Second Republic (Again)

(note: the following should have been published last night, but the server was down for maintenance, hence the post is back-dated)

The balance of power in Slovenia has shifted. Well, the balance of power in the fast-shrinking political/media bubble at least. As results of presidential elections came in on Sunday and Danilo Türk conceded defeat, it became clear that president-elect Borut Pahor will play merely a supporting role in the new political reality. Usually, on election night the order of appearance of political players in the national press centre is clear. The defeated candidate (or candidates in case of parliamentary elections) comes first, gives the concession speech and slowly fades into oblivion. Everyone with a vested interest comes next, with the victorious side coming in last. On Sunday however, it was the president-elect who gave his victory speech in the in-between slot, while Prime Minister Janez Janša had the last word. Just so everyone knew who’s the boss.


Almost 25 years ago Kongresni trg was full of people protesting for Janša. Today they protest against him.

And what a speech it was. While lauding the victory of Borut Pahor, he announced – in the wake of the wave of protests which is still sweeping the country – nothing short of changes to the political system of this country, hinting at sweeping changes in the judiciary, self-government, election system, the constitution and so on. Pahor’s speech, on the other hand, was full of fluff.

At any rate, it took Janša less than 48 hours to come up with a slightly more detailed, eleven-point plan on revamping the political system:

-Electing MPs directly
-Provide for possible re-call of an elected MP
-Provide for possible re-call of mayors and city/municipal councilmen, limit mayors to serving two terms maximum
-Disband the National Council
-Institute a trial period for all newly appointed judges
-Keep the permanent mandate for judges after the trial period, but subject all existing judges to re-election by the Judiciary Council which is to be strengthened with judicial experts and supreme judges from other EU member states
-Set up a special court dealing in the worst cases of white-collar crime. Judges in this court to be nominated by the President and appointed by the parliament with a 2/3 majority
-Set up financial police
-Disband all agencies and institutions which cannot be found in other EU member states
-Take away all privileges enjoyed by elected officials after they leave office
-Provide for a simpler procedure to call early elections and form the government.

The political/media bubble was taken by surprise. It needn’t be. The “sweeping reforms of the political system” are nothing more than the same old story Janša has been going on about for fifteen years now, only slightly updated. You don’t believe me? Here’s a version from 2009 and here is the 2011 edition. No wonder Janša was able to come up with the latest version so fast. He merely updated the file on his iPad.

But despite all the waves Janša and his SDS made with the latest incarnation of the “Second Republic”, this is little more than clever diversionary tactics. Pengovsky tweeted as much yesterday evening and Janša’s further statements today only prove this point.

Namely, a day earlier leader of Social Democrats Igor Lukšič, trying to capitalise on Borut Pahor’s presidential victory, went in front of the cameras and said that early elections were needed in order to break the political deadlock this country is facing. But when journos pressed him on the issue, asking why doesn’t he simply move for a no-confidence vote, he said plain and simple that his party can not muster the 46 votes necessary to overthrow the government.

I mean, talk about political amateurism… Lukšič said this country is in a political deadlock. He added that it can only be broken via early elections (the same instrument Borut Pahor bent over backwards to avoid a year and a half ago). And yet at the very next moment he admits that he has a snowball’s chance in hell to bring Janša’s government down. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a government which you can’t really bring down is not particularly unstable, no? In fact, one would be hard pressed to put words “unstable government” and “Janez Janša” in the same sentence. Case in point being the fact that Janša is the only PM in the last sixteen years to have completed a full four-year term.

Janez Drnovšek was ousted as PM only months before his 1996 – 2000 term endend, Andrej Bajuk replaced him for eight months, only to see Drnšovek get re-elected later in the year and then quit two years later to get elected President. Tone Rop took over for the remainder of the term and got his ass whooped by Janša in 2004. Pahor took over in 2008 and saw his coalition crumble in 2011, forcing early elections later in the year, which – after a failed PM bid by Zoran Janković – reinstated Janša at the helm. Lukšič thus shot himself in the knee big time only hours after his man pulled off a political stunt of the decade and got elected president after first having been ousted as PM and later as party chief.

Janša obviously capitalised on Lukšič’s open-mouth-insert-foot moment and offered to hold early elections two months after all eleven points of his newest plan. But to call early elections would mean that the parliament would have to dissolve itself and with this in mind it becomes clear that chances of early elections right now are about two to the power of 276709 to one. It is thus obvious that the latest Janša blueprint is just a semi-clever ploy.

Truth be told, both Igor Lukšič of SD and Zoran Janković of PS rejected Janša’s blueprint, but since this was expected, SDS tried to sell this particular load of fecal matter as its response to the demands of the protesters in the street. There’s one caveat, though. While it is true that a few of Janša’s proposals are broadly going the same directions as the protesters’ demands, the PM is bending over backwards trying to side-step the fundamental demand – that he resign from office. And most of the political elite with him. The people don’t want changes which would lead to Janša’s even greater grip on power. They want heads rolling.

And in all honesty, Janša too doesn’t need this blueprint. He and his government are working hard to dismantle remodel in their own image education, health and judicial systems. With the media under pressure yet again, he can achieve his “second republic” just fine even without it. He already controls the parliament. He controls the economy. And as of last Sunday, he also controls the president of the republic. Not sure if Borut Pahor knows this, but that’s the way it is. The Second Republic is already here, its just that we’ve been too busy to notice. And Janša wants to keep it that way.

The only unknown in this scenario are protests. The political class, even down to “middle managers” is shit-scared and they honestly don’t know how things will turn out. I don’t think anyone does. Individuals who started the riots are apparently in police custody and newspapers report they were well organised, paid to stir up trouble and that the trail of money leads to a particular political party (no points for guessing which one). And among those arrested yesterday in Maribor are apparently four members of the Slovenian army.

The plot thus thickens. Mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler announced he will be resigning as mayor tomorrow, reportedly after having a pow-wov with Janša. Well, too little, too late. Demands of the protesters have long evolved beyond the issue mayor Kangler. Had he resigned ten days ago, he might have been able to prevent the havoc. But he didn’t and he couldn’t. Which is why he is no longer relevant and his resignation solves nothing. The people will apparently take to the streets once more and with Kangler out, someone else will become the primary target. Janša will do his damnest it’s not him.

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The People Have Spoken

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.

Omnishambles

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.

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