THU, 24 JUL 1997 17:02:14 GMT
How Does the Slovenian Army Leadership See Democracy and Public Information
AIM Ljubljana, July 20, 1997
In mid-July, Jadran Vatovec, a journalist, was served a court summons. The Defence Ministry requested him to be interrogated and charged with disclosing military or official secret, which is punishable by a three to five year of imprisonment sentence under the law, and if he thereby compromised the national defence capacities, by as much as ten years of prison. Naturally, Vatovec appeared at the hearing in the company of his counsel and did not plead guilty to any of the charges brought against him (by a member of the intelligence service of the Defence Ministry and a "regular" member of the civilian judiciary), returned to his editorial office and is now waiting for the Prosecutor's decision on (not) indicting him.
What did Vatovec write and in which way has he, in the opinion of the Defence Ministry or some of its officials, compromised the state's defence capacity?
He wrote nothing more than what every schoolboy knows in Ljubljana - he wrote about shady deals regarding the procurement of Israeli howitzers and mortars and in order to prove that there was truly something fishy in these deals and that at least two defence ministers should answer for that, he quoted parts from the report of the Intelligence Service of the Defence Ministry which stated that arms were bought without undergoing final testing, that used rather than new arms were in question, that the serial numbers had obviously been tampered with, in other words that underhand deals were in question. The Defence Ministry or some of its big shots concluded that the journalist has published data eroding the state's defence capacities and is now demanding from the court to imprison that journalistic traitor for at least three or five years, and, if there is justice, for as long as ten years. What will the Ministry do to the Prosecutor if the latter refuses to press charges against the journalist? Draft him into the reserve corps and show him? Or perhaps it will fire him from a howitzer or a mortar?
Vatovec is not the only journalist whom the Army tried to silence. The most recent is the example of Bojan Budja, a journalist from Novo Mesto, who published some information on the sale of arms which clearly show that individual high officials of the Defence Ministry charged hefty commissions on the sale of these arms to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Members of the "authorities" burst into Budja's flat and in front of his children and wife ransacked it and took away documentation which contained nothing supportive of the charges the Army wanted foist on him, but the Prosecutor was smart and - refuted all the accusations.
Journalists have documents which prove that there is corruption in a ministry, that it is involved in illegal operations, that there is crime and that officials of that ministry buy obsolete armaments while the Ministry and its bosses claim that these same journalists are jeopardizing the state's security! In fact, at these hearings both Budja and Vatovec were asked to disclose the names of the people from whom they got the documents proving that some high-placed defence officials cared more for their own (material) security, than that of the state, which is their job which they do for a fat bundle and not for the love of that same state. And that is the "catch" - to find the "leak", that is, if there does exist a "leak", to find a way to prevent this information, which is normally interesting for all those who pay taxes and thereby finance defence too, from reaching the public.
Naturally, neither Budja nor Vatovec revealed their sources. As experienced journalists they are perfectly aware that if they reveal their sources the only pieces of written information they could hope for would be prices posted at the market place, which they know anyway. The Defence Ministry (and not only it) wants the public to learn only that what is to its liking, i.e. reduces the role of public information to propaganda.
When once during the firing of howitzers, some shells missed the mark by several miles and landed near a village on the shore of Cerknica Lake, the Ministry would not have published a word of explanation had not the people started calling the press asking which army was firing on the shores of Cerknica Lake and whether it was perhaps, God forbid, a war or some kind of sabotage. The journalists thanked the newly security-conscious population and demanded an explanation from Tito Turnsak, the Defence Minister, who in the last News programme stated (and got away with it) that the Army did organize the firing, that the mark was missed by several miles so that the shell almost exploded in the center of the village (which in any case has only four to five houses so that it would not have caused much damage - which the Minister did not say, but spoke with such nonchalance that he did not need to), and that the Ministry had therefore concluded that the event was of no importance for the public!
Had these been the words of the American President Clinton, had he dared decide what was important for the public and make a selection of information issued by White House - he would have been swept away from office faster than any near-miss shell of Turnsak can fly. The Americans would have forgiven Nixon for Watergate but never for lying to them and withholding the truth.
It is normal for everyone, even the state authorities, ministries as well as ministers to shun from their dirty linen being washed publicly, but if it is already out in the open, then it is normal for that Ministry and the Minister to answer for it to the public which finances them, and not to accuse those revealing that dirt of subversive activity. It is much more likely that they are trying to hide their inability to discharge their duties to the satisfaction of their nationals.
In the last couple of months in addition to these, several other events occurred demonstrating that the journalistic warnings that something fishy was going on in the Ministry, were more than true. In a matter of a few days two young men committed suicide. Both were soon to complete their army service. Officially, one was said to have been spotted by the shopping mall guards wandering barefoot around the barracks carrying an automatic rifle at two o'clock in the morning. They called both the military and civil police who found him dead at dawn.
According to official sources he had committed suicide while drunk. It was further stated that it was observed that he was depressed, etc. which both the family and his friends refused to accept because he was, they claim, neither depressive nor a drunk. But, even if the Ministry's statement about his suicide was true, no one answered a perfectly legitimate question: "How was it possible for a boy to get a rifle at two o'clock in the morning? Who was on duty that night in the unit, who had the keys to the rifle rack and who failed in his duty that night? In any case, that person had to be an active officer of the Slovenian Army and not one of the kids these officers were supposed to teach how to use the arms. According to the Ministry's official statement the other young man committed suicide while on sentry duty.
When the early activation of the explosive charge of a howitzer killed one young man and injured many others, the official report of the Ministry's Commission in charge of investigating the case, stated that human factor had failed, in other words that the commander had made an error in charging the howitzer. Eye-witnesses, soldiers present at the drill, claim and say openly that the error of the commanding officer was out of the question, but that it was a clear case of a defective howitzer or faulty ammunition. And that is precisely what Vatovec wrote about: the procurement of defective or obsolete Israeli armaments.
After calmly admitting at one of his rare appearances at a press conference that there was a possibility that something was wrong with the Israeli arms, which however was not proven, the State Defence Secretary, Teodor Gersak, disappeared from the public eye and never gave another statement; there were even speculations about his removal (probably because he told the truth). There was no public censorship during the ten-day war in Slovenia. Everyone admitted that Slovenia had won the propaganda war thanks to journalists and the political wisdom of Kucan and Drnovsek who accepted seemingly unacceptable Brioni Declaration and a moratorium, thereby escaping the fate of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That was the time for the journalists to be active, just as Paul Scott Mowrer, editor of the "Chicago Daily News", recently said: "In this society of ours final political decisions are in the hands of statesmen. If we want people to make choices, to be capable of deciding what they want, then we have to keep them informed, even during war or, better said, particularly during war."
Slovenia is not at war and this way of thinking is obviously quite alien to the newly-emerging power holders who are behaving in accordance with the statement of a military censor which originates from the times Mowrer made his: "While the war is on I would tell the people nothing and in the end I would only let them know who won."
Zoran Odic AIM