Open letter from Mr Alfred Brežnik, AM, retired Honorary Consul General in Sydney, to Minister Karl Erjavec

Dear Minister Karl Erjavec,

You probably still remember me, I am the former Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Slovenia for Sydney. In two months time, at the end of June, it will be one year since my resignation/retirement. About one year earlier, in April 2012, I visited the Ministry to discuss my retirement. I still remember your friendly reception and deeply appreciate that you spent a considerable amount of your valuable time in conversation with me. 

Minister, I look back on 21 years of my honorary work with joy and satisfaction. I am especially pleased that all these years I maintained excellent relationship, that is, truly friendly relations with all Charges d'Affaires and other Embassy staff. Together we solved problems and shared our successes. All this was for the benefit of our common homeland, the state of Slovenia, and also of course to assist the Slovenian community in Australia. This applies also to the period since our diplomatic mission was taken over by the first Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia in Australia, Dr. Milan Balažic. Following my retirement from the position of the Honorary Consul General we remained on good and friendly terms. Dr. Balažic came to the Embassy with new ideas and a vision. Immediately he undertook to widen the consular network and to arrange for the appointment of honorary consuls in other capitals in Australian states. Our community was pleased with this. He became popular and was welcome in associations, clubs and organisations, always invited to various functions as a speaker and a guest.

Unfortunately, Minister, the opening of the first Consulate in Melbourne, which should have served as a model for the opening of other consulates still awaiting confirmation from the Australian government, created instead of the anticipated joy for the Slovenian community in Victoria one of the most shameful acts that can happen in diplomacy.  The Slovenian community in Australia and in particular in Melbourne was outraged by the presence of Nicholas Oman at the opening of the Consulate and later at the reception which followed in Jadran Club.  The community demanded through its representatives an answer from the organisers of this important event an/or the Ambassador as to who invited him and why.

Enough has been said about all this in the media and in both meetings of the Committee for Foreign Affairs in the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia. I followed live broadcasts of both meetings on RTV Slovenia and I also have their respective transcripts. To be honest, I am not surprised by the reaction of the Slovenian community over the final statement by Diplomatic Supervisor Mr Miha Vrhunec which you, Minister, accepted in good faith. It says in Point 9 "the supervisory inspection did not find any elements of responsibility of Mr. Balažic  for this event, this undesirable event, which took place at the opening of the Consulate. "

I have no intention to go into details and to analyse everything that has been said about this unfortunate event. I do, however, feel the need to speak up and provide my own view as I was present at the opening as well as at the reception that followed in Jadran Club. By the way, I was never contacted by anybody from the supervisory inspection and was never asked for my views which I find somewhat surprising.  I did give a public statement when I was publicly asked whether I was one of the four organisers of this important event along with the Ambassador, as Dr. Balažic  claimed in his interview for the SBS Radio. In my statement which was made public and is attached to this letter I said that this was not true. I did not know personally Honorary Consul Mr Derry Maddison except for one meeting at an Embassy reception in Canberra. Additionally, I live 1000km away in Sydney. At the conclusion of official speeches when Father Ciril Bozic was invited by the Ambassador to bless the new Consulate I was invited to join the reading of one of the prayers Father prepared for this occasion. 

Let me first tell you my view relating to the invitations. I myself did not receive an invitation even though I was on the list (I received a copy of this list four days after the event), probably because my address in this list was incorrect (the building number was 86 instead of 78). But this does not matter, the Ambassador also invited me by phone and I confirmed my attendance. A lot of time has been spent on the question whether Nicholas Oman was on the list of invited guests or not. This is not important either.

The fact is that he was on the first draft. The question is: why was he on this draft at all? Did the Embassy staff put him on the list by mistake? Someone who is not a member of the Slovenian community and who is not known to anyone and especially with his past?

Minister, it does not come easy to me to write about this issue. I never wished any harm to anyone and I still don't, but in this case the reputation of our country and our community is at stake. It is also of no importance why two women (Ms Metka Čuk and Mrs Draga Gelt) decided to make public this sad news. They are both distinguished members of the Slovenian community who were horrified by this inconsiderate and for the community offensive happening, and rightly so. Please consider the reaction of the whole community. The fact that these two women were not present is not important either. Ms Metka Čuk should be commended as she made a point during her employment at the Embassy  to alert the Ambassador to the unethical nature of Mr Nicholas Oman's visits to the Embassy when no passport was in question (her statement is attached). Additionally, Ms Čuk did not publish this to seek revenge for her alleged dismissal. She was not dismissed, she gave notice on her own initiative in the beginning of September and remained, in agreement with the Ambassador, in her job for another six weeks and thus assisted in the introduction of the new staff member Mrs Jana Grilc to her new posting. I therefore ask you: please do not underestimate the community! It is not only outraged, it feels insulted, especially now when individuals at the meeting of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, especially Member of the Assembly Mrs Ljubica Jelusic and Member of the Assembly Mr Samo Bevk  spoke in such dismissive and contemptuous terms about our community (statements by both are in the Meeting transcript).

Minister, with respect to you personally and for the sake of reputation of our country and our Slovenian community in Australia, please allow me to advise you that that this affair is not over, it has only just started. The Slovenian community will not forget this easily; it showed its determination and fighting spirit 25 years ago (please see "Od sanj do resnicnosti" which was published to commemorate 20th anniversary of Slovenia's independence - I  gave you the book as a gift at the time of my visit). Before the second Committee meeting, the community was getting ready for public demonstrations and was demanding Ambassador's recall. They turned to me for advice. I convinced them that it was not the time for demonstrations and that we should give the Committee and the Diplomatic Supervisor opportunity to investigate. I do not believe that I could convince them now, after all that has happened since.   

The Embassy received before and after the second Committee meeting letters that the Ambassador's presence  is no longer desired at their functions:  at this stage, from the Council of Slovenian Organisations in Victoria which includes six (6) Slovenian organisations; and two (2) from New South Wales, from Triglav Club and from HASA (Historical Archive of Slovenians in Australia)  NSW which will soon celebrate its tenth anniversary and the tenth anniversary of Slovenia joining the EU. Among the invited guests is former Minister of the Australian government and currently the deputy leader of the Opposition Ms Tanya Plibrsek who has already confirmed her attendance.  

You may ask why I am writing all this? Mainly because, Minister, I too want the truth to be known - we used to say that 'lie has short legs'. With this I wish to tell you that I too am convinced that Nicholas Oman was invited to the Melbourne ceremony. In what form he received this invitation is not important - it could be by phone or in personal contacts which were more than two. But why was he invited? Ambassador Dr.  Balažic, with whom I enjoyed good and proper relations that supported open discussions,  explained this himself in our phone conversation. It sounded confidential but I learned in Melbourne from at least two other persons that they knew the same thing. He said that Mr Oman was an important person for Slovenia  and that this was a big thing for Slovenia (of which I have no intention to speak). Mr Balažic spent a lot of time talking to Mr Oman and he had authorisation from Slovenia to negotiate with him. He also told me that should it happen that he were to be recalled he was going to "put his cards on the table". 

Next Monday - the interview broadcast on SBS Radio was on Friday where Mr Balažic twice denied inviting Mr Oman - I called Mr Balažic. It was during lunch time and I couldn't get him first but he soon returned my call. I first alerted him to his own statement and why he claimed that he did not invite Oman. "But I didn't..." was his reply. I reminded him of our conversation of a week ago when he talked to me about the Oman issue. I did not press further as I felt uncomfortable facing him with facts - I thought that he knew anyway. I did advise him, however, that if he admitted and apologised to fellow Slovenians, explained that an error occurred and that he was sorry and that he would make sure this would not happen again, the community would more or less forgive him. There might still be somebody here and there who would grumble as it is usually the case but this issue would be closed. I told him that there was nothing more beautiful than apology;  a 'big' person becomes even bigger if he admits his mistake and apologises. As an example I mentioned Cardinal George Pell who recently left for Vatican and who in front of the Royal Commission which investigates child abuse admitted and regretted that the Church did not do enough to redress the injustices. The Cardinal promised that this would not happen again. 

At the end of our conversation, Mr Balažic said, and I understood this as a hint, "...that we will see who the friends are."

Let me move to the second meeting of the Committee for Foreign Affairs where Mr Balažic did not say much as you, Minister, and  Supervisor Mr Miha Vrhunec allegedly had said everything already. His misleading ways became obvious and were at their heights when at the meeting and later in the hall of the National Assembly Mr Balažic showed journalists a drawing of the table set-up in the hall of Jadran Club.

We arrived to the reception hosted by the Honorary Consul Derry Maddison and the Council of Slovenian Organisations (they covered one half of the cost) late due to road closures and unfamiliarity with the area. In the car were beside me Father Ciril Božič and Father David Šrumpf who offered me a lift.

When we arrived Mr Milan Balažic, Mr Peter Mandelj, Mr Derry Maddison and Mr Nicholas Oman were seated at the first table closest to the microphone.  We missed the speech - according to those present there Mr Balažic did not have a speech.  As I entered the hall, back at the entrance I noticed a small table for four. At the table sat Mr Vinko Rizmal, alone. I asked him if I could join him. Initially we sat there alone, were served a good 'kranjska' sausage and drinks. We were joined by both Fathers and later by Irena and Marko Stariha of Sydney. As the table was only for four people we widened the circle with our chairs. A little later we were joined by Mr Balažic. What am I trying to tell you with all this?  True, even though it may not have been determined in terms of protocol which table was the official and the main, this last one next to the entrance was certainly not the one. If we can say that one table was truly meant for guests, this was this first one at the front, next to the microphone where Mr Maddison greeted the guests. On the other hand, it was pure coincidence that both Fathers and I joined Mr Rizmal at his table.  

Minister, it is my opinion, and I leave the judgement to you, that the invitation to Mr Nicholas Oman, in any form, was part of a well planned rehabilitation of Mr Oman. It was necessary to turn him into a member of the Slovenian community. Mr Oman is not known in the Slovenian community. I have not met one Slovenian, including at 14th Festival in Melbourne on 5 April where there was a lot of talk and indignation about the Oman affair, who would know him. And about his daughter, "young promising lawyer", Patricia Oman, "the new generation of the Slovenian community"... No one has heard of her, no one knows her.  Where, when and what has she done for the Slovenian community? If she is truly such a promising intellectual, why hasn't she sent her RSVP, apologies and asked if it was fine that her father represented her. All this are excuses. Mr Balažic made in this case a mistake by underestimating the Slovenian community and its high moral standards and values. I am afraid he went too far. He will never be forgiven! It is too late now for apologies! He will find it hard to perform his duties as a Slovenian ambassador in Australia. 

Finally, a few days ago, on 18 April, the popular premier of NSW who won in elections three years ago with the most convincing victory in the history of NSW, was invited to the anti-corruption committee (ICAC)  as a witness and not as the accused. To the question whether he received a bottle of expensive wine as a gift when he won the election he answered no, as he couldn't remember and he was not partial to drink. The Committee showed him his personal thank you note - and in less than 24 hours he resigned from his position as the premier of the state.

Alfred Brežnik AM
Former Honorary Consul General of RS  in Sydney (1992 – 2013)
Recipient of the following awards:
Srebrni častni znak svobode RS
Member of the Order of Australia
Priznanje Urada Vlade RS za Slovence po svetu in v zamejstvu
Zlata plaketa z listino - Olimpijski komite Slovenije
Plaketa Zveze za šport invalidov Slovenije
Priznanje gospodarske zbornice Slovenije
Slovenian Community: Australian Slovenia Achievements Award 2006

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1 comment:

  1. Please inform free media about the situation in Slovenia.