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(In)dependence of Media in Central Europe –Case of Slovenia

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The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders based upon the organization’s assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and netizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom. Reporters Without Borders notes that the index only deals with press freedom and does not measure the quality of journalism nor does it look at human rights violations in general.

According to this index Slovenia ranks 34th out of 180 countries analyzed in 2014. In the 2002 – 2007 era, Slovenia was ranked much higher. During those years, Slovenia was allways among the top 20 countries in the world, the highest rankings coming in the years 2005, and 2006, when Slovenia was ranked 9th, and 10th. In 2008 Slovenia ranked 30th in the world, and in 2010 achieved the worst ranking since being part of the analysiss – 46th. Since then Slovenia has been ranked somwhere in the mid-thirties.

One of the problems of media independence in Slovenia stemms from the structure of ownership in leading Slovenian media houses, specially if we take a look at the newspapers. Before we venture into this quagmire we have to take a closer look at Slovenia after it´s independence.

Despite leaving the socialist model behind, and embracing the more liberal, or capitalist, western model of economy and society, Slovenian economy is still predominantly owned by the state. The tranzition process has not ended yet. Many public officials active today, were members of the League of Communists of Slovenia, or Yugoslavia. These individuals are managing, and forming, the political, economical, and social realities in Slovenia, most often in a way that suits their own interests. They represent the hidden center of power in Slovenian society that has been pooling it´s strength since 1945. This is partly made possible by the fact, that the state still owns an important part of Slovenian economy – telecommunications, the energy sector, banks, and insurance companies being the icing on the cake of state ownership managed by para-state funds. The before mentioned structure of ownership of Slovenian press is a mirror image of the ownership of Slovenian economy. As para-state funds own, and manage, an important part of Slovenian economy, the same is true for Slovenian press.

Links between state owned businesses, tycoons, corruption, and crime, exist. The tycoons leading the so called “second wave” of privatization in Slovenia (the first wave happened in the beginning of the 90-ties, the second in the era 2004-2008) were just a branch of political elites whose roots date back to the communist – socialist period. During the second wave of privatization the leading newspaper houses (DELO, Dnevnik, Večer) in Slovenia were included in the division of the spoils by the political elites. The situation would be even worse were it not for the foreign owned media such as the daily Finance, which is owned 100% by foreign (Swedish) capital. Since the second wave of privatization was led by tycoons endorsed by the political elites, they and their companies became the owners of the majority of the Slovenian press. These structures, whose roots stem from the former system, and which had successfully integrated themselves in the “new” political elites in Slovenia do not allow the divestment of the state (except of course in the case of tycoons endorsed by them), which is logical, as such a course would lead to their loss of power.    

So Slovenia found itself in a situation where newspapers were owned by breweries! Due to the fact that the model of privatization in the 2004-2008 period was not economically sound (because of criminal and corrupt practices made possible by political connections of Slovenian tycoons) these newspapers became the collateral damage of the division of spoils by the Slovenian elites. As they were seen as a useful tool for the power structures that govern Slovenia they became a chip in a high-stakes game for political, economical, and social control of the country, with the ambition of safeguarding the comrade-capitalism framework set up by the hidden centers of power after Slovenian independence.

All these shocks, manifested through changes in the ownership structure, caused serious consequences on the Slovenian newspaper landscape. When the Slovenian Competition Protection Agency found that the daily DELO can not maintain ownership of another daily (Večer), the powers that be decided, that it should not be sold to a strategic owner (a foreign press house) but rather to owners with no experience in running newspapers, and with suspicious credit lines with state owned banks.  

The media have an important role in Slovenia, as anywhere else. They can be the co-creators of a free, and informed, society, and they can contribute to more transparency, honesty, and rule of law. They should be a tool for the benefit of all, not just for the privileged elites. In Slovenia newspapers are trying to be an actor in the political arena, stepping into the field of political parties. In this context the profession of a journalist is getting exceedingly difficult. Transfers form one editorial board to another are not uncommon, and due to the turbulences in Slovenian economy the social security of journalist leaves a lot to be desired. Because of connections between the political elites, tycoons, and state owned industries independence of journalists is more of a buzzword than reality.

In the neighbouring Croatia, Stjepan Mesić began his term as the President of the Republic of Croatia in the year 2000. Immediately after his term of office began, he received a public letter from a group of generals of the Croatian army, in which they outlined their political ideas and urged President Mesić to alter some of his policies. President Mesić reacted by deactivating the generals, practically forcing them into retirement. The problem was not that some people had a political agenda. The problem was that the people who had a political agenda were generals of the Croatian army. His message was: if you want to excercise your political agenda, you should de-commission yourselves, form a political party (or join one) and compete at the elections. However, you can not pursue a political agenda, and participate in the political arena, as generals of the army. The same could be said for journalist, and media in general in Slovenia. Media need to follow politics, and inform the general public on the happenings in the political arena. They should be critical of poitical elites, analysing their actions, and outcomes of these actions, their motives, etc. However there is a line between being a factor in politics, and being an actor in them. Media are, and should be, a factor in politics. But should individuals within them have the desire to become an actor, they should (like the generals in Croatia) be told to either form a political party, or join one, and compete in the elections.    

In order for Slovenian press landscape to change for the better a new economical structure must emerge. As long as our newspapers are managed by breweries and state-owned banks there will be no true independence and professionalism in the written media. Private, and not state, ownership is the key. Newspapers have to keep their role in the political process in the country but not as tools of the elites with a vested interest, but as a tool of the general public with the ambition of pushing politics onto a higher more transparent, and law-abiding level in the interest of all citizens in accordance with the lofty standards of the fourth estate.  

This text is exclusively prepared for the III International Conference Russia–Europe, Vienna, Austria (28 October 2014).

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Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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