiting room for the end of their life. But nevertheless old people's homes are also very important and often they are absolutely necessary. The essential thing here, however, is the atmosphere and the understanding that is established, and the kind of care that is provided for the elderly. This is where our awareness is really apparent: what kind of people we are and whether we understand this difficult situation. Whether we understand people who are elderly and try and help them, or whether we are so preoccupied with ourselves and think only of ourselves, of our career, of how we can obtain this, that or the other, and see the elderly as somehow being in our way. We no longer have time for them and we even find them a nuisance. All of this is connected. And so if we are able to see this, if we can empathise with them, this is extremely important. We probably help them more through this than through anything else. With this feeling of connectedness, that they have not been written off and forgotten.

Furman: You make a point of visiting centenarians. You once told me that these are exhilarating, enjoyable meetings.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Yes, it's true. I have visited quite a number of centenarians, especially women – it seems that there are more women – and as a rule these really are very enjoyable encounters. I have visited centenarians who are still very 'with it', if I can put it like that. Most of them are very cheerful, very happy. And so in a way they have confirmed my teaching on this subject: that if we are positive we will be healthier and we can also live longer. Because the old people I have visited are so positive and so happy. Despite the fact that they may have various ailments, at the age of a hundred or a hundred and five they are still happy, they sing songs, and so on. And that is how they are. So it has clearly helped them to live so long and also to remain in quite good health.

Furman: In the last interview we talked about the mass slaughter and torture of animals to provide food for human beings. This time I would like to ask you to comment on the disputes between the opponents of hunting and those who support it. We know that the Hunting Association of Slovenia, with around 20,000 members, is one of the largest social organisations in the country. In these last few days there has been a great deal of comment on the announcement of the Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning that a hundred brown bears should be killed this year on the grounds that bears cause damage and represent a danger to people. Representatives of hunters say that they are looking after the natural balance. The environmentalists, on the other hand, say that nature itself contains the mechanisms for establishing this balance. What is your position?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I agree with the environmentalists and I think it's true that nature looks after its own balance. If we are talking about how many bears threaten people, we know that it is only when the bears themselves feel threatened by people that there is a possibility that they can become dangerous. But in general people are much more threatened by other people than by animals, and it is people, not animals, who do bad things to other people. On the other hand it is true that we people do a lot of bad things, a lot of terrible things to animals. Once again we should consider that very often we lack feelings in relation to animals, but animals have feelings and awareness just like we do. Animals can suffer, they can be happy, they can be sad just like us, but we treat them with exceptional cruelty. In this too it is actually possible to see what a person is like. Whether a person is really capable of looking outside himself, outside his selfishness, and empathising with the world around him, with nature, with other people, with animals and with everything – or not.

Furman: We must leave it there for now. But while we are on the subject of animals, are you planning to get another dog?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: For the time being no. At the moment I am very busy with other projects. That will probably have to wait a while.

Furman: Thank you very much, Mr President. Once again I am taking an enormous amount of good messages back to Štajerska. I hope they fall on fertile soil. Once again, thank you very much.

Dr Drnovšek: Thank you, and once again my warmest greetings to everyone.