At the end of 2020, Slovenian parliament passed 780 million euro bill of investments. Member of the Slovenian Parliament Alenka Jeraj stated that Slovenian soldiers do not have the equipment they deserve; they have to wear shoes and helmets in bad condition. The statement was used to justify the large amount of money provided by the new law. However, only small amount of funding will actually go into personal equipment.
In 2018, Slovenian Army had many problems with their equipment. With their shoes in bad condition, the Slovenian soldiers were supposed to participate in the combat capability test at Poček near Postojna, and it was said that due to the mentioned problems, some of the soldiers even got frostbite. Furthermore, in 2018, information about only a week-old, but already run-down shoes of the Slovenian soldiers at a NATO exercise in Norway leaked to the public.
Today, the situation is different. We can see that the Slovenian Army improved their basic equipment. Now, the main topic is not bad condition of their shoes but other major problems. That reflects in recent investment in the Slovenian Army, which in the current health crisis, caused a great deal of public disapproval and also lead to collecting signatures for a referendum. As defence minister Matej Tonin said in June 2020, with 780 million worth of investments in army force, Slovenia will possibly achieve commitments towards NATO by year 2026. It is demanded that Slovenia dedicates 2 % of its GDP to its army.
Alenka Jeraj, Member of Parliament and Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was part of TV news programme Political with Tanja Gobec. It is a political commentary format that broadcast on public television TV Slovenia. The programme was also attended by Jerca Korča, a member of the opposition liberal LMŠ party. The debate was about a new package of laws related to the coronavirus epidemic, where, according to the opposition, several laws unrelated to the epidemic have been filed. They also talked about changes in the electoral legislation and about the mentioned investments in the army. Jerca Korče criticized the government coalition about wrong timing of the proposed heavy investments in the army during the COVID-19 crisis. Alenka Jeraj said that the Slovenian Army had been receiving negative assessments for several years and this government is just fulfilling what previous governments have promised. She also stated:
“It’s not hygienic that our soldiers don’t have the equipment they deserve, they wear bad shoes, helmets etc. I mean, we have to provide them with the basic equipment so they can work and perform their profession.”
Alenka Jeraj is a long-standing member of the political party SDS. The current government is a four-party coalition, led by SDS. Besides their president, Jeraj is known for being one of the most outspoken and active members of the party, especially when it comes to their standpoints regarding media. We asked SDS to explain, on which information Alenka Jeraj based her statement that soldiers lack personal equipment. They were not willing to answer.
What is the condition of Slovenian Army?
“Due to the almost halved defense budget, the Slovenian Army has been underfunded both in terms of personnel and material resources for the last decade. The cuts to the budget of the Slovenian Armed Forces are expressed in its combat capabilities, in its equipment with military equipment and armaments. The statements you cite probably stem from these facts,” stated Slovenian Army in an email response when asked to comment on the statement in question.
Furthermore, the army explained that all funds for Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) are provided by Ministry of Defense. All members of the army have military boots, helmets and other equipment provided by the formation or mission. From this point of view, the SAF has enough boots and helmets, they stated. “However, it is true that an individual member cannot replace these boots at any time, even, for example, if they were damaged/destroyed on duty before the scheduled deadline for replacement (in the SAF, the deadlines for all personal equipment are determined according to the duties / loads of particular unit).”
Slovenian Army also provided us with the purchases made in the last few years. In 2018, they bought 4,600 boots and 11 helmets. In 2019 they bought 12,250 boots and 150 helmets. In 2020, they bought 715 helmets and no boots. Together with contractual reservists, in June 2020 the Slovenian Army consisted of 6,977 soldiers.
Jelena Juvan, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Department of Defense Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, says: “If we disregard the political context of this statement, it is partly accurate and indicates the extreme equipment shortages between members of the Slovenian Armed Forces, but this is reflected more in the weapon systems used by the Slovenian Armed Forces than in the personal equipment of members.” Purchasing of new equipment were halted years ago, no investment has been made in the military since year 2008, some vehicles are already 30 years old and are dilapidated despite regular maintenance, adds professor. In her opinion, in order to perform their tasks both at home and abroad, SAF members must not only be properly trained, but also equipped, which is the duty of the state.
What will be funded by the new law?
The Law on Provision of Funds for Investments in the Slovenian Army in the Years 2021 to 2026 was passed by the Parliament on November 20 2020. But does it actually take care of military shoes and basic equipment such as helmets? 780 million euro will be provided within next six years.
Only 4.6 % of 780 million euro worth of funding will be provided for infantry weapons and personal equipment of soldiers. And how much of that for shoes and helmets? In a bill, that was published on June 10 2020, it is stated: “As part of providing investments for infantry weapons in support, the law will provide funds in the event of replacement of key personal devices for military or personal weapons soldiers, provided that it introduces new equipment or weapons for the operation of members of the Slovenian Armed Forces.”
The law is not stating specifically at any point about shoes and helmets. And even if we assume, that line “infantry weapons and personal equipment of soldiers” include them, this is only 4.6 % of the whole funding.
In short, both the Slovenian army force and expert Jelena Juvan agree, that Slovenian army is underfunded and in need of investments. But both stated, that shoes and helmets are not the biggest issue. Furthermore, the new law that was adopted provides no more than 4.6 % of whole funding for personal equipment and infantry weapons. We can conclude that the new law was not passed because of insufficient or lack of personal equipment of soldiers. Therefore, the statement of Alenka Jeraj is mostly false.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Žan Libnik, Domen Anderle, Urška Polanc, Urška Bobnar, Nejc Strojnik
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