Unforced Errors

“Never,” said Napoleon*, “interfere with the enemy when he is making a mistake.” Judging by the last couple of weeks, PM Marjan Šarec is well on his way to becoming a case study in the subject matter.

The inside of the EP Marjan Šarec will not be seeing soon (source & source)

It all started with that infamous poll where Šarec’s government clocked in a staggering 70% approval rating, with LMŠ itself leaving the every other coalition and opposition party in the dust. Things continued with LMŠ giving the cold shoulder to the rest of the ALDE parties and came to a head this week when it transpired that Šarec will not be addressing the European Parliament in its Debates on the Future of Europe.

Continue reading Unforced Errors

Influencers Kick Off Campaign For EU Vote

Were it not for the hilariously hypocritical brouhaha over a couple of Instafluencers doing in the European Parliament what Instafluencers do best, one would be excused for thinking that 2019 EU elections in Muddy Hollows are eons away.

Influencing influencers (photo: European Parliament Slovenia)

Namely, as a part of their #thistimeimvoting (#tokratgremvolit) campaign, Ljubljana office of the European parliament hauled a couple of Instagram influencers to Brussels, showed them the ropes and let them take selfies with Slovenian MEPs. All in the hope of them, well, influencing their numerous followers to actually give a fuck or two about the upcoming EU vote.

Continue reading Influencers Kick Off Campaign For EU Vote

On Fascism

A few things need to be said with regard to the overall shituation that is the refugee crisis and which has been only amplified by Friday’s attacks in Paris. Namely, the tendency of the left-wing to cry “Fascism!” every time someone does something disagreeable, populist and/or (politically) short-sighted.

20151117_fascism
(source)

While this phenomenon is far from new it has taken on new dimensions with the influx of refugees and the subsequent creation of the now-defunct Zlovenija (Evil Slovenia) Tumblr, naming-and-shaming couch-Nazis from all over the country. And just as the volume of that debate quieted down from 11 a notch or two, the attack on Paris reignited it. And then some. So, lest we allow vicious circle of polarisation to continue unabated until the bitter end, here it goes..

Fascism, in its many forms, is not really on the rise. Or, to be more exact, it is no more on the rise than it was since the onset of the economic crisis of 2008, when the world (ok, Europe) watched in awe as the neo-nazi Golden Dawn made it into the Greek parliament, immediately attempting to legitimise its street-bullying tactics in a democratic forum. You could go even further back and take the example of Austria, when in 1999 the late Jörg Haider and his far-right FPÖ became the senior coalition partner in Austrian government. Or the fact that Front National is the staple of French mainstream politics since the mid-eighties, with Jean-Marie Le Pen even making it to the run-off of 2002 presidential elections (ultimately losing to Jacques Chirac by a landslide). Even the German Pegida has had its precursor in NPD.

So, the new element here is not really the fascism per se, but rather the environment which is conductive to the elements that are here already. Which is where the political left comes in. Or, rather, it should. But it doesn’t. Ervin Hladink Milharčič, quite probably the best political columnist in Slovenia, wrote some weeks ago that the left-wing would rather hang itself with a rope handed to it by anarchists than make a pact with social democrats and share strategy. And the logic extends beyond the political spectrum, as well.

In most of Europe, you see, the power still lies with political moderates. Yes, there are the likes of Victor Orban, but on the whole, it is moderate politicians left and right of the political centre that run the show. Even Alexis Tsipras has toned down the hardline ideological rhetoric and made a few deals, some of them pragmatic to the core. Combined with the urgency of the refugee crisis, he is no longer regarded as Europe’s key problem (not financially, at least) and is therefore suddenly able to miss deadlines and still get credit lines extended. Just to give an example at random.

The problem is, that most of these politicos are either woefully untrained for the job at hand, or populist, of both. I mean, the values they share are, broadly speaking, European, but their actions are populist, knee-jerk and panicky as well as often tied into a myriad of internal political struggles which may very well cause their downfall on the most irrelevant of things. Take the Brexit referedum, for example. What David Cameron “demands” from other European leaders is, for the most part, achievable. There are some things in there that will just not fly (such as discrimination between EU nationals in terms of labor access) but one suspects Number 10 put that on the list simply as a bargaining chip, knowing full well that it will have to drop it sooner or later. The problem of course is, that even if Cameron makes the deal, the good people of Britain may still vote for Brexit. Be it because enough of them want out of the EU or not enough of them can be bothered to vote in favour of staying. Or maybe simply because the IN campaign fucks up somewhere along the road. Or that other things overshadow the question of economic benefits of UK staying in the EU. A sort of ‘Brexit by Accident‘ as the Reuters put it.

Or take Slovenia, to give another example at random. This sorry little excuse for a country has seen its government take on a borderline authoritarian approach to the refugee crisis, whether PM Cerar likes to admit it or not. The problem is that the moderates who run the country right now are new to the game, prone to fall prey to political mind-games and plots by the more experienced political competition (both within the coalition and without) and are cornering themselves in with “if this than that” statements, setting the inevitable path to wider use of security apparatus, more surveillance and less personal freedom. To be clear: pengovsky is not saying they want this to happen (because they don’t), it’s just that they are making it happen. The government of Miro the Man is like the proverbial boiling frog, slowly cooking without realising it is about to be consumed by what they believe to be a controlled environment. The same goes for moderates of all shapes and sizes. And this is where the left-wing comes in.

You see, rather than hurling accusations of fascism every time a moderate politician does something stupid and/or shortsighted, they should instead try to explain why this or that is a bad idea. Historic evidence suggests the moderates are willing to listen. Even more, what is needed right now is prioritization. A whole lot is at stake, but some stakes are more combustible than others. Which is why in the current the immediate goal of the left-wing (or, rather, of the progressives) should be to support moderate voices across the political spectrum regardless of their “everyday” allegiance, political or otherwise.

Case in point being Žiga Turk, former minister of science, culture, sport, education and what-not in Janša government 1.0 who drew a lot of ire for his opinion on refugee crisis in light of attacks in Paris, over at SiOL.

Now, Turk’s ext had been picked apart by other people. But these are Weltanschauung texts. The man has been known to apply some shoddy statistics and/or science in the past, mostly in terms of cherry-picking information to support a conclusion in advance. And his text can be picked apart on that grounds alone. For example, when arguing the “not every Muslim is terrorist but nearly all terrorists are Muslim” line, he conveniently limits his search query to “Europe” and “this century”.

Now, call me old-fashioned, by I fail to see how the last fifteen years are in any way special in terms of terrorist activity in Europe. I mean, from the end of World War II, the Old Continent has seen separatist terrorism, political terrorism, state terrorism, false-flag terrorism… You name it, we’ve had it: IRA, ETA, Rote Armee Fraktion, Brigade Rosse, bombing in Bologna, Munich Olympic Games assassinations, Lockerbie… And that’s just off the top of my head. Point being that terrorism in Europe has a long and cruel tradition and cherry-picking data to reach a known result amounts to nothing more than pseudo-science. Which brings one of the cores of the text tumbling down.

But there are other elements of Žiga Turk’s text which should not be overlooked. Namely, for all his Theresa May imitation au general the man has shown a welcome moderation with regards to issues of Muslim community in Slovenia en particuliere. In that same text he takes a strong stance in favour of continued construction of a mosque in Ljubljana, which the more rabid elements of the right-wing have called to stop. Now, whatever his motives, this is a position worth supporting. Not only because the mosque is about four decades overdue, but also because if this really becomes an issue once again, the left-wing alone will not be able to protect the meagre progress that has been made on this particular issue in the last years. After all, there is a notable anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment in the left-wing base, too.

To prevent things going tits-up, the moderate forces both in Slovenia and in Europe need to start actively seeking common ground. And it wouldn’t hurt the progressives to make the first move and occasionally swallow hard and thinking twice before hurling accusations of fascism at people who might be confused about the correct course of action. Failing to do so will only drive these people more to the right-wing, where true fascists await, with open arms and a big grin across their Chevy Chase.

 

Rule 34a

That Slovenia fought against watering-down of the Telecom Single Market directive (a.k.a. Single Digital Market) was for all intents and purposes the most surprising piece of information coming from this sorry little excuse for a country in the last ten days or so. Even more surprising than the decapitation of the bad-bank where the CEO and chief of the supervisory board were dismissed over excessive pay. And infinitely more surprising than the story of the NSA and German BND bulk-intercepting international calls from Slovenia between 2005 and 2008. Both of which will get written up here in due course. But first, this net neutrality thing.

20151009_sti
(source: savetheinternet.eu)

You can read it up, but the nuts and bolts of it are fairly simple: either everyone gets to use the web under the same conditions in terms of speed, access and services provided or network operators get to decide which services or users get preferential treatment (for a price, of course) and which get to crowd with the rest of us sorry bastards on the slow end of the interwebz. Or, what could happen is that the network operators get to pick their favourite service(s) and charge less – or nothing at all – for their use, relegating every other competing service to the status of an also-ran. Point being that under the proposed Single Digital Market directive the telcos get to pick the winners and the losers.

This is about where and how you’ll get your news, for example. Or your porn. Not that there’s much difference, but still. On the neutral net, where telcos/network providers compete with one another with plans, prices and ease of access, you’re able to pick and choose between RTVSLO, BBC, Russia Today, NaturalNews.com (yuck) or even FoxNews. On the not-so-neutral net your provider will most likely limit you to a handful of news sites, at least one of them being their own. Everything else will either be available at a premium or at lower speeds. Or both. The same goes for porn. The neutral net brings you PornHub, Redtube or plain old /hc/ board on 4chan.org, depending on your fancy. The other web brings you your provider’s porn service. It is a sort of Rule 34a.

 

If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions. Provided you pay for it and we get to deliver it.

 

And would you really like your network provider to know exactly what sick turn-ons you have? Methinks not.

And this is just the way things are today. Imagine a couple of years from now, when the IoT takes off for real. You buy a net-enabled fridge telling you what’s missing and updating your shopping list. But on the not-neutral web your network operator gets to choose which brand of the fridge gets preferential treatment within its network or which on-line shops are available for such a device. Hell, it can even limit your online shopping experience, preventing you from getting the best deal out there. Or maybe it can charge you extra if your wifi-enabled car needs an update. The list goes on forever.

Also, this is about cats.

All of the above makes it all the more astounding that Slovenia actually took up the issue on the EU level. I mean, here we have arguably the single most important long-term policy issue since the introduction of the euro and this country actually wants to do something? Wow. Just wow. In fact, Slovenia and the Netherlands were out-voted on the issue, with Croatia and Greece abstaining, while the 24 remaining member states green-lighted the draft (page 13 of the link).

You see, the thing is that next to the Netherlands, Slovenia is the only EU member to have set net neutrality as a legal norm. More or less. In Slovenia at least the legislation was watered down via lobbying by the telcos, but not enough to prevent the first-ever rulings by AKOS, the comms watchdog, which in January fined the two largest mobile providers for providing zero-rating services. And now, as the year slowly draws to an end, the European Commission put forward a draft Single Digital Market directive which would have made these rulings next to impossible as it basically trades the much-hailed abolition of roaming charges (two years hence) for a two-speed Internet (most likely to commence in various forms immediately). Little wonder Slovenia and the Netherlands have problems with it since it directly undermines their national legislation, several orders of magnitude better than what the draft directive provides for.

At its most crudest, this is a case where a drop in profits in one segment of the industry is mitigated by a free-fire zone of surcharges in another segment. Not to mention the fact that the move will have massive repercussions far beyond the consumer sector. Limiting speed and/or access to information will impact education and research, creative industries will once again be divided into haves and have-nots and home will no longer be simply where the wi-fi is.

This, despite the name, will be anything but a single digital market.

The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court. Last year, the EP shot down a directive draft which – compared to the current one – was more than acceptable. But with Brussels packing more lobbyists than Washington D.C., one can never be sure of the final outcome. (Slighty OT: Here is a handy tool on lobbying stats, courtesy of Politico.eu).

Which is why a number of grass-roots initiatives sprang up all over the EU to, well, save the internet. In Slovenia, too, where media and the politicos have apparently finally started paying attention. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen, but if the fate of the ACTA treaty a few years ago and the recent Safe-harbour ruling by the European Court are omens to go by, then this whole thing can still be overturned.

Because as it stands, for all the goodies it brings vis-a-vis mobile roaming, the TSM directive in fact heralds yet another social stratification. This time of a digital nature, ordained by the industry whose hey-day has long since passed.

Same-Sex Legislation (Predictably) Not Yet Home Safe

Remember when pengovsky wrote that the new same-sex weddings legislation is not yet home safe? Well, guess what…

20150320_smc
Modern Centre Party – SMC (source)

The SMC seemingly flip-flopped on the issue, saying they will not challenge a referendum initiative which would yet again put up the same-sex weddings issue to a popular vote. Naturally most of the supporters of same-sex weddings went apeshit and the SMC was served a proper Twitter-storm. Its intensity was probably confounded by the fact that in the eyes of many people the SMC finally saw the light by voting in favour of the legislation (and doing so en bloc) but has now retraced its steps and found itself on its pre-election neither-nor position.

And, admittedly, it did not look good. Even since Aleš Primc and his band of merry men initiated yet another referendum bid to strike down this harmless but ideologically very loaded piece of legislation, it was more or less the accepted wisdom that the parliament will use the recent changes to the constitution to their fullest effect, prevent the referendum on the grounds of this being a human-rights matter and then let Primc fight it the Constitutional Court. Well, apparently not. At the very least, not just yet. Namely, the ruling SMC stated they’ve no intention of denying the people a vote on an important issue. Later they’ve signaled the decision may be revised but at any rate this turn of events made a lot of people unhappy and they sure let the SMC know.

There are a couple of ways to digest this. The most obvious one is to say that the SMC flip-flopped on the issue or – even worse – that its support for the legislation was not genuine but rather a price they had to pay to join the ALDE (liberals) political group on the european level. This is possible, especially if reports from some months ago are correct and UK LibDems did indeed take issue with SMC sitting on the fence on this prior to elections. But one would like to think that European parliamentary groups take themselves slightly more serious than that and that a true about-face on same-sex weddings would have wider recriminations for the offending party.

So chalk that one to “possible, but not likely” column. A bit more likely is the possibility of the SMC parliamentary group not being entirely on the same page on the issue. There are thirty-six SMC MPs, most of them with little political experience and – understandably – of 50 shades of liberal ideology. So the decision not to go against the referendum head-on (not yet, at least), might have something to do with that. Keeping 36 people on-board on a highly divisive issue while they’re all lobbied and bombarded with arguments from all sides is not an easy task.

And finally, it could be the party simply got scared of its own power and what it can do with it. With great power comes great responsibility and never in the history of Slovenia did such a greenhorn party with such a politically inexperienced leadership hold so much power. And it seem probable, to pengovsky at least, that the moral imperative of ethical policy making simply got the better of them. As a result, Slovenia will once again be the battleground of rational-but-useless arguments in favour of same-sex weddings, opposed by emotional outcries backed up by manipulations, fear mongering and blatant lies by the opponents. The rhetoric is already there. Now it will only get worse (Slovenian only).

But the referendum rules have changed since the Family code was struck down two years ago. Which brings us to the fun part.

Because while the SMC said it will not impede the referendum initiative, there are unofficial signals it might back the bid to prevent the referendum. And while the (centre-)left parties are pushing forward with the bid, they can do didly squat without votes of the SMC. The way this works is that once the petition to hold a referendum is filed, the parliament can decide by a simple majority the referendum is illegal as it deals with basic human rights which then leaves it to the petitioners to challenge the decision at the constitutional court. And with the current composition of the constitutional court suggesting anything but a clear dismissal of the referendum, it seems reasonable to expect that the legislation allowing same-sex weddings will be challenged on a referendum one way or another.

And if there is a referendum, the new rules stipulate that the legislation is struck down if a majority votes against it, but only is this majority represents more than 20% of all eligible voters. Which means about 340.000 people will have to make the effort and cast their “no” vote on referendum day. Which is quite an obstacle.

With this in mind, other dimensions open up which put the SMC decision into a slightly more nuanced perspective. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the special session of the parliament can already be called. Namely, if you wanted to truly dot the i’s and cross the t’s (as lawyer-heavy SMC is probably inclined to do) it seems reasonable to wait and see whether the referendum petitioners will actually collect the necessary 40.000 confirmed signatures. While they’ve done it before, this is a condition that should not be taken for granted. If by any chance Primc & Co. fail in collecting the signatures, then the whole brouhaha will have been in vain and the SMC will have been vilified for nothing. Politically, at least. At the very least, this means the party still has about three weeks to decide whether to fight the referendum in court or not.

But the last – admittedly most wildly optimistic – scenario is also the most interesting. What if, just what if the referendum is held without being challenged in court and fails? What if the majority of the people votes in favour of the law or at the very least decide same-sex weddings are a non-issue and don’t bother to vote, thereby helping the legislation to survive? If that were to be the case, the SMC would suddenly be in the position to claim it gauged the public mood much more accurately than any of the left-wing parties. And even if their reasoning did not go this far, a favourable referendum outcome would give them back much of the political credibility they’ve lost in the past couple of weeks.

At any rate, there are a number of ways this story can unfold and not all of them are negative. But as pengovsky was warning even as the left was celebrating, the hard work had only begun.