Slovenia: internal notes leak & how not to react

A rather innocent issue was all over the news recently in Slovenia: an internal note from a meeting of high-officials from the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and representatives of the US State Department leaked out of the Ministry (source Dnevnik). The meeting took place in Washington on 24th December 2007, just before Slovenia took over the EU Presidency. The content was basically: we (the US) want to see Kosovo independent & you (Slovenia) will chair the EU and should help us in doing so. Why so much fuss over this obvious positions?

Actually I think this time the issue was a bit exaggerated. The newspapers editors and journalist claimed that the note revealed clearly that the US are applying pressure on Slovenia and that Slovenia at the top of EU will listen to what the US dictate. Supposedly the US were instructing the Slovenian officials on how to handle Kosovo while chairing the EU.

First, there are numerous notes of this kind in public administration. Our officials meet frequently foreign diplomats, politicians etc, almost every meeting is followed by a note of this kind. They are meant to be used in policy-formulation for specialists, not general public. They are often written on the spot. If someone would check all of them would find enough material of a similar kind to write books until the end of his/her life. Secondly, the US takes a more straightforward position on most issues and is normally a bit more pushy than smaller states. But let’s not think that other countries do not apply pressure on Slovenia. Or Latvia, or Hungary, or Belgium, or Germany, or India, or China! What about the US statements on the need to devaluate Chinese Yuan? Thirdly, no one says that the country listening to the US wishes, will actually act as the US please.

So, the content from my point of view was nothing to be surprised, let alone worried, about. The fact that such a document leaked out, is a bit more concerning, but not a complete surprise. Politics are omnipresent in public administration and there are many interests at stake. People do not like the Foreign Minister Rupel 100%, papers get lost…And on the top: the document was not labeled as “internal” or “secret”. So, there you go…

Finally, what actually made the matters worse for the government was it’s reaction. At first, the MFA reacted calmly, simply stating that it will review its internal policy on access of documents and make sure the issue is reviewed. But then it all went for the worse, here comes the first sentence of the second statment from the MFA:

“…Those employees of the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who forwarded diplomatic mail of the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia Washington on talks of the Ministry’s Political Director in Washington before Christmas are neither loyal Slovenian citizens nor diplomats worth their name. Their acts are illegal, dishonourable and unprofessional.”

They could have said that the employess were not loyal public officials or diplomats, but not Slovenian citizens.

Even worse was the reaction of the Prime Minister Janša, then meeting the Secretary General of the UN Ban KI Moon (writer’s translation):

“It’s strange that (the news) comes from the same newspaper that also welcomed the arrival of Yugoslav tanks in 1991.”

Even if I would agree that Dnevnik exaggerated the content, such statements do not help. Even more, they further alienate the public from the current government.

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