‘Leftist’ Slovenia: Economic decline and politicisation of the judiciary

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Slovenia under the Social Democrats – who have been in power since 2008 – has declined economically, faces a partial return to Communist-era values and personnel, and has a more politicised justice system than even Ukraine, argues the centre-right Democratic Party of Slovenia.

This commentary was authored by the Democratic Party of Slovenia, the country's main opposition party and a member of the European Parliament's centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group.

"This year has been the twentieth year of Slovenian independence (declaration in June 1991, recognition in January 1992) and the third year of the Social Democratic coalition led by Borut Pahor.

On one hand, Slovenia has been a country of specific and interesting achievements; on the other, it has revealed characteristics common to all countries that have endured decades of Communist rule.

In the spring and summer months of 2011, the crisis of the Slovenian government approached the stage of agony that may (or rather should) lead to early elections.

The crisis consisted of two components: economic and cultural. The economic situation deteriorated (high budget deficit, series of defaults, weak banking sector, widespread corruption, high unemployment…) partly due to the general crisis in Europe and because of incompetent economic policies.

The political situation, however, worsened primarily due to a cultural clash. The Kulturkampf consisted of a series of hysterical assaults on the two decades of Slovenian democracy and independence.

The governing coalition (surprisingly proud successors and open advocates of the Yugoslav Communists) actually attempted a revival of the pre-democratic system, ridiculing the democratic changes of 1990 and independent statehood, denying (or at least repressing public debate about) mass executions of 1945 and other criminal activities of the Communist secret police.

The restoration attempt accompanied by pressures on the media and the judiciary (two top positions of the Slovenian judiciary system have been filled by officials of the Yugoslav regime) has produced a drastic cultural division, including widespread political discrimination and outright hostility.

Instead of competence, the Slovenian authorities have preferred to demonstrate raw power. They have installed persons known for violations of human rights before 1991 to the positions of Supreme Court President (Branko Masleša in November 2010) and State Prosecutor General (Zvonko Fišer in May 2011).

The economic situation

The economic performance of Slovenia in 2011 can be characterised as stagnant and deteriorating. There are practically no signs of recovery. According to the Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development of Slovenia, 'consolidated gross debt of the general government, having totalled €13.7 billion at the end of last year (38.1% of GDP), increased to €16.4 billion (45.2% of GDP) by the end of the first quarter this year'.

The Slovenian Agency for Public Legal Records and Related Services (AJPES) reported that Slovenian companies concluded the year 2010 with the worst business results in the last five years with €250 million in net losses. For comparison, in 2009 there were €550 million in net profits and in 2007 some €3 billion.

According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011 ranking 59 world economies, Slovenia continues to belong to the group of the least competitive economies. Last year, Slovenia lost 20 points, regressing to position 52, [falling] behind all other EU members except Bulgaria and Greece.

While in 2007, Slovenia, governed by the SDS, could proudly claim to have a balanced budget, the Social Democratic successors – in a time of crisis – resorted to political rewards and egalitarian policies that produced substantial deficit. The budgetary deficit increased by almost €2 billion and is moving towards 6% of GDP.

Prime Minister Pahor has appealed to historical responsibility, and warned against a Slovenian political crisis in the times of the European financial crisis. Political and economic crises in Slovenia have existed for some time regardless of Pahor's public statements. Slovenian budgetary debt is growing [at] a speed of almost €10 million per day.

The political situation

The decomposition of the Pahor Government started in May 2011 with the departure from the coalition of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and its leader Karl Erjavec. In June, the ministers of the second-largest coalition party (Zares) followed, and Pahor remained with a minority government consisting of his party and the Liberals (LDS).

The leader of LDS and Minister of the Interior Katarina Kresal has been successfully avoiding accusations of corruption concerning a leasing of a building dedicated to corruption investigations owned by Kresal's close friend. In August, the escape tactics could no longer resist pressures from two controlling institutions: the Court of Auditors and the Anti-Corruption Commission. The minister resigned (on 12 August) and as a result, the Cabinet remained only two-thirds full, or one-third empty.

According to the August opinion polls, public support [for] the Pahor government fell from 15% to 9%. In the autumn of 2010, the coalition suffered defeat in local elections. Between autumn 2010 and spring 2011 it lost five referenda. The results of the last three referenda were devastating: 70% of the electorate voted against government proposals. Due to the political crisis, there are – regardless of the complicated electoral mechanism – chances for early elections at the end of 2011.

Throughout 2011, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) has kept a leading position in the polls. Support for the SDS among voters determined to participate in the elections has varied between 31.9 and 42.6%. After a substantial loss of support, the Social Democrats (SD) assumed second place, reaching 13-18%. The Pensioners (DeSUS), Slovenian National Party (SNS) and Slovenian People's Party (SLS) have followed with varying results.

The governing 'Leftist' coalition seems rather insensitive towards fundamental democratic principles. Though it may sound exaggerated, Slovenia seems to be experiencing a partial restoration of the Communist traditions. Recently, former Yugoslav justices and faithful members of the coalition parties Branko Masleša, Zvonko Fišer and Dušan Vu?ko have been chosen for the positions of Supreme Court President, State Prosecutor General and Secretary of the National Electoral Commission respectively.

One of the main avenues in Ljubljana has been named after the late Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito. The current Slovenian President (Danilo Türk) has rewarded Mr Tomaž Ertl, the former chief of the secret political police (SDV), with a high national acknowledgement. The coalition has rejected the European Parliament's Resolution (of 2 April 2009) on European conscience and totalitarianism, and issued a two-euro commemorative coin with the image of the Revolutionary Commander Stane with a five-point star, the symbol of the Communist movement.

To provide some details: Branko Masleša was the last judge in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (prior to Slovenian Independence) to have sentenced somebody to death. In former Yugoslavia, illegal border crossing was qualified as a crime, and according to the secret Official Gazette, soldiers of the Yugoslav army were allowed to shoot at criminals attempting such crossings.

The last border-killings occurred in 1989, just before Slovenian independence. There are many indications that Mr Branko Masleša participated in secret commissions of the Yugoslav army, which – avoiding all legal proceedings – verified such killings at the border. Before his candidacy, he was publicly asked to express his position towards this claim, but he has not answered.

The new State Prosecutor General Zvonko Fišer succeeded Barbara Brezigar, who has not been popular with the current authorities of Slovenia. In 1977, Mr Zvonko Fišer, who at the time served as the Public Attorney of Nova Gorica, prosecuted two Catholic priests, Janez Lapanja and Stanislav Medveš?ek who had in 1975 together with a local activist, Amalija Jereb, established a grave of, and consecrated a cross dedicated to, victims of communist terror in the vicinity of Cerkno.

In 1944, after a confrontation with German soldiers that resulted in a tragic defeat for the Partisans, 15 innocent local civilians [were] killed and thrown into a nearby cave by the Communist Security-Intelligence Service (VOS).

The new Secretary of the National Electoral Commission is Dušan Vu?ko. He used to be a member of parliament elected on the list of the governing coalition party LDS. Now, he is an active LDS politician, and heads the LDS group in the local council. His nomination to the most influential post in the National Electoral Commission raises doubts about the professional and neutral operation of the commission that is responsible for legal procedures concerning national elections. Such a partisan choice is without precedent in the tradition of independent Slovenia.

The political authorities and their networks have [taken] the decision to use the judiciary system to paralyse the political process in the country. When the scandal concerning the Finnish military vehicles Patria and alleged bribes to Prime Minister Janša broke out a few weeks before the elections of 2008, the general expectation was that the affair would be concluded in the courts by 2009. This expectation has not been fulfilled. The issue has been dragging on: Janša has waited for a trial almost three years!

It is understandable that, in the meantime, the reputation and the function of Janez Janša have been abundantly smeared. The indictment is based on the claim that Mr Janša has been accused 'of an attempt to receive gifts for illegal mediation on an undefined day, at an undefined place and in an undefined way'.

The indictment does not produce any evidence. After criticism by most legal experts, the prosecutor – Branka Zobec Hrastar, the wife of former Communist secret police agent Zvonko Hrastar, who in 1988 participated in the imprisonment of a freelance journalist – Janez Janša stepped down and left the Prosecutor's Office [sic]. The trial of Janša and two other dissidents in the Ljubljana Military Court triggered mass demonstrations in 1988, and contributed to democratic changes in Slovenia. This was the beginning of the Slovenian Spring.

Conscious of the fragility of the accusations, the Prosecutor's Office now proposed a secret trial. A secret trial concerning a leader of the opposition is profoundly disturbing, and opens the question of democratic and legal standards of the Slovenian judiciary. Slovenian standards may be inferior to the standards used in Ukraine where Yulia Timoshenko is being tried in a public trial.

The Slovenian Democratic Party's programme for the future

The Slovenian Democratic Party has prepared and already presented its proposal of a programme oriented towards development and crisis management. The SDS is a front-runner also in this respect. It was the first Slovenian party to offer proposals for the future, including initiatives concerning sustainable development, finance and the economy as a whole. The SDS has proposed programmes for economic growth, the creation of new employment and a balanced budget.

The SDS proposes a constitutional limitation of public expenditure to 45% of GDP. The programme of SDS has been available on the web since July 2011. The authors have invited experts and the general public to contribute comments and additional proposals. The reaction has been very good, particularly by the business community. The Council of Experts (Strokovni svet) of SDS will process the contributions shortly, and include them in the final version of the programme."

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