Intellectuals of the Cathedral of Freedom: The media are not a judge who can create an atmosphere of lynching without any evidence!

Foto: epa

The icon of the Convention is the Cathedral of Freedom, Plečnik’s depiction of the building of the Slovenian parliament, which he understood as a Slovenian acropolis and a symbol of Slovenian statehood. The members of the association have assessed the current situation in our country and presented their findings in the form of a statement. We are publishing their statement in its entirety below:

“1. Balance of the Government of SDS, SMC, NSi, DeSUS
The signatories of this declaration of the Cathedral of Freedom know that democracy, based on respect for human dignity, human freedom and the rule of law, is the social order that makes it possible for people to be creative, responsible; it allows for a fair and just rule, social justice and equality of people, legal and actual security and prosperity, better than any other social order. We strive to preserve the constitutional democracy in our homeland, noting:

We have successfully, better than anywhere else in the more developed and richer countries, stopped the first extremely dangerous outbreak of the COVID-19 virus epidemic, which the rest of the world also recognized.

We have proven that we can successfully handle even the most difficult challenges if we manage to work together in the spirit of tolerance and cooperation; with this, we are not only referring to the aggression against our country in 1991, but also the challenge of the current uncontrolled spread of a dangerous and unknown virus, the consequent danger it presents to the lives and health of many of our people, and the very real possibility of a collapse of our healthcare system.

The situation was undoubtedly extremely difficult, in particular, due to the underestimation of the danger of the epidemic and the incomprehensible delay in the previous Government’s action to procure the necessary medical and protective equipment.

The new coalition Government, which took on extraordinary responsibility under exceptional circumstances practically overnight, put in place the urgently needed measures to contain the epidemic, and at the same time, immediately implemented the measures, necessary to deal with the consequences of the epidemic in all spheres of social life – the labour market, social problems, financial problems, healthcare, and everything else that the epidemic and the measures, necessary to contain it, had thrown off the rails of normality.

The entry of the new Government, practically overnight, into a crisis management situation, required swift action, in accordance with the developing of the crisis: quickly, without much discussion and consideration of the bureaucratic obstacles

that are very typical for our country, which too often lead to nothing being done, quick decisions were needed, with little time and little choice between the good and the best, especially if the latter was not achievable; it was necessary to decide and take action.

If abuse for the purpose of personal gain or even criminal offenses may have occurred during this crisis, this must be established by the authorized bodies, The Court of Audit, The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Police and the judiciary, and sanctions must follow, if necessary. Political responsibility must also be established through parliamentary inquiries, and dues must be paid, if not sooner, at the forthcoming elections. During the state of emergency at the time, there may have been some irregularities and errors in the procurement of medical equipment, which goes without saying. As an example, we can take a look at what was happening in Germany, where there was 10 million euros worth of equipment which was never supplied, as well as the Netherlands, and other countries. In those countries, nobody problematized this. It seems that some are completely unaware of what the situation was like. However, any abuses must, of course, be sanctioned; that much is clear.

2. The role of the media
The role of the media is very important in drawing attention to possible irregularities; there is no doubt about it in a modern democratic society. However, the media are not a judge who can make it appear as if someone is undeniably guilty in advance, especially without any evidence. If the obvious one-sidedness of a media outlet – or several media outlets – is added to this, then the intention of their actions is not to protect the legality, fairness and democratic procedures, but rather the destruction of democracy and the rule of law. Creating an atmosphere of lynching or the media even calling to disregard laws and other regulations is more reminiscent of trying to solve problems in undemocratic ways – on the streets, without the involvement of the orderly and established institutions – rather than defending democracy.

There is no guarantee that the first wave of the epidemic will not be followed by a second wave, perhaps in the autumn, perhaps even earlier, also as a result of the measures being lifted. Authorities elsewhere are also warning about this possibility, including the World Health Organization (WHO), among others, which is very clear and definite in its warnings. It is, therefore, imperative that the lifting of the measures be well-thought-out and slow, rather than hasty. The simple, but threatening facts, are: the deadly virus is still here; there are no effective drugs or vaccines available yet, and it does not seem as if they will become available any time soon.

One of the characteristics of the lifting of measures in a number of countries is that the enforced restrictions are being replaced by recommendations, so the authorities are counting on the willingness of the population to act responsibly and in solidarity with the most vulnerable groups – the elderly and the chronically ill, thus respecting their specific situation. Unfortunately, we are noticing that the willingness to respect the recommendations and act in solidarity with the most vulnerable groups is something we can hardly expect from a certain part of the people of our country. In certain cases, the measures proposed by the professionals and enforced by the Government were grossly and massively violated. The authorities of the state, however, which are obliged to take action in cases like this, did not do so, and did not prevent the violating of the measures, in order to avoid the conflicts that some people, extremely selfishly and irresponsibly, intended to cause.

In the last couple of weeks, the members of the Cathedral of Freedom have started to notice that certain media outlets and certain political actors are continuing with their series of unsubstantiated and especially unproven accusations of the current Government, which go as far as to accuse it that it is posing a threat to the democracy. An atmosphere is being created, in which certain individuals in positions of authority in our country, are being found guilty in advance – on the basis of unproven accusations in the media – as if the Republic of Slovenia were a country without institutions and bodies of authorities without certain procedures which need to be respected when determining anyone’s guilt. It is as if we do not have courts that are the only ones allowed to determine whether someone is guilty or not, according to the legal procedures, and it is as if we do not consider everyone to be innocent until proven guilty in a fair procedure and without serious doubt. As if we do not have The Court of Audit, The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the inspections and courts, and as if the media must not only warn – honestly, impartially and, of course, with concrete information about the abuses – but also sue, judge, and condemn. As if we are back to a time when the accused had to prove his innocence, and not the one who is accusing him, prove his guilt.

There is no serious threat or a path to authoritarianism, if five hundred soldiers are deployed to protect the state border, in accordance with the law, and with specific and clear powers, or if the Police control the crossing of the municipal borders, in accordance with the law and their powers. The threat to democracy is if the laws are not being respected, if disorder is being created, if the rules of democracy are being disrespected, if the final decisions of the court are being disrespected, in particular, the decisions of the Constitutional Court.

3. “Ideological topics”
The allegations that the current Government, or at least, a part of it, is opening up the “ideological topics,” are misleading. Is talking about the known and concrete problems in the judiciary – from the length of the proceedings to questionable judgments and, in particular, unconvincing, unfounded accusations – an ideological topic? And even if the unfounded accusations fail, they then sully the accused and cause him severe moral damages. Is it an ideological topic to point out, with obvious, concrete examples and facts, the frequent imbalance, which is actually the ideological imbalance of our media scene; to point out the exaggerations or cover-ups in the media, based on the political preferences of the journalists, editors, and owners of the media outlets? Is it an ideological topic to talk about the replacements, after the change of the Government, of officials in the highest positions of bodies of authority, the leaders of which must enjoy the full trust of each Government? In many countries, this is customary; in some, it is even a legal obligation for the top government officials to offer resignations to the new Government when it changes. And finally, is finding out about the mass graves and figuring out the facts about the post-war and interwar massacres, that is, establishing the truth about crimes, an ideological topic? Or is an ideological topic perhaps the pre-emptive attitude towards the private sector in the fields of education, healthcare, social care, and, last but not least, entrepreneurship? Following the short but effective work of the current Government, at least for once, there have been no real ideological topics. The allegations of ideological issues, however, prove to be an unconvincing attempt to destabilize the Government, saying that part of it is engaging with ideological issues, in contradiction to the coalition agreement.

In a democratic society, the media should be independent, professional, free, even without self-censorship, and without a desire to please either one of the political options. They are supposed to be able to rise above their own political, ideological, or other preferences, in the interest of finding out the truth. There are not many media outlets like this in our country. The last few weeks of work of our mainstream, more or less well-known media outlets confirm that, for various reasons, they are in the service of only one, pre-determined Truth. We highly doubt that this is a result of any external pressures or fears. Is this perhaps a problem of education of our journalists at the ideologically, as well as the politically highly profiled academic institutions? Is this a problem of self-censorship, a surviving relic of the former times? The fact is that, regardless of various public opinion polls, there are not many people in our country who believe and trust the media.

If this were the case with privately-owned media, party newspapers, etc., that is their problem, the problem of their readers, as many as they have them, and perhaps the problem of the owners of the media outlets. However, in the case of the media, which is symbolically the property of all of us, which is “public” by law, and at the same time, our common financial burden due to the mandatory subscription and other tax sources, determined by law, the story is and must be different. This media outlet, the public RTV SLO, is a public media, and therefore, a public problem. The public RTV is obliged to serve the public – professionally, honestly, independently, impartially, and not to its own preferences. To serve the public and the truth! The institution, as the media outlet, and all its journalists, are obliged to consciously strive for independence, including for the appearance of independence, and especially, for the trust of their viewers and listeners, as only in this case does this media outlet actually perform its role of guardian, supervisor, the catalyst of public opinion and the public. Not who is in power – the truth, and only the truth, verified and presented as fairly as possible, should be the main guideline of the operation of the public media outlet. It has to serve the entire public, be critical of everyone, without being fanatical and biased. Reactions, which are growing louder, of a growing part of the public, regarding the role and work of RTV SLO show that state bodies are not only allowed, but obliged to pay attention and discuss the role of this public institution, of course not of individual broadcasts, but of the position and operation of this public media institution as a whole, as regulated by law.

4. unjustified requests for another change of Government
While people in our homeland, as well as abroad, are realizing that with the commitment of our citizens, and timely, effective and proportionate measures, we have successfully faced the risk of the epidemic in Slovenia, and are implementing the measures to deal with its severe consequences in virtually all areas of work and life, so at a time when our country is finally a success story abroad once again, after many years, part of the public, with the support and incitement of part of politics and the media, demands the resignation of the Government. Apart from their demand that the current Government must leave – even though it has only been working for

barely two months and is working efficiently, diligently and successfully – it is unclear what else all those who are demanding its resignation actually do want or demand at all. Judging by their statements and slogans, some are dissatisfied with everything in the country; others are demanding sanctions due to the unproven violations in the process of the procurement of medical and protective equipment, and still others are claiming that the democracy is at risk. In essence, however, they are demanding anarchy during an extremely difficult time when there are no guarantees. It is very likely that the next wave of the epidemic is coming, as neither effective drugs nor vaccines, have been presented yet. The consequences of the epidemic are not only probable; they already are and will remain a fact for at least a year or two. A new illegal wave of immigrants is also a possibility that might happen. With all this, we note:

The fall of the current Government, which is efficient and successful, would either lead to early elections, the legitimacy of which could be questioned, due to the still unfulfilled decision of the Constitutional Court on the unconstitutionality of the existing constituencies. There could be an attempt at forming a new Government by finding a Prime Minister and the necessary majority in the National Assembly. In any case, it would take time to form a new Government, probably until the end of the summer, and until then we would have, during the most crucial time, the current Government, but with limited powers, and after the elections, we would probably have a new Government without any experience, or maybe one with new “new faces.” How would the current members of the National Assembly be able to find a new majority and patch up a new “anti-Janša” Government, with the conflicting parties of the former coalition, is a difficult question to resolve. It seems much clearer that the SDS party would once again be at least the relative winner of the early elections, which would result in another Government without the winning party included. But we have already seen this story unfold, as well as its sad ending. In both cases, everyone, the people, and the state would lose. At the same time, the new “anti-Janša” Government would be expected to hold the Eu presidency.

Of course, the regular elections are coming – they will take place in two years’ time, when, we hope, the worst of the epidemic, and at least part of its consequences, will be over, in the world and in our country, especially if we stay as committed and effective as we have been so far. Then, at the elections, it will be time for the people to think about the actions of the current Government and the parties in it, their successes and mistakes, as well as the successes and mistakes of the parties of the current opposition.

In conclusion, all of us, united in the Cathedral of Freedom, are expressing the hope that in Slovenia, the prevailing belief that most people have is that what is happening is about our common destiny, about our common well-being. We are thinking, in particular, of all those who, through responsible behaviour and any kind of work, are contributing to the safety of health and lives, as well as to the well-being, to the most normal life possible for all of us. We believe that the prevailing belief is that it is precisely in a crisis situation that we need to stand together, work together, and also take responsibility together. We believe that in the current situation, the most important thing is to overcome the risks of the epidemic, including its possible resurgence and its difficult-to-manage consequences, with the will, commitment, and necessary measures, which should be dictated primarily by knowledge and

experience, domestic and foreign. The possible consequences are threatening our well-being, social balances, the way our society functions, the economic and financial balances, as well as our way of life. In dealing with the crisis, there is enough room for everyone to contribute, including the opposition; this includes criticism, their own proposals, and alternatives. The same goes for the media, as well as the protesters. We even believe that the positive and extremely important “side effect” of the current crisis could be the consolidated realization among all Slovenians that together, we can do more than if we are divided, conflictive, or even hostile. We want to reinforce the realization that the Democratic Republic of Slovenia is our common state. In it, we must and can live with dignity next to each other, regardless of our differences, even political or ideological. Differences cannot and do not need to be eliminated, but they can be tolerated. And despite the differences, we should respect each other and work together.”

The Committee of the Cathedral of Freedom, for it:

Peter Jambrek, Matej Avbelj, Friderik Čeček, Darko Darovec, Peter Gregorčič, Boštjan M. Jambrek, Gorazd Justinek, Damjan Mihevc, Darinka Rakovec, Dimitrij Rupel, Zoran Vavpot, Tomaž Zalaznik