SuperKarl and Croatian Rapid-Fire Mode

Karl Erjavec is one lucky sonofabitch. In fact, he is so lucky that his middle name could well be changed from Viktor to Felix. I mean, the lucky with this guy is so strong that if he’d been thrown out of an airlock in the middle of the universe, he’d beat the probability of survival of two to the power of 276,709 to one against. Because that’s how improbable it is that Karl Erjavec found himself at the epicentre of not one, but two political and diplomatic scandals in Slovenia and was told by PM Cerar that he will not seek his replacement.

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SuperKarl and the Mystery of The Arbitration. Sounds like a film with Harrison Ford

You see, if this was a time like any other, Erjavec would be flying out of the ministry, legs first, over a scandal with Slovenian ambassador to France where she allegedly embezzled state funds, repeatedly went on unauthorised leaves and fabricated reports. Shit was apparently brewing for some time, while the wrongdoing was uncovered months ago by an internal audit results of which were then sat on by the foreign ministry. The report was released only yesterday after the Information Commissioner ordered the ministry to do so, following an apparently unusually long deliberation on the issue.

However, since Slovenia is momentarily embroiled in the Arbitration Agreement omnishambles which already claimed the two directly involved senior diplomats, PM Miro Cerar apparently decided against beheading the foreign ministry in what is shaping to be a crucial, all-hands-on-deck period in the arbitration on the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute.  Not to mention the quite probable outbreak of a political crisis in Slovenia dismissing the leader of the second largest coalition party would probably incur. Thus SuperKarl lives to see another day.

Namely, after the initial panicky response to what is now dubbed PiranLeaks, Slovenian political class is finally getting its shit together. Thus a new national arbiter will be appointed soonest (probably today), circumventing the usually protracted process in the parliament, in the hope that the arbitration proceedings can continue and ultimately conclude. Which is precisely what Croatia wants to prevent.

The government of Zoran Milanović went into rapid-fire mode, upping the ante almost daily. Thus on Sunday FM Vesna Pusić was still writing a concerned letter to the Arbitration Tribunal, formally notifying it of what had happened, but on Monday PM Milanović already announced the government is considering withdrawing from the arbitration altogether. And when his Slovenian counterpart Cerar said neither country can quit the arbitration (as per agreement), Milanović retorted by saying that it can and it will.

This is the point where things start to get tricky indeed. For all its bravado (probably amplified by the de facto election campaign Croatia is in), the incumbent Croatian government has talked itself into a rather cramped corner. Not putting their money where their mouth is would mean certain ruin for Milanović and his fellow political travellers. But the signals they are receiving are anything but clear and/or encouraging. Namely, the European Commission stated in no unclear terms that it expects the rules of the agreement to be adhered to and for the tribunal to finish the job at hand. The tribunal itself demanded Slovenia explain its version of events. Whether or not this heralds a chastising of Slovenia or not remains to be seen, but it does suggest the tribunal sees itself fit to handle the current clusterfuck as well.

Point being that Croatia used up most of its ammo (provided there’s not another batch of phone-taps waiting to miraculously appear in Croatian media) while everyone else barely made a move. This, too, suggest the pace of Croatian moves is dictated by internal political dynamics (looming elections) rather than the arbitration itself. And while one can fully expect attempts at broadening the field (like Zagreb filing a complaint with the Int’l Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg), the fact is that the Arbitration Tribunal has it within its power to conclude the proceedings as per the agreement. Even if that means unilaterally appointing a new arbiter for Croatia, since Vukas is rumoured to be stepping down at the behest of the government in Zagreb which will not name a replacement, or so the wisdom goes.

Unless, of course, Slovenia has a trick or two up its sleeve, as well. That, at least, that was the translation of Branko Grims’ cryptic praise of SOVA, the Slovenian spook service yesterday. Namely, Gizmo (generally, a pretty undesirable character) said the country’s intelligence services had done an excellent job which led to speculations that Slovenia, too, had been listening in on Croatian convos (link in Slovenian).

If that really is the case, one can only hope no one is stupid enough to actually release the recordings. We’ve seen enough embarrassment these days to go around. Twice over.

UPDATE
This, via the STA

 

The Wire: Arbitration Agreement Edition

In the good old days, men were men, women were women, Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six was Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six and Slovenia-Croatia border disputes flared up every summer. Like clockwork. Then came the Arbitration Agreement and put an end to all that. And I’m not talking about hipsters here, if you catch my meaning. Since yesterday, however, it feels like the good old days.

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Arbitration Tribunal in session (source)

Croatian daily Večernji list ran a bombshell of a story, claiming Slovenia acted in bad faith vis-a-vis the Arbitration Tribunal and had the country’s agent with the court Simona Drenik (full disclosure: pengovsky knows her personally) discuss tactics of Slovenian case with Jernej Sekolec, the country’s appointee to a five-member tribunal. Obviously all hell broke loose, with the Croats going all Captain Renault on arbitration and hinted at bailing out of the proceedings, which, if the three phone records are to be believed (and so far no-one has denied their authenticity), were going well in Slovenia’s favour.

There are multiple aspects to the issue, not in the least why exactly were the records made public now, when they were apparently made between November last year and January this year. But while Croatia is crying foul, the debate in Slovenia immediately took on a holier-than-thou attitude, taking the Zagreb spin at face value and started dissecting the Sekolec-Drenik convo, looking for clues to support Croatian claims. Which are, well, on rather thin ice.

Namely, Croatia claims that Slovenia tried to influence the tribunal consisting of three independent experts plus an arbiter from either side by coaching the national arbiter in aspects that are beneficial to the Slovenian cause. Well, is the Pope Catholic? I mean, both sides have put forward a memorandum stating their case and left it to the tribunal to decide on the merits of claims. The fact that both countries agreed to appoint a national arbiter shows that the conflicting parties wanted to have a) continuous oversight over the proceeding (as opposed to being merely informed of the decision) and b) the ability to at least try to steer the deliberations to their benefit. Sekolec at one point even implies that everyone subscribed to the tacit understanding that the national arbiters are by default biased (duh!) by hinting at the three foreign experts (occasionally?) meeting separately to discuss the issues at hand.

The gist of the story is that the tribunal is due to release a binding decision in December and – apparently – award two-thirds of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia and provide for a short corridor to international waters. Thus a key Slovenian maritime goal would have been achieved, after more than two decades of border incidents and even armed confrontations on land and on the sea. Which explains why the Croatian side went public with the wiretaps only now and not immediately after they were recorded.

For all intents and purposes, this is a major intelligence scoop by Croatian spooks. Despite the prevailing narrative of “amateur hour”, Slovenian foreign ministry takes security pretty seriously. Doubly so in the case of the arbitration. This, pengovsky knows for a fact. So what we are dealing with here in all probability is not two bureaucrats with a frivolous attitude towards security but rather a major breach or even an inside job (conspiracy theories! \o/). Which means that Slovenian spook services will have a lot of explaining to do.

But the main takeaway here is not that Sekolec and Drenik were indeed confabulating (no-one on the Slovenian side denied the authenticity of the recordings and both have since resigned) but that the Croats went public with phone taps at all. Which means either that a) the breach was since sealed (unlikely, given the panic on the Slovenian side) or b) the wiretap had lost operational potential and Slovenia achieved what it wanted regardless. Which left Zagreb only with the nuclear option, to burn their asset and hope the whole thing takes the arbitration agreement with it.

Doubly so when one takes into account the fact that the final decision of the tribunal is to be published in December, awfully close to Croatian parliamentary elections where the incumbent left-wing government is apparently poised to lose to HDZ, prompting PM Milanović to suck up make overtures to right-wing voters to try and turn the trend. Should the tribunal indeed award more than a half of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia, the projected defeat of the Milanović government would most likely turn into a rout, especially since the Blut-und-Boden rhetoric is even more hyped-up in Croatia as it is in Slovenia. So while official Zagreb is professing its shock and innocence, the conclusion here is that the other party is trying to mitigate the disastrous effects a decision, favourable to Slovenia, international credibility be damned.

Interestingly, while Croatian political class is united feigning disbelief (former PM Jadranka Kosor, who signed the agreement with Slovenian then-PM Pahor, called the deal null and void), it is getting a lot of help from Slovenia as well. Not only did PM Cerar and FM Erjavec immediately leave Sekolec and Drenik hang out to dry, the two have been treated to a generous helping of proper backstabbing, either by various elements of the opposition, trying to cash in on the panic or by would-be arbiters who failed to wiggle their way into this story. Case in point by judge at the Constitutional Court and a long-time diplomat Ernest Petrič who saw it fit to delve right into the fray (Slovenian only).

Curiously enough, the only two high-profile individuals who have appealed for calm and warned against buying into the Croatian narrative are the two people who at the height of their game were seen as arch-enemies – Janez Janša and Gregor Golobič

Both appeal for calm and point out that it is Croatia which is in a weaker position, a stark opposite to the prevailing narrative of a Slovenian diplomatic failure. The President, however, who in his capacity as PM signed the Arbitration Agreement in 2009, was  – 24 hours after the crisis erupted – making hay while sun shone. Literally.

But, to be fair, the man did later say he expected the tribunal to finish the job. Whis it apparently intends to do, as per tweet of this Večer newspaper reporter

Just how exactly this will play out, is hard to say. But it does suggest Croatia found itself in a spot so tight, FM Vesna Pusić stated publicly that it doesn’t matter who made the tapes or how Croatia obtained them. Now, this is a bit of a Catch 22 situation for them, as problematic activity was detected by problematic methods and revealing that makes Croatia just as problematic as it believes Slovenia is. Which doesn’t exactly further their cause. Not to mention that wiretapping senior officials is somewhat frowned upon in this day and age. In the final analysis, the releasing of the tapes seems more like a domestic policy stunt to cover their asses if the tribunal really does decide to award a large part of the Piran Bay to Slovenia than anything else. But for all the talk about declaring the agreement null and void, just because they don’t like the result, it is worth to remember that one series which dealt with wiretapping, bad life decisions and tautologies.

A deal is a deal.

 

P.S.: For a good take on the issue, friend and colleague Nataša Briški provides over at Metina lista (Slovenian only)

Your Country Wants YOU To Be Her Taxman

Strictly speaking, this write-up isn’t political, but this being Slovenia and all, politics is never far away. As you might or might not know, government of Alenka Bratušek increased VAT 2 percentage points, from 20 to 22 percent amid cries of adding to the economic slump. Now, truth be told, Bratušek and her finance minister Čufer are somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place. The budget is screwed up and in dire need of rebalancing which is happening as you read this. Instead of an across-the-board slashing of the public sector, Bratušek opted for the slippery-slope approach of gradually reducing wages in the public sector and increasing taxes as well as introducing new ones. The VAT increase is the initial step, to be followed by a proper real-estate tax (cue property owners including the Roman Catholic Church going ape-shit) and a still-lingering option of special crisis-tax. To name but a few.

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…to be her taxman.

But beyond the normal ripples of you’ll-pry-this-money-from-my-cold-dead-hands, none of this cause any special uproar. OK, maybe the property tax is yet to do this, because two things are sacred to a Slovenian. His house and his car. Both of which are usually slightly above his means. What is making rounds for the past two days, however, is a programme by the Tax Administration to have citizens send in photos of invoices they receive via MMS messages. That’s right. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus (ok, maybe not the last one), the TaxAdmin opted for a 20 year old tech to turn people into snitches. I guess they went for quantity rather than quality.

Now, some people (@had included went slightly ga-ga over this, especially since the TaxAdmin is not a particularly small government agency. And is about to get bigger still, with the Customs officers being transferred from the border with Croatia to various posts within the TaxAdmin. However, the outrage is totally misplaced.

After all, even today, the Slovenian political class likes to wear the snitch-jacket when it breaks bread with a ranking US diplomat, to give an example at random. I mean, we’ve been doing this for decades. When Fascist took over in 1941, snitching was aplenty. When Communists took over in 1945, snitching on your neighbour was a favourite past-time activity to settle old scores. And when Capitalists took over in 1990, the same thing was happening all over again. And so on and so forth.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is simply a relatively well-aimed but poorly executed attempt to tap into this nation’s snitching reflex.

 

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Immunity for Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader

Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader share a great many things. Not only are both former prime ministers of their respective countries, their parties are also members of European People’s Party, they were both implicated in alleged (and then strenuously denied) fixing of border incidents between Slovenia and Croatia prior to 2004 elections and now they are both facing criminal charges. Talk about male bonding! 😈


“So, tell me Janez, what’s it like on the inside?” (source)

As you know, former PM and now opposition leader Janez Janša was indicted for aiding and abetting bribery and corruption (with four more people facing similar or graver charges). What has happened since is that the indictments were “tested” by the local court at which they were filed and the court approved them. This of course does not mean that the man is guilty, but it does mean that potentially the biggest procedural hurdle was cleared and that the trial will go forward.

Which is why today the parliamentary Committee for Public Office and Elections had to vote on whether Janez Janša should be granted immunity in the Patria Affair. Under Article 83 of the Constitution a deputy can invoke immunity if the maximum penalty for charges against him/her do not carry more than a five-year prison sentence. And since charges against Janša carry three years or less, the parliamentary Committee can (even against Janša’s wishes) grant him immunity.

But the man, who already knows what the inside of a prison cell looks like, said upfront that he will not invoke the immunity clause and hours ago the committee dully voted not to grant him immunity, which means that the trial can start with the full cast. Not so in the case of JJ’s buddy Ivo Sanader, who – it now appears – was virtually run out of office but not because of now-virtually-solved border dispute with Slovenia, but because there was no way to keep the lid on his (alleged) mischief.

One version goes that he was “summoned” to Brussels, but – instead of stalling yet another round of border-dispute negotiations – he was greeted by a stack of binders documenting in detail his supposed criminal activities, some of which are said to be connected to the downfall of the Hypo Bank and then to a series of fraudulent and embezzlement activities in his native Croatia.

However, unlike his Slovenian paisan, Sanader, having returned from what was officially a lecturing tour in the US (unofficially avoiding questioning by the parliamentary committee and Croatian CrimPolice), decided to claim his seat in the parliament and invoke the immunity clause, to which he is apparently entitled.

Fun times. Two former PMs looking at a prison sentence, while their successors iron out what even yesterday looked like insurmountable problems. Can it really be that easy? Nah, I’d be out of stuff to write, then… 😈

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