Slovenia’s new Prime Minister has quickly managed to take control of all key levers of power in the country, and is taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to appoint sympathizers or supporters of his Slovenian Democratic Party to important positions.
(Original version of this article was published in printed edition of Nacional on March 24)
After the far-right Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša took power during the coronavirus pandemic, he dismissed all the leading people of the repressive state apparatus and the main medical institution responsible for preventing the pandemic in just a few days. He established a “Crisis Headquarters” as the main command post for preventing the epidemic, although there is no basis for its establishment in Slovenian law or regulations. Janša also publicly invited volunteers to the Slovenian Army, to which he wants to grant police powers and send it to the borders or in the streets. Every day the Prime Minister, personally and through the media under his control or owned by his Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), threatens journalists and other media, who face significantly restricted access to official information. On Sunday he addressed the self-isolated and scared Slovenian citizens by telling them that “The European Union looks like in the Middle Ages, the cities are in fear of the plague, with walls and tolls at every step. They just didn’t have the Internet.”
In 1968 Harvard University Press published a crucial work by the renowned political scientist and expert in strategy, military history and international relations Edward Luttwak that made him famous around the world: Coup d’Etat – A Practical Handbook.
Several coups were actually carried out based on this book in a few African countries because the author described the coup as a political phenomena both theoretically and practically. Luttwak defines a coup as: “consists[ing] of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” Luttwak also says that for the success of a coup it is necessary to take control of the main command and communication centre of the state apparatus and to control the media in order to broadcast propaganda.
After the resignation of Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec in January this year, Janša was appointed his successor by a new ruling coalition in Parliament on the evening on Friday, 13 March. So he had no need to illegally infiltrate a critical part of the state apparatus. However due to the coronavirus epidemic—officially announced by the Šarec government only the day before—all Janša’s following steps were carried out with lightning speed with which he beheaded all security structures in Slovenia and installed sympathizers or supporters of his SDS.
When Slovenian citizens woke up on Saturday morning, they were met with dystopian photographs from the first session of the new government, with the ministers completely unnecessarily wearing top-quality respirators, the same ones the health facilities were already running low of by that time.
During that night, the Slovenian Army had lost its Chief of General Staff, the Police its Director General, while the Defence Intelligence and Security Service OVS immediately received a new Director General with a full mandate.
Following the removal of Major General Alenka Ermenc, the Slovenian Army is still without the highest commanding officer, and the government has temporarily authorized the Deputy Chief of General Staff Brigadier Robert Glavaš to lead the Army. The Director General of the Police Tatjana Bobnar was replaced by acting Director General Anton Travner, with a mandate of a maximum of six months. Travner had already been involved in a scandal with alleged abuse of budget funds, which resulted in the dismissal of one of previous police directors from a time of Janša’s former governments.
According to a source of Nacional, who wants to remain anonymous, Travner has never even been a commander of a police station nor had any commanding position in the police command hierarchy. He left his police career three times, which is confirmed in his official biography. The source also says that many Slovenian police officers do not have the right instructions in this time of the crisis, and that many operational tasks stand still while the new acting Director General is getting better acquainted with the system and new members of staff.
These changes have left Slovenia in a position where neither the military nor the police have commanders with a full-time mandate who would dare to oppose any political pressures with their professional and moral authority and integrity.
The former chief of military spies (OVS), Daniel Matijević, has been replaced by Andrej Osolnik. He was the only one who was given a full five-year mandate. However, this is not surprising given that he was involved as a military policeman in the brutal arrest of a civilian in Depala vas in 1994, the incident for which Janša was dismissed as defence minister at the time.
On the other hand, Janša has chosen a different way to deal with Slovenia’s central intelligence and security agency SOVA. At the time of the pandemic and the public health crisis, he acted like SOVA does not exist or that it is a hostile institution.
On Sunday, March 15, the far-right government amended the Regulation on the National Security Council, which according to the law is the most important government decision-making body during times of war or crisis. With this amendment new government excluded SOVA director Rajko Kozmelj from membership of the National Security Council.
Kozmelj resigned the following day, and revealed in his resignation letter that neither the Prime Minister nor his new National Security Adviser had contacted him or given any instructions since March 13.
More than a week later, in a time of a state crisis, Slovenia is still without a new director of the civil intelligence agency SOVA with a full-term mandate, and it appears that civil spies are still prevented from carrying out their duty of ensuring the security of the state and the citizens of Slovenia.
Particularly dangerous is a change at the position of National Security Adviser. Damir Črnčec, National Security Advisor of former Prime Minister, resigned a few days before Janša returned to the power.
Črnčec was a long time close collaborator and supporter of Janez Janša, who appointed him as director of the defence intelligence service OVS during his first government (2004-2008), and as director of the civil intelligence agency SOVA for a period of his second government (2012-2013). At that time he often defended far-right and chauvinist stances, he was even one of the main organizers of protests in front of court building during the trial against Janša for bribery in the Patria arms deal.
This February Janša attempted to obtain the names of the police inspectors and other information about police investigation into suspicious money transfers which Janša’s media allegedly received from Hungary, where a suspicion of money laundering exists, with the help of the Parliamentary commission for oversight over intelligence and security services, led by then Member of Parliament Žan Mahnič.
During this in-situ inspection at the Police Headquarters Mahnič threatened then Director General Tatjana Bobnar that she will be removed from her position, if she would not collaborate.
This event triggered then National Security Adviser Damir Črnčec to publicly respond on his Facebook page and repeat his statement for the TV: “Knowing how the SDS apparatus works in accordance with the principles of the Mafia, in which all paths lead to the leader and his immediate circle, was strange to me.“
“We are nearing the transition to an authoritarian society,” Črnčec warned the Slovenian public this February.
On the night of long knives, Friday, March 13, 30 year old Žan Mahnič was appointed as the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. He has no professional experience in intelligence or security fields, and his whole career consists of political functions within the SDS party. How dangerous this appointment is is revealed by his Tweets from his personal Twitter account, where Mahnič expressed support to the Identitarian Movement, which is under surveillance by some Western European security agencies because of far-right positions.
For all these above mentioned reasons, the establishment of the Crisis Headquarters of the Republic of Slovenia on the same night, March 13, corresponds to Luttwak’s definition of a coup.
According to the Government Act and other regulations, Slovenia has the following legally established institutions: the National Security Council, the Secretariat of the National Security Council, the National Security Council Task Force, the National Centre for Crisis Management and the Inter-agency Analyses Group.
All these regulations were defined with the cooperation of various experts in the field of national security years earlier.
But despite these regulations, the government of Janez Janša established a Crisis Headquarters as the highest state decision-making body, while the Slovenian public does not know its decision-making process and chain-of-command relations, who is who in this Headquarters and what their duties are. Unknown is also under which internal regulations the headquarters operates, nor whether the archiving of documents is ensured at all.
It is known that the Crisis Staff leader is Andrej Rupnik, the former director of SOVA during Janša’s first government. Its spokesman is Jelko Kacin, the 1991 Minister of Information, who will remain remembered for his propaganda during Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia, and who was later the Minister of Defence, a Member of Parliament, and Slovenia’s Ambassador to NATO.
The Crisis Headquarters first introduced itself on Saturday, March 14, at a press conference hosted by Janša personally without a spokesman. He explained that the Crisis Headquarters, in its narrow composition includes key ministers, and all heads of operational bodies. He added that this Crisis Headquarters has, or will have, supporting groups, and by far the most important is a supporting group from the area of the medical system headed by Bojana Beović.
Bojana Beović is a member of the SDS party, a professor of infectious diseases, a physician at the Clinic for Infectious diseases and a candidate for the president in the Medical Chamber of Slovenia. She was also present at the Headquarters press conference, at which significant changes in prevention of the epidemic were announced.
Against the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the epidemiology experts advice, Slovenia turned to the British testing model, according to which infected citizens with mild symptoms of Covid-19 are no longer tested at all.
Under the new system, only those who are so ill that they need hospitalization are tested. As a result, the numbers about the spread of coronavirus in Slovenia can no longer be compared with those of the former government. The high number of tests per capita in Slovenia does not actually mean that so many residents are being been tested. This is because the main share of these tests are the multiple tests of physicians and other health workers, who are tested repeatedly with the goal of preventing the coronavirus entry into medical facilities. At that press conference, both Janša and Bojana Beovič conveyed many allegations and speculations to the public instead of accurate data on the epidemic. Slovenian citizens could no longer receive realistic information about the epidemic’s dimensions.
Bojana Beovič’s presence indicated the dismissal of Nina Pirnat, director of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ). Prior to the change of the government, she explained clearly and calmly the situation at daily press conferences with many experts and always gave expert guidance. However, before her dismissal, Janša first had to remove a government representative in the NIJZ Council. Soon, one of the best experts Slovenia in the field of infectious diseases, Tatjana Lejko Zupanc was replaced in the council by Mateja Lesar, a parliamentary adviser without any medical knowledge. On Thursday, March 19, Nina Pirnat was formally replaced by Janša’s government, apparently for political reasons only.
At the same time, instead of trying to unite all forces in the country for the prevention of the epidemic, as many countries do, Janša has been publicly blaming the former Prime Minister Šarec, former Minister of Health Ales Šabeder and Nina Pirnat from from the first day of his rule, claiming that they had done nothing, that they left empty reserves of protective equipment and that they were responsible for the state of the epidemic. The SDS ruling party is also trying to present epidemic prevention as its main political project with a clear strategy – if they succeed, they will be the winners, and if they will not, the former government will be responsible.
In an important and large government apparatus such as the police, the military, intelligence and security services, top national security system, and health system, changes of leadership at the top are often a challenge even during normal times, and these systems need some time to function optimally again. Janša’s moves, with which he – n just a few days, and in the midst of the biggest crisis of this generation – overthrew the heads of the most important institutions, and replaced them with his party sympathizers and supporters, show that winning full power in the country is more important to him than the prevention of the epidemic.
Also unusual is that in this health crisis Janša addressed citizens of Slovenia in a TV speech on Thursday evening, 19 March, with a call for volunteers to join the army. “The crisis has hit us at a time when some of the most important governing instruments of the state are extremely depleted. The Slovenian Army will therefore start filling their units with a voluntary reserve in the coming days. All those who have military knowledge and skills and are not in emergency work are invited to volunteer to ensure overall security,” Janša said at a time when Slovenia is not threatened by any foreign military.
A week earlier, the new Minister of Defence Matej Tonin from the conservative New Slovenia (NSI) party stated at a parliamentary hearing that he is not opposing to the inclusion of members of the so-called Varda as volunteers in the army. Tonin, despite his statement being recorded by TV, later tried to deny it.
His statement presents an additional danger because the Varda is a far-right paramilitary group that has already been physically present at the Slovenian-Croatian border in their fight to prevent influx of migrants.
In March 2019, Varda leader Andrej Šiško was sentenced to eight months in prison for inciting a violent change in the constitutional order, and was previously convicted of attempted murder from 1992, in a case in which Zmago Jelinčič, president of the Slovenian National Party (SNS), was also co-indicted.
The background to the wartime criminal story was related to the counterfeiting of money and war profiteering. As early as 1991, Šiško established the Slovenian Guard, a paramilitary unit, which was linked to the military intelligence officers while Janez Janša led Slovene Ministry of Defence, according to Šiško’s own account.
However, this is not the only group of Slovene civilians who want to be in uniforms. For many years, the Association of Veterans of the Slovenian Independence (VSO) organize a lineup with its members standing in uniforms in Kočevska Reka. This is a town in South-East part of Slovenia where the headquarters of the Special Brigade Moris was located until 1994. Under then defence minister Janša’s command this military unit was selling weapons to many Croatian municipalities and other customers in the 1990s. But there are no real veterans form 1991 in the lineup of the “soldiers” of the VSO, instead young Slovenian men and women are dressed in uniforms. Žan Mahnic, the new National Security Adviser was also been photographed in uniform in this lineup in 2013.
The president of the VSO, who is closely connected to the ruling SDS party, is Aleš Hojs, the new Minister of Interior, and the secretary general of the VSO association is Božo Predalič, the new secretary general of the Janša’s government. Minister Hojs has already announced that he will propose that the army should be given police powers and that it will assist the police at the Slovenian-Croatian border and prevent allegedly increasing number of migrants from entering the country.
As this requires a two-thirds majority in the parliament, so opposition parties, who appear shocked and confused by Janša’s rise to power, can still formally prevent giving police powers to the army. This is a very dangerous option in this moment as the Slovenian army is without its Chief of the General Staff, in addition to the announcement of the possibility of admitting extreme right-wingers to a voluntary reserve and because there is no real oversight over army operations.
Also the new leading structure of the Ministry of the Interior is worrying. The new minister, Aleš Hojs, was previously the director of Nova24TV, which is co-owned by Janez Janša, Božo Predalič and other members of the SDS party, and a Hungarian company, through which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban funded operations of this TV channel, which is a leader in spreading hate speech and fake news in Slovenia. Even the dismissed police Director General Tatjana Bobnar has publicly confirmed that the police have been investigating the suspicious traces of Hungarian money.
Beside Hojs also two new secretaries of state has been appointed at the top of the Ministry of Interior. The first is Franc Kangler, the president of the New Slovenian People’s Party (NSLS), one of the satellite parties of the SDS, also the former mayor of second biggest Slovene city of Maribor, where large-scale protests against Janša’s government in 2012 started because of a local corruption scandal. Kangler also holds a specific record because the State Prosecutor’s Office has started more than 20 prosecution cases against him, that were later dropped for procedural reasons. The second new secretary of state is Franc Breznik, a former Member of Parliament of the SDS party.
The appointment of these three politicians reveals that the Ministry of the Interior is currently under the control of a single party – the SDS – which opens up opportunities for political abuse of the police.
The situation is extraordinary in the financial field as well. The ruling coalition passed a law in parliament allowing the government to suspend regular budget spending and instead granting the right to redistribute money from the budget to itself. In addition, the government decided to stop sending all financial transactions from the budget to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which publishes all that data in the Erar online application. This application is often used by journalists to report about government spending. However, after criticism from the public in social media, the Janša’s government reversed its decision.
New Slovenian government also triggered a big scandal by announcing an immediate increase of the salaries of the ministers, the secretaries of state, and politically appointed cabinet officials at the time of the biggest crisis in generations. That decision was met by a strong reaction and criticism in the press and the social media, which is why the government decided to reduce the salaries of all state functionaries by 30 percent on the next day. However, salaries have not been reduced for ministers of the new government, who have increased their salaries first, but also to the other state functionaries like the President of the State, Chairperson of the Parliament, all Members of Parliament, mayors, prosecutors, judges, even judges of the Supreme and the Constitutional Courts.
The National Council – Slovenia’s upper house, lead by the right-aligned Alojz Kovšča – also supports Janša’s coalition. The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament with Igor Zorčič of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) as its Speaker, has transformed into the ruling party’s voting machine. As early as 15 March it severely limited journalists’ access to the parliament citing coronavirus related measures. Borut Pahor, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, who has been in a long-standing secret alliance with Janša, remains silent in these times of crisis, and is instead posting photos of himself sunbathing on social media.
Janša and his media outlets immediately started aggressively attacking journalists and the media and threatening them. When the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija reported on the salary raises for the ministries, Janša went to Twitter: “Don’t spread lies. We pay you to inform, not to deceive the public. Clearly there are too many of you and you are paid too well.”
Afterwards his supporters launched a series of demands to downsize or even abolish the national broadcaster. The Director of RTV Slovenija Igor Kadunc immediately responded publicly saying he would not stand for censorship, but given that the new parliament is about to name the new members of the broadcaster’s Programme Council, he will probably be replaced quickly and similar personnel reshuffling at RTV as happened during Janša’s first government, when 571 Slovenian journalists signed a petition against censorship, will follow soon.
Additionally, the weekly magazine Demokracija, owned jointly by SDS and its Hungarian financiers, published an opinion piece which accused almost all the media of being terrorists and national traitors, arguing it will be a silver lining when the coronavirus induced economic recession causes a large part of the print media to go under.
The control of information, journalists and the media is clearly one of the priorities in Janša’s plan to take complete control of Slovenia according to Edward Luttwak’s manual. Jelko Kacin, the official Speaker of the Crisis Unit, has already forbidden journalists from asking followup questions, ostensibly due to coronavirus related measures, even though this would be technically feasible via video-conference. They have also banned all medical institutions and hospitals from communicating directly with journalists.
The Slovenian Democratic Party, lead by Janša for 27 years, is not a real political party, but a system for obtaining power, which is clear from its internal structure. There are no fractions in the party and it is organized along party and military lines where everything is subordinate to the leader of the party, who has complete control over all aspects of party life. At the 2013 Party Congress Janša as ran unopposed to win the presidency with 98% of the delegate votes, at the last 2017 Congress he even got 99.25%. There is even a clause in the Party Statutes which grants Janša the power to annul every decision of the SDS Executive Committee and defer it for a second vote at the Party Council.
In recent years Janša has developed a close relationship with far-right Croatian Velimir Bujanec and other pro-Ustasha actors in Croatia, he has also been publicly supported by one of the leaders of the Austrian Identitarian Movement who was in contact with the extreme right-wing shooter who killed 50 people in the Christchurch mosque shootings. For years Janša has been a supporter of Slovenian Home Guardsmen who were allies of the Nazi occupators during World War II.
Janša formulated the basics of his political programme in his book “Trenches”. „Right now the realisation that you need a clean table, or that in the field you have to harvest the old crops and get rid of the weeds before you can plant the new seed, is a very clear sign on the Slovenian sky,“ was therefore written as far back as 1994.
According to the former ranking member of DeMOS Spomenka Hribar, who analysed Janša’s programme in her book “The World as a Conspiracy”, the “weeds” in this sentence refer to everyone who disagrees with him.
At the anniversary of SDS in February 2020 Janša proclaimed that there exists a basic division into two “political races” is Slovenia, which introduced a racist discourse into the Slovenian public, and now his Interior Minister Hojs is already speaking of “segregation” necessary to protect the older generations from the coronavirus.
Janša’s former close collaborator Damir Črnčec recently revealed that his only motivation for his political endeavours is taking power and a desire for revenge against those who have done him an “injustice”. Boris A. Novak, one of Slovenia’s greatest poets, who was denounced publicly alongside three other Slovenian intellectuals as a patient infected with the „covid-marx/lenin“ virus by the government’s Crisis Headquarters, has written a public letter to warn about what is actually happening in Slovenia: “The new government is exploiting the pandemic as a smokescreen while it imposes a political dictatorship.”
Behind the scenes of the pandemic, with almost every Slovenian confined to self-isolation, a coup d’état is taking place. When the quarantine is dismantled, Slovenian citizens will probably have trouble recognising their own country.
UPDATE: Original version of this article was published in printed edition of Nacional on March 24. In the late evening on the same day the Slovenian government disbanded Crisis Headquarters
UPDATE 2: On March 24 Slovenian government excluded judges from 30 percent salary reduction.