>Slovenia: In praise of …. Janez Drnovsek (but not the Guardian)

>The Guardian (17 November) carries the following leader about Slovene President Janez Drnovsek

“As the only vegan new-age mystic who is also a head of state, Slovenia’s president, Janez Drnovsek, would stand out from his fellow heads of state even if he had not decided to live alone with his dog in a remote village rather than use the presidential palace. A former communist, and then a grey-suited banker who guided his country to independence and into the EU, Mr Drnovsek underwent an extraordinary conversion after being diagnosed with cancer.
Shunning political convention, he has launched himself into a new existence, living off organic fruit and vegetables while baking his own bread. He has set out his ecological philosophy in bestselling books, the latest of which was launched this week. His thinking is anything but clear, a fuzzy mix of aspirations and ideals drawn from many sources.

He says he supports the gentle treatment of animals and the environment, taking a stand against materialism and poverty. He has attacked the common agricultural policy as wasteful, to the dismay of Slovenia’s much more conventional government, which has restricted the presidential budget after he used the office to launch a series of campaigns, including a personal peace initiative in Darfur.

He has also given up conventional medicine, to the horror of his doctors. His ideas are hopeful rather than practical – some would say simplistic and wrongheaded. But he is also a cheering example of human unpredictability and a great boost to the diversity of European democracy.”

The Washington Post has a version of the same story which adds in a few details about wearing a cloak of leaves and greeting trees. Hard not to feel that, however, the papers are really in search of good journalistic fairy story.Neither the Slovene presidential website nor as far as I can tell his recently founded party-cum-NGO Movement for Justice and Development contains anything very batty, although admittedly it does have a slightly kooky logo and seems to have inadvertantly borrowed the name of a (moderate) Turkish Islamicist party (similar shared spiritual and communitarian concerns, I guess).
Having had problems with various forms of cancer for five years, Drnovsek does not look a well man and I can’t say I find it totally surprising that, probably thinking about death at a rather young age (he is 56), he’s done a few tried to improve the quality of his life and started to muse big global issues. He is, it seems, also working fairly hard as president, which seems more admirable or interesting than the lifestyle changes or belief in alternative medicine. Maybe in effect he is choosing to die younger and happier, than eke out a longer existence half poisoned by chemotherapy, a choice quite a few people make.

To judge from the photos of the Drnovsek working in his office in a cardigan and walking in the woods, Slovenians don’t do pomp and circumstances anyway. The style and content, rather reminder me of the Václav Havel in the 1990s, although Drnovsek’s technocratic (if communist) background is more reminiscent of that of Václav Klaus or Aleksander Kwasniewski. All in all it convinces me once again that despite a dash of provincial Central European insularity – the erasure of citizens of other ex-Yugoslav republics from official records and a referendum vote to keep it that way come to mind – the Slovenes really are some of the sanest people around.

So do we really need the Guardian to provide a patronizing endorsement?

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