While Minister Vasko Simoniti, Ph.D., was constantly being targeted by various leftist outbursts and attacks, the Ministry of Culture has negotiated a record amount of funds for culture for the years 2021 and 2022, the most in history of independent Slovenia. Simoniti and his actions are not to the liking of the majority media or the left-wing opposition and its cultural workers; however, facts speak for themselves – and in favour of the minister. On the other hand, Simoniti is also the minister who was faced with the most brutal threats from the cultural workers.
Today, an interpellation of the Minister of Culture, Vasko Simoniti, Ph.D., will happen in the National Assembly. The interpellation was once again filed by the SD, LMŠ, Levica and SAB parties, which summarised their accusations in ten points. It is unlikely that the interpellation will succeed, but some believe that the number of MPs who will vote in favour of the interpellation will be higher this time than in the previous two interpellations, and in all likelihood, a rather heated debate will also happen. In the first point of the interpellation, the minister is being accused of ineffective action in limiting and eliminating the consequences of the complete blockade of work and provision of services in the field of culture due to restrictive measures to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. In addition, the minister is also being accused of being partially to blame for the attacks on the freedom and independence of journalistic work and the attempts to limit the independence and working conditions of the public service broadcasters RTVS and STA, delaying the payment of funds for work that has already been done in film and film production, and a senseless cancellation of social security contributions for those working in culture. The minister is also being blamed for the retrograde conduct in cultural politics and the suspension of social dialogue, for political staffing in public cultural institutions, and for non-compliance with the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. In the tenth point, Simoniti is also being accused of not preparing a national programme for culture.
In his extensive response to the interpellation, which is more than 130 pages long, Simoniti rejected all allegations. “I reject the allegations in the interpellations; all ten points in their entirety, because they are not based on real facts and data and because the further explanation prepared by the group of deputies with the first signatory Matjaž Han in the 18-page dismissal proposal does not prove that in my work, I have violated any laws or other legal provisions concerning the field of culture, nor that I acted irresponsibly or acted against the interests of the cultural field,” he wrote, among other things. He also wrote that in his work, he was always aware of his competencies, obligations and duties, so he took effective action in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on the cultural sector, as well as other areas of cultural life in Slovenia. In addition, it is an undeniable fact that a record-high budget for culture has been secured for 2021 – the highest in all history of our independent state.
He is the most attacked minister
Simoniti is being accused of not establishing a dialogue with cultural figures, but the accusers are not the least bit worried about what kind of “dialogue” the cultural figures, non-governmental organisation members and other anti-government activists are engaging in, in their complaints against the current government and minister Simoniti. Let’s just think back to their performance in front of the Ministry of Culture, when they poured red paint, which was supposed to symbolise blood, on the school desks with the names of the employees of the Ministry on them. Miro Petek’s name was also on one of the desks. Petek is a journalist who was brutally beaten and almost killed for his work a few years ago. The protesters also threatened the Minister of Culture, Vesna Jurca Tadel, Alenka Gotar and Mitja Iršič.
The Ministry has also been the target of vandalism on several occasions, most recently by strangers, causing thousands of euros of damage to the taxpayers by completely destroying the building’s façade. At the time, Prime Minister Janez Janša responded to what happened with the following statement: “Do not be surprised. We are paying for their “artistic” achievements at the Ministry of Culture with the taxpayers’ money. Who would not want to cause trouble, if they would be paid for it? Or does anyone believe that a farmer, entrepreneur or pensioner is really behind this vandalism, even though they have to pay for such achievements?”
They also threw similar paint to the one that was spilt in front of the Ministry of Culture at the wall in front of Minister Simoniti’s house. Of course, the threats by rapper Zlatan Čordić, who threatened an employee of the Ministry of Culture, should also be mentioned in the context of the “cultural dialogue.” “Because of the words that were spoken, the death threats, I feel threatened, I am afraid for my life. I take this as a serious threat to my life,” the employee said at the Ljubljana Centre Police Station. Čordić also attacked a Nova24TV cameraman, harassed the director of the National Institute of Public Health, dr. Milan Krek, and more. If the left-wing political option believes that all of the above counts as dialogue, then perhaps they can rightly accuse Simoniti of not engaging in dialogue.
At the initiative of the Working Group of Culture Workers, several campaigns for culture also took place last year. The second campaign for culture was marked by littering in front of the entrance to the Ministry of Culture, the undressing of some participants in the rally, and a parade of a couple of men dressed in women’s Slovenian national costume. They did not make an artistic impression; however, they did leave a pile of rubbish behind. Such cultural figures only prove that they do not deserve the taxpayer’s money, as they do not contribute anything to Slovenian culture.
The mainstream media are, of course, constantly involved in discrediting the Minsitry of Culture – recently, for example, in the shows Inšpektor (Inspector) and Fokus (Focus) on 24ur, they published misleading data, which forced the Ministry to put together a press release, explaining all the misleading statements, half-truths and lies, which were said in the aforementioned shows. The 24ur journalist did not state, among other things, that, despite the epidemic, there are 500 more people self-employed in culture now than there were in 2019, and the funds for them have increased by 500 thousand euros. 3,258 people that are self-employed in culture received an average of 5,832 euros in social support per person, which makes the claim that the Ministry of Culture behaves in a manner reminiscent of early Nazism all the more untrue and, of course, above all reprehensible. The left-wing opposition also works hand in hand with the mainstream media, as they made a special effort with Minister Simoniti and prepared a kind of campaign against him.
A record amount of funds for culture
In the meantime, the Ministry of Culture negotiated a record amount of funds for culture for the years 2021 and 2022, the most in the history of independent Slovenia. The planned budget for the year 2021, which will be allocated to culture, has thus increased by 46 million euros. As part of the European cohesion policy, the Ministry of Culture, despite the 2020 epidemic, paid out 83 percent more funding to all beneficiaries than it did in 2019. For the projects to which the NGOs and the self-employed in culture were able to apply to as participating beneficiaries or final recipients, in 2020, the Ministry paid 86 percent more funds than in 2019. This year, they plan to further accelerate the absorption of funds for this programming period. They are envisaging roughly one hundred percent higher disbursements than the ones that were made in the most successful year so far, 2020.
“The value of paid claims for payment on all projects amounted to 5,392,590.39 euros in 2019, 9,903,492.02 euros in last year, and for the year 2021, the projected value is more than 20 million euros,” the Ministry explained. Even the basic income for the self-employed in culture has been paid continuously since October, when the second wave of the epidemic begun. The Ministry made a special effort to include the self-employed in culture with irregular incomes. “The fact that we have included self-employed in culture in these legislative packages, the fact that they have the privilege of the state paying their contributions for healthcare, pensions and social insurance, is something that very few countries have done,” Minister of Culture pointed out.
- The Ministry managed to secure a record budget for culture, the highest in the history of independent Slovenia, for the year 2021 – a quarter higher than the budget planned for 2021 by the previous government. The budget has increased by 46 million euros, to 237 million euros – despite the epidemic, which is a record in the history of our independent state.
- Beneficiaries in the field of culture, based on the efforts of the Ministry of Culture in 2020, drew additional intervention funds in the amount of more than 68.5 million euros,
- In 2020, as much as 83 percent more cohesion funds were distributed than in 2019.
- Under the Recovery and Resilience Plan, additional European grants of 87 million euros are planned for culture.
- Intensive negotiations are underway for the new cohesion financial perspective 2021-2027 for the strengthening of the cultural sector.
- Programme changes were allowed, and deadlines were extended for the implementation of projects planned in 2020, including the completion of operations from cohesion funds.
- Investments in public cultural infrastructure increased by 20.5 million euros.
- Funds intended for monuments owned by municipalities and other legal and natural persons increased by one million euros.
- Funding for publishing increased by one million euros.
- Funding for film activity increased by one million euros.
- Funding in the field of creativity, which includes theatrical, musical, visual and intermedia arts, increased by 1.9 million euros.
- Funding for the self-employed increased by 1.4 million euros, which also includes the payment of social security contributions for the self-employed, scholarships and sickness allowances.
- Funds for the purchase of library materials increased by 0.5 million euros.
- In the budgets for 2021 and 2022, the minister managed to implement the Act about providing funds for some programs in the culture of the Republic of Slovenia, which will provide an additional 22.25 million euros to the cultural sector in these years.