Slovenian Democratic Party
|Founded||16 February 1989|
|Headquarters||Trstenjakova ulica 8, Ljubljana|
|European affiliation||European People's Party|
|International affiliation||Centrist Democrat International|
International Democrat Union
|European Parliament group||European People's Party|
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The Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovene: Slovenska demokratska stranka, SDS), formerly the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (Slovene: Socialdemokratska stranka Slovenije, SDSS), is a nationalist right-wing populist political party in Slovenia. Led by the current Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Janša, the SDS is a member of the European People's Party (EPP), Centrist Democrat International and International Democrat Union.
The Slovenian Democratic Party developed from the merger of two distinct political parties, being the legal successor of both of the Social Democratic Union of Slovenia and the Slovenian Democratic Union, member parties of the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) which defeated the Communist Party of Slovenia-derived parties in the first democratic Slovenian election in 1990, and carried out the democratization of Slovenia and its secession from Yugoslavia.
The Social Democratic Union of Slovenia had emerged from an independent, anti-Communist trade union movement in the late 1980s. Its first president was the trade union leader France Tomšič, who in December 1987 organized a milestone workers' strike which lead to the establishment of an independent trade union, Neodvisnost, thus following the example of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and, in 1989, the party (which was the first opposition party in the former communist world). Tomšič was replaced as leader by Jože Pučnik later that year while the SDU was renamed as Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDS). Pučnik was a former dissident who had been forced to emigrate to Germany as a political exile in the 1960s. Under Pučnik's leadership, The SDU gradually developed into a moderate social-democratic party, which combined the plea for a social market economy with the support of a welfare state based on a German, Austrian and Scandinavian social model.
The Slovenian Democratic Union was founded in January 1989 as opposition to the Communist Party of Slovenia, emphasizing establishment of the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental political freedoms, respect for minority rights, and Euro-Atlantic integration (the European Union and NATO). It functioned as a broad but somewhat fragmented coalition of several groups with different liberal, social-liberal and civic nationalist agendas.
In 1991, after a conflict between the leadership and membership of SDU, the Slovenian Democratic Union split into two parties – the social-liberal wing established the Democratic Party (DSS), while the conservative faction founded the National Democratic Party (NDS). Members who did not join one of these two parties joined the Social Democratic Party led by Jože Pučnik. Although the Social Democratic Party suffered a clear defeat in the 1992 election, barely entering Parliament, it formed a coalition with the winning Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) and entered the cabinet of Janez Drnovšek.
Janša became party leader in 1993 after Jože Pučnik resigned due to health issues (Pučnik later became the honorary president of the party, a function he held until his death in January 2003). In 1995, the National Democratic Party joined SDS, which thus became one of the legal successors of the Slovenian Democratic Union.
Janša served as Minister of Defense from 1990 to 1994. Janša has been accused of having abused his position to consolidate political power, engaging in arms trafficking to arm combatants in the Yugoslav Wars in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, and blackmailing prominent individuals, including politicians, businesspeople, journalists, and cultural and literary figures, by threatening to make public information (to which he was privy to in his ministerial role) regarding their previously undisclosed involvement with the former communist secret police.
In 1994, Janez Janša was dismissed by Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek from his role as Defence Minister because of his involvement in the Depala Vas affair (which centered around an incident in which military personnel arrested and mistreated a civilian off-duty undercover police associate that was attempting to obtain classified documents about the Ministry of Defence). SDS subsequently left the Drnovšek government as a result. The dismissal prompted protests by Janša's supporters and there were founded fears inside the government that Janša, backed by the nascent military, may refuse to relinquish power. A 2003 Mladina article alleged that Slovenia's military's special unit (MORiS) was in 1994 performing military exercises intended to prepare the force to carry out a military coup d'état. The police force was at the same time covertly preparing to secure the state and prevent military takeover. In a press conference shortly prior to the article's publication, Janša pointed to documents detailing these police plans to secure state institutions to argue that a coup was in fact afoot against his Ministry. In a 1999 interview with Delo, Janša commented the events of 1994 by saying: "I held immense power in my hands. [...] And in 1994, when they were deposing me, there was a lot of suggestions that we not accept this removal. I could have done that. But I didn't." In 1995, Janša was charged for alleged illegal arms trafficking, but the case was never brought to trial.
SDS remained in opposition for the next 10 years, except for a brief period in 2000, when it entered a short-lived centre-right government led by Andrej Bajuk, while gaining popularity among – as described by one of its former supporters, Peter Jambrek – "lower, frustrated social strata".
Radical populist turn
After the year 2000, the party applied for membership in the European People's Party (EPP), adopting a liberal economic policy and later pro-austerity measures upon the late-2000 economic crisis, while retaining an atlantist foreign policy. The rightward shift culminated in the 2003 name change from Social Democratic Party to Slovenian Democratic party. The party was described as liberal-conservative or conservative-liberal in ideological orientation.
The party's radical populism, nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric was noticed also by political scientists. Moreover, the local Slovenian Catholic Church supported it more than any other Slovenian political party. Even though not a nominally Christian party, the local church has stood fully and unconditionally behind it.
2004–2008: in power (first Janša Cabinet)
On 3 October 2004, SDS won the 2004 parliamentary election with 29.1% of the popular vote and 29 out of 88 seats. SDS then formed a coalition with New Slovenia (NSi), the Slovenian People's Party (SLS), and Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS), holding a total of 49 parliamentary seats (out of 90).
The SDS-led government passed several pro-business measures, initiated the regionalisation of the country by giving more power to local governments, and, in order to please its coalition party, DeSUS - introduced economically non-sustainable changes in the pension system.
SDS has been accused of catering to the interests of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church in exchange for political support. Nevertheless, the Church maintained a critical attitude towards some of the party's positions (the SDS-led Government has assumed a favourable attitude towards gambling tourism, stem cell research and passed a law recognizing same-sex civil unions, all opposed by the Roman Catholic Church).
The government introduced measures to supervise, and to curtail the powers of the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency. The measures were strongly rebuked by the opposition and segments of the press as an attempt to discredit the secret intelligence service and cast a negative shadow on the policies of previous governments.
Freedom of the press
The first SDS government was the target of widespread criticism due to allegations of meddling in the independence of the press. The first SDS government has been accused of politicising the independent press by appointing political allies to leadership and journalist positioned in the state Slovenian Press Agency, daily newspaper Delo, regional newspaper Primorske novice, and public media and broadcasting organisation, RTV Slovenia. State-owned companies also ceased purchasing adverts in the daily newspaper Dnevnik and weekly political magazine Mladina, two publications critical of the administration. By changing the laws governing the administration of the public broadcaster RTV Slovenia, the government enabled increased political control of the state media organisation's editorial board and its board of directors by increasing the number of board members appointed by the government. The law faced a referendum challenge, but was approved by a tight margin as it also promised to lower compulsory contributions for the broadcaster's funding. In a secret 2007 deal with the head of the Laško Brewery that owned the flagship national newspaper Delo as subsidiary, PM Janša secured editorial influence over the newspaper while Laško would be allowed to acquire a stake in a state-owned grocery store corporation. A new, government-friendly editor-in-chief was installed despite overwhelming opposition from the newspaper's staff, and nearly a dozen of the newspaper's journalists resigned in protest. The remaining journalists found reporting critically on the government increasingly difficult due to pressure from the new leadership. In 2007, over five hundred journalists launched a petition against political pressures on the media. The petition accused premier Janša of limiting press freedom in particular, but was also more broadly aimed against all infringements of press freedom by either government, political actors in general, or media company owners. The International Press Institute voiced support for the petition and called on the government to create an independent body to investigate the claims of media influence. The Association of European Journalists warned in 2007 of Slovene media companies' boards interfering in journalistic autonomy, reprimanding journalists and fostering other conditions that prevent critical reporting about the government and lead to self-censorship while journalists are also being prevented from covering issues that may go against the interests of the owners. SDS foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel had previously advised media owners to consider thoroughly whether a battle with the government is in their interest.
Economy and finance
The first Cabinet of Janez Janša oversaw a period of rapid economic growth. GDP grew by nearly 5% between 2004 and 2006, reaching nearly 7% growth in 2007, making Slovenia the fastest-growing eurozone member for that year. The economic boom, however, was highly dependent on private debt, particularly corporate debt. Additionally, the Janša government failed to implement meaningful structural reforms or accumulate budget surpluses during the period of sustained growth, instead opting for pork barrel politics, reducing tax burdens while engaging in economic populist overspending, making the country particularly susceptible to the coming economic crisis.
Andrej Bajuk, Minister of Finance in Janša's first cabinet, listed the passage of comprehensive tax reform (which included the lowering of corporate taxes and taxes on juridical persons, a reduction of the tax burden on individual incomes, the flattening of income tax margin progression, an increase in tax deductions, and a simplification of the tax code), overseeing the implementation of the Euro and the privatisation of state-owned NKBM bank, and reducing public expenditure as the greatest accomplishments of the ministry during his term (2004–2008).
According to Janša, the most prominent economic challenge confronted by his government was a bout of inflation (which occurred during the 2007-08 period and was steepest for foodstuff prices). At the close of 2007, the inflation rate in Slovenia was the highest of any Eurozone member. Janša, Finance Minister Bajuk and other government officials pointed to high oil prices and a non-competitive internal food market as the main underlying causes for the inflation. Janša faced criticism for his statement regarding the issue made during a gathering of regional politicians and businessmen; Janša dismissed concerns regarding rising food prices, saying that "as long as there are loaves of bread in every city dumpster the situation isn't alarming". Economic Development Minister Andrej Vizjak similarly addressed cost of living concerns by saying that citizens "should not be loath to occasionally eat yesterday's bread", going on to say that the food price increases are an opportunity to address the overindulgence of Slovenian consumers.
2008–2011: in opposition
In the 2008 parliamentary election (held on 21 September 2008) narrowly lost against the Social Democrats, until then the main opposition party. It also lost one seat in Slovenian Parliament, falling to 28.
With the election of the Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor as Prime Minister of Slovenia, the Slovenian Democratic Party officially declared it would stay in opposition and form a shadow cabinet. The shadow government was formed in late December 2008, and it includes several independent members as well as members from other conservative parties.
2012–2013: a year in power (second Janša Cabinet)
In the 2011 snap parliamentary election (held on 4 December after the centre-left governing coalition collapsed due to internal conflict and inefficacy in passing meaningful economic reforms), SDS won 26.19% of the vote, gaining 26 seats in the National Assembly, thus making SDS the second-largest parliamentary party after the newly formed centre-left party, Positive Slovenia (PS) (headed by Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković), which won 28 MPs (28.5% of the total). However, SDS succeeded in forming a ruling four-party coalition government (which included the Civic List, New Slovenia, Slovenian People's Party, and Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia) (holding a combined total of 50 out of 90 parliamentary seats) some two months after the election after PS failed to form a coalition with a parliamentary majority. The coalition took power amid an alarming economic downturn (European debt crisis), the worst in the independent country's history. The country's economic woes were further exacerbated by credit agencies' lowering of Slovenia's credit rating amid the political tumult.
The coalition, headed by SDS, undertook drastic economic and financial reforms in an attempt to halt the economic downturn. Finance Minister Janez Šuštaršič pledged to speed up privatisation of state enterprises, cut public spending, and reduce budget shortfalls. Janša additionally pledged to cut taxes, remove regulations, lower the deficit, and raise the retirement age. The coalition passed laws transferring all state-owned enterprises into a single state holding company to accelerate privatisation efforts, and created a bad bank that would take on non-performing loans from the bad debt-ridden state-owned banks. It intended to cut profit and income taxes to boost the economy, and enact constitutional changes demanding balance budgets. It also passed sweeping and highly contentious austerity measures (the Law of Public Finance Balance (Slovene: Zakon o uravnovešenju javnih financ (ZUJF))), and reportedly planned further cuts to state spending. The ZUJF fiscal consolidation law included provisions lowering pensions (widely opposed by the public), cutting wages for public sector employees, reducing education funding, social transfers and benefits. The draft of the law sparked a public sector general strike, and the law faced the possibility of a referendum.
The SDS-led government proved impotent in stemming the economic troubles facing the nation. Despite the momentous reforms efforts, the economic troubles intensified, resulting in increasing levels of unemployment, plunging living standards, a fall in domestic spending, and large budget deficits. The fall in domestic demand, coupled with falling exports, resulted in a double dip recession. A later report alleges that the sharp downturn in Slovenian economic outlook was a result of Janša's overdramatic public statements regarding the economic fitness of the nation. Janša reportedly made such ominous claims for political purposes as means of solidifying political power and as a negotiating strategy to strengthen his hand during negotiations with public sector unions. The PM's eerie pronouncements were taken at face value by foreign observers, however, creating a self-fulfilling feedback loop where gloomy statements made by top Slovene officials created more panic and dismay in the foreign press and various organisations, and vice versa, resulting in falling credit ratings and asset prices, and excessive capital injections/bailouts with funds borrowed at excessively high interest rates.
Janša also faced graft charges even before ascending to the premiership in 2012. He was one of the defendants being tried for corruption as result of a 2006 bribery scandal involving charges of accepting kickbacks to fund his party's electoral campaign.
In late 2012, protests began to take place in Slovenia's second largest city, Maribor, against its mayor and SDS ally, Franc Kangler, who was being investigated due to allegations of corruption. The protests soon picked up momentum and spread across the country, becoming the largest in the independent republic's history. Protestors' main grievances were the harsh austerity measures imposed by the ruling government, looming sale-offs of state enterprises, and allegations of widespread corruption among the ruling elite. The protests also saw the worst violence in the nation's history as an independent state, with small groups of young, violent extremists - likely members of far-right and hooligan groups - clashing with police. In early 2013, the instability and public resentment was compounded after the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption revealed both PM Janez Janša and the leader of the largest opposition party (PS), Zoran Janković, violated anti-corruption laws by failing to report or account for assets in their possession and received income/payments. Media reports alleging Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency was "infiltrated" by members of SDS also surfaced. Amid mounting pressure from continuing anti-government protests, a strike of public sector workers, and the lowest public opinion ratings of any government in the nation's history, coalition partners began to depart from the coalition. The government finally collapsed after a vote of no confidence, and a PS consensus candidate, Alenka Bratušek, was appointed as PM despite continuing protests demanding a snap election.
2013–2020: return to opposition
In June 2013, Janša was convicted in the Patria case, but appealed the verdict. In April 2014, the Higher Court upheld the two-year jail sentence passed on Janez Janša as result of the bribery conviction. In June of that year, Janša began serving out his sentence, 26 years after his imprisonment for leaking military secrets as a whistle-blower (his imprisonment, trial, and public reaction were a milestone in the Slovenian path to independence). Despite his imprisonment, Janša stood as candidate for MP.
The party received 20.69% of the vote in the snap Slovenian parliamentary election held on 13 July 2014, and won 21 seats in parliament. The party remained in opposition, this time to the cabinet of Miro Cerar. Janez Janša was reelected as MP despite being imprisoned. The Constitutional Court decided not to deprive Janša of his MP mandate, and Janša was allowed leave while carrying out his political functions. The Constitutional Court suspended Janša's jail sentence in December, pending the ruling regarding his appeal of the Patria verdict. The Constitutional Court decided to annul the Higher Court's decision in April 2015, returning it to the lower courts for retrial. In September of the same year, the statute of limitations of the Patria case expired.
SDS representatives expressed the belief that the trial was politically motivated and that the imprisonment of the party frontman unfairly hindered their election efforts, declaring the elections illegitimate and "stolen", and demanded fresh elections. In 2018, SDS sued the state for alleged financial damages the party incurred due to the alleged election "theft", and lost the case.
With a campaign largely based on anti-immigration populist rhetoric, SDS topped public opinion polls heading into the 2018 parliamentary election. The incendiary electoral campaign sparked a rally under the title "Without Fear — Against the Politics of Hatred", with some 2,000-3,000 heart-shaped balloon-carrying marchers in attendance.
During the 2018 electoral campaign, SDS also begun to send postable questionnaires ("voter consults") to Slovene households. The questionnaires contained loaded questions and proposals (e.g. "... Do you support SDS's proposal that the healthcare system be set in order?"). The effort was apparently part of the party's electoral campaign, and likely fashioned on Hungarian "national consultations", which the country's ruling party has practiced for years.
SDS once again emerged as winner in the 3 June 2018 parliamentary election, garnering 24.92% of the vote and winning 25 MP seats. However, the party was unlikely to be able to shore up needed support for a governing coalition, as most parliamentary parties (List of Marjan Šarec, Social Democrats, Modern Centre Party, The Left, Party of Alenka Bratušek, and Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia) had declared that they would not participate in a coalition with SDS. Some two weeks after the 2018 election, Janša again met with Hungarian PM Orbán during a private visit in Budapest. Janša and Orbán also held a conference call with US president Donald Trump during the meeting. Janša stated he would be willing to relinquish his post as PM designate to some other SDS MP such a move would ease tensions and enable SDS to form a coalition government. Despite the concession, the PM post was eventually occupied by the leader of the second largest parliamentary party, Marjan Šarec, who succeeded in forming a centre-left minority government (without the participation of SDS).
After the 2018 parliamentary election, SDS failed to regain its traditionally strong showing of support in opinion polls which had been typical for the party while in opposition. Speaking to the media regarding the faltering performance, SDS officials blamed the government's alleged populist economic policies and a disproportionately hostile news media, while independent political analysts pointed to the big tent populist appeal of the ruling LMŠ party and its leader that attracted some traditionally conservative voters, and the momentous changes in the political environment and nature of SDS since 2011-2012.
2020–present: third Janša Cabinet
In early 2020, the resignation of the finance minister due to intra-government disagreements regarding the crafting of a health insurance reform bill precipitated the resignation of PM Šarec, who called for an early election. SDS was however able to secure support for the formation of a new SDS-led government by forming a coalition with New Slovenia, Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS), and Modern Centre Party (SMC). While all three parties had expressed clear opposition to a formation of a Janša-led government in the past, all had since experienced changes of leadership that was more amenable to such an arrangement. The news that SMC would be entering into a coalition with Janša resulted in the departure of the party's founder and first head, Miro Cerar, after whom the party was initially named ("Miro Cerar Party").
Janša was confirmed as PM on 13 March 2020. The coalition agreement signed between the 4 parties stipulated, among other things: the re-introduction of the draft and 6 months of mandatory military service, utilisation of private healthcare providers to reduce waiting times, an increase in public and private healthcare funds, promote apprenticeships in vocational school, a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, decentralisation, decreasing public spending, an increase in funds for municipalities, tax reductions for performance pay, an increase in pensions, and an introduction of a universal child benefit instead of an income-based one.
Deutsche Welle has described supporters of the party as "[...] disagree[ing] with the majority of the population on more or less everything, starting with the history of World War II, where they cherish the memory of the German-allied wartime military guard."
During the European migrant crisis, SDS sharply intensified its nationalist populist rhetoric. The party came out in opposition of migrant quotas and advocated shifting resources from non-governmental organisations to increase security spending. Janša furthermore lambasted the "degenerate left". The party's heated rhetoric and allegations of corrupt practices have led "to concerns among international observers about the direction of Slovenia, which is generally regarded as a regional success story" as SDS topped opinion polls heading into the 2018 parliamentary election.
The party has also co-opted US President Donald Trump's populist rhetoric, with Janša and the party frequently echoing Trump's catchphrases "drain the swamp", "deep state", and "fake news". The party has also proposed requiring that for each new regulation, two existing regulations must be repealed, a proposal notably advocated for and enacted by Trump. Janša has also used the phrase "Slovenia first" on several occasions.
SDS advocates for the introduction of educational programs that would foster patriotism "from kindergarten through high school". The party supports full public financing of private school compulsory programs.
Janša has expressed strong support for the re-enstatement of mandatory military service for males with service lasting at least 6 months (with an option of 12 months of civil service for consciencious objectors). In early 2016, SDS proposed the establishment of a national guard composed of some 25,000 "patriotic" volunteers. The guard would replace all current reserve formations of the Slovene armed forces, would be under direct command of the general staff, and would be mobilised during natural disasters or during "altered national security states" (like the European refugee crisis, which was ongoing at the time). Both sexes could enlist. MP Žan Mahnič stated the establishment of the formation was a priority of the party's electoral platform. The proposal was prompted by worsening global national security prospects, in part due to the migrant crisis, an SDS representative said. Government representatives argued that such a formation is unnecessary as the current reserve formations are sufficient.
Judiciary and law enforcement
SDS advocates for trials to be open to the public (except in special circumstances).
Environment and climate change
During the first SDS government, PM Janša presented climate change as the major political and societal challenge of the era. In 2007, Janša stated that "climate change is not only a problem for the government and economy; it is a challenge for the wider society and every individual" during an international conference on the matter, stressing the dangers and opportunities associated with the issue. He called on the EU to lead the efforts to combat climate change. In 2008, Janša described an EU legislative package on energy and climate change as "one of the most important [...] of the beginning of the 21st century", and as one of the priorities of Slovenia during its EU Council Presidency. In 2008, SDS MEP Romana Jordan Cizelj stated that "counteracting climate change is not an individual choice, but a global challenge requiring the effort of the society as a whole. [...] The data reveal changes in ecosystems due to antropogenic emissions and possible trends in the future. [...] It is still possible to act. But we must act decisively, swiftly, and in unison. First in coordination within the EU, and then in the global sense."
By 2018, the party seemed to have reversed its position on the issue, with MP Branko Grims prominently making multiple public statements, including in media statements and parliamentary discussions, that outright denied the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Grims has said that "the talk about the warming of the Earth is a big lie", that the Earth is in fact cooling, that climate change is being used as an excuse to allow for mass migrations and the expropriation of taxpayer funds that are then embezzled by academics, the "eco-industry" and leftist lobbies, and expressed regret that the youth were being exploited by the political left. Grims has appealed to his background as a geologist to present himself as authoritative on the issue. Grims also controversially claimed that the black panther, which is ostensibly represented in the Carantanian panther sigil that has been adopted as the alternate national symbol by some modern-era conservative political groups, was native to the Slovene region but became extinct due to global cooling during the Carantanian era. Experts, commenting on Grims' statement, said that the black panther has not been endemic to the region since at least the most recent ice age.
In November 2019, Janša, discussing climate change, stated: "[...] Times are different now, generations are growing up with an awareness that the environment is a value. Of course, some on the left scene pervaded by cultural Marxism have swiftly added catastrofic proclamations which are supposed to be caused by climate change. It is being preached how climate change is exclusively man-made, which is entirely unproven. Climate change has been occurring throughout the history of this planet and will continue to. To what extent we are influencing this is a big question. It is a fact that we are. It is a fact that environmental pollution of course in part affects the climate. But I think that it affects it much less than changes on the Sun, or, that is, things which humans cannot influence. This must be understood and it should not be made into ideology and the fame of new Molochs, such as Greta."
SDS has long advocated for a change in the Slovene parliamentary electoral system, namely the shift from the current proportional electoral system to two-round plurality voting. SDS argues this would result in more stable and effective governments.
SDS supports citizens' legal right to bear arms, and has come out in opposition to further restrictions. It strongly opposed new EU regulation of firearms which the European Commission moved to pass after the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
SDS argues the current text to the Slovene national anthem—the 7th stanza of France Prešeren's A Toast ("Blessed be all nations/Which yearn to see the light of day/When where'er the Sun doth wander/The lands' strife shall be cast away/And when free every kinsman will be/Not fiends, only neighbours in foreigners we'll see!")—is "too internationalistic, and insufficiently patriotic", and advocates other stanzas from Prešeren's poem be added as text to the official anthem. The party also advocates banning "all public expression of ideas through use of totalitarian symbols" and "all public displays of affection for totalitarian regimes". The party has denied accusations that it is merely attempting to outlaw the red star, which was the symbol of the Slovene Partisans during WWII, and is still often used in the Slovenian public sphere, including as a symbol/logo of political and parliamentary parties. The proposed law would not, on the other hand, ban wearing Nazi uniforms in public or displaying symbols associated with the Nazi-aligned anti-Partisan Slovene Home Guard.
Following the US targeted killing of Iranian gen. Qasem Soleimani, the party released a statement declaring that "SDS supports the strong US response to the provocations of the Ayatollah extremist regime [...]".
Post-communist cabal conspiracy
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of SDS ideology are the unique beliefs and rhetoric frequently employed by members of the party. The central tenet of the party's view regarding the country's political situation is that a sinister clique composed mostly of former Communist Party officials and associates has retained significant control over the economic, financial, political, social, judicial, and journalistic aspects of Slovenian public life. Some of the beliefs and language used are also shared by other right-wing populist political actors, or have entered into the mainstream political discourse.
SDS members and affiliates frequently employ particular phrases and concepts to represent their world-view, most notably:
- "Udbomafia" (from UDBA, the Yugoslav secret police service) – a portmanteau neologism coined in the early 1990s to refer to an alleged cabal of former Slovenian Communist Party members and officials, and UDBA informants and collaborators that supposedly still hold the reins of economic and political power. The phrase is often used by SDS and affiliated publications.
- "Uncles from behind the scenes" (or "godfathers in the background," an idiom for éminence grise) – alleged sponsors and influencers of prominent Slovene politicians who are said to merely act as fronts for the vested political and economic interests of the "uncles". Former PMs Miro Cerar, and Alenka Bratušek, PS head Zoran Janković, and anti-establishment newcomer Marjan Šarec are some of the politicians accused of having "uncles from behind the scenes". The phrase was also occasionally used by former PM and President Borut Pahor, on one occasion accusing the "uncles" of attempting to topple his premiership. Milan Kučan, who is most often accused of being the foremost "uncle from behind the scenes", demanded Pahor clarify his insinuation. Pahor also accused his main 2017 presidential election challenger, Marjan Šarec, of being well looked after by the "uncles". Šarec likewise demanded Pahor clarify his statements, but also did not receive an answer.
- Milan Kučan – the former two-time President of Slovenia and last leader of the League of Communists of Slovenia is frequently accused by SDS of exerting supreme covert influence over the Slovenian political sphere. Politicians allegedly under Kučan's influence include New Slovenia leader Ljudmila Novak and 2018 newcomer Marjan Šarec, former PM Alenka Bratušek and Ljubljana mayor and PS leader Zoran Janković, and others. Janša was fined €12,000 after labelling two female RTV Slovenia journalists as "cheap, used-up prostitutes" of "#pimpMilan" [Kučan] in a tweet, later also receiving a 3-month suspended jail sentence for the offense.
- Forum 21 – a Slovenian liberal think tank established by Milan Kučan and attended by prominent members of the Slovenian political and economic elite to discuss relevant problems facing the nation. SDS has accused the think tank of undue influence in appointment and policy decisions of liberal governments.
- Murgle – the upscale Murgle residential district known for its one-story houses is home to many prominent Slovenian political and economic figures, including former liberal presidents Milan Kučan (often the main target of allusions to "Murgle") and Janez Drnovšek (deceased), former PM Miro Cerar, and Liberation Front partisan and last president of the SR Slovenia, Janez Stanovnik, among others. "Murgle" is thus another reference to the alleged behind-the-scenes influence exerted by the country's ostensibly retired leftist elites. Upon being sentenced to a two-year prison sentence in the Patria corruption case, Janez Janša stated that the verdict was "written in advance in Murgle and by known authors". SDS later labelled the 2014 parliamentary election as illegitimate due to the conviction and resulting concurring prison term of Janša. Janša also blamed "Murgle" after prosecutors filed a motion to confiscate Janša's illegally obtained holdings. As part of its 2018 electoral campaign, SDS released an ad where a couple orders pizza delivery from SDS and "Pizza Murgle". The Murgle box is revealed to only contain half a pizza. SDS-affiliated Nova24TV news portal also promoted videos entitled "Murgle Puppet Theatre", which satirically portrayed a closed-door meeting presided over by Milan Kučan discussing political strategy with recently resigned PM Miro Cerar (leader of ruling Modern Centre Party), Agriculture Minister Dejan Židan (leader of the Social Democrats), Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec (leader of DeSUS), and Marjan Šarec (leader of the List of Marjan Šarec).
Other radical beliefs
SDS MP Branko Grims, speaking to a gathering of a patriotic ultranationalist group in early 2018, said "Now is the era of Trump. He is the greatest thorn in the foot of the globalists, who control the US mechanisms, with Soros at the helm. Soros is the symbol of this. But there's also the Rothschilds and many other wealthiest families of financial speculators." SDS MP Marijan Pojbič, in a 2017 Statehood Day address on Facebook, called for "No more mayors that aren't real Slovenes, and even fewer national politicians who aren't real Slovenes by birth."
After the 2011 parliamentary elections, which saw the victory of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković (who is of Serbian descent) and his party, a contribution published on the official SDS webpage by a "Tomaž Majer" caused considerable public outrage. Majer states that Janković was elected by "well-disciplined new citizens" living in "high-rise neighbourhoods", tracksuit-clad voters (in Slovenia, a common stereotype of immigrés from Southern republics) with foreign accents arriving at polling places in groups holding notes with instructions on whom to vote for. These "new citizens" were allegedly mobilised by being admonished their citizenship will be revoked if "the right" is elected. Majer further states that one of his acquaintances (who is of Bosnian descent) was even offered monetary reward to vote for Janković. Majer also claims that the roughly 1/3 of Janković voters of Slovenian descent were ordered to vote for PS by Milan Kučan and Janez Stanovnik. Several media organisations attempted to identify the author, but were unsuccessful. It has been speculated that the real author of the text was in fact Janez Janša, based on similar known past statements (specifically, his 1993 commentary on the poor electoral performance of SDS during the 1992 elections). In the wake of the 2011 election, Janša and several other SDS MPs and candidates expressed similar but somewhat toned-down nationalistic sentiments while commenting on the election and its winner. The public reaction culminated in a "March of the Tracksuits", a rally where participants attended clothed in tracksuits to protest against division and intolerance.
Organization and political affiliation
As of 2013, SDS membership numbered some 30,000 strong, more than any other political party in Slovenia. Slovenian Democratic Youth (Slovene: Slovenska demokratska mladina, SDM) is the independent and autonomous youth wing of the party.
The party is affiliated with the Jože Pučnik Institute, the major liberal-conservative think tank in Slovenia. It is also closely affiliated with the civic platform Rally for the Republic (Zbor za republiko). Committee 2014 (Slovene: Odbor 2014) is a civic organisation that was established to protest and demand the overturn of the corruption convictions in the Patria case, the freeing of SDS leader Janez Janša from prison (sentence resuling from the conviction), and the "actual implementation of the rule of law, human rights, basic freedoms, and establishment of a democratic society". Committee 2014 held regular protests in front of the Higher Court building in Ljubljana. The Alliance for the Values of Slovene Independence (Slovene: Združenje za vrednote Slovenske osamosvojitve, VSO) is a patriotic veteran non-governmental organisation intended to commemorate the values of the Slovenian independence movement. VSO leadership consists of prominent SDS members and associates. The organisation holds public speaking events, commemorations, and is engaged in other activities as well.
SDS has seen some support from the Slovene Catholic Church.
The party is supported by and closely affiliated with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Fidesz). SDS's committed backing of Fidesz has reportedly been the decisive factor in preventing Fidesz's expulsion from the European People's Party, resulting in a more lenient suspension. In a letter to the EPP leader, Janša warned of an "inevitable" split in the EPP if the vote to expel Fidesz were to take place. The 3rd Janša government began reorienting Slovenia's foreign alliances away from core EU countries and towards the Visegrád Group of countries, with Janša calling the countries "our friends in the region".
SDS is also affiliated with several current and past publications, including its de facto party publication, Demokracija, and tabloid Škandal24 (both owned by Nova Obzorja (English: "New Horizons") publishing company, which is in turn jointly owned by SDS and a Hungarian publishing company with close ties to Hungary's ruling party, Fidesz). The publishing company has profited from providing literature to, and advising the SDS parliamentary group/SDS MPs (activities for which parliamentary groups receive state funds), and has also benefited financially from doing business with government agencies, which were particularly bountiful while SDS was in government. Nova24TV, a media conglomerate consisting of a television channel and online news portal, was established by SDS MPs and members, and party sympathisers, and later also received financial injections from Hungarian Fidesz-affiliated companies. Additionally, the SDS-friendly political web portal Politikis is also owned and managed by a close SDS associate. Slovenski tednik and Ekspres, free newspapers distributed in the run-up to the 2008 parliamentary election, were also later found to have been directly linked to SDS and its electoral efforts. As with Slovenski tednik and Ekspres, Škandal24 announced it will cease print publication the day after the 2018 parliamentary election, only continuing as an online publication. In late 2017, an array of over a dozen local/regional web news portals with a common template was also set up, with editors of all linked to SDS based on publicly available information. The websites mostly contained informative content, publishing local news with occasional articles that promoted SDS' candidates and narrative/agenda subtly mixed in. The sites may have been set up primarily as a political propaganda effort in anticipation of the 2018 Slovenian local elections.
Supporters and affiliates
The party enjoys strong support in some Slovene conservative and classical liberal intellectual circles. Public figures who have publicly voiced support for SDS or affiliated themselves with the party include economist Ljubo Sirc (joined the party in 2010), philosopher Ivan Urbančič, historians Vasko Simoniti and Alenka Puhar, writer and essayist Drago Jančar, theologian and philosopher Janez Juhant, and poet Tone Kuntner. Public supporters of the party also include sportsmen Miran Pavlin, and Katja Koren, pop singer Marta Zore, designer and cartoonist Miki Muster, and actor Roman Končar.
In 2008, SDS was found to have falsely attributed "supporter status" to many prominent Slovenes on its webpage. The party sent a request to comment on the ruling government for its party newspaper to numerous notable public figures. Though they were never asked whether they support the party or informed they will be listed as supporters, SDS nevertheless listed them as such.
Former supporters and affiliates
Many prominent members have abandoned SDS due to the radicalisation of the party's ideology and disagreements over leadership style. Some also established new political parties. Most former members politically transitioned towards the centre, with a minority outflanking SDS on the far right.
Former supporters or affiliated individuals, now party critics and dissidents, include one of the fathers of the current Slovenian Constitution, Peter Jambrek, the former chairman of Rally for the Republic and Civic List party leader Gregor Virant, and liberal economist Jože P. Damijan. Miha Brejc became persona non grata after his son-in-law Gregor Virant distanced himself from Janša and established the Civic List. Other prominent former members include former Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel, former Minister of Internal Affairs Dragutin Mate (now a critic), and Minister of Education Žiga Turk, former MEP Romana Jordan Cizelj, former SDS MPs Andrej Čuš (now a critic), and Ivo Hvalica (now a critic), and Pučnik's "mother of the party" Vera Ban. Former public supporters also include sportsman Miran Pavlin.
Controversies and criticism
Ties to extremist groups
SDS has been criticised for alleged links to a neo-Nazi extremist group; the Slovene branch of Blood & Honour. The journalist who uncovered the links (Anuška Delić) was charged with leaking confidential information. The state intelligence agency, SOVA, headed by an SDS appointee at the time of the indictment, inadvertently confirmed allegations made by Delić by stating that the information revealed in the reports was consistent with findings of an ongoing investigation into the activities of the violent extremist group. SOVA argued that the information revealed in the reports could not have been obtained by any other means than by gaining access to information collected during the agency's covert investigations, and that the publication disrupted its efforts to monitor the group by alerting B & H of the monitoring efforts. Delić alleged the charges were "politically motivated".
Some Blood & Honour members were allegedly also members of SDS, and formally met with SDS MP Branko Grims. The group (the members of which allegedly received training by members of the Slovenian armed forces on an army training area, borrowed army weaponry (a rocket launcher), attempted to purchase handguns, and were in direct correspondence with Anders Breivik by both mail and e-mail, with multiple B & H members receiving his manifesto before Breivik's killing spree) was allegedly intimately implicated in orchestrating the violent riots which took place amid the 2012–13 Slovenian protests. The organised group of violent agitators that disrupted a major protest in Ljubljana was also suspected of having been trained, hired, and compensated, possibly by a political party, according to unofficial sources within the police.
More recently, SDS has also fostered ties with Generation Identity Slovenia, the Slovenian chapter of the far-right Identitarian movement organisations. In August 2018, the party's publishing company, New Horizons, anonymously published the Slovene Identitarians' alt-right book, Manifesto for the Homeland. The book was also promoted by SDS-affiliated media organisations and individuals, including SDS leader Janez Janša, with SDS MP Žan Mahnič even going so far as to post on Twitter a photo of the book taken from his parliamentary seat, with the floor of the parliamentary chamber in the background. The leader of the Austrian Identitarians, Martin Sellner, publicly thanked Janša for his support on Twitter. Sellner was at the time being investigated by Austrian authorities and ostracised by the ruling conservative Freedom Party of Austria for his financial ties with the Christchurch terrorist.
During the 2020 Slovenian anti-government protests against the Third Janša government, a pro-government counter-protester group (the "Yellow Wests") was favourably covered in SDS-affiliated media, with the articles in which the Yellow Wests called on the public to join them shared by PM Janša on Twitter. 8 of the 30-some original Yellow Wests (including their spokesman) that were shown to have links to neo-Nazism.
Political self-dealing accusations
The party has been accused of political self-dealing and nepotism, appointing relatives, allies, and friends to government (and other) positions. Many close relatives of prominent SDS members have found employment in the Slovenian and European parliaments, high ranking public sector positions, and state-owned companies (some despite not meeting the official job requirements).
SDS has been accused of political firings and replacements in, and selective financing of many institutions under the public sphere, and creating an environment where politisation of the public workplace was permissible and pervasive while in power.
Cult of personality
SDS leader Janez Janša has continuously served as party head since 1993 without a single other contender for the post. Party members are extremely loyal to Janša; it has been noted that the party appears to resemble a cult, with numerous past members claiming that Janša leads the party in an authoritarian manner and that no dissent is tolerated. SDS MEP Romana Jordan Cizelj was reportedly the only one within the party leadership to openly voice her doubts about Janša's continued leadership of the party whilst serving a prison sentence for corruption. Jordan Cizelj was subsequently not allowed to run for reelection as MEP on the SDS ticket as punishment for her disloyalty to Janša.
Campaign financing impropriety allegations
In the run-up to the 2018 Slovenian parliamentary election, SDS attempted to receive a loan of €450,000 from an individual residing in Bosnia and Herzegovina to fund its electoral campaign. The party came into contact with the individual via Nova obzorja publishing company (partially owned by SDS). SDS also put up its share in Nova obzorja as collateral. The sum borrowed exceeded limits set by campaign finance laws, however, and SDS was obliged to return the borrowed funds. A police and financial court investigation was also triggered after the terms of the loan became public. An investigation into the lender was also launched, based on suspicions of money laundering, tax avoidance, destruction and falsification of business documents, and overseeing dummy companies. The individual was allegedly a part of a criminal organisation managing dummy companies that received funds of undisclosed origins (including the funds later loaned to SDS).
Less than a week before the 2018 parliamentary election took place, it was revealed that media/publishing companies closely affiliated and partially owned by SDS received some €800,000 from two Hungarian nationals (or, rather, their companies) - both with close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - months before the election, bringing the total amount SDS-affiliated media companies received from Hungarian entities to over €2.2M. The SDS-affiliated media companies that received the funds in turn purchased campaign adds for SDS. Nova obzorja publishing company also attempted to loan €60,000 to the party. The same Hungarian individuals also provided funds for political allies in Macedonia. It is furthermore also known that the loan SDS attempted to obtain from a Bosnian citizen some months earlier had a Hungarian connection. SDS-controlled media companies have reportedly also served as a conduit for Hungarian financing of media in North Macedonia to prop up Orban's political allies there. Of the at least €4M in Hungarian moneys that were reportedly originally funneled into SDS-affiliated media between mid-2018 and early 2020, over €2.5M was then channeled to Macedonian news media entities favourable to the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party.
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