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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

Riiiiight….

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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Do Not Put On Knob And Bollocks

Yes, shit is going on in Slovenia, the presidential race is looming ever larger and the parliament just passed a law establishing the Slovenian State Holding company, which rounds up every asset this country holds and basically puts all of our eggs in one basket worth 10 billion euro (all that via a controversial shortened procedure and Bob knows who’s watching the basket). But today we’ll leave Janša and his branch-a aside (inside joke, I’ll explain eventually) as the following is much too fun to ignore…

It would appear that the 200 ml Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme is getting some mixed reviews from the customers over at Amazon UK, some of which might make you cringe. And when pengovsky says mixed he means brilliantly awful and when he says cringe he means howling with discomfort even when reading it.

Here are just few random examples:

The bollocks I knew and loved are gone now. In their place is a maroon coloured bag of agony which sends stabs of pain up my body every time it grazes against my thigh or an article of clothing.

Afterwards, there would be Dave and the Twins, hairless but with none of that sharp stubble that my wife complains about.

Trying to find the words to describe it is difficult but imagine, if you can, having your scrotum industrially sandblasted from a distance of about a foot with broken glass mixed with acid and salt.

Although as a man I lack the required experience, I’m going to estimate that using this product is at least eleven times more painful than childbirth.

And many, many more. Read them at your own risk… :mrgreen:

(hat tip to Ian and Joan)

Guess Who’s Back…


No sleeping with the fishes yet (photo by yours truly)

While pengovsky was sleeping vacationing chez les Croats shit was going on that needs to be covered here. The Catholic is being rocked by financial paedophile paternity scandals allegedly involving some of the most senior clergy men, the country is going bust while its prime minister is going bananas (at least some people think so), the government itself is repeatedly opening mouth and inserting foot while the mayor of the capital is looking down the barrel of a full-blown investigation into tax-fraud allegations.

Not to mention that there’s an election to be held in two months time. Stay tuned, pengovsky will bring you all of this and more in the coming days. Guess who’s back… 😎

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