Janez Drnovšek and Miro Cerar

After a recent meeting of European heads of governments held in Bratislava, on 16 September 2016, Slovenia faced a new beginning. After the independence, our key goal was full membership in the European Union, and today, so many years later, we have a new goal, to stay in the company of the most connected and the most developed European countries. All other options are bad.

The first goal was achieved by Dr. Janez Drnovšek, and Dr. Miro Cerar has a chance to achieve the second one.

Then, quite at the beginning, during extremely turbulent and unpredictable eighties, at the time of big changes in history, Dr. Janez Drnovšek, the then President of the Presidency of the former Yugoslavia, offered me a seat in the state plane. We flew to Belgrade in a plane that had eight or ten seats. The flight lasted a full hour. We sat across from each other. All that we spoke was a polite good afternoon and more or less binding goodbye. I did not know back then. However, I repeated many times later to different interlocutors that it is sometimes good being able to listen to his silence and being able to break it when you can.

Later, I was a minister in his first government. It was a government of reconciliation. Drnovšek’s vice presidents were Dr. Jože Pučnik, Mr. Viktor Žakelj and Dr. Peter Tancig, the presidents of the parties of social democrats, socialists and greens. Vice presidents of one of the most important and also the most forgotten Slovenian governments after independence did not know that Drnovšek decided alone. That he listened, although not for very long, that he followed the proposals with interest, but that that did not mean that he would decide so. This was a crucial political experience that enabled him to survive in Belgrade.
It was an interesting anecdote when Pučnik, a few weeks later, when the government cabinet had already been formed, asked Žakelj why the president was meeting with the two of them in regular meetings and he was being removed from the list of invitees. However, Drnovšek did not meet, as we found out, with any of them, and he simply did not seek consultations. He decided alone. We can add to that, together with the cult writer of spy novels, John le Carré, that it was his Berlin rule. Before making a decision, precisely because it is your own, you always have to check two times, two signals, two labels, two messages. But that was not the only key. In fact, it was a reign without assenting and without emotion. His coalitions were the same, with the exception of one. The one from 1996 with the Slovenian People’s Party. That government coalition was different, mainly because it was the first one with almost complete division of the parliamentary vote, and above all, it was the first time with a single, then called, the spring party. Of course, this could not appeal to everyone. Therefore, we should rethink the meaning of this coalition again today. For both the inconvenience and rebellion of all those who understood that the coalitions can primarily be either left or right, and the incompetence of the then president Marjan Podobnik to recognize wrong messages brought to his vice-presidential table in the government office.

Back then, Drnovšek liked to repeat a conjugation taken from one of his European colleagues – the enemy, the greater enemy, the coalition partner. There are not many reasons for Cerar to claim otherwise.

An estimate that both things, Drnovšek’s broad coalition government and the manner of adoption of state obligations, relatively quickly enabled full membership in the European Union to Slovenia sounds probably too arrogant today, but is is without a doubt very close to the truth.

I met Drnovšek at the beginning of that process. Dr. Miro Cerar, also president of the Slovenian government, much later. And again at some sort of a beginning. When exactly such binding Slovenian decision is needed, not on membership but on cooperation with the EU member states, which want to have the closest European connection. The decision that is almost equivalent to a decision on full membership.

Drnovšek and Cerar are connected by an experience that is not political, but the personal experience of the illness. Drnovšek became different precisely because of this experience. Somehow softer. Slovenia found itself just before the great goal, European membership. That was the first time it appeared to me, and it was just a silly idea, that Drnovšek valued also things beyond pure politics and power. Firstly, he knew that the statement about his different health condition would change the already fragile balance of power between different authorities in the country. And then, quite personally, he knew that the diagnosis itself exceeded any government. After one of the examinations, he told me – you do not know how great and terrible is the difference between the two doctor’s sentences, the first one, all is well, and the second one, something is wrong.

That day, I was also expecting his call. I was expecting it every morning, especially when he was not in his office in the Gregorčičeva Street in Ljubljana. Only it was completely different and crucial this time. Dr Janez Drnovšek, the prime minister, was in the government house in Bohinj. There, it was pleasant and very comfortable for writing and thinking. His call that morning occurred simply too soon and was, therefore, unusual. Actually, it distracted me. I was addressing some type of very unpleasant relations within the Ministry of Interior, which demanded a detailed clean-up precisely because of that. I was convinced that, this time, it was a different rhythm with Drnovšek. The exception to the rule I knew the last ten years. It was always similar, first the call, whose content I recognized immediately, after the way I was greeted. This was followed by almost resolute enumeration of things that needed to be checked or regulated. Only this time it was completely different.
He told me that he had spent the night without sleep, with great pain and asked me to call the doctor. Not such who would come to him. “I need a clinic that has the appropriate apparatus for examination.” But, he said at the very end – I was looking out of the window of my former office on Štefanova Street – perhaps it was all the consequence of last night’s dinner. However, we both knew that this was, unfortunately, only a momentary misleading explanation.

After the start of treatment, the diagnosis was bad, and he was also different as prime minister. Maybe not exactly softer, he was more sensitive. Since then, we often talked about his mother, her fatal illness and pain that that he understands completely now, with his own experience.

Of course, I knew the mother of the current prime minister, Dr. Miro Cerar. Even more, at the time of the aforementioned Drnovšek’s call, I often met with her. And as so often with the then president of the Supreme Court, Dr. Mitja Deisinger. I did not visit Zdenka Cerar because she was the main public prosecutor, but for a talk and search for the best solutions. Many years later, when she was vice president of Drnovšek’s former party, I learned of her serious illness.

Miro Cerar became prime minister in a seemingly completely different political circumstances than Janez Drnovšek, although both of them, at it looks so today, took power at a completely determined break point.

I have to stop here. It would not have been possible to continue without the explanation of this difference.

Drnovšek was able to be elected, as a representative of the then Republic of Slovenia, in the collective presidency of the former federal Yugoslavia only because of completely new time and new relations. The weekly magazine “Mladina”, the newspaper “Nova revija” new social movements, youth organization, demands for democracy at the end of nineties were enough for the implementation of requests for different elections. Not delegated anymore, with known winners, but different, really direct. This is why almost unknown Drnovšek was able to be elected.
He came to the proclamation of his unexpected victory from Zagorje by a taxi Reno 18 of the then company Viator. Between the numerous interviews and simultaneous celebration, he wanted to drink beer. But he did not get it, because he was not recognized. To be more precise, a few bottles of beer were reserved, as explained by the then head of the attendance for the host, Jože Smole, the president of the socialist alliance who was able to organize direct elections.

Upon his arrival in Belgrade, Drnovšek virtually took over the governance of the then state, which was just before its collapse. That is why he had to understand and be aware of the secret services, foreign policy and internal diplomacy so quickly. Without that, Yugoslav agencies would have extorted him with different things, primarily his private life, and foreign policy of the state would have continued to be run without him, and he would have been disregarded within the presidency, in fact, changed into some garde lady. And he succeeded. Because he spoke several foreign languages and because he was able to take over the consultations with others. Drnovšek was not only the head of state back then, but also a different foreign minister. Therefore, he was able to significantly take part, and today people somehow want to push it into oblivion, in the independence of Slovenia.

This is where difference between him and the current president of the Slovenian government lies. Dr Cerar did not find secret services and foreign affairs during the elections a priority task. Topics of national security have become, in the current government, indeed current, with great refugee disaster, and the conduct of foreign policy during the replacement of the president of the government is always a space to prove the competence of the various branches of government.

Drnovšek never minimized internal conflicts in secret services, and especially not in SOVA. He first sought the solution in the appointment of Drago Ferš as the rehabilitator of the conditions and immediately after in their substantial connection with foreign as well as German and American services. Back then, we had the knowledge and realistic information about the conditions in the region, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and possible plans for a solution. Therefore, Drnovšek was a welcome guest of European and world capitals. He was able to be different. And to say the things that had been unspoken up to then.
Cerar has a similar possibility now. Perhaps this is why his spring initiative on the cut of the refugee route on the Greek-Macedonian border was so influential. He knew, I talked to him in his office, that we had to consistently respect the external Schengen border and help stop the already unstoppable, tragic refugee wave through Slovenia to Austria and further to Germany and other European countries. And he just knew that calls for complete omission of control at our external European border meant not an openness, but a new isolation of Slovenia or at least the confirmation that the state is unable to comply with accepted European obligations. Neither the Schengen ones. Just like Dr. Drnovšek, he knew that Slovenia has to solve its own problems alone. Only then it becomes acceptable and full interlocutor. In fact, that was a time after the economic crisis, a time to search for new identity of the European Union, so delicate task due to the upcoming parliamentary elections in France, Germany and Italy, because of euroscepticism, attractiveness of political agenda against Europe, announced leaving of Great Britain, as well as the announcement of a new refugee wave in Europe.

A few days ago, Cerar spoke about it at a meeting of European leaders in Bratislava and restated again, which is very important for the country, that Slovenia is part of one of Europe which wants a close mutual cooperation. Slovenia is a country that will be member of a firm European core.

Drnovšek was at the beginning of this Slovenian road. I remember the breakfast in a Washington hotel “Watergate”. I explained to Drnovšek that it was very early in the morning in our home country, but he nevertheless required to immediately have all of the information about the exiled and displaced Italian citizens from Istria after the end of the Second World War. He knew that it was necessary to seek a compromise with the neighbouring Italy, prior to our full membership in the European Union. Drnovšek had an advantage over Cerar today. Slovenia was an interesting country and Drnovšek highly desirable interlocutor. And because the region of the Western Balkans was among the most important global topics of foreign policy. Drnovšek was the official guest of all the prestigious European forums, where now Slovenia is not among the mentioned countries, let alone among the invited ones. That is why it seems so important today for Cerar to take over the foreign policy decisions back to the office of the president of the government.

Drnovšek knew that he needed, in such a complicated task such was full membership in the European Union, a special political and social consensus. That is why he used to talk to everyone, including political opponents. One of the most significant results of that conversation was the association of like-minded parties in the then big liberal democracy of Slovenia.

Cerar is today at a similar breaking point. And Slovenia has only one option. Staying in the company of the most connected European countries. And Cerar repeated exactly this message over and over again at a meeting in Bratislava, at the end of last week.

The prime ministers cannot be compared or identified. Although both Drnovšek and Cerar received the mandate for the governance of the state at the time of similar decisions. First one, during the negotiations on membership in the European Union, and the later at the moment when this historically the freest and most successful European bond requires new solutions. Similar to Drnovšek founding the only possibility in so-called Spanish compromise, the agreement with Javier Solana and thereby compromise with Italy, Cerar has also found today the only option that Slovenia is part of the most connected and the most solid European connection. And that is what connects them both.