On Monday, 23 May 2022, MEP Irena Joveva attended the Studio Europe: Volunteers, Heroes of European Solidarity event, where she and the participants discussed the challenges of volunteering and addressed the question of its future, including in the light of the epidemic and the war in Ukraine. Joveva highlighted the fact that volunteering organisations bear a heavy burden of responsibility in crisis situations, and at the same time provide the lion’s share of aid, which must be acknowledged without reservation.

The participants agreed that in Slovenia volunteering has a long and strong tradition. This form of philanthropic assistance is especially visible in times of severe crises when the work of volunteers and NGOs becomes particularly important for the well-being of people and communities in need. Still, the successful operation of volunteering organisations also hinges on the financial and material support of the competent authorities, which must enable them to work as efficiently and smoothly as possible.

As rapporteur on behalf of Renew Europe for the European Solidarity Corps, Ms Joveva presented a few details about this programme, for which a separate budget line has been foreseen for the first time and much more funding envisaged than in previous years. The European Solidarity Corps allows young Europeans to volunteer or participate in projects in an EU Member State or a partner country. She called for a greater promotion of the high-quality and diverse programme that shows that the European Parliament appreciates volunteering and wishes to ensure that it is as inclusive and accessible as possible for those in need.

“Financial support for volunteering organisations may have decreased during, say, the financial crisis, but despite the obstacles, the human side of volunteering has been reinforced. In times of need, Slovenians will step together to organise help in any way we can. And often those who have less help more. The promotion of volunteering has also received a big push from the social networks.”

Asked by the moderator how best to strengthen the cooperation of volunteering organisations with the EU institutions and other Member States, Joveva said that crises know no borders. Therefore, in her view, it would make sense to introduce more coherent and integrated cooperation between all of the above, and to give volunteering organisations more space, as they know the problems in the local environment and are in daily contact with the most vulnerable.

“Cooperation needs to be strengthened at all levels, both in the volunteering sector as well as at the level of national institutions. This will facilitate wider European support for adequate funding for these organisations, as well as for their promotion.”

Finally, Joveva expressed her wish that volunteering should not be taken for granted, which might be happening under the influence of the growing individualism in society.

“Volunteers need financial and material support, but they also need respect and encouragement, because volunteering is the backbone of our society. Education of young people is also key, and I would like to see volunteering promoted in a way that gives up the patronising attitude towards young people, which can drive them away.”

In addition to MEP Joveva, the event was attended by Gregor Gomboši, Commander of the Ljubljana-Vič Volunteer Fire Brigade; Tjaša Arko, Head of the Volunteering Programme at the Slovenian Philanthropy; Sandi Curk, Commander of the Notranjska Regional Civil Protection Headquarters; and Miha Zupančič, President of the Youth Council of Slovenia.

Volunteering is not just about doing unpaid work. It is about contributing to the building of society, about a sense of one’s fellow humans, which we must value highly. That is why, on the occasion of National Volunteer Week, the office of MEP Irena Joveva would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to each and every volunteer.

You can watch a video of the event HERE.

On Tuesday, 17 May 2022, MEP Irena Joveva was invited by Europe Direct Zasavje to participate in a discussion with young people on digitisation and distance learning during the COVID-19 epidemic. The event was organised as part of the European Year of Youth. Joveva stressed, in particular, that she would wish both the European Parliament and the Slovenian school system to preserve the good technological gains made over the last two years.

The young participants began by presenting their experience from the period and describing how they had managed to cope with distance learning. Asked about the advantages of distance learning, they pointed out that there was no need to travel to the place of study and that in many cases professors put more effort into lectures than they do in the classroom. Furthermore, distance learning has exposed young people to new online tools and ways of working that they were previously unfamiliar with.

On the other hand, the biggest disadvantage of distance learning was the lack of socialising and the inability to spend time together. They added that not all teachers and professors knew how to use modern technology, which meant that some lectures were of poorer quality and as a result they had to do a lot by themselves.

According to the young audience, the key factor underpinning the success of distance learning is a stable internet connection. They stressed that the lack of financial resources for IT equipment can leave many students mentally distressed because they are unable to afford it. This assessment of the situation was echoed by the MEP, who added that the epidemic had worsened the mental state of young people in general, and that this issue has only recently come to the forefront of various policy debates.

During the discussion, some young people pointed out that a lot of new equipment has been purchased for distance learning, which schools and universities could also use in the future. Joveva agreed, believing that the benefits of the technological advances made during the epidemic should be preserved to the greatest extent possible. She mentioned the example of electronic voting introduced in the European Parliament, which has made it possible to better monitor the votes cast by MEPs, making voting fully transparent. In her view, this allows for a more democratic and fairer approach.

Joveva also finds it unacceptable that so many young people still do not have access to the internet, computers and other basic IT equipment. The main actor in this respect is the state, as it has the power to regulate the school system.

“I want everyone to have access to IT equipment and other electronic devices by 2022.”

The young participants went on to express their wish to see the teaching materials converted into electronic versions, as this would make them more accessible to all pupils and students.

At the end of the event, Joveva thanked everyone for their comments and insights, and especially welcomed the concept of the event that was truly youth-centred and did not just provide a platform for the monologues of political decision-makers. She stressed that she would be happy to participate in similar events in the future and introduced the Ideas that transcend boundaries website to the young participants.

On Tuesday, 17 May 2022, MEP Irena Joveva spoke at the Committee on Culture and Education on the progress of the report on the impact of COVID-19 closures of educational, cultural, youth and sports activities on children and young people in the EU, to which she contributes as a rapporteur on behalf of the Renew Europe political group. She said, among other things, that children and young people need to be educated about mental health.

In her introduction, Joveva praised the current draft report, not least for including the importance of the educational, environmental and interpersonal aspects for the physical and psychological development of adolescents, which is then reflected throughout their lives, as well as the significance of sufficient financial support for educational institutions to adequately support pupils, students and teachers from a mental health perspective.

“It is also great to see the integration and mutual cooperation between the Union, Member States, local authorities and youth organisations to alleviate the impact of the epidemic.”

The MEP went on to point out that the draft report should also mention activities to supplement curricula with content that would teach children and young people about mental health. She also drew attention to the negative aspect of the use of digital education, which has also been evident among young people over the last two years. She explained that her main wish was to destigmatise mental health and, at the same time, to normalise help-seeking of all those in need of support. Joveva announced that she would also submit amendments to complement the report with an initiative to increase the number of appropriately trained staff to support young people in need.

“The report should also better address the problems of young artists who have abandoned their artistic projects, some even their artistic careers, because of the closure of institutions and the uncertainty created.”

On Friday, 13 May 2022, MEP Irena Joveva participated in the event “Mental health in Europe: where do we stand? – Youth in the Spotlight“, organised by the Renew Europe political group, where participants addressed the acute problem of mental distress among young people and presented some measures to reduce stigma around mental health. Among other things, the MEP stressed the need to normalise help-seeking in our society.

Mental illness, anxiety and distress have been on the rise for decades, both in Europe and around the world. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, 84 million people had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the EU alone (as many as one in six). According to the OECD, one in two people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime and many of them will not receive the care they need. In her speech, Joveva expressed her concern about the growing negative trends and called for more decisive action in this field:

Although the epidemic has exacerbated the mental health situation, the problem has been present in our midst for decades. It continues precisely because of the perpetuation of stigma attached to mental health problems. We need to take the necessary measures to reduce the stigma around mental health and normalise help-seeking in our society.”

During the epidemic, the prevalence of mental health problems in people aged 15–24 doubled in most countries. The gravity of the situation is illustrated by the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in Europe.

Joveva maintained that as long as mental health is stigmatised to such an extent, young people will not dare to seek help, which will inevitably lead to an even greater increase in mental distress. She believes that overcoming stigma requires education and providing people with the right information. This should start with mainstreaming mental health into school systems, while a frank conversation about mental health must continue with all members of our society (peers, parents, doctors, teachers, influencers, etc.).

Acting as rapporteur on behalf of Renew Europe, Joveva will contribute to a report on the impact of COVID-19 closures of educational, cultural, youth and sports activities on children and young people in the EU, where she says the main priority will be to focus on accessible, free and timely help for all young people with mental health problems, so that these can be coped with and overcome.

“The report will focus on the consequences of the epidemic and the lockdown that has caused younger generations to miss out on an important time of socialising, creating connections and spending time with their peers. We will look at the problems from the perspective that adolescence is a unique formative time in an individual’s life and that the world around us has a profound impact on our mental health.”

Joveva went on to explain that the mental health of children and adolescents is strongly influenced by the circumstances of their lives – their experiences with their parents and carers, their relationships with friends, and their opportunities to play, learn and grow.

She concluded by calling for an EU-wide plan to tackle mental health problems:“We need to facilitate dialogue and good cooperation between all Member States, local representatives, youth organisations, the education system and the private sector to create a comprehensive strategy that will deliver the desired results.”

For the third time in her term of office, on Tuesday, 10 May 2022,  MEP Irena Joveva met with secondary school students from Novo mesto Gymnasium. On the occasion of Europe Week and the Year of Youth, she spoke about youth issues and current events in Slovenia and beyond. She considers it important to talk to young people in order to raise awareness about the importance of their participation in shaping the policies that affect their future, something which should also be fostered at home and at school.

First, she explained how she has been manoeuvring between her work as an MEP and motherhood over the past year, as it was noticed that her then nine-month-old daughter Mila was keeping her company in the European Parliament chamber during the vote: “I gave her some papers to distract her, some toys and some water, and that was it. Nobody minded her presence, everybody was happy with her being there and it was all very positive –she only made the atmosphere more pleasant.” She also described what her job is like: “It’s a 24/7 mission, both motherhood and being an MEP. Even if you are not working at a given moment, you can never switch off.”

According to Joveva, political discourse in Slovenia is currently at its lowest point. The culture of dialogue in the European Parliament is better, but even there you find some MEPs who are very extreme, manipulative and dangerously populist. They are, however, much more marginalised.

“No one in the European Parliament works with the MEPs from extreme political groups with hideous positions. It is clear who is OK and who isn’t, while in our National Assembly it is unfortunately much less clear cut. I cannot imagine the President of the European Parliament or the President of the Council communicating in the way that top-level politicians do here.”

She said that her colleagues in Brussels find it inconceivable that this could be happening in Slovenia.

Joveva also pointed to the extremely hostile communication on social networks, where she, too, has been criticised for her looks, her background and, more recently, her motherhood and her career. “I am sure that if I were a man, there would be less of this. Nobody discusses male colleagues, who are also fathers to young children, this way,” she added. She has also been criticised for her youth and alleged inexperience. But she entered politics also because she believes that the future of young people should be decided by people who are not burdened by the past, scandals, extreme views, or who are advanced in years. “Young people are increasingly important, not least in EU policies. The fight for young people is very prominent in the context of environmental issues and employment,” she said, adding that political education should be cultivated both at home and at school, and that she is always happy and pleased to respond to invitations to meet young people. She impressed on the audience to make use of all the programmes available in the framework of EU projects, especially the Erasmus exchange programme. She feels it is important to foster curiosity and consideration: “This is crucial, politicians and people in general should become more considerate. Considerate people see and feel other people more and can distinguish right from wrong.”

A large part of the discussion was devoted to current events in Slovenia and Europe. Joveva explained that the elections in France and Slovenia showed that people do not want extreme policies and division. She repeated how important it is to exercise the right to vote, otherwise one should not feel entitled to be critical of the elected representatives of the people.  She also expressed dissatisfaction with the way the campaign had been run and with the political messages directed at young people: “I don’t think there was enough focus on young people. Apart from the platitudes that are heard time and again, there wasn’t much substance.”

Joveva is worried about the war in the heart of Europe: “It is very difficult for me to express anything but condemnation – what is happening is horrific, but also extremely dangerous. We all hope that the situation will calm down soon, but we have to be realistic – it doesn’t look like it will. The European Parliament and the MEPs are doing everything we can to at least make the situation easier for people, although we acknowledge we cannot solve it.” The war is also resulting in a new wave of refugees, and the MEP stressed that all refugees and people fleeing dangerous areas must receive equal help. She was critical of Poland and Hungary, which among other things have been blocking the adoption of the legislative package governing the EU’s migrant policy in the Council for several years.

“I do find it somewhat ironic that Poland and Hungary, which are holding up the adoption of migration legislation, are now bearing the brunt of the refugees from Ukraine.”

Multiculturalism is one of Europe’s most important values, as the EU’s motto is ‘United in diversity’. Coming from a multicultural family, she sees this as her advantage. “I have always said that I am proud of my origins and of my homeland, which is Slovenia. I was born here, my father is Bulgarian and my mother Macedonian. This is reflected in everything else: if you have lived with people of different religions, backgrounds and, after all, political beliefs your whole life, this is reflected not only in your personality but also in your profession – especially in my case,” she concluded.

On Monday, 9 May 2022, Europe Day, MEP Irena Joveva attended a discussion with secondary school students from Bežigrad Gymnasium to talk about the issues and challenges facing young people in the European Union. In addition to housing and employment issues, they also discussed the perspectives of young people, migration and the importance of involving young people in politics. Asked about her decision to stand as a candidate, she told them that she would not have chosen to throw her hat into the ring if she had been happy with the people who were in office at the time.

Joveva began by explaining the European Parliament’s powers in the legislative process: “We take all decisions as a co-legislator, together with the Council, which brings together the heads of state or government of all EU Member States. The European Parliament adopts legislation with a majority, whereas the Council requires unanimity – and if one country is against, a dossier is blocked.” She pointed out that the European Parliament has been working intensively on migration policy for several years and has constantly warned countries of the need to legislate in this area: “As the leaders of certain Member States prefer to sow fear of refugees rather than help them, we do not have a proper umbrella legislation, which should have been there long ago!” In her view it is unacceptable to divide refugees into “genuine” and “non-genuine” on the basis of, for example, the colour of their skin or religion. She mentioned that having been the child of economic migrants herself, she knows what it is like when parents leave their country to earn a living: “It is important for migrants to integrate, but they cannot, unless society makes it possible for them to do so.”

Joveva devotes most of her parliamentary activities to youth policies, thus she is well acquainted with housing and youth employment issues. In this context, she considers it important that all other EU Member States also regulate the minimum wage, which should guarantee a decent living. “There are plenty opportunities for young people abroad, and there is nothing wrong with a person going elsewhere to look for a better job; still, Slovenia should ensure it creates favourable foundations so that young people go out into the world to gain experience and then return home. Whether the conditions are good or bad, however, depends on an individual country, not so much on me or the European Parliament,” she explained. The same is true for housing. Housing issues do not fall directly under the responsibility of the Parliament, but are dealt with by countries at a national level. “The lack of housing is a problem in Scandinavia, too. There is no overarching European law to regulate this, and there probably won’t be,” she noted, citing Vienna as a good example of how the housing market and non-profit rental and purchase prices are regulated.

Finally, she spoke to the students about youth participation in politics.

“It is essential that you follow politics because it is about you and your life in the future. You need to understand that this is really important and that you have to be part of it. You don’t have to become a member of a of political party to do so, if you don’t want to; you can be active in other ways”, she encouraged them and went on to say: “If I had been happy with those who were in office at the time, I wouldn’t have thrown my hat into the ring because I wouldn’t have had to.”

A notorious photo of Irena Joveva, then still a journalist. With a step stool in front of the SDS headquarters. Dreadful, shameful, whose interests does she represent, did she use a step stool to climb into office … I could read all this nonsense (and more) about myself. But not when the photo was taken – which was on the day of the 2018 parliamentary elections ­– when nobody was bothered by that poor little step stool yet. Except me, because it wasn’t the easiest thing to stand on. 😁 It started bothering people later, when I was elected to the European Parliament. Because they simply had to find something, and this is what they pulled out. Oh, ha ha, how very funny it is that Irena Joveva is standing on a step stool.

Right, let it be funny. I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem with the fact that they also make fun of much more serious things.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the fact that the long-standing, legendary Studio City presenter Marcel Štefančič is leaving the show. Because that’s what the people in charge have decided. I’m not even going to mention who is to replace him because … because I prefer to quote Marcel: “What is happening now is a twilight zone. I cannot imagine what is in the heads of people who come up with such ideas.”

… And, if I may add, I do know what is in the heads of people who come up with such ideas. They are corrupt, unscrupulous, perverted, despicable heads of enforced conformity, propaganda, discrediting and the desire to devastate everything and everyone who dares to critically evaluate them or the developments related to them.

I am talking about the fact that today is World Press Freedom Day. And that Slovenia has slipped 18 places on the press freedom index, now ranking 54th. The worst showing in its history. And about the fact that on this very day – how ironic – the model offered to us by the current government has once again ‘proven its worth’. The luckily outgoing government, which, unfortunately, still has enough cronies it has appointed to numerous posts to still be able to cause damage.

To use its final breaths to present all this as “concern” for “media pluralism” and as a fiction that critical media and journalists are linked to communist forces or some other ghosts of the past. That this is a political battle, right vs left and vice versa.

No, it isn’t. It’s very simple. This is nothing but a model of authoritarian, partisan, illiberal hijacking of the state and complete subjugation of the media space. It is an attempt to destroy the public service broadcaster RTV and critical reporting.

If media freedom falls, democracy falls. I am sorry to have to write about this on this day. And I hope with all my heart that on this day a year from now, I will be able to write about better times for journalism in Slovenia. Not only because of the change of power, but also because I sincerely count on European legislation. I count on the forthcoming European Media Freedom Act, which will help us to not only be ‘extremely concerned’ when such things happen in the EU, but will give us a stronger tool to fight power structures that think they can do whatever they like. They can’t. They won’t. Never again!

– Irena

Read below the statement by MEP Irena Joveva (RE/LMŠ) on the draft anti-SLAPP Directive and on the triggering of the Rule of Law mechanism against the Hungarian Government:

“In line with the announcements made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the April plenary session of the European Parliament, the College of Commissioners today also formally endorsed the initiation of the formal procedure to activate against Hungary the general regime of conditionality due to breaches of the principle of the rule of law and the misuse of EU funds. But the actual triggering of the freezing of funds must also be approved by a qualified majority of the Member States’ Heads of Government in the Council. Still, the much-anticipated sanctions that the European Parliament has been calling for since the beginning of 2021, when the mechanism formally entered into force, will not cover everything we would have liked. The sanctions will focus solely on corruption and the associated problematic use of European funds through public tenders, where Viktor Orban – at the expense of public freedoms and the complete subjugation of democratic institutions – channelled European funds to his friends and family. The fight against corruption is certainly of paramount importance, but equally important is the protection of the rule of law, human rights and the independence of the judiciary, and it is unacceptable that these will not be covered by the sanctions announced. We shall insist that the European Commission should not approve the national recovery and resilience plans of Hungary and Poland until the independence of the judiciary, media freedom and the independence of regulatory agencies are ensured in those two countries. Unless EU values are adhered to, there can be no disbursement of EU funds.

In the same vein, I welcome the proposal for the so-called anti-SLAPP Directive, binding Union-wide legislation against strategic lawsuits lodged to block public participation. The directive will systematically protect journalists, civil society and non-governmental organisations from the abuse of legal remedies by actors seeking to silence critics in this way. I am pleased that the European Commission’s proposal incorporates all the main points the European Parliament has called for in its resolution, which I had the privilege of co-shaping as a member of the negotiating group working under the remit of the Committee on Culture. The most important element of the directive will be a legal mechanism allowing the courts to expeditiously dismiss cases that clearly qualify as SLAPP suits. I also welcome the provisions that, in the case of blatant abuse of a judicial remedy by lodging a SLAPP suit, the costs of the trial should be borne by the claimant. In the next steps, the European Parliament intends to tighten up the directive and extend some of its provisions. What I would wish, in particular, is to see a radical restriction on so-called ‘forum shopping’, through which claimants exert even more psychological and financial pressure on their critics. A necessary next step would be to make recommendations for Member States, such as provisions concerning data collection on SLAPP cases, training of judges and additional safeguards, binding already within the directive. It should not be forgotten that there are also SLAPP cases in Slovenia, and that they are used by the outgoing Prime Minister’s cronies as an attempt to silence critical journalists. Slovenia should treat defamation as a criminal offence in line with EU standards. It is high time that we ceased turning the other cheek to SLAP(P)s in investigative journalism and in the EU’s legal system.”

On Wednesday 20 April 2022, MEP Irena Joveva took part in an online debate with the European Parliament’s Student Ambassadors entitled “If I Were to Decide” (Če bi jaz odločal(a)) on preventing addiction among young people. Unfortunately, addiction is not a rare phenomenon, and the young people taking part in the debate shared their views on the issue and explored possible policy solutions with MEP Joveva. They agreed that the most important thing is to prevent addiction from developing in the first place. Young people most often try drugs out of curiosity and to prove themselves to their peers, but they need to realise that they will only be really “cool” if they are good people, underscored the MEP.

Joveva began by outlining some facts about addiction that have come out of European research. Young people often turn to cigarettes and alcohol at an early age because both are relatively easy to access. The use of soft and hard drugs is also relatively high. The MEP is in favour of legalising cannabis for both medical and personal use, along the lines of some other European countries, but considers it important to regulate the quantities permitted for cultivation and possession, set age limits and restrict abuse. She takes a more radical view on hard drugs, wanting them to be eradicated completely. Just as worrying are non-chemical addictions, with addictions to electronic devices particularly on the rise. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problems in all areas of addiction.

The initial exchange was followed by presentations by secondary school pupils, based on workshops organised in schools. Their main message was that it all starts at home. This is where the healthy development of adolescents with a positive self-image should be ensured. In the students’ opinion peer relationships and other supportive environments – shaped by relatives, acquaintances, neighbours and teachers – are also very important. The students added that there is a lack of awareness-raising and education, both for young people and for the elderly. The MEP also highlighted the increasing pressures from the environment:

“Why is addiction a problem with many young people? They are looking for something to help them forget their problems, and it is usually due to these problems that they succumb to addiction. The epidemic has made things worse and you have made an excellent suggestion that young people should be taught how to resist these temptations. Especially during adolescence, when the temptations to prove oneself are even greater. As a society, we put enormous pressure on young people. We live in a world of competition and consumerism because we think it will make us happy.”

According to Joveva, young people try drugs out of curiosity, but there are always deeper factors at play for developing addiction. A sense of self-worth can only be gained in a community, so we need to rethink our values as a society, she said. The various funds available within the European Union provide substantial resources for the implementation of addiction prevention programmes. In addition, it is also important to tighten controls over drug dealers and to carry out investigations which must lead to conclusion, that is to say, to the exposure of the criminal networks that control the market in illicit substances.

One of the proposals was to raise the age limit for buying alcohol and tobacco products. The MEP was critical of Slovenia’s attitude towards alcohol:

“Every major event is an opportunity for a toast, so it is vital that adults behave all the more responsibly not to entice young people to drinking and to prevent them from coming into contact with alcohol. Raising the age limit is unlikely to help.”

NGOs and help centres were also mentioned. Joveva said that these already exist, but there is a need for better information and awareness-raising about who young people and their parents can turn to. Cooperation between the responsible institutions at the national, regional and local levels is not effective enough. In the spirit of the time we live in, a special focus in the debate was placed on non-chemical addiction. This is a growing problem, faced by young and old alike. “Today we live in a world where many things are done digitally, and it is important to learn digital literacy at an early age. But the key is to know how to use technology properly,” she said. She does not think that technological abstinence is a realistic option, as many functions cannot be performed without technology. “We should reduce the use of technology, use softer approaches or offer alternatives, but I don’t agree with the stick approach, punishing bad behaviour. Adolescents need to realise themselves that spending so much time on the internet is problematic. In the long run, this is the only effective approach to take.” She also reiterated the urgent need to change the value system of young people: “You aren’t cool if you smoke and drink, you are cool if you are a good person!”

 

Watch the whole discussion:

You completely subjugate the media. As well as justice and the prosecution. All state subsystems. At the same time, you build a powerful apparatus, funded by the national and/or European coffers. Which is, in fact, taxpayers’ money that is being channelled through projects to your friends, while you can use it to build a palace for your father which is not far from the capital city of the country you are running, and as you go along you funnel “surpluses” of money into the “media” of your political ally in a neighbouring country.

Because these “media” are essential for the current government in this neighbouring country. For spreading hatred, disinformation, for manipulating, lying, discrediting opponents and preserving a parallel reality for an information bubble in which “the right” is being encouraged.

The two authoritarian regimes in the two countries I described above are likely to consolidate power in the coming years, after winning the elections on 3 and 4 April respectively. Apparently forever. The opposition never even stood a chance. And this really should be a wake-up call for us in Slovenia (the neighbouring country referred to above). It is almost impossible to recover from such a situation. When democracy is gone and there is only a corrupt clique under the leadership of one party. The Party. When they pretend that this is one of the visions of Europe’s future, it is more reminiscent of authoritarian regimes in the east.

Every additional year – it needn’t be a year – even every additional month with Janez Janša in power could mean a similar thing for Slovenia. The election on 24 April will indeed be historic and perhaps the most important ever. There is enough choice and, contrary to how “the right” is portraying it, pluralism is on “the left”. I put these in quotes on purpose, because it is down to Janša that we are divided into the left and the right. Everything that is not the SDS or their satellite is the left. This simplistic binarity suits them, as they have to create some kind of enemies, much like there is a need – according to them – to “balance the media” because “balanced media” of the kind they have in Hungary make sure that the right Party wins. But … do you know what is sad about all this? The fact that Orban, Vučić and Janša have destroyed the right in their countries. Throughout this time and with all this money, they have not been able to create some kind of a European right-wing party, but rather a really miserly populism with supporters who believe they are smarter than everyone else. They would like to have their own public media outlet, their own parallel universes. The situation is so bad that it would look comical if it were not so sad. It is also sad that a certain percentage of people vote for them no matter how much long-term damage they cause, when in fact – if I may paraphrase (in a slightly censored manner) Marcel Štefančič – there are not many of them, for f***’s sake, and we know exactly who they are.

Witnessing the subjugation of the media, the judiciary, agencies, cultural institutions, the punishing of civil society … we see attempts to silence, step by step, the critical voices and to stop the prosecution of corruption, and fundamentally, attempts to subjugate or make people walk away by appointing politicised leadership, by shrinking budgets, discrediting everyone and endeavouring to take all the joy out of working in these sectors.

In the European Parliament, this policy, this “ideology” is kept on the sidelines. Despite its membership in the European People’s Party (EPP), the SDS is on the outer fringes of the populist right in the EU, while unfortunately this is mainstream in Slovenia and destroys not only our institutions, but also the general climate and public debate. Certain politicians – we know exactly who they are! – have made all this possible and still make it possible. Because of their own interests.

Ironically, it is precisely building on the historical ressentiment of some anti-communism feeling (“anyone but the left!”) that is leading the right to an authoritarian one-party system subordinated to the Leader with Stalinist methods that socialism in Slovenia had never known. I know that, even though I was born in 1989.

After the election, the democratic parties need to prove that they can take better care of the people, even though the current government has destroyed state subsystems to a large extent and left the Treasury empty. That was, of course, the plan. The right, meanwhile, desperately needs an overhaul, because such a “spring” is actually a winter where only those close to the fireplace of flaming forint can keep warm.

I have not been in politics long but if I know anything, I know that this time it will be about the very democratic order of Slovenia.

Let’s all go vote! There are more of us, for f***’s sake!

– Irena