Dr Ursula von der Leyen,
President of the European Commission
Mr David-Maria Sassoli,
President of the European Parliament
Mr Charles Michel,
President of the European Council
Slovenian democracy is at stake. Do not turn a blind eye on us.
Dear President von der Leyen,
Dear President Sassoli,
Dear President Michel,
Will the European Union act to save the increasingly imperilled democracy in its Member State the Republic of Slovenia? As a group of engaged Slovenian citizens, mainly active at universities and in academia, we write to you, currently the most prominent EU politicians, to draw your attention to the extremely worrying situation in our country. We believe that the danger to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Slovenia could very soon lead to serious repercussions for the EU as a whole; in fact, reactions from many European politicians suggest a strong awareness about this problem as Slovenia prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the EU. We believe that you share these concerns.
Allow us to outline some of the many reasons that have prompted us to compose this letter, which is also supported by eminent scholar and human rights proponent Noam Chomsky. They include the sudden, headlong erosion of the rule of law after the Janša government took the helm in this once-respected country; the daily attacks on free press and on journalists; and the constant exertion of pressure on independent public institutions, on the police, the judiciary, particularly the Constitutional Court and the state prosecution service, as well as on numerous supervisory bodies. The president of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Human Rights Ombudsman, the president of the Court of Audit, and the Information Commissioner have recently issued a joint statement condemning the pressures placed on them.
You are no doubt aware of two incidents that have drawn considerable media and political attention internationally: the Slovenian government blocking the appointment of European Delegated Prosecutors – a serious breach of the public prosecution’s autonomy – and the government’s unlawful decision to discontinue funding for the national press agency STA in order to bring it under political control – just one of the many attempts to discipline the various media sources in the country. At the same time, the Prime Minister’s party and its allies have spent the last few years carefully building their own propaganda apparatus with the help of Hungarian oligarchs close to Viktor Orbán.
In a recent Memorandum, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović went so far as to note that the Slovenian government “seems to have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to discourage the free expression of dissent or political opposition.” It has lately even attempted to prohibit an opposition party aligned with the European Left, all the while flirting with extreme right-wing and identitarian groups such as those that are banned in several EU Member States. Commissioner Mijatović has called on the Slovenian authorities to halt the degradation of the freedom of expression, stressing that it is being dangerously eroded by hostile public discourse and the intimidation of civil society activists and all others who express a critical opinion.
The authoritarian tendencies of Janez Janša’s government came as no surprise; this being Janša’s third term of office, we knew what to expect. In February last year, even before he took power, many of the signatories to this letter called attention to just such tendencies and their dangers. Their statement, signed by 150 scholars, was also supported by thousands of citizens. Unfortunately, every one of our fears has been borne out. A similarly critical stance was later taken by 150 other distinguished academics worldwide, predominantly historians, in their appeal to the Slovenian Prime Minister to cease his attempts at seizing control of key cultural and academic institutions in the country. Their letter was prompted by their sincere fear that “academic freedom – one of the core values of the European Union and of democracy – is under threat.” Additionally, numerous artists and intellectuals have faced similar problems, in some cases even prosecution.
For over a year now, the streets of Slovenian towns and cities, the capital Ljubljana in particular, have seen weekly anti-government protests with one consistent demand – a snap election. A recent protest drew more than 30,000 people; given the respective population sizes, this would correspond to more than a million-strong protest in Germany. The concerning developments in Slovenia and the unexpected collapse of democracy in the heart of Europe have been consistently covered by international media – as it will not have escaped your notice –, with commentators from outside Slovenia unanimous that the country is headed towards catastrophe, as Prime Minister Janša insists on emulating his Hungarian counterpart Orbán.
Dear President of the European Commission, President of the European Parliament, and President of the European Council, we ask you to take a firm and vocal stand. Just as the fate of Poland and Hungary, with their abuses of human rights and the withering of their rule of law, as well as the ideological hegemony of the Visegrád Group, are all serious concerns, excessive tolerance for the developments in Slovenia can unleash troublesome consequences for us all. It is our firm conviction that, should the European Union remain too lenient, this display of inaction will undermine the very values and democratic principles upon which the Union was founded.
We fear for our shared European future under the presidency of Slovenia, for there is no doubt that this honour, derived from the Republic’s membership status, is not warranted under its current leadership. At a symbolic level, Slovenia’s presidency would harm and tarnish the Union’s professed commitment to core democratic values, which certainly include neither autocratic techniques of dominating social systems, nor strategies of pressure and exclusion, nor nationalist populism and Orbánisation, nor still the rhetoric of hate and intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, and propagandist lies. Prime Minister Janša believes the main threat to the European Union to be so-called Cultural Marxism – a neo-Nazi bogeyman made (in)famous by Anders Breivik. We cannot imagine you sharing this assessment! This is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that is popular in extreme right-wing circles. It is our deep belief that the Europe you represent cannot pretend to hold any place for such practices and ideas. As if their presence in Europe were not worrying enough, very soon their standard-bearers will be at the centre of the important body that is the EU Council.
We the signatories are acutely aware that preserving democracy in our country is first and foremost our own struggle – and we have acted accordingly. We also adamantly feel that it is similarly our duty and responsibility to alert you that the struggle must become a joint one. Values like democratic principles, freedom, in particular freedom of the media, equality, and respect for human dignity and the rule of law are the common European foundations on which our survival depends. We therefore call on you to help us protect them.
First signatories in alphabetical order (167):
Jernej Amon Prodnik
Milica Antić Gaber
Marcela Batistič Zorec
Milena Mileva Blažić
Sanja Cukut Krilić
Sonja Černčič Lagerwall
Nenad Čuš Babič
Ljubica Došler Stare
Krištof Jacek Kozak
Tamara Lah Turnšek
Kaja Lipnik Vehovar
Janko Lozar Mrevlje
Boris A. Novak
Irena Novak Popov
Tanja Oblak Črnič
Izidor Ostan Ožbolt
Maša Stanič Valentinčič
Jelica Šumič Riha
Igor Ž. Žagar
Ana Marija Sobočan
The letter is also supported by Noam Chomsky.
Ljubljana, 21 June 2021.