Open Letter to EU Institutions Regarding the Response to the Pandemic in Slovenia
Dear Ursula von der Leyen, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Michael O’Flaherty, and Donald Tusk,
the civil initiative InfoKolpa, Radio Študent, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Are You Syrious? and Doctors for Asylees would like to bring to attention the alarming steps taken by the government of Slovenia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government of Slovenia is abusing the pandemic to continue its politics of fear and discrimination against one of the most vulnerable populations in Europe – migrants and refugees stuck on the Balkan route. In Slovenia, the politics of fear have led to a campaign in the parliament to invoke the controversial Article 37.a of the Defence Act. Activation of the article would give the Slovenian army unclear jurisdiction for the »protection of the broader border« area. However, there is substantial concern that such indefinite military power would expand into martial law across the country.
The new Slovenian government has been in power since 13. 3. 2020 and has already aggressively expanded its rule. It replaced the heads of the police force and the ministry of defense’s intelligence and security service (OVS) and dismissed the head of the armed forces. Thus, bringing the state security apparatus directly under its control. Rapid personnel shifts in crucial institutions, barring journalists from press conferences, and media attacks amidst the pandemic demand close attention and caution.
As the world is experiencing a health emergency and humanitarian catastrophe, the Slovenian government is labeling the fight against the pandemic as a security threat. Consequently, the government called to grant the army police jurisdiction on the Schengen border with Croatia. Army’s presence at the border would nominally be for the containment of the pandemic. However, in practice, it would prevent people from seeking shelter and international protection in the European Union (EU).
We can expect that the army will continue with interception and illegal push-backs of migrants to Croatia. Push-backs have been a regular practice of the Slovenian police since the closure of the Balkan corridor in 2016. Since then, the Slovenian police have returned more than 16.000 persons to Croatia by systematically denying the right to asylum and falsifying official procedures. Croatian authorities further transport refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country with limited healthcare and shelter capacities. During the push-backs, the police regularly use violence, intimidation, and theft. The Slovenian and Croatian governments, European People’s Party (EPP), and European Commission (EC) can be considered as directly responsible for the ensuing humanitarian disaster in the overcrowded camps in BiH and Serbia.
The activation of Article 37.a would give the armed forces jurisdiction over civilians. There is widespread fear among the general public and parliamentary opposition that the “migrant threat” is just an excuse to broaden the government’s hold on power, as currently, the army is already assisting border police. The determination of the government to activate an unnecessary article of the law is a cause for severe concern.
Members of the parliamentary opposition have no oversight over the national intelligence agency (SOVA) and other vital decisions. Possibilities for critical observation are missing. Article 37.a requires votes from the opposition. There is a pressure on members of parliament (MPs) to vote in favor of the article. The Slovenian People’s Party (SLS), a member of EPP, is even considering criminal prosecution of opposition MPs who would not vote in favor of the article.
Journalists critical of the government are facing personal attacks and public humiliation while the prime minister denounces the reports of national broadcaster RTV Slovenia. For a time, journalists were not allowed to attend government press briefing and pose questions. As a response to the outcry of the Slovene Association of Journalists, the government first resorted to written-form briefings, offering pre-prepared answers, thus disabling journalists from directly asking questions and follow-up questions in real-time. Under the pretext of safety, a law was passed that enables the government to disregard the legal timeframe for providing information in the public interest.
In Slovenia, the government is more concerned with the capacity of the army and police, more concerned with security and population control than about the strained healthcare system. There is a lack of protective equipment in hospitals and nursing homes. Miserable care is provided to the homeless and other vulnerable persons.
The prime minister called for citizens to volunteer into the military to help with the efforts against the pandemic. It is an alarming sign since groups of far-right paramilitary militias were already illegally patrolling the southern border in search of migrants and refugees. Possible inclusion of these groups as military volunteers with police authority would be a dangerous step towards their normalization.
Human rights, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and public oversight are democratic values European governments and citizens are obligated to uphold. In light of the current pandemic, its aftermath, and progressing Euroscepticism, it is crucial to warn against escalating politics of fear and democratic backsliding practiced by the Slovene government and EU. Our government institutions should provide proportional measures in forms of humanitarian and medical aid, and not increase repression.
We appeal to the EC, EPP, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, members of the LIBE committee and other relevant authorities to closely monitor developments in Slovenia. We feel that the motions mentioned above indicate that after Hungary, Slovenia will be the next member state that will leave the principles of democracy under the leadership of the government that is a member of the EPP.
InfoKolpa, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Radio Študent, Are You Syrious? and Doctors for Asylees
Ljubljana 31. 3. 2020
(for further questions: firstname.lastname@example.org or 00 386 40 702 921)