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The interview for Delo, Sobotna priloga

Ljubljana, 03/05/2007  |  interview


The interview of the President of the Republic of Slovenia Dr. Janez Drnovšek for slovene newspaper Delo, Sobotna priloga is published bellow.
Published: 3rd March 2007


Mr President, if the phone rang now and it was the prime minister inviting you to lunch, would you go?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Only if it was a vegan lunch.

Would you approach the lunch in a relaxed frame of mind or would you set off in the mood for a fight, with a speech prepared in advance? Have you got a lot on your mind?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Recently I’ve been relaxed all the time… I no longer have anything preying on my mind. If anything starts preying on my mind, I get rid of it as it arrives.

It does seem that a lot of things have been on your mind for a long time; the public have quite a few different interpretations of this. Misunderstandings create storms.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: It’s others that create these storms, not me.

I have the feeling that all this is happening in a sandpit.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: In a sandpit that others play in. I don’t play there.

Never, not at all?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Never.

So politics isn’t a game for you? A profile of your political life might suggest otherwise. Throughout your career you have followed precisely defined moves. I'm convinced that you were aware of the consequences.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Not at all. Politics has never been a game for me. As much as I’m still a politician.

That’s a worrying statement. You are the president of the country and a politician for all that…

Dr Janez Drnovšek: It depends what the definition and function of a politician is. If a politician occupies himself with the fight for strength and power, then I’m no longer a politician. If a politician concerns himself with moral questions and values, with ethics, then I’m still a politician.

You’ve been professionally involved in politics for almost two decades. You spent most of that time at the top, and your view of the world was, intentionally or unintentionally, the view from above, somewhat outside true perspectives. Are you convinced you can see the truth from such a position of power?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: It is difficult to see the truth from a position of power. That’s why I left that position of power some time ago.

That was probably a process rather than a decision?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: A process that gave birth to a decision.

You are president of the country. You are still in a position of power.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: No, I’m not. What power does the president have here?

“Here”. It sounds like you would like more power, despite what you’ve just said.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: (smiling) That’s a step too far, we’re overtaking ourselves. I left a position of power when I left the post of prime minister. To me the post of president represents, above all, a position of moral authority.

Is the place (and time) in which you operate mature enough for such a relationship with… a president?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: The place is never and nowhere mature enough for a complete understanding of moral values. I’m working to increase this maturity. But first you have to achieve this within yourself.

Three or four years ago you were a man who could, with a single phone call, make an important political move. At the other end of the line there would have been some important international statesman – Javier Solana for example. What about those contacts today? Have you completely withdrawn from the sphere of international influence?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: My considerable international experience showed me that what can and can’t be done in international politics is strongly predetermined. It’s very difficult to change this in any way. When you’re part of this community and play by their rules, you can’t change anything. It’s solely about adapting. Perhaps I was able to do something good here and there in specific situations, but the room for manoeuvre is slight. Things proceed along pre-established paths, there are no deviations. If it suits you to be important, to be part of world politics, then that is probably a pleasant feeling. However, a person must pass beyond their ego.

Why has Darfur (once again) disappeared from Slovenian atlases? Why are you silent? What’s the point of whetting people’s appetite if you don’t then feed them?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: That’s a question that should be asked of others, not me. I made very intense efforts concerning Darfur last year. The public’s initial response was positive. Then some of the public, the media and the politicians began to reject these efforts, make fun of them. That doesn’t mean I am no longer involved in the Darfur crisis. We tried to do everything in our power last year, but not a lot has changed. Today the conditions in Darfur are worse than they were. I’m still looking for a window of opportunity. The Darfur crisis is a good example of the failures and ineffectiveness of the international community. Darfur has not only disappeared from the Slovenian media – the same thing has happened abroad. Last year, if nothing else, we drew international attention to the crisis. The thing is to continue the work. Certain things are happening.

You exchanged the international arena for a considerably more direct and unfavourable domestic political scene. Did you do that on purpose? You went from Darfur to Ambrus. In recent weeks a great deal of noise has been made about the appointment of the governor of the Bank of Slovenia. You are putting forward initiatives, but almost always running up against a brick wall. What’s the problem here?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I did everything for Darfur that was in the power of a single person to do. That can’t be said of a lot of people in this world who perhaps have more power and more opportunity than me, or even get paid for it. It’s important that a man does everything that is in his power to do, wherever, whenever. If he looks away and tells himself that nothing can be changed, then for sure nothing will change. So it surprises me that efforts that did not work as one would have wished should be regarded with such disdain, instead of people joining those efforts …
The problem is not that I’m running up against a brick wall. There is currently no global organisation striving for a better world. The international community is undergoing a grave crisis. No one’s taking decisions for the benefit of humanity; humanity is therefore heading towards destruction.

Are you disappointed by this? Does it hurt you?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: No, it doesn’t hurt me. I operate on quite a wide front. Why? Because I can. I’m not only involved with Darfur. I’m primarily trying to raise people’s awareness. This is why I’m writing a book about these issues and why I’m making a lot of appearances – an increasing number abroad.
I also have to do those things demanded by the post I hold. Propose the governor, say, or warn of unsatisfactory situations in the country. The logic of my work is clear and straightforward. Wherever we come up against a brick wall, the wall of low awareness, we encounter unsatisfactory situations. We come up against selfish people, people who do not want to resolve others’ problems. They don’t want to help. Most of the mechanisms in this world work like that. It’s getting harder and harder. A whole system has been created that cannot be shifted overnight, but that does not disappoint me in the slightest. In other words, this is only a beginning, not the end. Consciousness has to be changed otherwise this world will destroy itself.

How can you be sure that you know more? When does a person begin to feel that he can teach others how to live? Where does this kind of legitimacy come from?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: People have to know how to distinguish between good and bad. If they want to do something, they should do it. If they hide themselves in selfishness, they’ll never do anything. If one looks beyond selfishness, one sees very quickly where the help is needed, what the problems of this world are. That’s why patterns of living have to be abandoned, and often privileges as well. Most people have not yet taken this leap. It would be a lot easier, for me too, if I operated in the way that others expected me to – if I worked according to the rules of political conduct and appeared in public only where it benefited me, where it would raise my popularity. Then one wouldn’t even start these almost impossible tasks. After so many years in politics, that is entirely clear to me. But what would I be doing? I would be grooming my own vanity. I would be convincing others that I am something I’m not.

In recent weeks, open conflict has broken out between you and the prime minister. I have the sense that you feel quite happy about this conflict, regardless of the outcome – that this situation suits you. You represent your public, he represents his.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I don’t represent anyone except myself. I try to say what has to be said. I have no interest or motive in political conflict. What am I supposed to do? Strange things have been happening around the appointment of the governor of the Bank of Slovenia; I had to draw attention to them. I hear from a lot of people that worse things than this are happening in the country. I speak up. That does not come from a need for conflict or political competition. I don’t have any ambitions whatsoever in that regard.
Despite everything, I am the president of the country. This is part of the work I do.

You are currently the only clear face of opposition. Do you feel like the leader of the opposition?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I don’t define myself as part of the opposition. I’m critical of everyone. I’m not against the government a priori. For a long time I was very positive towards the government. After I became aware that I was getting nowhere, I spoke up – just as I have frequently criticised anyone, including my own former party, the LDS, which was too concerned about itself, about political games, political power.

Slovenia is much more physical than metaphysical. Nevertheless, the language with which you address the citizens you preside over is becoming increasingly metaphysical. Do we get you? Are you happy with our response?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: It depends. I’m happy with the effect my book has had – not just the number of copies it has sold but also the response of readers. I get a lot of letters from people who say that my writings have helped them change their life. These are people who found themselves at a crisis point. That's as much as I can do. I don’t write books to give people a few hours of entertainment but to help them raise their awareness and change the way they live. These are the foundations; it doesn’t happen overnight. For this reason I don’t operate only at home but in the wider world as well. I’m linking up increasingly with people who are in some way similar to me, who think and work like I do. I would say that these people don’t come from politics but, most of them, from non-governmental organisations.

The Russian writer Lermontov once wrote: “I cast metaphysics aside and began to look at what was beneath my feet.” We didn’t have a winter this year. Climate change heralds a real and well-deserved apocalypse. You’ve been in power for twenty years. What have you done for the environment, in concrete terms, in that time?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Hmm (long silence).
As much as the European Union as a whole. Not enough. No one’s done enough. We are realising that more and more. The changes are becoming increasingly obvious. Things are getting serious.
I like what Al Gore is doing. But he was, after all, American vice-president for eight years; and when he could have done most, he failed. He had been concerned with environmental issues as a senator and, before that, at university. The question is whether he would have managed to do anything had he been confirmed, elected, as US president in 2000. But despite everything, he hasn’t given up. He made a deliberate decision to systematically raise the awareness of people around the world. That is what needs to be done. Perhaps the moment will come when there will be enough people who are convinced that something has to be done. We need a critical mass of such people.

There are a large number of exceptionally powerful interest groups in the background, and it’s also difficult to do anything from even the most powerful positions. If the president of Slovenia talks about climate change, he won’t be able to change anything on his own. It will be different when the pressure comes from people from all over the world. Politics, corporations and institutions will be forced to change the way they operate. Climate change is essentially about our future. We are reaching the point of no return, where the climate will be so ravaged that it will no longer be possible to repair it. The agony will start. Changes in weather will get worse and worse, natural disasters will increase. If we don’t do something now, mankind will decline and the planet will be destroyed. What’s important here? Who in fifty years’ time will be asking what happened with the appointment of the governor of the Bank of Slovenia in 2007 or some such event? What will the generations at that time think of us – we who could have changed things, could have saved the atmosphere, but didn’t because we didn’t know how to extract ourselves from our established patterns of behaviour?

Powerlessness and tilting at windmills must cause a lot of restlessness…

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I’m not restless at all.

Not at all?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Not at all.

Strange. Restlessness is a cornerstone of creation.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Who says that? That’s a silly thing to say.

The greatest artists and writers were all neurotics…

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Neurotics are neurotics and nothing more. They can’t be anything else. The essence of man is to find inner peace, his own balance. The problem of the world is precisely that – that it is led by people who don’t have inner balance. So the world is neurotic and is getting closer to destruction.

Spiritual peace is an introspective thing. It has led to too little self-sufficiency and a lack of outside interests. Is this not just what you call egoistical?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: No. Why would a man that has achieved inner peace withdraw into seclusion? My logic is completely opposed to this. I write this in my books. A person must first establish inner peace so that he can really see the imbalance of this world and try to do something about it. By doing this he won’t lose that inner peace. We are destroying the planet and mankind precisely because of neuroticism and dissatisfaction, passion for fame and wealth, over-rapid development.

Let’s return to where there is no peace. Domestic politics. How far are you responsible for the current situation in the country? How much of what you did in the past has contributed to what is happening today?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: To some extent, for sure. I don’t have a bad conscience about this in any way. I made the contribution I was able to make. Any more was, most likely, unrealistic. Everything was far from ideal. We all make mistakes. It is important that we learn something from them, that we move forward. It's a nonsense to say that you were the best and that you never did anything wrong.

When you stopped being president of the Liberal Democrats, the party began to implode. After you handed the baton to Anton Rop, a series of electoral defeats followed. After your exit from the top post in the LDS, the political scene in Slovenia was turned on its head. The LDS have still not picked themselves up from that, and a few weeks ago you talked about “democracy that might not be democracy”. There’s been a great turnaround. How do you read it?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: The changes that happened had to happen. Where would we be if a democratic society was based on a single figure? It’s true that the person at the top has important levers in his hands, but he mustn’t just rely on those. This would mean that the foundations are poor. Sooner or later, a person leaves the scene, in this or that way. Then a crisis follows soon afterwards.
The situation in Slovenia at the moment is not as good as it could be. I say this in the hope that those who are part of the tale will listen. My aim is not to criticise but to warn. It’s not good to proceed from the assumption that you are ideal and that everything you do is correct.

When you left the top post at the LDS, did you expect crisis and electoral defeat?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I didn’t concern myself with that a great deal, since the future cannot depend solely on one person. My decision to leave was not an easy one. It was quite a protracted process. They had a hard time convincing me to continue leading the government and the party at the National Assembly elections in 2000. I was already thinking about leaving then.

You personified the LDS, just as Janez Janša personifies the SDS. Slovenes cherish their personality cults. Are they the remnants of totalitarianism and a lack of democratic tradition?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: This has nothing to do with the past or with a lack of democratic tradition. Political marketing everywhere builds cults of personality. Those parties that have the most persuasive leaders are the ones that are most successful. This is also a weakness of the system. Pinning one’s hopes on an individual is not the best thing to do, but it is the entire logic of politics. This can lead certain individuals to put themselves even more to the fore. Then they themselves begin to believe in the political propaganda that says how exceptional they are.

Do you feel sorry for any of your former party colleagues because of the quarrels and internal disintegration? Have you wanted to come to their aid? Apart from the fact that it's partly your baby, there have to be some emotional ties there?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: No. Why? These aren’t emotional ties. Parties have to grow, they go through different phases and experiences. Of course one would rather see things proceeding more quickly – would rather see all parties grow and see the political culture raised.

Do you see the exit of influential men from your former party as treachery?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I would rather not discuss them.

Can the LDS pick itself up again?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Everyone can pick themselves up. Individuals and parties.

But you can be an athlete in top form or someone who’s seriously injured. Where is liberal democracy?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I wouldn’t know how to answer that … They can pick themselves by all means. They have to find out what people expect from them and make the correct assessments. People don’t feel sorry for politicians. They want something else.

The autumn local elections undoubtedly indicated a lack of trust in professional politics. In Slovenia it’s no longer about an ideological, liberal-clerical struggle but exclusively about business.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: There is no ideological conflict in Slovenian politics. I don’t see any ideology because there are no ideas. It’s about power first and foremost – for control of the levers of power. Securing power for the longest possible time. It was like that in the past, but it seems to me even more so today. That is not a positive thing.

Slovenian politics can be described with the formula: idea = phrase/content = form. How do you see Zoran Janković’s victory in Ljubljana? Were you happy he won?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I don’t react emotionally to any decision to elect or not elect. Zoran Janković won because the people wanted a change, something fresh. Someone who gave the impression of competence convinced them. This might be repeated at National Assembly elections as well. People have had enough of politics, all the games and the same faces again and again. People have lost faith in politicians. They feel that politicians don’t really care about them, merely about power. It’s like that not just in Slovenia; in many places throughout the world, politics is undergoing a much greater crisis than here. Why? Existing political models in many places are obsolete. People’s awareness is increasing. They no longer “buy” everything that political marketing tries to sell them. They feel that that behind it all lie a great many games and a great deal of egoism, and that they’re mostly merely being used as extras or as voters, not as proper players.

The Slovenian Left is in deep crisis. Where’s the way out?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: You’ve put it in quotation marks yourself. What is the Slovenian “Left”? These labels have lost their meaning. This is true of both Left and Right.

Are there real possibilities for the formation of a new grouping of the Left? LDS president Jelko Kacin says that an “Anti-Janša” is required, someone who will be stronger than Janez Janša. Is this a proper strategy for the reassumption of power?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I'm not thinking in this way at all. It is the logic of the leader of the opposition. I don’t concern myself with this. Why would I? It’s normal for the opposition to do this. I don’t follow the situation within the LDS that closely, so I can’t really say anything more on this subject.

But you’re nevertheless very involved in domestic political struggles …

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Not at all. Where am I involved in domestic politics? In the last six months I’ve given one interview and, as I’m obliged to do, have put forward people for a number of posts, including a candidate for governor of the Bank of Slovenia. Others make domestic politics out of this.

What do you have to say about the fact that the Commission for Public Office and Elections at the National Assembly did not support the appointment of your candidate, Andrej Rant, as the new governor of the Bank of Slovenia?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I have nothing to say – the procedure is not yet finished. I will assess whether I have to do anything when the votes are counted, and if and when the candidate is not elected. If necessary I will propose a new, third candidate. I will proceed solely from the premises of my position. I will on no account choose a candidate merely because he is agreeable to the ruling coalition.

Do you find it amusing to intervene in domestic political life?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I am a lot less concerned with this than others. I am not interested in making a grand game or big event out of everything. Other people do this. You’ll see, if you look, that I’ve made very few statements or appearances.

They are very precise, mathematically measured. Is this “pure politics”?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: They are as measured as they need to be.

Interventions …

Dr Janez Drnovšek: A person must discharge his duty, he can’t hide from it. He has to take responsibility.

Has Prime Minister Janez Janša made stronger use of the levers of power he has at his disposal than you did?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: I am not going to discuss that. I have no wish to deepen the conflict and give others occasion to do so. It is a shame to lose one’s energy. Those who wanted to listen to my warnings did so. If they’ll take them into account … Conflict for conflict’s sake benefits no one.

It is still not entirely clear whether you will stand for re-election as president. A short time ago, after denying several times that you would, you threw us a bone and we all grabbed hold of it. So?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: What would you say if for the twentieth time I gave the same answer to the same question? Again and again. I have given a lot of clear answers, but they weren’t satisfied and they asked again. I can also give a slightly less clear answer. And that’s what I’ve done.

An experienced politician like yourself has to approach such questions very carefully. Any answer you give gets taken up by the journalists. What will the president really do?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Whatever answer I give, the same question will get asked again. How am I supposed to answer this? If I say, no, I’m not going to stand again, they’ll ask me again tomorrow … and so on.

The French writer Michel Houellebecq says that in the future the world will be ruled by just one religion – one that gives immortality or extends life (through cloning) indefinitely, as all religions and most spiritual movements are based on a desire for immortality, fear of death. Turbo technology will cause the death of all religious concepts.

Dr Janez Drnovšek: That would mean that the material world would triumph over the spiritual world, and that only man’s ego and the extension of his life would count. However, a humanity that cannot pass beyond its ego and its selfishness cannot survive. What would a world of selfish robots be like? Terrible. But it won’t come to that: while individuals are looking for ways to extend their lives through modern science, they won’t notice that they are destroying the planet. Only a greater awareness can save mankind – one that exceeds one’s own selfish desires, that realises the co-dependence of human beings and nature.

Mr President, what are you afraid of?

Dr Janez Drnovšek: Nothing. Nothing any more.
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