Social Democrats Between Cerar And Veber-y Hard Place

in 1994, then-defence minister Janez Janša, refusing to quit office over Depala Vas Affair was removed from office by a parliamentary majority in what was probably one the most tense periods of Slovenian statehood. A defence minister using military spooks against civilians to his own needs is never a good idea, let alone in a fledgling democracy. And in an ironic fuck you by Mother History itself, twenty-one years later, almost to the day, Slovenia is again faced with a defence minister running amok and refusing to stand down. This time, however, it’s not Janez Janša, the now near-fallen leader of the SDS, but rather Janko Veber, of Social Democrats (SD) who directed OVS, the military intelligence service, to poke around the sale of Telekom Slovenije. Namely, he defied PM Miro Cerar and refused his calls to resign. AS a result, the PM will now ask the parliament to replace Veber.

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Picture related

Now, drawing parallels between Janša and Veber only goes so far, although a nasty one pops up on a seemingly unrelated question of handling the issue of Roma family Strojan some years ago. This time around, there is no danger of the select army units being deployed to “secure key installations”, no thousands of protesters in front of the parliament sporting pitchforks and shovels and threatening to do generally unpleasant things to deputies if defence minister goes. But one would think that the political class would have advanced both in style as well as content in the past twenty-odd years. Especially political veterans such as Veber who definitely have enough mileage to know better.

As a result, a clusterfuck of reasonable proportions is now brewing inside the ruling coalition. The SD is, for the moment, standing firm behind Veber with party boss Dejan Židan (who doubles as minister of agriculture) going on and on about Veber doing nothing inappropriate and that SD will defend ministers who do their work. On the other hand, Cerar’s demand Veber step down won him a round of applause from the opposition NSi and SDS, while coalition member DeSUS is apparently still calculating how to profit from this as of today on the same boat with Cerar.

The thing is that although technically his boss, PM Cerar cannot simply dismiss Veber. Because constitution. The ground law namely states that ministers are nominated by the PM but appointed to office by the parliament, hence it is only the parliament which can dismiss them. This stipulation has caused trouble more than once, with mixed results. Amazingly, back in 1992, during his second administration, Janez Drnovšek tried to replace Jožica Puhar of what is now the SD (!) but failed. Puhar later resigned of her own accord, while Drnovšek went on to become one of Slovenia’s iconic political leaders.

The same conundrum, albeit with much more melodrama attached, was faced by PM Borut Pahor in 2010, when he demanded that DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec resign as minister of environment due to a damning report by the Court of Audit. Teflon Karl refused, forcing Pahor to call upon the parliament to remove Erjavec from office. Only then did the man give in and resigned, saying he wanted to spare the PM further embarrassment.

And this is quite possibly the scenario we are facing today. Not unlike DeSUS in 2010, the SD in 2015 can, despite reportedly a strong faction in the party to do so, ill afford to quit the ruling coalition. Because resources. You see, the party is but a mere shadow of its former self. It won 30 seats in the parliament in 2008. Six years later it hardly mustered six. And it fared only marginally better on municipal level. The only asset it really still has is its organisation and ground network. But that needs to be supported somehow, mostly by influence exerted on various levels to either bring in financing or to please the right people. Preferably both. And you can not do that when in opposition.

So while PM Cerar might be faced with an undesirable prospect of a single-vote majority in the parliament (SMC and DeSUS combined can put together 46 votes), going back to square one, reopen coalition negotiations and try to lure Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB to join in on the fun or even give a shot to a minority government rule, the SD is faced with a much more fundamental question of its survival. Of the party as a whole, not just survival of its current leadership set and the gravy train attached to it. The on

The only thing going in favour of the SD is the vast amount of experience it can draw from. The SMC is still well-versed in the intricacies of political maneuvering and is prone to trip over things that need not being tripped over. One such thing is the SD trying to shift the blame for the current situation on the SMC, saying the PM is not adhering to the coalition agreement by speeding through the motions to replace Veber. But Cerar really doesn’t have any other option. Even before the whole thing escalated to boiling point it was clear the PM can not simply let this one slide. There he was, faced with a minister who clearly stepped is bending over backwards trying to explain why, of all the possible agencies, bureaus and directorates did he have to pick army spooks to assess the sale of Telekom. Furthermore, why the bleeping bleep did that he, while claiming to have acted in the interests of national security, exposed the inner communication of military intelligence which – if nothing else – showed that the service was just as divided on the issue as the rest of the country. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a security risk. And Veber trying to explain all that was a textbook definition of a shitty job.

If Cerar ignored the issue or even supported Veber, he would have not only condoned Veber’s actions but – just as importantly – empowered the SD to the point of near-invincibility, because if you can get away with abusing military intelligence for political purposes, you can get away with anything. And before the faithful jump citing Veber’s concern for national security, we should not forget his party chief Židan who yesterday more or less plainly told the newsmedia the true casus belli was not national security as such but rather control of the Telekom. And this evening, Veber upped the ante, echoing Židan and even implied that while he was working in the interests of the country, Cerar wasn’t. Which is stopping just short of accusing the prime minister of high treason. And that’s a statement that’s very hard to walk away from. So the question do jour is whether the SD will walk away from Veber or from the government.

If pengovsky were a betting man, he’d bet on the former. Especially since there are other big companies for sale as well and if the SD quits the government, they relinquish what little influence they will have over the issue after the dust settles.

 

 

March 31st, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Referendum On Same-Sex Marriage Blocked But Not Over And Done With

Slovenian parliament yesterday voted to block the referendum on same-sex marriage by an overwhelming majority od 53 votes in favour nad 21 against. This comes after the SMC ironed out the problems they had with the move by the United Left, SocDems nad Alenka Bratušek‘s ZaAB, which called a special session of the parliament to block the referendum on the grounds that it would put a human rights question up for a popular vote.

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Final vote in favour of blocking referendum on same-sex marriage (source: RTVSLO)

The SMC initially said it would not impede the referendum, causing much furore in the LGBT community among the progressive part od the society in general, especially since they voted in favour of the law. But as pengovsky wrote days ago, there was much more to their misgivings than a simple flip-flop on the issue.

You see, the story does not end bere. In fact it is entirely possible that the referendum will be held nevertheless.

Namely, what happened yesterday was that a new constitutional provision allowing for blocking the referendum was applied for the first time ever. And now the ball is in the petitioners’ court, giving them a chance to challenge the parliament move in the Constitutional Court. Aleš Primc & Co. will obviously do exactly that. Especially since they’ve apparently already collected the necessary 40.000 signatures.

And as usual in Slovenia, this constitutional provision, enacted during Janša government 2.0 was not followed up with necessary legislation. This existing legislation on popular initiative is to be applied in analogy which leaves even more room for manoeuvre that there was meant to be in the first place.

So, the way things stand now, the whole same-sex marriage issue will land in front of nine judges of the constitutional court. The judges have 30 days to decide but they have anything but a consistent record on such issue. Both as an institution and as individuals. In fact, given past experience, it not at all unfathomable that they will allow the referendum to go forward, be it on procedural ground, be it on substance.

And if you’re not worried yet, try this on for size: in the constitutional court, the deck is stacked against proponents of same-sex marriage. Because technically the defendant is the National Assembly as an institution and not political parties which voted in favour of blocking the referendum. This means that the actual legal argument for blocking the referendum will be laid out by the parliamentary legal service. Which in itself is not a problem, since the said service sports some of the best lawyers in the country. The problem is that the parliamentary legal service can by its very definition only make a legal argument.

In all probability, the argument in favour of the referendum will be made by more or less the same legal team which is heavily affiliated with the NSi and by extension the Catholic church and which already has a couple of constitutional victories under its belt, most notably the case against the naming of Tito Street and, more recently, a case against discriminatory funding of private schools with regard to state schools.

But the question at hand is not just legal, it is also ideological and emotional. And nothing prevents the judges to look beyond the mere letter of the law. In which case the odds for green-lighting the referendum increase dramatically.

And should this happen, the petitioners will have been inadvertently given an enormously powerful weapon in the referendum debate. Namely, it goes without saying they would claim that even the constitutional court thinks that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Which of course wouldn’t be true, but they would go ahead and say it anyway. Because the more doubt they can sow in the people’s minds, the better. And the proponents of same-sex marriage, an already wily heterogeneous group, would face even more of an uphill battle, demanding even more discipline and consistency.

All of that in a debate on an issue where emotions will ultimately decide. So, while the vote in the parliament was a politically bold move, the issue is far from settled. And until then, the law allowing same-sex marriage is on ice.

 

 

March 27th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Vexating Veber

Defence minister Janko Veber landed in a massive pool of boiling water. Last week the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee made a surprise inspection of the OVS, the military intelligence service. The inspection uncovered that the OVS, acting on Veber’s orders, was making inquires about the sale of Telekom Slovenije, the state-owned telco which is in the final stages of privatisation of its large part. Since Veber, a senior official of the coalition SocDems has a bit of a history of loudness regarding the sale (before being appointed minister he decried the intended sale as high treason) and since the SD as such is less than lukewarm on privatisation of the company, all hell broke loose. The SDS and the NSi, the latter in the form of its young-and-stellar MP Matej Tonin were quick to claim Veber was abusing office and using the intelligence service to derail the already protracted sale. And to be honest, Veber didn’t do a particularly good job at proving them wrong.

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Defence minister Janko Veber is in the spotlight these past couple of days (source)

The whole thing has a couple of dimensions. First, there’s the fact that Veber did a shitty job at explaining himself. He first claimed to have been within his rights and indeed duties and that he only asked the OVS to check the effects of selling Telekom on critical military, intelligence and first-response systems under the assumption that threat prevention would be harder if Telekom was foreign-owned. Which of course begs the question just how easy is Telekom making it for intelligence services to wire-tap, collect and retain data while it is state-owned. To put in other words: could be be that in a post-Snowden world a privatised Telekom Slovenia would actually be good thing from the standpoint of an average Slovenian‘s privacy?

Because based on a report initially released by the ministry of defence after the story broke, the analysis showed that most of Slovenian first responders, civil defence and natural disaster management services use Telekom infrastructure and commercial services and that quality of those would diminish if the company would become foreign, possibly German-owned. However, the report has a couple of problems. It’s not really an analysis but rather an amalgam of second-hand reports, mostly from Croatia, where Deutche Telekom snapped up their state-owned telco and statements that existing quality of service needs to be maintained even after the sale is completed. While legitimate concerns, these aren’t exactly rocket science and you don’t really need military intelligence service to come up with a two-page report.

And secondly, the report pre-dates Veber’s order to OVS upon which the parliamentary committee “stumbled”. At that point calls for Veber’s resignation were mounting and despite his initial defiance he soon realised that his was a precarious position as PM Cerar did not exactly run to support him. As a result and at insistence of the NSi the defence minister admitted to existence of a second, more detailed report which he even declassified although it is still a working paper, not a final document. This report shows various sections of the OVS have a different take on the effects of the sale. The predominant view seems to be that the ownership of the company does not matter and that there are no reports on potentially harmful effects of the sale, but the OVS did not yet make a final conclusion.

This report has a problem, too. And that is that Veber, although he claims all along that he was only acting in the interests of national security, declassified a working paper which pointed out a division within the OVS and did so without batting an eyelid the moment his political survival was at stake. This, of course, gives some credence to claims by Tonin that Veber was following a political rather than a national-security agenda when he issued the order.

But then again, the parliamentary intelligence committee, too, didn’t just stumble upon the relevant documents. The inspection party, which besides Tonin included MPs Branko Grims of the SDS and Matjaž Nemec of the SD, knew exactly what it was looking for. At the very least, Tonin and Grims did. Tonin later claimed they were pointed in that direction by an OVS whistleblower. But for a person to become a whistleblower, he or she must go public with the information if not reveal his/her identity. What Grims and Tonin came up with was an inside leak by an informant within the secret service. Which smacks of precisely the same abuse of intelligence service they are accusing Veber of.

So what we are looking at, in fact, is amateur night of attempts to make political gains over sale of Telekom, market value of the company be damned. The MPs obviously knew what they were after, which makes this a political raid rather than a proper parliamentary inspection. And yet, at the same time Veber is stumbling over his own legs trying to come up with some sort of plausible explanation for his misconduct. Because misconduct this was.

The last, and most worrying dimension of the whole issue is the fact that Veber ordered military intelligence to poke around a civilian issue. This country was built on re-establishing civilian control over the military and anything that smacks of things being the other way around. OVS is not the only government service to use Telekom infrastructure. It is also not the only one to wire-tap its cables. In fact, SOVA and possibly the CrimPolice are the only government inteligence agencies that can legally and legitimately make inquires into deals about Telekom. Even more, they can do so in behalf of the OVS as well, leaving the military spy-service well out of it.

This appears to have dawned on the SD as well. Namely, earlier today Siol.net (ironically, a news portal in part owned by Telekom) reported that the freshly minted party gen-sec Dejan Levanič threatened the party will quit the coalition should PM Cerar demand Veber’s resignation. But Levanič later claimed he was misunderstood while party boss Dejan Židan said Veber’s dismissal was only a hypothetical posibility and reiterated Veber was victim of a smear campaign.

Perhaps. But the fact remains that he asked a part of the military to busy itself with a civilian matter. And he is doing a very poor job of explaining himself. If this drags on much longer, the OVS report might become less of a problem than a defence minister who is turning into damaged goods.

 

 

March 24th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

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