The Slovenia Times

Farewell Mr President



Janez Drnovšek, who was only 57 years old when he died, was a key figure in Slovenia's modern history and one of the major architects of the country's transition from a Yugoslav republic to an EU member state. He began his career as a banker and entered the political sphere in 1986 as a delegate to the Slovenian Republic Assembly; barely three years later he became Slovenia's representative at the Collective Presidency of the former Yugoslavia and was its chairman until 1990. When Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, Drnovšek used his diplomatic and negotiating skills to mediate the Brioni Agreement and the withdrawal of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) from Slovenia. In 1992, he took on the role of prime minister; a post he held almost continuously for 11 years before stepping down to successfully run as a presidential candidate. During that time he stood at the forefront of efforts to build a new, solid country and successfully negotiated Slovenia's membership of the European Union and NATO. In 2004, two years into his term as head of state, he proudly watched the celebrations as Slovenia officially joined both these organisations.

In 1999, Janez Drnovšek was diagnosed with kidney cancer and, as the insidious disease progressed and his health deteriorated, a new Drnovšek began to emerge. He became a vegan and moved to a village in the mountains outside Ljubljana, where he cooked his own meals and kept to himself. He abandoned all treatment and claimed to have been cured. But at the official opening of the new Oncology Institute in Ljubljana in October 2007, he said: "My primary message is that the oncological treatment of cancer is the only effective treatment. There is no alternative." This was in stark contrast to his previously held views on alternative medicine.

Although some of his last political statements caused a rift between himself and the prime minister, the public admired Drnovšek. Last year his health visibly deteriorated and slowly he withdrew from the media spotlight. He did not run for a second term in office and, in December 2007, he handed over the presidency to Danilo Türk. That was the last time Drnovšek was seen in public.

A wise politician and a good friend

Immediately after the former president's death was announced, the nation went into mourning. For five days there were lengthy queues outside the presidential palace as people waited for their turn to sign the book of condolence and thus pay their last respects to Janez Drnovšek. The Slovenian government declared February 25th as a day of mourning and many domestic and foreign politicians offered their condolences to his family and to the Slovenian people. They all agreed that Dr Drnovšek's death was a great loss for Slovenia.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was deeply saddened by the death of a Slovenian whose efforts over the last 20 years had left an important legacy for the country. "Drnovšek will be remembered as a statesman and as a man who, despite battling to beat a deadly disease, maintained his optimism and had the strength to actively promote solidarity with the needy and the helpless, both at home and abroad," said the PM. "We respected Drnovšek as a wise politician, a man with broad views, a prime minister and a president; and, above all, as a person who invested all of his energy into the realization of true progress for every citizen of Slovenia," his successor and the current president Danilo Turk said. The Croatian president, Stjepan Mesić, was at pains to point out that he had not only lost a political partner but a personal friend as well, while his Austrian counterpart, Heinz Fischer, said that he admired and was extremely appreciative of Drnovšek's calmness, thoughtfulness and pragmatism.

"The passing of Janez Drnovšek is a great loss for Slovenia," the Croatian PM, Ivo Sanader, wrote in a letter of condolence. Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, expressed similar sentiments: "The Slovenian people have lost one of the fathers of their statehood and a great man who led his nation at a crucial time in its history. A good man, who was determined that the values of tolerance and solidarity should always be upheld, has left us."

The funeral of Janez Drnovšek was held on 26th February in Kisovac near Zagorje. Along with his family and closest friends, around a thousand people spontaneously joined the funeral procession. In the evening, the Archbishop of Ljubljana and the Slovenian Metropolitan, Alojz Uran, conducted a mass for the former president. Meanwhile, the Ljubljana mayor, Zoran Jankovič, has announced a street would be named in Ljubljana after the late statesman.


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