From Prison To Prison

Janez Janša, leader of the largest opposition party SDS was stripped of his MP seat yesterday on Wednesday, thus bringing to a close a protracted period of post-election second-hand embarrasment this country was collectively experiencing due to the fact that a convicted criminal was elected to the parliament and was indeed executing his office.

20141018 jj From Prison To Prison
The SDS put up a sign where Janša sat in the parliament saying “Political Prisoner” (source: sds.si)

In case you live in the real world and not in this sorry excuse for a country, here’s a quick rundown: Janša was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption in the Patria Case. He appealed his sentence, got his appeal dismissed by the higher court and then again by the supreme court. Some time in between (at the height of the election campaign this summer) he started serving his sentence, but was elected to the parliament nevertheless. Thus prompting a legal and political clusterfuck because – you’re not going to believe this – the law says an MP is stripped of office “if convicted to a prison sentence exceeding six months” but doesn’t specify if this means sentences after he/she was confirmed as an MP or does this apply to sentences passed before an MP is elected to office.

And while this legal minefield was navigated, Janša was sleeping in a prison cell but was coming to Ljubljana whenever parliament was in session. Which was quite often in the past couple of months. And since Janša had no intention of resigning of his own accord (after all, he sees his prison sentence as a result of a global communist conspiracy), a curious situation was created where a person convicted of criminal activity was deciding on laws in this country. Even more – staying true to form, i.e. pushing the envelope to breaking point – Janša tried to have himself appointed in the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight committee.

Which apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the ruling SMC repeatedly blocked constitution of this committee, on the grounds of Janša being able to access sensitive information as a member of the committee. Which is true. Having a convict attending a surprise inspection of a police wire-tapping facility is simply preposterous. Therefore, the question at hand was not only that of legality of Janša’s MP seat, but that of legitimacy of the parliament. Because what kind of a sorry-ass parliament allows a convict to hold it by the balls through procedural maneuvering?

After months trying to have the cake and eat it, the ruling SMC of PM Miro Cerar finally got their shit together and realised the situation will require a political decision (preferably one which survives legal challenges) rather than a legal decision passed by a political body. Which was a marked improvement from their initial approach which was designate an ad-hoc committee of outside legal experts since the parliamentary legal service stated that in their view Janša can not legally be stripped of his term.

Obviously a whole lot of brouhaha was made about this document, especially by the SDS. But the parliamentary legal service is a child everybody likes to kick around when they feel like it and feign to protect when it makes them look good. Virtually every party in the parliament at one stage hailed documents by the legal service but flat-out ignored them at another stage. SDS is no exception. Even worse, whenever they disagreed with the position of the parliamentary legal service, they accused it of currying favour of communists, carrying bag for powers that be, etc, etc. Point being, that the new-found faith of the SDS in the legal experts of the parliament is probaby short-lived and confined to this particular issue.

Anyhoo, on Wednesday parliament finally voted on the matter and decided to strip Janša of his term as per law. Which means that not only have the parliamentarians ejected a convict from their midst, they’ve also set a precedent and passed an interpretation of the disputed Article 9 of the Law on Deputies. Clause “if convicted to a prison sentence exceeding six months” is now interpreted as “regardless of whether conviction took place prior to MP actually being elected or after he/she was already sworn in” provided the sentence is still being served.

Again, Janša can and probably will mount a legal challenge, but his luck seems to be running out. Not only is his star-lawyer Franci Matoz repeatedly failing to deliver for his client, he also has a couple of other cases against him due in court. Nothing of the Patria magnitude, but enough to be more than just a hassle. Despite the fact that there is a merry band of followers picketing the Ljubljana Court building every day, there is noticeable and growing dissent among the faithful. Even Reporter magazine, usually a mouthpiece for the most crackpot of SDS ideas (not to be confused with Demokracija magazine, which is actually part-owned by the Party), threw Janša under the bus a couple of weeks ago, much to the man’s annoyance.

In 1988, when Janez Janša was put in prison, he was catapulted into top-tier politics where he remained ever since. It seems only fitting he should make his exit in the same manner.

    October 18th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    Brussels Bruises For Bulc And Bratušek

    As pengovsky writes this, Jean-Claude Juncker (yes, he of selfie-with-a-convict fame) concluded his meeting with Violeta Bulc, Slovenia’s second entry for the post of the European Commissioner later today. Thus a sordid saga of backstabbing, ruthless power-play, misoginy and blatant incompetence continues, reportedly with Bulc being nominated for the transport portfolio.

    20141014 blog Brussels Bruises For Bulc And Bratušek
    JCJ with Frau Komisaar vol. 1 and vol. 2 (photo credit: @NatashaBertraud)

    Pengovsky sadly didn’t have the time to cover the first instalment of this particular tour-de-clustefuck as he was too busy covering Ljubljana local elections for The Firm™ and has yet to write it up for this blog as well (Janković won, in case you didn’t know). But you all know the final outcome: Alenka Bratušek, Slovenian former MP in the end withdrew her nomination after a humiliating 113-12 vote rejecting her appointment as Commission VP for Energy Union.

    Bratušek debacle

    Now, what happened to Bratušek was about as brutal as can get and in all honesty her being singled out as the lone reject of the Juncker Commission is unfair at very least. From the moment the former prime minister was appointed as one of three possible nominees from Slovenia a chain of events was set in motion that – combined with her (admittedly) very much lacking performance during the committee hearing – could only end in a disaster.

    You see, the main sticking point of Bratušek nomination in Slovenia (as presented by her political rivals and happily carried by numerous newsmedia) was not her lack of expertise, but rather the fashion in which she was nominated, her supposed singing of communist songs at an event last year and her potential paycheck (the latter two being typically Slovenian issues). The fact that she knew about as much about the emerging Energy Union as the next guy came a distant fourth.

    While some criticism was well deserved, Bratušek was subject to daily, no, hourly abuse that was blatantly misoginous in nature and was not unlike all the shit thrown at her during her year-long reign as this country’s PM, from the length and pattern of her skirt, colour of her shoes, the dress she wore when she met the pope to rampant speculation whom was she sleeping with to get where she was. And yes, at one point Jucker was mentioned as her bed-trophy. Despicable doesn’t even being to cover what Bratušek was subjected to. Thus the character assassination that commenced immediately after Juncker picked her from the list containing Tanja Fajon (Slovenian MEP for S&D) and Karl Erjavec (foreign minister and leader of the pensioners’ party DeSUS).

    Adding to that was the anti-graft commission (KPK) which took issue with her (self-)nomination process and the fact that Bratušek handled that part of the equation pretty badly, giving the appearance that he was avoiding a quick closure of the case by first waiting until the last possible day to pick up the registered mail, then letting her attorney deal with it and in the end even picking a new attorney. Pengovsky is still dumbfounded as to why she didn’t tackle the issue head-on, especially as the KPK found her actions amounted only to a conflict of interest and not a full-blown corruption (while we’re on the issue: in formulating the case against Bratušek, KPK created an infinite loop and more or less emasculated itself. More on that soon)

    And then there was the horse-trading in the European Parliament where no-one even bothered to hide that it was going on over Bratušek’s back. The EPP and the S&D struck a deal to rub each others’ backs regardless of their respective nominees inappropriateness for selected portfolios, perhaps with a few cosmetic adjustments. This left Bratušek (an ALDE nominee) as the odd one out and boy did they let her have it.

    But, at the end of the day, it was her under-prepairedness that made every other piece of her downfall-puzzle to fall into place. A blunder here, a blunder there, her signature lackluster and repetitive performance, sub-par use of euro-speak (where the fuck were phrases like “fully acknowledging the sovereignty of member states we will strive to create a fair, transparent and effective single market, blah, blah, subsidiarity, blah, blah, competition, blah, blah, and so on) and – finally – the fact that the Energy Union still but a figment of European imagination, this horse was not only out of the race, but was lying by the race track, panting, being kicked, screamed at and reduced to sun-dust.

    The only one who on the surface at least played a fair game was Jean-Claude Juncker, who stood by his nominee and had his PR people maintain there were no changes to the Commissioners’ roster until Bratušek withdrew herself. Whether Jucnker really stood by her, helped Bratušek reach that decision or was only happy to see EPP and S&D do his bidding, we’ll never know. But at the very least, the next EU top dog kept his composure and class, which can not be said for anyone else involved in this story.

    This goes for Slovenian PM Miro Cerar as well. The ruckus he raised when outgoing Bratušek government (acting well within its authority) put forward its list of nominees, was epic. He later came about but only after he was told by Juncker personally that it was he (Juncker) who is putting together the Commission, not Cerar or any other PM. And when Bratušek came tumbling down, it was up to Cerar to come up with a nominee.

    Enter Bulc

    The newly minted PM all of a sudden found his spine and flat-out rejected demands by EPP and S&D to appoint Tanja Fajon as the new Slovenian nominee, going with Violeta Bulc, his government’s VP for development instead. And almost immediately the whole wheel of disqualifications-ad-nauseam started turning yet again. To be sure, Bulc nomination carries a few gems, as well. Mostly, these have to do with more-than-eyebrow-raising entry of her being an alumnus of Shamanic Academy in Scotland and her statements about “syntropy”. But on the other hand, Bulc has had a successful career as a businesswoman, both in IT as well as a consultant. Her main drawback, however, are not crackpot theories about space and time. After all, how many MEP believe in the existence of a super-natural being which will ultimately judge our lives on this Earth? Or, how many of them are anti-vaxxers? (I’m shooting at random here).

    Her main drawback is her lack of experience in a senior governmental position. Which – unless Bulc gave a stellar performance tonight during here tete-a-tete with Jucnker – means that a Commissioner from Slovenia will not be appointed Commission VP. Serves us right, I guess. At any rate, this wasn’t a “Slovenian” job Bulc is now aiming at, it is a Bulc job, formerly a Bratušek job, both of them got to have a shot at because they’re Slovenian. But I guess this still is a lesson we need to learn as a nation. There seems to be an unhealthy notion prevailing that we should do everything possible to prevent any of our compatriots from making it outside Slovenian borders. And if he/she makes it despite everything, we collectively expect this individual to disperse the goodies of his/her position among the rest of us. Just because.

    But as far as lessons go, the biggest one was served not to Bratušek nor to Bulc but to Miro Cerar. For if there never was more poetic a justice served when the new Cerar government had to rush their decision on the new nominee and did so in a correspondence session, the very same way Bratušek rushed her outgoing government’s approval for Juncker’s original roster and drew some serious flak over it. Indeed, questions were raised as to legality of the issue. Bogus questions, but still. At the time they added to the fog-of-war surrounding Bratušek nomination.

    And you can expect the same pattern to repeat again in the next few days. Even though the whole thing is not about Violeta Bulc, Alenka Bratušek or even Slovenia as a whole. What we have here is a power-play between the Juncker Commission and the European Parliament where the latter is looking to draw first blood (which it did) and keep the upcoming Commission in check for the duration of the five-year term. On the other hand, new new Commission boss has more than enough experience to know that in the curious menage-a-trios of EU top institutions he must subjugate the parliament early on lest he be spending more time fighting off rabid parliamentarians than actually making policy.

    Which means that the Bulc hearing in the EP will quite possibly be just as bruising as Bratušek hearing was. Juncker did not go along with his own conservative EPP and socialist S&D suggestions-cum-blackmail about Tanja Fajon, nor did Slovenian PM Cerar. And with the credibility of any Commissioner candidate from Slovenia being question to begin with (and highly likely to go south from there), Juncker and now Bulc are fighting an unexpectedly steep uphill battle. Of course, say the EPP and S&D, if Commission President-elect were to nominate Tanja Fajon, or perhaps, former EPP MEP Romana Jordan, then all of his remaining problems could simply just.. go away. Get it?

    In this respect (the inevitable portfolio reshuffle notwitstanding) Slovenian nominees were nothing more than collateral damage in a high-level, high-stakes game of political poker. And yet, a good portion of this country was weighing in as though Juncker was waiting for their opinion before he made his next move. In reality, however, it was just a freak-show at the outer edge of the circus, where they keep the ugly people.

      October 14th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

      Scotland Referendum: Notes From An Independent Country

      The first time pengovsky really went abroad (yearly summer migration to Croatia notwithstanding) was Scotland. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was, catching the last train from Prestwick to Glasgow on account of Ryanass flight being late and then walking alone in the middle of the night down the streets of Glasgow, map in hand and two backpacks on me, looking for a hostel which seemed pretty close on the map, but really wasn’t… Well, let’s just say I could have been an easy target. But instead this guy Ian came up to me, moderately inebriated, and asked me if I was lost. Since he was satisfied that I wasn’t, he proceeded to ask me where I was from. And upon hearing my country of origin, he broke into wild cheers of “SLOVENIA! ZAHOVIC!” and then decided my hostel of choice was “shite” and personally took me to “this other place”, which was cheaper and nearer. And sure enough it was. Run by Iggy Pop‘s long lost twin brother (or so it seemed), it was a shabby place which could only provide a mattress for the night, but since I was off to Edinburgh the next morning, it didn’t really matter. And I got a discount. But I digress. Point is, my first encounter with Scotland was bizarrely pleasant which is why the whole Scottish Independence Referendum Thing perks more than just my political sciences side.

      20140917 scotland Scotland Referendum: Notes From An Independent Country
      In the words of John Oliver: Nothing screams Scottish freedom more than a millionaire Australian anti-Semite on horseback (source)

      Just so there’s no misunderstanding, freedom has no price. That much should be taken for granted. And in a few hours you, the good people of Scotland, will decide. There is no wrong answer here. But living in a country that did in fact pull off a relatively smooth independence (especially when one takes into account the bloodbath that followed in ex-Yugoslavia), pengovsky feels he is in a position to give some qualified unsolicited advice, should tomorrow come to a “yes” vote.

      Borders

      First thing you will notice once the will of the people is enacted for real is the border. There hasn’t been a proper land border in your area for the last three hundred and seven years and I’m sure none of you remember how it was before then. And I can tell you it will be much more of a hassle than you ever imagined. Especially if you commute regularly from Scotland to England (or vice-versa, for that matter).

      Now, I’m sure that should you vote in favour of independence, both countries will try to make border crossings as painless as possible. But some hassle is unavoidable. And whenever there’s a terrorist scare or even a problematic football match, borders tend to become much more tightly guarded. Really, if you’re not used to it, it’s not pretty. And since England or “rest of the UK“, as Whitehall apparently calls it, will probably join the EU Schengen border agreement on the Saint of Never, you’ll be pretty much stuck with that for the forseeable future. And just to give you an idea of how much that sucks: after Slovenia entered the Schengen system and we started thinking of our borders with Italy and Austria and most EU airports as glorified toll-booths, it came as a real shock to me when, visiting the US for the first time, I had to stand in line for two hours just to get past customs.

      Majority

      Second, and I sort of hate to bring this up since it is much too late in the game, is the legitimacy of your decision. Again, whatever you do decide is fine, but you might take a moment and a deep breath, because you’re not just fulfilling a dream of a generation(s) of Scots but also setting the environment for your children and your children’s children. And I was startled to learn that only a simple majority is required for a “yes” vote to win. In real life this means that in an eighty percent turnout, a fifty-one percent vote in favour of independence would actually mean that minority of Scots voted “yes”. Somehow, that don’t really fly, don’t you think?

      You see, when Slovenia was putting together its rules for the independence referendum, the issue of a majority was a tricky one, too. Most of the right-wing wanted a simple majority rule, while most of the left-wing wanted a qualified majority of all eligible voters. The argument being that if you can’t trust your own people to support you, who can you trust, then. And the argument prevailed. Not only did more than half of Slovenians of voting age vote in favour of independence, the “yes” vote gathered as much as 88,5 percent support. Which is about as unanimous as you can get in a democracy. Henceforth legitimacy of Slovenian independence was not a question anymore. It was only a matter of convincing others of that fact and, well, executing it.

      Because once you go for it, there’s a shitload of stuff that needs to be done. Take currency. I take it you’ve realised by now the English will not let you keep the pound. Which means you’ll have to issue your own and back it up. Now, having your own currency is expensive. Although it is probably even more expensive (as things stand now, at least) to adopt the euro, which you’ll have to do if you decide to join the EU. So that kind of sucks.

      President Salmond?

      Next up it’s the constitution. You might think it is simply a matter of upgrading current legislation, but it is much more than that. With the constitution, everything is up for grabs. You can do what ever the fuck you like. But since I doubt Bonnie Prince Charlie has any legitimate successors and any claims to the Scottish throne will in all likelihood be fake, you’ll probably form a republic. Will you be a parliamentary republic or will you go for a more presidential system? Does the PM appoint ministers or does the parliament do it? You see, Slovenia was sort of in the rush when we adopted our constitution and just copy/pasted some silly German provision which haunts us every time a new government is being formed. So don’t make the same mistakes we did.

      Then there’s the army. I know you guys have a long and proud military tradition and I know you want those nuclear missiles gone. But you’re not maintaining your army directly. And that’s one fucking expensive toy, I tell you. But you can’t really afford not to have an army. Sure, no-one expects Norwegian raiding parties to land on your shores, but you’re probably not want to throw away all those regiments or worse, give them to the English.

      Patriotism

      And trust me, there aren’t going to be any more jobs just because you got independent. Slovenia may be an extreme case since we lost about 90% of our market once Yugoslavia fell apart, but any way you look at it things are bound to go pretty bad pretty quick. And while patriotism may make you forget you’re hungry it won’t put bread on your table. Slovenians learned this the hard way. Looking back, in my opinion it was still worth it, but ours was an alternative of a Balkan carnage and/or an autocratic regime, so the choice wasn’t really hard.

      As for you, Scotland, I’m in no position to judge. I just thought you might want some first hand experience from a country that gained its independence relatively recently.

      Now go and do you your thing.

        September 17th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

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