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[Rebellion of the Academics] The Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Operates in a Distinctively Left-Wing Activistic Manner

The Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which is a scientific research institution, operates in a very left-wing, politically activistic manner, which also sheds a bad light on the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, as the public often believes the two institutions are actually one and the same. The academics of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and some retired and active researchers of the Research Centre in question addressed a written statement to the members of the board of the Research Centre, in which they problematise the publication of the book entitled “Sramota” (Shame). However, this statement first “got stuck” with the chairman of the board, and in the meantime, the board confirmed the seventh mandate of Dr Oto Luthar as the Director of the Centre. In their letter, the authors expressed concrete expectations that the politicisation of the research institute would stop – but there has been no response made to date, even though the statement was discussed at a meeting. It is also no secret that the Director of the Research Centre often meets with artist Vuk Ćosić and leader of the anti-government protests, Jaša Jenull.

The letter on the problem of politicisation of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Znanstveno-rasizkovalni center Slovenske akademije znanosti in umetnosti – hereinafter referred to as ZRC SAZU), written by academic professor Milček Komelj, is still very relevant. In academic circles, people believe that there are very few actions similar to this one, happening in the Slovenian scientific sphere; however, there is a lot of subordination to the mainstream happening. A group of seven researchers from ZRC SAZU and five academics, meaning members of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti – hereinafter referred to as SAZU), wrote a letter in which they expressed concern about specific phenomena, which they understand as the politicisation of the public research institute ZRC SAZU. The letter was sent to the management board of ZRC SAZU on the 25th of February 2022, and it was discussed at a meeting a month later.

The SAZU academics and retired and active researchers of ZRC SAZU therefore addressed the letters to the members of the management board of ZRC SAZU, and in it, they problematised the publication of the book entitled “Sramota” (Shame), which, according to the signatories of the letter, was actually an abuse of the public scientific institute for political activism. Namely, the book was published by the public institute ZRC SAZU. We have already written about the fact that the publication of the book in question was a disgrace in itself. A disgrace because ZRC SAZU is supposed to dedicate itself exclusively to scientific work, and not political activism.
The “permanent” Director of ZRC ZAZU, Dr Oto Luthar, has engaged in his anti-government political activism many times before – among other things, he also stated that the reason why the Slovenian government talks so much about independence and patriotism is that it wants to politically alter history, in order to give itself more legitimacy, and therefore stay in power. But even though many believe that Luthar is objectively responsible for the politicisation of the institution he heads, the institute recently confirmed his new directorial mandate.

“As I have repeatedly pointed out publicly, ZRC SAZU, which is supposed to be a scientific research institution, operates in a strongly left-wing activistic manner. And since the general public often confuses the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts with the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, although the former is only the founder of the latter, and the Research Centre is an independent institution, this casts a bad light on SAZU as well,” said the Vice President of the of SAZY for humanities, social sciences and arts, Dr Milček Komelj. In order to explain that the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has nothing to do with this completely inappropriate activism of the Research Centre, they even invited the Prime Minister to the Academy, after he criticised it because of a political action in front of the parliament, which was actually related to ZRC SAZU. Prime Minister Janez Janša kindly responded to the invitation, and the Academy’s management explained the difference to him while also complimenting the work of the current government in a constructive discussion.
The inappropriate political activism of ZRC SAZU has been discussed several times by the SAZU Executive Board and has strongly been criticised by it
“Some employees of ZRC SAZU, whom I know personally, repeatedly complain to me at meetings and also reluctantly warn that many employees of the institution in question explicitly oppose the activism of the ZRC SAZU leadership and note that the management is abusing the institution for political purposes. When some of them wrote a statement letter at the time of publication of the book “Sramota” (Shame) and invited me to co-sign it, I did so without hesitation. The statement was addressed to the SAZU Management Board and also sent to the SAZU Presidency and the Scientific Council of ZRC SAZU,” Komelj explained.
The statement “got stuck” at the chairman of the board, Dr Drago Perko
The authors of the statement wanted to warn the board of directors about the latest such abuse, the publication of the book Shame, in the belief that the board of ZRC SAZU would discuss and comment on the statement before re-electing the director. As Komelj himself is a member of the board of directors, he quickly realised that the statement was not actually forwarded to the members of the board at all, but it “got stuck” at the chairman of the board, who supposedly intended to put it on the agenda only at the next, and not the upcoming meeting – meaning, it would only have been discussed after the appointment of the Director had already happened. “So, I myself sent it to all the members of the board, so that they could read it, and then it was also discussed at the meeting. The director was still elected, but the authors and signatories are pleased that the letter reached the members at all, that it was not “silenced,” and they have now apparently decided, as I just recently found out, to inform the general public about it as well, when they sent it to radio Ognjišče,” the academic further explained the circumstances surrounding the letter. We sent a question to Director Perko about what the members of the board decided to do about the letter in which the authors expressed concrete expectations that the politicisation of the research institute would stop – so we wanted to know how the board will take care of this. The statement, addressed to the members of the board of ZRC SAZU, in which they problematise the publication of the book entitled Shame, and which, according to the signatories, represents an abuse of the public scientific institute for political activism, is published in its entirety below.

What is Sramota (Shame)?
The book “Sramota” (Shame) was published by authors who hid their identity under the anonymous label NON-GRUPA; the publishing title lists only the authors of the photographs, not the editor of the book or the committee that would take responsibility for its message. The publishing council of the ZRC Publishing House was also not informed about the publication. The responsibility for it is thus borne by the official representing the issuer, meaning, the Director Dr Oto Luthar – and with him, the entire ZRC SAZU.

The book Shame is a photo monography. The book consists of two things: an excerpt from the text of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which is then crossed out in a way that makes the entire thing, except for the title, ineligible, and photographs from the protests against the current government. The graphic message is very clear: the government is violating the constitution and nullifying constitutional freedoms – hence the protests shown in the photos. The first axis of the photos is aimed at the Slovenian police: its employees are shown as if they are arbitrarily attacking and harassing civilians – without any mention in the book that police officers had to disperse the illegal protests, which were repeatedly violent, and which all happened during the epidemic, thus causing the spread of the virus. Not a single photo shows any of the injured or even wounded police offices who were attacked by the protesters.
The second axis of the photos is aimed at the Ministry of Culture. None of the officials are shown in the photos, but the message is clear: the measures of the ministry (the one that provided 70 million euros more for the culture ministry than those in the previous governments, which is, of course, not mentioned in the book), are unconstitutional and deserve threats with red paint – the colour of blood.

The message of shame
According to the anonymous authors of the book, the conduct of the government and its bodies is unconstitutional and shameful – hence the title of the book, Shame. This is the central message of the book, and this message is clearly political. As the book was published by ZRC SAZU, the institution became the bearer of this political message, with which the current government has been de facto criticised not only by an anonymous group but also by the public research institute ZRC SAZU. And since we are currently in this specific time period, the ZRC SAZU thus also entered the pre-election campaign.

Appropriation of the public institution ZRC SAZU
ZRC SAZU was established 40 years ago in order to implement the long-term research programme called “The Natural and cultural heritage of the Slovenian nation,” together with its founder, SAZU (Article 26 of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Act). For 40 years, ZRC SAZU, and many other institutes before it, were being built by many scientists of different democratic views, who all saw the mission of the institute in science, which should be universally valid, not part of politics, and common to all, for the benefit of the Slovenian nation. However, the book Shame is the latest in a series of actions that politicise the ZRC SAZU. Politicisation is twofold: in the eyes of the public, the ZRC SAZU is becoming increasingly recognisable for its anti-government political activism, and inwardly, the ZRC SAZU has caused the undesirable, harmful practice of researchers having to politically define themselves to start. Until ten years ago, at most of the institutes of ZRC SAZU, researchers mostly did not know what someone’s political orientation is or which party someone is voting for, because this was not important for their work. However, with various politically motivated leadership initiatives (for example, the recent petition against Minister of Culture, Simoniti, or the participation in the anti-government protests on behalf of the institution itself), the political differences among researchers are starting to show.
An appeal to the Management Board of ZRC SAZU
We, the signatories, believe that the harmful practices of the politicisation of ZRC SAZU must stop. In this process, which has now materialised in the book Shame, we see the appropriation and abuse of the public research institute ZRC SAZU for daily politics, which casts a bad light on SAZU as well. ZRC SAZU should pursue exclusively scientific goals and act in accordance with its Statute and applicable legislation, including the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Act, as ZRC SAZU “acquires the rights and duties of a public institute” based on it (Article 37 of the Act in question). None of these acts provides any legal basis for the political activism we have seen in the institute’s recent actions. Therefore, we call on the Board of Directors of ZRC SAZU, which must guarantee the legality of the operation of this public institution, to publicly present how it will ensure the end of all political activism at ZRC SAZU and thus stop its politicisation; to make a public statement by which ZRC SAZU will distance itself from the political message of the book. We also call on the management of ZRC SAZU to apologise to researchers who do not agree with the politicisation of the public institution.

SAZU members: Dr Janez Höfler, extraordinary member of SAZU; academic Dr Milček Komelj, academic Dr Janko Kos, academic Dr Marko Snoj, academic Dr. Marija Stanonik. Retired researchers of ZRC SAZU: Dr Stane Granda, Dr Ivan Klemenčič, Dr Damjan Prelovšek, Dr Janez Šumrada, ambassador. Active researchers ZRC SAZU: Dr Matija Ogrin, Dr Boris Golec, Dr Anton Velušček.
The Director of ZRC SAZU often meets with Ćosić and Jenull.

Historian Dr Stane Granda, a retired researcher of ZRC SAZU, also commented on the situation. To begin with, he explained that ZRC SAZU originated from the institutes of SAZU. Many individuals also found work there, specifically those for whom education at a university was inaccessible due to ideological “shortcomings.” To name a few, academic Emilijan Cevc, Professor Jakob Šolar, Professor Ivana Dolenci, and some other men and women. According to Grande, even Josip Vidmar protected such workers. “From ideologues, to whom, although he was infinitely loyal to the regime, he did not allow to flourish,” he added. With the enthronement of Dr Oto Luther, the situation has completely changed. Systematically, especially through employment policy, he subordinated everything to the Institute of Philosophy, of which he was a part and which emerged from the Marxist Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. It was founded by Milčinski and was under his jurisdiction. It became, with the rare few exceptions, the main centre of Slovenian post-totalitarianism and one of the largest organisers of protests against the current government and Janez Janša personally. It is not even a secret that Luther often meets with Vuk Ćosić and Jaša Jenull. The recent publication of the book Shame was supposedly celebrated with a magnificent banquet, funded with state funds.

“Through him, SAZU is also pursuing its policy, which, even in the most difficult times of Slovenian communism, was not as ideologically intolerant as it is today. It was only thanks to this that Luther got his seventh term as a director. The abuse of reconciliation says a lot about their morals,” Granda said, adding that may associate Oto Luther with the well-known saying: “To´t nem ember, ha embes, gazember (a Slovenian is not a man, but if he is, he is a bad man).” However, it is also true that, according to the eminent historian Dr Moskovič, he claimed to be a Jew from the Prekmurje region when he visited Israel.

Sara Bertoncelj

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