Never Underestimate The Power Of Stupid People In Large Groups

Shit is brewing this side of the Alps. Weeks ago pengovsky wrote about a group of neo-Nazi wannabes who wanted to call a referendum on Croatian NATO entry, citing Croatian occupation of sacred Slovene soil. The bid failed spectacularely, but during a particularly daft exchange with Blaž Babič, one of the proponents of the referendum, it emerged that hooded and skin-headed youth were members of Hervardi, a supposedly patriotic organisation with a clear superiority agenda.

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Skinhead kids attacking a cameraman at the Faculty of Philosophy. (Source: 24ur.com)

Days ago, however, students of Faculty of Philosophy held a round table discussion on rise of hate-speech, nationalism and neo-fascism in Slovenia. Present among the public was also a group of skin-headed kids whose aim obviously was to stir up shit. They claimed that they’re not neo-Nazis but rather a group of patriotic national socialists (imagine!). However, they got really nervous when cameras were turned on and swiftly vacated the premises, but not before attacking the cameraman.

This, however, appears only to have been a prelude to a real outburst of nationalistic, religious and racial hatred which is scheduled for 27 April. Exactly two weeks from now a rally against building a mosque in Ljubljana will apparently be held in downtown Ljubljana. Choice of date is not coincidental. 27 April marks the start of uprising against Nazi occupation of Slovenia during World War II. Hervardi group, whose president is doing time for attempted murder, called the rally on that particular date to point out the “true occupators” and to revive the “true meaning of 27 April”.

Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth. 27 April tells a story about how a group of few good men knew what is right and what is wrong and fought for their ideals of a free nation with a better future against all odds. What Hervardi want to say today is that people of Islamic faith should not be allowed to worship their god, because they are occupators of Slovenia and are somehow inferior. Which basically constitutes a neo-Nazi agenda.

Personally, I expect the protest to fizzle out into a show of impotent rage, making the protesters an object of mockery. After all, as you can see from the linked video above, Slovenian neo-Nazis are a bunch of pussies, worried that their mothers will find out what they’re up to. They are also cowards for trying to hide their dirty deeds under a cloak of a well respected anniversary and even falsely claiming that The President supports them. And while their cowardice will expose them for spineless twats that they are, they will also have to worry about criminal charges which were filed by Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković for inflammatory speech used on the leaflets announcing the rally. Oh, an there is a counter-rally organised as well, aimed at preventing abuse of the anniversary and (by extention) in support of the mosque.

Pengovsky will always remember the story about how Slovenian Blood&Honour organisation applied for membership in Neo-Nazi International but got turned down on the grounds that Slavs are a lower race. But the real problem is not that Slovenian “patriotic” groups are a bunch of stupid pansies who mistook politics for a psychoanalyst’s couch. The problem is that they are slowly but surely becoming more and more visible with their rhetoric steadily becoming an integral part of mainstream politics.

One must never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

Things To Chew On A Saturday Morning (Vol. 6)

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PM Borut Pahor and Zdenko Pavček, president of the GZS (source: The Firm™)

When PM Borut Pahor met with members of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce (GZS), he found himself on the receiving end of scorching criticism for doing not nearly enough in tackling the crisis. At some point president of the Chamber Zdenko Pavček came to his rescue and said that the government did some good. Like giving an unlimited guarantee on all savings.

The problem is that it was Janez Janša’s government which passed the measure in an Europe-wide coordinated move last fall.

Ljubljana To Get “Tito Street”

I was about to write some more on Igor Bavčar and his fall from grace, but it will have to wait a couple of days, as good old World War II themes are again on the agenda. This time it’s about whether a street in Ljubljana should be named after Josip Broz Tito.

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Josip Broz – Tito

In socialist Yugoslavia every republic and region had a town or a city named after Tito. There were Titograd (Montenegro), Titovo Velenje (Slovenia), Titova Korenica (Croatia), Titov Drvar (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Titovo Užice (Serbia), Titov Veles (Macedonia), Titova Mitrovica (Kosovo) and Titov Vrbas (Vojvodina). On top of that there were countless streets, roads, squares, circles, boulevards and avenues, but – curiously enough – no airports However, with ascent of democracy most of these topographical items (my use of euphemisms impresses even myself) were renamed in favour of other heroes or geographical features. Thus, in Ljubljana Titova cesta (Tito Street) was split in two and renamed Slovenska cesta and Dunajska cesta – Slovenian Street and Vienna Street respectively. But some survived. While Velenje dropped its adjective. it did retain its very own Tito Street. As did Koper and some other Slovene towns and cities.

However, in the wake of discovery of Huda Jama massacre, Janez Janša’s SDS (echoed by the entire political right wing) called for removal of any and all topographical references to Tito, as well as removal of his statues – although there is only one left on public display (you guessed it: in Velenje).

The call received a cool-to-frigid response, despite the fact that SDS ventured to portray Josip Broz – TIto as a mass murderer and a dictator. Or maybe that was the very reason for a muted response. Because while Tito was definitely responsible for post-war massacres (he was at the top of the military and political command structure) and he definitely was an authoritarian (oscillating between a harsh dictator and a benevolent non-elected leader, depending on circumstances), he also won the war, was instrumental in keeping at least part of Primorska in Slovenia and – last but not least – decentralised Yugoslavia to the point of making republics de-facto independent. Not to mention the usual socialist features of high employment and good social and health care.

In short, in Slovenia Tito is remembered for things both excellent and terrible.

However, in response to SDS’ call for complete removal of reminders of Tito from public spaces, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković started stirring the pot as he proposed that a new street, next to the future Stožice football stadium is to bear the name of Josip Broz Tito. Naturally, the right wing went apeshit, with Mlada Slovenija (youth organisation of NSi, Janša’s former coalition partner) going as far as saying that “Ljubljana cannot have a street named after Tito” and started collecting signatures against it all over Slovenia (mostly via internet).

Personally, I think the youth at NSi should go stick their heads in the bucket, because I will not have people from other parts of Slovenia telling me how streets in my city will be named. On the other hand, mayor Janković is needlessly stirring up shit, because there really is no need (neither political nor moral) to have a street named after Tito again – if another street had to be stripped of his name in the first place. As for SDS – their call is nothing short of rewriting history, a past time extremely popular with that particular party. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. However – I have a distinct felling that there is a hidden agenda. Namely. if a street is stripped of it’s name, it will have to be renamed. No points for guessing after whom…

Easy Come, Easy Go

As the world economy is going down the shitter, Slovenian financial sector is along for the ride. Companies which as much as six months ago rocked the place and were seen as major players in everything from food industry to media are falling apart faster than you can say “Bohemian Rhapsody“. Naturally, we’re talking about Igor Bavčar and his Istrabenz and (at the moment to a lesser extent) Boško Šrot and his Laško brewery. Both Istrabenz and Laško have been targets of MBO’s, executed by Bavčar and Šrot respectively. With a little help from their former friend and his government they managed to get a carte blanche for buying out companies they ran. But as they lost favour with former PM Janez Janša they were styled as tycoon, with Boško Šrot being the main target of Janša’s revenge, for snatching Delo newspaper – a trophy much coveted by Janša – from under his nose. Igor Bavčar, on the other hand escaped rather unharmed as he and Janša were old war-buddies.

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Igor Bavčar. Not Happy. (source)

But in the end it was Istrabenz which crumbled first, declaring insolvency in the middle of last week. The company has most of its assets invested in financial markets and suffered terribly from markets going south. Which would have been bad enough had things been orderly. But Igor Bavčar ran up an enormous debt, money which he used to expand and invest (unwisely, as it turned out) but also to finance his MBO – and in doing so he ran up a debt of about € 900 million (yes, nine hundred million euros), amounting to about 85% of the value of the company. Which is fucking bad and a clear case of casino economy.

Bavčar got in the game far too late stayed in for far too long. In the end his fortunes turned against him and his assets all but evaportated. At which point the banks got involved and wanted their money back. But there was a catch. For € 900 million of borrowed money Bavčar put up only € 200 million worth of assets, meaning that the banks gave the remaining 700 million just like that, hoping – just like Bavčar did – that capital returns will be big enough and will last long enough that extending a credit line exceeding the first US bailout package will not seem like a spectacular stupidity.

Well, it does.

As Istrabenz’s stock went into a freefall, crashing at a mere eight percent of its peak value, bankers finally got off their asses and started making nervous noises about their money. The fact that the company’s largest creditor, the Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB) is partly owned by the state only complicates matters further. And then there are Istrabenz stockholders, who own a whole lot of worthless stock and must include it in their balance sheets. Among other things this has contributed heavily to Petrol, a partly-state owned oil-and-energy company to post a loss for the first time in the history of independent Slovenia.

Some are tempted to say that Istrabenz is too big to fail. Indeed, if it goes down the banks will lose the better part of those 700 million and it is quite possible that the government would have to use taxpayers’ money to plug the hole, a scenario Slovenia has once seen already – when the government of Janez Drnovšek opted to rid NLB and it’s Maribor rival NKBM of bad debts using taxpayers’ money and keep them rather than sell them dirt-cheap under an IMF dictate to some multinational corporation. On the other hand, some say that banks wouldn’t suffer as much and that Istrabenz should declare a bankruptcy, get rid of toxic assets and start afresh.

And now the banks on one side and the owners on the other side are quarreling about how to salvage the situation, whereas they’re mostly trying to salvage their face. Banks claim that they are the “economic owners” of Istrabenz, while true owners obviously dispute that and manoeuvre to have their people control the Supervisory board. Not that they did a brilliant job of supervising thus far.

And finally, there’s Igor Bavčar, CEO of Istrabenz whose share in the company he bought out is more or less worthless, but is reluctant to leave the post, just as a gambler doesn’t want to leave the table as long as there’s a chance of winning the big one.

But while Igor Bavčar is at the moment the most prominent of fallen financial angels, he is by no means the only one. Boško Šrot of Laško Brewery is apparently facing a similar fate, as is the investment industry as a whole. Apparently various investment firms, big and small, ran up as much as € 2.5 billion in debts, mostly putting up their investments as collaterals. And since the stock-market went down the drain, there is a real danger of these debts becoming highly toxic.

2.5 billion is a lot of money in Slovenian terms.