Oh, dear. Looks like it is that time of the year again. Birds migrate, flowers bloom and Slovenian PM Janez Janša writes letters to EU leaders. In this case, a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Unlike the last time around, Marshal Twito’s latest literary undertaking is mercifully light on maritime metaphors but heavy on manipulative bullshit and passive-aggressive abuse. This, of course, means it is time for a new installment of the developing sub-genre, pengovsky’s annotated readings of letters by the Glorious Leader.
A word of warning: what is about to follow is a laundry list of grievances and slights, real and imagined, that PM Janša can’t shut the fuck up about. It doesn’t matter if he is in power or in opposition, the song always remains the same. Just the lyrics get longer and longer.
So, without further delay, here is Janez Janša’s leter to Ursula von der Leyen, annotated.
Dear Madam President,
Oh! No “Dear Ursula” ? No familiarity, no first name, written-in by hand, like the last time around? Looks like Janša is pissed off and ready to strike.
European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová recently recalled the accusations regarding the freedom of the press in Slovenia. These accusations followed several similar statements by spokespersons of the European Commission, who on various occasions, without any evidence, based only on individual media reporting, questioned the freedom of the press, the rule of law, judicial independence and the state of democracy in Slovenia in general.
Well. The prime minister of a country that is about to take over the rotating EU Council presidency (see below), is calling the European Commission a bunch of lying bastards. Or is that a bunch of laying bastards? Hard to tell these days…
Starting with 1 July 2021, Slovenia will assume the presidency of the Council of the EU.
This is the first of the precious few factual statements contained in this mental excrement of a letter.
We faced a similar situation leading up to 2008, when our country chaired the Council of the EU for the first time. In a comparable fashion, a letter signed by 571 journalists and editors from Slovenia (see enclosed) circulated throughout Europe. The letter literally characterised Slovenia’s forthcoming presidency as a big threat to the whole Union (1). Even then, many European media outlets picked up such absurd indictments as objective reporting and continually repeated them. Our first EU presidency proved not to be “a big threat to the Union”; instead, our dedicated work for the common benefit of all EU Member States was key to its success.
In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park,
Slovenian first-ever EU presidency, which Janša still thinks of as the pinnacle of his career, was surely not a success Marshal Twito thinks it to be. It was more of a not-great-not-terrible thing, if you get my meaning.
As for “letter of the of the 571 journalists”, known officially as the Petition against censorship and political pressure against Slovenian journalists, seen from today’s point of view, the text of the petition is fairly milquetoast. The pearl-clutching issues of 2007 became a mundane annoyance in 2021, something one deals with during breakfast before moving on to more nefarious attempts at subjugating the media, such as repeated attempts at defunding the public Slovenian Press Agency.
Contrary to what Janša wrote in the letter, the text of the 2007 petition does not label Janša’s chairing the EU Council “a threat to the EU”. Rather, it says that the EU Council being “chaired by a government that dabbles in censorship and stifling the media is a worrying sign for the present and the future of the EU”.
Given that the above was written three years before Viktor Orban came to power and eight years before Poland went to hell in a handcart media- and rule-of-law-wise, you could say that the “Petition 571” Marshal Twito and his ilk keep bringing up for the last decade and a half, was pretty much on the fucking point.
Despite this fact, the second presidency of Slovenia is preceded by similar attempts organised by the same protagonists from the list of 571 journalists as in 2007; we regret to note that, this time, with the participation of some officials of the EU institutions.
It’s not me, it’s you.
The verbiage here is reminiscent of the old Yugoslav army, which would regularly embark on witch-hunts, looking foreign anti-socialist influence aimed at toppling the government “with the help of few disloyal individuals”. Because, you know, the fault is never with the system, it is always the ungrateful few who seek to topple the just ruler.
As we are all fully aware, the EU is facing many significant challenges. Cognisant of the pandemic, Slovenia is responsibly preparing for the presidency. Thus, we do not wish for our work be overshadowed by absurd charges that can be dismissed by anyone who, accompanied by a capable translator, would spend a day or two following Slovenian media and political dynamics.
This is the scene-setter. Marshal Twito claims the European Commission is being fed bullshit because they couldn’t possibly know what is being said and written in Muddy Hollows.
Apart from the fact that most relevant media outlets (and some irrelevant, too) have well-stocked English sections; that there are countless foreign nationals who are fluent in Slovenian and can follow the news in the native tongue; international outlets that have diverse sources on the ground and have developed a historic perspective of Muddy Hollows over the past ten, fifteen years; and that the European Commission, the European parliament and the rest of the EU institutions have their own people on the ground as well.
So, if anyone is feeding the European Commission bullshit here, it is Janša himself.
Therefore, I invite an ad hoc working group, composed of representatives of the European Commission, to visit Slovenia at their earliest convenience to observe first-hand the state of democracy, rule of law, judicial independence, and media freedom and plurality in Slovenia. However, if you consider it appropriate, this group may also include representatives of the European Council and the European Parliament.
Ah, the first subtle indication that Janša knows he is in deep shit and is trying to tilt the table in his favour.
As both my readers probably know, The European Parliament’s Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group header by Sophie in ‘t Veld put Janša and his government on the spot over attacks on the media, asking senior government figures to explain themselves in the next few weeks.
There is, of course, no fucking way the Glorious Leader will submit himself to a grilling by MEPs who would like nothing more than to rip a new asshole to a senior illiberal EU politician. Especially if he is just about to take over the EU council presidency.
But since he needs to appear to be interested in clearing things up, and because he needs to delay whatever procedures might be started against him and his government down the road, Janša invites von der Leyen to send her own fact-finding mission to Slovenia.
In effect, Marshal Twito is attempting to hide from European Parliament scrutiny by trying to coax the European Commission to send its own observers with a limited and Janša-approved mandate.
We do in fact have a problem with the state of democracy in Slovenia in general. However, I must point out that the roots and causes of this problem are much deeper and older – linked to Slovenia’s communist legacy. Let me quote a shrewd observation by professor Bugarič, a distinguished legal scholar and former insider: “… many ‘rule of law’ institutions (courts, the civil service and the media) have been deeply politicised by the former ‘nomenclature officials’. Instead of defending the rule of law, these institutions, unable to withstand the strong political pressure of their ‘principals’, were engaged in legal enforcement favouring partisan political interests. Since the left-liberal political bloc – former communists (Social Democrats, SD) and the reformed Communist Youth Organisation (Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, LDS) – had dominated the political space for almost fourteen years, this strongly affected the formation of the Slovenian elite in general. Consequently, the majority of Slovenian elites gravitated towards the ‘retention’ elite, represented by the LDS and SD political parties. This elite managed to create better contacts with the business sector, media, academia and, most importantly, with a substantial part of the public sector, including the judiciary, civil service, state-owned companies, etc. Bojan Bugarič, ‘Crisis of Constitutional Democracy in Post-Communist Europe: “Lands In-between” Democracy and Authoritarianism’ (2015) ICON 229.” This assessment dates back to 2015 while my government started its mandate less than a year ago, at the very beginning of the epidemic.
Ah, yes. Vintage Janša, seeing communists everywhere and whatnot.
But since just yelling “Commies!” in a crowded theatre doesn’t really work on the EU stage, the Glorious leader resorts to a single quote from a 2015 scholarly article comparing democratic back-sliding in Slovenia and Hungary by Bojan Bugarič, former state secretary for public administration in the last LDS-led government (2000-2004).
Contrary to what Janša would have VDL believe, Bugarič does not argue that SD and LDS parties are some sort of an omnipresent Deep State (the LDS even shuffled off its mortal coil since the article was published), but rather says that the two parties were instrumental in doing a rather piss-poor job in establishing a democratic system that would be resistant to backsliding, populism and illiberal spasms.
In case you don’t want to read the entire thing, the article runs for 26 pages and it is fairly well researched, although in pengovsky’s opinion the author glosses over the evolution of the centre-left side of the political spectrum and is light on arguing its most far-reaching claims on the state of Slovenian judicial and public administration sectors.
But what is really funny here, is that Marshal Twito’s virulent anti-communism only reminds everyone that once upon a time he himself was a virulent communist. And while he no longer is a red-card-carrying member (his choices of colour now being yellow and blue) the Leninist zeal in pursuing and retaining power remains very much alive, as Politico’s Lily Bayer experienced herself last week when she mentioned Janša’s communist past in her now-legendary article.
At any rate, from an argumentative point of view, PM Janša scored an own goal with this paragraph, first acknowledging that Muddy Hollows does indeed have a problem in maintaining democracy and then coming up witth an out-of-context quote to say that he and his cronies are not really the problem. Which they of course are.
The laundry list
Hence, a visit of the proposed fact-finding mission from the EU institutions would provide an opportunity to assess the breadth of the situation and unequivocally answer the following questions:
In case anybody still wasn’t sure this is about denial and deflection, the Glorious Leader helpfully lays out a laundry list of grievances he and his ilk have had with the media, democracy and the rule of law in general, since the dawn of time.
Is it in accordance with European values, norms and the fundamental principles of the rule of law that in an EU member country:
Here we go..
· A journalist who reports on the corruption of local tycoons connected to the previous regime is brutally assaulted and beaten almost to death and yet, after more than a decade, the perpetrators are still not convicted?
Unlike some other cases of attacks on journalists, the 2001 case of Miro Petek was the subject of several high-level investigations, both by the police and the prosecution as well as the parliament. Trials were held but in the end no convictions were secured. The claim that it has all to do with “previous regime” is dubious at best, as the attack was most likely the result of Petek reporting on local underworld laundering money through a bank that helpfully looked the other way. The chief of police at the time is now happily lobbying up and down the current Janša government and the bank Petek was investigating was years later involved in some shady deals with Janša, as well. And not that it really matters, but Petek himself then ended up as a fully paid-up member of the Party, too.
· The state press agency brutally harasses a journalist because he does not report according to the director’s preference and is then fired when he is diagnosed with cancer and dies shortly after?
This makes it look as if this journalist was fired because he was diagnosed with cancer. But Borut Meško, a pro-Janša chief editor of Slovenian Press Agency during Janša’s first govrnment was let go from for alleged unprofessionalism and malpractice. While the acrimony of a very public spat between Meško and the new general manager of the agency appointed after Janša lost the 2008 election, likely did not help Meško’s overall health, he was diagnosed with the terminal illness only after his dismissal. Additionally, Meško sued the STA for unlawful termination and after his death the agency settled the case with his family.
· A prime minister presses charges against a journalist that in 2015 resulted in a suspended custodial sentence of five months just for publishing a photo of her texting during a publicly transmitted session of parliament?
The photographer in question got a slap on the wrist for photographing and publishing private correspondence of then-PM Alenka Bratušek during her confirmation process.
· A prime minister publicly calls on state-owned and other companies in 2018 to not publish advertisements in those media that criticise the government?
Bullshit. Then-PM Marjan Šarec responded to an anti-hate-speech campaign by media activists after it became obvious that state-owned enterprises were running ads on outlets that were overtly using hate-speech, fake-news and white supremacist rhetoric. It will come as no suprise to both readers of this blog most of these outlets reside in the SDS-affiliated media ecosystem and are bank-rolled by people in Viktor Orban’s orbit
· Ninety per cent of all media is owned or managed by people that publicly endorse one side of the political spectrum?
Let me fix that for you: Ninety per cent of all media is owned or managed by people
that publicly endorse one side of the political spectrum who publicly reject the far-right. But since the SDS will never ever own up to the fact that they are indeed a far-right party, they are simply making shit up.
· Ninety per cent of all media promote people who oppose preventive measures adopted to tackle the COVID pandemic and most of them also promote people who publicly threaten members of the government, parliament and governmental epidemic experts? (2)
The first part of the sentence is patently untrue and only serves to make the second part of the sentence look more truthful than it actually is. The dramatic YouTube video the Glorious Leader attached is nothing more than a campaign montage, intentionally conflating legitimate protesters with random graffiti, some of which could well have been a false-flag operation, interspersed with some (admittedly incendiary) parliamentary debate. This may very well be the world as seen by Marshal Twito, but it is a world with next to zero tethers to reality.
· There have been systematically unlawful (in)actions by the governmental authorities and state universities: first, to prevent the establishment of a private higher educational institution (New University); second, to impede its lawful functioning and, third, to enforce the dissolution of the university in order to stall its educational activities by way of amendment of the Higher Education Act?
Or, to put it another way, The Party found it is not easy to establish a parallel education system and that there are actual standards to conform to if one wants to, well, educate. Moreover, this particular instance has more to do with executive over-reach as it has to do with freedom of education. Namely, the government tried to use its already-problematic omnibus anti-Covid legislation to automatically re-certify all university programmes.
According to news reports, this would give a new lease of life to the New University (Nova univerza) which was said to be close to losing its certification and its substantial public funding with it. To be fair, the said university denies all of this and maintains it can be re-certified anytime. But if that is true, why then is PM Janša complaining to VDL about it?
· The leadership of the judicial branch of government includes judges who have been found to have violated human rights in their work in the previous totalitarian communist regime?
Oh, look below, a two-for-one special…
· The judges that have “examined” the killings of civilian refugees on the border or sentenced individuals to death in kangaroo trials also make up the leadership of the judicial branch of government?
Here in both cases, Janša is refering to a 2010 claim that former president of the Supreme Court Branko Masleša (his terms has since expired) allegedly condoned at least one case of human righst asbuse and extrajudicial killing. This was debunked years ago and Masleša’s accusers (two other judges) refused to confront him in public. PM Janša knows all of this and is still happily perpetuates the decade-old lie.
· The Chair of so-called independent institution (the Court of Audit) who has violated the prohibition of conflict of interests and the rule of law continue to remain in office as if nothing had happened?
The so-called leader of a democratic government and future chair of the EU Council presidency is repeating an allegation as if it were a fact. Tomaž Vesel, chief auditor in Muddy Hollows serves on one of the boards of FIFA, the world’s footbal federation. While not in FIFA’s direct employ, he makes a decent coin with that gig, at least in Slovenian terms. He has claimed his role in FIFA was vetted by the KPK, the Slovenian anti-graft body, but no paperwork can be found. Problematic? Maybe. Conflict of interest? Unlikely.
Crucially, Vesel is about to release an audit report of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, warts and all. By being antsy and indulging in some heavy-handed character assassination, Janša is inadvertently giving credence to rumours that the report is disastrous for his administration.
· The judges take an active part in political party events, dressed in symbols of the totalitarian regime?
Not really sure what Janša is getting at here. There was a small scandal in 2014 where photos from a 2008 costume party,attended by a district judge leaked, and where most of the people in the photo wore and carried some sort of ex-Yugoslav paraphernalia. The judge in question was put in front of a disciplinary hearing and reprimanded. But yes, do tell me how a thing from almost fifteen years ago is relevant to Janša’s stifling the media in 2021.
· The Judicial Council and Supreme Court object to any increase in transparency and publicity of their functioning and at the same time push towards getting out of the system of checks and balances (recent judgments that limit public access to court documents or another that prevents judges from being questioned before a parliamentary inquiry committee in addition to a firm objection to digitalisation and the publication of all judgments)?
This is indeed a problem. A recent ruling on this matter has caused media and transparency organisations to raise quite the stink and if pengovsky’s information is correct, the ruling is already quietly being walked back.
This, mind you, is a problem Janša’s government could fix easily, but is refusing to do so for some reason.
· There are serious challenges to internal judicial independence and impartiality as seen in a number of attempts to silence and remove whistle-blowers among judges and prosecutors (Radonjić, Testen, Kotnik, etc.) and that there even exists a final ruling of the Supreme Court in which the latter established that its President, informally, by telephone, intervened with the Public Prosecutor General to resume a halted criminal procedure?
I’m sorry, what? Internal judicial independence? Independence from what? What is at play here is that one particular judge went way out of line in terms of accusing his fellow judges of wrongdoing, got suspended, and Janša tried to intervene on his behalf. The only independence Janša should concern himself with is the independence of the judiciary from executive overreach.
Incidentally, how is that if one judge (ill-advisedly) wears ad Tito’s Youth costume, she should be tarred, feathered and run out of town, but if another judge (whom Janša just happens to like) baseless smears his colleagues, he should be promoted?
· More than a dozen constitutional court rulings continue to remain unimplemented and that in some cases the Constitutional Court, once its composition was changed, justified such inaction ex post facto by providing a non-reasoned change in the established case-law?
Ad 1.) Yes, that is a problem. And yet, the Party and its Leader happily indulge in this very practice whenever it suits them.
Ad 2.) The Constitutional Court can change its mind in light of new evidence and argumentation. Who would have thought?
· An opposition leader whose party is projected to win the elections is sentenced to prison three weeks before the elections under a false indictment?
Ah, yes. Illesim. Speaking of oneself in third person. The “opposition leader” in this story is of course Marshall Twito himself and “the party projected to win the elections” was the Party, naturally. And the issue at hand is the infamous Patria Affair.
As per usual, nothing in that statement is true. SDS was not “projected to win the election” as the race was tight until the very last days when SMC saw a massive influx of support and ultimately won in a landslide. And besides, projecting the result based on public opinion polls? Has this guy learned nothing?
Additionally, Janša was not sentenced to prison three weeks before the election. In fact, the guilty verdict was handed down a year before the election but Janša et al. kept appealing, first the verdict and then the sentencing, with the result being that Janša started serving his prison sentence three weeks before the election. Big difference.
And lastly, the indictment wasn’t “false” in any known sense of the word. What ultimately happened was that the Constitutional court annulled the initial verdict, saying that the bar for admissible evidence should have been higher and ordered a retrial under the new guidelines (which, incidentally, caused some confusion about admissible evidence in other unrelated criminal cases).
So basically, Janša is just rehashing the claim he made in his November letter to EU leaders, that the 2014 election in Slovenia was stolen. It wasn’t.
And while we’re on it, it is funny how Janša has so much to say against the judiciary and yet how he continuously seems to come out on top. It is as if the rule of law in Slovenia, your know, worked…
· A political party, represented in both national and European parliaments, a strong critic of Israel and supporter of Hamas, operates from a villa confiscated from a Jewish family that perished in Auschwitz?
That is a fairly new one and a text-book example of fake news. The party in question are the Social Democrats. Janša alleges that the villa in center of Ljubljana where SD HQ is located was confiscated from its Jewish owners by post-war communist rulers, of which the SD is the legal successor (though most people who’d qualify as die-hard Commies back in the day are now SDS members).
This is false and has been debunked by historians. Again, Janša knows this but shamelessly perpetuates the lie. He even has the temerity to hint at the SD being Antisemitic and what not. In reality, however, Antisemitism has no particular political denomination in Slovenia and is spread in small quantities throughout the body politic. Curiously however, people who are most vocal about their anti-Jewish views online tend to align their views with SDS on the whole. Not to mention the fact that Janša’s Nova24TV frequently rails against George Soros, perpetuating a conspiracy theory that is Antisemitic at its core.
And finally, Marshal Twito is going after that same SD that happily collaborated with the SDS on the infamous TEŠ 6 energy project, effectively burning hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money for a project that would have at best broken even (spoiler alert: it won’t).
Pot, meet kettle.
· Police unlawfully raided the headquarters of the main opposition party, trying to confiscate its server under the pretext that it did not exist?
Funny how the Glorious Leader gets to decide what is lawful and what not. There’s a word for that, apparently. It starts with “dictator-” and ends with “- ship”, but pengovsky can’t really remember what it is…
Anyway, this is rehashing a story from six years ago, when the cops showed up at SDS HQ with a warrant, trying to check emails of Andrej Šircelj, currently serving as Janša’s finance minister. At the time, Šircelj was a part of a wider investigation on the initial formation of the bad bank (DUBT) in the aftermath of the 2012 financial crisis in Slovenia. For their part, the police said at the time they weren’t going to touch the SDS servers, they just wanted to have a look-see at Šircelj’s emails.
· The police unlawfully raided the headquarters of the National bank and confiscated the archives of the ECB to put pressure on the governor of the National bank to step down?
That is mostly true and it happened as a part of criminal investigation of bank bail-out. What Janša conveniently omits (but VDL surely remembers) is that he asked President von der Leyen to cut a deal after it became obvious that Slovenia doesn’t have an airtight case. That didn’t happen and the country was taken to the cleaners in the ECJ courtroom on Janša’s watch.
· More than one billion (!) euros was laundered by a state-owned bank for a foreign regime and its terrorist branches under international (EU, UN) sanctions while – after more than ten years – the perpetrators remain unindicted. Despite the fact that plenty of evidence about the biggest single act of organised international crime in our history is provided by foreign investigations and through the work of the Slovenian parliamentary inquiry committee. Where 90% of the media in the country remains silent (where did a commission estimated between €300,000,000 and €400,000,000 go)?
Untrue, and Janša knows it. The “Iran-gate” affair was investigated by the cops and the prosecution, twice. There was even a parliamentary investigation on this issue, where the current foreign minister Anže Logar made a name for himself.
But while the parliament voted to call on anti-money laundering institutions to beef up the operations and filed some tangential charges, the prosecution found no evidence of wrongdoing in both primary and connected cases and dropped the matter.
Despite that – surely you’ve begun to see the pattern by now – PM Janša keeps on perpetuating an accusation he knows to be untrue.
Also, “a commission estimated between 300 and 400 million”? That’s quite an estimate, 25 percent, give or take. But you gotta respect the way the man thinks. Go big or go home.
· The complete leadership of all government branches of power, during a public event, is enthusiastically singing and applauding a song titled “EU is a gang of thieves” (3)?
Good grief. A single song by a latter-day sing-along revolutionary is now an act of treason? Not to mention that the video which Marshal Twito helpfully attached, doesn’t really show the country leadership applauding that particular song. Instead, the VIPs and the entire arena are clapping and singing along to the more known and much older guerilla partisan songs that came to symbolise Slovenian’s struggle and ultimate victory against Nazis and Fascist in WWII.
Mind you, some years ago Janša and his posse bent over backwards to frame a would-be concert by the Croatian pro-Ustasha singer Thompson as a freedom of speech issue. Surely if the Ustasha version of the Nazi “sig heil” is purely a matter of free expression, then a few choice words about Europe aren’t that bad, no? Especially since Janša himself it increasingly railing against the EU.
But, you know, no-one ever accused the Glorious Leader of not having a double standard.
Dear Madame President,
“…I have now exhausted the entirety of the grudges I hold against my political adversaries and enemies, real or perceived. I could go on and mention Milan Kučan or George Soros, but I’m saving those two for when things get really awkward for me.”
I do not want the saga of unsubstantiated accusations about the current Slovenian government to continue spreading across Europe – sadly with the help of the EU institutions – as it mostly serves to cover up the real problems faced by our democracy.
“…the saga which I took my sweet time explaining to you in great detail. And if you don’t see it my way I will label you as a part of a problem. Consider yourself warned.”
Thus, I propose that we reach a prompt agreement on forming the aforementioned fact-finding group and make arrangements for its visit to Slovenia. Within the scope of its competencies, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia will ensure that the members of the group have access to all the desired information.
“…especially the information I, Supreme Leader and Marshal of the Twitosphere, decide is relevant to the aforementioned toothless tiger of a group, which you should dispatch under the conditions stated above.”
We would be very happy if such a group, within the framework of its “fact-finding mission”, would also propose measures in line with European norms, with which Slovenia can address and resolve the problems described above. As soon as we agree on the details of the mission, we will send you detailed evidence of the issues mentioned above.
“…and even that should be negotiated ad nauseam so that I can claim to be addressing the issues proactively, while keeping those pesky MEPs and foreign journalists off my back.”
Dear Madam President,
As set out in the Treaty on European Union, I expect the Commission to act in accordance with the principle of loyal cooperation between the European Union and the Member States and the implied mutual respect, for which an objective, comprehensive and impartial treatment and a respect for actual facts are of key importance.
“You better play ball here, or else…”
Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
“Oh, and fuck you, just in case.”
So, there you have it. In terms of how deranged the letter is, this is probably as good as it gets. Pengovsky suspects the man is keeping his conspiracy theories about former president Milan Kučan and the continued rule of UDBA (the socialist secret police) as a backup, in case this letter blows up in his face.
As things stand, however, the entire EU was subjected to the regular Janša diet Muddy Hollows is being fed for the last 20+ years. And just like at home, the main purpose of this shithow on the EU stage is to divert attention , deflect responsibility and bully critics.
The best outcome for the Glorious Leader would be for everyone in the EU to just politely ignore the letter. But seeing as the man will serve as a glorified secretary to the EU Council soon, we will probably see the letter being brought up repeatedly over the next couple of months.
Embarrassingly, the person most likely to bring it up over and over is Janša himself.