Centre-right party leader becomes Prime Minister raising concerns for civic space

Association

At the end of January 2020, centre-left Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned, after his minority government was unable to push through important legislation. The former government had created an open dialogue with civil society and the sudden fall of the government raised concerns that there may be delays with important legislation. This includes the proposed reform of media laws and the strategic document for the development of culture.

In March 2020 Slovenia’s parliament confirmed Janez Janša as its new Prime Minister. Janša, who belongs to the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), formed a coalition with New Slovenia and Desus - a pensioner’s party. He is known for his anti-immigration approach. As previously reported by the Monitor Janša has been critical of NGO funding and of journalists.

Restricted spaces for cultural civil society organisations

In a separate development, Asociacija, a network of cultural NGOs and artists, reported a spatial problem for cultural organisations and artists in the city of Ljubliana, especially acute for informal realities. In the previous year the issue worsened as two complexes, Kersnikova 4 and Tobačna Tovarna, which hosted many of these spaces were acquired by corporations that sharply increased the rentals and forced many to be evicted. For example, the former Tobacco Factory, which became the property of the Tobacco Centre Company, increased rent threefold and added an additional three-month bail. At the same time, new rules resulted in limited access to the facility. Many current tenants have interpreted the introduction of bail and the new regulations as a soft form of pressure to leave the premises.

Furthermore, a recent public hearing discussed the spatial challenges that the cultural NGO sector is facing. Nearly 80% of organisations report that they have inadequate office space and that they need better infrastructure. In addition, more than 70% of organisations have had to move at least once in the last ten years.

Peaceful Assembly

A group of fifteen asylum seekers from Eritrea held a protest outside a migrant centre which is currently hosting them in Ljubljana, the capital city. They claim that the government’s recent rejection of five asylum applications is unfair. They state that the reasons for the rejection of their applications are ‘unprofessional and inconsistent’ and politically motivated due to the change in the government.

Expression

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Slovene Association of Journalists (DNS) reported “intensive attacks” on journalists and has called on authorities to ensure a safe working environment for journalists. In a statement the EFJ highlighted new facts about alleged funding to Nova24TV and web portal Nova24 - partially owned by SDS - from parties close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The attacks include online harassment, verbal threats by strangers on the street and threatening letters at the front door of journalists’ homes. According to the organisation, these attacks are due to a smear campaign fuelled by news portals close to SDS. For example, an image of Mladina editor-in-chief Grega Repovž covered in blood featured in an article by the weekly Demokracija and argued that the media were lying about Hungarian funding to Slovenian media.

In a press release, the organisation DNS wrote:

"We estimate that the methods of discredit and the intensity of the attacks have moved to a stage where they already pose a threat to journalists, the media and the democratic nature of society....These are not isolated cases, but part of a campaign that has an ideological and material background. Half of all posts on Hungarian-owned portals are aimed at creating a climate of hatred for journalists, with personal discredit, manipulation and misinformation that have no basis in the facts.”
“We know from experience that death threats can lead to targeted violence and endanger journalists. We encourage each journalist at risk to report the attacks to the authorities. Fear and violence should not be part of the journalists’ daily life,”- EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.

The newly appointed Prime Minister Janša had previously attacked journalists before his election. During a press event in the Parliament he lashed out at a journalist of the newspaper Dnevnik, who was enquiring about the anniversary of the party's funding: "If you can meddle in the party, we will [meddle] in your editorial policy, it's a free country."

In a statement the Culture Ministry also condemned the attack on journalists who are investigating Hungarian funding: "Violence, harassment, bullying, targeting journalists and often also their families does not only cause fear among them but also mistrust and uncertainty in society at large".