Over the past few decades, Slovenia has shifted dramatically from a socialist state within the Soviet Union. Governments with a history of socialism have been more likely to experience democratic backsliding. Democratic backsliding is defined as state-led debilitation of political institutions within an existing democratic country. In the case of Slovenia, the country has remained a democratic country even after periods of semi-autocratic governments, is not immune from events that could lead it to potential democratic backsliding. As we have seen from the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the US capital even established democracies is not immune from democratic erosion or backsliding.
The country today is considered a consolidated democracy with the freedom house rating it an 82 out of 100 on its respective democracy score in 2019. This is because the government has had to use coalitions to enact policy. This is a result of the ruling party not winning the majority of the parliamentary seats. As a result, the center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) had to form a majority coalition with the center-left Party of Modern Center (SMC), a conservative New Slovenia, and the pensioners’ party Desus (Novak). This is crucial because it is more difficult for populist movements or pirates in a country to make sweeping changes if they do not have a large majority in the government. In this situation, they do not and as a result, it is more difficult for the prime minister to enact large changes even though it is still possible.
One issue that the country faces is in regards to its election process. Over the past few years, it has been considered to be unequal. This is more specifically involving the representation of constituencies as well as political parties setting lists of candidates planned to run for election. In a fully democratic system, the people would be able to vote for who they want to run for election. However, in this system, they only have the voice to pick from people that the party as a whole has decided to allow to run for a specific office in the government. This is interesting because this does not allow the citizens to pick whether or not a party becomes more populist. In this situation, the political elites of the party have more power to decide who could potentially run. This as a result makes it more difficult for the population of a country to actively advocate against a populist leader being chosen for a party even if they don’t necessarily agree with those specific stances.
Another issue that has been prevalent in the past few years is the concern over the populist leader Janez Janša. Since the start of the pandemic, this populist leader of Slovenia has been able to change legislation in the country that would have been more difficult to do without the pandemic. He was also able to undermine the media in the country as well as other independent government institutions. These actions were able to be accomplished in the country with the baseless claim that they were undermining the government’s ability to combat the pandemic. This is important because the silencing of the media allows the leader to change the narrative and viewpoints in order to benefit their respective populist movement. This is because the government doesn’t need to attack every media outlet because the fear of government intervention could be enough to convince the media to change their stance on the government.
Finally, because of these actions of the past few years, there have been concerns about the potential for Slovenia to backslide as a result of populism. However, in the past few months, the democratic institutions have challenged Prime Minister Janša over the actions he has taken during the Coronavirus pandemic. In this style of democratic government, the parliament brought up a vote of no confidence against the prime minister. This was a challenge to his populist movement in the country and specifically against the actions taken by him and his party; these actions resulted in the weakening of institutions in the country. Even though the result of this no-confidence vote allowed Prime Minister Janša to stay in office, this still represents a significant check on his power even without the removal of any powers the Prime Minister has. This is important because they needed to choose between an “authoritarian democracy and a normal, constitutional and democratic Slovenia”. This is important because this system was intended to be a check to the power of one part of the government by another part. Even though this check did not ultimately become successful, it shows that the government is still functioning as a democratic government even with this populist leader and the threat of potential democratic backsliding.
Gelen Emil Turano
Great blog! I am inclined in Hungary’s democratic backsliding and I think both Slovenia and Hungary has been experiencing such.
I read this journal by Bojan Bugarič entitled “A crisis of constitutional democracy in post-Communist Europe: ‘Lands in-between’ democracy and authoritarianism” published in 2015. He argued that countries from the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are confronting a significant constitutional democratic issue just ten years after their historic “return to Europe” in 2004. The constitutional democracy problem in CEE, which is occurring at the same time as the Eurozone crisis, has a distinct root and these countries’ rule-of-law institutions are weaker than those in Western countries. He concluded that, Western democracies are better equipped to deal with varied attacks on their liberal institutions since their courts, media, human rights groups, and ombudsmen have a longer and more developed heritage of independence and professionalism. In contrast, where such institutions are weak and underdeveloped, as they are in CEE, the risk of authoritarianism and “illiberal democracy” is always present.
Hence, even the most advanced CEE democracies, such as Hungary and Slovenia demonstrate, are prone to democratic backsliding. Both countries deteriorated from consolidated democracies to two separate sorts of semi-authoritarian and degraded democratic regimes in a relatively short period of time.