‘Not a good role model’: Hungary’s ties weigh on Slovenian leader’s re-election bid

Janez Jansa fulfilled the role of a European statesman when he took time from the Slovenian election campaign to take a day-long train trip to Kyiv last month – one of a trio of EU leaders to show support Ukraine and show Western unity.

However, during his third term in office, the Slovenian prime minister was often seen as an anti-EU allies with his attacks on immigrants, NGOs and the media, even also defiled Ljubljana. control the rotating presidency of the EU last year.

Jansa faces a general election on Sunday with his conservative SDS party falling behind in the latest polls against a new centre-left party. He still hopes to form another governing coalition: his campaign message, reflected on billboards across the EU member state, focuses on a proven political record, promises a leader “without testing”.

But his close relationship with Viktor Orban, his fellow conservative leader in neighboring Hungary, is alienating a growing number of voters and raising concerns about “Hungarianisation” of Slovenia – a reference to Jansa’s tendency towards critics and the independent media.

Svjetlana Radosavljevic, a pensioner enjoying fried fish at the market at the foot of Ljubljana Castle, said: “Jansa will be fine, but I hate the way he behaves like a bully in the school playground. . “It was like his friend Orban in Hungary. Not a good role model. ”

Robert Golob reacts on stage during the pre-election conference in Ljubljana
© Jure Makovec / AFP / Getty Images

Orban won a fourth consecutive election with a landslide victory in Hungary earlier this month, a feat Jansa is unlikely to repeat in Slovenia’s fractured political system, where coalitions consisting of a number of smaller parties are more typical.

Voters in the country of 2.1 million are more concerned about corruption and ties with neighboring countries than the economy. Growth and the job market have recovered as the Covid-19 crisis recedes, and analysts say Slovenia’s high deficits and public debt are risky but manageable.

“Economically, you can’t really criticize the government,” says Mojmir Mrak, a professor of economics at the University of Ljubljana. “Non-economic issues will determine the elections. . . ‘Hungarianisation’ is a definitive issue. “

Jansa, Slovenia’s most famous politician, first assumed the post of prime minister in 2004. In 2013, he was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison. Always denying the charges, he was released after six months, his sentence was dropped and the sentence was overturned. He returned to office in 2020 after the previous prime minister tried to call early elections but Jansa was quick to assemble an alternative coalition instead.

His main opponent on Sunday was a new party called Svoboda, or Freedom, led by Robert Golob, a respected former executive at state energy company Gen-I. Golob wants to end the alleged oppression and cronyism of the Jansa regime and make an ambitious green transition.

“The party’s new social contract won’t leave anyone out,” Golob said when he announced his program last month. He advocates an inclusive and open society based on the rule of law.

Speaker of the National Assembly Igor Zorcic last year left the governing coalition, citing the “urbanization of Jansa”. Critics like Zorcic worry about Jansa’s “war with the media” – an ideology the prime minister outlined two years ago in a essay – and his hobby is communicating directly with voters and bypassing the critical coverage of former US president Donald Trump.

A loyal media empire is an important part of the Orban blueprint modeled by Jansa. A group of Slovenian media owned by Hungarian businessmen repeated the prime minister’s Trump-like attacks on social media. These include the Nova24TV news channel, Planet TV and the weekly Demokracija magazine and regional online stores. They are part of a growing network of media organizations in the Central European countries and the Balkans owned by businesses with close links to Hungary’s ruling party, according to a report. report of the Institute of International Journalism.

Opposition politician Jani Möderndorfer of the centre-left LMS party formed last week said he will file a legal complaint against the SDS, which he says has unfairly tried to establish a model like Orban’s. legal.

SDS and government officials did not respond to questions from the FT about media ownership. Several requests to interview Jansa were denied.

“This [media] Jansa told a committee investigating the influence of the media in March. “This committee was created because the international left feared that their special media monopoly in Slovenia would be at least a little threatened.”

Although Hungarian-owned shops currently have a limited audience, media analysts say their influence over Slovenian politics could grow.

“If the SDS gets a new term, Slovenia’s media landscape could become like Hungary today,” said Uros Esih, a journalist for the national daily Delo. “In five years’ time, it could make a political difference.”

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s election, Slovenia will likely honor its Western business and security alliances, experts say. The country imports most of its gas from Russia, but economists say it is better placed than some EU countries to combat a decline in trade with Moscow.

However, Svoboda’s Golob was more firmly committed to EU values ​​than Jansa.

We will design and pursue a foreign policy committed to fundamental EU values ​​and will support a strong and united EU. “Slovenia will be part of the core EU countries.”

That difference was considered fundamental and a new government could leave the Hungarian Orban with a lesser ally like him. fighting with Brussels on issues of the rule of law.

“With a change,” said parliament speaker Zorcic, “Slovenia is likely to take a stronger stance on the rule of law.”

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