“We are not a colony of the EU”

A new leader came to the fore of the EU

Since July 2021, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa has risen to the level of politicians in the Old World of the first rank. Over the next six months, his country will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For many in the unification leadership, this is an unpleasant acquaintance

He is considered a copycat of Donald Trump for the revised slogan of the American President “Slovenia First”. For his addiction to social networks, he is called “Marshal of Tvito”, and for his rejection of migration, he is called “an anti-liberal democrat.” But none of those nicknames would have attached to Slovenia’s 62-year-old Prime Minister Janez Janshe, a right-wing conservative, were it not for his habit of expressing thoughts bluntly. Jansha began his country’s presidency of the Council of the European Union by warning about the disintegration of the bloc, which could happen if some countries continue to “impose” “imaginary European values” on others, and immediately warned against considering Slovenia a  “colony” or “Europe of the second class”. 

Jansha knows what he is talking about firsthand: his political career started during the years of the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Over time, starting as a left-wing radical, he turned into a staunch Slovenian nationalist. You have to pay for everything: the price was the damage to relations with Brussels.

Among the seven authorities of the European Union, only one – the Council of the EU (which is sometimes equated with the upper house of the European Parliament) – assumes the chairmanship of all members of the association in turn. This is the only platform that allows the EU countries that are in opposition to its course (Slovenia is also included) to declare themselves. In Brussels, however, they know how to manage a bureaucratic calendar. So, preparations were made for the appearance of Janez Janshi in the European political Olympus in advance – this event was preceded by numerous critical publications in the press.

The main message of most of them was similar: the Slovene, already well-known in the European arena, has changed a lot in recent years. When Yansha headed his country in 2004-2008, she had no difficulties with the European Union. But the ensuing global economic crisis and mass migration from the Middle East in 2015–2016 pushed the former European-compatible politician to a position of nationalism. Since then, he has supported the construction of walls on the borders with neighbors, quarrels with liberal journalists and judges, and prefers to be friends with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Jansha became critical of ideas that the EU considers to be part of their values, which lies beyond compromise: in particular, support for LGBT people. Together, this is a rather big burden in the eyes of the EU leadership, especially when it comes to a person,

That is why no one was surprised that a disagreement between the future partners occurred already at the first joint press conference of the Slovenian leader in his new capacity and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. “The European Union unites countries with different traditions, different cultures … and all these discrepancies must be taken into account and respected,” Jansha made a statement with subtext. Von der Leyen didn’t like it: “Freedom of speech, [cultural and racial] diversity and equality are fundamental European values,” she retorted . The European media saw the beginning of a conflict in this exchange of views, which seems convincing, because von der Leyen’s deputy Frans Timmermans reacted rather harshly: he refused to be photographed with Janscha.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, speaks with Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. European Union leaders gather for a second day of meetings to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and to assess new measures on how to meet targets to become climate-neutral by mid-century. (John Thys, Pool via AP)

During the first speech in the European Parliament, the Slovenian had no easier time. Green and Liberal MPs (Renew Europe) gave him a cold welcome. “I am afraid, Mr. Jansha, that the events in your country do not leave us the opportunity to trust you,” said Malik Azmani, the people’s choice from the Netherlands. LGBT. This also includes corruption and abuse. ” Ska Keller, co-chair of the Green faction in the European Parliament, accused Jansha, a former journalist, of “a campaign to slander the Slovenian mass media.”

Eastern European Union?

Jansha has long compensated for the difficulties with the countries of Western Europe by rapprochement with Hungary. Until now, his support for this country was mostly moral. Like Orban, Yansha strongly opposed the participation in politics of the American billionaire George Soros and even entered into controversy with him through the social network: “Stay away from Europe, please. Your dirty money and so-called non-profit organizations have become the most serious provocateurs of conflicts on the continent. destroying trust between peoples and democracy. Brexit alone is enough. Europe needs to recover, ” wrote the  indignant Jansha. 

Another point of intersection between the leaders: Slovenia has long been considered one of those states, on whose help Hungary can count on if sanctions against it are put to a European vote.

However, as the  authors of the investigative journalism argue , Yansha’s and Orban’s connections extend beyond that. Allegedly, when creating his own mass media, the Slovenian leader attracted funds from Hungarian entrepreneurs from Orban’s entourage.

But on the other side of the business relationship, there is something that brings both politicians together, which is not limited to money. Both Fidesz Orbana and the Slovenian Democratic Party of Janshi assume that they represent small countries whose identities are threatened by the changes taking place in the world. Therefore, back in 2015, both states developed a common approach to the migration issue: the construction of walls. And Slovenia even got ahead of its neighbor, erecting sections of fortifications on the Croatian border, that is, directly within the EU, “protecting” not Europe, but the Schengen zone from states that did not enter it.

“Slovenia in the first place!”, “Without us, Slovenes, there will be no Slovenia!” – These slogans, considered marginal at the beginning of the century, brought Yanshi’s party an election victory in 2018. The local media, oriented to European public opinion, launched a campaign against the prime minister, but could not undermine his power. The relationship between them turned into a regime of mutual attacks. Knowing the attitude of Yanshi to the Yugoslav communist regime (which condemned him to a criminal term), the media called the prime minister “Marshal Tvito” – by analogy with the Yugoslav dictator Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Yanshe also managed to touch the sensitive strings of the soul of his opponents. While still in opposition, his party organized a nationwide essay competition for children on the benefits of living in a homogeneous country without migrants.

Small country and one very big

In the plane of confrontation between part of the Eastern European states and Brussels in the 2010s, a new player, China, made itself felt. A conflict with the European Union in the language of real politics usually means a willingness to deal with the Middle Kingdom. This is most clearly demonstrated by Viktor Orban himself: his country has actively joined the Belt and Road Initiative, the key element of which is planned to be the railway between Budapest and Belgrade. Orban readily accepts loans from Chinese banks, which are given in such a way that the money will be spent on projects related to the PRC. One of these is the branch of Shanghai Fudan University in Budapest. True, the outcome of this undertaking is unclear: the Hungarian opposition mobilized against it in the summer of 2021.

For Slovenia, which is at odds with Brussels, it is also about receiving Chinese money. The main directions of these investments are outlined by the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China: improving the port in the city of Koper, laying railways, participating in the privatization of local state-owned companies. The advantage of Chinese investment in the eyes of Eastern Europeans is the lack of political conditions and respect for local culture. A potential drawback is the growth of debt, which for a small state may be unbearable. This is one of the reasons why Budapest and Ljubljana will hardly dare to go east too far.

However critical in Eastern Europe (including Slovenia) some of the proposals of the pan-European leadership may be, for the elites of these countries it is not only and not so much an adversary as a difficult negotiating partner. After all, both Slovenia and Hungary are direct recipients of the EU’s annual aid, which they (especially in a crisis) are not ready to refuse. Therefore, we can expect that the verbal escalation between Orban, Yansha and Europe, although it will continue, but the critical line, both leaders will not cross. Their task is different – to be heard. After all, what seems natural for large countries with a long history of persecution of minorities, followed by late repentance, looks completely different from the point of view of small states (Slovenia’s population is only 2.1 million) without a sense of collective guilt.

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