More than 65
European and international NGO networks – including FOCUS/Friends of the Earth
Slovenia – have written to the Slovenian Prime Minister Dr. Miro
Cerar, expressing concern about the ongoing pressure on
civil society and organisations in Slovenia that act in the public interest in
the field of environmental protection.
According to the
letter, the Slovenian Government, has tried to discredit civil society
organisations while they were exercising their legitimate right to take part in
legal procedures to mitigate the impact of a potentially destructive
car-painting plant in the North-East of the country.
the Slovenian Government to follow the legal order of Slovenia and the
constitutional right of citizens to a healthy environment. In addition, it
calls on the government to ensure that any future processes for projects should
be participatory, transparent and ensures a high quality of life and
preservation of the environment.
Tkalec from FOCUS/Friends of the Earth Slovenia said "As
environmental NGOs in Slovenia which act on behalf of public in environmental
protection, we felt obligated to expose possible environmental threats and
non-transparent process in the case of Magna Steyr's proposed factory near
Maribor. However, we were discredited and assaulted in the media, as well as
through direct actions.
discreditation and verbal assaults on the NGOs came from representatives of the
government, local authorities, media and citizens. We have received angry
e-mails, letters, calls, and attacks on social media. Some organisations
received threats – one even had to ask for police protection."
FOCUS/Friends of the Earth Slovenia, the Slovenian government has been drifting
towards anti-environmental populism for a while. The government – and the
Minister of Economy in particular – have identified environmental legislation
and its implementation as an undue obstacle to the economic development in the
country. Several months ago he mentioned that those concerned with environment
protection are "ecoterrorists" - in an interview with Delo, the
country's biggest-selling newspaper.
environmental NGOs protested, the ministry issued a statement that the
ministers' words should not be taken literally. Instead, the statement
suggested that his reference to "ecoterrorists" wasn't to refer to
NGOs, but towards the implementation of environmental laws. Which is no better
– by this logic, employees of state environmental institutions would be the
switched from the verbal to the practical level a few months ago, when the
government bypassed the normal environmental impact assessment process to push
through the planning process for a factory.
A new car-painting
plant, backed by the Canada-based company Magna International had been proposed
on an area of prime agricultural land, near the city of Maribor. Aside from the
direct impacts on the land, the massive increase in road transport would do
little to help Maribor's existing air pollution problems.
A number of
environmental NGOs including FOCUS/Friends of the Earth Slovenia were given
permission to join the process of granting environmental consent for the
project. However, the government made it clear that environmental NGOs should
not "block or unduly prolong the process", threatening that the
investor would be forced to look over the border to a reserve location in
campaign to discredit NGOs began in earnest when a number of issues began to
crop up in the environmental report – around land use and air pollution – which
needed to be addressed according to the normal legal procedure. This led to an
orchestrated campaign against environmental NGOs.
In addition to
direct messages from senior officials, key media began to report on the case
with an unprecedentedly biased and anti-NGO angle. The NGOs also received
anonymous letters and e-mails, and attacks on social media.
campaign culminated in a protest in front of FOCUS/Friends of the Earth
Slovenia's office in Ljubljana by a group of people from the region blaming
NGOs for blocking the investment. At the same time, FOCUS has also received
support and thank you e-mails from people in the region for their work on the
While FOCUS and
other NGOs continue to be subjected to a smear campaign, they have been able to
improve some negative features of the investment. The investor has agreed to
mitigate additional air pollution by reducing the number of lorries that will
travel daily from the plant to Austria and building an industrial railroad
track and to place as much as possible of its transport on the railway instead
of trucks – a solution previously deemed totally impossible by the Minister of