[UPDATED] Will Thursday Finally See The End Of The Border Dispute Between Slovenia And Croatia?

UPDATE 29/06/2016 @ 1630 CET: The Tribunal has announced its decision which (at least in part) goes along the lines argued in the post. See the end of the post for details.

Once for a change, Slovenia and Croatia have every right to feel like the centre of the world. It’s not as if they don’t feel like that most of time, but with the final decision of the arbitration tribunal on the border between the two former Yugoslav republics due on Thursday, the attention of much of the continent (if not the world) will be upon them. And it shows.


The disputed maritime border between Slovenia and Croatia

The story of the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute is as long as the independence of the two countries and has in the past quarter-century gone from practically non-existent to near-armed-conflict and back again, with everything in between. It has been used time and again for scoring cheap political points, divert attention from other problems or even (allegedly) coordinated by players on both sides of the borders to swing elections. But in reality it was nothing more than a neighbourly dispute over a few patches of land that got out of hand.

Continue reading [UPDATED] Will Thursday Finally See The End Of The Border Dispute Between Slovenia And Croatia?

Respite Van Der Bellen

The fact that Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party came within a whisker of winning the country’s presidency speaks volumes. Indeed, it is a sign of times that a Neo-Nazi candidate winning “only” forty-six percent of the vote is considered a success for the democratic order. The sad reality is that the election of Alexander van der Bellen for Austrian president is merely a respite from the onslaught of forces of destruction and division that have engulfed much of Europe and the Western world in general. A welcome respite, to be sure, but a respite nevertheless. The shit has not yet stopped hitting the fan.


The Most Interesting van der Bellen In The World (source)

That van der Bellen defeated Hofer twice and with a larger margin on the second go is a silver lining and perhaps strengthens the rationale for a second Brexit referendum. But one should not count on the far-right tide ebbing across Europe. Not with the Dutch, French and German elections still in play and with their own Neo-Nazis well positioned to make substantial gains and sow further discord and hatred. This, of course, was made possible (not solely but in substantial part) by several critical failures of both the European project as well as of the underlying concept of post-war liberal democratic order.

Continue reading Respite Van Der Bellen

On Fascism

A few things need to be said with regard to the overall shituation that is the refugee crisis and which has been only amplified by Friday’s attacks in Paris. Namely, the tendency of the left-wing to cry “Fascism!” every time someone does something disagreeable, populist and/or (politically) short-sighted.

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(source)

While this phenomenon is far from new it has taken on new dimensions with the influx of refugees and the subsequent creation of the now-defunct Zlovenija (Evil Slovenia) Tumblr, naming-and-shaming couch-Nazis from all over the country. And just as the volume of that debate quieted down from 11 a notch or two, the attack on Paris reignited it. And then some. So, lest we allow vicious circle of polarisation to continue unabated until the bitter end, here it goes..

Fascism, in its many forms, is not really on the rise. Or, to be more exact, it is no more on the rise than it was since the onset of the economic crisis of 2008, when the world (ok, Europe) watched in awe as the neo-nazi Golden Dawn made it into the Greek parliament, immediately attempting to legitimise its street-bullying tactics in a democratic forum. You could go even further back and take the example of Austria, when in 1999 the late Jörg Haider and his far-right FPÖ became the senior coalition partner in Austrian government. Or the fact that Front National is the staple of French mainstream politics since the mid-eighties, with Jean-Marie Le Pen even making it to the run-off of 2002 presidential elections (ultimately losing to Jacques Chirac by a landslide). Even the German Pegida has had its precursor in NPD.

So, the new element here is not really the fascism per se, but rather the environment which is conductive to the elements that are here already. Which is where the political left comes in. Or, rather, it should. But it doesn’t. Ervin Hladink Milharčič, quite probably the best political columnist in Slovenia, wrote some weeks ago that the left-wing would rather hang itself with a rope handed to it by anarchists than make a pact with social democrats and share strategy. And the logic extends beyond the political spectrum, as well.

In most of Europe, you see, the power still lies with political moderates. Yes, there are the likes of Victor Orban, but on the whole, it is moderate politicians left and right of the political centre that run the show. Even Alexis Tsipras has toned down the hardline ideological rhetoric and made a few deals, some of them pragmatic to the core. Combined with the urgency of the refugee crisis, he is no longer regarded as Europe’s key problem (not financially, at least) and is therefore suddenly able to miss deadlines and still get credit lines extended. Just to give an example at random.

The problem is, that most of these politicos are either woefully untrained for the job at hand, or populist, of both. I mean, the values they share are, broadly speaking, European, but their actions are populist, knee-jerk and panicky as well as often tied into a myriad of internal political struggles which may very well cause their downfall on the most irrelevant of things. Take the Brexit referedum, for example. What David Cameron “demands” from other European leaders is, for the most part, achievable. There are some things in there that will just not fly (such as discrimination between EU nationals in terms of labor access) but one suspects Number 10 put that on the list simply as a bargaining chip, knowing full well that it will have to drop it sooner or later. The problem of course is, that even if Cameron makes the deal, the good people of Britain may still vote for Brexit. Be it because enough of them want out of the EU or not enough of them can be bothered to vote in favour of staying. Or maybe simply because the IN campaign fucks up somewhere along the road. Or that other things overshadow the question of economic benefits of UK staying in the EU. A sort of ‘Brexit by Accident‘ as the Reuters put it.

Or take Slovenia, to give another example at random. This sorry little excuse for a country has seen its government take on a borderline authoritarian approach to the refugee crisis, whether PM Cerar likes to admit it or not. The problem is that the moderates who run the country right now are new to the game, prone to fall prey to political mind-games and plots by the more experienced political competition (both within the coalition and without) and are cornering themselves in with “if this than that” statements, setting the inevitable path to wider use of security apparatus, more surveillance and less personal freedom. To be clear: pengovsky is not saying they want this to happen (because they don’t), it’s just that they are making it happen. The government of Miro the Man is like the proverbial boiling frog, slowly cooking without realising it is about to be consumed by what they believe to be a controlled environment. The same goes for moderates of all shapes and sizes. And this is where the left-wing comes in.

You see, rather than hurling accusations of fascism every time a moderate politician does something stupid and/or shortsighted, they should instead try to explain why this or that is a bad idea. Historic evidence suggests the moderates are willing to listen. Even more, what is needed right now is prioritization. A whole lot is at stake, but some stakes are more combustible than others. Which is why in the current the immediate goal of the left-wing (or, rather, of the progressives) should be to support moderate voices across the political spectrum regardless of their “everyday” allegiance, political or otherwise.

Case in point being Žiga Turk, former minister of science, culture, sport, education and what-not in Janša government 1.0 who drew a lot of ire for his opinion on refugee crisis in light of attacks in Paris, over at SiOL.

Now, Turk’s ext had been picked apart by other people. But these are Weltanschauung texts. The man has been known to apply some shoddy statistics and/or science in the past, mostly in terms of cherry-picking information to support a conclusion in advance. And his text can be picked apart on that grounds alone. For example, when arguing the “not every Muslim is terrorist but nearly all terrorists are Muslim” line, he conveniently limits his search query to “Europe” and “this century”.

Now, call me old-fashioned, by I fail to see how the last fifteen years are in any way special in terms of terrorist activity in Europe. I mean, from the end of World War II, the Old Continent has seen separatist terrorism, political terrorism, state terrorism, false-flag terrorism… You name it, we’ve had it: IRA, ETA, Rote Armee Fraktion, Brigade Rosse, bombing in Bologna, Munich Olympic Games assassinations, Lockerbie… And that’s just off the top of my head. Point being that terrorism in Europe has a long and cruel tradition and cherry-picking data to reach a known result amounts to nothing more than pseudo-science. Which brings one of the cores of the text tumbling down.

But there are other elements of Žiga Turk’s text which should not be overlooked. Namely, for all his Theresa May imitation au general the man has shown a welcome moderation with regards to issues of Muslim community in Slovenia en particuliere. In that same text he takes a strong stance in favour of continued construction of a mosque in Ljubljana, which the more rabid elements of the right-wing have called to stop. Now, whatever his motives, this is a position worth supporting. Not only because the mosque is about four decades overdue, but also because if this really becomes an issue once again, the left-wing alone will not be able to protect the meagre progress that has been made on this particular issue in the last years. After all, there is a notable anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment in the left-wing base, too.

To prevent things going tits-up, the moderate forces both in Slovenia and in Europe need to start actively seeking common ground. And it wouldn’t hurt the progressives to make the first move and occasionally swallow hard and thinking twice before hurling accusations of fascism at people who might be confused about the correct course of action. Failing to do so will only drive these people more to the right-wing, where true fascists await, with open arms and a big grin across their Chevy Chase.

 

The Army Is A Broad Sword, Not A Scalpel

Following a surge in influx of refugees which apparently stretched Slovenian personnel and housing resources to their limits, the government of Miro Cerar came up with amendments to Defence Act granting the Slovenian army policing powers and rushed them through the parliament in a rarely used emergency legislative procedure. The move, backed by both the coalition and most of the opposition is aimed to provide relief to the overstretched police and Civil defence force. But in reality it opens a Pandora’s box of the military spilling over into the civilian sphere.

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“The army will perform its duty.” Bruce Willis/William Deveraux in The Siege (source)

Admittedly, the numbers Slovenian authorities were dealing with are staggering in terms of the country’s size and its resources. More than 20.000 refugees came to the Slovenian border via the “West Balkan route” through Croatia in the last couple of days. Quite a substantial number of them, as per Slovenian government, without any notification from their Croatian counterparts who reportedly transported the refugees somewhere in the vicinity of theborder rather than to the actual border crossings and then cut them loose, leaving them to make their way across the river, fields and marshes into Slovenia.

And since Slovenia, trying to be European to a fault, insists on an orderly processing and transfer of refugees from Croatia through its several refugee centres onwards to Austria, things got tricky at the Slovenia/Croatia border, prompting the government in Ljubljana to employ the army as a policing force.

Which is a big fucking mistake.

The problem is, of course, many-fold. First, the mere fact that with this, the firewall between the civilian and the military sphere is being, albeit slightly and temporarily, torn down. Giving the army powers over the civilian population is a big no-no. Unless a state of emergency was declared and last time pengovsky checked, that wasn’t the case. Although some people act as if it were. And this is the problem number two.

A lot of what we were seeing these past few days were knee-jerk reactions to events that were and are apparently getting the better of people at the top of the food chain whose primary role is to keep things strategically in check. As if deploying the military was the only alternative to using police forces.

There’s the old adage that if a hammer is all you know how to use, everything looks like a nail. But this is not a case of trigger-happy politicos jumping the gun (literally) and launching a scenario not unlike in The Siege. No, a more proper parallel would be that of a first-time plane passengers on a very bumpy ride, already reaching for their life jackets while the flight crew is still serving drinks.

A number of those alternatives came to light as the parliament was debating the amendments to the Law on Defence. These include aid by the European frontier agency Frontex as well as bilateral help from other EU states’ police forces, most notably Austria and Germany. These options are now being considered and reportedly about to be enacted.

Problemo numero tres is the actual scope of powers granted to the military. While members of the Slovenian army apparently have some crowd control training, there is serious concern as to whether Slovenian soldiers have the (legal) knowledge and experience to execute these powers with necessary restraint and respect for human rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Slovenian Army are prone to human rights violations. What I’m saying is that the army – any army – was not designed with this in mind. Simple as that. And by the time enough military units are trained in the nuances of policing civilians and equipped to do that effectively, this crisis will have long passed.

Which brings us to the fourth and the biggest problem. This, too, shall pass. And after it does, we’ll be left with army units with a shitload of equipment they won’t need anymore and training that does not correspond to their basic mission. A waste of resources, if I ever saw one. But not only that. The most worrisome leftover will be the legislation itself.

Because if you think that the provision granting policing powers to the army is going to go away after this is over, you’re sorely mistaken. It is here to stay, for ever and ever. Just like increased political meddling with the public television or the fiscal rule.

And even if the government plans to repeal the provision after the crisis abates, someone should tell them they will fail to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. Because the right-wing parties which supported the provision practically without dissent (customary political bickering, gloating and we-told-you-so’s not withstanding) and who find Victor Orban a rather appealing character, were long clamouring for something like this. And now they got it, they’re not going to let go of it that easily.

There will be other governments and there will be other crises. And bringing in the army has suddenly become much easier. All that is needed now is a technical request by the government to the parliament and – poof! – the army suddenly has policing powers again.

Luckily, yesterday cooler heads prevailed and the bar for approving special powers was raised to a two-thirds rather than just a simple majority as originally proposed by the government. Also, the amended law provides a sunset clause for these powers which expire after three months if not revoked sooner. They can, however, be extended, too, pending a re-vote. Meaning that this is not really a strong safeguard against abuse.

Fear of abuse was present in the subtext of the presentation by the Chief of the General Staff, Maj. Gen. Andrej Osterman, when he addressed the parliament yesterday. Namely, among other things, Osterman said Slovenian army neither wants nor has asked for policing powers, but will perform the duty as instructed.

It was Bruce Willis in the role of General William Deveraux in The Siege who said that the army is a broad sword, not a scalpel.

And yet, here we are. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Rule 34a

That Slovenia fought against watering-down of the Telecom Single Market directive (a.k.a. Single Digital Market) was for all intents and purposes the most surprising piece of information coming from this sorry little excuse for a country in the last ten days or so. Even more surprising than the decapitation of the bad-bank where the CEO and chief of the supervisory board were dismissed over excessive pay. And infinitely more surprising than the story of the NSA and German BND bulk-intercepting international calls from Slovenia between 2005 and 2008. Both of which will get written up here in due course. But first, this net neutrality thing.

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(source: savetheinternet.eu)

You can read it up, but the nuts and bolts of it are fairly simple: either everyone gets to use the web under the same conditions in terms of speed, access and services provided or network operators get to decide which services or users get preferential treatment (for a price, of course) and which get to crowd with the rest of us sorry bastards on the slow end of the interwebz. Or, what could happen is that the network operators get to pick their favourite service(s) and charge less – or nothing at all – for their use, relegating every other competing service to the status of an also-ran. Point being that under the proposed Single Digital Market directive the telcos get to pick the winners and the losers.

This is about where and how you’ll get your news, for example. Or your porn. Not that there’s much difference, but still. On the neutral net, where telcos/network providers compete with one another with plans, prices and ease of access, you’re able to pick and choose between RTVSLO, BBC, Russia Today, NaturalNews.com (yuck) or even FoxNews. On the not-so-neutral net your provider will most likely limit you to a handful of news sites, at least one of them being their own. Everything else will either be available at a premium or at lower speeds. Or both. The same goes for porn. The neutral net brings you PornHub, Redtube or plain old /hc/ board on 4chan.org, depending on your fancy. The other web brings you your provider’s porn service. It is a sort of Rule 34a.

 

If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions. Provided you pay for it and we get to deliver it.

 

And would you really like your network provider to know exactly what sick turn-ons you have? Methinks not.

And this is just the way things are today. Imagine a couple of years from now, when the IoT takes off for real. You buy a net-enabled fridge telling you what’s missing and updating your shopping list. But on the not-neutral web your network operator gets to choose which brand of the fridge gets preferential treatment within its network or which on-line shops are available for such a device. Hell, it can even limit your online shopping experience, preventing you from getting the best deal out there. Or maybe it can charge you extra if your wifi-enabled car needs an update. The list goes on forever.

Also, this is about cats.

All of the above makes it all the more astounding that Slovenia actually took up the issue on the EU level. I mean, here we have arguably the single most important long-term policy issue since the introduction of the euro and this country actually wants to do something? Wow. Just wow. In fact, Slovenia and the Netherlands were out-voted on the issue, with Croatia and Greece abstaining, while the 24 remaining member states green-lighted the draft (page 13 of the link).

You see, the thing is that next to the Netherlands, Slovenia is the only EU member to have set net neutrality as a legal norm. More or less. In Slovenia at least the legislation was watered down via lobbying by the telcos, but not enough to prevent the first-ever rulings by AKOS, the comms watchdog, which in January fined the two largest mobile providers for providing zero-rating services. And now, as the year slowly draws to an end, the European Commission put forward a draft Single Digital Market directive which would have made these rulings next to impossible as it basically trades the much-hailed abolition of roaming charges (two years hence) for a two-speed Internet (most likely to commence in various forms immediately). Little wonder Slovenia and the Netherlands have problems with it since it directly undermines their national legislation, several orders of magnitude better than what the draft directive provides for.

At its most crudest, this is a case where a drop in profits in one segment of the industry is mitigated by a free-fire zone of surcharges in another segment. Not to mention the fact that the move will have massive repercussions far beyond the consumer sector. Limiting speed and/or access to information will impact education and research, creative industries will once again be divided into haves and have-nots and home will no longer be simply where the wi-fi is.

This, despite the name, will be anything but a single digital market.

The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court. Last year, the EP shot down a directive draft which – compared to the current one – was more than acceptable. But with Brussels packing more lobbyists than Washington D.C., one can never be sure of the final outcome. (Slighty OT: Here is a handy tool on lobbying stats, courtesy of Politico.eu).

Which is why a number of grass-roots initiatives sprang up all over the EU to, well, save the internet. In Slovenia, too, where media and the politicos have apparently finally started paying attention. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen, but if the fate of the ACTA treaty a few years ago and the recent Safe-harbour ruling by the European Court are omens to go by, then this whole thing can still be overturned.

Because as it stands, for all the goodies it brings vis-a-vis mobile roaming, the TSM directive in fact heralds yet another social stratification. This time of a digital nature, ordained by the industry whose hey-day has long since passed.