The recent batch of US diplomatic cables made available on Wikileaks revisited some of the most recent and significant Slovenian political affairs. Despite some interesting statements, there were no major revelations.
Wikileaks is a phenomenon which needs no introduction. Its recent publication of classified US cables made some 800 documents created by Ljubljana Embassy staff visible to anyone. The US Embassy in Slovenia responded critically to the most recent release of “alleged US official cables”, saying it objects to and regrets the irresponsible, wholesale disclosure of confidential information. Nonetheless, the documents became hot material for both journalists and politicians, especially as they were made available during the traditionally quiet Summer months.
As it turned out there were few surprises found in the documents. But in a time when any kind of reporting in Slovenia suffers a high degree of political contamination, or is perceived that way, most welcomed the chance to learn something resembling the truth.
Don’t play with Croatia
Among recent Slovenian affairs, a dispute with Croatia seems to have been a priority concern for the USA. The disagreement certainly did turn highly unpleasant when the ‘patriotic’ non-parliamentary Party of Slovene Nation requested Croatia was prevented from joining NATO, something that was due to happen in April 2009. “We cannot have the embarrassment of one Ally failing to ratify Croatia or of seating a new Ally in the middle of a Summit,” reads a message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she goes on to urge embassy staff to use all possible pressure to prevent the “embarrassment” from happening. This additionally explains the agony of Prime Minister Pahor, who got himself pinned down between the legal circumventing of the domestic nationalists and the international scandal that he needed to avoid.
The US has strongly supported resolving the Croatian border deal. The cables reveal that Pahor addressed the US charge d’affaires to support his effort for arbitration and also reported the intention to soften the anti-arbitration opposition boss Janez Janša.
The Slovenian media comes in for criticism in the cables. “They often fall short of journalistic standards of professionalism by blatantly mixing fact and opinion in their stories. The media also exhibit a strong left-of-center bias,” then US Ambassador to Slovenia Johnny Young said in 2004. While praising the open information environment, the media itself was considered difficult, “complex and often opaque, very critical of the US”, mentioning journalists’ almost “allergic reaction” to the administration of then US President George W. Bush. Criticism was also levelled at media ownership, “which is difficult to determine, as are exact political and economic pressures, which allegedly affect media reporting and result in some self-censorship”.
This alleged left-bias was also discussed by the US charge d’affaires and Dimitrij Rupel, Foreign Minister during the time of Janša’s government. In a cable report, Rupel expressed his belief in the media monopoly of the political left and admitted that “some people in the government [not himself or the Prime Minister] had made an effort to select a friendly editor of leading daily Delo and had succeeded in installing a general manager and editor-in-chief through two companies on the supervisory board.” Again, this statement was no surprise but is fodder for those who see the current scandalous situation around Delo as a legacy of the former government’s media intervention.
While the antagonists in the ongoing Patria scandal wage their media war on whether Janša’s SDS was a bribe-taker or a victim of conspiracy, the cables make the US’ understanding of the matter quite clear. The May 2007 cable has Ambassador Robertson quoting a “clandestine source” that “PM Janez Janša’s SDS received more than EUR 2.8m ‘under the table’ from Patria.” Moreover another cable on a meeting with Janša reports that the politician’s “ignorance” about the details of the APCs tender “was a bit disingenuous, especially since we know that as Slovenia’s former defence minister he follows these issues”. The views of the ambassador, who adds in the same cable that “the entire Patria deal has smelled fishy from the get-go”, were explained away by SDS. The party claimed the cable proved Janša successfully resisted lobbying related to the APCs deal and that he insisted on a transparent public tender: Sistemska tehnika, the Patria rival bider is partly owned by General Dynamics and the US ambassador seemed to be trying to lobby for the US company.
These are just the few of the most popular topics in the cables. In addition, the media quoted comments on the failed business plans of the entertainer Harrah’s and another American investment plan for a tourist settlement under Krvavec, which failed due to involvement of local tax-suspicious companies.
In short, the “revelations” in the cables actually shocked no one. Slovenian Information Comissioner Nataša Pirc Musar commented that “our politicians are damn naïve if they think that Americans will not forward to its intelligence base all that they had been trusted at some unofficial talks.”
The cables might have confirmed some allegations, but it is not likely to influence a change of public opinion for domestic politics, nor the sentiments for the United States. “To date, we haven’t seen any reports to suggest that our previous reporting was done with bias or ill-intent,” the US Embassy has commented. “On the contrary, such reports, if accurate, indicate that our embassy was accurately reflecting both local mood and information available at the time these cables were written.” Definitely not far from the truth.
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