(CIVICUS Monitor) According to the Centre for Information Service, Co-operation and Development of NGOs in Slovenia, rules on conducting public consultations within government ministries are not always respected. Therefore, civil society can face limitations on how much it can influence and consult on public policy. In particular, the required 30-days of public debate has been disregarded a number of times. For example, in December 2017 the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities only spent 14 days in public debate before making a decision regarding foster care.
Public vilification of civil society
In a more worrying development, a local civil society organisation was vilified after it protested the opening of a car-painting plant in Maribor by a Canadian company. The protest sparked debate in Slovenia as environmental NGOs called for greater environmental protection in the impact assessment process. In retaliation for their activism, the environmental NGOs were reportedly vilified. Friends of the Earth Slovenia’s Tomislav Tkalec described the situation as follows:
“As environmental NGOs in Slovenia which act on behalf of public in environmental protection, we felt obligated to expose possible environmental threats and non-transparent process in the case of Magna Steyr’s proposed factory near Maribor. However, we were discredited and assaulted in the media, as well as through direct actions. The pressure, discreditation and verbal assaults on the NGOs came from representatives of the government, local authorities, media and citizens. We have received angry e-mails, letters, calls, and attacks on social media. Some organisations received threats – one even had to ask for police protection”.
The environmental NGOs decided not to pursue legal action after reaching an agreement with the Canadian firm, through which their environmental concerns would be addressed.
In September 2017, 65 European and international NGO networks wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Miro Cerar asserting that the “organised pressure, as well as the media campaign against civil society organisations raise high concerns about the democratic processes in Slovenia…”
On 8th January 2018, members of the Slovenian Left Party gathered with members of the Croatian Workers’ Front at the Slovenian-Croatian border in the Bay of Piran to protest peacefully over the issue of land distribution on the two countries’ borders. The dispute dates back to the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 and was reignited in summer 2017, when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague awarded Slovenia 80 percent of the contested territory. There are concerns that the dispute could fuel nationalism in the Western Balkans. Protesters contend that the border dispute between the two countries has distracted many, including government officials, from the urgent social and economic issues facing people in the region. One protester commented that:
“On the other side of the ‘border’, as well as on this side, there are fishermen, workers, ordinary people, our sisters and brothers who share the same interests – to lead a dignified life in peace. The sea and the coastal areas are a public good that should be managed jointly, taking into account the interests of the local population…”
On 23rd January 2018, the investigative online outlet – “podcrto.si” – published an editorial condemning political pressure on journalists, in particular during the trial of the former director of the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (SOVA). SOVA is now suing the media outlet for ruining its reputation. The Office of the State Attorney, who is taking the legal action on behalf of SOVA, asked the website to remove four articles related to SOVA. The news outlet claims that such pressure is not an isolated incident and the police have also allegedly attempted to interfere with investigative journalism related to public officials.
Originally published on CIVICUS Monitor
Featured image by The Workers’ front