Well, look what the cat dragged in… The reason pengovsky was mum these past few weeks is, well, political. As some of you know, I’ve been involved with President Danilo Türk’s re-election campaign. Specifically, I co-handled the (social) web part of the campaign. Which is why I put the blog and my column in Nedelo newspaper on hold and severely limited my presence on Twitter. Even The Firm™ was put on back-burner. The reasoning behind this was two-fold. First and foremost, there simply was not enough time for everything.
Second, I wanted to exclude, as much as possible, any possible conflict of interest. The Firm™ does not usually report on national issues so that wasn’t a problem. But for my own sake as well as that of the president’s, I didn’t want this blog to become an echo chamber for the campaign. Hence no posts, no public opinion polls, no Friday Foxies, no Monday Morning Meat, no nothing. Also, it would be unfair to write a column for a national newspaper while actively working in favour of one candidate, despite the usual “does not represent the views of the newspaper” disclaimer. Call me a pussy, but that’s the way it was. Not that it mattered. As most of you know, last Sunday Danilo Türk lost the elections to former PM and former leader of Social Democrats Borut Pahor in what for all intents and purposes was a landslide. 67% to 33% (albeit with low, 42% turnout) is as serious an ass whooping as it gets. The reasons for that are many, but I’ll leave public analysis of the defeat to others. Although, for the record, most analyses published until now are way off mark. And so, the next president of the Republic of Slovenia will be Borut Pahor.
President elect Borut Pahor and a cloud of tear-gas in front of the parliament
However. During the final crescendo of the campaign, a wave of protests hit Slovenia which radically altered the political environment in this country. Or, rather, showed the political environment has long since changed but nobody got the memo. Starting in Maribor, seemingly over a dodgy private-public partnership on speed-traps in which the private partner got as much as 92% of all fines collected, it quickly turned into a general revolt against city mayor Franc Kangler who is being investigated on numerous corruption charges and – adding insult to injury – got himself elected into the National Council (the would-be second chamber of the parliament) after some very obvious horse-trading. Maribor exploded, a peaceful protest turned ugly, riot police were deployed and within days what was thought to be a local issue of public discontent turned into an all-encompassing wave of protests all over the country against the political class in general. There’s a fairly decent if somewhat simplistic report by The Beeb on the issue.
Pengovsky imagines it can be somewhat baffling from an outsider’s perspective to see lovely-but-predictable Slovenia turn into omnishambles in a matter of days. Two things, deeply interwoven, are at play. First: the general dissatisfaction with all things political. Turnout on Sunday was criminally low. As little as 42 percent of eligible voters bothered to show up for the vote where they directly elect the highest political authority in the country, a person who despite the limited powers of the office has enough clout to keep things running while others can’t. A popular tribune, someone to turn to when all else fails. The national father figure (or mother figure, while we’re at it). Well, nearly sixty percent of the voters said two days ago they simply don’t give a fuck. As a result, Borut Pahor was elected president with as little as 28 percent of total votes available. And that includes the votes of the political right which overwhelmingly voted for Pahor (reinforcing the image of him being in cahoots with PM Janez Janša – but more on that in the coming days). On the other hand, Danilo Türk got as little as 14 percent of total votes available.
This of course shows, beyond a shadow of the doubt, that what many people claimed for some time now is in fact true. Politics as we know it in Slovenia is completely and utterly de-legitimised. It is no longer of the people and for the people, let alone by the people. A large majority of the people in this country simply don’t care a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about the purest of political processes any more. On the other hand, they do care about the country they live in and the social, economic an other injustices which not only did not go away despite many a promise to the contrary, they were ever more present and became painfully obvious as the crisis dealt a blow after blow to the people of this country.
At the moment protests in Slovenia are directed against many different targets. Mayor Kangler, Mayor Janković, prime minister Janša, interior minister Gorenak, the failed industrial and construction tycoons, the banksters, even the president-elect Pahor already found his way to the “Gotof je” (He’s Done With) posters. But there is a common message to these protests. The people realised they’ve been robbed of their own country. And they’ve come to take it back.
The coalition with the cops
Remember. Despite the fact the shit hit the fan just prior to the second round of elections, this thing is not political. Not in a typical sense, anyway. It is anti-political in the sense that it shuns established politics, but is apolitical in the sense that it will not conform to any given party agenda. In fact, what we are seeing here may be the re-birth of civil society and active citizenship. While the political establishment went to great lengths in making sure things remain predictable, it apparently turned a blind eye to this vast area of political expression whose only problem was that it did not conform to established patterns and therefore did not exist in the eyes of the political establishment. Again, we’re talking about more than a half of eligible votes. This is not peanuts.
Additionally, the protest movement (which appears to be totally decentralised and operating via Facebook) has made it obvious that demonstrations must be peaceful. Leaflets and posts are being circulated on how to react in case someone starts stirring up trouble. Also – and this is very important – the movement did not declare the police as the enemy. In fact, coppers made it known of their own accord that they in fact sympathise with demonstrations, but since it is their job to keep the public order, this is what they are doing. The police, too, are spreading information on how to react if violence erupts and are trying to make the people understand that if things go south, there are limits to what the cops can do on the sport, especially in terms of discriminating good guys from bad guys.
And things do go south. Not only in Maribor, but in Ljubljana as well. Friday last was particular shambolic. A crowd of nearly 10.000 people gathered in front of the parliament for a peaceful protest amid a very tense atmosphere, but a group of right-wing extremists and/or neo-nazis started stirring up trouble, just in time for the evening news (which suggest at least basic level of coordination). Riot police intervened and picked some of them up, only to trigger an (expected) attack by about a hundred or so hooligans who needed just the flimsiest of excuses to start throwing everything they could get their hands on at the cops. Tear gas was used a couple of times (it tastes like aluminium foil). There were plenty of injuries, but luckily nothing overly serious. The scenario was repeated yesterday in Maribor and apparently today in Jesenice (albeit on a smaller scale). But at least for now, the people see the police as their ally. Which is why demonstrators are giving cops carnations as a sign peace. A coalition was struck between demonstrators and the police and it is making the powers that be highly nervous.
80’s are back with a vengeance
The current government is losing it. Its rhetoric is ever more similar to that of Yugoslav authorities during late 80’s, when Janez Janša was arrested on charges of treason by the federal army, sparking protests which eventually led to Slovenian statehood. Back then, the army claimed that only a handful of people are behind the protests and are manipulating the masses. About a week ago interior minister Vinko Gorenak claimed more or less the same about a week ago. Back then, the army said it was the Slovene media which fuelled the protests by reporting on them. Today, a member of the supervisory board of state television, a man close to the ruling SDS, demanded that journalists reduce their reporting on protests.
Additionally, pegovsky knows of at least one case of a journalist being removed from this story because the powers that be were not happy with how this person reported. The ruling coalition almost rammed through a committee debate on the role of the media in the protest. And just as the people in power said back then they’re willing to listen to the demand if “they’re put through the proper channels”, representatives of the right-wing politics are saying that protesters could be listened to, if there were anyone in particular to talk to (adding that protesters really should care more about this country) Yes, 80’s are back. Only this time with a vengeance.
And finally, as the ultimate proof that the government doesn’t have a fucking clue about what’s really going on, just prior to election night – and no doubt in response to President Türk’s open support for the peaceful protests – prime minister Janša shot a 15-minute “address to the nation” where he blames everything and everyone but himself for the current situation. And I mean everything. From the second world war on.
As for president-elect Pahor? Well, he sold his soul to the devil, so to speak. Exit polls showed that his average voter was a middle-aged male supported of SDS. His people try to spin it as “bridging the political divide”. But what they don’t get is that the political spectrum as a whole slid very much to the right and that a) Borut Pahor did not so much bridge the gap as much as simply land with the right-wing, and b) a powerful disconnect has taken place, where more than 70% percent of the people did not vote for this president (one way or another).
But let’s leave this and more for another day.