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Address by President of the Republic of Slovenia dr Janez Drnovšek at the Swearing-In Ceremony for the President of the Republic of Slovenia

Ljubljana, 12/22/2002  |  speech

Click to enlargeHonourable deputies, distinguished guests, esteemed members of the diplomatic corps,
I am honoured to be assuming here before you the office of President of the Republic, an office with which I am also assuming a great commitment. I shall discharge this office responsibly and according to the best of my abilities, with respect and dedication to all our citizens, who have together opted for this country and have chosen it as a common home. May I also take this opportunity, on my own behalf and on behalf of the state of Slovenia and its citizens, first of all to thank the outgoing President of the Republic, Mr. Milan Kučan, for the statesmanlike work he has done, and for the personal contribution he has invested in the image and standing of our country. Honourable deputies, distinguished guests, esteemed members of the diplomatic corps, I am beginning this mandate as President of the Republic just before a major, historic opportunity that is opening up for the Slovenian nation, its citizens and all inhabitants of the Republic of Slovenia. Slovenia has finally been offered an open door to the common European space, where along with other democratic European countries we will be able to shape as an equal the future image of the European continent, which will be founded on common values of prosperity and cooperation, recognition and respect for differences, and peace and security. The great dream of the Slovenian poet, whose words we have taken as our national anthem, are therefore coming true. We may be proud of the fact that in twelve years we have travelled the road from independence to becoming a country of international standing, with solid economic foundations and a consolidated democracy which sets as the highest of goals respect of human rights. This is also the greatest capital that we might leave to future generations. Yet it is also a great responsibility for us, so that as an equal player we might be able to affirm our own interests, as common aspirations and decisions, in the European community of nations and states.

Click to enlargeThe historic beginning of the new era that we are so rapidly approaching, will not mark the end of our national history, nor will it signify the erasing of our identity. But we will need even more commitment, determination and responsibility than before to safeguard everything that we do not wish and do not intend to relinquish - our identity, our language, our culture, our art and our history. Of course no one is denying us all these things, but then no one else can safeguard them for us. For this reason it will depend first and foremost on us alone, whether our historical values and cultural traditions will become a recognisable part of the European heritage, and whether our creativity will be noticeable and clearly present in the European cultural landscape in the future, too.

In these past ten years of transition, Slovenia has undergone profound change and transformation in every respect. After the initial shock suffered through the loss of numerous markets, the country picked itself up again with surprising speed, and started to develop economically and to gain strength. Economic growth was established on new, more solid foundations, with the rates of growth overtaking the concurrent dynamic of economic development in many parts of Europe. The gap between us and the countries with which we wished to compare ourselves, and in time catch up with, diminished. It is clear that the policy thus far of stimulating the economic pulse and growth, as well as balanced development, is already yielding dividends for us.

Click to enlargeRapid economic development brings with it all kinds of social consequences, for the most part good, but sometimes also those that are less desirable and agreeable. For this reason extra special attention must be given to monitoring the social effects of economic and capital trends, and to neutralising their more unpleasant aspects. These may, if they are uncontrolled and indiscriminate, in turn exact revenge precisely on the economy, causing a halt, stagnation or even reversal. Slovenia has thus far successfully avoided the major structural imbalances in the socio-economic field, and suffers no serious social upheavals or conflicts. And it must maintain such an orientation. Special attention must continue to be devoted to social justice and solidarity, and to the concern for people's welfare. Excessive material and social differences between them would be inadmissible. We must therefore continue with the intensive measures for reducing unemployment, the creation of new jobs and employment opportunities must be encouraged, and above all major investments should be made in knowledge. It is only through knowledge that we will be able to pave our way to the kind of future that we all desire, and which also led us to choose our own state, which must make possible the fulfilment of our desires and goals.

Knowledge is the most secure and promising potential that we possess. Knowledge is of course primarily people. Therefore investments in knowledge, in the education system at all levels and in all forms are without doubt of overriding importance, they are the primary condition upon which everything else will depend. We Slovenians are relatively few, but whenever we have been faced with serious challenges and trials, we have always responded well and asserted ourselves. The task of our policies for today and tomorrow is to make the best possible use of all the human potentials we dispose of, to link them, direct them and stimulate them. And this can only be facilitated by a dynamic country, open to the world, and at the same time sensitive to all of its citizens, their hardships and troubles, as well as to the aspirations and ambitions they demonstrate in their life and work.

We have already established the foundations for the kind of state and institutions that we need for this purpose. The years of gearing up our new country for independent life and of striving to establish it internationally are behind us. In this we have often enough perhaps unwittingly forgotten about the hardships of individuals, and frequently we have unintentionally overlooked the importance of genuine mutual relations and the details that are important in people's everyday lives. Now that we have made our country capable of independent life and of its inclusion as an equal in the international environment, the time is approaching when we will be able to devote more attention to ourselves, to our mutual relationships, and to establishing tolerant and sympathetic mutual relations, for which the state will provide simply an understanding and nurturing protective environment.

As a modern and dynamic country we must be open and sensitive to all initiatives that are generated between individuals and in their special interest associations, and in the sphere of civil society within non-governmental organisations. Through the constant exchange of opinions, views, and ideas, such civic initiative must be continuously encouraged and enabled to share in formulating development projects and to be involved in them as an equal. A broad and extensive network of such connections will enable us to identify in advance individual sensitive phenomena and problems, which might otherwise in many cases remain hidden and veiled, and to respond to them properly and in good time. At the same time, such forms of cooperation increase the space for democratic participation of citizens in the processes of decision-making, and ensure the greater quality of decisions made.

As president of all Slovenian women and men, and all citizens of the Republic of Slovenia, I will devote special attention and concern to the consistent observance and consolidation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Everything possible must be done to prevent intolerance towards others and those who are different. Through tolerant dialogue we must move beyond the old discords and prevent the emergence of new ones. The injustices suffered by individuals in the past, deserve careful and sympathetic treatment, if we wish sincerely to put right their material and moral consequences. And we will only achieve this if Slovenia is a state ruled by law, and if we all have confidence in it and its legal instruments.

Honourable deputies,
An increasingly integral part of better living conditions for the citizens of Slovenia and the higher quality of their lives is a respectful and sensitive attitude to the environment in which we live, and to nature, with which we are bound inseparably. And all of us are increasingly aware of this. In this country much has already been done in the area of protecting and arranging the environment, but this is still far from sufficient. A clean, healthy and properly arranged environment is today almost throughout the world one of the most precious values, yet in may places it has been completely trampled underfoot or at least seriously endangered and compromised. Slovenia desires to be one of those countries that are a model of environmentally responsible and prudent policies, since this is one investment that we owe not only to ourselves, but also to the world. The concept of sustainable development must make the transition into the practice and strategy of every kind of social and economic planning, for neither the individual nor society will be able to survive, if the fundamental natural balance is destroyed by irresponsible human behaviour. Removing the consequences of environmental degradation is always more difficult, and most importantly more expensive, than environmentally friendly behaviour. Whoever does not care whether there will be a flood behind them, runs the serious risk of drowning in it themselves.

Honourable deputies,
I am honoured to be serving my term in office as President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces at a time when, together and as an equal with the democratic European countries, Slovenia will be creating the new security and defence image of Europe.

We must direct all our efforts towards ensuring that Europe really does start living in peace and cooperation. This must be based on equality, tolerance and a determination never to see again the tragedies of the past century, and to head off in good time the consequences of the new security threats that we are witnessing in the world. We have also begun preparing the Slovenian armed forces for a safe Slovenia within the framework of a safe Europe. And we must continue these activities with full responsibility. Today we are fond of emphasising that Slovenia is a safe country. But safety is not a permanent benefit acquired and secured once and for all. It is true that at this time Slovenia is not directly threatened in military and security terms. But as an internationally recognised and democratic country, we cannot ignore the fact that it has now become part of a collective security which is facing new security challenges. I am therefore firmly convinced that as members of the NATO alliance we will be more secure - and that the advantages of membership in the alliance far outweigh the possible drawbacks. For peace and security - alongside freedom - are the most basic preconditions for the wellbeing of every individual, group and country as a whole. Although within the processes of European integration in the EU, certain common security mechanisms are being formed, at this moment Europe is still far from being able to ensure its own security effectively by itself. The majority of EU member states provide for their international security through membership of NATO. The recent invitation for Slovenia also to join NATO, is therefore of great importance for our country, while at the same time it places upon us a great responsibility for our actions in the future. Our own historical experiences tell us how important and vital were the right decisions at the right time, and how missed opportunities can be lost for ever. The decision to have our own state was at the same time a commitment to defend it, if it were attacked or threatened in some other way, and we cannot shrink away from this commitment. In the world of today, it is very rare for someone to ensure their security entirely on their own. The offer we received from Prague means that numerous other countries are prepared to stake their own common responsibility for our security, too, of course as long as we ourselves are also prepared to contribute our proportional share to the common security mechanism. Such an offer marks a great achievement for our country, as well as great recognition, and signifies a unique, historic opportunity for us to provide for our long-term security together with other democratic countries.

In many respects our successful candidacy for the position of presiding country in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for 2005 will contribute to the strengthening and consolidation of our internal and external security. For this responsible task Slovenia's state leadership and diplomatic efforts must be prepared to the best possible extent, and in this way we must justify the confidence demonstrated in us by the international community. Success in setting out and performing the work which we will take on in that mandate, and especially a well-conceived diplomatic and statesmanlike attitude to the crisis points in our immediate vicinity, extending to the Middle East, and in certain of the newly formed states from the Soviet Union, will serve as confirmation of our committed and responsible approach to issues of common security and democratic development of the broader European environment.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Slovenian armed forces, I intend in line with my constitutional and legal powers to monitor closely the development of our defence forces, their combat readiness and level of professionalism - especially since my term in office will coincide with a period of transformation of the Slovenian military from the current conscript system to a system of professional recruitment with a volunteer reserve. I shall strive for an effective legal framework for the military sphere, for comprehensive and effective civil control over it, and also for a strengthening of the role, position and standing of the professional - and politically unburdened - members of the Slovenian armed forces, whether they are here in Slovenia or serving as part of the international peace and humanitarian missions abroad. Slovenia's forces are already undergoing successful processes of modernisation, professional training and the attainment of standards that are essential for its cooperation in NATO operational and command structures, but the mechanisms of civil control must be further enhanced. This is a fundamental political condition for cooperation in the NATO Alliance and in the future defence and security forces of the EU - and Slovenia will be able to enter into them in every way ready.

Honourable deputies,
Slovenia's membership of the EU and NATO represents the two long-term fundamental objectives of Slovenian foreign policy, formulated in the first years of independence, and to which our country has been consistently and firmly committed. Now that we are on the threshold of fulfilling these objectives, it is worth recalling and considering once again why we decided to pursue them: both organisations, which include a major portion of the more developed world, are a guarantee of our prosperity and our security, as well as of our international recognisability, credibility and - in every way just as importantly - our economic success. Throughout the first decade of our independence, both the National Assembly and the Government held all these goals clearly in their sights, when they formulated and affirmed our long-term foreign policy strategy. And everything else derives from and is bound by these two fundamental objectives: the good and productive relations with neighbouring countries, our active political, economic and security presence in the area of the South-Eastern European countries, and of course our committed and vigilant reaction to the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms everywhere in the world.

The Republic of Slovenia has consistently assumed its share of responsibility for settling relations in international affairs. Our foreign policy stance thus far earned us major recognition last year, when we were entrusted with the hosting of the US-Russia Summit, and when we became a desired partner in the dialogue seeking solutions to certain complicated crisis situations that threatened international security. The most telling testament to our new foreign policy self-confidence is our increasing role in bringing peace and stability to the situation in South-Eastern Europe. The fear that the vortex of events there would drag us in again is now in the past, and we are returning to the region unburdened, with experience and initiatives that are familiar and acceptable to the countries there. Our assessments and views, as well as our concrete actions, relating to healing the wounds inflicted on that region by long years of war, destruction and lack of government, have been far-reaching and influential among both our American, European and also Russian partners. We are confirming ourselves with them as an important factor of peace, security and stability in the region, one which belongs in our geographical neighbourhood. The responsibility and obligations we are assuming with this, will also need to be confirmed by our foreign policy in the future, through an even more active presence in establishing and helping to formulate new initiatives in the international community, which no longer expects merely assessments from us, but increasingly answers and solutions, as well as direct engagement, in these environments. For a small and apparently non-influential country this is a great recognition, over which we should be neither shy nor fearful.

Honourable deputies,
Well-regulated and friendly relations with neighbouring countries are an important strategic interest for our state and a vital part of its security. We wish to develop these relations on the basis of mutual trust and multilateral cooperation, which entails above all a reciprocal and final recognition of territorial inviolability and the permanence of state borders, as well as the protection of the rights of minority communities and active concern for their all-round development, the consolidation of economic ties and higher forms of economic cooperation, the construction of infrastructure links, and a wide range of educational, scientific, cultural and other contacts throughout the border regions. These are all essential building blocks in Europe's future political, economic and security architecture, and in fact over the last year some major steps in these fields have been taken.

Relations with all our neighbouring countries enjoy priority for understandable reasons. Positive cooperation has been established with Croatia at the multilateral level, while bilateral relations remain burdened with some issues as yet not fully resolved that have passed down from our former common state. The Italian Republic is one of our most important economic partners - a fact that was of considerable assistance in overcoming the open issues between us and establishing a close partnership. Despite occasional calls for these relations to return to their previous state of uncertainty, we may be justified in expecting and striving to ensure that those calls will be outweighed by respect for international agreements and commitments that have already been made and by a willingness to engage in creative neighbourly cooperation. Our relations with Austria are developing towards ever-greater cooperation in all areas, which is indisputably in our mutual interest. Relations with Hungary are very positive in all areas: our countries are linked by a common strategic objective - full membership of the European Union - which requires the complementary functioning of our foreign policies, the development of the best possible partnership and the deepening of cooperation on all levels.

Of course special ties with our neighbouring countries are provided also by the minority communities, separated from the rest of their nations by the present borders. A united Europe, however, will allow them once more to draw closer together. Slovenia has long attempted to see these communities as a link and to facilitate this role through the bilateral recognition of their rights and an approach tailored to their development opportunities. I have in mind the Italian and Hungarian minorities in Slovenia and the Slovenian minority communities in Italy, Austria and Hungary as well as the ethnic communities of other nations, whether indigenous or immigrant in nature, that enrich the multi-ethnicity of the cultural landscape in Slovenia and its neighbouring countries. Consideration for all these groups must remain a constant of our internal and external policies, because an example of peaceful inter-ethnic coexistence in this part of Europe could be of tremendous importance to the configuration of future inter-ethnic relations across the entire united Europe. The same consideration must also be consistently extended to the Slovenian communities that lie further afield, to enable their members and descendents to retain links with their land of origin, and especially to help them to feel at home among us.

It is in our strategic interest to further enhance our relations with the United States, not only within NATO and other security structures, but also through bilateral political and economic dialogue and scientific, technological and research exchanges. The United States remains an influential player within European politics, ever present in every dimension of European development, which is the reason I attribute an increasingly significant role and importance to the development of direct bilateral relations with the US in the ongoing establishment of Slovenia in the international community. The same, although in a quite distinct way, goes for our relations with the Russian Federation, especially in the economic field where there remain large, as yet unexploited, opportunities to expand and intensify cooperation. Of course, the dimensions of Slovenian-Russian relations cannot be limited to economics alone. Cooperation should be extended over as many areas as possible; the deepening of cultural contacts is currently very much in the foreground, which may also prove important and indeed encouraging on the wider European level.

I have only mentioned Slovenia's key strategic foreign policy objectives. There is a great deal of work still to be done, and an even greater responsibility. Yet I am sure that we have not taken on too much, and that together we will be able to complete all the tasks we have set ourselves. We will respect all our international commitments, we will always be prepared for candid and open dialogue with all democratic countries and people of good will in the search for solutions to the most complex challenges of the modern, globalised world - a world in which multilateral, multicultural and multiethnic ties are becoming ever more closely intertwined. These ties will make it easier to confront the unresolved issues of today and tomorrow's world.

Honourable deputies,
Today, twelve years since we proclaimed our independence, we can affirm our success - we achieved consensus on the basic values of our society and created a secure, socially just, economically successful, tolerant state, recognised by the international community, and most importantly of all, orientated towards the future. We managed to overcame divisive interests and ensure that Slovenia was included in all the most important projects and decisions of our times. It is true that numerous issues remain open. The new global reality is often a cruel place, where economic and political interests clash and strive for dominance. Yet, perhaps it is countries such as Slovenia that - more than all the rest - are called upon to take responsibility for these challenges.

It will be of immense assistance if we can properly reflect upon the world individually and communally, and also reflect upon it together with others and indeed to the benefit of others, and to the benefit of all. Until this point in our history this is something we have always managed to do, something that has preserved our very existence as Slovenians and enabled us to fight for our own state. And it is the only attitude that can provide Slovenia with a future. More and more we will have to stand at the centre of this world, and judge it by our own standards. We will not have the option of withdrawing into an illusory refuge of self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. "I stand at the centre of life" - our great poet still emboldens us today, as in his day when he called on our nation to realise its potential and envisage how its own future might appear. These calls that helped us survive in the past must not pass from memory. They were articulated more than anywhere within the rich cultural and artistic creativity that has marked our long, long struggle for survival. Today we no longer need to feel threatened as before - we have greater self-confidence that we can confirm on a daily basis - yet culture and artistic endeavour must remain our constant companions. They will continue to open up to us the unknown realms of the spirit, allow us to maintain our links with tradition and at the same time move us into the realms of global ideas and creativity so that in the future we might better understand and be more profoundly aware of ourselves and the world.

We cannot now foresee everything that awaits us, all the challenges that we will have to face. Yet we can brace ourselves for the future and adapt to the changes that will be even more intense than those to which we have grown accustomed in the testing times since we chose independence and a sovereign state up until the present day. Before us lies much demanding and responsible work, yet we will be rewarded with great satisfaction when we complete it. I believe that we will be capable of making the best use of all the opportunities to come our way, and those that we create ourselves - just as we were capable of turning the national will expressed in the plebiscite of December 1990 into reality. In the new world that lies before us and alongside us we must act with self-confidence and optimism and seek out our rightful place within it. As President of the Republic I will use all my knowledge, experience and energy to work towards that very goal. At the close of my term as Prime Minister I see Slovenia as a progressive European country, firmly fixed within Euro-Atlantic structures, with a recognisable international identity, and a globally-orientated economic culture of excellence. I see Slovenia as a nursery for ideas, a crossroads of culture, a bridge of cooperation and a secure centre of peaceful coexistence at the heart of the traditional civilisations, faiths and cultures of the West, East, North and South of Europe.

I believe that the vision we have set out is the right one and well-suited to Slovenia. I am confident that we will have the desire and courage to realise that vision and to ground ourselves on the positive message of integration from the past, to ground ourselves on the feelings of solidarity, tolerance and respect for diversity that the present requires of us, and most of all to ground ourselves on hope in the future, which remains an unwritten book, handed for safekeeping to us and our children that we might fill it with the next chapters of Slovenia's history.

Once again I would like to offer you my thanks for your trust and support.

Permit me to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and much peace, health and joy in the year to come.
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