PM Pahor cleaning shoes to Slovenian football squad after qualifying for 2010 World Cup (source)
Dear Prime Minister!
A year ago, almost to the day to the day, your government was sworn in. Back then I wrote you a letter which never saw the inside of your inbox, although some said that it should. Be that as it may, I hope you’ll look upon this letter with benevolence.
It will probably come as no surprise to you if I tell you that in your first year in office you didn’t exactly leave an overwhelmingly positive impression. You see, the thing is that you, your party and your coalition were elected primarily for one reason: you promised to do a better job than the other guy. Sure, you can say that the crisis hit stronger, harder and deeper than anyone expected (certainly your predecessor was oblivious to the impeding doom). But, to be honest, this doesn’t exactly cut it. You knew shit was brewing, you campaigned on shit brewing and yet when it spilled over, your government seemed to have been caught by surprise.
Seemed being the operative word here. I’m sure you will agree that keeping up appearances was and still is important to your style of premiership. However, as things took the above mentioned turn for the worse, a little more substance would come in handy. Well, fuck it. A lot more substance would come in handy. There, I said it!
You made a big show of trying to avoid the “to-victor-go-the-spoils” mentality and – achieved nothing. In fact, it backfired. You threw away incredible amounts of your newly minted political capital upon taking office by keeping Dimitrij Rupel on board. Your explanation at the time was flimsy at best, while you ditching him only months later, as well as your recent foreign policy exploits only reiterate what most of us knew all along: that Rupel is bad news all around and that he shouldn’t be touched with a ten-foot-pole. And yet you wanted to play Jesus, trying to heal political lepers, not only with Dimitrij, but also with Anže Logar, Janša’s head of Government Communication Office, offering him a job in your office upon hearing that he was being dismissed from his position.
You even made overtures to Janša’s SDS to form some sort of partnership for development, for a moment throwing a shadow of a doubt on just who exactly won the elections. It actually took Janez Janša himself to show you the fault line between coalition and opposition, with his 2007 Annual Account antics. And as if that wasn’t enough, despite you bending over backwards to prevent sacking of hundreds of people who ascended their various positions en masse via political intervention under previous government, Janša’s SDS still berated you over “politically motivated sackings”, creating the infamous sacking-counter on their website.
And as if that wasn’t enough, you forgot to keep your own flock in check. While you tried in vain to re-create, again, your own particular piece of Churchilliana (in victory – magnanimity), your people started dividing the spoils, provoking bitter inter-coalition turf wars including (but not limited to) Katarina Kresal of LDS and Gregor Golobič of Zares, resulting in the Veselinovič Standoff and, ultimately, the Ultra Affair.
It’s always easy to be smart with hindsight, but given your position and supposed political prowess you should have seen it coming a mile away. That you did not, or – even worse – that you did, but have let it happen anyway, reflects badly on your record, regardless of your subsequent attempts to contain the damage.
And without trying to put too fine a point on it, it should not go unnoticed that your actions in your own party did nothing to discourage such mentality. You pursued principle on one issue, while acting unscrupulously pragmatic in another. Specifically, you all but forced your long time political ally and unofficial party ideologue Igor Lukšič to step down as party vice-chairman, on the grounds that it is unhygienic for education minister to hold a senior party position. To be exact, you made it known that you don’t want him as your VP and when he ran anyway, you didn’t lift a finger to help him. Even more, you did not object to the fact that Patrick Vlačič, minister of transport ran for and got elected to the same position of vice-chairman.
So, minister of education is a no go, while minister of transport – no problem. What’s up with that? Trying to avoid being accused of charging education ideologically? Has it not dawned on you that you would have been accused of that regardless of what you did? You could have installed a creationist priest as minister of education and still face charges that you’re indoctrinating kids with socialist ideas
On the whole it seems that you spent most of your first year in office being haunted by ghosts. Trying to avoid being branded as a left wing anti-business twat, you were branded as an inept left wing anti-business twat with no feeling for social needs whatsoever.
When giving an interview to state television days ago, you (again) provided us with some memorable quotes, most notable of them being the one about you not having a magic wand, by a stroke of which you could make all the economic woes disappear. Fair enough. You indeed can not. But, you see, when you presented us with your team of cabinet ministers, you deliberately gave the impression of that being the best team there was at the time (with the possible exception of Karel Erjavec, but we’ll deal with that another time). And yet Zlata Ploštajner, your minister for regional development resigned after less than a year in office and was replaced by Henrik Gjerkeš, with whom you (by your own admission) spent more time debating the pronunciation of his surname than you did debating his priorities. It could be that there was little to be said, but this was another example of your utterances which did not leave a good impression.
Ditto for your lacklustre support for your finance minister Franci Križanič who admittedly seems to have a hard time coping with the responsibilities of his position, but is – in my opinion at least – far from an incompetent tit the opposition and most media try to portray him. His idea of instituting additional tax levels for highest earners was shot down mostly by coalition parties immediately after it went public, although it was (according to Križanič) supported by all coalition members. And yet, instead of backing him up you said he “works better than talks”. Hello? What kind of a support is that? May I suggest that in the future you use phrases such as “fully and unconditionally support”, “has my complete confidence” and “is performing extremely well under adverse conditions” when trying to support a member of your cabinet? Or, if you want him out of there, try stuff like “will have to decide where his allegiances lie”, “has made an error in judgement” or even “did not seek approval of the entire government”. Any of the above are bound to create a vacancy in the financial ministry
Speaking of vacancies, the number of Slovenia’s unemployed is moving dangerously close to the 100k mark. We both know that this is a bad omen, especially with the nearly 10% drop in GDP year-on-year. Whole companies are going bust and it is fair to say that your government is picking up the tab for your predecessors who kept giving away money for nothing, just to keep people employed and out of unemployment statistic records. It looks as if the moment has come when “the buck stopped” and you are here, faced with a lot of angry people, most of whom are cursing the day of your election victory. But the thing is, you made it look as if you do have the magic wand. You promised that you are prepared to tackle the crisis and you assured us that your people know how to go about their business.
While all of the above may be the case (except, as noted, the magic wand), the end result is sub-standard. And in a case where highly professional and motivated individuals fail to deliver results, it is obvious that their leader (you) has done a poor job in keeping focus and showing them the way.
This, my dear prime minister, is the core of your problems, methinks. You take great interest and spend a lot of energy on trivial matters, while the really big issues and hot potatoes you leave to others to handle. This must change. You must take charge.
Just as you took charge in solving the border dispute with Croatia. Regardless of how it was reached, the Pahor-Kosor agreement is probably the single greatest achievement of your government and of you as its head. And do not think for a moment that I do not recognise the gravity of the situation. What you have done so far verges on the impossible and I suspect that this is part of the reason for wild-eyed stories about foreign pressure which supposedly cajoled you and your opposite number in Croatia to reach an agreement. For some it is simply inconceivable that you and Croatian PM Jadranka Kosor made it almost as far as both late Prime Ministers, Janez Drnovšek and Ivica Račan. And you can be sure that disbelief will turn into bewilderment if the two of you indeed reach a solution by yourselves in the next few days or weeks, as your justice minister Aleš Zalar hinted on Twitter.
A lot is riding on this agreement and if it fails, you would probably do well to resign immediately. Having a politically crippled PM is not something this country can afford at the time.
While we’re on the subject, I’m most pleased about you restoring normal ties with Russia, specifically with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who undoubtedly remembers the snub given to him by your predecessor. Good relations with Russia are of strategic importance for this country, which is something Janez Janša will never understand.
Since I’ve already used the dreaded “R” word, I feel I should warn you about two items which might work against you in the coming weeks and moths and which could, in all honesty, make the prospect of your early political demise slightly more real. First, there’s the oft-announced by yet-again-scuttled institution of a conflict of interest between a mayor and an MP. As we both know a lot of mayors who also serve as MPs dreaded this provision, which would make them choose between their two functions. Your minister Irma Pavlinič Krebs even submitted a bill to that effect, but once again most mayors/MPs voted en bloc together with the opposition, defeating the bill. Luckily, under Slovenian political system they don’t drive you out of office for losing one vote, but if you fail to separate functions of a mayor and that of an MP, you can kiss goodbye (among other things) to the resurrected project of regionalisation in Slovenia, possibly even to your premiership. Mayors will not simply give away the vast powers they’ve accumulated over the years and fighting the same people on municipal as well as state level can be tiresome and can lead to a political disaster.
And finally, the new draft law on RTV Slovenia. I have yet to read it carefully and write on it, but from what I know and have read about it, the draft does not sound like a good idea. You promised a Slovene version of BBC, but what minister Majda Širca is suggesting is a far cry from it.
Unlike last year, there is little advice on how to go about your business. To be completely honest, I’d hate to be in your position these days. But fact of the matter is that you spent most of the last year making life difficult for yourself, rather than trying to invest your political capital into one or more projects and reap rewards in the election year.
Instead you – as noted above – spent your breath on trivial matters, such as your now infamous statement that you will clean out footballers’ playing shoes if they qualify to World Cup 2010 in South Africa. They qualified, your own PR service taped the cleaning process and suddenly this became the issue of the day. I agree that football itself is far from trivial, but your promise was. And yet you made it, stuck by it and got good copy for it, not in the least on the pages of the Los Angeles Times. A lot of people saw this as keeping your promise, I see it primarily as too quick a statement which came back to haunt you just because you spoke to soon.
So, my advice (insofar as I can give any) would be to quote Elvis and say: a little less conversation, a little more action please. Oh, and numbers. Gotta be good with numbers. Work on that, please…