The Alenka Bratušek/Angelika Mlinar duo is making waves again. After their failed attempt to make the cut in the EU vote last May, the SAB leader nominated the former Austrian-Slovenian MEP for the position of minister without portfolio in charge of EU cohesion funds. Somewhat predictably, all hell broke loose.
There are various ways of looking at the move and not all of them paint a rosy picture of Bratušek and the SAB. But in what was either a shrewdly calculated risk or pure luck, the debate has largely centred on Mlinar’s eligibility for the position, once more showing that the one thing the political landscape in Muddy Hollows sorely lacks is any sort of open-mindedness and imagination and that is in fact bursting with autarchy, bigotry and jingoism.
Now, the fact that Bratušek again pushed Mlinar forward as her nominee of choice shows two things: that the friendship and cooperation between the two female politicians runs deep and that their ambitions are – at this point at least – largely symbiotic.
It also shows that the SAB does not have a particularly deep bench.
In itself, this is not really surprising for a small party which continues to struggle in polls and which overperformed in elections themselves mostly because Bratušek herself has became a staple of the political debate. For better or for worse, the former PM is not shying from bruising bare-knuckles political fights and is willing to dish it out as good as she gets it.
The downside of this is that senior party members who are either unwilling or unable to play ball, are often sidelined.
Which is how Mlinar got a second shot at relaunching her political career, this time in Muddy Hollows.
Namely, it’s not that a lot of people noticed, but about three months ago, Iztok Purič (SAB) resigned as minister for EU cohesion funds, citing personal reasons. Almost immediately, the media-political bubble was rife with speculation that he and Bratušek fell out, seeing as Bratušek, serving as minister for infrastructure is counting on EU cohesion funds for most (if not all) of the grand projects she is running or wants to launch. For what is worth, Purič denies there ever was a falling out, but that getting the hugely underperforming system of claiming EU funds back on track took it out on him.
Be that as it may, there was no obvious replacement and since the portfolio is SAB’s turf (as per the coalition agreement), PM Šarec was forced to appoint Bratušek as interim minister. But as this temporary arrangement can last only three months and time was running short, Bratušek had to come up with someone.
Enter Angelika Mlinar.
Now, on the face of it, Mlinar does fit the bill, at least broadly. Her experience with EU matters is indisputable, coming from an Austrian province, she is hugely aware of the importance of EU cohesion funds for development projects in the periphery and she has had more than a taste of the Slovenian political cesspool.
Granted, it’s not an overwhelming amount of experience, but these days this is more than enough to clear the bar for entry into senior levels of Slovenian politics. However, an issue popped up almost immediately: namely, Angelika Mlinar is not (yet) a Slovenian citizen.
And this is where the fun started.
As it happens, the Slovenian constitution does not stipulate the citizenship requirement for either the prime minister or ministers themselves. Nor does any other legal text that deals with the executive branch.
Curiously, almost every other appointed official, from the President of the republic, members of parliament, judges and further down the ladder, is required to hold Slovenian citizenship. But not the PM, nor the ministers.
One wonders whether this glaring loophole is a result of an oversight by the framers of the constitution or whether it was some form of political clairvoyance back in the early 90’s.
Be that as it may, there is no requirement and as such there is no explicit legal obstacle for Mlinar to be nominated for the ministerial position.
And to drive the point further, since the ministers take the oath to “uphold the constitutional order and (…) do everything in my power for the good of Slovenia”, it really shouldn’t matter if the nominee in question hold the citizenship of Slovenia, New Zealand of fucking Namibia (with apologies to Namibia).
Doubly so, when the nominee in question if a member of Slovenian ethic minority, which the state claims to care very much for and which are regularly used by parties of all stripes, regardless of who is in power and who’s in opposition, to bang the patriotic drum.
And yet, precisely the opposite is happening. Suddenly, not being a citizen is the overreaching disqualifying reason.
Given the current power dynamics, it is not surprising that it is the SDS that leads the charge. The current narrative they push is that not being a Slovenian citizen makes Mlinar unable to have Slovenian interests at heart.
That, of course, is the same party that suggested that SMC MP Branislav Rajić should pack his bags and go back to Serbia whence he came, because even though he holds Slovenian citizenship he is ethnically Serbian and that is no good.
On the face of it, it seems unlikely this would be the official party line, but statements by party members (most notably the young MP Tomaž Lisec), which went uncontested by party boss Janša and his lieutenants. And since The Glourious Leader is notorious for running a tight ship communication-wise, it is safe to assume that this narrative is at least tacitly endorsed if not actively supported by the SDS Politburo.
Did we say “tacitly endorsed”? Scratch that. Even a cursory browse of Janša’s Twitter timeline shows the Chairman retweeting even the most repugnant of remarks aimed at Mlinar, including but not limited to remarks of “what if she turns out to be working for Heimatdinst?” (the Austrian Carinthia organisation that was historically rabidly anti-Slovenian and was very close to Nazi and Neonazi ideology).
Turns out, questioning Mlinar’s “Slovenian-ness” in absolutely the official Party line.
That said, this sort of jingoism and barely concealed dog-whistles are by no means limited to the political right.
Case in point Igor Lukšič, former SD leader did just as much when he suggested that laws are being bent specifically for Mlinar.
Not to mention that the political left had just as rabid a reaction back in 2000 when SLS, NSi and SDS brought in Andrej Bajuk, a member of Slovenian community in Argentina and a former World Bank official as their PM nominee to replace Janez Drnovšek.
Accusations of selling out to foreign interests were made, since Bajuk also held Argentinian citizenship, and his eligibility for the office was questioned on the account that he hasn’t lived in Slovenia for more than fifty years.
The debate, as toxic as it is, does raise important issues regarding the functioning of what passes for democracy in Slovenia today.
Is the non-existence of the citizenship requirement for ministers a bug or a feature? If a bug, should we keep it as a feature? Or, if it is a feature, is it being misused?
The answers to these questions will ultimately be set in law, either by changing it or by leaving it as it is. But the decisions on the issue will be political. And so, a lot is riding on how SAB’s bid to have Angelika Mlinar take over the EU cohesion portfolio unfolds.
Perhaps too much even for Alenka Bratušek, despite her developing a taste for throwing an occasional wrench in the already fragile political works. Namely, Mlinar has apparently applied for Slovenian citizenship in addition to her holding the Austrian passport.
While there seems to be some uncertainty about whether she will be able to maintain a dual citizenship (neither Slovenia nor Austria are especially keen on the concept), the main point here is that even Bratušek and Mlinar recognise the volatility of the situation and are not keen in pressing the point beyond what is necessary.
Now, the path to Slovenian citizenship is not particularly easy and it seems that Mlinar will make use of a provision of a government directive which deals with extraordinary naturalisations as well as the law on relations with Slovenians abroad.
Namely, these two legal texts combined provide a fast-track path to citizenship for ethnic Slovenians and dispense with the usual cumbersome procedure of extraordinary naturalisation (let alone regular naturalisation).
Ironically, both legal texts were adopted under the first Janša government. Karma can sometimes be a bitch.
But the details will, predictably, be drowned out in the general ruckus of the debate, where very few people are playing a straight hand.
As a rule, societal subsystems in Muddy Hollows are wary of outsiders. Doubly so the political subsystem, which has in the last decade regressed to a less evolved, more primal knee-jerk state. In this state, a coherent political position is secondary to a quick political win on whatever the topic du jour may be.
As a result, when it comes to outsiders, all sides od the Slovenian political sandpit are quick to throw under the bus the concepts which they profess to cherish the most. The left, citizenship and the right, ethnicity.
Clearly, no-one was thinking.