Prime Minister Janša on the show on Nova24TV – about the coronavirus containment with the least strict legislation: “We have not won the war yet, but we have won the first battle.”

Prime Minister Janez Janša on the show A conversation with the Prime Minister (Pogovor s predsednikom vlade) on Nova24TV

Prime Minister Janez Janša came to the Nova24TV studio directly from the meeting of the working group, where he, with some government ministers and members of the advisory group, led by Lahovnik, Ph.D., worked on the third anti-corona legislative package, for which they are trying to prepare measures for the coming months, that would enable the fastest possible recovery for the Slovenian economy, so that the people of Slovenia would be able to get through this period, which we see in the European Commission’s graph as a period of a fall of our GDP, in the best possible way. In the first half of the show, the Prime Minister answered the questions from the host of the show, Aleksander Rant. These were related to limiting the coronavirus epidemic, and the measures which were implemented to mitigate its consequences, and in the second half of the show, he answered the viewers’ questions. 

In the first episode of the show A conversation with the Prime Minister (which you can watch every Monday at 8.10 p.m. on Nova24TV), Prime Minister Janez Janša explained certain matters related to the novel coronavirus epidemic. According to the latest data, Slovenia ranks at the very top among all countries, in view of how well it coped with the epidemic, especially considering that we are a direct neighbour of the focus point of the epidemic – Italy. Therefore, Slovenia is literally a success story, and a record-setting one, as Janez Janša only took over the Government on March 13th, and we were already winners in mid-May. “How did we win?” the host of the show, Aleksander Rant, wanted to know. “We have not won yet,” the Prime Minister said, adding, “But we have won the first battle, and there are several reasons for this. One of the reasons is that we have chosen the right tactics.”

The most important things were that our plan was not to try to reach herd immunity through mass infection and that we did not expose those most vulnerable to the virus with a high mortality rate, to then just wait and see who survives and who does not, and let the society continue to live as if nothing happened. “This is how the Swedes interpreted it; this is how some other countries also interpreted it. In Slovenia, thank God, we have a slightly different attitude towards life and have chosen the tactic of trying to protect every life. We took the steps we were able to, in accordance with our legislation, and the key thing was that the vast majority of the people understood what is going on, and they respected the restrictions. Slovenia has not declared a state of emergency, Slovenia has not declared a state of war, as Serbia or France have done, where some war regulations still apply. Slovenia has not introduced curfew. Parliament was even opposed to voluntarily tracking those infected via phone apps. We probably used the least strict legal basis for action possible.” The only basis for the measures was the Communicable Diseases Act from 14 years ago.

Janša also revealed part of the conversation he had with some colleagues from the other countries of the European Union, where they had great difficulties with the introduction of the measures. “Italy introduced the measure which forbade socializing in restaurants. It took another week for the people to start following the measure, and that week was disastrous for Lombardy.”

While some people were still talking about how the epidemic could be avoided, the experts already had the real information
Rant pointed out some of the criticisms of the Government’s measures, which included a ban on socializing in public places and a ban on leaving the municipality of residence. The criticisms mainly came from the mainstream media and the opposition, but the fact is that the number of infections had dropped after each introduction of a new measure, which means that the measures were sensible and that they worked. “Behind every measure are hours and hours, sometimes days, of analysing, discussing, weighing what it would mean in practice, what the effects would be, studying foreign experiences… The expert group, which first worked with the Government, and then with the Ministry of Health, led by dr. Bojana Beovič, has done an exceptional job. Dr. Milan Krek, who is now in charge of the National Institute of Public Health, and was previously in charge of the regional branch of the institute in Primorska (the Coastal region), had the right assessments back when many of the people were still talking about how the epidemic could be prevented.”

Janša also singled out the Slovenian Junior doctors, who closely monitored the situation abroad and “they helped at the right time, with the right advice. In those first few weeks or the first few days when the matters were most critical, it was perfectly clear that the professionals were divided into two groups – those who have heard of the internet before and know how to use it, and those who are out of touch with the times and were still talking about sneezing into your sleeve and so on. Those who followed the situation and knew what was happening, and used logic in their thinking, helped the Government tremendously. We did not find much of what one would expect to find on the World Health Organization’s website in the first couple of weeks, but we did find it on the websites of various medical associations from around the world, and in the publications of the Slovenian Junior doctors who monitored the situations but were at that point not yet included in any of the working groups. This helped us a lot so that the right measures were implemented in time, even though we were initially one week behind.”

The Prime Minister is convinced that Slovenia should have at least put out a recommendation at the end of the school holidays, since many Slovenians were returning from Italy, including doctors and people who worked in nursing homes, schools … “If the competent authorities of Šarec’s Government had only put out a recommendation back then, something like: ‘Those who are returning from Italy, go into self-isolation, do not go to work for two weeks,’ and so on, in my opinion, the infection would not have been transmitted to the nursing homes of Metlika or Šmarje, or to the Šmarje primary school, from where the infection then spread. We certainly could not have prevented it entirely, individual cases would appear, but the reaction from the authorities could have been better, and there would have been no delay,” Prime Minister Janša is convinced. “That would have made things much easier later on. We had to do a lot of things practically overnight as well, therefore taking a lot of risks. But luckily, the risk paid off.”

This risk became apparent at the very beginning, when Marjan Šarec gave up on the matter, which was also accompanied with the rally against hate, where one could spot banners with “Death to Janša-ism” written on them, and calls for the murder of (then-future) Prime Minister Janez Janša. Nobody was punished for this. “They called the rally A rally against the coalition of hate, but in its essence, this was a rally of disgusting hatred. What is typical for the extreme left in Slovenia is, that firstly it tries to attribute what it itself does to others, and then, it turns things around. We know this from history. Democracy was not called democracy, but people’s democracy, but the people actually had no say in it, they were not allowed to vote, they were not allowed to speak freely, to form their own parties, or gather. That is similar to how things are turning out to be nowadays. It is appalling that those whose politics have been in power in Slovenia for decades, with rare interruptions, use this kind of speaking, as well as this kind of acts, with no consequences, saying that this does not concern them and that anyone who dares to resist, is a fascist.” 

He added that inciting hatred is prohibited by the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, and according to the Criminal Code, this is a criminal offense that is prosecuted ex officio. If this act is done through a media outlet, the editor-in-chief is also liable. “In the last couple of years, nobody was ever held accountable. The prosecutor’s office or the pole persecuted the people who hung the flag of the province of Carniola at their own homes; they were sentenced to probation if I am not mistaken, but they treat death threats as folklore.”

But the fact is that death threats did not only appear at the first protest but also at all subsequent ones, supported by the opposition parties, namely, SD, LMŠ, and Levica, despite the fact that public gatherings were banned to protect the public health. “This is about people’s health, it is not just about expressing one’s will,” the host, Aleksander Rant said, asking Janez Janša: “That kind of protests are these, where not only there are death threats, but people’s health is deliberately being endangered?” The Prime Minister replied: “This is beyond the rational or reasonable. I simply cannot answer the question of how this is possible. We know that the protests against the measures implemented to curb the epidemic are much smaller, compared to the percentage of people protesting in the countries with millions of citizens, such as Germany or Switzerland, but in those countries, none of the MPs were part of the protests, not even the members of the most extreme parties, be it left or right. There were no public figures at the events, the national media outlets did not report on the protests or broadcast them. They posted pictures of the police arresting a pair of lunatics who shouted about how the virus is a fabrication which allowed the authorities to impose the measures. Slovenia is different; it is far beyond that. Here, the line between normal and abnormal is shifted towards the abnormal, mainly because of those who shape public opinion and use double standards all the time.”

Rant also showed a photo from the session of the programme council of RTV Slovenija, from when SDS was still part of the opposition, which means it had no formal authority, but nevertheless, a banner with “Death to Janša-ism” written on it could be seen in the photo. So how could anyone believe in the objectivity of the national television, if they do not condemn and chase such people out of the house? “The fact that special people with banners like this one stand in front of institutions and various media houses is something that happens everywhere, Slovenia is not an exception to the rule here. However, the fact that it was possible for someone to stay at the session of the programme council of a national television station for hours while holding a banner, threatening hundreds of thousands of people who voted for me or the Slovenian Democratic Party, with death – something like this could not happen anywhere else in Europe or in any other democratic country. This picture is from the website of the national radio and television, and the editor, based on the Criminal Code, should be responsible for it because he published it, but of course, this is a democracy. If the banner read, for example, death to Kučan, do you think they would have published it?”

Janez Janša said that he has nothing against the protests, as “protests against the Government in a country that has a constitution like Slovenia’s, for which I also voted, are allowed – this is something normal, peaceful protests are a part of the constitutional and fundamental human freedom, but death threats are not. And if there is no reaction in this matter, then those who should have reacted but do not become accomplices. And this is where we are at today.” Janša said that he will defend the right of the protesters to protest, but he will not ignore the death threats, even if they target Milan Kučan or anyone else. “We must not allow for this to continue to happen, and this Government will do its best to not allow this to be done to anyone.”

The epidemic – or at least the first wave, has been defeated or limited to some extent, life is opening back up, and the fall of our GDP is estimated to be somewhere between 6 to 15 percent. However, Slovenia will likely do much better, at least according to the spring forecast of the European Commission, which praised the measures taken by Slovenia to mitigate the effects of the epidemic. The credit for this goes to the current Government and the adoption of two anti-corona legislative packages, and the third package is currently being prepared. “How can we achieve such results that in 2021, we will be practically where we were at the end of 2019?” the host wanted to know. “As a small export economy, we are involved in the common European markets, and it is clear that we will suffer the damage this year. At the same time, in the spring forecast, the European Commission acknowledges that Slovenia has taken the right measures to mitigate the effects of the epidemic so the standard has not fallen significantly and is not falling, as well as the right measures to help the economy recover faster, and therefore, we can expect that what we lose this year can be made up for next year – that is, if we will implement the right measures in the second half of the year.”

The graph of the European Commission forecasts a 7 percent GDP drop for Slovenia this year. Janša said that this is a lot, “This is almost as much as the drop from 2009, at the beginning of the economic and financial crisis, which hit Slovenia hard. Wrong measures were also implemented back then, so now we are trying to turn it around and do it differently so that the recession would not last four or five years, as it did in the last crisis. If everything happens as predicted, and if this Government stays in power, it will, then we will be at about the pre-crisis level in a year’s time. That is to say, prosperity will not suffer significantly.”

Janez Janša also cleared up the assumptions related to the vouchers for visiting tourist attractions or accommodations in Slovenia. Namely, some of the mainstream media reported that neither students nor retirees would get these. “This is typical fake news, because of which the phones did not stop ringing, the retirees were calling, why would they not get the vouchers, as they were the ones who contributed to the prosperity we are now trying to defend. I must say that nothing like this was written in any draft of the law. The only draft, which was also discussed by the working group today, states that these vouchers will be given to all residents of Slovenia with permanent residence in Slovenia, who are or will be at least 18 years old this year.”

“We invited everyone to be a part of the coalition, and even now, when they are attacking us, trying to tear us down and harass us as much as possible, our doors are still open”
In the second half of the show, viewers were also able to ask the Prime Minister questions. One of the viewers was interested in how much influence Janša has on the coalition team staying the same, as changes often happened in the previous governments. Janša admitted that this Government is not yet perfect, regarding its teams: “I do not even have all the positions filled in my cabinet, because I have not had the time to deal with this in recent weeks. We invited everyone who was willing to help, including the opposition, to join the coalition. Those who are now in the opposition are there because they have chosen so themselves. We invited everyone to be a part of the coalition, and even now, when they are attacking us, trying to tear us down and harass us as much as possible, our doors are still open. If anyone wants to move on and move from bullying to cooperation, we will include them – at least for the time being, when it is necessary to take innovative measures to win in the second half of this crisis as well.” Otherwise, they are also still adding members to the current team, some Ministers only have one Secretary of State, and they are in desperate need of two, but “we do not have time to look for the appropriate people, as we work for 18 hours a day.”

The viewers had expressed great gratitude to the Prime Minister for being willing to accept this difficult role in such difficult times. “Thank you for all past 30 years, as well. We hope that this Government survives and leads us through these difficult times,” a viewer from Ljubljana said, adding: “We support you.” Janez Janša said that his party had spent more time in the opposition than the coalition, and “if we had filed an interpellation before 100 days from the start of someone else’s term, in normal times, the mainstream media would have torn us apart. We are still dealing with an epidemic, but an interpellation has already been filed, they are threatening with the vote of no confidence, organizing the protests, people are cycling, the MPs are being bribed to switch sides…”

The public opinion polls also indicate that the trust in the Government is high and that many people still support the Government’s actions. A viewer, Ana from Ljubljana, expressed great gratitude to Janša, saying that he was “in the right place at the right time, just like in 1991, and without you, there would be no independent Slovenia.” The Prime Minister replied: “Some aspects are comparable, some are not. Back then, we had more time to react, even though they were disarming us exactly 30 years ago at around this time. On our knees, we asked the then-presidency, Mr. Kučan, to stop the disarmament, because the presidency itself had these powers. It took them three days to decide on this, and most of the weapons were already taken from us during that time. But then we had almost a year to prepare, which made things a little easier,” he said, adding that this time, things were different, as “the epidemic was declared on March 12th, the Government was sworn in on March 13th, and the first government session was more crisis-ridden than the first session 30 years ago.”

A viewer from Maribor wished for one thing only – for our country to behave democratically. Janša believes that one of the essential political problems of Slovenia is that we still do not have a normal left. “What is now called the left is something extremist, Yugo-nostalgic, anchored deep in the past, without a sober view of the present, let alone with any vision for the future, and because of that, any dialogue is difficult. As a result, they also find it difficult to enter a grand coalition, which is something that is considered perfectly normal in Germany or many other countries, where the left has no problem participating in mixed coalitions as well. In Slovenia, they are not capable of that, despite the fact that they talk about cooperation. But when it comes to proving that they mean what they say, we can all see what happens…”

The Prime Minister also explained that we are the first country in Europe to announce the end of the epidemic by the end of this month and that no other country has had the epidemiological picture we had by last week, which would enable it to do the same.

The teachers have a dual-task – they also have to prepare the children for the new normal
A viewer from Ljubljana was interested in what will really happen with the rest of the children and going back to school, as some media continue to speculate on this. Is it possible for things to change, in relation to going back to school, or is it set-in-stone that only the first three grades and the ninth grade will return to school for the time being? “It is very likely that there will be no changes here,” Janša said, explaining that distance learning is continuing for everyone else and that it is possible to end the school year in this manner, especially because of the space restrictions and everything that the new normal brings with it. “The teachers now have a dual-task. In addition to trying to make up for what we have lost in terms of lessons in the worst weeks and months of the epidemic with those who have come to school for the first time this year, they also have the task of preparing our children for this new normal, that is, teaching them how they should behave in terms of hygiene, distance, and so on, for the future, in case the epidemic returns, and for this time that will be risky, as this is our new normal, until either an effective drug or an effective vaccine is discovered. Or both, which is the best-case scenario.”

“If you want to find out about some political news from the websites or shows of POP TV or the national television, I think it is better if you just go to the website of Levica, LMŠ or SD, you will get the news there for free, and in its original version”
One of the viewers reminded the Prime Minister that POP TV and RTV Slovenija continue to report on some kind of a dictatorship or governing with fear, but on the other hand, he never actually sees the Prime Minister on the aforementioned televisions. “Dictators are usually always first on the programme, but you, Mr. Prime Minister, are nowhere to be seen.” He also thanked the Prime Minister for the pensioners’ allowance. “As for the two televisions the viewer spoke of: I think that not only in Europe, but that we are the only country in the world where, during the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s speech, related to the measures that were accepted by the Government, which was pre-recorded and sent to all media outlets, was cut by the two mainstream media outlets, and when I, as the Prime Minister, spoke live, they interrupted me while I was speaking. If anyone else knows of any country where the so-called professional mainstream media behave like this, please let me know, tell me who and where. I consider these two media outlets to be completely irrelevant. If you want to find out about some political news from the websites or shows of POP TV or the national television, I think it is better if you just go to the website of Levica, LMŠ or SD, you will get the news there for free, and in its original version. These two media outlets are only repeating what the aforementioned parties publish on their websites, whether they are part of the Government or the opposition.”

At the end of the show, the host revealed the results of the telephone vote. When asked whether the Government took the appropriate measures to control the epidemic, 97.3 percent (as many as 4854 people!) answered “Yes,” while only 2.7 percent (only 130 people) said “No.”

At the end of the show, Janša said that as far as the measures were concerned, he had not heard any serious and realistic arguments against any individual measure. “I know we perhaps adopted some a day too late because we were unable to adopt them before,” he admitted, adding that some ordinances were being corrected. “When someone pointed out what could have been done better, we did it, and we will continue to do so in the future. We try to do what is logical and what the experts say is smart. If the experts are divided, we must weight both options, and it seems to me that so far, we have decided correctly. I hope that God’s grace will give us the wisdom to do the same in the future.” 

The host of the show, Aleksander Rant, pointed out that the media, at least the central ones, are in an open attack on the new Government, the opposition occupies most of the programming time, which means that they can uncritically, without any opposing views, say what they want, even if they are telling lies, so a show like A conversation with the Prime Minister is much needed in the Slovene media space.

Marjanca Scheicher