The Slovenia Times

One month in, govt lauded for epidemic efforts, criticised for communication


The government was formally endorsed by the National Assembly on 13 March, the day after a coronavirus epidemic was formally declared in Slovenia. The same evening it held its maiden session, and since then it has mostly had to deal with mitigating the consequences of the epidemic.

Čakš, the editor-in-chief of the conservative news portal, says that the government has done a good job. There has been some improvisation and there have been some mistakes, but this is understandable considering the situation, he told the STA.

He thinks it key that it has managed to limit the spread of Covid-19 and flatten the curve of the epidemic, though he points out that this is also thanks to the people, who have been good about complying with government measures.

Čakš notes that communication with the public has been a soft spot. "Ministers would appear in the public with diverging, occasionally even conflicting messages. Information about the first anti-corona package ... was incomplete and chaotic.

What is more, there have been a lot of warnings being issued, but "fewer encouraging, laudatory tones," which Čakš thinks equally important.

Pengov Bitenc, a high-profile blogger and podcaster, notes that Slovenia has never had a government working in such a situation before, rendering it difficult to make comparisons. He says the government has done a good job managing the epidemic and deserves praise for that.

On the other hand, he says that it is unclear as yet which measures were necessary and which were not, noting that some had been adopted because it was possible, not because it was necessary.

One such measure is restriction of movement to the municipality of residence, a measure which was based on reports about visits to tourist places that had not been borne out by the actual numbers on the ground.

Even more problematic has been the attempt to expand police powers via the fiscal stimulus act, which he said showed that the government "can no longer be looked upon with the admiration it may have earned with the management of the actual epidemic".

Pengov Bitenc sees these attempts as casting doubt on the government's commitment to democratic principles.

"It is interesting to observe how this government is spectacularly squandering the potential capital that it did accumulate, or could have accumulated, with a successful management of the epidemic - be it towards the citizens or partners in the EU and elsewhere in the world."

The government has been the subject of criticism over a letter it sent to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights about the limiting of free and independent journalism in Slovenia.

In response to the Council of Europe's warnings about pressure on the media under the new government, the government argued the current situation was caused by "the majority of the main media in Slovenia having their origin in the former communist regime".

Pengov Bitenc sees the letter as disgraceful, but even though it has been disavowed by the junior coalition partners, he does not think it will undermine the coalition. It is, however, a lesson for the partners and may shake the coalition if such conduct continues.

Čakš thinks that the move by the "Democrats (SDS) or those who decided to react to an admittedly one-sided depiction of the media situation in Slovenia ... was rash and does not have a beneficial impact on relations in the coalition".

"[The relations] may deteriorate more precipitously if the leading coalition party lets itself be dragged even deeper into a senseless and fruitless confrontation with some journalists and media who are highly critical of the government."

Čakš thinks Prime Minister Janša should be capable of "overcoming old grudges, perhaps c,lose Twitter every now and then and focus his energy on essential matters. After all, the citizens expect him to lead the country, not to act as commentator on social media."

He is however more critical of the media outrage about the expansion of police powers, given that the government had been willing to heed the criticism and had dropped the most contentious portions of the proposal.

"Taking issue with such a pared-down article [of the fiscal stimulus act] should be seen purely in the context of the opposition's political struggle against the government, which is not letting up even in this critical situation."


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