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President Pahor in Kleine Zeitung“The Balkans Could Escalate”

Celovec, 19. 3. 2017 | interview

Thomas Cik, Kleine Zeitung

Working text

You are rather vocal when speaking up for the Slovene minority in Carinthia. You have said: "The way the constitution is written now is unacceptable to us." In turn, this raises the question: Why is it so difficult for Slovenia to include its German-speaking minority in the constitution?

There are two autochthonous minorities in Slovenia – the Italian and the Hungarian.

Will it stay this way?
I see nothing to indicate that this would change. As far as the representatives of the German-speaking ethnic group in Slovenia are concerned, I have always been in favour of financially supporting them, including them politically, of nurturing and strengthening their identity. Ultimately, this should also contribute to strengthening our national consciousness.

However, the rights of ethnic groups go much further in your country – there are even representatives of ethnic groups on the supervisory board of the public service broadcaster. Will these rights never be granted to the German-speaking minority?
As I said before: this is a German-speaking ethnic group. They are an important part of our culture. I myself am often a guest in Kočevsko.

Your country speaks of a German-speaking minority in much the same problematic terms as parts of Carinthia speak of the Slovene minority there. Why does this subject still tend to inflame passions?
Because the Slovene national minority in Carinthia is protected by the Federal Constitution of the Republic of Austria and an international legal agreement. Slovenia is the successor state of one of the signatories of the Austrian State Treaty of 1955.

Is that what you really think?
Yes, yes, of course. And that’s the way it is. If this were to become a problem for Austria, we would explain our decision by notifying our succession with the government of the Russian Federation as the depositary. We are, however, of the opinion that Austria is acting to preserve its Slovene minority, and see progress in this regard, such as the erecting of bilingual signage in some towns. In light of the fact that Austria is not impervious to the concerns of the Republic of Slovenia regarding the state constitution, we understand this as Slovenia being considered a successor state to one of the signatory countries.

Do you see a crisis between Austria and Slovenia?
Right now? No. Carinthian Governor Peter Kaiser and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz were prepared to explain the situation to our Foreign Minister, Karl Erjavec, and representatives of the Slovene minority were also able to express their wishes. Furthermore, the text of the state constitution has not yet been determined. It should be in the strategic interest of both Slovenia and Austria to have the best relations possible, in all respects. Current developments in Europe are not the best. As pro-European states, we need to work together to enable peace, security and prosperity to evolve.

You once said that the European Union is like a beautiful woman – and that is why it is so complex.
Well, she is not showing her best side at the moment, nor is she in particularly good shape. What is currently lacking is European leadership, and going beyond thinking only about purely national interests and right-wing populism. This could destroy Europe, and this is precisely what I do not want. That is why, together with a group of Ljubljana intellectuals, we have launched an initiative to reform Europe.

Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, has proposed that not every state need necessarily be represented in the Commission. Would little Slovenia be ready to give up a Commissioner in favour of a great Europe?
We are not that far yet. We need to talk about reforming the institutions first, and then about positions. There is only one thing that would turn me away from Europe: the question of languages. If anyone says having 24 languages and over 500 different combinations of these languages is a problem, then I am out. Otherwise, I am willing to compromise.

The Balkan states are also sinking under the weight of their problems. What are the prospects for the members of your former common country?
I pointed out this issue to Jean-Claude Juncker a few days ago. “Do not forget the Balkans,” I told him. People there need more than just words, they understand that Europe is in crisis and is busy dealing with its own issues, but they need some prospect of better times.

Where do you currently see the biggest problem areas?
In Bosnia, the question of different nationalities coexisting side by side is still a problem. If, however, the people there could be provided with some prospect in line with the conditions of the Dayton Agreement, this could serve to hold the state together. Macedonia has remained particularly isolated for more than ten years. Owing to the conflict over its name with Greece, it has not participated in development processes in the direction of Europe nor in the direction of NATO. This country must be helped. Of course, Macedonia must also accept certain counsel and recommendations. It can’t only accept that which might favour one side or the other in Macedonia. We also see a worsening of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. As you know, Slovenia has recognised Kosovo. This has not improved our friendly relations with Serbia. For some time, they were very tense. However, we were also the country that later improved its relations with Belgrade. Now, we have friends on both sides and sincerely advise both not to allow relations to deteriorate, but to work to improve them.

You know that Austrians are concerned about the Krško nuclear power plant.
Yes, together with some Slovenians.

Probably the majority.
This fear is unjustified. Look, Slovenia has started building hydroelectric power plants, but everything has its limits. Some people reject thermal power plants over CO2 emissions, wind is not sufficiently stable, and some see nuclear energy as a potential threat to safety – so where do we get all the energy we need? And believe me, if I knew that nuclear energy from Krško was not absolutely safe I would take action, because safety comes first.

The election campaign for your re-election will begin at the end of the year. Have you collected enough photos for your Instagram account? Your active presence on social media networks seemed enough for a story even for the British Guardian.
The account has made me popular around the world, but it did not make me forget that I need to talk to people. This is the only way to learn of their concerns and wishes. However, I try to use these channels, I share my political views on Twitter, I show who I am as a person on Instagram. The elections will not make me present myself there any differently than who and what I am. Five years ago, I told people that we had to work together. If that is still what they want, I will be re-elected.