On Fascism

A few things need to be said with regard to the overall shituation that is the refugee crisis and which has been only amplified by Friday’s attacks in Paris. Namely, the tendency of the left-wing to cry “Fascism!” every time someone does something disagreeable, populist and/or (politically) short-sighted.


While this phenomenon is far from new it has taken on new dimensions with the influx of refugees and the subsequent creation of the now-defunct Zlovenija (Evil Slovenia) Tumblr, naming-and-shaming couch-Nazis from all over the country. And just as the volume of that debate quieted down from 11 a notch or two, the attack on Paris reignited it. And then some. So, lest we allow vicious circle of polarisation to continue unabated until the bitter end, here it goes..

Fascism, in its many forms, is not really on the rise. Or, to be more exact, it is no more on the rise than it was since the onset of the economic crisis of 2008, when the world (ok, Europe) watched in awe as the neo-nazi Golden Dawn made it into the Greek parliament, immediately attempting to legitimise its street-bullying tactics in a democratic forum. You could go even further back and take the example of Austria, when in 1999 the late Jörg Haider and his far-right FPÖ became the senior coalition partner in Austrian government. Or the fact that Front National is the staple of French mainstream politics since the mid-eighties, with Jean-Marie Le Pen even making it to the run-off of 2002 presidential elections (ultimately losing to Jacques Chirac by a landslide). Even the German Pegida has had its precursor in NPD.

So, the new element here is not really the fascism per se, but rather the environment which is conductive to the elements that are here already. Which is where the political left comes in. Or, rather, it should. But it doesn’t. Ervin Hladink Milharčič, quite probably the best political columnist in Slovenia, wrote some weeks ago that the left-wing would rather hang itself with a rope handed to it by anarchists than make a pact with social democrats and share strategy. And the logic extends beyond the political spectrum, as well.

In most of Europe, you see, the power still lies with political moderates. Yes, there are the likes of Victor Orban, but on the whole, it is moderate politicians left and right of the political centre that run the show. Even Alexis Tsipras has toned down the hardline ideological rhetoric and made a few deals, some of them pragmatic to the core. Combined with the urgency of the refugee crisis, he is no longer regarded as Europe’s key problem (not financially, at least) and is therefore suddenly able to miss deadlines and still get credit lines extended. Just to give an example at random.

The problem is, that most of these politicos are either woefully untrained for the job at hand, or populist, of both. I mean, the values they share are, broadly speaking, European, but their actions are populist, knee-jerk and panicky as well as often tied into a myriad of internal political struggles which may very well cause their downfall on the most irrelevant of things. Take the Brexit referedum, for example. What David Cameron “demands” from other European leaders is, for the most part, achievable. There are some things in there that will just not fly (such as discrimination between EU nationals in terms of labor access) but one suspects Number 10 put that on the list simply as a bargaining chip, knowing full well that it will have to drop it sooner or later. The problem of course is, that even if Cameron makes the deal, the good people of Britain may still vote for Brexit. Be it because enough of them want out of the EU or not enough of them can be bothered to vote in favour of staying. Or maybe simply because the IN campaign fucks up somewhere along the road. Or that other things overshadow the question of economic benefits of UK staying in the EU. A sort of ‘Brexit by Accident‘ as the Reuters put it.

Or take Slovenia, to give another example at random. This sorry little excuse for a country has seen its government take on a borderline authoritarian approach to the refugee crisis, whether PM Cerar likes to admit it or not. The problem is that the moderates who run the country right now are new to the game, prone to fall prey to political mind-games and plots by the more experienced political competition (both within the coalition and without) and are cornering themselves in with “if this than that” statements, setting the inevitable path to wider use of security apparatus, more surveillance and less personal freedom. To be clear: pengovsky is not saying they want this to happen (because they don’t), it’s just that they are making it happen. The government of Miro the Man is like the proverbial boiling frog, slowly cooking without realising it is about to be consumed by what they believe to be a controlled environment. The same goes for moderates of all shapes and sizes. And this is where the left-wing comes in.

You see, rather than hurling accusations of fascism every time a moderate politician does something stupid and/or shortsighted, they should instead try to explain why this or that is a bad idea. Historic evidence suggests the moderates are willing to listen. Even more, what is needed right now is prioritization. A whole lot is at stake, but some stakes are more combustible than others. Which is why in the current the immediate goal of the left-wing (or, rather, of the progressives) should be to support moderate voices across the political spectrum regardless of their “everyday” allegiance, political or otherwise.

Case in point being Žiga Turk, former minister of science, culture, sport, education and what-not in Janša government 1.0 who drew a lot of ire for his opinion on refugee crisis in light of attacks in Paris, over at SiOL.

Now, Turk’s ext had been picked apart by other people. But these are Weltanschauung texts. The man has been known to apply some shoddy statistics and/or science in the past, mostly in terms of cherry-picking information to support a conclusion in advance. And his text can be picked apart on that grounds alone. For example, when arguing the “not every Muslim is terrorist but nearly all terrorists are Muslim” line, he conveniently limits his search query to “Europe” and “this century”.

Now, call me old-fashioned, by I fail to see how the last fifteen years are in any way special in terms of terrorist activity in Europe. I mean, from the end of World War II, the Old Continent has seen separatist terrorism, political terrorism, state terrorism, false-flag terrorism… You name it, we’ve had it: IRA, ETA, Rote Armee Fraktion, Brigade Rosse, bombing in Bologna, Munich Olympic Games assassinations, Lockerbie… And that’s just off the top of my head. Point being that terrorism in Europe has a long and cruel tradition and cherry-picking data to reach a known result amounts to nothing more than pseudo-science. Which brings one of the cores of the text tumbling down.

But there are other elements of Žiga Turk’s text which should not be overlooked. Namely, for all his Theresa May imitation au general the man has shown a welcome moderation with regards to issues of Muslim community in Slovenia en particuliere. In that same text he takes a strong stance in favour of continued construction of a mosque in Ljubljana, which the more rabid elements of the right-wing have called to stop. Now, whatever his motives, this is a position worth supporting. Not only because the mosque is about four decades overdue, but also because if this really becomes an issue once again, the left-wing alone will not be able to protect the meagre progress that has been made on this particular issue in the last years. After all, there is a notable anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment in the left-wing base, too.

To prevent things going tits-up, the moderate forces both in Slovenia and in Europe need to start actively seeking common ground. And it wouldn’t hurt the progressives to make the first move and occasionally swallow hard and thinking twice before hurling accusations of fascism at people who might be confused about the correct course of action. Failing to do so will only drive these people more to the right-wing, where true fascists await, with open arms and a big grin across their Chevy Chase.


November 17th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

6 Lessons Of Fence Erection

It took less than twelve hours for Miro Cerar‘s “temporary technical obstacles” to hit their first, well, obstacle. And, boy, did they hit it. While Miro the Man is trying to find his way through the minefield of domestic political ill-wishers, the Mid-East burning and own good intentions paving the road to hell, a familiar monster came from under the bed and bit him right in the ass: the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia.


That erecting the fence tehnical obstacles will be anything but a walk in the park was more or less clear. But even though the government did take the precaution of notifying the Arbitration Court as well as the government in Zagreb, the latter claimed that parts of the fence crossed into its territory and threatened to remove it of its own accord. Needless to say that Croatian special police immediately appeared in the area already teeming with Slovenian police and army personnel. Which provided for some nice throwbacks to 2007 when then-PM Janez Janša sent special police units on the bank of the Mura where Croatia was up to, ironically, technical work on levees and railroads.

Only this time around it was Slovenian authorities who were putting up fence technical installations and the Croatians who are going apeshit about it. To their credit, Zagreb thusfar only issued a strong protest to the Slovenian charge d’affaires, but this is the sort of situation where things can go very wrong very quickly.

A few things need to be noted at this stage:

1) For the second time in as many months, the situation on the border between two EU member states has flared up dramatically. Weeks ago, Hungarian security services disarmed a number of Croatian policemen on a train full of refugees supposedly on Hungarian territory. So far these are isolated incidents in an altogether precarious situation. But mistakes do happen and when people are tired and/or scared, they tend to see patterns that don’t exist. They also tend to overreact. Then all hell breaks loose.

2) The pull-back-or-else tactic employed by Croatia is additionally complicated by the fact that it was that same approach that caused Slovenia to relocate its border checkpoint on the Dragonja river a few hundred metres north in 1991, thereby writing the opening chapter of the still-running border dispute.

3) Both governments, especially the one in Ljubljana should remember there are idiots aplenty on both sides of the border. Sometimes they’re even elected. And that they will inevitably try to foment trouble to advance their own agenda.

4) Speaking of fomenting trouble, it should now be clear (once again) that politics is not linear and that introducing a new variable changes the entire environment and has unpredictable consequences.

5) Which is exactly what Cerar’s opponents, both within the coalition and without, are counting on. Apart from expecting the new influx of refugees (which has yet to materialise) everyone is on the lookout for a scuffle between the two neighbouring countries. And to top it off (and as predicted) the hardcore proponents of the fence are claiming it is too little too late and that Cerar should resign immediately while the fervent among those opposing the fence are already calling Cerar a Fascist anyhow. Talk about losing friends and alienating people.

6) The Pandora’s box is now open and instead of managing one particularly demanding crisis, Cerar now has at least two more on his hands: a crisis in relations with Croatia (not that we were all that chummy to begin with) as well as a political crisis which will explode right in his face the very moment this thing with refugees will start showing signs of abating.



November 12th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Open Mouth Insert Fence

Earlier today Prime Minister Miro Cerar announced Slovenia will “undertake additional technical measures” on its border with Croatia. Yesterday, the government voted to “step up measures to control migrant influx including necessary measures on the Schengen border” which the media widely translated as intention to put up a fence on the Slovenian-Croatian border which doubles as the Southern Schengen border. Combined with last week’s reports that elements of a fence were already in the country, that the government has already selected a contractor to erect it and that lately government officials avoided questions on the issue saying it has been labeled confidential (probably in the interest of the national security and all that jazz) it does seem that PM Cerar is up for some open-mouth-insert-foot time.


Now, the whole fence issue has been on the table even since Hungarian leader Orban started putting up his own fence on his borders with Serbia and Croatia. At that time Cerar and his government rejected the notion of a fence as a viable tool in tackling the humanitarian catastrophe that is the refugee crisis. In doing that, Cerar earned praise from many quarters (pengovsky included), not in the least because after the initial stumbles the government branches most equipped for disaster relief have taken over control of the situation.

Ever since, however, there was slow-but-constant backtracking on the soft-handed approach as the influx of refugees stretched the country’s resources which – at least in part – was exabberated by neighbouring Croatia transporting those poor sods near the border in no particular order or schedule and then letting them loose to make their way across the border as best as they could – even across treacherous terrain or fast-flowing rivers.

But for the most part, the backtracking was generated by the attempt of the politically inexperienced top brass to respond to challenges from the opposition, the neighbouring countries and the EU, all at the same time. The inevitable result, however, was the self-induced sense of panic because those three challenges were conflicting each other. The opposition wanted to declare martial law (or something to that effect), the neighbouring countries wanted Slovenia to either take all the refugees dumped on her (Croatia) or put up a fence of their own (Hungary) of something in between (Austria) while the EU demanded the country behave like a member state should and take over the refugees in an orderly and effective manner.

Trying to accommodate all three obviously created a cacophony of messages, making the government appear as if it is losing the grip on the situation. And once *that* message got through, suddenly the idea of policing powers for the army didn’t seem all that bad. And once that line was crossed, the fence seemed like an issue not necessary to sit on anymore. And here we are. The only problem being that they got it all wrong.

Yesterday in Brussels, interior minister Györkös-Žnidar said that the decision was “political”. Well, politically, this is a disaster of magnificent proportions. Not only has the nominally centre-to-centre-left government alienated a large part of its (potential) base, it has failed to warm up to the right-wing, too. Despite the fact that it was clamouring for just such a fence. Because the challenges by the right-wing parties were never about the refugees. The SDS and the NSi don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about that or – to be more precise – they care just as much and in such a direction as Mutti Angela says they should. Thus, if PM Cerar is trying to show to the right-wing parties and their voters that he can manage the situation via erecting a fence, he’s in for a surprise. Because no sooner than he can say “migrant influx” someone from right-wing top echelon will be on the telly saying this was too little too late, asking when exactly does he intend to activate the army with its newfound powers, too.

Speaking of the army, the amendment to the Defence Act empowering the army with authority over civilians under special circumstances (for that is what it essentially is) is on hold pending a referendum challenge, with the plaintiffs now petitioning the constitutional court to allow the referendum since the parliament voted to prevent it, citing national security issues. Now, pengovsky has no doubts that the court will disallow a referendum on army powers just as it allowed one on same-sex marriage (more on both issues soonish).

But as it were, PM Cerar and the government have just declared the Balkan Mini Summit (called a few weeks ago by Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel) null and void and are now involuntarily sliding into the same bracket as Hungary, with a strikingly similar explanation. The government seems to be sensing this and is bending over backwards to explain to everyone who is willing to listen that these are “temporary technical measures” and not really a fence. And yet they seem to be the only ones buying that particular spin.

Needless to say that the pandering to both sides continues. During the press conference detailing those “temporary technical measures” PM Cerar at the same time said that while the fence will be put up it will not impede the ability to accept and process the refugees. Which begs the question why exactly are the new measures necessary. And, only minutes later, the PM explained at length that the sole purpose of the “technical measures” is to prevent dispersal of refugees, only to blurt out a while later that dispersal is in fact an unlikely scenario. So, which is it?

That there will be no simple and clean solution to the refugee crisis was clear from its onset. But it is becoming increasingly hard to watch this government talking itself into one political trap after another. As things stand now, the only ones profiting from his flip-flopping on how to tackle the crisis are his political adversaries. And he has just given them yet another stick to beat him with it.


November 10th, 2015, posted by pengovsky