Slovenia: when misinformation becomes institutionalised

The story about the petition against censorship went as far as to the Parliamentary plenary, vote of confidence, then to the Parliamentary Committees and it surely doesn’t want to disappear from the daily life in Slovenia. The last “effort” to strengthen the barricades comes from the Foreign Minister prof. dr. Dimitrij Rupel.

There is a generally pleasant and harmless magazine published by the Slovenian Government’s Office for Communication (UKOM) called SINFO. It’s a bit of a promotional leaflet for Slovenia in English that probably mostly ends up in embassies (foreign in Slovenia and Slovenian abroad) and foreigners who need to get the first glance of Slovenia. All this would be fine, it’s nicely designed, with bright colours and it features also foreign faces praising Slovenia. But, the problem comes when the editor fails to recognize material that should not be published. There is one article I have in mind in particular, written by prof. dr. Dimitrij Rupel himself for the section “What makes the news” under a self-explanatory title: Slovenian EU Presidency under fire at home.

To set a bit the background. The Minister (see Wikipedia entry and his CV) likes to write, he has published several books (put “Rupel” in COBISS and you get few), writes on the Foreign Office website, used to write commentaries in the main daily newspaper Delo for 1,5 half years (after what he has been unfairly, his words, asked to stop by the new editor) and even runs a blog (unfortunatelly also discussing the unfair world of media). He’s a well spoken man, with a long diplomatic career, sometimes intellectually OK, most of the time someone that makes me switch TV channels. But because of his role in the past and his standing as a long-time Foreign Minister, he is someone you would be inclined to take seriously.

This brings us to the article in question (PDF). The title as such attracts attention. The first half features escapades from economy to the “petition”, to Communist leaders, Miloševič‡, the censorship performed by media themselves, to a short history of Slovenia’s independence. While these lines would deserve particular attention in terms of historical correctness, my main worry comes when the Minister presents himself and the recent political events. Let’s take few sentences out.

“In 2000, I returned to the post of the foreign minister in the Liberal Government of Janez Drnovšek. After he was replaced by the Left-leaning Tone Rop in 2002, I ran into difficulties that brought to my exclusion in July 2004. Mr. Rop’s coalition then lost elections, and at the end of 2004, I was invited to join the Centrist Government headed by Janez Janša.”

This for sure is only partly true. First, Mr. Rupel left the Rop government (the same UKOM says: In June 2004 Dimitrij Rupel resigned from his position and returned to his seat in parliament.) amid tensions with the Prime Minister and changed sides. He quit the Liberal Democrats and joined the party of Janša well before elections and also campaigned for the party (check the website of SDS).

“Globalization is advocated by young and enterprising people; while it is feared by traditionalists and conservatives.”

I guess the Minister has witness the demonstrations in Seattle and elsewhere on the role of global financial institutions. I also think the Minister should have seen the development of global pressure groups and NGOs advocating fair globalisation, a different globalisation. These are, I think, not “traditionalists” or “conservatives”, but people with a different view on how world should globalize. Fighting against poverty, for fair trade and controlled capitalism, is sometimes quite sensible. With his writing the Minister disqualifies a large part of young people and simplifies the debate about globalisation. Enough to get worried.

“Yugoslav Communists insisted that their system was specific, sui generis, and incomparable to others. The Yugoslav version of Socialist “self-managing” society was considered unique and even more advanced than other Communist/Socialist systems! So, worse standards and lower salaries were not worse standards and lower salaries, but specific standards and appropriate salaries.”

This is a bizzare way of arguing, it mixes apples with pears. First, the Yugoslav economy was relatively well performing in comparison to Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary…Secondly, the political system was relatively, I emphasize relatively, free in comparison to those same countries. There are numerous historical accounts of this. Minister’s conclusion that these were worse standards just doesn’t hold to historical judgements and statistics. If, he would have compared Yugoslavia with the then West, I would for sure agree. But he perfectly knows, I hope, that the comparison he uses is misinformation.

“The leading media (like Delo, Dnevnik, Večer) are controlled by companies with directors from the main opposition parties. The same is true of the TV stations. With the exception of the Radio and Television Slovenia, the public broadcasting organization, the Republic of Slovenia has no ownership share in any media station.”

First, the statement has elements of disqualification and generalisation again. Capitalism has a certain logic and this logic implies that ownership is widespread and that it can change. While there could we could argue that the named newspapers have a left-leaning ownership and editorial line, it for sure doesn’t hold for all of them all the time. The fact that he puts in the same basket also TV stations, is also bizzare and doesn’t hold (see ownership of POP TV and A Kanal, the largest private TV stations operating in Slovenian). The Minister also assumes that directors have as sole interest to influence editorial lines of the media and not to create profits. Secondly, the Government owns, at least, 100% of the Slovenian Press Agency (the website says: “STA is a limited liability company wholly owned by the state.”) which serves the main newspapers.

“After the petition of the 570 journalists – denouncing the Government of Slovenia – had been sent to all EU leaders and media, the Prime Minister asked the Parliament for a vote of confidence.”

This is bizzare as well. The Prime Minister of a country asks the Parliament for a vote of confidence because of a petition. The Minister simplifies again, even the Prime Minister listed one more reason: bullying by the opposition and the bad result at the Presidential elections and a referendum. Further, the reactions from the DESUS Party made clear that there were also tensions in the coalition.

“The PM even invited the Opposition to take over the Government and the Presidency of the EU. The invitation was rejected, whereby the Opposition admitted that it could not assume the responsibility. “

This makes me wonder. I hope the Minister realizes how transparent such statements are. A government is composed normally after elections among parties that have a majority in the Parliament. No opposition would be willing to take over a minority government, let alone on the eve of a Presidency of the EU. The thinking of Minister Rupel that not accepting the “invitation” meant that “the opposition could not assume responsibility” is again a simplification and doesn’t hold according to normal political practices.

As if this was already not enough, the Minister concludes:

“Also other false reports (about discrimination of the Roma people, about violations of the human rights of the “Erased”) have been exposed and corrected. The main message, of course, was that Slovenia is prepared and proud to assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU.”

I’m quite literate and I follow Slovenian politics. And I would not say that neither the discrimination of the Roma people or the issue of the “Erased” have been directly part of the same story. Yes, there were claims that the government has not acted correctly in these two issues (up for discussion), but the Minister is again mixing apples with pears to back his argument. The final sentence is questionable at least in relation to a supposed objectivity of a seasoned diplomat and intellectual. The main message of the recent debates was that Slovenia’s political situation is far from being stable.

To conclude this long post shortly. Minister Rupel writes in English (easy to copy-paste and send around), for a magazine that targets obviously foreign diplomats or tourists. How can such a level of argumentation be interpreted I would be willing to discuss. I wonder for example what a Slovak or Czech ambassador might think of Rupel’s comparisons of former Yugoslavia and the rest of Socialist countries (remember Soviet troops in Budapest)? I simply do not think such writings are given a blind eye. I also wonder if it is fair to blame the journalists for exporting misinformation in the light of Rupel’s writings. Such articles, written by a Foreign Minister of a country that is about to take over the EU Presidency, make more damage than any petition.

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5 thoughts on “Slovenia: when misinformation becomes institutionalised

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Slovenia: “When Misinformation Becomes Institutionalised”

  2. I agree that this sort of article seems an odd choice for the magazine, but considering that half of the things Rupel says would come off as the ramblings of a crazy person (even to the uninformed tourist) I doubt that it will do any terrible damage. Unless– of course– people begin to wonder, why that crazy person is also the foreign minister…Honestly I’m more worried about what he may have said OUT of print.

  3. Thanks for the comment Camille. It’s true that Rupel says many things out of print obviously…But he seemed relatively reserved recently during the presentation of the Slovenian Presidency in Brussels. Let’s see how these 6 months might change him…

  4. There are two or three things which I think they should be said here.

    First of all it is irrelevant whether Rupel was kicked out of the party or simply resigned from it. It was obvious in 2004 that back then his present party (Liberal Democrats) drastically changed its policy from a left-centrist party (implemented by Drnovsek) to a radical left-wing party (under Rop and his close group). He simply did not identify any longer with the political views of his present party, resigned and joined the party that was closer to his political beliefs.

    What is so shocking or new here, I don’t know.

    Secondly I do not know where did you pick from that the Yugoslav economy was relatively well in comparison to Eastern Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia etc. The Yugoslav economy was only doing comparitively well during the short liberal era of Stane Kavcic, who soon proved to be too liberal for some hardcore aparatchiks in the Central Politburo. As you know Kavcic was quickly and politically quite ruthlessly slained and replaced by a more obedient soldier of the revolution who unfortunately also turned up to be elected for the first president of independent Slovenia.

    As for the Yugoslav economy in 1980s, seeing you were born in 1979, I think you are probably still too young to remember gas restrictions, electricity reductions, 40% inflation (unofficially around 50%), low productivity, low investments in infrastructure (how many kilometres of motorways did Slovenia have in 1991?), large bureacratic apparatus etc.

    So I think we will have to overcome some mythology that is persisting today among the younger generations about how we were doing better from the poor Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and East Germans. We were not. In fact, in 1980s many Slovenes travelled en masse to Hungary, Czechoslovakia and neighbouring countries such as Italy and Austria to purchase necessary food and clothing articles which couldn’t be obtained in our shops.

    The life in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was the same. You lived a humble, low-profile and quiet life if you kept your mouth shut up. That was the whole and simple strategy of survival in those iron times.

  5. Hi Johnson, thanks for this comments. The fact that you focused on these 2 things makes me happy. It means that you perhaps agree with the rest.

    First, Rupel’s side-changing. Well, I think that he actually had to leave because he was being too atlanticist in moments when pro-US politics were running short of public support. Rupel as Foreign Minister more or less alone signed the “Vilnius letter” in support of American invasion of Iraq. You’re right in saying that he didn’t go along very well with Rop, once Drnovsek was gone. But what makes me stand behind what I said is that he quickly realized he could stay as Foreign Minister only by changing sides. Unfortuntelly, I think this was his primary motive. In addition, seeing his rhetorics and writings recently, I think he should quietly retire and write books.

    Secondly, on the Yugoslav economy. Actually it’s difficult to find numbers for those times. I would need to go to a decent library somewhere to dig out the relevant comparisons etc…But let it be enough to take the numbers from 1991 and compare Slovenia to Czechoslovakia, Hungary…Sorry, the standard of living was not the same. And this standard actually allowed Slovenes (living in a country with relatively open borders) to travel abroad and purchase goods. I guess you will not claim that we, yes my family did it as well, were buying goods abroad with miserable income of Yugoslavia?

    Just a small remark at the end. Why should my year of birth disqualify me from commenting on matters related to the past? In general and when Yugoslavia is concerned?

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