The press was full of reports on Austro-Slovene relations this week, as Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel made a three-day visit to Vienna between 7 and 9 March. That visit will be quickly followed up next week when Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek will meet with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
Rupel met with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, to discuss the numerous open issues between the neighboring states. Also on the agenda was Waldner's idea of a "strategic partnership" to link the Central European states associated with the European Union under the leadership or mentorship of Austria.
Among the many unresolved issues between the two countries is the security of the nuclear power plant at Krško, the process of denationalization in Slovenia which Austria views as being discriminatory, and the AVNOJ decrees.
Another major open question concerns those Slovenes who profess German to be their mother tongue. Austria has championed constitutional protection for this group for several years, however, Slovenia maintains that there is no "minority" per se, merely a small number of German speakers scattered across the country.
Progress was made on this issue, as Rupel and Waldner discussed a cultural agreement intensely. The agreement as envisioned should provide a final decision on the existence and extent of protection of any German minority in Slovenia. A document was not drafted, but both agree that it could prove a workable compromise.
Rupel ended the visit with a lecture at a press club in which he supported the idea of establishing an independent panel of historians to advise Vienna and Ljubljana on issues such as the German minority, issues which are weighed down by history.
In the lecture, Rupel also gave his support to Waldner's strategic partnership plan. Since Waldner's first mention of the plan last year, Slovenia has given mixed reactions. An editorial in this week's Mladina used the wavering response as a prime example in an attack on Slovenia's diplomatic prowess towards Austria.
The writer of the editorial sees weakness and even an inferiority complex in Slovenia's dealings with Austria, In contrast to Slovenia's indecision on the strategic partnership plan, the editorial points out that the Czech Republic has consistently refused to go along with it.
Perceptions of corruption
Results published this week of a poll taken by Delo-Stik reveal the face of corruption in the country. Last year, Slovenia placed 28 out of 99 countries ranked on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and it seems that most Slovenes agree that their country is unremarkable in terms of corruption.
Almost 60 per cent described Slovenia as average in terms of corruption as compared to other states. Interestingly, 13 per cent said the country was more corrupt than average while another 13 per cent said it was less corrupt than average.
Regardless of whether the country's level of corruption is average, nearly half of the respondents felt that corruption was too widespread in the country. Perhaps pointing to a reason for the level of corruption, almost 60 per cent said that they believed the country is too tolerant of bribes. Only 22 per cent said that it was not.
Of the 711 total respondents, 64 per cent said they had been in a position where they thought a bribe would improve their situation, and 29 per cent said they have been in a position where they felt it was expected that they would pay a bribe. Only 14 per cent, however, have tried to pay a bribe more than once.
Draft law on media
The National Assembly concluded the second reading of the draft Media Law last week. The draft law has been reworked several times over the course of the past three years, but remains highly controversial. Everyone agrees that a new Media Law is necessary, however nobody seems to agree on just what it should cover.
The general intention is to pass a single law to cover both radio and television as well as print media. However, this idea has been opposed by many, including journalists.
Fund for the Pluralization of the Media shot down
During the second reading, MPs repeatedly commented that the media was insufficiently pluralized. To work towards remedying that situation, the Social Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi) were promoting the establishment of a Fund for the Pluralization of the Media, as the previous Bajuk government had intended.
However, the Liberal Democrats (LDS) opposed the Fund, saying that it would do nothing to improve the quality of public information. In the end the LDS won out, with a vote of 29 to 15.
The Fund was a major topic of discussion at a round table last weekend called Media and the State, organized by the Josip Jurčič foundation. Among the participants was Rudi Želigo, Minister of Culture in Andrej Bajuk's administration, who discussed the draft Law on Media. He particularly lamented the fact that parliament struck the Fund for the Pluralization of the Media from the draft law, because he was among those who initially suggested it. He believes that the Fund was shot down as a result of cowardice on the part of the current government.
A journalist from the daily Večer, Peter Jančič, also criticized the draft Law on Media. He believes that the article pertaining to access to information in particular, will restrict freedom of the press by enabling the government to manipulate what is allowed to be published.
The state of the media today
Other participants at the round table went so far as to say that the media is essentially non-pluralist and undemocratic, and that freedom of the press does not exist. Outside observers would view such statements as hyperbole, considering the fact that most appraisals, including the report on human rights practices by the United States Department of State released at the end of February, report that the media in Slovenia is essentially free.
However, two recent events show that journalists in Slovenia may be in a more precarious position than is generally believed. The first is a court ruling concerning Radio and Television Slovenia reporter Tomaž Ranc. At the end of 1998, in an effort to establish the source of some of Ranc's reports, authorities illegally acquired a list of phone numbers which Ranc had called. In doing so, the court decided that the government violated the Ranc's human rights.
According to Mladina, the ruling is the first official document speaking of violations of the human rights of journalists in Slovenia.
The second event is the brutal assault on Večer correspondent Miro Petek on 28 February. Petek was attacked by two unknown men in front of his home and was in critical condition until late this week.
It has not been decided when the draft Law on Media will undergo its third and final reading before the National Assembly votes on it. If the second reading is any indication, much work remains to be done. However, the Ranc and Petek cases clearly show that the government must take greater steps to ensure freedom of the press and to protect its journalists. Strengthening the battery of press-related legislation could be a good place to start.
Brian J Požun, 12 March 2001
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