Remember, Remember, the Eleventh of November

Back to politics. President of the parliament Gregor Virant signed a decree yesterday scheduling presidential elections on 11 November. The fact that the first of expected two rounds of presidential elections will be held on St. Martin’s Sunday, when Slovenes, well, celebrate turning of must into wine – by drinking even more copious amounts of alcohol than usual – caused many a smirk around the country (“so, which of the two ballots do I fill out?”), but will in all honesty have only modest impact.


Gregor Virant doing the deed (photo by yours truly)

In fact, it is unclear at this stage exactly what will have an impact on the presidential campaign. If the trend of the ever more vicious campaigns is to continue, we’ll surely witness many below-the-belt punches, mudslinging and manipulations.

Officially, the campaign starts around 11 October and no candidate has yet formally filed his candidacy. Some weeks ago Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the nationalist party (now ousted from the parliament) withdrew his presidential bid, saying he refuses to be a part of the system which will be this country’s undoing. Again, this drew some cynical laughter, as Jelinčič himself was a member of the parliament for twenty-one nineteen years, from 1992 to 2011 and was very much an integral part of that very same system, knowing full well how to exploit it for his own personal and political gain.

But with Jelinčič out of the picture (although pengovsky would not be surprised if he were to re-enter the game at 11th hour), we are now left with five candidates: incumbent Danilo Türk, Milan Zver MEP, who runs on an SDS ticker and erstwhile PM Borut Pahor who runs on an SD ticket. Additionally, there are two no-name candidates, Marko Kožar and Monika Malešič. The latter made a couple of headlines earlier today claiming that she’s receiving death threats. This, we can more or less safely file under “attention whoring”, since both of them will probably poll between 0,1 and 0,4 percent. Cumulative.

As a side note, Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List indulged in yet another case of political vanity. Some weeks ago Virant hinted that his party might consider supporting Pahor, which to an extent further alienated Pahor from the left side of political spectrum (where Social Democrats nominally reside). Then, days ago Virant said that they might produce their own candidate with the caveat that this person has not yet given his/her consent and, finally, yesterday he somewhat reluctantly said that they will not put forward their own candidate but will support one of the already running ones. Which basically leaves them with either Pahor or Zver. The thing is that Virant’s party is scoring somewhere between terrible and disastrous right now which is why the whole thing came off as a really bad bluff. Fact of the matter is that – politically speaking – the Citizens’ List has precious little weight left to throw around outside the parliamentary chamber. Practically none.

This leaves the three main contenders for the top political job in the country. According to the latest poll, President Türk is firmly in the lead with 45 percent of the vote, with Borut Pahor trailing at 30 percent and Milan Zver way back with 17 percent. Pahor made some gains recently, but that can mostly be put down to his increased media presence while both Türk and Zver are criss crossing the country, campaigning on the ground.

Ever since Borut Pahor entered the race it seems a given that a second round will be necessary to elect a president. Additionally, it seems safe to assume that President Türk will make it into the second round comfortably (provided there are no serious gaffes), which means the race for second place between Borut Pahor and Milan Zver will be much more interesting. Which makes for ample speculation room as to whom exactly the current PM Janez Janša actually supports.

While not exactly necessary, all three candidates will run with popular support, basically as independents with support of various political parties, collecting signatures and thus avoiding running on a strictly party ticket. Which makes one curious as to why the PM did not put down his signature in support of Milan Zver. True, Janša’s SDS (in cahoots with NSi) supports Zver on, well, corporate level, but given that a lot of high-profile SDS and NSi members put their individual names down supporting Zver makes Janša’s absence from the list all the more curious.

The eleventh of November is still quite a distance away, but it could very well be that it will be the one to remember.

 

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Vote of Confidence: How PM Janša Just Screwed Entire Slovenian Politics Dry

Speculation was rife in Slovenia today that PM Janez Janša will tie a confidence vote to tomorrow’s vote on initiating procedures to enshrine the fiscal rule in the constitution. In less than twenty-four hours the country found itself in the middle of a political cliffhanger, since the government does not have the necessary two-thirds majority to change the constitution. It was obvious from the outset, however, that the whole thing was nothing more than an elaborate bluff, it’s primary goal not being mustering the votes necessary but rather a disciplinary measure, smoking out this government’s “internal opposition” and bringing them back in line for much more crucial votes which this government faces down the road.


(source)

Namely, the government of Janez Janša enjoys a stable majority in the parliament. The coalition has 52 votes (53 if you count the overly-indulging former PM Borut Pahor) and can pass legislation virtually at will. In fact, this is exactly what it is doing, as the parliament only this week passed 20-or-so laws, most of them under emergency procedure. Not that there was any real emergency, but the government asked for multiple quickies and the MPs who support it complied no-questions-asked. Such is the discipline within the coalition and there really is no need for Janša to test whether or not he has the support of the parliament.

That Janša was entertaining the thought regardless shows only that he is willing to (ab)use legal instruments to further his own grip on power. Tying the vote of confidence to a 2/3 majority would create a legal and political clusterfuck of epic proportions because it would mean the fall of a majority government without a viable alternative coalition to replace it. Which would probably suit Janša just fine as he thrives in an uncertain environment and would most likely end up on top again, even stronger. Truth be told, he most likely already got what he wanted and thus screwed the entire Slovenian politics dry.

Namely, earlier this evening an 11th hour compromise was reached, putting the vote on fiscal rule off until September, which places the debate conveniently close to presidential elections. And let us not forget this is not the first time he pulled a stunt like that. Back then he did it a week after Danilo Türk was elected president, this time around he tricked others (namely, president of the parliament Gregor Virant) into placing a debate a few weeks before the elections, possibly hijacking the debate entirely.

As an added bonus, he also forced the hands of Karl Erjavec (DeSUS) who was immediately ready to jump ship saying that he’s willing to be a part of any coalition and of Radovan Žerjav (SLS), who openly toyed with the idea of yet another early elections, excluding up front the possibility of someone else heading the government under the same coalition. Both Žerjav and Erjavec will pay dearly for their political amateurism. Additionally, Igor Lukšič of Social democrats made a bit of a blunder, saying that “if the going really gets tough”, the SD will support the fiscal rule. Well, the going got tough long ago and Janša now has Lukšič by the you-know-whats as well and the newly minted SD leader will have to spend a lot of energy to get out of this particular fix.

Right now, fiscal rule is the least of Slovenia’s problems. While not peachy, national finances are a far cry from that of Greece, Spain or Portugal (public debt in Slovenia right now is about 47% of GDP). This country has other problems: banking sector is cause for immediate concern with pension, labour market and health reforms coming in close second, as detailed here by Edward Hugh of Economonitor

That after six months in office Janša tackled none of the above (even the banks are on hold until Autumn) only further strengthens the point that the whole point of today’s exercise was purely political with the ultimate goal of not relinquishing power, but tightening the already firm grip on it. After all, why would someone who six months ago went to great pains to clinch the PM spot, suddenly just give it up. Especially since he has this huge millstone hanging around his neck…

 

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How Danilo Türk Just Won The Presidential Elections (Tomaž Majer Strikes Again)

Despite everything, Slovenia made it through another year, celebrating its 21st anniversary yesterday. Well, “celebrating” might be pushing it a bit. Perhaps “being force-fed psychotic delusions of mentally challenged individuals chasing ghosts of their own pasts” might be a more accurate approximation. Allow me to elucidate with refferences to specifics.


Statehood Day ceremony last Friday (photo: Office of the President/Daniel Novaković/STA)

Every so otften a debate ensues on whether a militay parade should be held in honour of the nation’s independence. You know: tanks, infantry, Alpine troops, naval units, helicopter and jet (or, rather, turbo-prop) fly-bys, the whole nine yards. And every single time, the idea is tossed right out the window, for it is usually supported only by hardline nationalists and those elements of mainstream politics who hope to score cheap political points by waving flags as the troops march. Luckily, thusfar none have been in great demand.

That is not to say, however, that Slovenia has a history of pacifism. The latter was one of the bases of the civil society boom of the 80’s which ultimately brought about democracy. But even though it was openly discussed (and with some gusto on both pros and cons), the idea never really stood a chance. What it did, however, was establish a clear division between the military, the government and the society.

The JNA

In the old country, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) was everywhere. And I mean every-fucking-where. Conscripts were visiting elemntary schools saying what a blast it was to serve in the JNA and that only the lucky ones got to serve in the navy or in the air force. JNA had its own Party structure, pre-declared seats in various representative bodies, special access to decision-makers on republic and federal level and was for all intents and purposes considered a constiutuent element of Yugoslav society (insofar such an entity existed in the first place). As a result the Army was omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent. If anyone ever tried to challenge its position, the brass and the entire elite with it shouted treason, pointed to all the way back to 1941 and the Partisans fighting Fasicst and Nazi occupators, shot back with charges of counterrevolution and that was more or less the end of it. If you were lucky, that is. The unlucky ones found themselves publicly humiliated, without a job, thrown in jail or otherwise persecuted, depending on the  state the system was in at that exact moment. Bottom line: the world started in 1941, the Communist party was there to bring it about and woe be unto anyone who sayeth otherwise.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Slovenian war for independence which made the debate on pacifisim once again purely academic. Nevertheless the principle of unconditional civilian control of the armed forces was implemented, the army was confined to the barracks and by switching to a professional rather than a conscscript army, solidering became a job and not every man’s initiation into adulthood. In adition, parades were frowned upon, the history of warfare this nation had to endure instead being represented by the Guard of honour doing trick with rifles (the kind they probably teach in Marines prep school), the occasional fly-by of the entire Slovenian air force (it really doesn’t last long) and ensigns of various armed formations which have one way or another fought for the Slovenian cause at various periods in the nation’s history. And thus we finally get to the gist of it.

The Friday Clusterfuck

In preprarations for this year’s official celebrations, ensigns of the Partisan Army in World War II were, for the first time in the history in Slovenia not included in the official celebrations on Statehood Day. The official explanation was that they are bearing red stars, a symbol of the aggressor JNA which sought to quash the fledgling state on that fateful 25 June 1991. An uproar followed but the government committee in charge of these things reacted not by extending the invitation to the WWII Veterans Association post haste, but rather by retracting invitations already extended to three other veteran organisations: TIGR (a pre-WWII anti-fascist movement in Primorska region), The General Rudolf Maister Association (preserving the heritage of a Slovenian general largely credited by securing Slovenian northern border right after World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and – most perverse of all – the Disabled Veterans Association. As an act of solidarity, Sever Association (policemen who fought in the Independence War) refused to take part in Friday’s celebrations as well.

All hell broke loose and Friday’s events are still the talk of the town. It soon became apparent that the red star had precious little to do with anything. Instead, what really happened was an attempt at hi-jacking the history of this country (hat tip to the good doctor), making it look as if the world started in 1991 and that everything that went before that was a bad dream at best and that modern-day Slovenia has nothing to do with it. Which is not unlike what the JNA was doing for all those years. The fact that the incumbent prime minister was once a true believer (expelled from the Party for being too radical) only strengthens the point.

Quite a few good analyses of the entire event were given in the past few days (in Slovenian, I’m afraid), but then Prime Minister Janez Janša finally made a statement on the issue earlier today, saying that “his only mistake was to have asked President Danilo Türk to deliver the address”. Thus two things became apparent. That a) Janša had a bigger role in this clusterfuck than it seemed at first and – connected – b) that despite the ideologically charged debate the whole thing was more or less aimed at discrediting President Türk who is up for re-election later this year.

Tomaž Majer Strikes Again

In the days following the elections on December 4, when things still looked as if Zoran Janković was about to form a government, a highly bigotous and xenophobic write-up appeared on SDS website claiming electoral fraud and coercion brought Janković on top on election day, mostly “due to people with foreign accents wearing track-suits”. You can read the Google translation of the said post. It is still on the party website and is highly illuminating.

The post was undersigned by one Tomaž Majer, which turned out to be a fictitious person. Almost immediately conspiracy theories were floated that the post was actually written by Janša himself during one of his rambling fits. It is hardly the first one (again, Google translate to the rescue). But although ugly, pengovsky never wrote it up because it all seemed too convenient.

Saying that Janez Janša is Tomaž Majer is in fact just a mechanism to single out one individual who – regardless of the fact that he is the big Kahuna of his party – can hardly come up with all of that shit. Sure, some of it. Even most of it. But running a party, running a campaign, fighting criminal charges, having a family, eating, sleeping, talking and coming up with stuff way beyond lunatic all the while keeping a composed, somber and lucid appearance is hardly possible. Either that or I seriously need to be taken to his dealer.

No. Pengovsky submits that “Tomaž Majer” is in fact a group of like-minded individuals (present PM included) whose reality only intermittently intersects with that of the rest of the country and who are not beyond starting a fully-charged ideological debate shouting-match for the sole purpose of achieving short-term political goals, not giving a fuck about poisoning the atmosphere in the country or indeed making sure that it remains as poisonous as possible. The only problem is that in their zeal to drive the message home the whole thing explodes right into their faces. Therefore, this thing with ensigns of WWII veterans was nothing more than a ploy to have Danilo Türk say something inflammatory on Friday and then beat him to political death with it come Autumn. Rewriting history was just a “bonus for the troops”, so that the rank-and-file believers would have something to shout about.

But as per usual, the whole thing exploded right into Janša’s face, presenting President Türk with a chance to reach beyond these artificial divisions, being all presidential and stuff. The Prez did not waste the opportunity.

As if shooting themselves in the knee once wasn’t enough, the people responsible for the event (by his own admission this included Janša) had the moderator deliver an on-stage statement, saying that “memories of those fallen for independent Slovenia should not be defiled by symbols of the aggressor army. At the risk of repeating oneself: as if the world started in 1991 and everything before that was just a bad dream at best.

Backfire

That the political left-wing went apeshit, goes without saying. Even the chronically consensual Borut Pahor said that “such events should be about bringing people together, not driving them apart”. What is more, this particular potato became too hot even for most of the parties of the ruling coalition. Karl Erjavec, facing leadership challenges in DeSUS was quick to threaten with quitting the coalition “if it ever happened again” (meaning he doesn’t have to make good on his word for at least another year) and even Radovan Žerjav of centre-right SLS said that the whole issue was counter-productive and called for the government to apologise to those involved. Most curious, however, was the reaction of Gregor Virant of Citizens’ list who issued a statement saying that “someone appropriated the celebrations”, that the whole thing was a solo action of Janez Janša’s SDS and that the whole thing “was almost totalitarian”. In fact, it was only the Christian-democratic NSi which stood by the SDS, but they have a hard-on for anything even remotely resembling communism so that was to be expected.

So, yes, celebrations of this country’s birth were hi-jacked by those who deem themselves sole interpreters of The Truth. In this, they are no different from the aggressor army which sought to kill Slovenian state in its infancy (and for some time before that). But the real insult to the people of this land is not the fact that they attempted it (yet again), but rather that they went at it for the sole purpose of winning what for all intents and purposes is a prestigious political fight.

If recent history is anything to go by, Janez Janša will pay a heavy political price for this one. And with him anyone who is too cozy with him. Yes, I’m looking at you, Borut Pahor. In fact, all things being equal, one could place a wager saying that on Friday last Danilo Türk won the autumn presidential elections. Which, ironically, proves Janša right. It was a mistake to have Türk deliver the address…

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Not Everybody Gets To Be An Astronaut When They Grow Up (A Few Notes on Borut Pahor)

On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.


Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)

Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.

Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…

First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.

Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.

Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….

Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.

Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).

Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.

And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.

Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).

In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…

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A Day In A Strike

Those of you who follow The Firm™ on Facebook (hint hint!) probably already saw this, but nevertheless: Some 100,000 public sector employees went on strike today. Schools, kindergartens, libraries and some faculties were shut, policemen, firemen and customs officials were down to skeleton crews and performed only basic duties. Ditto for nurses and several other public services. As every branch of every union had to vote on whether to jon the strike, there were exceptions: journos for state TV and radio did not join the strike, altough they supported it. Some faculties voted against the strike, some didn’t even have a union branch organised. But after all was said and done, this was still the largest strike in the history of this country.

Most of the people were on strike at their place of work. Some, however, joined protests in cities all around the country, the largest of them being held in Ljubljana, where it is estimated that some ten thousand people poured in front of the governmetn and the parliament building. Pengovsky was there for your viewing pleasure.

More on austerity measures planned by the government of Janez Janša and what they lead to here and here, gallery below.

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