Open Mouth Insert Fence

Earlier today Prime Minister Miro Cerar announced Slovenia will “undertake additional technical measures” on its border with Croatia. Yesterday, the government voted to “step up measures to control migrant influx including necessary measures on the Schengen border” which the media widely translated as intention to put up a fence on the Slovenian-Croatian border which doubles as the Southern Schengen border. Combined with last week’s reports that elements of a fence were already in the country, that the government has already selected a contractor to erect it and that lately government officials avoided questions on the issue saying it has been labeled confidential (probably in the interest of the national security and all that jazz) it does seem that PM Cerar is up for some open-mouth-insert-foot time.


Now, the whole fence issue has been on the table even since Hungarian leader Orban started putting up his own fence on his borders with Serbia and Croatia. At that time Cerar and his government rejected the notion of a fence as a viable tool in tackling the humanitarian catastrophe that is the refugee crisis. In doing that, Cerar earned praise from many quarters (pengovsky included), not in the least because after the initial stumbles the government branches most equipped for disaster relief have taken over control of the situation.

Ever since, however, there was slow-but-constant backtracking on the soft-handed approach as the influx of refugees stretched the country’s resources which – at least in part – was exabberated by neighbouring Croatia transporting those poor sods near the border in no particular order or schedule and then letting them loose to make their way across the border as best as they could – even across treacherous terrain or fast-flowing rivers.

But for the most part, the backtracking was generated by the attempt of the politically inexperienced top brass to respond to challenges from the opposition, the neighbouring countries and the EU, all at the same time. The inevitable result, however, was the self-induced sense of panic because those three challenges were conflicting each other. The opposition wanted to declare martial law (or something to that effect), the neighbouring countries wanted Slovenia to either take all the refugees dumped on her (Croatia) or put up a fence of their own (Hungary) of something in between (Austria) while the EU demanded the country behave like a member state should and take over the refugees in an orderly and effective manner.

Trying to accommodate all three obviously created a cacophony of messages, making the government appear as if it is losing the grip on the situation. And once *that* message got through, suddenly the idea of policing powers for the army didn’t seem all that bad. And once that line was crossed, the fence seemed like an issue not necessary to sit on anymore. And here we are. The only problem being that they got it all wrong.

Yesterday in Brussels, interior minister Györkös-Žnidar said that the decision was “political”. Well, politically, this is a disaster of magnificent proportions. Not only has the nominally centre-to-centre-left government alienated a large part of its (potential) base, it has failed to warm up to the right-wing, too. Despite the fact that it was clamouring for just such a fence. Because the challenges by the right-wing parties were never about the refugees. The SDS and the NSi don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about that or – to be more precise – they care just as much and in such a direction as Mutti Angela says they should. Thus, if PM Cerar is trying to show to the right-wing parties and their voters that he can manage the situation via erecting a fence, he’s in for a surprise. Because no sooner than he can say “migrant influx” someone from right-wing top echelon will be on the telly saying this was too little too late, asking when exactly does he intend to activate the army with its newfound powers, too.

Speaking of the army, the amendment to the Defence Act empowering the army with authority over civilians under special circumstances (for that is what it essentially is) is on hold pending a referendum challenge, with the plaintiffs now petitioning the constitutional court to allow the referendum since the parliament voted to prevent it, citing national security issues. Now, pengovsky has no doubts that the court will disallow a referendum on army powers just as it allowed one on same-sex marriage (more on both issues soonish).

But as it were, PM Cerar and the government have just declared the Balkan Mini Summit (called a few weeks ago by Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel) null and void and are now involuntarily sliding into the same bracket as Hungary, with a strikingly similar explanation. The government seems to be sensing this and is bending over backwards to explain to everyone who is willing to listen that these are “temporary technical measures” and not really a fence. And yet they seem to be the only ones buying that particular spin.

Needless to say that the pandering to both sides continues. During the press conference detailing those “temporary technical measures” PM Cerar at the same time said that while the fence will be put up it will not impede the ability to accept and process the refugees. Which begs the question why exactly are the new measures necessary. And, only minutes later, the PM explained at length that the sole purpose of the “technical measures” is to prevent dispersal of refugees, only to blurt out a while later that dispersal is in fact an unlikely scenario. So, which is it?

That there will be no simple and clean solution to the refugee crisis was clear from its onset. But it is becoming increasingly hard to watch this government talking itself into one political trap after another. As things stand now, the only ones profiting from his flip-flopping on how to tackle the crisis are his political adversaries. And he has just given them yet another stick to beat him with it.


Borut Pahor’s Mitt Romney Moment

Slovenian and US menstrual election cycles are oddly in sync. No matter the clusterfuck this country is in, we’ll always find elections to have more or less simultaneously with the “Tuesday after the first Monday in November“. Four years ago it was parliamentary elections which gave us Borut Pahor and gave Barack Obama to the rest of the world. Well, except Iran. And maybe Israel. But that’s another story.

Borut and Mitt, the also-rans (sources: The Firm™ and NYT)

This time around, however, the game in both towns is presidential. Barack H. Obama is running for re-election in Washington, while Danilo Türk is running for another term in Ljubljana. Also running are Mitt Romney in DC and Borut Pahor over here. Or should that be in past tense?

You’ll remember how pengovsky wrote about Borut Pahor turning into Slovenian Joe Lieberman. Today, however, he seems to have suffered his very own Mitt Romney moment, and not even a full 24 hours after former Governor of Massechussets more or less tanked his presidential bid.

Namely, in a pre-session huddle with members of the press Pahor, who serves as MP for Social Democrats (where he lost a re-election bid as party leader) said that his 2008-2011 government was oblivious to the worsening situation in the banking sector and totally failed to detect a problem. Which was a bit of a duh! moment for everyone else, but it seems to have been a breakthrough for Pahor himself. Which would be all fine and dandy were it not for the small fact of him running for president of this country.

The post of the President of the Republic is the pinnacle of political hierarchy in Slovenia. Despite the fact that it is largely (but not completely) a ceremonial post, the president is elected by a popular vote and is as such often looked to for moral and political guidance. Borut Pahor, despite his undeniable political and diplomatic achievements (the Arbitration Agreement with Croatia being his lasting contribution to the short history of this country), was voted out of office on account of – well – bad leadership. Sure, the fact that the pension- and labour-market reforms were defeated on a referendum was the result of an unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and labour unions, but even after the defeat he relentlessly clung on to power saying that the last thing this country needs is political turmoil. Failing to recognise the fact that by then the country was throat-deep in political turmoil.

He also did not realise that, for better or for worse, the buck stopped with him, the head of the government and of the largest coalition party. He actively evaded taking responsibility for the situation and thus only protracted the political impasse that had at the time gripped Slovenia. And when he did make a move it was far too little, far too late. And after being subjected to an open can of whoop-ass in 2011 parliamentary elections (SD plunged from 30% in 2008 to a meagre 10% in 2011) he blamed everyone and his brother for the defeat. In fact, the only proof that Borut Pahor does indeed have a back came only days ago, when he fell of a horse and hurt it. The back, I mean. The horse is reportedly OK.

The scene was repeated in June this year, when – despite the epic electoral defeat – he ran for re-election as party leader. The Social Democrats, in what appears to have been a rare moment of lucidity, ousted him by the thinnest of margins and installed Igor Lukšič as head of SD (Lukšič himself painfully underperformed ever since, but that’s another story). Pahor went on with his presidential bid regardless, as if he is somehow entitled to the top post, after having already served as head of the Parliament (2000-2004) and head of the government (2008-2011).

Thus, after objectively failing as prime minister and then as party leader, Pahor now of his own free will said that he also failed in realising the problems of the banking sector. And yet he truly believes that he is fit to be president of this country, at a time as perilous as any this generation has ever seen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing less than a humongous case of disconnect from reality.

Despite his apparent panache and suaveness, Borut Pahor often came across as overly candid, naive and unable to properly gauge the political environment he was in. Not unlike Mitt Romney, who probably killed any chance he had to get elected president. And so, too, it seems, has Borut Pahor.

Unless, of course, the disconnect is not only with Borut Pahor.


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How Borut Pahor Is Turning Into A Slovenian Joe Lieberman

Slovenian Social Democrats are up for a long-overdue post-election convention on 2 June and all signs point to a bloodbath. Borut Pahor is facing multiple challengers and the next two weeks will probably see precious few punched being pulled. Of the three, Pahor’s main rival is Igor Lukšič, party heavyweight and ideologue who used to be the brains behind Pahor’s rise to power and served as minister of education in the previous government. Lukšič was removed from Pahor’s inner circle quite unexpectedly in a small scale party purge soon after the 2008 election victory and little love was lost between the two since then.

Borut Pahor never really came to terms with the results od 2011 parliamentary elections. What by any measure was a defeat of epic proportions, he strove and still strives to present it as a “good enough” result, saying that the SD got 10 percent even though some pre-election polls showed as little as three-point support. But fact of the matter is that the SD would score in the vicinity of ten percent even if it were led by a ventriloquist’s puppet Which, incidentally, is how many people see Pahor in the first place.

Pahor was not a bad Prime Minister. In fact, he and his government had the right instincts and addressed the correct issues. The arbitration agreement with Croatia alone is enough to give the man a Medal of Honour. The fact that he tried to offset the first onslaught of the worldwide economic meltdown by raising the minimum wage while the business sector cried murder was a gutsy move. And to his credit, his government came up with a set of sweeping labour market and pension reforms, which – as both of you readers know full well – went down the drain courtesy of the unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and the labour unions. But good ideas are a dime a dozen and after suffering the traumatising defeat on the super-referendum vote, Borut Pahor was never able to recognise that the buck stops with him and never took responsibility. Yes, the unions fucked him over (paying dearly for it under current Janša administration). Yes, the then-opposition went to epic lengths to undermine any and all policies he came up with and relentlessly beat the drums on various cockamamie scandals which turned out to be nothing but elaborate character assassinations. But at the end of the day, it was Borut Pahor who was at the helm of the country and he counted on everyone else to help him steer the ship while he was running out of ideas on what to do next. And this is where he reached the point of no return.

When Pahor Met Merkozy

When his tenure was nearing the terminal stage, he liked to use the phrase “Franco-German train” which was suppose to mean that Slovenia should follow France and Germany in their economic policies. In fact, he’d often say “either we’re on that train or we are no more”. This Franco-German railway arrangement soon thereafter became known throughout Europe as Merkozy, shorthand for hardcore austerity and an all-out neoliberal agenda. Which is what Pahor bought into as the lack of vision on his part settled in completely and he became preoccupied with his legacy and immediate political future. Bottom line: No matter how often he quoted Churchill, unlike the old English fart Borut Pahor was not a PM fit for a time of crisis.

This became painfully obvious just prior to elections, when (against many an advice) Zoran Janković went national and the obviously-outgoing PM went ballistic, concocting a phrase “behind-the-scenes uncles” which supposedly handled Janković, instructing him to take over the reins of the political left-wing from Pahor. This line of reasoning conveniently forgot to take two things into account: a) that Pahor never really steered the left wing (although he wanted to) and b) that by that time Janković was way beyond anyone’s control including that of former president Milan Kučan who (pengovsky has it on good authority) privately advised Janković not to enter national politics. Such reasoning pushed Pahor ever more towards Janez Janša and – augmented by his chronic and notorious need for compromise – played a key part in him not lifting a finger when Janković was tripping over his own legs trying to clinch the PM post (and failing miserably).

Step by step, inch by inch, Borut Pahor was nearing a position where his positions were becoming very similar to those of Janez Janša and his government. Most notably on the fiscal rule, which apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused a very public rift within the party and its parliamentary group. As a result. the constitutional amendment enacting the fiscal rule does not have the necessary 60 votes in the parliament, but staying true to his reality-denying self, Pahor maintains that eventually he’ll deliver the necessary votes, allowing the government of Janez Janša to pass the amendment.

Falling Down: “I’m the bad guy?!”

Now, whether or not this is just a matter of political physics (distancing from one object inevitably draws you nearer to another object) or a carefully executed masterplan remains to be seen. With Pahor’s modus operandi to date, this would indeed seem more like an accident and I can totally see him as Michael Douglas in Falling Down, when he finally realises what he’s done and says “You mean, I’m the bad guy!?” But he’s not there yes. In fact if one were to draw a parallel, one could compare Borut Pahor to Senator Joe Lieberman, who – as you’ll remember, used to be the next Vice-President of the United States, but then gradually gravitated towards the Republican party, at one point actually addressing the GOP convention in 2008, supporting John McCain against Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, Pahor did in fact make several appearances at various right-wing pow-wows but thus far limiting it to addressing think tanks and affiliate organisations. Why?

Well, our why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-love-me top-tier politician is widely expected to run for President of the Republic in the upcoming election. Which is somewhat weird, given that the incumbent Danilo Türk is of left-wing provenance and was more than once a target of a smear campaign, case in point being Archivegate concocted by the SDS. Given that Janez Janša already put forward his candidate Milan Zver, MEP, Pahor running for the highest office in the country seems illogical. But then again, nobody ever accused him of being logical.

You Want Me In That Office. You Need Me In That Office!

You see, Pahor was on the brink of running for that very same office in 2007 and went through a very tragicomic and very Pahor-like episode of public soul-searching including admitting on live television that he simply doesn’t know what to do. He was eventually persuaded by his inner circle to take a pass and go for the PM spot a year later. Which he did and succeeded. But his overtures to the political right wing, provided that there is at least a tiny bit of logic behind them suggest, that he wants a crack at the job and he wants it now. Which is why he is reluctant to criticise Janša with anything harsher than “we don’t always see eye to eye”. This would also imply that he has (or thinks he has) some sort of a deal with Janša on this issue.

But if that is the case, his clinging to party leadership is all the more illogical. True, it doesn’t say anywhere that a sitting party president can’t be the head of state, but of the few high standards that were set in Slovene politics, a non-party president is one of them. Milan Kučan, Janez Drnovšek and Danilo Türk, the three individuals holding the office to date were either unaffiliated with any party (Tűrk) or relinquished their active party roles prior to or upon assuming office (Kučan and Drnovšek). Pahor, on the other hand, is fighting tooth-and-nail to continue as the top dog of the Social Democrats and it would make little sense to quit the job only months after the convention. Provided of course that he’d keep the party job and then win the presidential election.

None of the two are certain, mind you. OK, his chances of surviving the in-party challenge are marginally better, but a lot can change in the two weeks. Fact of the matter is that the party is split, especially those senior party members who can throw some weight around. The parliamentary group and Borut Pahor more often than not appear to be two different items and the two things that work in Pahor’s favour are the fact that there are three challengers: former minister of education and party ideologue Igor Lukšič, former minister of transport and the “cool guy” of the crowd Patrick Vlačič and a former member of National Council Zlatko Jenko. This of course practically ensures that the opposition vote will split at least two if not three ways.

Challenge For The Challenger

Of the three, Lukšič is the only one who is capable of mounting a serious challenge. He’s an old party hand, knows Pahor inside and out and was with the party through thick and thin. Which buys him quite a lot of clout. He’s also a very harsh critic of austerity measures and recognises that the left as a whole needs to reinvent itself. His problem is that he’s no good at sound-bites and sometimes has trouble getting the message across. Which may be Pahor’s second saving grace. The current SD president has neither the results nor the content to continue in his capacity. But he just might. It’s not that Lukšič doesn’t know the inning and the score, it’s just that he has trouble hitting the home run. And as we’ve seen time and again, “close” doesn’t cut it. We’ll see if Lukšič can get his act together in the next two weeks.

As for his implied presidential ambitions, you can bet your ass that Janša will once again try to screw him over and clinch the office for a right-wing candidate for the first time in history of this country. The scenario is farily simple: First, he’d enjoy seeing Pahor take on Türk, splitting the left-wing vote down the middle, thus increasing chances of Milan Zver making it to the second round, possibly facing Pahor. Should that happen, a lot of left wing voters would probably stay at home in protest during the second round of the vote, practically giving the victory to Zver. And even if Pahor won, Janša would be only marginally worse off, since Pahor would (as per custom) go above and beyond the call of duty to indulge Janša over and over again. And if somehow both Pahor and Türk made it to the second round, Janša would obviously support Pahor, achieving the same result.

In fact, the only situation Janez Janša wishes to avoid in the presidential election this autumn is a face-off between Danilo Türk and Milan Zver, be it in the first or the second round. And Borut Pahor seems to be working hard to prevent that from happening.

P.S.: Many apologies for not posting in over two weeks. Again, things to see and people to do…

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Lies, Damn Lies and the Campaign Against the Family Code

Apart from voting in a few mayors, Slovenians will be casting their votes on the referendum on the new Family code, the very piece of legislation which reignited the culture war which (truth be told) never really stops in Slovenia. It only rages with different levels of intensity. This time around, the Gates of Hell seem to have opened and the forces of darkness descended upon this sorry excuse for a country.

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening. Vesna Vilčnik (NO) shushes Miha Lobnik (YES) (RTVSLO via @milijonar)

During this campaign the amount of lies has reached unprecedented levels. Even the referendum on arbitration agreement with Croatia saw less bullshit produced by those who opposed it. Indeed, this time around we saw the whole plethora of lies, fearmongering and deceit. Everything from claiming that the family code brings “homosexual education” to schools, that children will be taken away by the state if parents will not have them vaccinated and that the code provides for surrogacy. The natural order of things will be dismantled, Slovenian society as we know it will fall apart and the world will end. This is not my rendition of opponents’ statements. These are their statements.

So, what’s it all about? This, this and this, basically. The Family Code, which was passed by the parliament and then put up for a referendum by an astrotuf movement headed by Aleš Primc and heavily backed by the Roman Catholic Church, basically provides for legalisation of most (not all) family situations, giving both children and adults with a legal framework within which they can operate even if they are not a “traditional”, mother-father-offspring family. It should be said, that – although finally provided – this framework still differentiates between various types of families. For example, a same-sex union, while equal to a heterosexual union in virtually every other aspect, is not allowed to adopt children unless one of the adults in the union is a child’s biological parent.

But that doesn’t really matter, because what is at stake here, is not really the right of individuals to marry and have children (at this point, most opponents will hurry to assure you they have a number of gay friends), but the fact that the conservative, reactionary visions of a society where “everyone knows their station” are fast disappearing. In fact, the definition of family and the moral imperative which stems from it, is one of the last pillars of a rigid and pre-modern concept of a society champinoed by the Catholic Church and others who take it upon themsevles to be the ultimate judges of the morality of others. This is not about families, nor it is about partners or children. It is about control. Who gets to decide what’s wrong and what’s right. In a modern society, individuals do, with the caveat of entrusting the care for the common good to the state. In a pre-modern society, the self-appointed moral and spiritual leaders do, often asking to be followed blindly. Because. They. Know.

Which is why they feel they can sell even the most epic of bullshits. Indeed, the whole NO campaign is not unlike the US Tea Party movement and the level of agressiveness brings about memories of frenzied Republicans shouting Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist during the 2008 US presidential campaign. Even more, the lies of the NO campaign are on the same level as Michelle Bachmann‘s “death panels” during th Obamacare campaign. In fact, the whole NO campaing seemed to be picked up from an old Reublican handbook. It doesn’t matter how far out the claim is, as long as it keeps the ball roling and the enemy engaged, making him spend time and energy debunking the latest crack-pot claim. Like the one that the Family code is full of secret keys. What do they do? Explain the Mayan calendar?

Voting yes on the referendum on Sunday will mean a) that adults will be able to love whomever they like and in a manner they see fit, not hurting anyone, b) children will have a better chance of being with a loving family and c) no self-appointed “higher authority” will be able to tell you what a) and b) in fact are. Voting no, however, will mean that things stay exactly as they are and a lot of people, who pose no threat whatsoever to anyone, who could have it better, will not be able to do so. It’s that simple.

Everyone deserves to be happy. ZA.


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Osama bin Laden – Ezekiel 25:17

If you prick us do we not bleed?
If you tickle us do we not laugh?
If you poison us do we not die?
And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

William Shakespeare

Wanted. Dear or alive (source)

There’s a little voice in pengovsky’s head going on for the past twenty-four hours about how I should be outraged by the fact the US issued Osama bin Laden a one way ticket for the train to the Big Adios yesterday. Yes, the anti-communist and/or oil-based US foreign policy. Yes, the immeasurable civilian suffering brought upon the rest of the world while America was trying to shape the world according to its own image. Yes, the American-sponsored dictators around the globe and yes, many-an-unjust (or even illegal) war. Yes, bin Laden didn’t come out of nowhere. Depending on your viewpoint, he is either a direct by-product of US post-war foreign policies or at least made very good use of the double standards the US employed around the globe in the past sixty years. And yet, I’ve no quarrel with him being up-close-and-personal with whatever god he believed in.

Dunno. Maybe it was the fact that I was in New York and came to like the place much more than expected. Maybe it was that the audacity of parking two jumbo-jets in a sky-scraper is un-fucking-believable even ten years after the fact. Or maybe it was just my own double standards. At any rate, yesterday’s action was a reminder of the fact that although the US is no longer the indisputable Big Kahuna, it is still one of the very few countries that posses resources, technology and equipment to pull this off. It is also one of the few things in this ill-conceived war on terror (and beyond) that the US actually followed through and finished the job. The fact that it happened under President Barack Obama is a slap-in-the-face not only to his predecessor whose military adventures are a gift that keeps on giving. It also shows that President Obama has cojones, because the last two attempts of this nature by the US military failed spectacularly (Somalia in 1992 and Tehran in 1979).

Now, some argue that it would be better if bin Laden had been taken alive and stood trial. Wrong. This would put him back in the public spotlight, elevating him to hero status yet again. Furthermore, in a trial accusations must be proven beyond the shadow of the doubt. Sure, he claimed responsibility for many attacks (curiously enough, the FBI did not want him for 9/11), but establishing a direct link (a chain of command) between bin Laden and actual civilian deaths might prove to be a tad more difficult than people think. Moreover, establishing their case, the US would probably have to share intelligence with the court and the defence, jeopardising further missions. And if – despite all misgivings – evidence is produced, who is to say that it was not gathered during torture, which would make it null and void. If you’re still not convinced, just remember what a show Slobodan Milošević made during his time at Scheveningen prison. And finally, holding a trial where the verdict is a foregone conclusion would look just bad.

With Osama bin Laden gone, the world is not a safer place. It is also difficult to say that justice has been served. What has happened, however, is that revenge was exacted. With great vengeance and furious anger. And I can’t say I can’t relate.

Question is, will there be hell to pay yet?

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