SuperKarl and Croatian Rapid-Fire Mode

Karl Erjavec is one lucky sonofabitch. In fact, he is so lucky that his middle name could well be changed from Viktor to Felix. I mean, the lucky with this guy is so strong that if he’d been thrown out of an airlock in the middle of the universe, he’d beat the probability of survival of two to the power of 276,709 to one against. Because that’s how improbable it is that Karl Erjavec found himself at the epicentre of not one, but two political and diplomatic scandals in Slovenia and was told by PM Cerar that he will not seek his replacement.

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SuperKarl and the Mystery of The Arbitration. Sounds like a film with Harrison Ford

You see, if this was a time like any other, Erjavec would be flying out of the ministry, legs first, over a scandal with Slovenian ambassador to France where she allegedly embezzled state funds, repeatedly went on unauthorised leaves and fabricated reports. Shit was apparently brewing for some time, while the wrongdoing was uncovered months ago by an internal audit results of which were then sat on by the foreign ministry. The report was released only yesterday after the Information Commissioner ordered the ministry to do so, following an apparently unusually long deliberation on the issue.

However, since Slovenia is momentarily embroiled in the Arbitration Agreement omnishambles which already claimed the two directly involved senior diplomats, PM Miro Cerar apparently decided against beheading the foreign ministry in what is shaping to be a crucial, all-hands-on-deck period in the arbitration on the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute.  Not to mention the quite probable outbreak of a political crisis in Slovenia dismissing the leader of the second largest coalition party would probably incur. Thus SuperKarl lives to see another day.

Namely, after the initial panicky response to what is now dubbed PiranLeaks, Slovenian political class is finally getting its shit together. Thus a new national arbiter will be appointed soonest (probably today), circumventing the usually protracted process in the parliament, in the hope that the arbitration proceedings can continue and ultimately conclude. Which is precisely what Croatia wants to prevent.

The government of Zoran Milanović went into rapid-fire mode, upping the ante almost daily. Thus on Sunday FM Vesna Pusić was still writing a concerned letter to the Arbitration Tribunal, formally notifying it of what had happened, but on Monday PM Milanović already announced the government is considering withdrawing from the arbitration altogether. And when his Slovenian counterpart Cerar said neither country can quit the arbitration (as per agreement), Milanović retorted by saying that it can and it will.

This is the point where things start to get tricky indeed. For all its bravado (probably amplified by the de facto election campaign Croatia is in), the incumbent Croatian government has talked itself into a rather cramped corner. Not putting their money where their mouth is would mean certain ruin for Milanović and his fellow political travellers. But the signals they are receiving are anything but clear and/or encouraging. Namely, the European Commission stated in no unclear terms that it expects the rules of the agreement to be adhered to and for the tribunal to finish the job at hand. The tribunal itself demanded Slovenia explain its version of events. Whether or not this heralds a chastising of Slovenia or not remains to be seen, but it does suggest the tribunal sees itself fit to handle the current clusterfuck as well.

Point being that Croatia used up most of its ammo (provided there’s not another batch of phone-taps waiting to miraculously appear in Croatian media) while everyone else barely made a move. This, too, suggest the pace of Croatian moves is dictated by internal political dynamics (looming elections) rather than the arbitration itself. And while one can fully expect attempts at broadening the field (like Zagreb filing a complaint with the Int’l Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg), the fact is that the Arbitration Tribunal has it within its power to conclude the proceedings as per the agreement. Even if that means unilaterally appointing a new arbiter for Croatia, since Vukas is rumoured to be stepping down at the behest of the government in Zagreb which will not name a replacement, or so the wisdom goes.

Unless, of course, Slovenia has a trick or two up its sleeve, as well. That, at least, that was the translation of Branko Grims’ cryptic praise of SOVA, the Slovenian spook service yesterday. Namely, Gizmo (generally, a pretty undesirable character) said the country’s intelligence services had done an excellent job which led to speculations that Slovenia, too, had been listening in on Croatian convos (link in Slovenian).

If that really is the case, one can only hope no one is stupid enough to actually release the recordings. We’ve seen enough embarrassment these days to go around. Twice over.

UPDATE
This, via the STA

 

July 28th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

The Wire: Arbitration Agreement Edition

In the good old days, men were men, women were women, Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six was Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six and Slovenia-Croatia border disputes flared up every summer. Like clockwork. Then came the Arbitration Agreement and put an end to all that. And I’m not talking about hipsters here, if you catch my meaning. Since yesterday, however, it feels like the good old days.

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Arbitration Tribunal in session (source)

Croatian daily Večernji list ran a bombshell of a story, claiming Slovenia acted in bad faith vis-a-vis the Arbitration Tribunal and had the country’s agent with the court Simona Drenik (full disclosure: pengovsky knows her personally) discuss tactics of Slovenian case with Jernej Sekolec, the country’s appointee to a five-member tribunal. Obviously all hell broke loose, with the Croats going all Captain Renault on arbitration and hinted at bailing out of the proceedings, which, if the three phone records are to be believed (and so far no-one has denied their authenticity), were going well in Slovenia’s favour.

There are multiple aspects to the issue, not in the least why exactly were the records made public now, when they were apparently made between November last year and January this year. But while Croatia is crying foul, the debate in Slovenia immediately took on a holier-than-thou attitude, taking the Zagreb spin at face value and started dissecting the Sekolec-Drenik convo, looking for clues to support Croatian claims. Which are, well, on rather thin ice.

Namely, Croatia claims that Slovenia tried to influence the tribunal consisting of three independent experts plus an arbiter from either side by coaching the national arbiter in aspects that are beneficial to the Slovenian cause. Well, is the Pope Catholic? I mean, both sides have put forward a memorandum stating their case and left it to the tribunal to decide on the merits of claims. The fact that both countries agreed to appoint a national arbiter shows that the conflicting parties wanted to have a) continuous oversight over the proceeding (as opposed to being merely informed of the decision) and b) the ability to at least try to steer the deliberations to their benefit. Sekolec at one point even implies that everyone subscribed to the tacit understanding that the national arbiters are by default biased (duh!) by hinting at the three foreign experts (occasionally?) meeting separately to discuss the issues at hand.

The gist of the story is that the tribunal is due to release a binding decision in December and – apparently – award two-thirds of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia and provide for a short corridor to international waters. Thus a key Slovenian maritime goal would have been achieved, after more than two decades of border incidents and even armed confrontations on land and on the sea. Which explains why the Croatian side went public with the wiretaps only now and not immediately after they were recorded.

For all intents and purposes, this is a major intelligence scoop by Croatian spooks. Despite the prevailing narrative of “amateur hour”, Slovenian foreign ministry takes security pretty seriously. Doubly so in the case of the arbitration. This, pengovsky knows for a fact. So what we are dealing with here in all probability is not two bureaucrats with a frivolous attitude towards security but rather a major breach or even an inside job (conspiracy theories! \o/). Which means that Slovenian spook services will have a lot of explaining to do.

But the main takeaway here is not that Sekolec and Drenik were indeed confabulating (no-one on the Slovenian side denied the authenticity of the recordings and both have since resigned) but that the Croats went public with phone taps at all. Which means either that a) the breach was since sealed (unlikely, given the panic on the Slovenian side) or b) the wiretap had lost operational potential and Slovenia achieved what it wanted regardless. Which left Zagreb only with the nuclear option, to burn their asset and hope the whole thing takes the arbitration agreement with it.

Doubly so when one takes into account the fact that the final decision of the tribunal is to be published in December, awfully close to Croatian parliamentary elections where the incumbent left-wing government is apparently poised to lose to HDZ, prompting PM Milanović to suck up make overtures to right-wing voters to try and turn the trend. Should the tribunal indeed award more than a half of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia, the projected defeat of the Milanović government would most likely turn into a rout, especially since the Blut-und-Boden rhetoric is even more hyped-up in Croatia as it is in Slovenia. So while official Zagreb is professing its shock and innocence, the conclusion here is that the other party is trying to mitigate the disastrous effects a decision, favourable to Slovenia, international credibility be damned.

Interestingly, while Croatian political class is united feigning disbelief (former PM Jadranka Kosor, who signed the agreement with Slovenian then-PM Pahor, called the deal null and void), it is getting a lot of help from Slovenia as well. Not only did PM Cerar and FM Erjavec immediately leave Sekolec and Drenik hang out to dry, the two have been treated to a generous helping of proper backstabbing, either by various elements of the opposition, trying to cash in on the panic or by would-be arbiters who failed to wiggle their way into this story. Case in point by judge at the Constitutional Court and a long-time diplomat Ernest Petrič who saw it fit to delve right into the fray (Slovenian only).

Curiously enough, the only two high-profile individuals who have appealed for calm and warned against buying into the Croatian narrative are the two people who at the height of their game were seen as arch-enemies – Janez Janša and Gregor Golobič

Both appeal for calm and point out that it is Croatia which is in a weaker position, a stark opposite to the prevailing narrative of a Slovenian diplomatic failure. The President, however, who in his capacity as PM signed the Arbitration Agreement in 2009, was  – 24 hours after the crisis erupted – making hay while sun shone. Literally.

But, to be fair, the man did later say he expected the tribunal to finish the job. Whis it apparently intends to do, as per tweet of this Večer newspaper reporter

Just how exactly this will play out, is hard to say. But it does suggest Croatia found itself in a spot so tight, FM Vesna Pusić stated publicly that it doesn’t matter who made the tapes or how Croatia obtained them. Now, this is a bit of a Catch 22 situation for them, as problematic activity was detected by problematic methods and revealing that makes Croatia just as problematic as it believes Slovenia is. Which doesn’t exactly further their cause. Not to mention that wiretapping senior officials is somewhat frowned upon in this day and age. In the final analysis, the releasing of the tapes seems more like a domestic policy stunt to cover their asses if the tribunal really does decide to award a large part of the Piran Bay to Slovenia than anything else. But for all the talk about declaring the agreement null and void, just because they don’t like the result, it is worth to remember that one series which dealt with wiretapping, bad life decisions and tautologies.

A deal is a deal.

 

P.S.: For a good take on the issue, friend and colleague Nataša Briški provides over at Metina lista (Slovenian only)

July 23rd, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Transfer Window

Since the hubbub on the impending #Grexit has, for now at least subsided or – at the very least – morphed into #Agreekment, a short update on the sordid sorry state of Slovenian politics beckons. For it would seem that we have entered the Transfer Window.

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To be honest, what was and still is happening is peanuts compared to the sabre-rattling which occasionally threatened to break up the coalition, mostly along the privatisation fault lines. And although a full-scale political crisis was never a real possibility (not with the current distribution of power, at least), there was enough bad blood accumulated that some sort of a fallout was inevitable. Curiously, however, these tremors are not limited to the government of Miro Cerar only but are, for now at least, equally present in the opposition as well.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-re-rat

The big shocker was the parting of ways between former eternal foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and his political home of the last decade, Janez Janša‘s SDS. Rupel, a long-time LDS cadre under Drnovšek famously switched sides in 2004 and crossed over to SDS where he continued his diplomatic exploits. After Janša 2.0 government was toppled, the man fixed himself a cosy cushion to land on, having the outgoing government appoint him Consul General in Trieste (a prestigious but not all that demanding a position). However, he was axed from the position by his successor at the foreign ministry, one Karl Erjavec, following the letter of the austerity legislation, passed by Janša’s government (oh, the irony!) which stipulated that all civil servants over the age of 67 must retire, unless their superior finds a particular use for them. Needless to say Erjavec found no particular use for Rupel.

In fact, even before Teflon Karl started wielding the axe, Rupel and his supposedly coveted black book of contacts have been declining in demand. Which sort of made everyone think the man has finally thrown in the towel and limited himself to lecturing on a faculty of, shall we say, wanting reputation. After all, he clocked in his forty and should be able to enjoy the fruits of his long and illustrious career (give or take). Which is why it came as a complete surprise that he publicly announced his parting ways with the SDS. Quitting the Party is not small potatoes, because it was long assumed that if you in the Party, you in the Party.

Not so for the old fart Dimitrij. The Party, reeling from the massive haemorrhaging of resources to defend the Leader (that be Ivan) from the subversive communist abuse of the judiciary (that be The Patria Affair), just launched its shadow cabinet, a.k.a. SDS Council of Experts. Now, Rupel was apparently aiming at chairing the Foreign Policy Committee, but was passed over for Milan Zver MEP. This infuriated Dimitrij to the point of packing his shit up and leaving. He claims he was being punished for a recent interview in Reporter magazine where he (let’s be honest) failed to praise the Leader and swear to his infallibility. Instead, not only did Rupel had the guts to speculate on the post-Janša future of the political right, he even had the balls to state that there was, in fact, a period in Slovenian history where Milan Kučan (Janša’s arch-enemy) played a positive role. The nerve!

However, one could be excused for not entirely buying into Rupel’s self-righteousness. He is probably the only politico in this country which could possibly lay claim to have done a proper Churchill. Because anyone can rat. But it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat. Which is exactly what Rupel has done vis-a-vis Janša, parting ways in 1994, only to rejoin Janša in 2004 and now, another decade or so later, parting ways yet again. The conclusion here is simple: if Rupel is in search of a new political master (possibly Miro Cerar’s SMC), then the SDS is indeed in deep trouble since Rupel, one of the great survivors of Slovenian politics, apparently sees no further use for it. And parties which Rupel discarded himself of as un-prospective soon turned out to be politically marginalised and – ultimately – dead. Case in point every of his previous political dwellings: Slovene Democratic Union (SDZ), Demokrati Slovenije (DS), the once-mighty LDS and now SDS.

If political bellwethers such as Rupel are anything to go by, then the SDS should start worrying. However, one should not have high hopes for the SDS to change course any time soon. In fact, regardless of some pretty obvious intra-party opposition, the party proper is by and large committed to its president, increasingly creating a universe of its own and interacting with the reality the rest of us are experiencing only when need be. And before either of the two readers of this blog start pointing out the @prenovljenaSDS (reformed SDS) Twitter account it should be noted that the account might just as well be a ploy of Janša to see who follows the account and thus single out the descenders within his ranks. Just sayin’ 😉

Tr00 fans only

Not that the SDS is overly concerned, it seems. Because, although they’ve lost Rupel, they’ve gained (for all intents and purposes) Aleš Hojs, nominally one of the VPs of the ChristDem NSi, but in reality a tr00 JJ fan. Namely, after the NSi declined to join SDS shadow cabinet, continuing on their own course (an approach which served them well ever since they found their spine a couple of years ago), they poached Hojs and co-opted him as shadow defence minister, thereby sticking a wedge in both NSi leadership as well as rank and file where Hojs does have a certain amount of clout.

The NSi is, for the time being, choosing to ignore the issue and Hojs nominally still remains a member of the NSi senior structure, but they will have to get rid of him expeditiously. The bad blood between the former S/M partners of the political right keeps on accumulating and the NSi with its new-found confidence and a couple of policy scoops under its belt (notably, the recently passed law on post-WWII grave-sites) will not be able to tolerate in-party insubordination and impunity.

Bruised egos

But such solo acts can last surprisingly long. Case in point being Bojan Dobovšek, until recently an MP for SMC of Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Namely, Dobovšek quit the party months ago, citing “continuing old practices” in filing governmental positions, hinting and cronyism and corruption. But you could not be blamed for thinking Dobovšek was – not unlike Rupel – sore for being looked over when booty was split. In this case, he was widely tipped to become the minister of interior.¸But the spot went to Vesna Györkös Žnidar, while Dobovšek quit the party but remained a member of the SMC parliamentary group. Which is technically legal, most unhygienic and sure to generate a lot of media attention. If you catch my meaning.

However, about two weeks ago Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group as well, thereby changing the internal relations within the coalition. Because with him gone, the Social democrats, most junior of coalition partners suddenly started to make a difference, as they provided the votes necessary for the coalition to claim a majority. While Dobovšek was on-board, the SMC and DeSUS themselves had 46 votes with SD more or less simply providing the body-count.

But with the man gone, SD leader Dejan Židan started boasting how the party will now claim its rightful spot, prompting DeSUS main honcho Karl Erjavec to tell Židan to get off that horse and not get ahead of himself. At that time it seemed as if Teflon Karl is (finally) suffering from a case of bruised ego. Little did we know the old trickster was about to do some political poaching of his won. Late last week Peter Vilfan of Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB announced he is switching allegiances and crossing over to DeSUS.

Transfer window

Vilfan, former professional basketball player (hence the title of the post) started out as an unlikely politician in Ljubljana city council, first elected in 2005 on the coat-tails of Zoran Janković’s sweeping mayoral victory and then – in similar vein – to the parliament in 2011. He quit the city council in February 2014, officially due to corruption charges against Janković, but was rumoured to have ulterior motives in a real-estate deal that a city council vote on a news zoning plan about that time would enable and wanted to avoid unseemly appearances.

Anyhow, Vilfan resigned as MP a couple of months later as well. He was involved in a traffic accident, hitting a pedestrian with his car and was a DUI suspect. To his credit Vilfan did not try to skirt the issue but quit almost immediately and paid the hurt senior citizen a visit in the hospital. Luckily, the victim only suffered a broken arm and a lab analysis showed Vilfan was not intoxicated while driving. In a sense he kept to a standard of political hygiene that one would expect from a representative of the people. Which, sadly, is news in Slovenia. But it probably also helped Vilfan get re-elected in 2014 snap elections as one of four MPs of Alenka Bratušek’s fledgling party ZaAB, which splintered off from Jankovič’s Positive Slovenia. But soon after AB’s failed Euro-bid, things went south there as well, culminating for now in Vilfan switching teams.

Adding insult to injury, DeSUS not only picked up an MP, bringing their total to eleven, they also again marginalised the SD, giving enough votes to PM Miro Cerar to marginalize the most junior coalition partner and – not to be overlooked – being able to drive an even harder bargain protecting their particular interests in an already sluggish privatisation process.

Now, it seems plausible that Vilfan jumping ship on Bratušek will start an exodus from the party group. Well, exodus might be overreaching a word since after Vilfan’s departure the ZaAB party group is down to three MPs, a minimum required to actually be a parliamentary party group rather than just a set of independent MPs and enjoy the perks that come with it, such as participation in committee memberships.

Exodus

But the point is that remaining ZaAB MPs may well be on the market as well. Save former PM Alenka Bratušek herself, although given the egotistical lows she performed after successfully bringing the country from the brink in 2013, it is not entirely inconceivable she’d quit her own party group, too. But that’s just pengovsky being evil. More realistically, rumour has it that Mirjam Bon Klanjšček is to follow in Vilfan’s footsteps and make DeSUS male/female ratio look better come Autumn, the big question is just what exactly will Jani Möderndorfer do.

The man with a plan, the other great survivor of Slovenian politics, he hasn’t placed a bad political bet in his life. At the very least ever since he helped start a rift in the Ljubljana section of LDS in 2002 which ultimately led to the party breaking up and emergence of Zares (of which he, ultimately, was not a member). He then stuck with Janković all the way to the parliamentary elections in 2011, emerging as leader of the largest parliamentary group. But when things came to a head within the party in 2014 and Janković came to collect, Möderndorfer chose PM Bratušek over Janković. Wisely so, it transpired, since Janković’s Positive Slovenia proper did not make it above the 4-percent threshold in 2014 elections, while Bratušek’s ZaAB did, just barely.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see if Möderndorfer jumps ship as well or will he go down with it for the first time. From where he stands, both are equally legitimate. The interesting part is that he now faces a dilemma not dissimilar to that of Dimitrij Rupel: does he quit politics and gets a job (he is, among other things, a certified sign-language interpreter), or does he make another leap, possibly finding himself on the same boat as Rupel – as a member of the SMC.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.

July 20th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

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