President-elect Danilo Türk took the oath of office yesterday and will assume the powers of the President of the Republic of Slovenia later today. He will replace Janez Drnovšek, who will apparently totally retire from political life (and otherwhise) after being at the very top of the political pyramid for exactly two decades.
Political comentators this side of the newly-erased Schengen border tend to look at Drnovšek’s presidency as two separate movies. One pre-dating his spiritual renewal and one post-dating it.
For the uninitiated, a quick recap. After falling ill with cancer still while PM, Janez Drnovšek was always eyed with a bit of suspicion as far as his medical condition was involved. Since Slovenes are notoriouls secretive about personal matters (i.e.: personal whealth, healt, domestic abuse, extramarital affairs and the likes), it was sort of deemed inappropriate to ask the president about his healts. Even during his campaign the question was barely touched upon, as if the other side knew that a negative campaign would do more harm than good (a lesson which seems to have been lost on Türk’s opponents during this year’s presidential campaign). Anyways. Drle (as the outgoing Prez was known) was elected and he went below radar almost immediately. He attended only top-of-the-line state functions (in stark opposition with his predecesor, the legendary Milan Kučan, who -it seemed- attended every ceremony in 500 kilometre radius). He cut his workload to the point of Jožef Školč calling him lazy at one point. And Školč, mind you, does not have many expeditious qualities himself 😉
And then -all of a sudden- the President starts mingling with the alternative crowd (shamans, medicine men, people like that). For example: he is the only foreign dignitary to have attended inauguration of Bolivian president Evo Morales at the altitude of almost 4000 metres (that’s 12000 feet) in the Andes and survive, where most people skipped the event because of a severe shortage of oxygen at that altitude. He also took interest in the Darfur crisis long before Goran Višnjić and his ER team discovered it on the map. His moves were rather erratic and he seemed to lose interest in a particular matter quicker than you could say “alternative medicine”. Except in Darfur, when he even hosted some sort of peace negotiations, but failed to get anywhere. But all of these are just episodes in a life of a somewhat eccentric president.
In my opinion the true political legacy of President Drnovšek is at least two-fold.
One: He was instrumental in completing the political transition of this country. With his political “exit-stage-left” we can put an end to a period of two decades of Slovenia making it big. Much like the country he ran (or helped run) in those 20 years, he too came out of the blue and immediately had everyone’s attention. Contraty to expectations, he was elected member of the Yugoslav federal presidency in what was possibly the first somewhat fair elections in Slovenia in 1988 – and he never left the stage again. He was there when Yugoslavia broke apart, when Slovenia declared indepencendence and when Slovenia negotiated peace with the federal army. But in 1992 he was elected prime minister as Lojze Peterle (remember him?) was given a vote of no confidence. Drnovšek and his Liberal Democrats set about doing some real social and economic transition. Ten years and three mandates as PM and one kidney later he was elected the president of the republic, as Milan Kučan’s second term ended. He left a remarkable record, with Slovenia being on the brink of becoming a member of EU and NATO, with an ever stronger economy and a growing reputation in the world (OK, there was the small mater of Dimitrij Rupel, but we’ll save than one for some other time). In short – he showed that it can be done. All it takes is a worthy goal,
Two: As president he showed that his office bears more than just a distanced dignity. When government of Janez Janša lost touch with reality, Drnovšek (at this poing already slightly etheral) took it upon himself to call spade a spade and tear Janša’s government to pieces where deserved. Among other things he called Jaša the Prince od darkness and accused him (rightly, I think) of dictatorial tendencies. And Drnovšek should know, as he had to remove Janša as defence minister in 1994 because of the Depala vas indicent (one of the two attempts at a coup d’etat in this country). But the move of his presidency came exactly a year ago when he came to try to help the Strojan family (the Romas who were ran out from the village of Ambrus by the majority population), when he told off the people of Ambrus and told them that – although they swore by all that’s holy – they are not true Catholics because they cause suffering of fellow men. While his mission was unsuccessful, it showed the pettyness, small-mindedness and xenophoby of Slovenes.
And that is what a true president should do. To tell the people of his country where they fall short and where they are trully great.
But most of all – regardless of what other people think – Janez Drnovšek loathed ruling. I’m not saying he didn’t like the power, but for almost every single day of the past two decades he gave the impression that he would rather be somewhere else. And that is about as much as you can as of any politican.
As for Danilo Türk: he may have a better hand at solving international crises but first he’ll have to solve several domestic ones