Dear Prime Minister!
It’s me again. I hope you don’t mind the quip in the title. It seems that these days almost everyone feels comfortable addressing you on first name basis. Not just your (former) brethren in arms but just about anyone who litters the Slovenian corner of the internets with their more or less half-witted comments. Anyways, it’s that time of the year again and I’m not talking about the December festiveness, if you catch my meaning 😉 No matter how you look at it, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? You’ve seen your ratings plummet, the crisis took a turn for the worse and skeletons have been falling out of closets faster than you could say “welfare state”. But, unlikely as it may seem, your second year in office earned you much higher marks in my book.
You see, in your first twelve months in office you’ve been more or less all fluff. No need to go into details (besides, you can read them up on this blog), but let’s just say that your chronic searching for common ground was beyond counter-productive. Then, all of the sudden, you seemed to have gotten your bearings, released a few carefully placed “gaffes” and transformed – it seemed as if overnight – into this decisive, no-bullshitting, finger-pointing asshole who will walk over bodies to get what he wants.
First and foremost, I congratulate you on securing, signing and winning ratification of the Arbitration Agreement between Slovenia and Croatia. I for one wholly agree with your assessment that consequences of this agreement go beyond mere here-and-now. To think that things regularly escalated almost to an armed border incident while times were good for both countries, it doesn’t bear contemplating what would happen if the border dispute were to become a convenient red herring for either country in times of economic woes and rising nationalism. Yes, I think that had the issue remained unresolved, we could have even witnessed an armed conflict. Things were that bad and with that in mind I feel that for this alone you deserve utmost praise.
Having said that I’d like to impress upon you is that this is the moment to construct your own piece of Churchilliana. Remember him? The old conservative fart with a cigar in one hand and a glass of brandy in another (brandy, not whiskey as you mistakenly claimed in your inauguration speech) whom we both appreciate? If memory serves, one of his many quotes includes “In victory – magnanimous”. This is how you should go about the arbitration agreement. Yes, you struck it, stuck to it and saw it through. But you were not entirely alone in that enterprise. The government and the coalition were behind you. The majority in the parliament was behind you. A lot of people who needn’t stick their necks out were behind you as well. Yes, if you had failed the blame would fall entirely on your shoulders. And, yes, you can claim all the success as yours. But that would be a bit short sighted, methinks. Not only because the story is not quite over yet, but also because a lot of people would feel better about it if you spread some love. Many a voter supported the deal simply because they were fed up with the whole storm in a teacup. This doesn’t mean that they’re in your bag for good. But they might support you again if you come off as magnanimous enough.
Arbitration Agreement aside you seem to have generated some clout with your Balkans initiative which is – as I understand – now seen as a convenient fall-back for NATO and EU ever since the Butmir process more or less failed as did the Spanish initiative during their EU presidency. You were also very active in the Arab world and the much lacked economic aspect of foreign policy now finally seems to be there. Hopefully it is not too little too late. At the very least I’m sure Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković is grateful for your Lybian endeavours, since apparently moneymen from Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya will invest 30 million euros into Stožice Complex.
Foreign policy is your strong suit. Case in point being the cable by US Embassy in Ljubljana which was released by WikiLeaks and picked up by Spanish El Pais daily which detailes how you floated the idea of Slovenia accepting one Gitmo detainee and put it in the wider context of Slovene-US relations. While US charge d’Affairs apparently took the bait, the idea did not bear fruit. It does, nevertheless prove that you know how to play the game, although people whose opinion I value tell me that your performance lacked diplomatic style in this particular episode. However…
If were are to broaden the famous dictum by von Clausewitz and accept that foreign policy is only a continuation of domestic policy using different means, then, my dear Prime Minister, I fear you are on the brink of your ego issuing checks your body can’t cash.
You see, most if not all of your diplomatic exploits will not be worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys if you fail in your domestic policies which – as we both know – constitute a rather tall order unto themselves, doubly so in times of economic and social crisis.
While it is generally understood that (in Slovenia, at least) left-wing coalitions are fraught with bickering, divisive rhetoric, principles which sometime border on hard-headedness and a plethora of interests with almost every player, no matter how unimportant, convinced that he/she would do a far better job in your place, you must take caution as to not let this state of “organised chaos” dissolve into senseless waste of time. This can happen either by you and your government being spread thin over too many fronts or by you not keeping your coalition partners and (even more importantly) your own party in check. You seem to be going down both paths with gusto.
Challenges (to use one of your favourite buzzwords) you and your government are facing today are numerous, chief among them the upcoming pension reform where you’re bleeding too much too fast and should bring the issue to a favourable close as soon as possible. The longer it takes you to do it, the less positive outcome there will be.
You are most likely facing a referendum in pension reform in 2011. Ditto for legislation on menial work. The same quite possibly goes for the new Family Code. You’re also up for a referendum on the new law on RadioTelevision Slovenia (RTVSLO). These are battles you must win. It is only with political victories at home that you can claim clout abroad. But to win them, you desperately need to get your own house in order. The fuck-up over your former chief of staff Simona Dimic put quite a dent in your armour. Leader of one of your coalition parties is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria Affair and has burdened this country with an attack boat Slovenia got as compensation for the so called “clearing-debt” owed to us by Russia. True, Karl Erjavec of DeSUS had a hand in this while he was defence minister in Janez Janša’s government, but fact of the matter is that your government is taking heavy flak over it. Not to mention that it is Erjavec who is continuously giving you the short shrift over pension reform.
Not that it stops there. Your other two coalition partners, Zares and LDS are having problems of their own and I don’t mean just fighting for survival in the public opinion polls. Zares and its leader Gregor Golobič is constantly fighting off ever more silly attempts to implicate him and Ultra company in every half-baked investment in this country while LDS is possibly up for a third consecutive interpelation of one of its ministers, this time of Justice Minister Aleš Zalar (not in the least because is using Twitter, which some find irresponsible)
But all of the above is peanuts compared to the slaughterhouse that is to become your own party if you don’t kick some serious ass soon. Case in point being bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Powerplant (TEŠ6), an investment of a whooping 1.2 billion euro with so little oversight that it probably made even tax consultants cringe. While TEŠ6 is more of a “local v. national” rather than inter-coalition feud, fact of the matter is that some very powerful players in your party became very nervous when one of the largest investment in Slovenian history was (finally) starting to be questioned.
Dear Prime Minister!
You yourself often said that your political opponents tend to underestimate you. But you yourself must not underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. Regardless of your (probably intentionally) misleading signals over whether you will seek another term as PM, I think that – barring a disaster – you will do just that. But elections are never won, only lost. And right now you seem poised on losing them not because you’re doing the wrong thing, but because you’re doing too little of the right thing.
Put your own party in order. Roll a few heads. Kick some pensioner butt. Possibly kill TEŠ6. To quote Winston C. again: “If you’re going through hell, keep going“. And stop worrying whether Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković will run for PM in 2012. He won’t.
Oh, and while you’re at it, do make sure Slovenia hosts 2013 European Basket Championship. I know you’re just playing hard-to-get when you’re not (yet) giving it your full support, but really… We could do with a bit of good copy in this day and age.
P.S.: If by any chance you didn’t get the joke in the title, he’re a hint