Oh, The iRonny

After less than a week as the Slovenian-appointed arbitrator at the Arbitration Tribunal, Ronny Abraham quit the post, saying he agreed to the appointment “in the hope that this would help restore confidence between the Parties and the Arbitral Tribunal and to allow the process to continue normally, with consent of the both parties” but realized this is not the case hence it is no longer appropriate for him to serve on the tribunal (this via CPA press release). Obviously, all hell broke loose this side of the Alps where only days earlier foreign minister Karl “Teflon” Erjavec lauded Abraham’s appointment as a victory for Slovene diplomacy. Sneers about victory turning into a defeat were inevitable, as were renewed calls for his resignation. The irony, of course, was not lost on anyone. Or, rather, the iRonny.

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Original picture via the ICJ

To be honest, other than driving Slovenian foreign policy from embarrassment to embarrassment, Erjavec is not really the man responsible here. I mean, sure, his bravado was unfounded as usual, but it was mostly for internal consumption rather than anything else. The man is sly enough not to have done any actual moves in this mess without express backing either of PM Cerar or the government as a whole. Indeed, Abraham was appointed by the government in an extraordinary session and – truth be told – Erjavec, for all his political prowess does not strike pengovsky as having the capacity of coming up with a heavyweight like Abraham, who currently serves as President of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Which, incidentally, might be the clue to his resignation. Abraham stated in no unclear terms that the reason for his withdrawing is the fact that one of the parties (that be Croatia) has no intention of adhering to whatever decision the tribunal comes up with. Which is bad enough and not something you want on your resume, especially if you’re late to the party. But it could also indicates that he expect the case to land in front of ICJ some time in the future (something Croatia was hoping to achieve all along). But regardless od whether this happens or not, his message was clear: he will have nothing to do with cases where one of the parties reneges on a written and signed promise.

The arbitration, however, continues. Slovenia will again appoint an arbitrator, probably in the next two weeks (the usual suspect are already lining up in the media stream), the only difference being that the government will take much more flak over it. Both from the media (which have unreservedly echoed politicians’ cries of happiness first time around) as well as the opposition. In fact, while conspiracy theories about who’s really behind the shenanigans were initially on the back burner, they’re on full-throttle this time around. Stupid as they are.

initially, the word on the street was that the Sekolec-Drenik leak was orchestrated by either the Social Democrats (junior coalition partners) or the opposition SDS of Janez Janša. The logic of it being that the SD is a) in control of the intelligence community by virtue of having the defence portfolio and b) still pissed with PM Cerar over #Vebergate and the sale of Telekom Slovenije (which, incidentally, fell through). Or, in the case of the SDS, that the general assumption that Janša still has every fucking intelligence service penetrated with this people back from his heyday as the defence-mofo-in-chief.

Both of these theories have holes the size of Greek debt-to-GDP ratio in them. Namely: the SDS would have been a prime suspect, had it not been for the slight detail of Janša still rotting in jail at the time of the first Sekolec-Drenik convo. At that particular junction the Party was completely focused on getting the Glorious Leader from behind bars and could spare precious few resources to pull a stunt like that – and then sit on it. As for SD, the explanation is painfully simple. Right now, they can’t even tie their own shoelaces, let alone orchestrate what would in these circumstances amount to high treason and get away with it. Case closed on items One and Two

Then there’s the idea that it’s the Americans who were somehow punishing Slovenia for supposedly being too close to Russia. The largest-circulation Slovenian tabloid Slovenske novice even ran a story to that effect. Which is some of the biggest load of bullshit we’ve seen recently in this sorry excuse for a country. Because not only is the Slovenian-Russian hug-fest at the Russian Chapel on the Vršič mountain pass an annual event dating back a whole lotta years (cue Led Zeppelin), the incessant belief that this sorry excuse for a country is a battlefield for proxy wars between superpowers is, well, delusional at best. Damir Lucić in Rijeka-based Novi List took apart the Croatian aspect of this particular argument quite well (Croatian only). Basically, his argument goes along the lines that the Croatian notion of US being in Croatia’s corner on this one is weird (to put it mildly) in the context of US oil company pulling out of oil exploration/exploitation off the Croatian coast, citing border disputes of all things (this time with Montenegro where one of the richest oil fields is tought to be located).

Pengovsky’s favourite (not in the least because it was concocted by moi personally) is that it was the Austrians which picked up the Sekolec-Drenik international call (spying on international calls is perfectly legal, both are foreign nationals and Sekolec lives in Vienna), somehow delivered the goods to Croatia on account of them being the Austrians neighbour’s neighbour (one usually gets along better with those than one’s immediate neighbours) and rocked the boat a bit. On the other hand, Slovenia could have some dirt on Croatia, courtesy of the Dutch, of all people. Which would account for PM Cerar’s appointing his Dutch counterpart Rutte to cast a vote in Slovenia’s name during the last round of the Greek clusterfuck in Brussels (Cerar puzzled a lot of people with that move and took a lot of flak over it).

Had the above really been the case, it would have been one for the textbooks, but unfortunately is has about the same amount of relevance as any other conspiracy theory on this particular issue. Absolutely none. The Austrians even went on the record saying the expect the countries to stick to the agreement (this, admittedly, via the Slovene Press Agency).

Anyways. No matter how you look at it, this is simply yet another case of Hanlon’s Razor, i.e. attributing malice where stupidity suffices. And boy, there is a lot of stupid floating around in this debate.

 

August 7th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

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

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