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Interview given to POP TV for broadcast TV Klub and 24 ur

Ljubljana, 05/22/2007  |  interview

The interview with the President of the Republic of Slovenia Dr. Janez Drnovšek for the POP TV broadcast TV Klub and 24 ur was conducted by Špela Šipek.
Published on: 20th May 2007

Šipek: Mr. President, a warm welcome to you. How are you affected by these turbulent developments in connection with the SOVA [the Slovenian intelligence service] case, in connection with the workings of the government regarding SOVA and with the incriminating documents regarding payment for your healer’s ticket? How have you been affected lately by this story?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: In complete calm. I have already got used to this. If you look back, over all the past months – and it started last year – there are some campaigns to discredit under way. Something of that nature is still going on. Ever since I started criticising the government, when I made some critical comments last summer and then once more and again, each time it was followed by severe attacks, attempts to compromise, threats, scare tactics and all that. Discrediting those close to me, my associates, everything. So I have to say that I’m rather used to it. And I don’t know why they are still so agitated, since this is in fact nothing new.

Šipek: But what, then, is this story about the arrival of an Indian healer in Ljubljana and the financing of his trip over?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: I don’t know what this story is about. All I know is that they pulled something out of context, so they could try putting together some construct to compromise the president; and that they sent their own people to SOVA, an institution which we built up systematically over fifteen years and which has earned itself some trust, including outside Slovenia among similar institutions, and this is an institution that has seriously played a highly important role. And now out of their own interests, party-political and other, since they are in fact scared of losing power and want to retain it any way they can, they have sent some group of people to SOVA, in order to systematically gather and see what incriminating things they can find about the national president and about their other potential opponents. That is the purpose of this commission. And clearly in the fifteen years that they have sifted through to find what is wrong, they have come up with some construct, with some air ticket to Frankfurt … Look, those couple of hundred euros for a ticket … There are plenty of people I’ll give a couple of hundred euros to if they are in need. They don’t even have to ask me. And out of this they have now made some kind of construct, but no one is asking themselves what damage they are doing. They have destroyed the institution of SOVA. There are three hundred people there, who cost such and such each year, and each year a fair amount of funding goes to it. It systematically built up a national security service, which ensures security for the state, and the importance of this might be witnessed at some critical moment of crisis. Right now it is useful in a range of covert, low-key diplomatic efforts, and in many instances it might be useful in helping international communities out of problems in South Eastern Europe, which has been so turbulent. But now the agency has lost absolutely all its credibility. Who will still cooperate with it now, if every day some politician, focused only on his power and his interests, which are of no concern to the country, can go over there and destroy all trust, and every secret can be made public. Who will still cooperate with it? This is a problem, and a great deal of funds and time have been lost there.

Šipek: When you stated that they are scared of losing power … What kind of threat might you actually pose for them?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Yes, I ask myself the same thing. They clearly have a truly morbid fear of me. They are scared that I might stand once more as a candidate in the presidential elections. And then if I say I won’t run for president, it seems like they are even more scared that I might stand in the parliamentary elections and pose a threat to them there. So I myself am actually amazed, since I’ve said very clearly that politics no longer interests me, and that I’m thinking about occupying myself with other things. But in every way they clearly regard me as their biggest potential opponent, and this is guiding all their activities and so much energy. It is quite unbelievable, and I am truly amazed. I go around Ljubljana and I see some big “jumbo” hoardings put up to compromise me again. I am truly amazed at how much energy, funds, time and everything they are potentially investing in this discrediting. They must really be very, very morbidly fearful.

Šipek: If we can come back for a moment to the story about that unfortunate ticket. Now, the documents which the government commission have presented indicate that SOVA clearly paid for the ticket. How did that come about?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: How should I know how that came about? Yes, that’s a good one. What do I know? Even if this involves that so-called special fund at SOVA … What I do know about it from all the previous years, is that it was always available for the agency to carry out certain operations that are secret and not subject to the usual rules. And agencies of this kind cannot function otherwise. Who would cooperate with them, if everything can immediately be made public, or when something is changed? You see, often something may seem like just one matter, but there may be a second, a third thing connected to it, in other words, there is something behind it. If someone comes along with a certain intention, there is also perhaps some other intent, and perhaps SOVA had some other interests as well. There is a lot of this, and thus far these issues have never been debated and displayed in such a transparent and, for the state, such a destructive way.

Šipek: I do in fact have to ask some specific questions that are of interest to the legal experts when they discuss this. You must surely have noticed this recently. In their opinion the following are key questions – did you order SOVA to buy the ticket?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Of course I did not order anyone to buy the ticket. If someone said they needed a ticket, I would pay for it.

Šipek: So you did not even know about this or approve it, or did you?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Look, of course I have not in this or in any other case as president involved myself in tickets, in how someone is getting here and so forth. Never, in no case or in such a manner, at this operational level.

Šipek: Are there any other kinds of case of financing of the national president that the public should know about? Either on the part of SOVA or some other ...

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Oh, please. You should rather ask someone else what sources of financing they are using for their activities, those of whom I spoke a little earlier. What sources of financing, and why? It is true that … since everyone is hinting or pointing out that supposedly all this was linked to my treatment … At that time, after my illness, which was actually fatal, a number of statesmen and women from big countries – or some institutions from the biggest countries – were interested in offering treatment and help. Some institutions offered help, and even individuals and others appeared and so forth. I did not need treatment, not from healers or institutions … The only thing that happened was at that time the confirmation, shall we say, of what I already actually knew from our Slovenian doctors, and I obtained an additional opinion from somewhere else, in some other country. At that time I regarded this not just as recognition for myself, but for Slovenia, too. The biggest countries in the world were in fact concerned about this and wanted to help. And of course now after a few years if for some mundane political reason people start presenting this as a problem, they might ultimately in doing so compromise those countries and their institutions. This is truly ridiculous, and no one will want to cooperate any longer with such people.

Šipek: Some lawyers even take the view that this case might involve the appropriated use of funds and that there exists the probability of unlawful action ...

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: ... Well talk to the lawyers, I’m not a lawyer and I think I’ve already told you enough of the substance about what was going on. We are not going to get sidetracked to where those who are seeking to do the discrediting would like to steer you, so that I end up having to defend myself over some details about whether someone bought a ticket or not, while the whole train is passing by, and in the meantime they are ruining the country. You need to understand that they are trying to break the president for not yielding to them. And if they succeed in this, they will never stop. Everyone now accepts this game of theirs that they have steered in this way, and now we are going to talk about this alone. How should I talk now about some ticket from a few years ago that I have no clue about?

Šipek: In other words, you knew nothing about this. This is the key issue.

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: This is not the key issue. I will tell you once again, the key issue is what I’m trying to get across to you in my interviews. That is the key issue and I would request seriously that we accept this.

Šipek: Absolutely. So how do you generally view the fact that SOVA has a secret fund? Because in some people’s opinion this is illegal and impermissible. I’m not talking about a special fund, but a secret fund. I ask you this purely as the national president, who of course would have some relationship…

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: ... I know about the special fund, which other institutions also have, at least in other countries.

Šipek: Do you as president trust SOVA?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: I trusted SOVA for all the years that I was prime minister and up until recently. After the initial turbulence of 1992, when there were some scandals with SOVA, as prime minister I systematically calmed the whole story down. We entirely extricated SOVA from internal politics. I explicitly instructed the then director Ferš and then also Tomaž Lovrenčič and Podbregar, who succeeded him – three directors – I instructed each one that SOVA had no business in internal politics and in internal affairs. I forbade them from pursuing any such activity, and also every now and then I verified this with them and always obtained the assurance that SOVA was doing what it must, and what was necessary for the security of the country. And I know what it was involved in. I know that its activities were important for stability in the region, that they were also important for NATO and the EU, that partnership cooperation was established with the major countries and that the leaders of those countries several times expressed their acknowledgement, to the effect that the service was high-quality, that it contributed much to wider security and that it was a part of the wider European and global security system. This was what we built up systematically throughout these years. I have to say that now, in recent months, since the changes at SOVA, I no longer have that feeling. On the contrary, in a very rapid process this institution has been dismantled and destroyed. Trust has been squandered. The important thing in this tale, and despite everything I must remind you of this once again, is that we should really be looking at how people behave when they are scared, something that should not be allowed to happen. They fear for their jobs. When some people immediately lose their jobs, when their bosses discover that they are perhaps not one hundred percent submissive to them. Then of course other people get scared, they start putting on the pressure and want to obtain certain things, information that would compromise the president and others. And now we have two types of people: those who do not kowtow, who are loyal, who have worked well for the country, who have worked with integrity, and for whom I would put my hand in the fire. For instance Iztok Podbregar, who has been in the spotlight; he has performed the work of this and his previous job superbly. Or the head of my office, Valentina Flander. On the other hand there are people who at the slightest stirring immediately started producing information. It’s not important whether this is damaging to the state or not, they will doctor the information if necessary, if their masters are not satisfied, since it’s not enough for them just to save their own careers and skins. And now if we reward such behaviour and accept this game, the country is finished. Where will this lead us?

Šipek: The head of your office, Valentina Flander, announced that she would be suing. What about yourself? What weapons will you use if such accusations and such insinuations, as you say, continue? According to our information there is some more material ...

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Of course, I have said, they sent that commission there to collect material. But about other people, too, you’ll see. When they are done with me, as they think, it will be other people’s turn. All the potential political opponents. After all, this is how they have operated so far. We saw, for example, the debate over the candidates for Governor of the Bank of Slovenia. They immediately have the “files” in which they can instantly find everything that might render someone questionable in the past fifteen years or over an even longer period. They take things out of context, turn them around a little and immediately throw it up for public gaze, so as to get the feeling of aha, so and so committed such and such a transgression! They are doing this systematically, even professionally, and if we allow this in our country … Yes, how will we live here, how will you and everyone else live? This is what we need to ask.

Šipek: The government is now also putting pressure in fact on you specifically with regard to the selection of governor. They intend to summon you to the National Assembly to explain primarily, as they put it, why Boštjan Jazbec is not a suitable candidate, so why therefore is he not a suitable candidate?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Look, in this country there are a few people, but not very many, in fact very few, who could do the job of Governor of the Bank of Slovenia. I first proposed the current governor, who had performed his job superbly in the opinion of the international community and our experts in Slovenia. They rejected him, using every possible form of discrediting they could dredge up at that time. Then they gave the same treatment to his replacement. And I’ve continued to seek an appropriate candidate on that level. I’ve talked to two more, who are in my view top experts – Veljko Bole and Mojmir Mrak – but unfortunately they didn’t agree to stand as candidates. I have to say that in such circumstances this does not actually surprise me. It would be hard for someone now to decide to go through that procedure and then the insults in the National Assembly, through all the potential media disqualifications and so on, if the candidate isn’t one of theirs. The public has thus been informed that only their own candidate will get through and that’s that. And until I yield to that, every candidate will be disqualified and rejected.

Šipek: So will you go to the National Assembly if they summon you?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: What would I go to the National Assembly for?

Šipek: If they summon you, as the government says, to hear some explanation as to why Mr. Jazbec is not a suitable candidate ...

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: I don’t know why I would need to give an explanation. The president proposes the best possible candidate. That is his function, his role. And it is up to him to assess who is the best candidate. Not just a person that someone likes, but the person who would best perform the office of Governor of the Bank of Slovenia. Mr. Jazbec, as I know, is a fine expert, but there are many who say that it is still perhaps too soon for him to be governor, and I choose to select those candidates that I believe to be sufficiently experienced, to have sufficient knowledge and for whom it is now appropriate to become governor, since this is indeed the highest office in the entire financial sphere.

Šipek: The last person, as you mentioned, to decline standing as a candidate, is Mojmir Mrak. He says that this is in part owing to the political opportunism inherent in this saga and into which he does not wish to fall. What now?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: I shall try to find the next good candidate. I already know who is the next person I’ll talk to. But whether he’ll accept it and whether this coalition will then accept him is another question. I shall continue to perform my job faithfully.

Šipek: I would ask you to comment on another matter, which has arisen in the interim, but we have not yet in fact heard any opinion or statement from you. This is the issue of pardons. Two weeks ago you pardoned Mr. Igor Miškovič, who in fact provided Ivan Perič with the pistol to murder his family. On a point of pure principle could you explain, since the public was initially quite shocked, why did you decide to do this?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Well, after there was considerable agitation some time ago because of one such pardon, I appointed a special commission for pardons, which consists of three – in my opinion – very good, objective experts with a great deal of experience. Serving on this commission are the former chief public prosecutor, Ms. Cerar, the long-serving director or administrator of prisons, who in that context knows the cases, the convicts and can assess their applications, and the long-serving president of the Ljubljana district court, in other words a judge. I have every confidence in them, because they are indeed experts with a great deal of experience in this field, and I sign and accept the proposals they submit to me, since they go into every detail of the case, examine it, they familiarise themselves with the details, they have had considerable experience with such cases, and then they give me their opinion and I have them there as a kind of safety valve. For otherwise I can act only on my own feeling of whether, for instance, someone deserves to be pardoned, whether they have been too harshly sentenced, or perhaps even wrongly convicted. This might be my feeling, but they on the other hand, with everything they have, the experience and knowledge, they will ultimately provide a high-quality opinion. This is how it was in this case, and I have absolute confidence in them.

Šipek: And the same goes for the case of quashing the convictions of Messrs. Kerec and Zidanski, I imagine.

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: For all of them.

Šipek: You said that politics no longer interests you, and of course we all imagine that you will no longer stand as a candidate, and you have indicated … I wonder what prompted this decision? Was it perhaps the way politics works in Slovenia, or something else? What was the decisive factor in your decision?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: I’ve been in politics for 18 years, since 1989, when the Slovenians, for me quite unexpectedly, elected me as a member of what was then the Yugoslav presidency, [which meant taking office] at that time as president of the Yugoslav presidency. I then performed that office in a fairly dramatic period up until independence, when it was truly dangerous and when there was a need to carry out some such activities, including negotiations on the withdrawal of the Yugoslav armed forces from Slovenia. Even then I regarded my election as “ok, if they’ve elected me, I’ll do this in the best way I can, then I’ll quit”, but I was then convinced to continue in Slovenian politics, since I clearly enjoyed considerable trust among people because of the Yugoslav story. So I started as president of the LDS, then as prime minister, and each time – my associates can tell you – I announced that I would quit, in other words “ok, I’ll just do this, then I’ll quit”. Then, when the cancer came, when a person faces that disease, I absolutely wanted to quit. But it was the same thing again, it was that situation again, and people have so much trust, and such and such also needs to be done and so forth. I should probably have stopped there and then if not before, if I asked myself truly. But of course I also stood in 2000 in the parliamentary elections, and then in 2002 I was in a big dilemma about what to do. I decided to quit as prime minister and to stand in the presidential elections. And that move itself, that departure was in fact a departure from the majority party, which has power, and in which there are instruments of authority, since in Slovenia the national president does not have that; the office is more or less that of a figurehead. There are certain powers of office, but of course incomparably less than in the government. So for me this in itself was a kind of departure. My term in office is now approaching its end, and last year I already said that I would not run in the next elections, and I’ve repeated that. I wouldn’t want the situation to be repeated where I had already let myself off the hook, and then absolutely everyone starts to convince me otherwise. Or when I go down the street and people stop me and say: “Yes but you just have to stand as a candidate”. So I’ve simply made my mind up.

Šipek: Now, as a private citizen, if you have hypothetically the choice of voting for Pahor or Peterle, whom would you vote for?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Well, you know a citizen has the right to vote secretly. And I’m sticking to that right.

Šipek: Very well, then just one more thing. Recently at the World Bank conference a few days ago in Bled, prime minister Janša stated that Slovenia had never had it so good. And recently you stated that we are returning to the period at the end of the eighties. The prime minister was probably thinking about economic indicators, and you, I imagine, were probably talking about the spiritual state. For a citizen to be in a good situation, he needs both – a good material situation, or at least sufficient for a decent life, and also a good spiritual state. How would you assess the prime minister’s statement that Slovenia has never had it so good? Perhaps as a final word ...

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Yes, the economic foundations of this country were pretty firmly established, and this required work right from independence, since economic success does not just arrive overnight, allowing results to change along with governments. The foundations are laid earlier, along with the economic structure and the entire system. And this was being systematically put in place throughout these years, and now we see some results from this, even a boom … So, for instance, there are relatively favourable indicators. Of course, however, international agencies also warn that this will not last long, since new steps need to be taken now. And to ensure a similar kind of future, more needs to be done, and for the moment the ‘more’ is not happening. This is therefore the view I have of the situation.

Šipek: And what about the spiritual state?

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Yes, I think that many people could say something about this, since it’s not just me talking in this way. It’s just that people do not have the confidence to say this in public, since first and foremost, as I’ve said, many people are afraid when I say to them, yes, tell us this. Oh, but I dare not, I’ll be instantly out of a job – and someone else they know has lost their job for some lesser thing. They don’t dare to speak. Do you know how many such things are happening? It’s happening to journalists, they are saying this off camera, for instance that the pressure really is on and so forth, and that they fear for their jobs. After all, several journalists have already been fired. Of course this is a poor spiritual state, and this is something recognised by many people, including people abroad. Such assessments are coming from abroad, although of course no one will be interested in giving voice to them here. Slovenia does not deserve this. We simply cannot accept the notion that when some political option wins, it wins one hundred percent. It means that everyone who isn’t with them is an enemy and in some way or other has to be removed. We cannot live in this way. In any event it is simply impossible, and in our case, in such a small country, it is even more so. I know of many instances of people who are fine experts and willing, who have served their country with integrity, and it’s simply not an issue for them who is in power, which party, they will always serve their country well. But they are being thrown out into the street, they are not sufficiently loyal, since they must not only be objective and good, they must also be first and foremost obedient, and this is truly a bad spiritual state. This is the worst thing that can happen to a country.

Šipek: Well, some rather dark thoughts to conclude our interview, but such is your view at this moment. Thank you very much for this interview, Mr. President.

Dr. Janez Drnovšek: Thank you, too.
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