WWZJD (What Will Zoran Janković Do)

One of the perennial questions of Slovene election cycles as of late is WWJZD. What will Zoran Janković do. For some reason the mayor of Ljubljana is still considered a force to be reckoned with in national politics and his shadow seems to loom large over for many on the right wing (and some on the left as well), often-times plunging them in a psychosis-like mental state where they being seeing everything that is happening as interventions by the Deep State/Udbomafia/Uncles-in-the-shadows/Lizard people [in a Slavoj Žižek voice] and so on and so on…. And this latest bout paranioia was not helped by Janković’s press conference earlier today where he said he will be somehow getting involved in the national elections


Zoran Janković (source)

You’d be forgiven for forgetting, but the mayor of Ljubljana still moonlights as president of Positive Slovenia (PS), a party which by virtue of himself as a charismatic leader, some very clever PR and a fair dose of tactical voting, narrowly won the 2011 elections, relegating Janez Janša and his SDS to a runner-up position. In what was a textbook episode of political foolhardiness, Janković however failed to win the prime-ministership for himself, paving the way for Janša 2.0 government. From there on, things only went downhill for Positive Slovenia which has ceased to be a forced to be reckoned with just as fast as it became one.

Continue reading WWZJD (What Will Zoran Janković Do)

Axing Minister Of Culture Threatens To Disrupt Coalition Balance Of Power

Culture minister Julijana Bizjak Mlakar (DeSUS) is about to get the can. PM Cerar said so (although not in as many words) when he asked her to resign no later than noon yesterday lest he initiates demission procedures. And since Bizjak Mlakar told the PM to go fuck himself (not in as many words, either), the scene is set for yet another ruffling of the proverbial feathers in full view of the public.

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Julijana Bizjak Mlakar (source: The Firm™)

All things being equal, the government would be in a state of mid-level panic right now. Bizjak Mlakar is a part of the DeSUS contingent of ministers and Karl Erjavec, leader of the second-to-senior coalition party as a rule doesn’t look kindly on his people being treated this way. At the very least, he’d threaten to walk out of the coalition and get a raise in pensions out of it. You know, just to stay on the good side of his core constituency. That nothing of the kind is taking place, is speaking volumes.

A shit job if there ever was one

You see, culture is a shit portfolio to run. At least in Slovenia, where people working in culture industry are a-dime-a-dozen and that’s excluding the media, archives, religion and heritage, all of which fall under the purview of the said ministry. In fact, back in the day then-minister of culture Sergij Pelhan was even slapped by a hot-blooded director Vinci Anžlovar over some financing disagreement. So on one hand you’ve got all of these people telling you how to do your job and on the other a lot of brainiacs who scoff at culture and creative industries in general as a waste pf taxpayer’s money. Unless, of course, they can claim a tax deduction. Despite evidence that investment in culture industries can create as much as four-fold return.

Anyhoo, it is against this climate that the individual at the helm of the ministry at any given time must fight for a slice of the country’s EUR 9.5 billion budget. Currently, that’s EUR 146 million, of which 50 million is spent on maintaining heritage sites and 85 million on financing various programmes. And when the going gets tough (as it tends to do in this day and age) the ministry of culture is among the first ones getting squeezed.

Pengovsky told you it’s a shit job. And yet, Julijana Bizjak Mlakar was (technically still is) spectacularly inept at doing it.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was management and financing of restoration of the Idrija Mercury Mine, a UNESCO heritage site. The nuts and bolts of it a rather boring and not really pertinent for the entire picture, so suffice it to say that the whole project requires the cooperation of many state, local and non-government players. (link in Slovene). But this Idrija Mercury Mine thing, where Bizjak Mlakar obstinately refused to execute a decision by the government charging her ministry to attend to the urgent situation is only the latest in a series of gaffes and misfires that have plagued the department almost from the day she took it over.

Media law fiasco

Chief among these was the media law fiasco, which started last summer and ended a month or so ago. Back then the already embattled minister proposed to amend the existing media law which (this needs to be said) is hopelessly outdated, does not address the situation in the industry nor does it tackle the issues with which both content producers and content consumers are faced with on a daily basis. But the first draft law was so poorly done that not only did it not address the pressing issues of the industry, it even fucked up those tiny bits that sort of worked. Like the quota system for Slovenian music. As a result, the draft has had such a hostile reception (pengovsky included)  that it was withdrawn, completely revamped and tabled again. The redux fared only slightly better, however (both links in Slovene). In the end, the watered-down provisions were passed but only after the national radio received assurances by the SMC that an additional amendment will be passed soon, providing for some leeway regarding the new and harsher quota system. And lo-behold, within weeks, the ministry of culture launches a series of public debates aimed at creating a strategy for developing and regulating the media sector.

That’s right: after it had already spent a considerable amount of energy and political capital (of which it had precious little to begin with) at shoving an amended media law down everyone’s throat, they went about putting together a media sector strategy. Aren’t these things usually done the other way around? Anyway, the point is that things are a bit chaotic over there. Which is why state secretary (minister’s second-in-command and chief operative) Tone Peršak, himself an accomplished writer and a former mayor of Trzin, was on the verge of quitting his post, reportedly citing impossibility to work with Bizjak Mlakar.

So how was it that a person who is uniquely ill-suited for the post end up handling the culture portfolio? Well, the way her party boss Karl Erjavec threw her under the bus may provide a hint or two. You see, Bizjak Mlakar was elected to parliament in 2014 which was somewhat of a surprise even for the party insiders and her maverick attitude was not exactly what DeSUS’ big kahunas had in mind for the party’s parliamentary group. So she was “promoted” to minister of culture where she could do the least damage. Or so the party leadership thought. The actual result was more akin to a slow-moving traffic accident, where the onlookers couldn’t really believe what we were seeing but couldn’t avert our eyes, either. Case in point being the issue of financing of KSEVT (Cultural Centre of Space Technologies), where the ministry demanded that the museum returned some wrongly attributed funds. The manager Miha Turšič refused, claiming everything was in order and although a subsequent audit proved ministry of culture right, Bizjak Mlakar handling of the issue only escalated tensions with Turšič at one point embarking on a lengthy hunger-strike.

Going down in flames

To put it succinctly, the politics of Julijana Bizjak Mlakar are grief no one really needs. And rather than adjusting the tone and the pace (if not the course) of her actions, she keeps doubling-down on her positions, surrounds herself with yes-men and dubious PR specialists, as if she wanted to go down in flames.

And so she will. The problem (for DeSUS and potentially for PM Cerar, too) is that she will land right back in the parliament and oust her replacement Jana Jenko. And since DeSUS parliamentary group is expected to support demission of Bizjak Mlakar, she would then have to work with the very same people who helped shoot her down. Rather awkward.

One way out of this conundrum is that Bizjak Mlakar forefits her MP seat and exits top-tier politics completely. This would be the preffered outcome for both Erjavec and Cerar, as the former would keep his parliamentary group intact while the latter would – by extention – get to keep his parliamentary majority of 52 votes intact.

The more probable outcome, however, is that the soon-to-be-ex minister of culture returns to the parliament as an MP and declares herself independent. After all, the MP’s monthly salary is nothing to scoff at. Apart from the opposition, this scenarion would probably be welcomed by the most junior of coalition partners, the Social Democrats who, incidentally, used to be Bizjak Mlakar’s former political home. Namely, with an independend Bizjak Mlakar, the SMC and DeSUS could only muster 45 votes in the parliament, a vote short of the absolute majority. With this, the SD would suddenly become a relevant coalition member once again and could again run the table against the coalition parties more aggressively.

A week is a very long time

So, while the case of Julijana Bizjak Mlakar at first glance seems like the Prime Minister is simply getting rid of some dead weight, a closer look uncovers a much more delicate picture. The MPs are expected to debate and vote on Bizjak Mlakar’s demission in begnning of May. That’s almost three weeks from now. And in politics, a week is a very long time.

 

Transfer Window

Since the hubbub on the impending #Grexit has, for now at least subsided or – at the very least – morphed into #Agreekment, a short update on the sordid sorry state of Slovenian politics beckons. For it would seem that we have entered the Transfer Window.

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To be honest, what was and still is happening is peanuts compared to the sabre-rattling which occasionally threatened to break up the coalition, mostly along the privatisation fault lines. And although a full-scale political crisis was never a real possibility (not with the current distribution of power, at least), there was enough bad blood accumulated that some sort of a fallout was inevitable. Curiously, however, these tremors are not limited to the government of Miro Cerar only but are, for now at least, equally present in the opposition as well.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-re-rat

The big shocker was the parting of ways between former eternal foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and his political home of the last decade, Janez Janša‘s SDS. Rupel, a long-time LDS cadre under Drnovšek famously switched sides in 2004 and crossed over to SDS where he continued his diplomatic exploits. After Janša 2.0 government was toppled, the man fixed himself a cosy cushion to land on, having the outgoing government appoint him Consul General in Trieste (a prestigious but not all that demanding a position). However, he was axed from the position by his successor at the foreign ministry, one Karl Erjavec, following the letter of the austerity legislation, passed by Janša’s government (oh, the irony!) which stipulated that all civil servants over the age of 67 must retire, unless their superior finds a particular use for them. Needless to say Erjavec found no particular use for Rupel.

In fact, even before Teflon Karl started wielding the axe, Rupel and his supposedly coveted black book of contacts have been declining in demand. Which sort of made everyone think the man has finally thrown in the towel and limited himself to lecturing on a faculty of, shall we say, wanting reputation. After all, he clocked in his forty and should be able to enjoy the fruits of his long and illustrious career (give or take). Which is why it came as a complete surprise that he publicly announced his parting ways with the SDS. Quitting the Party is not small potatoes, because it was long assumed that if you in the Party, you in the Party.

Not so for the old fart Dimitrij. The Party, reeling from the massive haemorrhaging of resources to defend the Leader (that be Ivan) from the subversive communist abuse of the judiciary (that be The Patria Affair), just launched its shadow cabinet, a.k.a. SDS Council of Experts. Now, Rupel was apparently aiming at chairing the Foreign Policy Committee, but was passed over for Milan Zver MEP. This infuriated Dimitrij to the point of packing his shit up and leaving. He claims he was being punished for a recent interview in Reporter magazine where he (let’s be honest) failed to praise the Leader and swear to his infallibility. Instead, not only did Rupel had the guts to speculate on the post-Janša future of the political right, he even had the balls to state that there was, in fact, a period in Slovenian history where Milan Kučan (Janša’s arch-enemy) played a positive role. The nerve!

However, one could be excused for not entirely buying into Rupel’s self-righteousness. He is probably the only politico in this country which could possibly lay claim to have done a proper Churchill. Because anyone can rat. But it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat. Which is exactly what Rupel has done vis-a-vis Janša, parting ways in 1994, only to rejoin Janša in 2004 and now, another decade or so later, parting ways yet again. The conclusion here is simple: if Rupel is in search of a new political master (possibly Miro Cerar’s SMC), then the SDS is indeed in deep trouble since Rupel, one of the great survivors of Slovenian politics, apparently sees no further use for it. And parties which Rupel discarded himself of as un-prospective soon turned out to be politically marginalised and – ultimately – dead. Case in point every of his previous political dwellings: Slovene Democratic Union (SDZ), Demokrati Slovenije (DS), the once-mighty LDS and now SDS.

If political bellwethers such as Rupel are anything to go by, then the SDS should start worrying. However, one should not have high hopes for the SDS to change course any time soon. In fact, regardless of some pretty obvious intra-party opposition, the party proper is by and large committed to its president, increasingly creating a universe of its own and interacting with the reality the rest of us are experiencing only when need be. And before either of the two readers of this blog start pointing out the @prenovljenaSDS (reformed SDS) Twitter account it should be noted that the account might just as well be a ploy of Janša to see who follows the account and thus single out the descenders within his ranks. Just sayin’ 😉

Tr00 fans only

Not that the SDS is overly concerned, it seems. Because, although they’ve lost Rupel, they’ve gained (for all intents and purposes) Aleš Hojs, nominally one of the VPs of the ChristDem NSi, but in reality a tr00 JJ fan. Namely, after the NSi declined to join SDS shadow cabinet, continuing on their own course (an approach which served them well ever since they found their spine a couple of years ago), they poached Hojs and co-opted him as shadow defence minister, thereby sticking a wedge in both NSi leadership as well as rank and file where Hojs does have a certain amount of clout.

The NSi is, for the time being, choosing to ignore the issue and Hojs nominally still remains a member of the NSi senior structure, but they will have to get rid of him expeditiously. The bad blood between the former S/M partners of the political right keeps on accumulating and the NSi with its new-found confidence and a couple of policy scoops under its belt (notably, the recently passed law on post-WWII grave-sites) will not be able to tolerate in-party insubordination and impunity.

Bruised egos

But such solo acts can last surprisingly long. Case in point being Bojan Dobovšek, until recently an MP for SMC of Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Namely, Dobovšek quit the party months ago, citing “continuing old practices” in filing governmental positions, hinting and cronyism and corruption. But you could not be blamed for thinking Dobovšek was – not unlike Rupel – sore for being looked over when booty was split. In this case, he was widely tipped to become the minister of interior.¸But the spot went to Vesna Györkös Žnidar, while Dobovšek quit the party but remained a member of the SMC parliamentary group. Which is technically legal, most unhygienic and sure to generate a lot of media attention. If you catch my meaning.

However, about two weeks ago Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group as well, thereby changing the internal relations within the coalition. Because with him gone, the Social democrats, most junior of coalition partners suddenly started to make a difference, as they provided the votes necessary for the coalition to claim a majority. While Dobovšek was on-board, the SMC and DeSUS themselves had 46 votes with SD more or less simply providing the body-count.

But with the man gone, SD leader Dejan Židan started boasting how the party will now claim its rightful spot, prompting DeSUS main honcho Karl Erjavec to tell Židan to get off that horse and not get ahead of himself. At that time it seemed as if Teflon Karl is (finally) suffering from a case of bruised ego. Little did we know the old trickster was about to do some political poaching of his won. Late last week Peter Vilfan of Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB announced he is switching allegiances and crossing over to DeSUS.

Transfer window

Vilfan, former professional basketball player (hence the title of the post) started out as an unlikely politician in Ljubljana city council, first elected in 2005 on the coat-tails of Zoran Janković’s sweeping mayoral victory and then – in similar vein – to the parliament in 2011. He quit the city council in February 2014, officially due to corruption charges against Janković, but was rumoured to have ulterior motives in a real-estate deal that a city council vote on a news zoning plan about that time would enable and wanted to avoid unseemly appearances.

Anyhow, Vilfan resigned as MP a couple of months later as well. He was involved in a traffic accident, hitting a pedestrian with his car and was a DUI suspect. To his credit Vilfan did not try to skirt the issue but quit almost immediately and paid the hurt senior citizen a visit in the hospital. Luckily, the victim only suffered a broken arm and a lab analysis showed Vilfan was not intoxicated while driving. In a sense he kept to a standard of political hygiene that one would expect from a representative of the people. Which, sadly, is news in Slovenia. But it probably also helped Vilfan get re-elected in 2014 snap elections as one of four MPs of Alenka Bratušek’s fledgling party ZaAB, which splintered off from Jankovič’s Positive Slovenia. But soon after AB’s failed Euro-bid, things went south there as well, culminating for now in Vilfan switching teams.

Adding insult to injury, DeSUS not only picked up an MP, bringing their total to eleven, they also again marginalised the SD, giving enough votes to PM Miro Cerar to marginalize the most junior coalition partner and – not to be overlooked – being able to drive an even harder bargain protecting their particular interests in an already sluggish privatisation process.

Now, it seems plausible that Vilfan jumping ship on Bratušek will start an exodus from the party group. Well, exodus might be overreaching a word since after Vilfan’s departure the ZaAB party group is down to three MPs, a minimum required to actually be a parliamentary party group rather than just a set of independent MPs and enjoy the perks that come with it, such as participation in committee memberships.

Exodus

But the point is that remaining ZaAB MPs may well be on the market as well. Save former PM Alenka Bratušek herself, although given the egotistical lows she performed after successfully bringing the country from the brink in 2013, it is not entirely inconceivable she’d quit her own party group, too. But that’s just pengovsky being evil. More realistically, rumour has it that Mirjam Bon Klanjšček is to follow in Vilfan’s footsteps and make DeSUS male/female ratio look better come Autumn, the big question is just what exactly will Jani Möderndorfer do.

The man with a plan, the other great survivor of Slovenian politics, he hasn’t placed a bad political bet in his life. At the very least ever since he helped start a rift in the Ljubljana section of LDS in 2002 which ultimately led to the party breaking up and emergence of Zares (of which he, ultimately, was not a member). He then stuck with Janković all the way to the parliamentary elections in 2011, emerging as leader of the largest parliamentary group. But when things came to a head within the party in 2014 and Janković came to collect, Möderndorfer chose PM Bratušek over Janković. Wisely so, it transpired, since Janković’s Positive Slovenia proper did not make it above the 4-percent threshold in 2014 elections, while Bratušek’s ZaAB did, just barely.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see if Möderndorfer jumps ship as well or will he go down with it for the first time. From where he stands, both are equally legitimate. The interesting part is that he now faces a dilemma not dissimilar to that of Dimitrij Rupel: does he quit politics and gets a job (he is, among other things, a certified sign-language interpreter), or does he make another leap, possibly finding himself on the same boat as Rupel – as a member of the SMC.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.

The Real Slim Shady – Slovenian Elections Edition

Ah well, it’s that time of the year, I guess 😀 After the hugely successful Primary Colours and its follow up, the Top Gun, pengovsky gives you yet another round-up of the political movers and shakers. Most of them you already know, a couple of them are new kids on the block. But at any rate, this should be at least mildly entertaining. Hope you like!

The Real Slim Shady – Slovenian Elections Editions from pengovsky on Vimeo.

Naturally, credits, where credits are due: Original videos are the work of their respective authors and/or entities including SDS, SD, LDS, Zares, Vest.si and Idea TV. Songs on the other hand you know, but still: Real Slim Shady (Eminem), U Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer), Money (Pink Floyd), Pass the Dutchie (Musical Youth), Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice), Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python), I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), YMCA (Village People), Last Christmas (Wham) and Mah Na Mah Na (The Muppet Show version).

And on Tuesday, back to number crunching 🙂