Notes From A Former Province (part deux)

Much has happened in the two months since the last post on this blog but as luck would have it we are dealing with la presidentielle yet again. Specifically, how the evolution (or is that regression?) of the Slovenian political landscape can be used to explain, albeit in broad contours, ouate de phoque happened in France. And that’s even without Macron’s campaign being hacked hours before the campaign media blackout.

To begin with, it turned out that our reading of François Fillon‘s political fate was spot on. He did cling on by means of ever more ludicrous claims which however did convince enough of his base to stick with him to claim third place. But since there are no points for third place, he is now reduced to claiming that a satire magazine “illegally influenced the campaign“. The absurdity of the sentence alone is worthy of making it Le Canard enchaîné‘s tagline.

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State of Presidential Play

With 2017 slowly settling in, it is high time pengovsky takes a look at the biggest political event scheduled this year in Slovenia. Namely, the presidential elections. While unimportant on the larger scale of things, especially with looming French and German elections and whatnot, the popular vote on the largely (but not completely) ceremonial post is still interesting as it will function both as a large scale public opinion poll as well as a prequel to the parliamentary elections, expected to take place some time in 2018. So, to get one’s bearings and to provide some light entertainment, here is the lay of the presidential land in Slovenia.

Who will piss in Borut Pahor‘s pool? (source)

In Slovenia, the President of the Republic has limited powers. Arguably, his biggest role is nominating candidates for top positions in the state apparatus. Specifically, he nominates candidates for prime minister, constitutional judges as well as governor and vice-governors of the Central Bank. However, his nominations require the approval of the parliament which often-times means that the president is (at worst) merely rubber-stamping horse-trading between parliamentary parties or (at best) is actively involved in finding a consensus candidate, which usually does not translate into the best possible candidate. But such is life.

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Dear Lord, Please Let It Be A Landslide

As the voting in the US presidential elections is coming to an end so is – one hopes – one of the ugliest campaigns in recent memory. OK, it’s true that the past eighteen months have brought us a couple of valuable lessons. Pengovsky wrote on those recently for domestic consumption but suffice it to say it boils down to infosec for seniors and learning the difference between a cunt and a pussy. But on the whole there’s this uneasy feeling that this could turn ugly yet.

270 to win. (source)

On the whole, the arsenal deployed in US elections is by far more diverse than anything we’re used to this side of the pond, let alone this sorry excuse for a country. Take this legal challenge of The Donald‘s campaign in Nevada where voting was extended on account of long lines. Sure, the judge threw out the suit post-haste, but that wasn’t really the goal. What the campaign aimed to do is to force his opponent’s campaign into making a stupid move of their own and possibly profiting on it one way or another. Of course the Clinton campaign is much too good a machine to fall for that, but the general rules of political engagement state that the enemy must be buzzed at all times. So, nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong with this Trump move however is the same thing that was wrong with his entire campaign from the very beginning: that it employs barely disguised dog-whistle politics, overt racism and wants to win by complaining about the rules rather than finding a way to use the rules to his advantage. In doing this he probably changed US politics forever but not for better.

Continue reading Dear Lord, Please Let It Be A Landslide

I Just Can’t Even….

This was supposed to be a mildly self-serving blogpost on Brexit from an outsider’s perspective. You know, the kind that mixes a bit of historical narrative with a few ill-chosen links, all in the hope of scoring a few extra clicks and chipping off an eyeball or two for a second. It’s not that Brexit is not an important issue. It’s just that the arguments of both sides have been hashed and re-hashed time and again, the issue was approached from (what seemed at the time) every possible angle and, last but not least, it is for the Brits to decide. Unlike the referendum on Scottish independence, where this blogger could actually provide insight into the often-overlooked details of declaring independence (i.e. the hassle of a proper international border) and reiterating the historical role London always had keeping Berlin and Paris in check, there is awfully little for pengovsky to bring to the debate other than  a groveling “please, don’t go”. And then Jo Cox was murdered.

Jo Cox in the House of Commons during her maiden speech. (source)

It’s been twenty-four hours since she died  and I am, to be honest, still at a loss for much words. I can’t even do sarcasm. I just can’t even… I mean, there you are, Brits and your United Kingdom, a country I always liked and, as I grew older (if not wiser), came to respect and even admire for its role in the world, past and present. Its cultural influence, pop and otherwise, its ability for innovation while nurturing tradition and – last but not least – its political creed and democratic values which much of Europe, especially post-socialist countries, often looked up to.

You see, when you mention the word “parliament” to a Slovenian, he or she will, obvs, first think of our own madhouse, but the very next thing to come to mind will the The House of Commons. Whenever the state of the media is debated, it almost always ends with “but they should be more like the BBC.” For the political aficionados in this sorry little excuse for a country, the House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and The Thick of It were formative pieces of entertainment. Vanessa Redgrave recited the English version of Zdravljica, a Prešeren poem which constitutes our national anthem. You gave us fucking Monty Python. That’s just in case you ever wondered what has the UK ever done for us.

And then Jo Cox was murdered. I realize that it was a deranged neoNazi (a euphemism if I ever saw one) who pulled the trigger and wielded the knife. But the stage was set by someone else. As Alex Massie pointed out in the Spectator, events have a multiplier effect.

Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’ (link)


It wasn’t just Farage and Leave campaign, sowing fear and loathing of immigrants while harking to a 19th-century notion of an empire respected. It wasn’t just Boris angling for a win-win scenario where he either scores a senior Cabinet post as a conciliatory present should Remain win or kick David Cameron out of Number 10 and take his spot, should Remain lose. It wasn’t even just Jeremy Corbyn, looking to have the cake and eat it, by trying to make both the case for Remain and make political hay out of legitimate grievances many of Labour voters have with the conservative government (let alone stem the bleeding of his voters to UKIP). And it wasn’t even just David Cameron who started this whole referendum business simply in order to appease the eurosceptic element within the Tory party and, well, remain at the helm.

In addition to the above, it was everyone who enabled a toxic debate environment where what is euphemistically refered to as “post-truth politics” thrives at the expense of an honest and candid, let alone rational debate (yes, I’m looking at you, the media). But it was also, I am sad to say, everyone who did nothing against it.

For quite a while, the EU referendum issue was dismissed by the general public as a political game, an episode of Westminster twats doing their twatty stuff. You guys didn’t take it seriously. Because you couldn’t be bothered. Or, if you could be bothered, you didn’t really take the time to sift through the claims and counterclaims or even took a long, hard look at the issue. From what pengovsky understands, Jo Cox did. Drawing from her previous experience, she knew what was in play. And now she’s dead.

A family was robbed of a mother and a wife, a constituency and a parliament were robbed of a fine MP and a country and a society were robbed of an active citizen, in an era where these are few and far between as it is.

I really was going to beg you not to go. But now I’ve half a mind to tell you to just sod off.

This isn’t how things are suppose to work. This is not how you taught us.

Call Me A Referendum

Funny thing, democracy. Apparently it’s OK to have a referendum on gay marriage but not OK to have a referendum on policing powers for the military. This, at least, will be the final take-away of deliberations of the Constitutional Court on recent referendum issues. Namely, after having OK’d a disputed referendum on the new marriage legislation, the court is poised to nix the referendum on increased powers for the military, further cementing its appearance as a senior citizen’s club trash-talking the issues of the day without caring either for the effect this has on the society as a whole or on the legal system in particular.

Graphics by @mapixel

Now, it should be said that neither of the outcomes is at all surprising. Not with this particular composition of the court, that is. But the problem is the inconsistency that stems from that. Especially since this exact same court a couple of years ago came up with a “human dignity” benchmark when deliberating on whether to repeal a city ordinance naming a street in Ljubljana after Marshal Tito. But despite the fact that the court bent over backwards in coming up with at least a semi-coherent  definition of human dignity as a legal and consitutional concept, it was never ever applied again. Question is, why?

Random Senior Citizens’ Club

The short and the long of it is that the judges are acting more and more like nine randomly selected, rather well-off senior(ish) citizens, who – by the very nature of things – tend to lean conservative (as in “preserving status quo”) and more often than not decide from their particular view-point rather than from an eagle-eyed view of an ever-evolving democracy they were mandated with.

To put it crudely, you might as well go to a posh restaurant in downtown Ljubljana, randomly pick  nine individuals aged 50+ and you’ve an even chance of coming up with similar decisions. The only difference being that the judges are able to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as far as legalese is concerned. But in substance, there would be little discernible difference.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the referendum on the amended law on family and marriage, which allows for same-sex marriage by simply redefining marriage as being “between two people” and not anymore “between a man and a woman” was allowed, while the referendum on army having jurisdiction over civilians will in all likelihood be denied. It’s how a substantial number of Slovenians close to retirement age, when unchallenged, think about these issues.

The thing is, that the Constitutional Court is not “a substantial part of Slovenians close to retirement age” but rather the (pen)ultimate guardian of the republic, founded on civilian control over the military and equality for all.  But at this particular moment, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and there’s little we can do about it.

Really? Not exactly.

The GOP, Slovenian edition

While the referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on 20 December, the result is by no means a given, even though a much more comprehensive piece of legislation which included same-sex weddings was voted down three years ago. In fact, despite the vote being only two weeks away, there has been, until this weekend, an eerie quiet on the ground, with sporadic fighting going on only within the social media bubble. While no-one expected this to last, it does seem to suggest that outside the campaign proper, which is bound to pick up in the coming hours and days, there is little new to be said on the issue.

That, of course, does not mean that both YES and NO campaign are preaching solely to the choir. According to a Delo poll, the voters are split down the middle with 40 % being in favour and 41 % opposed to the legislation, which means there’s a roughly 20 % of the electorate available to swing the vote either way. And in this, the opponents of equal rights enjoy a huge advantage, as they don’t have to present actual fact, they only have to make people afraid. Of whatever. In fact, you could do worse than to draw a comparison between the NO campaign and the current GOP primaries in the US of A. You can totally see The Donald, Cruz and Rubio as being at the forefront of the Slovenian opposition to same-sex weddings. They’d fit like a glove.

Losing ground, gaining ground?

That scare-mongering tactics work, goes without saying. The problem is that the ultra-conservative opposition is far less sure of their own position this time around. Both in terms of arguments as well as in terms of numbers. Which, again, is strikingly similar to the position the Republican party is in. Their core base is shrinking, and while the scare-mongering may rally the supporters of the NO campaign it is far less sure to sway those who haven’t decided yet. And this in a situation where every vote might count.

Aleš Primc, one of the heads of the NO campaign is well aware of this, which is why he suddenly started making an issue out of voters’ registers. Namely, it turns out that, on average, fifty people per day die in Slovenia. From Primc’s point of view this translates into fifty people who could have voted no but won’t. And since the State Electoral Commission makes the final update of the registers about ten days before the vote (they take their data from the Central Citizenship Register), on the day it sends out invitations to all eligible voters to vote in a referendum, this means that around five hundred people who will not be voting due to the fact that they will be dead, will still be eligible to vote.

Now, normally, this wouldn’t matter. But unlike the election process, where the resulting percentage of votes is calculated against votes cast, the last iteration of referendum rules calls for a two-step verification. A referendum result only overturns the law passed if a majority of votes cast are against but only if the total votes against amount to at least 20 % of the entire electorate. Including those five hundred dead people who are projected to pass away in the days between the final update of the voters’ registry and the actual vote.

Five hundred votes is not exactly a big number and since last year’s referendum on archives was held under the exact same conditions and no-one objected, the State Electoral Commission told Primc he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but it all goes to show just how nervous the ultra-conservatives are about the final outcome. And if the whole thing does indeed come down to the wire and the NO campaign ultimately loses, you can be sure the result will be challenged one way or the other.

No man is an island

Adding to the complication for the NO campaign is also the growing discrepancy between their general world outlook, which is (nominally, at least) pro-Western and their stance on marriage equality, which is, well, increasingly pro-Eastern. I mean, just look at it: You’ve got devoutly religious countries, big and small, such as Argentina, Brasil, Ireland and Luxembourg (to name but a few) adopting marriage equality. You’ve got the US of A and the United Kingdom doing the same. You’ve got countries that are predominantly Catholic, Protestant or atheist doing the same thing over and over again: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, France…. the list gets longer and longer every year. Point being that the opponents of same-sex marriage in Slovenia are increasingly left without outside reference. Hell, even the Pope went soft-ish on the LGBT issue in general. Point being that no man is an island and that for all the doubts and misgivings the Slovenian electorate might have about the issue, there is mounting evidence that the world doesn’t end if people of the same sex can get married.

This of course does not prevent the NO side from coming up with a plethora of run-for-your-lives bullshit, including (but not limited to) the claim that same-sex couples will be “buying babies from surrogate mothers” and that “your kids will be turned into gays and lesbians by schools teaching them same-sex ideology”. Now, these and similar claims have been refuted time and again, the latter most effectively by Jure Šink (link in Slovenian), who held a senior position in the education ministry during the Janša 2.0 government. Which is yet another hint at the fact that the NO campaign is struggling with a broader appeal even with people with whom it would probably find common ground on other issues.

And yet, there is still every possibility that the YES camp loses yet another vote. Not just because bleeding voters on one side does not automatically translate into winning them over for the other side. It could be that come referendum Sunday, not enough people will be bothered to vote YES even though they support equal rights in the first place. This especially goes for GenY voters and even younger (apparently called GenZ) who take so many things for granted that they can rarely be bothered to care. I mean, LGBT rights, In Slovenia at least, are a cause old at least three decades. The vast majority of GenY wasn’t even born when gays and lesbians were starting their struggle in what was for that day and age a liberal environment. And one could argue that back then in many respects Slovenia was much more liberal than it is today. But since LGBT citizens have almost the same level of rights as their heterosexual compatriots, this can create a false sense of complacency to the tune of “ah, well, another time perhaps”.

Yes, there will definitely be another time. On the whole, the trend appears to be irreversible. But no right was simply acquired, every single one of them was fought over and won in a protracted struggle. So, the question for young voters, who are one of the key demographics for the YES campaign, should not be “why should I bother” but rather “why this wasn’t fixed already?” and then get out the vote and fix it.

The challenge

The YES campaign will also have to stay on message. That alone might prove hard enough. Namely, as many as 39 organisations have announced they will be partaking in the campaign which means that they get to have their say at least once. The majority of those are in the NO camp which means the ultra-conservatives get to have more exposure on a minute-for-minute basis than the YES campaign. And since a majority of the NO camp is consisted either by astroturf organisations and one-man-band crackpots, this puts the YES camp in the dangerous position of trying to refute the absurdest of claims thus wasting time, energy and credibility (pengovsky wagered 20 euros that someone will try to combine the same-sex marriage and the refugee crisis into one big scare mechanism).

The pitfalls of a substantiated argument against a “let’s shit all over them, something will surely stick” was described quite well in this Metina Lista podcast where Briški and yours truly talked to Grainne Healy of the Irish Yes Equality campaign which won the constitutional referendum in Ireland in May this year, enshrining equal right to marry in the country’s constitution by a surprisingly large margin.

The tl;dr of it being stay on-message, let others deal with bullshit and get the vote out.

Which basically sums up the next two weeks in Slovenia as well.


P.S.: At Diogenes’ request, here’s a translation of what YES and NO votes actually mean.

By voting YES, you vote in favour of enacting the law that was passed by the parliament and which makes it possible for LGBT couples to enter into marriage legally.

By voting NO, you vote to reverse the decision of the parliament, thereby allowing only heterosexual couples to enter into marriage legally, while keeping LGBT couples a couple of legal notches below, at “registered partnership” level.