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Address of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, at the main celebration of Statehood Day of the Republic of Slovenia

Ljubljana, 30. 6. 2020 | speech

Address of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, at the main celebration of Statehood Day of the Republic of Slovenia
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

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The power of democracy and the urgency of vision

My fellow Slovenians
living at home and all around the world,
Dear Citizens,
Excellencies,
Esteemed Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we celebrate the birth of Slovenia. We are proud to commemorate this important and historic moment in our country's history. By gaining independence, Slovenians obtained a powerful tool for the nation's and the country's development. A tool unlike any other we had had before or are likely to have again.

I ask that you open your ears and your hearts to the important message of this major holiday, particularly given the current situation. It is a reminder and a caution that Slovenia became independent during the Slovenian political spring, on a wave of major democratic change. Without it, there would not be a Slovenia. Without democracy, there will be no bright future for our country.

I am not saying that because I believe that democracy is directly at risk today, but rather because we underestimate its significance for our development.

The power of democracy is not only its ability to protect diversity. Democracy has a power that is greatly undervalued nowadays. It has a fierce, inner power to overcome differences for the common good in a democratic dialogue.

Remember the Slovenian political spring and the flurry of political activity at the time. Remember the period after the first democratic elections leading up to and following Slovenia's independence. Our political and other differences were obvious and numerous. As were our problems. However, using an open democratic dialogue we managed to find our common ambitions and went on to achieve them.

As your president, I miss that democratic drive today. I miss the trust and the confidence to have an open, cordial conversation about everything and reach an agreement on many of the issues. No problem that modern Slovenia is facing is so great that it cannot be resolved by working together. But probably not if we are divided. I am not calling for political unity. I am calling for dialogue and cooperation. Both of which we are sorely lacking. And we really need them now.

Every time there seem to be prevailing differences in a mature democratic society, everyone must do their part to ensure that common ground prevails once again. That time has come and now everyone must do their part.

Recently there has been an unpleasant, distressing feeling that everyone must pick a side for or against the Government and the opposition. As if the teeth of a rake moved in different directions, not leaving much room for doubt or a different way of thinking.

A notion seems to have emerged that not being committed and blindly loyal to one or the other side is something to be ashamed of. This difference of political opinion radically narrows the room for dialogue and views cooperation as a weakness. It is dangerous and short sighted.

Our historical experience from 30 years ago speaks to us with its intense democratic drive, understanding of the virtues and pains of others. The time has come again to show such sensitivity.

I dare say that our homeland has a rather substantial silent majority of people who wish for the current quarrels to be transient in nature, hoping that, at the dawn of the new era that is before us, our common ground will prevail once again.

Thus, I urge all of us to renounce any statements or actions that could further diminish our mutual trust or even inspire contempt and hate. We do not deserve any of it. It will not do us the least bit of good. We have had enough of this, even too much.

I urge all of us to try to listen to one another, to be appreciative of one another. To quarrel in a civil manner, respecting the dignity of every one of us. Let us restore the power of democracy, of democratic political culture and the democratic spirit in our homeland. Let us exchange our views, however different they may be, without offending or excluding anyone. At the same time, let us try to find what we do have in common among these differences.

For brave people, determined yet tolerant, strong-minded and independent-thinking, seeking smart compromises is the honourable and responsible thing to do. A few days ago, I received a letter from Ms Mila Uršič who thanked me for wishing her a happy 100th birthday. Her wonderful letter ends with the following Latin proverb: "A ruler's most important job is to make friends". Let us all take her wisdom to heart.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is one other thing from thirty years ago that is relevant to today's experience.

On the wave of democratic change before and after the democratic elections, before and after Slovenia's independence, Slovenian politics and the entire Slovenian society quarrelled in all kinds of ways, but the quarrels were about one central, very important idea: achieving independence and its recognition. Today, thirty years later, there seems to be no major idea, no grand vision that could serve as a rallying point. Not one as major as that, in any case.

It is also true, however, that modern Slovenia and Europe are facing extremely challenging times. Difficult times, with incredibly difficult tasks that demand a clear vision and social consensus.

The time after the pandemic, which is not even really over, brings with it the usual post-crisis uncertainties, concerns and fears, as well as a big opportunity to be innovative and not only adapt but actually achieve changes in Slovenia and the whole of Europe in accordance with sustainable development.

The vision of a green and digital Slovenia is perfect, practically made for our wonderful country. Incorporated in the Renew Europe concept of the trio presidency of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, we have been offered an excellent opportunity to turn the current crisis situation to our advantage in line with our most noble expectations. The expectations that have to do with the fate of our children and our children's children to live in peace, prosperity and a healthy environment.

Right now, at a time of inflamed differences of political opinion, when people are hurling all kinds of unpleasant disqualifications at each other, when we are in danger of mistaking hate speech for freedom of speech, at the dawn of a new era that is still a mystery at this moment, I urge everyone of us, on behalf of the majority of the Slovenian people, to come together on a political and national level, to build bridges of trust, to strengthen the mechanisms of cooperation and ask ourselves what kind of Europe and what kind of Slovenia we want in the future. And answer together: this is the Slovenia that we want in the future and this is the Europe that we want in the future.

Then we come together in the coming years and show all our courage, knowledge, innovation and heart, regardless of who is in power and who is in the opposition.

Last but not least, let us ask ourselves what gave us the upper hand in the first couple of months of the health crisis. Cooperation and trust. The two virtues that inspired our wonderful people to make dramatic changes to their lifestyles for the common good. This allowed us to start a new and unpredictable, but perhaps marvellous chapter of history from a high vantage point.

Slovenia did an excellent job dealing with the health crisis. Not only because of our relatively low infection and death rates. But because we, as a democratic country, took action in accordance with the rule of law.

When we encountered previously unimaginable problems, we did not circumvent the law but made the necessary amendments, with a two-thirds majority if need be. More than a half of EU Member States introduced some form of a state of emergency. Slovenia did not.

What I want to say is that, in challenging times, Slovenia understood the importance of those democratic values that had inspired it during its struggle for independence and that are now our constitutional categories. Despite all our missteps and shortcomings, all our worries, even fears, all the problems we are presented with, this is very encouraging for our present and future course of action.

Today we celebrate our country. Today we celebrate our homeland. In our wonderful Slovenia, there is room for everyone if we just respect and encourage one another – there will never be enough room if we reject or exclude one another.

Our nearly thirty-year-long independent path has had its ups and downs, even an occasional deviation. However, our nation has always had a magical intuition that steers us back onto the right path, onwards and upwards.

We are here, responsible for the present and future generations. Regardless of all our doubts, regardless of all resentments, whether minor or major, regardless of all the bad feelings, regardless of all of that, I believe the people of Slovenia, our home country, to be a mature nation, a connected people who will soon create something even fairer, even more successful, even more sustainable and even more peaceful and safe for us, our children and our children's children.

In this sincere belief, I wish you all the best on the occasion of our central national holiday that we proudly carry in our hearts, no matter who or where we are.

Good luck, Slovenia!