The Survivalists

A social network diagram of Slovenian governments is making rounds on the interwebz these days. Posted over at Virostatiq, it is an awfully nice presentation of how the “six degrees of separation” are cut down to, well, only a couple. If you’re Slovenian, you surely know somebody on that list, or at the very least, you know somebody who knows somebody on that list.

Social network diagrams of Slovenian governments between 1991 and 2013 (source)

The diagram claims to show different levels of loyalty between members of various ranks of government officials, ranging from prime ministers down to the level of state-secretaries (the level immediately below a ranking minister). The fact that author Marko Plahuta wrote it up in English is also commendable. However, while mighty interesting and potentially useful, the diagram as it is now is only partly relevant.

Don’t get me wrong. Pengovsky is going ga-ga with excitement, because something like this was long overdue. Also, it hits close to home since distribution of political power was part of my thesis at the university and I know from first hand experience that one soon hits a brick wall of non-transparency when trying to find rhyme or reason when compiling a “who’s who” of movers and shakers (not that it can not be done, as it will be shown later in the post).

And this is exactly the point where the diagram fails. Among other things. So, my two cents on the entire thing, hoping the author finds them useful:

Loyalty of ministers

Loyalty between PM and the ministers is a much more fragile category than the diagram would have us believe. Indeed, some ministers are utterly loyal to the PM, while others much less so. To put it graphically and using the current government of Alenka Bratušek as example, we can say that ministers from Positive Slovenia (Bratušek’s party) are much more loyal to their prime minister than ministers from Citizens’ List or (perhaps even more so) ministers from SocDems quota.

So, ministerial loyalty indicator could be augmented a) by party affiliation and b) by the influence/power the party wields in the parliament/coalition/government. Actual ponders would have to be worked out, but a good rule of the thumb would be this: Unless a minister is a member of PM’s party, then the larger his or her party or the more ideologically different, the weaker a minister’s loyalty towards the PM.

The above is a direct result of a multi-party coalition system we sport in Slovenia, where a government’s agenda is the highest possible common denominator of all the coalition party platforms.

Loyalty of state secretaries

The author assumes state secretaries are a lot less loyal to their ministers than ministers are to the PM. Even if we neglect the varying degrees of ministerial loyalties demonstrated above, pengovsky contends that – if anything – state secretaries are more loyal to their ministers than ministers are to the MP.

Again, once you delve into the issue, it becomes a lot more muddled. The role of state secretaries changed dramatically over time. When the new public service hierarchy was developed, the role of state secretary was indeed meant to be that of the highest ranking bureaucrat, a link between political agenda of any given minister and a running public service, impervious to political squabbling and special interest.


Parties soon realised the position of a state secretary is arguably even more important to their agenda than that of a minister and it wasn’t long before positions on this level of administration were heavily fought for. This resulted in inflation of state secretary positions and At one point a sort-of-compromise was reached where one state secretary was politically appointed, the other supposedly for his or her expertise in a given area.

This was later abolished because and now state secretaries come and go with their respective ministers. Which is why in pengovsky’s opinion their loyalty factor should a) be increased overall to reflect dependence on their minister and b) corrected downwards on individual basis during the period where one state secretary was a political appointee, the other expert.

Also, the above sort of invalidates the claim that state secretaries are loyal to each other. Since their appointments are inherently political ans their primary role is to serve as a liaison between politics and public service (with their secondary role being lightning rods and scapegoats for high-level fuck-ups), the horizontal loyalty rarely goes beyond professional courtesy.

People who are not in the picture but should be

When we’re talking about distribution of political/social power in Slovenia, we can not by any means neglect political parties themselves. And this is where the diagram is noticeably lacking. Government officials, especially ministers and other political appointees are often caught between solving problems of their specific field and catering to their party’s interests. For “caught between … and….” you might want to read “neglect…. in favour of…”, depending on your point of view.

@Spovednik has an excellent blogpost on this phenomenon. In Slovenian only, I’m afraid.

But to continue and find an example at random: when the field of education was redrawn under the Janša 2.0 administration, minister Žiga Turk and especially the ranking state secretary Borut Rončević did undertake some necessary steps, but quite a few of them were directed to the ultimate end of state forking out money for private scholarly institutions close to Janez Janša‘s SDS party. Again, this is by no means the only such example, but it is a telling one, especially since it had the “added value” of being done under the guise of tackling the crisis.

In this respect, party officials who are not elected by popular vote, also sport great power and should be included in any such diagram. Again, the general rule of the thumb is that the bigger the party, the more important party people are, since at some point party leader(s) need to delegate decisions down the ladder.

Additionally, until recently, the name of the game in Slovenia was that party leaders are also government ministers or, at least, have some other high-ranking function. Not allowing the trend to continue was – among other things – the reason Zoran Janković failed in his PM bid in 2011. But with advent of the Bratušek administration, this is no longer the case as a) Igor Lukšič of SD chose to pass on a ministerial position and b) Ljubljana mayor still plays a big, although diminishing role in national politics (a blogpost is pending, fear not).

Therefore, while the diagram explicitly deals with members of the government only, this is by far not the entire scheme of distribution of political power in Slovenia. In the last twenty-odd years we’ve had a number of individuals who have exerted power over specific government decisions from beyond the limits imposed by this diagram. To increase its relevancy, this should be rectified.

The above does not include only party heavyweights, but also elected officials from other branches of power, especially since we are starting to see a trend of people starting in one branch and then continuing to another. Off the top of my head, the diagram would have to include the president of the parliament, leaders of parliamentary groups and (optionally) leaders of parliamentary committees. Also, in pengovsky’s opinion, the office president of the republic should be included in the diagram.

And although this might be stretching it a bit, the diagram begs consideration as to what exactly happens when a person is no longer part of the government. Does his/her influence stop immediately? Perhaps a diluted factor of loyalty could be allowed for a selected period of time? After all, every change in government produces more or less serious shifts in top layers of power.

The mysteries

Based on the graph, Virostatiq makes a number of erroneous or incomplete conclusion. One of them is the apparent surprise at the fact that governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop are the most similar. Well, they had to be. Not only was Rop finance minister in Drnovšek’s last government, there was also a tacit agreement that Rop, upon being sworn in as PM, will not replace ministers and other cadre Drnovšek picked only two years earlier. In retrospect, this was probably the single biggest mistake that led to Rop’s LDS having its ass whooped in 2004 elections. Therefore, while the similarities of Drnovšek and Rop clusters are undeniable, the reason for this is not their ideological likness, but rather pure political necessity.

Furthermore, when viewed from the point of view of various institutions, the analysis of the graph states that “prime ministers like to keep close Department of Defence, Department of Finance and Department of Internal Affairs. People close to these offices are the movers and shakers.”

Again, had the graph included party positions, distribution of power would quite possibly be markedly different. Also, the fact that a department shows up close to the PM, doesn’t necessarily mean the people in it are the big kahunas in town. Rather, this depends very much on the style of governing of a particular prime minister.

It is no secret that during the Andrej Bajuk six-months-long administration Janez Janša was the main honcho. Since he was the minister of defence at the time, the analysis might even seem correct in this case. The only problem is that you won’t find ministry of defence anywhere near Andrej Bajuk on the graph. Alternatively, saying that Janez Drnovšek kept ministries of defence and internal affairs close is a huge misrepresentation of the situation. On the other hand, he was indeed very much into the daily operations of financial ministry, but one could argue that he ran the show there rather than having people on the ministry run him. Ditto for ministry of foreign affairs which by all accounts should come up very close to Drnovšek, but doesn’t.

The survivalists

However, the Virostatiq diagram is far from non-usable. In fact, the most obvious but perhaps unintended result is seeing who are the great survivors of Slovenian politics. There are a couple, but on political/ministerial level you will not be surprised to find that the greatest survivors of Slovenian politics are Dimitrij Rupel and Karl Erjavec. Curiously enough, they’ve both held the post of foreign minister. Go figure… :mrgreen:

So, to wrap up. The diagram has limited use for the intended purpose. But with a little work this could become an awesome tool. But it desperately needs to include additional data. Just a hint: Ali Žerdin recently published a Omrežja moči, a book on social networks in Slovenian politics and economy. I’m sure it would provide a useful resource.


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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.