Slovenia’s new coalition government has already demonstrated a desire for constructive cooperation with the non-governmental sector. On 1st October 2018, the Minister of Interior Boštjan Poklukar invited 17 representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in various fields for a working meeting to discuss issues from domestic violence to tackling Slovenia’s drug problem. During the meeting, Minister Poklukar said:
“NGOs are our important partner, which is why today’s meeting is considered the beginning of the dialogue, with which we will continue in the future. The migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, faced by the Republic of Slovenia, showed that without such active assistance of NGOs, such a large volume of migration would not be successfully and effectively managed.” (Translated from Slovenian).
The parties involved in the meeting also agreed to establish a regular basis for this kind of multilateral dialogue in addition to bilateral meetings between individual organisations and government institutions aiming at tackling specific issues.
Notably, Minister Poklukar distanced himself from comments made by the previous Minister of Interior about CSOs working on migration. As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, at the beginning of September 2018, the former Minister of Interior Vesna Györkös Žnidar accused non-governmental organisations of “extremely controversial practices” (translated from Slovenian) by allegedly supporting migrants to cross the border into Croatia and “exasperate” the police. Those allegations caused distress amongst NGO workers.
In separate developments, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning is taking forward a promise made by the Minister of Environment Jure Leben before his appointment. Leben had committed to establishing a ministerial Council of Cooperation with civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor had also previously reported that environmental NGOs had traditionally experienced resistance from the ministry when attempting to meaningfully engage in dialogue with the government on issues of concern in the sector. Leben’s proposal was therefore warmly received. Under the plan, the national platform for NGOs, CNVOS, will appoint the ten representatives of civil society from different sectors. According to the plan, the Council will meet once a month to discuss draft legislation, funding and NGOs’ support for environmental issues in Slovenia.
Positive steps have also been taken by other ministers in the new government. For instance, the Minister of Culture appointed Jadranka Plut, a previous president of the network of cultural NGOs Asociacija, as his cabinet consultant for cultural NGOs. Plut will lead the process of drafting the new national strategy for culture for the next three years.
Separately, CNVOS, in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, organised an event about money laundering in NGOs. During the meeting, the ministry communicated that they strongly believe Slovenia has a good legal framework, and that no new mechanisms for supervision of NGOs are needed, given that the threat of money laundering and financing of terrorism through Slovenian NGOs is low.
Media outlets in Slovenia linked to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban continue to misrepresent and stigmatise NGOs, especially those working on migration. While these news channels have a limited audience in Slovenia, their actions contribute to damage the public’s perception of civil society in the country.
In one particularly worrying episode for Slovenian NGOs, in September 2018, news agency Demokracije published a call for the creation of a children’s book intended to underline an upheaval in nationalist feeling, trough the instrumentalisation of animals featuring in the book. Those behind the book’s creation stated that “the story of the book should expose the dangers of multiculturalism and illegal migrations”. In the book, indigenous animals of Slovenia were meant to represent the heroes, while the villain should be represented by animals which are not native. They stated that “the end should emphasise that it is nice to live in a traditional family (father, mother, children) and surrounded by your fellow countryman/your kind.” (Translated from Slovenian)
Many civil society organisations condemned the attempt to foster intolerant and hostile speech. A petition has also been signed by over 80 organisations in an attempt to prevent the publication of the book.