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The interview for weekly magazine Mladina

Ljubljana, 02/19/2007  |  interview

The interview of the President of the Republic of Slovenia Dr. Janez Drnovšek for slovene magazine Mladina is published bellow.
Published: 17th Feb. 2007.

“There are a type of people who are prepared to work for this country, regardless of what kind of government is running it. They are prepared to work properly and honestly. But not everyone is acceptable to this government. They must literally be adherents, otherwise they are not acceptable. Anyone who is not one of theirs is automatically against them and cannot occupy any important position in political, economic or media institutions.”
- Dr. Janez Drnovšek

DR Janez Drnovšek, President of the Republic of Slovenia
by Grega Repovž

An interview with president Janez Drnovšek about relations with the government, and with the prime minister. And about how it is not true that he did not discuss Jože Mencinger as a candidate for governor of the Bank of Slovenia with Janez Janša. About what happened to the LDS, and his candidacy in the presidential elections. About the critics who have gone silent, and about non-existent communication. And about when a crisis arises and why it is sometimes right for that to happen.

At this moment you are in a very bitter dispute with the governing coalition. Your message is clear, but your actions are not. First the coalition would not support candidate Mitja Gaspari. You invited Jože Mencinger to apply. Then you withdraw that proposal and proposed Andrej Rant. First you said that consultations with parliamentary deputies are not useful, then you had a meeting with them.
  • The main sin lies in the fact that Mitja Gaspari was not confirmed as governor by the National Assembly. Every normal person here and abroad is astonished that he was not confirmed. But since that is what happened, I went on and proposed a new candidate. I proposed Mencinger, who is outstanding in his independence and expertise. Mencinger has been a critic of every government, including my own, but he was also a member of the Bank of Slovenia board of governors and one of the co-creators of our monetary policy. Mencinger did agree to be a candidate, but he was not enthusiastic since he was almost certain that his candidacy would not get through parliament. Then I spoke to the Prime Minister about his candidacy…
The Prime Minister stated publicly that you never talked to him about Mencinger.
  • That is not true. I spoke to Janša about the proposal. He said there was no chance that Mencinger would be supported and that the National Assembly would definitely reject his candidacy. It was clear that he holds a few grudges against Mencinger dating back to the period of the first Slovenian government, since he pointed out Mencinger’s views from that period and spoke about what would come to light if I proposed him. I myself thought that previous coooperation would be a plus for Mencinger, but it was not the case. After this discussion I took the view that in spite of everything it was not worth bashing my head against a wall. I do not like following other opinions in such situations, but in order not to exacerbate things I sought another candidate. So I proposed Rant, who is a logical successor to the current Bank of Slovenia governor and has many years of experience.
Why Rant, precisely?
  • The basic criticism of Gaspari was that he was supposedly politically involved in the past. But this was really stretching the point, since Gaspari was never actually politically involved. Still, Rant cannot be accused of this, since he has been working in the Bank of Slovenia the whole time. Everywhere around the world people would take the view that he is the natural successor to the governor, and if the current governor can no longer perform that office, then it should be performed by someone who has occupied the second most important position in the institution. But this clearly does not suit this coalition or the majority of this coalition. They clearly do not want an independent governor. As for talks with the heads of deputy groups, I said that I had abandoned such talks after we had voted several times unsuccessfully for a president of the Court of Auditors. At that time the heads of the deputy groups visited me, and each time it was apparent that they would support the proposed candidate, but then it would turn out time after time that it was simply a process of photograph-taking and statements that had no connection with reality, and the proposal failed in the National Assembly. This seemed pointless to me. But now when they looked into this and declared that I was not talking to them and that this was perhaps even the reason why the candidate would not be elected, I said: fine, I am ready to talk to those who want to, and who might express an interest in talking. But I did not agree to talk to them before selecting the candidate. That would mean I was agreeing to them telling me whom I could propose. My job is to propose the best possible candidate.
How do you explain this strong involvement of the Prime Minister and the entire coalition specifically in selecting the governor? The damage the government is doing to itself is undoubtedly serious. Why such a strong desire to choose the governor?
  • I myself am astonished at this, and I think this is not a rational course. By acting in this way the government and the Prime Minister are sawing off the branch they are sitting on, and bringing mistrust into this sphere. But I also see this matter in broader terms. There are a type of people who are prepared to work for this country, regardless of what kind of government is running it. They are prepared to work properly and honestly. But not everyone is acceptable to this government. They must literally be adherents, otherwise they are not acceptable. Anyone who is not one of theirs is automatically against them and cannot occupy any important position in political, economic or media institutions. This is a desire to control numerous institutions that oversee the government itself and which deal with it indirectly or directly. I first pointed this out last summer, and relations with the government immediately became very strained. My intention was to point out that certain moves are not acceptable. At a certain point I then halted the dispute, hoping that my cautions about the government having to have its limits would have an effect. So the situation would improve. Unfortunately the case of selecting the governor of the national bank shows us that my cautioning was not sufficient.
Is it possible that this is simply about controlling those functions that the Bank of Slovenia retained after adoption of the euro: issuing licences to members of the bank’s board, overseeing the bank’s operations and issuing opinions on sales and privatisations?
  • If you look at it from the point of view of the person who wants to have control, then it involves trying to secure as many instruments as possible and getting your own people in as many positions as possible, including within financial institutions, and that is a possible explanation. But I myself find it hard to understand such an approach. What is happening is beyond the normal way of doing things. It also seems damaging for the person doing it. He will end up with more damage than benefit if he succeeds in securing such positions. I think that such behaviour further damages trust, and Slovenia’s standing will fall in international institutions. We introduced the euro, singing our own praises to the world about how good we are and how we were the first of the new members, and we had a big celebration. But with the party over and the guests departing, the coalition dismisses the governor of the Bank of Slovenia, kicks him out. In other words they kick out the person with most credit for us introducing the euro. Of course joining the European Monetary System is a monetary issue. Of course the entire public finances are important, but these too were created by us together, and Governor Gaspari played an important part in this. So where is the consistency and maturity here? How can they do this kind of thing?
So last year you still felt that offering cautions might bring a normalisation. Don’t you think that way any longer?
  • I am still hoping that things will improve. Everything I am doing is aimed in that direction. Sometimes things need to become aggravated, some minor or major crisis is needed for matters to crystallise and turn onto a different path. If a person is silent and does not do this, he accepts part of the responsibility for things going this way. And this is not good for democracy in Slovenia and not good for Slovenia’s further development. We do not have very many top professionals, and certainly not enough to be able to say that anyone who ever worked previously for some other government is henceforth written off.
Are you not amazed that there is no longer any resistance to this kind of behaviour? It seems that those of you who point this out are becoming increasingly isolated.
  • Questions should also be asked about this in the media.
A large section of the media has been invaded by politics.
  • This is another indicator of the state of affairs. There is a lot more self-censorship in the media now, and the situation seems worse than at the end of the eighties. The media were much bolder then and more independent than today, 20 years later. This is a great cause for concern. This behaviour of politics invading every pore generates obedient people everywhere, in all positions, in the official apparatus, in the economy and in the media. Will we end up everywhere with just obedient people who will only think about what those above them want? This is something that reminds one of darker times.
That is a severe view. Do you mean to say that we are no longer talking about democracy?
  • Of course what is happening is not good for democracy. It is right and proper that people have dared to say what they think. We cannot agree to someone being marginalised for having different beliefs. Criticism should be welcomed, and we should not seek out only like-minded people, just those who are loyal and who care only about their career.
There have already been several instances of strained relations between you and the executive branch. Often you, too, have conducted a solo policy, especially in foreign policy. What are your relations with the foreign ministry? Is the coordination of foreign policy now running normally?
  • I think relations are catastrophic. The foreign ministry is not conducting any kind of coordination with the President’s office. We desired such coordination, but there is none. And we have very little information, too. There is a repeat of last year’s story, when exaggerations and distorted presentations were made to the effect that this was my solo activity, and then it turns out that it is the government that does not want to coordinate activities, but just to control mine. Coordination should always be two-way, not one-way. If it is one-way, it signifies a subordination, it means that the president of the country should be subordinated to the government.
How is this lack of coordination manifested?
  • I will give you just two examples, but there are of course more. It is true that the Prime Minister also planned a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina this year. I had planned one myself, because I postponed it from last year. I already had it planned for March, but the Prime Minister’s trip was not yet scheduled. On this basis we confirmed the visit for 14 March, then a few days ago we discovered that the Prime Minister would be visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina the very next week. Two highest-level visits would take place within 3 weeks of each other. This does not happen anywhere! In the host country they would be saying: in this country they don’t know what each other is doing. I therefore postponed my own visit, in order to avoid such a senseless situation. And this is absolutely basic coordination, which should be carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but it is not. The second example: at the end of 2005 I was criticised for my Kosovo initiative. I was criticised for not being coordinated with the government and for presenting my own individual position. I still believe that as President I can always propose to the international community a possible solution to a bitter problem, and it is not essential for it to be coordinated on this level. But all right, I accepted that. But now with the status of Kosovo unresolved, it makes sense for us in Slovenia to coordinate our position on this. For this reason we wrote to the Prime Minister and foreign ministry requesting the government’s position on the Kosovo issue. We got no answer. We asked once again – and to this day we have received no reply. So what is the government’s position on this issue? The coordination is progressing in this way – I say this so that the actual situation will not be concealed behind the smoke screen usually left by the ministry and the government.
It appears that relations between Slovenia and Croatia have come to the point now where it is largely just mutual provocation, and relations are at their lowest point. Is a possible solution to put this issue on hold?
  • No, absolutely not. That is precisely what is happening today. They have put the solving of these issues on hold, and in such circumstances there are occasional incidents and tensions. We cannot put off these issues, and we must continuously strive to resolve them. As a country that has gained the distinction of being a serious and responsible state, we should be active in resolving the open questions that we have with neighbouring Croatia. Especially since we are already an EU member and next year we will be presiding over the EU. In no way do I approve of this problem being left open in some expectation that everything will be resolved when Croatia joins the EU, and that Croatia would then have to accept certain conditions that Slovenia would set. I do not think this will happen, and this will simply exacerbate our mutual relations. But it is not just our government I am criticising, it is also Croatia’s. Both of them should show greater initiative in resolving problems. But they do not. When I was Prime Minister, for an entire 10 years we dealt with relations with Croatia. We adopted a whole series of agreements, around 35, some of them quite challenging. We dealt continuously with the border and eventually resolved 99 per cent of the border questions, and on the government level even the entire border, through the agreement with Račan. There was no period when nothing was happening. But not even to attempt anything, and just to let things stand, is irresponsible. Governments exist to resolve problems, not to bury their heads in the sand.
I would like to ask you as the commander-in-chief of the Slovenian armed forces, why was it necessary to send 600 troops to Kosovo? Especially in view of the fact that the role of these troops has changed since the new rules also envisage participation in conflicts.
  • This was a government decision. I was not asked anything about this. When the decision was made, I met with the heads of the Slovenian armed forces, with Minister Erjavec also present, and advised them that today the situation in Kosovo was incomparably more complicated than it was in the earlier period, and that in taking such decisions they should be aware of this. And apart from that, this puts a great deal on Slovenia’s plate. The basic principle, that the Slovenian military is cooperating in international peace-keeping operations, is positive, since we also wish to do our bit for international stability and for peace. And it is not unimportant that our armed forces are in this way accumulating experience and getting better. I myself am not that critical of the Slovenian military. I think that its development has been good and it is making good progress. The fact is, however, that this kind of decision has to be very carefully considered, since the situation in Kosovo this time could well be more serious.
How do you assess your former party, the LDS? Is what is happening now a kind of mass suicide?
  • I do not actually have very much to do with that. The LDS crisis emerged in part because of a long period when the party headed the government and shaped an important part of Slovenia’s politics. After such a period in government, many parties find themselves in a temporary crisis. But I would not like to comment on these events.
Surely you must be thinking, were the actions taken in your time correct, and did you choose the right successor. In some way the party is also your own child…
  • (Drnovšek starts laughing – ed.) My child? No, it’s not my child.
Could the LDS simply vanish?
  • The LDS undoubtedly played its part in a very important period of transition, and much of what the current government frequently praises itself for is the result of its work, the consequence of LDS work. These things are not done in one year. The economy and financial system is not constructed in one year, but in ten or fifteen years. Of course mistakes were also made, but there were significantly less of them than in any other transition country. But things change. Parties do fall into crisis. They need to ask themselves, what do they want, in what way do they want to function, how can they best tune in to citizens and how can they best meet their needs. If they show themselves to be sufficiently convincing and credible, they will succeed. They just have to convince people that they offer something that citizens really need.
Some of your closest LDS colleagues, Gregor Golobič and Miha Kozinc, have left the party.
  • (Drnovšek laughs – ed.) Well I left too…
Do you expect something new, some new party or group to emerge? Would that be good in your opinion?
  • It is possible that something new might emerge. The Slovenian political scene is such that it needs something fresh. I think that people have got seriously tired of our “old” faces. They are fed up with these parties and us politicians, they are fed up with this political scene. They want refreshment and change. This was shown in the municipal elections for the City of Ljubljana. A few months earlier, no one would have bet on Jankovič. And then he won so convincingly. It is possible that something similar might happen on the national level.
And will you be in the running?
  • Why would I be in the running? I have already been here a long time. Something new should come.
How do explain your popularity swings? Lately it has fallen.
  • Thank God it has! Is it really good to be the most popular person? I thought about this. It means that everyone likes you. If everyone likes you, you offer superficial views, or in truth those who assess you do not even know what your views are. Recently I have really sharpened up my position on things. And I am not striving to accommodate the widest possible circle and to adapt my position to that circle. Nor do I make frequent appearances in the media. I am not fighting for a public presence. This interview is my first in a long time. In that time I could have given 30 interviews, but I did not. If I was striving for popularity, I would operate in a different way. Today I wish to state things clearly, to raise people’s awareness, to point out critical problems, not just in Slovenia but around the world. In my books and appearances I have warned of the critical state in the world, if there is no general raising of awareness that humanity is threatened with collapse, if for no other reason than climate change. I have adapted the way I work to my convictions. I do not strategise. I am not thinking about whether someone likes me or not, or whether I am treading on someone’s toes. I just want to tell the truth and that what I am convinced of is true. And you cannot please everyone in that way.
But you need popularity if you want to run in the presidential elections.
  • Who says I want to run?
Well you are continuing somewhat to leave the possibility open.
  • Am I really? I said that I was not thinking about running. But since people have kept asking me about it, at one point I said: OK, clearly they want some kind of confusion. And I gave them some confusion! (Drnovšek laughs – ed.)
It appears that both here and in other countries populism is becoming an important political tool. It is always present to some extent. But how much populism is still acceptable, and how much is too much?
  • Populism is very – extremely – harmful. We have seen this many times in history. Hitler was a populist. Milošević was a populist. Every form of populism is harmful. In it, politicians play on negative feelings, directing them towards someone who is supposedly their enemy. This can be a minority, another nation, it can be neighbours. And if someone secures big media support, then this kind of populism works, and you get outbursts and situations that are no longer controlled. The genie escapes from the bottle. The genie of nationalism or intolerance. In politics, populists are dangerous, because they will not take decisions that are unpopular, even though they are necessary. Often people need to be told the truth, however unpleasant. This is the essence of responsible politics. If politicians are only concerned about power, then they adapt their entire functioning just to that goal. Not in the interests of the country, people or humanity. The key question is, how do we bring in more truthfulness, more sincerity, and more responsibility in politics.
Can populism be stopped? The examples you mentioned were only stopped by a severe and radical cut.
  • These are extreme examples. Populism needs to be stopped earlier. And it can be. Just look at neighbouring Austria, where Haider’s populism was very successful on a national scale. Then through the gradually increasing awareness among people about what that political stance meant, it was reduced bit by bit, and shrank to what is a very low level today. Austrian politics was capable of this. It is important only that people are not silent and obedient, and that they state their opinions, and then the media will write about this and delve into it. Often this kind of manifestation of populist politics is accompanied by some kind of pressure that people interpret as a threat, and many people prefer to withdraw from public life.
Do you agree with the assessment that you are somewhat unusual, not a standard-issue president?
  • Absolutely.
Well for some people that is a compliment, but for some a fault.
  • I think that at least on this point we are all united, that I am not a standard-issue politician!
But have you taken the view that this is more beneficial to society than being a conventional president?
  • I think it is. I think the world needs new politics, different politics. Politics of awareness that it is not enough simply to accept the existing mechanisms and rules, and that something more needs to be done. Take a look at the current situation in Europe. On the surface of course Europe is functioning. But the truth is that Europe is in a crisis today. The European Union is also in a crisis, an institutional crisis. The concept itself is in a crisis. What is Europe today? Frequently it is the interests of individual Member States that prevail, and the initial unselfish momentum has been lost. The same is true of world politics – the United Nations today is ineffective, and each member of the Security Council can use its power of veto to halt its functioning and action. And they are actually doing this, too. And in truth the analysis is very simple: today no one is representing the interests of humanity in world politics. They are representing their own geopolitical or economic interests. We should start being aware of this.
Some changes are afoot: it seems that the issue of atmospheric warming, of climate change, is starting to have a sobering effect in the developed world.
  • The key thing is that we have to be aware of the fact that we will need to change the principles of how the world functions. Capital and profit cannot be the fundamental motives of human functioning. They are causing increasing social differences between people. They are causing the destruction of the environment, especially the Earth’s atmosphere. Through greater awareness we must limit the logic of capital, otherwise the global imbalance will continue to increase. Up until the collapse of the Earth and humanity. Only if individuals and countries are able to restrict their selfishness and go beyond it, will humanity be assured a long-term existence.
How long did you spend writing your last book?
  • Two months.
Before a book comes out, do you show it or give it to anyone for their assessment?
  • No. I am convinced of my views. But I did tidy up the English edition of the book Thoughts on Life [Misli o življenju] a little, and made it a little more forthright. Otherwise I write my books in such a way as to make them accessible to the broadest possible circle of people. My aim is to influence the consciousness of the largest possible number of people, to help them find their balance and to help make this world more balanced. I expect the English edition to have a powerful effect.
Permit me to go back to the beginning. What will you do if Andrej Rant is not chosen as governor?
  • I will take a view when that happens. I have given a very serious warning. I stated very clearly that they should not expect me to withdraw my proposal, because I will not. Because Rant is a good candidate. If he is not elected, they will be creating a crisis in the state. The point is, if our system envisages that the national president proposes a candidate to the National Assembly, we would expect the National Assembly to adopt the proposal. Why else would the president be appointed to make the proposal? In its capacity of confirming the president’s choice, I regard the National Assembly as a safety valve in the extreme situation of the proposed candidate truly being unacceptable. In this situation we are not too far from that. It is really astonishing if such a candidate is not elected, and that in itself points to a crisis. It is not simply a question of the unimpeded functioning of the national president and the central bank, but also the nation-building capacity of the National Assembly and especially of the governing coalition.
The Prime Minister threatened you publicly with a possible change in the law, which would take that power from you.
  • If that is the case and if that is the way they accept proposals from the national president, then it is better for the president not to make such proposals. Why play around, why feign ignorance? They should go ahead and say that they will decide on this within the coalition and then do so.
Have you received any signals from abroad regarding these complications?
  • I think that people abroad are astonished about quite a few things. I shall point out the report of the Council of Europe on intolerance in Slovenia. A few years ago we could not even have imagined such a report. And now we have received a very hard-hitting report. Ultimately we were always the model, the country which others sought to emulate, and which should be an example! So no one should fool themselves that what is going on here is not being seen and noticed by people outside.
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