Balkan Tricks Like At Home, Only Worse

Common sense dictates that revisiting European elections and their result is a complete waste of perfectly good blogging space. Had all things been equal, that would be so, However, in the words of Mr. Spock, things are not equal. But more on that in a minute.

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(source)

Usually, European elections are frowned upon as being only tangentially connected to Slovenian politics (or to politics of any EU member, for that matter), and material evidence seems to support that theory: five years ago, Nova Slovenia (NSi) won despite its marginal standing in parliamentary elections. Results of June 5 elections seem to corroborate this, as NSi got one MEP despite being axed from the national parliament in 2008 elections. Furthermore, both in 2004 and 2009 the turnout was appalingly low, only 28 percent. But if need be, European election can be a bloodbath, which is something Gregor Golobič and his Zares can tell you a lot about.

But first thing’s first – let’s look at the results. Opposition SDS won 26.65 percent of the vote, ruling Social Democrats got 18.45 percent, while Nova Slovenija (NSi) got only slightly less, 16.53 percent. LDS came in fourth with 11.5 percent, while Zares was the last of the parties to get an MEP, with 9.77 percent of the vote. However, in terms of numer of MEP seats won, differences between parties become much less apparent. Both SDS and SD won two seats, while NSI, LDS and Zares won one seat each.

So, the question is, who the hell won? The general media consesus seems to be that SDS scored an overwhelming victory. Given the fact that they beat the largest coalition party and their rivals in public opinion polls by more than eight percent, this certainly seems to be the case. The fact that SD got only 18 percent of the vote (as opposed to getting almost 30 in parliamentary elections nine months ago) only reiterates the feeling.

However…

By that same standard, one could say that the real winner is LDS, which nearly doubled its result from parliamentary elections, when they barely made it past the 4 percent threshold. Furthermore, Gregor Golobič and Zares should be dancing the Mipos Dance of Joy, as they repeated their result from September 2008, despite the copious amounts of flak they were taking due to Golobič’s stumble in the Ultra business. Nine percent after a concentrated media barrage which came from all sides is not to be underestimated. Even less so for LDS, which – not unlike NSi – seemingly made huge gains.

And finally, by the above standard, NSi should be thanking whatever god they believe in, because they were literally brought back from the dead. 16 percent of the vote after they were already down and out.

And it is this last interpretation which casts a shadow of the doubt on the entire approach. How can NSi, which was in turmoil for the better part of the last nine months make a real comeback? And while we’re on that, how can in be that a media lynch of Gregor Golobič has zero (and I mean zilch) effect on his party?

Probably because most of the turnout was by die-hard supporters of their respective parties. Given the low turnout and the capacity of SDS and (partly) NSi to galavinse their base, good results of both parties suddenly don’t seem all that surprising. Namely, a lot of NSi and SDS voters are almost like the Pony Express (neither rain, nor sleet, not snow…), whereas left-wing voters are notoriously undisciplined. But that only goes so far in explaining what really happened. I mean, no-one is forcing right-wing voters to go vote at gunpoint, no matter how appealing that mental image might be :mrgreen:

To answer this second question, let’s take a look at the bigger picture: Combined, the left bloc won almost 40 percent of the vote, whereas the right bloc got 43 percent of the vote, counting only parties which won MEP seets. If, however, we included all the parliamentary parties and kept NSi, for the sake of the argument, both blocs got 46 percent of the vote (keeping the nationalists as a separate category).

Things get even more muddy if we look at number of MEP seats won. By this measure, it was actually the left bloc which won, winning four out of seven seats, whereas the right bloc won the remaining three. Point being that overall relations between left and right have not changed a lot. What has changed, were relations between parties. If election results are to be taken for granted, then we have witnessed a redistribution of votes between parties of the same bloc, rather than pure left-right crossovers.

So, who won? If anything, it was a tie. It would be hard to make an argument that everybody lost, however. With 28 percent turnout, results are hardly representative. By any realistic measure, NSi got a disproportionate percentage of the votes and it would be safe to say that this goes for most of the other parties. With 72 percent of the electorate you can hardly say that the results represent anything but a disenchantment with politics in general as well as reflect a certain cynicism regarding European Union.

But in a final twist of irony, European elections in Slovenia are not yet over. Well… Not in Slovenia exactly. More like in Argentina. Where a lot of ex-pat Slovenians live, none of which apparently got empty ballots to vote by mail. And although Argentina is generally regarded as prime hunting ground for NSi, the vote there could decide whether Romana Jordan Cizelj or Zofija Mazej Kukovič will be the second MEP for Janša’s SDS, while neither NSi nor SDS have a chance of getting an additional MEP, and thus shake up the overall balance of power. Nevertheless, the State Electoral Commission decided that voters in Argentina will be able to vote and sent them. And how come voters in Argentina didn’t get their empty ballots? Simple. Argentinian post never delivered them. The same Balkan tricks, just like at home. Only worse :mrgreen:…

Informed Decisions

In case you haven’t noticed, the good doctor is back with yet another excellent post (apparently, the cats are fine). In a debate with Adriaan both agreed that it would be rather welcome if voters were to make an informed decision when casting their votes.

Ideally, this is so. You have a bunch of different sources, websites, newspapers, TV and radio channels as well as an occasional blog, the whole shebang. Today we will set aside the irony of an exponential increase in media companies actually leading to a decrease in amount of useful information. But media act as more or less effective “gatekeepers”, which – in part – gave rise to citizen journalism. Of course it didn’t take long for political parties to catch on (although “didn’t take long” should be interpreted liberally). As usual in Slovenia, it was left wing parties which mastered “new media” first and were sooner or later followed by their right-wing counterparts.

By employing tactics of citizen journalism, political parties finally got what they wanted all along. Unfettered access to voters, without the hassle of media scrutiny, no matter how superficial the latter may be. Their messages are delivered in their original form, with exactly the right spin and possibly omitting all the unpleasant details. In short – it’s propaganda in its purest form.

Unless, of course you fuck up. Like Janez Janša’s SDS did in their “how to vote” video hosted by Eva Irgl, MP.


(thx to dr. fil for an excellent catch)

Admittedly, you wouldn’t shy away from Eva if she surprised you naked in a shower on a Friday evening, holding a glass of champagne in one hand and a big fucking dildo in the other, possibly with a girlfriend in tow. However, even though she is a former TV hostess and was even featured as Friday Foxy, she is apparently only good for reading from a script. Because if you hadn’t noticed by now (or don’t understand Slovene), Eva Irgl says in the video above that “citizens of all twenty-seven member states will cast their vote on Sunday in European elections“.

Something tells me that voters in United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Czech Republic, Cyprus, French colonies, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia would not agree. Voters in these states will cast their votes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This may seem trivial, but the fact that the party, which only a year ago boasted that it is single-handedly running the EU, doesn’t know the basics, is just sad.

So much for informed decisions.

50 is more than 100

The upcoming elections to the European Parliament continue what pengovsky calls a perpetual election campaign. Starting in 2006 Slovenians went to the polls every year since and will continue to do so until 2010 (inclusive). There will be a short pause in 2011 which will be followed by a super-election year in 2012, when both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held.

This year’s European elections come only nine months after the parliamentary elections of 2008 when Social democrats won by the thinnest of margins and Borut Pahor put together a left-wing coalition which is high on friction factor from the beginning, not to mention that it has an economic crisis to handle. With this in mind it is all the more clear why European elections are seen as a sort of a test for the ruling coalition. Even worse – as two ministers of Pahor’s government are running for MEPs, a cabinet shake-up is possbile (although not very likely), which would throw this quarrelsome coalition off balance yet again.

European parliament is composed of 785 MEPs, only seven of whom come from Slovenia. They are elected by a proportional voting system with a preferential vote, where every party runs a list of maximum seven candidates. Voters choose either a list (a party) as a whole or a particular candidate. The number of seats each party wins is proportional to the percentage of the vote it gets. If a party wins more than one seat, MEPs are seated in the order they appear on the list – unless a particular candidate on the list won enough preferential votes to “jump queue”. On the whole, each seat corresponds to approximately 14,5 percent of the votes cast, although this can vary as a lot of smaller parties might not make it above this “threshold”.

The above suggests that turnout is crucial. Small turnout can cause seemingly enormous fluctuations in votes cast and crucially affect the end result. Thus in 2004, when Slovenes voted in euroelections for the first time, the turnout was appallingly small (only 44%) and christian-democratic Nova Slovenia got most of the vote even though they were only a slightly-more-than-a-marginal political force in Slovenia. Indeed, Nova Slovenia has the most to lose this time around. They’ve dropped out of the parliament in 2008 parliamentary elections and are holding on to political survival by their fingernails. While they publicly state that they hope to repeat the result of 2004, the reality is much bleaker: they can only pray (pun very much intended) to win one MEP. Just as it was the case in parliamentary elections in 2008, the bulk of NSi electorate seems to have moved to Janez Janša’s SDS. Which is good news for the former PM, as his party seems poised to win as many as three EP seats, which would be a first in the short history of European elections in Slovenia and would mean that SDS won the elections beyond the shadow of a doubt.

However – winning more seats at the expense of your ideological allies only goes so far.

Ruling Social democrats of PM Borut Pahor seem certain to win two MEPs. Together with the projected result of SDS this would result for the bulk of Slovenian EP quota and throw the field wide open for the remaining two seats. As I wrote above, NSi can only hope to win one, as do all three junior coalition members: Zares, LDS and DeSUS. The latter stands little chance of success, but remember the paragraph about attendance: the smaller the attendance, the bigger the possible upsets.

Today, five days before the elections it seems like the opposition SDS will win three seats, ruling SD two, at least one seat will go to either LDS or Zares, whereas the seventh seat will be a toss-up between LDS, Zares, NSi and possibly DeSUS and SLS.

Naturally, the result will be interpreted in a zillion different ways. While the number of seats will of course be important, percentages won will be the thing to watch to get a quick snapshot of the political balance of power. Obviously, most people will be interested in the difference between Janša’s SDS and Pahor’s SD. In parliamentary elections six months ago the latter got only marginally more votes than the former (both won about 28 percent of the vote) and if this balance is not disturbed too much, even if SDS wins three seats and SD only two, than it will be safe to say that Social Democrats held out pretty well. Anything less than that, and it will be obvious that SDS regains some ground it lost to SD six months ago.

However, it could be that SD is not losing to SDS but to Zares and LDS, its two major coalition partners (DeSUS being the third). So it will also be interesting to see how the coalition parties will fare as a whole. Remember, SDS expanded its base mostly at the expense of Nova Slovenija (NSi) and it could very well be that it made only marginal headway in the “swing vote” category. If SD, Zares, LDS and even DeSUS rack up a healthy percentage, then Janša, who is increasingly alone in the opposition, will have to rethink his tactics.

There are numerous other lists and parties running in these elections. The Greens and the Youth party are the eternal underdogs which – with every election – look more like a group of dedicated amateurs than a serious policial party. If these guys were for real, they’d have merged long ago, as their platforms are painfully similar. But as things stand, they split up even the poor vote they do get. Then there’s Jelinčič’s nationalists, who are in a bit of schizophrenic position: they are anti-European and yet they run in an European position. Their message is therefore appropriately muddled.

But then, there are what we call “parachuters”, people who have zero chance of being elected and who run on the wildest of platforms. My favourite is Nedeljko Dabić, a candidate for Christian Socialist Party, whose slogan is “50 is more than a 100” and who runs on a radical solidarity platform – that every company must share 50% of its profit with its employees. Sounds nice. But first we have to have companies creating profits! :mrgreen:

Fire

On 18 May Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel Samuel Žbogar was in Brussels to officially deliver a letter containing Slovenian response to the latest proposal by Commissioner Olli Rehn to solve the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. However, agent Sam failed to make the drop, because a fire broke out in the European Commission building in Brussels. The package was eventually delivered by our man in Brussels, so there was no permanent damage.

The contents of that letter were pretty much along the lines of “we want to amend the latest proposal and don’t give a rat’s ass about Croatia accepting it because we feel it is biased in favuor of Croatia“. Namely, Zagreb sent word that as far as it is concerned the negotiation process is over as they’ve accepted Rehn’s latest offer and that’s it. So the Silent Finn summoned both Samuel Žbogar and his Croatian counterpart Gordan Jandroković back to Brussels to explain themselves, but guess what happened…

I guess someone really doesn’t want this solved :mrgreen:

Entropa (Hitting Too Close To Home)

As you probably know by now, the Czech presidency of the EU is blushing and fuming with anger ever since it transpired that artistic instalation Entropa was not a collaborative effort by 27 artistist from 27 member states and that it does not exactly extol the virtues of being one big happy European family.

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Slovenia, the birthplace of tourism

In fact, the entire instalation was made by David Černý and two associates and rather than singing the song of European happiness, it cinycally takes it apart, selects and exaggerates a particular – mostly well chosen – national stereotype. On top of that, all the sculptures are put in a plastic frame often found in scale kit models, suggesting that Europe is a product rather than an idea. And to top it all there’s the name: Entropa, combination of Europe and entropy.

It could be brushed off as yet another prank by the enfant terrible of the Czech art world. But apparently it hit too close to home for some people. The following is taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry:

* Austria, a known opponent of atomic energy, is a green field dominted by nuclear power plant cooling towers
* Belgium is presented as a half-full box of half-eaten Praline chocolates
* Bulgaria is depicted by a series of connected “Turkish” squat toilets
* Cyprus is jigsawed (cut) in half
* The Czech Republic’s own piece is an LED display, which will flash controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus after the sculpture’s activation
* Denmark is a face depicted in Lego bricks, reminiscent of the cartoon controversy
* Estonia is presented with a hammer and sickle-styled power tools, the country has considered a ban on Communist symbols
* Finland is depicted as a wooden floor and an [apparently drunk] male with a rifle, imagining various animals
* France is draped in a “GR?VE!” (“STRIKE!”) banner
* Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns, described as “somewhat resembling a swastika”, though that is not universally accepted. Upon activation, the cars are supposed to start moving.
* Greece is depicted as a forest that is entirely burned
* Hungary features an Atomium made of its common agricultural products melons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers
* Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland; upon activation, the bagpipes are expected to play music every five minutes
* Italy is depicted as a football pitch with the players holding balls in the “strategic position”
* Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape
* Lithuanian soldiers are depicted urinating on Russia
* Luxembourg is displayed as a gold nugget with “For Sale” tag
* Malta is a tiny island with its prehistoric dwarf elephant as its only decoration
* The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible; upon activation, this piece is supposed to emit the singing of muezzins
* Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.
* Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique
* Romania is a Dracula-style theme park
* Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body tighten by Hungarian tricolour)
* Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words first tourists came here 1213
* Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated near the Basque country
* Sweden does not have an outline, but is represented as large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes
* The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from the Continent, is “included” as missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the work

Personally, I think this is a lovely provocation, not unlike what Slovenian designers did with The Youth Relay twenty years ago. It says more about the object of the mockery (in this case member states) as it does of the object of the art. In case of Slovenia it takes apart this country’s totally unfounded conviction that it is the centre of the world and that all great things somehow started here. Even tourism, for crying out loud! So in the instalation the rock that is Slovenia states that “the first tourists came here in 1213”. Gotta love it! (Full text of descriptions can be found here)

But in this particular case the fool in the room turned out to be the Czech presidency which (not unlike Slovenian presidency a year ago) was trying to come across as more European than Europe itself. Thus, the point of Entropa has been proven by the very people who aimed to discredit it. The fact that Černý made up 26 other artists, their biographies and even accompanying texts, only further shows that the European idea is artificial at least in part. That in itself if not necesarily bad as it does help to be reminded of that every once in a while. Just so we don’t get carried away.