Crisis of legality

By Jan Zobec, Constitutional Judge (parts of his address to ‘Mladopravniki’)

The development

The beginning was inspiring – I am referring to the birth of the Slovenian state – Slovenia as a sovereign country of free citizens, a liberal constitutional democracy based on the rule of human rights that put at their centre the free and responsible individual as the key value.
At first it all looked good: fairly quickly and without pain we moved past the critical period of independence implementation and did not, as it was threatened by some, eat grass. In comparison with others we paid a relatively low price and were able to join, it seemed, the train of European normalcy. We successfully joined the EU and for outside observers who were more interested in the image than in the internal workings of our society we were a model of a progressive post-communist state. Statistics confirmed this image. (...) We were the stars of transitional Europe, the first post-communist country to take presidency of the EU, the first to adopt the euro, a model to many others, in short, a story of success.
But only on the surface. Once the varnish dried up, cracked and fell off, the true state of Slovenian transition emerged. A rapid increase in public debt, no payment discipline, impotency of banks, falling GDP, increase in unemployment and subsequent social chaos are only external signs of misguided transition that surfaced due to the inevitable economic crisis. In 2008, Slovenia entered the period of global recession relatively well prepared. Again, this was only an image. The banking hole, internal indebtedness, state owned systemic and monopolistic corporations (state owned banks, insurance companies, energy producers and telecommunication providers are the centres of moral hazard and corruptible practices) – these are the facts of Slovenian transition and have nothing to do with the global recession. Despite it all, Slovenia was then a country with a relatively low debt – it’s public debt was 8.6 billion EUR or 23% of GDP. Less than six years later, it has increased to 28 billion or 81% of GDP. In mere five years the debt has increased threefold.  
The crisis of legality
This is the picture we have today, mercilessly complemented by other facts that confirm that the real reason for the catastrophic situation is not the global financial crisis but rather a combination of typically Slovenian factors - I dare say that the Slovenian crisis is in fact a crisis of legality. By this I am not suggesting that law as a cultural phenomenon is to blame for the crisis - on the contrary, it is the lack of legality, disrespect of law and perversion of justice that are the culprits.
Absence of constitutional culture
All this are consequences of dysfunction of the rule of law - which in turn is a consequence of the absence of legal culture that goes back to its source, i.e. the constitution. Slovenians have become insensitive to the values that are at the crux of Slovenian constitutional identity, and easily adopt intellectual values and cultural concepts (or perhaps we can't let go of them since they became ingrained in us in the 73 years of living in both Yugoslavias) that belong to another cultural tradition - let me be clear and direct: to the Balkan despotic culture that never implemented the process of state internalisation and never put at its centre the free and responsible, or if you like, constitutionally and morally-ethically integrated individual.
Hence, if in the normal Western world people rely on law, in this country we rely on our connections, influential friends and acquaintances; what is in the West arranged is here fixed through connections; what is there agreed and written down, happens, whereas here it is circumvented, outstripped, outwitted; what in normal democracies applies to all and in the same binding way, are for Slovenians rules of the game that can be bent to suit this individual or another, a group or the whole influential network; what is elsewhere considered an unacceptable lie is here a self-evident means of achieving one's goals, only a small, negligible, forgivable and repairable error, or even something that should be overlooked and pretended that it doesn't exist; what in the normal European environment works effectively, makes people's lives easier and promotes the economy is in Slovenia abused and allowed to go bad (e.g., land debt that had to be discontinued after ten years due to continuous abuse). Legal institutions that function in the West are rejected by our nation's organism, and if you'll excuse me a trivial example, if the waiting list for an MRI in Slovenia depends on corrupt connections and acquaintances, the same medical service is available for all without exception in four to five days across the border in Austria. 

Dear colleagues, I ask myself what is happening with us that we are morally so low, that we accept models from another, I dare say Eastern, Balkan tradition, a despotism-based and annihilating culture that came to existence in different historic circumstances and civilisation. We are a European nation that historically and culturally belongs to the Western world as it has developed through the European state system history - from the Renaissance, Humanism and Reformation to the period of Enlightenment.  Is this not the main reason why we found living in Yugoslavia not only suffocating but also unbearable - is this not why we set out to gain independence? We wrote this down in our constitutional documents that are saying: "Yugoslavia, your politics, your culture, your values - no thank you! And Europe, yes please (if I remember correctly, one of the pre-election slogans for one of the parties on the transitional left was "Europe now!"). We then went on our own and in our own way, as Yugoslavia did not work as a country with the rule of law, where human rights were badly disrespected; where there was no way out of the political and economic crisis due to lack of democracy  and which in the end fell apart in the same way as it was created - in bloodbath. In other words, we moved away from what we are now falling back into.

Full original text in Slovenian available on

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