SDS MP Walks Away From A Car Wreck That Is His Party. But Where Is He Headed?

While most of Europe sighed in a collective relief upon learning that Alexander van der Bellen was elected President of Austria and at the same time ignoring the fact that a crypto-Nazi won 49.7 percent of the vote (seriously, Austria, what the actual fuck?!) important changes, albeit of a lesser degree, are taking place just south of the Austrian border, too. Namely, early on Monday the SDS of Janez Janša saw its first top-tier departure. To be fair, putting Andrej Čuš MP in the top-tier is a bit of a stretch, but the 26-year-old was once the leader of the Party youth organisation and elected to parliament twice (as a replacement deputy in 2013 and a full-term deputy a year later) so by virtue of the position he holds, count the kid in the grown-ups column. Also, the fact that he is the first one to walk from a party that is increasingly looking like a bad car wreck is not unimportant.

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Andrej Čuš kind of walking away from an explosion. Picture is symbolic (duh), plopped togehter by yours truly. (source & source)

Now, in the past few weeks a lot was said and written about how SDS is bursting at the seams, pengovsky included. But almost invariably this was framed as the more sensible wing of the party jumping ship, leaving Janša increasingly isolated and dejected thus opening up space for Aleš Primc to upgrade his protest movement into a full-blown party and commandeer most of the right-wing. Čuš quitting the SDS signals that Primc may have opted for eating up the SDS from within.

You see, Čuš took on quite a visible profile during the autumn/winter refugee crisis. Fomenting protests against refugee centres in Kidričevo near his native Ptuj and later in Šenčur near Kranj, accusing the president of the parliament Brglez of high treason for advocating the location of the centre in his hometown of Logatec (where it was ultimately established), the kid toed the anti-imigrant line in a way that would make Norbert Hofer proud. And since the ChristDem NSi, the other parliamentary right-wing party is Angela Merkel‘s echo chamber on many issues including the refugees, Čuš is – for the moment at least – persona non grata for the NSi. So much for theories of in-parliament poaching. On the other hand, Primc has built up a relatively massive operation on the ground, full of anger, righteousness and populism in general, but is lacking direct access to the parliamentary arena. He can’t wait forever lest he loses the momentum and since elections aren’t going to happen any time soon, peeling an MP or two off the SDS is a sensible way to go about it.

For his part, Čuš claims to have been simply fed up with Janša obsessing over Milan Kučan and that it was time to think of the future, especially future of the young people whom he obviously sees as his constituency. As far as excuses go he could have done worse. But the whole thing is nevertheless so transparent that it hurts. Namely, the latest iteration of Janša so-not-being-over Kučan consists of a group of JJ’s blowhards diehards indicting Kučan for high treason back in 1990 when he allegedly failed to stop the Yugoslav Army from hauling away a lot of weaponry earmarked for the nascent Territorial Defence (precursor to the Slovene Army). The case doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but this was just a cue Čuš was waiting for to make his move.

As per Rules and Regulations, he is now counted as an independent. But it will soon become apparent whether his “this is why we can’t have nice things” manoeuvre is just a ploy or is he really that stupid. Namely, his life as of Monday will become enormously more difficult. Not only will he lose access to the resources of a very large parliamentary group and will instead have to share limited resources in money and personnel with other independents . He will also have to contend with more constrained speaking time alloted and get generally to the back of the line on many issues and scenarios. It sucks being an independent in Slovenian parliament.

Unless, of course, you have outside support that will generate media attention. And this is where Primc comes into play. Yesterday Čuš was saying something about forming advisory councils and soliciting expert opinions on various issues as his path forward. Left to his own devices, this is a nigh-impossible task for one man, especially as inexperienced as Čuš is. If, however, the attendees were brought in by someone else, say an emerging political party with a wide grass-roots network and if Čuš provides a high-profile venue, such as, dunno, a conference room in the parliament, then the whole thing is suddenly very doable.

So, the smart money is on Andrej Čuš MP, formerly of SDS, to soon become the poster-boy of a new political party run by Aleš Primc. And if a few other SDS MPs were to follow in Čuš’s footsteps, we could soon find ourselves with several nominally independent MPs forming an unofficial parliamentary group which then in turn becomes a fully fledged party. We’ve seen that film before.

 

 

May 24th, 2016, posted by pengovsky

I’ve Got Some Prime Newspaper Real Estate To Sell You

So, this was suppose to be an expletive-laden rant about how newspapers don’t take good care of their resources and willingly get buttfucked by advertisers just to make the bottom line. Not that there is anything wrong with buttfucking per se, but you get the idea. Namely Delo, Dnevnik and Večer, the three leading Slovenian daily newspapers hit the stands today with what appeared to be near-identical front pages. Which would be sort of embarrassing by itself. But in this case the front pages were actually full-page adverts framed as articles about Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia. And while there was small print attached indicating the pieces were actually adverts, the end result was that the three dailies all ran the same pieces with the same titles (Dnevnik being the exception with one shorter title, possibly due to space constraints), the same body texts and the same photos. Luckily, the front pages were actually faux front pages (or wraps) with a real front page and a real newspaper inside.

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Today’s dailies (source)

Luckily, because this means that the newspapers and their management had not yet completely lost their bearings and sense of decency. Before today, there were other cases of wraps, although (this needs to be said) either as classic full-page adverts or running a different colour scheme and/or typography. Thus it would be unfair to say that new ground was broken or a new low reached, although it is fair to say that the ad is misleading in the sense that it masquerades as a series of articles by using the layout and typography of the real front page. True, the fine print saying “advert” is included somewhere at the edge of the field of vision, but clearly the ad aims to present itself as a genuine article and catch eyeballs. This, however, is completely in line with guidelines of the Slovenian Journalists’ Association, despite the fact that the said association issued a strong protest against the move by the three newspapers (both links in Slovenian).

At the moment pengovsky doesn’t have access to print editions of Slovenian newspapers and was initially led to believe that the wrap was the actual front page. My bad for not checking it out by myself sooner, but there you go. Drinks on me, I guess. But even with the way things are, it should be said that loud and clear that newspaper accept this sort of advertising at their own peril. I mean, yes, they gotta make money, people need to put bread on the table and all that jazz. And if you want to look at a wrap like this solely as a poorly designed advert, then by all means, do so. Nothing wrong with that.

But in the age where circulation is going down but for the select few (none of which are Slovenian, obv), where the like-fueled economy of content proliferation has failed to monetize and where website real estate is sometimes oversold to the point where only 20-or-so percent of the screen is devoted to content, the idea of “moar ads!” is dubious at best. Advertisers apparently know this, otherwise they would not have tried to imitate newspaper content, however crudely. The question is do the newspaper people know this or – rather – do they see this as their leverage or their liability. To put it crudely, are they being pressured into doing it or are they actively courting advertiser with what is essentially a print version of native advertising.

Obviously, there is no clear-cut solution to the conundrum that presents itself. Both approaches have pit-falls that are not easily avoidable. Catching eyeballs is increasingly difficult, doubly so with print. We often block out the ad sections almost subconsciously. Ad-blockers do it for us online. But doing native advertising means running the risk of blurring the line between marketing and journalism too much. First at the expense of the latter but ultimately, the former will have failed, too. Just look at the hot water BuzzFeed landed in with its native adverts.

The audience are not stupid and they can in all likelihood distinguish between an advert and news content. The problem is that the trend is moving increasingly towards blurring the difference between the two. Which is why newspapers, although understandably trying to make money and stay afloat, would do well not to dismiss the criticism of their advertising practices in an aloof or offhanded manner. After all, there is such a thing as peak advertising.

If you don’t believe that, I’ve got some prime newspaper real estate to sell you.

May 12th, 2016, posted by pengovsky

Implosions Left and Right

While most of the English-speaking world Europe is watching in awe as Red Ken Livingston enters a tailspin, forgets to bail out and ultimately self-destructs, other meltdowns are taking place that are just as epic. Or sad. Or epic sad. And since the country is on autopilot for the next couple of days on account of the holidays and whatnot this is as good an opportnity as any to take a look rumblings on both sides of the political spectrum. It just so happens that a substantial part of both left and right-wing is imploding on an increasingly spectacular scale with some serious ramifications for the political spectrum at large.

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Animation obviously purely symbolic (source)

The spectacular meltdown of the IDS congress (one of three constituent parties of the United Left) was slowly brewing for some time now but the force with which the party leadership was literally manhandled into dropping its plans to, well, unite the united left into a single party did come as a surprise. At least to an outsider.

Theory vs. Practice

The basic outlines of the story are as follows: The United Left (ZL), in essence a coalition between three parties, IDS, TRS and DSD and a grassroots initiative (several NGOs and associations) has come to a point where it needed to decide whether to evolve into a single party or continue as before. Aside from financial and organisational implications (the monies received by the ZL are split three ways, any substantial decision must be debated and approved thrice, etc) of unification there were also ideological and theoretical misgivings. A single party means a single platform, a single leadership and – most importantly – subscribing to a singular, albeit imperfect, decision-making process of a parliamentary democracy.

This does not mean that the United Left (specifically, the IDS as its most theoretically fluent and ideologically pure member) is in the business of fomenting a revolutionary overthrow of the government but it does mean that they se the current model of representative democracy as inherently flawed and a part of the very problem it wants to correct (corruption, state-capture, income inequality, access to resources etc). As is usually the case in such matters, theirs was a party of a direct and participatory democracy and their decision-making process reflected that.

The fault-lines between the IDS (headed by Luka Mesec who doubles as a de facto leader of the coalition) and the other two parties (TRS and DSD, chaired by Matjaž Hanžek and Franc Žnidaršič respectively) became apparent pretty soon. Mesec was this theory-laden kid from an idealistic party while the other two were comparatively veterans of the political process, with Hanžek being a former ombudsman and an analyst at government’s Macroeconomic department while Žnidaršič was an MP for DeSUS before he fell out with Karl Erjavec and formed his own party.

But after the surprisingly good result in 2014 elections which saw Mesec and five other coalition candidates (including Hanžek) elected as MPs for the United Left, the reality of a parliamentary day-to-day life soon sunk in and Mesec apparently recognised the necessity of compromise and faster decision-making. The most elegant way of achieving that would, of course, be through party unification under a single banner with a single leadership (with Mesec at the top, of course).

The sell-out

The problem is that the IDS rank and file was not all that hot over the idea of running in elections in the first place. They (correctly) saw that the IDS would be unable to maintain an honest critique of the system if they were to enter the political arena themselves. Mesec and his supporters in the IDS, however, equally correctly recognised that, barring the storming of the Winter Castle, the only way to change the system is to change it from within. Because democracy and whatnot.

And when Mesec did indeed get elected MP, he was immediately branded a sell-out and an elitist by the ideologically pure wing of the party, this at the same time as he was branded an anarchist by the right-wing in the parliament.

Things hit a brick wall the other day during IDS congress in Krško, where Mesec wanted the membership to green-light the unification process but got heckled, browbeaten and literally manhandled by ways of being pushed up against the wall and threatened with physical violence into dropping (or, as he sees it, postponing) the plans. The whole congress was anything but an orderly affair and Mesec’s only way out was to orchestrate a failed quorum vote, thus ending the congress without a vote on the matter.
The fallout is pretty dramatic with the IDS – and by extension – the ZL in disarray and the future of the party, the coalition and indeed the “true” (genuine? far? rabid? pure?) left in general. This as much seems to be the consensus among the two main opposing factions within the IDS, with each accusing the other one of destroying what little chances the political left-wing has had to consolidate, refocus and revitalise.

The ZL is not yet out, but it is definitely down. And it was all by their own hand, falling into the pitfalls of electoral success, just as pengovsky had warned almost two years ago. And, watching from the sidelines, the Social Democrats will of course gladly welcome back all those disappointed voters who have switched to ZL. Old flames and all that. Expect the SD to get a slight bump in the polls in the next few weeks.

For Janez is an honourable man

But the ZL imploding is just an isolated incident compared to the clusterfuck that has engulfed the right-wing and where a full-blooded Shakespearean drama is unfolding. Namely, Janez Janša is rapidly becoming redundant. He is starting to see the writing on the wall and he doesn’t like it.

Until recently is was common to think of the right-hand side of the political spectrum as a more or less solid bloc, with Janez Janša’s SDS providing the bulk of the, well, building blocks while the ChristDem NSi provided the rest, usually almost identical to those of the SDS. In the good old days, there was the agriculturaly-minded People’s Party (SLS) as well, providing at least some colour, but those days are long gone. However, rather than expanding its base at the expense of smaller parties in the bloc, the SDS found its support dwindling and the breadth of the bloc diminishing. Not by much, but consistently, little by little, every election cycle. As a result, the NSi suddenly found it, too, can grow a spine and started following its own line. This was helped by the decapitation of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church (RKC) ordered by Pope Francis in the wake of the financial collapse of Maribor diocese. Until then the RKC leadership considered Janša their chief political ally but the new Church leadership is evidently less political, a fact which hugely benefits the NSi as it can organically build on its Catholic pedigree. This was especially evident during Janša’s incarceration on account of the Patria Case and was already causing unrest and nervousness within the SDS, as it focused all of its resources on getting its leader out of jail.

The price Janša is going to ultimately pay for this will be bigger than he ever imagined. He has surrendered so much power and was out of the picture for so long that other people have made their own power bases on his turf. Specifically, this goes for Aleš Primc of the same-sex marriage referendum infamy, who led the daily (now weekly) protest gatherings in front of the Ljubljana courthouse. While the main goal was to get Janša out of the joint, an unintended (?) side effect was that Primc had cultivated an always-on protest movement which is currently still protesting against the judicial system, but is able to pivot and change tune virtually at a moment’s notice. And while Janša is their idol, this movement is controlled by Primc. And when Primc announced he intends to form his own party, things started to fall apart pretty quick for Janša.

The illustrious leader of the SDS has grown testy, offensive, self-destructive and willing to pick a fight with anyone who will dare criticise him in the slightest possible way. Not unlike the Republican primaries. But that’s another story. He is acting like a schoolyard bully who senses that no-one really fears him anymore and can only maintain dominance by harrasment. Thus Janša has in the past few weeks implied two journalists of TV Slovenia are prostitutes, told all those celebrating the uprising against WWII Nazi occupation to fuck off (literally) and had a fallout with an ex-spy-cum-con-man-cum-amateur-historian Roman Leljak who until now was dutifully digging up dirt on Janša’s enemies but has now apparently gone rogue.

In the good old days, Janša would have been able to deal with such challenges to his authority swiftly and with extreme prejudice. Most likely, other people would do that for him. But good old days are long gone, indeed. Janša had no choice but to support Primc’s initiative, lest he risks Primc siphoning off rank-and-file support. But those with acute feeling for the direction of wind blowing are already shifting course and Janša apparently lacks the power and authority to stop them. Which is why he’s actually trying to cajole and browbeat them into toeing the line. More or less unsuccessfully.

Death by a thousand cuts

After Dimitrij Rupel threw Janša under the bus in July, Janša’s spook-protege Damir Črnčec did more or less the same (albeit more gently) last December by calling for the old guard to make way for fresh faces. Then comes the Primc who not only takes over the street but also Janša’s pet media project, the Nova24 TV (think Fox News under North Korean production) where he installed himself as the programming director, basically controlling the project content-wise. Then there are incessant rumours about a couple of SDS MPs looking to jump ship and switch parties, mostly because the SDS and its leader have grown so radicalised. And to top it off, a few days ago SDS parliamentary group chief Jože Tanko defied the party, the boss and the entire right-wing by voting in favour of a new and heavily watered-down law on same-sex unions (more on that subject soon).

Meanwhile, the NSi is successfully rebranding itself as a modern, business-oriented centre-right party, actively courting the media and putting together the media-political event of the year with its own hashtags and all. It seems they plan on going far.

Pengovsky always assumed that if Janša ever goes, he will go out with a bang. Now it seems it will be more of a whimper, brought on by a slow but unstoppable bleeding of support and authority. A (political) death by a thousand cuts.

April 29th, 2016, posted by pengovsky

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