As an American I am often asked by Slovenians what do I think of Slovenia. Usually I tell them something kind and positive. In fact, it is not hard to say that I like the market and the favorite Slovenian dishes such as blood sausages with buckwheat mush. Through observation and learning of their language which makes it possible for me to understand the newsprint, books and television, however, I gradually acquired a deeper understanding of the local situation. Of course I realize that a foreigner can never fully comprehend all the nuances of a foreign country, its state and nation and its culture. Within this constraint, I decided to write two eloquent stories about Slovenia without mentioning the Alps, Pirano on the Adriatic, and blood sausages.
A few years at the University Law School, I attended a function honoring the Human Rights day. A lady professor, gushing with enthusiasm, told me the wonderful news that president Kucan graciously consented to be the speaker for the occasion. I knew that the Slovenian president used to be Chairman of the League of Communists and I felt that it was an irony, as well as hypocrisy, to have a one time communist leader speak about human rights. The reason being that the communist party was not exactly noted for its respect of human rights. When I confided this thought to another professor, he gave me a startled look -- he was horrified at my effrontery.
Later I told this story to several other acquaintances. Most of them replied: "But they (former communists) have at least the know-how in running the government." They referred to the experience in government but my question was whether Slovenians really want the communists' political know-how. It is a well-known saying that you cannot teach new tricks to an old dog. And these political dogs will again dig up the authoritarianism, contempt for the diversity of political thought, control of the media, nepotism, and politization of all walks of life (the economy, education, and the like). All these things are the quintessential antithesis of democracy.
What surprised me most in my interlocutors was a total absence of objective and critical reflection concerning the Slovenian past. Thinking about this, I recall the exhibition The Dark Side of the Moon, which, to me, was extremely interesting. I have the impression that the exhibition was essentially a mirror into which no one wanted to look. Unfortunately, however, it is a truism of psychology that you have to confront the past if you want to succeed in the future.
Another example of the state of Slovenian affairs came to the fore last year when the government of Dr. Bajuk came into power. Many were unwilling to accept a "foreign" Slovenian although his education and experience in the field of international banking made him eminently qualified to be a prime minister. It seemed to me that he might be able to bring to Slovenia a very necessary perspective of foreign policy. He appeared to be the ideal candidate for implementing the reforms in the field of banking and finance which were pointed out by OVSE in the Economic Overview of Slovenia 1996-97 (Ekonomski pregled Slovenije 1996-97). After all, the United States, too had government officials and counselors at the highest level such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski who also were "foreigners" from Europe. I began to follow regularly the press reports because I was interested what will Bajuk accomplish. To my surprise I found that during his first two months in office Bajuk was very seldom mentioned in the news. This was a true blackout by the media. And if even I could notice this, everyone else could see without any great mental effort that the media were clearly a political tool of the former regime that did not like the new government. I cannot conceive that truly independent media would voluntarily refrain from reporting the news about the new prime minister. Yet that is what was going on in Slovenia.
Independent and primarily objective media are of vital importance for a democracy. They are the important fiber of a democracy which endeavors to truthfully inform the public about the current events, including the activities of the government. The role of the media was superbly defined by Katherine Graham, owner and publisher of the Washington Post. Graham said that the media must be honest, noting only the facts and being as accurate as possible. In this way the public gets more or less reliable information on the basis of which they can make their own decisions as to for whom should they vote and who will represent them in the government. Integrity of the journalists is essential for the democratic process.
From the above two stories it appears that in Slovenia the legacy of communism is still prevailing over democracy. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the end of our lives begins on the day when we cease to talk about important things. Unfortunately, I have the feeling, that Slovenia's vitality will soon be gone if it fails to respond to the peril that threatens its democracy.