The Slovenia Times

A Presidential No-Show



Just days before National Day, President Janez Drnovšek announced that he would boycott the official ceremony. "The decision did not come easily. However, I do not find it appropriate to take on the role of an extra at the ceremony and help create the impression that everything is fine," Drnovšek told the commercial POP TV network. He went on to criticize the political mood in Slovenia, arguing that people are not free to voice their concerns. "Pressure is also being exerted on the media, especially the main national media," he added.

According to Drnovšek, Prime Minister Janez Janša's government cannot take the credit for the latest set of positive economic data. He stated that, "what could be called an economic policy is practically nonexistent" today, adding that the results can be attributed primarily to a general economic upturn and a good basis created in the past, when he was the prime minister. He went on to say that many institutions are not doing a good enough job: "A lot of pressure is being put on people working in the public sector. More value is being attributed to people's political preferences of loyalty to a certain individual than to knowledge and expertise."

Mixed Reaction
Drnovšek's boycott, as well as his statement that such ceremonies were the hallmark of totalitarian countries, was met with a wide range of reactions from Slovenia's public. Delo, the country's leading broadsheet, blasted the decision. An editorial in the newspaper concluded that, "the president easily goes into grotesque exaggerations which reduce the weight of his words." Delo criticized the president for degrading the institution of the president by politicising Slovenia's national holiday. The newspaper went on to speculate that this may be a sign Drnovšek could try to force Janša out of power before the next scheduled election. According to Delo, Drnovšek's determination to take exclusive credit for Slovenia's economic performance "reveals a growing ego that is paradoxically growing in lockstep with his alleged spiritual transformation."

Former president Milan Kučan, on the other hand, not only came to Drnovšek's defence, but also decided to boycott the ceremony himself. In a controversial statement, he explained that he did not wish to attend an event where the president "was not welcome or allowed to speak." Kučan argued that the government only wanted the ceremony to focus on the achievements and ignore any criticism.

The president of the Coordinating Committee for National Ceremonies struck back. Aleksander Zorn explained that Drnovšek had originally been scheduled to speak at the ceremony, but that he had declined the invitation. According to Zorn, the president's cabinet later indicated that Drnovšek might want to speak after all. However, the committee refused the president's request, since Janša had already been asked to fill in for Drnovšek in the meantime.

A History of Tension
This latest controversy comes after months of public tension between President Drnovšek and Prime Minister Janša. When Drnovšek was still the prime minister, he had a generally good working relationship with Janša, then the head of the country's largest opposition party. However, that began to change shortly when Janša became the prime minister two years after Drnovšek assumed the presidency.

At the time, Drnovšek's political approach was undergoing a significant shift. He had previously been regarded as the consummate pragmatist, frequently working with his political opponents to reach a broad consensus. However, approximately two years into his presidency, he moved towards a new governing philosophy, based largely on non-materialistic, spiritual idealism, which provided a sharp contrast to Janša's more traditional governing style. This shift was so dramatic that many in Slovenia connected it with Drnovšek's illness; he had been suffering from cancer for a number of years. A number of political opponents doubted the sincerity of Drnovšek's transformation.

Drnovšek's new approach soon created tension with Janša's newly elected government. At first, much of the focus was on controversial foreign visits. The Janša government criticized the visit of Serbia's Prince Alexander II to Slovenia, as he had slept at Brdo Castle, a building that the former Serbian royal family once owned and wants to have back. Another controversy erupted because of Drnovšek's unsuccessful attempt to hold talks to resolve the Darfur crisis. The president's envoy was detained in Sudan, requiring considerable diplomatic effort to return him home. Janša pointed out that Drnovšek was conducting his own foreign policy, without any coordination with the foreign ministry. The dispute resulted in back-and-forth sniping in the media, and the decision by Janša to suspend the president's travel budget for a time.

The tensions soon spread to domestic politics. Drnovšek condemned the government's response in the case of the Strojans, a Roma family that had been forced to move by locals in a small village. Recently, Drnovšek attacked Janša's investigation of an alleged secret fund maintained by Slovenia's intelligence agency SOVA. According to investigators, the fund was used to pay for an Indian healer to come to Slovenia and treat Drnovšek. The investigation prompted an angry attack on Janša from the president. "Obviously nothing is sacred to the chief of our bad guys. Not the state, not morals. The only thing important to him is himself and his position," Drnovšek wrote on his website.

As both Drnovšek and Janša are outspoken in their views, but otherwise have very different governing philosophies, the tensions between them are unlikely to go away anytime soon. The events surrounding the National Day ceremony could very well be an indication of things to come.

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