Same-Sex Marriage: Third Time’s A Charm. For Now…

Hours ago Slovenian parliament voted 51-28 to legalize same-sex marriage, extending all the rights and benefits of a married heterosexual couple to their same-sex counterparts. To the horror of those opposing the legislation, this includes the right to adopt children, exchange wows (and, indeed, vows) and generally do what married people can do. Thus Slovenia became 21st country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage which sort of makes us special. But not really.

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As both readers of this blog know, a complete overhaul of the Family Code which – among many other things – legalised gay marriage, was rejected on a referendum two-and-a-half years ago. So in effect what was passed today by the parliament was just a severely stripped-down version of th Code which solved only one pressing issue. Everything else, including the all-encompassing definition of a family, i.e. granparents adopting their grandchildren, non-blood-related people consenting to become a family and so on, was left for another day. If that day ever comes.

Because while the rabid right-wing is expecting the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride in about now, the sad truth is that the quote/unquote revolutionary potential of the left-wing has been exhausted. At least on this issue. “Revolutionary” because this wasn’t really a revolution. Not when fucking Alabama is allowing gay weddings. The LGBT community in Slovenia is apparently extatic and has every right to be so. But the country as such is only marginally better due to today’s vote and the fact the phrase “a historic vote” was applied liberally only further strengthenes the point. When history is (pretended to have been) made, politicians start sitting on their laurels. And Bob knows they think they’ve earned them.

Finally on that train

Well, they didn’t. At the very best what happened today was Slovenia catching the train it should have boarded long ago. Slightly more realistically speaking, what we have seen today is again a demonstration that the left-right division does not always correspond to the progressive/conservative division. Today’s was the third attempt at some sort of legalisation of same-sex marriage, the first one dating back to 2002 (then it would rightly have been called revolutionary). And in the first two attempts the whole thing fell through not so much due to fervent opposition from the right (their attitude is no secret) but rather due to lacklustre support on the left.

That the third time was the charm is mostly the result of leftist ZL (United Left) finally being proactive and filing a forward-looking piece of legislation as well as SMC, the party of PM Miro Cerar (now being rebranded as Party of Modern Centre) somehow trying to make amends for their failure to support same-sex marriage during the election campaign. Which probably bought them a couple of votes last summer.

It was a clever trick, really. The ZL put forward the draft law at the very moment when the right-wing is split over Janez Janša and the SDS-NSi combo is no more a given. Especially since the Roman Catholic Church withdrew its unconditional support for Janša’s party. Also, the SDS tied down a lot of resources trying to fight back their leader’s imprisonment and the judiciary in general. And it seems the party and its civil-society-satelites lack the manpower and materiel to wage (political) war on two fronts. Specifically, Aleš Primc, the guy running the NO campaign the last time around, is busy these days rallying the faithful in front of the Supreme Court, being all vocal about Janša’s court case(s). As a result, today’s protest in front of the parliament against changing the law was flimsy at best, given the gravity of the issue.

Thus the ZL managed to get the ball rolling and pass until now a seeming impossible piece of legislation.

Unless…

Unless, of course, the legislation is beaten after the parliament. This does not so much mean a referendum, although one is possible. Namely, ever since the changes in referendum legislation, it is next to impossible to kill a piece of legislation by keeping the attendance number low and making sure ony your fervent supporters vote. And, a referendum can not be held on a question of human rights. Which marrying people you love definitely is. But the referendum is not the real threat.

The real threat comes from the way the law was passed. Namely, for some reason, probaby that of political expediency, trying to slam-dunk the issue while the right wing is more or less in tatters, the majority in the parliament voted early on that the changes in law would be debated and voted on in an extraordinary (i.e. shortened) procedure, where all three readings the final two readings are condensed in one session with the parliamentary committee doing the debate first.

Ordinarily, the parliament would debate this in tree separate readings, giving enough room for a civil exchange of pros and cons. Additionally, parliamentary Rules of Procedure specify in Article 143 142 clearly under what conditions can the extraordinary procedure be invoked. It seems no such conditions were met. This opens a pretty big hole in the armour and could mean that in the challenge before constitutional court the former could ignore the contents of the law and go straight to technicality of passing it. This also means that the court would not be de iure ruling on human rights but rather on whether the parliament applied the appropriate procedure in defending and expanding those rights.

And suddenly things would get tricky, again…

March 3rd, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Eurothings Slovenly But Syrizaously Going South

Since Greece and the rest of the Euro zone gave each other the finger the other day, a few things need to be said before things go syrizaously wrong in this neck of the woods. What was expected to be the day of another euro-compromise, brokered in the wee hours of the morning, the whole thing fell apart, seemingly with Greece and its new government on one side and he rest of the Eurozone on the other.

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But in reality, what we have here is not a game of playing chicken, with Greece and the Eurozone counting on each other to blink first. Rather, what we are witnessing is a Mexican stand-off of gigantic proportions where almost every member of the Eurozone is holding a gun to the head of most other members and at the same time virtually all Eurozone governments are held at gunpoint by their electorate, something they’ve only themselves to blame. Namely, by bailing out German and French banks with their taxpayers’ money and now trying to make the Greeks foot the bill, they’ve found themselves in exact opposite of Greek Syriza: while Tsipras and Varoufakis promised to end the vicious cycle of more cuts for more money, leading to less growth which creates the need for even more cuts and the need for even more money (and so on ad nauseam), the governments of Germany, The Netherlands and even Slovenia (to name but a few) are under increasing pressure to make sure the taxpayers get their money back.

Thus, a clustefuck of gigantic proportions was created, where legitimate positions of all governments involved preclude one another and are starting to resemble the old joke about an irresistible force and the immovable object. There rarely was a greater need for the (black) art of the European compromise.

The position of Slovenian government is especially interesting in this case. Apparently, finance minister Dušan Mramor more or lees told his Greek colleague Yanis to go Varoufakimself with his ideas of increasing public sector employment and expenditure while everyone else – including Slovenia – is slashing costs to make ends meet. Not that the ends are anywhere near each other – Slovenia will have to raise 1.5 billion, 15% of the budget, in loans in 2015 alone.

Reassuring Mramor

Mramor was apparently indignant over the fact that in per capita terms Slovenia is among the most exposed member states in the Greece omnishambles but was having no say in the matter as Tsipras and Varoufakis were negotiating with the big boys (and girl) only. As if Mramor way trying primarily to reassure himself by lashing out at Greece rather than trying to find some middle ground or even support Greece in its, well, “need for more time“.

But reassuring himself or the Slovenian taxpayer Mramor is not. It is more than obvious that most (if not all) money loaned to Greece will never get repaid and that Franci Križanič, FinMin in the Borut Pahor government (2008-2011) was talking bullshit when he said Slovenia will make money with the loan.

Mramor’s going after Greece suspiciously coincides with feces coming dangerously close to a mechanical air ventilator in the case of 3-billion-heavy bailout of Slovenian banks in late 2013.

Junior bonds extinction

Namely, accusations were made by Tadej Kotnik (curiously, a biophisycist and vicedean of faculty of Electrical Engineering) that recapitalisation of the banks and especially the accompanying extinction of subordinated bank bonds (in effect, complete nationalisation of Slovenian banks) was illegal, pre-arranged and non-transparent. But the gist of it, it seems, lies in the allegation that the Bank of Slovenia (this country’s central bank, aptly shortened to BS) back-dated a key measure to cover up the fact that eradication of junior bonds was agreed-upon in advance with the European Commission and was not some sort of a last-ditch measure to save the banks.

Now, Kotnik, a private individual and a member of the Association of Small Shareholders, apparently invested heavily in subordinates and thus lost quite a substantial amount of money. He also challenged the bond extinction at the Constitutional Court but the court deferred to the European Court of Justice as the bailout measures were coordinated with the European Commission and under EU law directly.

Anyhoo, the thing is that the Bank of Slovenia, specifically Governor Boštjan Jazbec fucked up their initial response, hiding behind legal clauses and non-disclosure of financial information, thus giving credence to Kotnik’s accusations which are, it seems, mostly based on one or two sources within the BS.

obviously all hell broke loose, with MPs screaming for a parliamentary investigation, various political parties scrambling for cheap political points and Jazbec, after a press conference was finally held, fucking up further with a seriously distorted view of (non)accountability of the institution he heads and the office he holds.

Namely, Jazbec, after explaining that everything is OK and within the bounds of the law and that two wildly different appraisals of the state of the largest bank NLB are not all that unexpected decided to explain the matter further to… the government. As if it wasn’t the parliament who appointed him to the position and as if it wasn’t the parliament who represents the sovereign of this country, the people. Or, as they are more commonly known these days, the taxpayers.

While the government of course needs to be in the loop, Jazbec would do well to address the parliament first, since it was the people’s euros he spent on propping up the banks. But as things stand now, he is making one small(ish) mistake after the other and if he doesn’t stop digging soon, he may find himself in a hole too deep to climb out of. Especially since political parties are scrambling to put a daylight betweeen them and anything that might make them look responsible for the disastrous state of the banking sector. Which is why the Social Democrats are all of a sudden deeply worried about the situation. As if it wasn’t them who ran the financial portfolio in the ill-fated Pahor government (when things started going south for real) and who were junior partners in the Bratušek government which engineered the bailout. Almost the same goes for the SDS, which led the government during the pre-2008 spending spree and which performed a couple of smaller recapitalisations of the NLB (couple a hundred million a pop) and is now screaming bloody murder and demanding a parliamentary investigation.

The sad reality

The reality, of course, is much more prosaic. After Greece and Cyprus, Slovenia was to be next in line for the Troika Treatment. And since the political mantra in the Eurozone at the time was that individual stakeholders, not just the state as such must bear the cost of the bailout, it was more or less obvious that erasing junior debt was unavoidable. Even more. If there is one point where Tadej Kotnik is correct is that the whole process was most likely pre-arranged and coordinated with Brussels. You see, at the time Slovenia for all intents and purposes was under administration, with the European Commission pouring over every aspect of economic and/or fiscal policy, confirming some, rejecting others. And so it seems plausible that the bailout of the banks, the extent and the mechanics of it were approved by the EC before they were enacted by the Bratušek-Čufer-Jazbec trio. That the Commission formally approved the measures taken fairly soon thereafter only goes to strengthen the point.

The above seems to suggest that the problem was not so much in the execution of the bailout but in the definition of the problem. You see, at the time the fate of Slovenia was in the hands of a budget specialist (Bratušek), a higher-level bank manager (Čufer) and a macroeconomist (Jazbec). None of them were in office for a particularly long time, while the country as such was held at gunpoint, not to mention the political turmoil on the home front. For them to understand that the problem was one of policy concept and not (only) of numbers would demand an extraordinary insight. Even more – even if they had the insight (it seems plausible that at least some people advising them did manage a wider outlook), it remains doubtful if they had the room to manoeuver.

Which, not surprisingly, brings us back to the current Greco-German spat. Unlike the Slovenian government of Alenka Bratušek, the new Greek PM Tsipras and his FinMin Varoufakis fully understand the problem is political, even ideological. But they, too, have precious little wiggle room. Because just like Syriza is acting on a mandate by the people, so, too, are the Germans and the rest of the Eurozone. At some point they will have to explain to their voters why they used their money to prop up mostly German and French banks, overexposed in Greece. I’m sure it seemed a good idea at the time and in the panic that gripped the EU when Greece all but defaulted, the last thing anyone wanted was a bank run. But to bailout its banks, the Eurozone took out an even bigger loan with their voters and not being entirely candid on what the money was being spent on.

Extend and pretend

With this in mind, it is not only Greece that is – in the words of Yanis Varoufakis – resembling a drug addict. The (rest of the) Eurozone, too, is asking their voters trust and understanding they may not be ready to give anymore. Which makes the ruling centrist(ish) parties in Europe nervous which, by extent, leads to some uneasy moments of disturbing clarity, such as German FinMin Schäuble apparently saying the Tsipras government is acting irresponsibly. Patronising, even smacking of colonialism. But in reality most likely nothing more than a show of frustration at the realisation that even if the new Greek government does decide to play ball and continue with the established sparprogram, the game is more or less up and “extend and pretend” is from now on a two-way street.

And that no one knows how long the voters are going to continue buying it.

 

February 19th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Why “Who Started First” Doesn’t Explain Charlie Hebdo

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre is resonating in Slovenia as well. For some strange reason it seems to have resonated with the people more than prior terrorist/hate-speech/other attacks on European media. Perhaps it was the fact that a few weeks ago most of the country was fiercely debating the role of media in a suicide of a headmaster of a Maribor high school. Or maybe it was brutality of the attack itself, apparently happening just as the new issue of the magazine was being finalised. Or the fact that Slovenian police picked up an individual (ethic Slovenian!) who apparently fought on the ISIL side of the Iraq-Syria clusterfuck. Or maybe the fact that it was Paris, just two-hours-flight away from Ljubljana. Or maybe the fact that pengovsky seems to follow a lot of journos on Twitter and is looking only inside his bubble. Fuck me if I know. However, a few things need to be said, especially to those who put the massacre into the context of (alleged?) European multiculturalism, with the bottom line being that Charlie Hebdo were sort of asking for it.

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A gathering of journalists in Ljubljana in support of Charlie Hebdo.

Now, that Europe is anything but truly multicultural is a given. In a continent teeming with former colonial powers of various Christian denominations who by far and large still sport some sort of racist/chauvinistic behaviour, being of non-white skin is not exactly a walk in a park, I imagine. Even worse, it is often enough to have a surname with the “wrong” suffix (Balkans in general) or wear white socks and a track suit (Slovenia in particular).

And yes, if one wants to embark on a fruitless and yet painful voyage of “who started first”, European countries and by extension the continent itself are anything but innocent. But bringing up Lybia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, the Crusades and whatnot leads to a false sense of a single act in the distant past unleashing an unfortunate chain of events which led to the clustefuck of today.

And if you really wanted to be brutally cynical (an attitude pengovsky tends to respect) you could argue that whatever pain and suffering terrorism perpetrated in the name od Islam brought to the Western world, it is still eclipsed by far by the pain and suffering brought upon the Muslim world by the West in the name of democracy.

But you would be wrong.

What happened yesterday was not an act of religious piety or a fight against oppression but a murderous rampage against freedom expression. That it was done while shouting the name of Allah does not make it any more pious or holy or acceptable whatever the fuck someone wants to call it. Sure, Charlie Hebdo pulled no punches when it lampooned Islam. But neither did it pull punches when it dealt with Christianity. Or French politics, from what I hear.

Muslims had and still have every right to be offended by many an issue of the magazine. But that’s what it was there for. To insult. Even its tagline bears the words “journal irresponsable”. The irresponsible magazine. This was their shtick. You can insult back (and try to be clever about it). You can ignore it. You can press charges (European countries have an impressive set of anti-hate-speech legislation), you can laugh at it or laugh with it, but you can not kill for it.

Because if you try to rationalise the massacre from the standpoint of West’s (admittedly) double standards towards the Muslim world or by defaulting to “they see freedom of expression differently”, you implicitly condone kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, Branch Davidians or Jews forcing their way into the Al-Aqsa mosque. Or that Norwegian sick fuck. Or the Crusades, if you want to go that far back.

I don’t want to to into the “Islam/Christianity/Buddhism is religion of peace” shit. I’ve my own views on faith in general and organised religion in particular. Because this was not about it. This was not France’s 9/11 or Paris version of Madrid bombing. This was about a group of people killing a dozen people in cold blood because they did not share the same values. Think brownshirts of Europe’s 1930s, Brigate Rosde and Gladio bombings in Italy or Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany. Or even the Oklahoma bombing by Timothy McVeigh.

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre was not religious but political. And even that only insofar it was carried out by a group of people with a particularly degenerate derivative of an otherwise valid ideology who believe they have a license to kill anyone they dislike for whatever reason they see fit.

And journalists usually work on being generally disliked.

UPDATE:

This lovely clip from No Man’s Land, an Oscar winning film by Danis Tanović shows the futility of “who started first” while people are dying.

January 8th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

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