Poor Czechs. They can’t even have a proper senior political turf war without those pesky Slovenians beating them to it. Imagine being in charge of Czechia’s foreign policy, seething over another one of your president’s solo trips to badlands and mulling a response, only to see your counterpart in Ljubljana do the exact same fucking thing, an hour earlier.
This is broadly what happened to Czech FM Tomáš Petříček while he was looking for ways to undo the damage president Miloš Zeman did during his visit to Belgrade where he said that he will push for de-recognition of Kosovo by Czechia. However, Zeman wasn’t the only president of a Central European country facing pushback from his foreign minister that day. Cue Borut Pahor. Obviously.
While Zeman was throwing bombs and getting flack within the same 24 hours, Pahor found himself in the middle of the controversy for something he said days ago: namely, that unlike West Balkan countries (the rest of ex-Yugoslavia plus Albania), neither Turkey nor Ukraine should ever be full EU members but given associate status instead.
Which, to be honest, is not an entirely unreasonable position. However, as far as Turkey is concerned, Pahor’s opinion is in direct contravention to the official EU position which – as these things tend to go – happens to be the official Slovenian position as well, and one ratified by the parliament, no less.
But since Muddy Hollows has not one, but effectively three foreign ministers and because some people in this story need regular doses of heightened media attention lest they get physically ill, the whole thing got blown way out of proportion.
Namely, in Slovenia the foreign minister, the prime minister and the president have broad authority to represent the country in foreign affairs. Which necessarily begets conflict of egos, priorities and views.
This has regularly resulted in turf wars, sometimes discreet, sometimes embarrassingly overt, such as in 2003 when PM Tone Rop and president Janez Drnovšek clashed over who will sign the EU accession protocol and in the end the hosts in Athens had to provide two chairs and two copies of the treaty so that both Rop and Drnovšek could sign simultaneously.
In our case, however, the conflict was between president Pahor and foreign minister Cerar while PM Šarec was conveniently away kowtowing to Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
And seeing as Šarec doesn’t seem to give a flying flamingo about EU matters (see this post), president Pahor probably sensed an opportunity to do some policy shaping of his own. As off-script as it may be.
But for one reason or the other (probably because it took them that long to get their shit together), ten days after Pahor said these things, some 28 professors from various universities published an open letter where, in response to the president’s statements, demanded that he resign effective immediately and accused him of bigotry, usurping powers of other institutions, undiplomatic behaviour harmful to Slovenia, populism of the Trump and Salvini type and, interestingly, aiding the authoritarian regimes in those countries.
Now, apart from bigotry (Pahor may be a dick, but he most certainly is no bigot), most of these accusations can be hurled at Pahor on any other occasion and stick.
But picking a fight with Pahor over Turkey’s EU membership, especially in 2019, is – to put it mildly – fucking weird.
Because better way to demonstrate your complete and utter tone-deafness than to effectively kowtow to a regime which stifles opposition, shuts down the free press and, well, jails university professors?
The irony seems to have been lost on the pearl-clutching Slovenian profs. Because fact of the matter is that as things stand now, Turkey does neither belong nor want to belong to the EU. Erdogan’s regime is detrimental and hostile to, well, our European way of life, to borrow a phrase.
Funnily enough, president Pahor and the twenty-eight signatories of the letter have one thing in common: they think in short term only. Pahor is looking to score cheap political points on domestic floor and pengovsky wouldn’t put it past him if he were to positioning himself for an international job somewhere after he finishes his second and final presidential term. He was always primarily loyal to himself and details such as parliament-approved foreign policy position will not hold him back when saying something different is advantageous to him.
The profs, on the other hand, still live in this fantasy world that the wider public is eagerly expecting their profound pronunciations on policy and politics and that their opinions somehow steer and shape the public debate.
It may have been a better time when that was the case, but it is no longer so. And when they call (yet again) on Pahor to resign, they are much less concerned with his actual transgressions (of which there are many) but rather with reasserting themselves as the narrator of the public opinion.
Unlike the profs and the prez, the EU is looking at the long-term prospects of Turkey and figures that the country will get rid of Erdogan at some point. And when that point comes, it will be politically far easier to “unfreeze” the negotiations than to start from scratch. Which is the sole motivation for the “Turkey should one day be a member” position.
And when the whole thing had raised enough ruckus that Pahor’s office made an official response yesterday afternoon, it was time for foreign minister Cerar to step in and set Pahor straight.
The president, as he is wont to do, glossed over the details in his response and said that he only said what he has been saying for years now.
Which is not exactly true.
Pahor went from “I support Turkey membership aspirations but maybe we should look for other options because reasons” in 2015 to “Turkey shouldn’t be a member” in 2019. Which, in the world of diplomatic nuance, is a big fucking difference.
But even if there were no difference at all, Pahor going against the same position of his country’s government and parliament, as well as the EU as a whole, can simply not be tolerated.
Which is why foreign minister Cerar finally stepped in and set the record straight. Not only that, he said in no unclear terms that he’s been cleaning up Pahor’s shit ever since the Bled thing, adding that the only official Slovenian positions are those by the government.
Despite his best efforts, Cerar most likely didn’t succeed taming Pahor. The prez will go on throwing firecrackers, blowing up policy positions and making a general embarrassment of himself for the remainder of his term.
However, it could just be that Miro Cerar might feel he’d like to see what it is like to be the president and have other clean up after you.