Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum (Policy)

It takes a special sort of naiveté to look at the last ten days in Muddy Hollows and see it as anything but a shameless run for cheap political points. The matter at hand is the issue of one Ahmat Shani, a Syrian refugee who ended up in Slovenia where the state is refusing to process his asylum application and is now facing deportation to Croatia.


Ahmad Shami (source)

Ahmad Shami was a part of the 2015 refugee exodus which – despite numerous warning signs – caught the EU more or less unawares and scrambling for stop-gap solutions, hobbling the Schengen area and inducing levels of panic and overreaction not seen since, well, the eurozone crisis. But Ahmad Shami probably cared less about that than getting to safety and making sure his immediate family could follow in his footsteps.

Continue reading Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum (Policy)

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)

Red Wedding

The clusterfuck is complete. There will be a bloodbath.

(Jaša L. Zlobec, 1993)

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One wonders how the late Jaša L. Zlobec would have commented the current political situation. But the above quote, 20 years old and said in a different context by the ever-lucid and much-too-soon-departed former MP for LDS is more than just a fitting description for the imminent congress of Positive Slovenia.

Game of Thrones

It is now clear that barring a U-turn at the 11th hour, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković and PM Alenka Bratušek will go head-to-head for party leadership and few people expect punches to be pulled. Only one of them will come out of the congress hall alive (politically, that is) and the result will have profound effects, both short- and long-term. But even though there can be only one president of the party, Friday’s setup is starting more and more to look like Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding. In the end, everyone dies.

Namely, the PS presidential struggle is actively entering the WTF section. First and foremost, it appears that every single junior coalition party is trying to have a say in it. Which is weird, but not completely unexpected. The weird part is that suddenly their opinions appear to count, media-wise. Karl Erjavec, Igor Lukšič and Gregor Virant seem to comment more on the situation in PS than they do on their own affairs. As if meddling in PS’s business somehow keeps the limelight off their own problems. Which it does. But they will die, too. Politically, I mean.

The three parties virtually manhandled Janković off the party helm in March February last year (in the wake of the damning anti-graft report), demanding PS get rid of Zoki lest they pass on a PS-led left-wing government. Their influence on the continuing of the Bratušek-led government has been pretty obvious ever since. But this time around, they’ve cornered themselves in: having entered the coalition on the sole proviso of Janković removing himself from the top of the party, it is widely expected of them to quit the coalition if Zoki wins on Friday. OK, so Janković doesn’t see why they would do something like that, but we’ll cover that particular disconnect with reality a bit later on.

They all die in the end

The thing with junior coalition parties is that with a possible Janković victory, they die either way. If they do indeed quit the coalition (as they should) and force early elections, the electorate will probably take it out on them, most notably Gregor Virant’s DL which just went south of 2% in public opinion polls. The coalition as a whole would fare poorly in such elections, too, and that would mean the SDS-led right-wing swoops back into power, Patria case be damned. On the other hand, if the coalition parties choose to maintain the coalition despite Janković emerging victorious, they would have only postponed the inevitable for a year or so and see themselves beaten to the pulp in 2015 elections. No wonder SD, DeSUS and DL have plenty to say these days on PS leadership.

But if PM Bratušek wins the party struggle, she will probably make them pay for making her job all that more difficult. Namely, every syllable Gregor Virant utters on the issue is making Zoran Janković more determined to challenge Bratušek. Because this is the one thing no-one seems to understand. With Jay-Z every action forces equal and opposite reaction and the more they want him out of the picture the more he wants back in. In this respect it is not unreasonable to say that the junior coalition parties have in no small part themselves to blame for the fix they’re in.

But that’s just the sideshow. The main event, the headliner, if you will, is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The build-up we’ve witnesses in the past few days and weeks suggests both Janković and Bratušek believe they’ve got things under control. Logic dictates at least one of them is terribly wrong.

Sun Tzu

The speed at which Bratušek and the PS Executive Council called the congress (technically, they rescheduled the event originally planned for October last year) suggests they wanted to give Janković as little time as possible to stage a comeback. And since there was no definite date for congress to be held, it would appear Bratušek and her people think they’ve secured a majority in the congress and want to get the leadership issue over and done with while the majority lasts. Like Sun Tzu said: battles are won and lost before they’re even started.

On the other hand, Janković believes in his ability to sway the crowds and the fact that he almost single-handedly built PS from the bottom up, winning the 2011 elections and almost reducing Janez Janša to tears. In a manner of speaking. Thus Janković believes he is a) entitled to the party leadership and b) is confident that majority of party members prefer his victor’s charisma over the occasionally stumbling style of Alenka Bratušek.

But this is where we enter the disconnect-with-reality territory. Ever since winning the elections, Janković was on the losing side of national politics. At first, he failed to form a government. Then he was forced to quit party leadership. After that, his October bid to stage a come-back was thwarted by postponing the congress. And now he seems to be the underdog.

The underdog

He said he will not be campaigning in the field, thus implicitly admitting time is not on his side. Instead he opted for a letter-to-the-members approach, but was beaten to the punch by Bratušek who sent her letter to party members first, thus setting the tempo and the tone of the game. Janković seems to be increasingly left to his own devices, re-launching his personal webpage, reactivating his Twitter account and using media access he has as mayor of Ljubljana. According to media reports he is also organising free transportation for his supporters to the congress. This is apparently within party rules, but media reports suggest this is not being done using PS assets.

Janković maintains this is not a fight of him against Bratušek, but rather a fight to return to the party platform from which the PM and her government deviated too much. In short, this is a fight between PS hard-line and soft-line. And yet, since both Jay-Z and AB came to personify their respective fractions, this is precisely a fight between the two protagonists. Sure, this is business, but in politics, business has long ago become personal. Especially since both of them said publicly they will quit the party if the other side wins.

Janković apparently thinks a lot of that is pure bluff. At least in terms of Gregor Virant, Igor Lukšič and Karl Erjavec threatening to walk out if he wins. Zoki may have a point, to an extent. There are noises about coalition parties not being serious with their threats. In fact, if Gregor Virant’s DL walks out, they might as well file to be erased (pun very much intended) from political party register because they will never again see the inside of the parliament. Igor Lukšič, for his part, said publicly the SD will not be the first to quit the coalition ranks, leaving Karl Erjavec (again!) in the role of the king-(queen-)maker. And Erjavec, as we know from previous experience, can be bought persuaded to go one way or another.

House of cards

But pengovsky’s bet is that all three parties will soon realise staying in the coalition will hurt them even more than leaving it as they would lose what little credibility they have left. If this is the bet Janković is making, he needs a reality check, pronto. Not in the least because Alenka Bratušek will most likely resign as PM if Zoki wins, taking the government and coalition with her. It’s all a house of cards, really.

The PM, for her part, has done fairly little campaigning, too. But then again, she has the party assets at her disposal as well as the support of a large majority of the PS executive council, most member of which presumably do her bidding. Also, being a PM and all she enjoys a broad media access as well with the added bonus of her appearing all statesmanlike (stateswomanlike, that is).

Additionally, Bratušek is winning over people who supported Janković’s 2011 bid. Pengovsky already wrote about how Milan Kučan‘s tete-a-tete with her was a message to Janković, but other people followed in Kučan’s footsteps, including Rajko Kenda, Spomenka Hribar, Svetlana Makarovič and – most notably – Miran Goslar, the very person who brought Janković in as CEO of Mercator and a man Janković often said has the highest regard for. Despite this Janković dismissed their calls to withdraw from the race “for the greater good”.

Ride of the Valkyries

“The greater good” in this case is not preventing Janez Janša returning to power. The leader of the SDS in this case really only serves as the bogeyman PS membership knows and is thought to fear instinctively. The true “greater good” is the fact that despite the Troika is no longer around the corner, Slovenia is still held virtually at gunpoint by foreign lenders as well as Brussels-am-Berlin. One wrong move and the yields on Slovenian bonds which have been falling slowly but steadily will shoot back up out of fear of already-sluggish reforms halting to a complete stop.

Granted, Slovenia secured its financing for a while, even returning to the euro market, but the accumulated debt gives precious little room for manoeuvre and unless the yields continue to drop (and the GDP somehow bounces back in the black) there is no way we can get out of this mess of our own accord. Analysts know this and they project early elections in case Janković wins. This, apparently would again draw a negative outlook for Slovenian bonds.

And you know what that means.

    Pro-Moscow Post-Communists Running EU And NATO, Apparently

    To say that Slovenian government was caught off-guard by the Ukraine crisis is an understatement. It has, in fact, provided ample proof that for a while now Slovenian top-level diplomacy is running on empty, moving only on inertia of past successes, relatively able (but limited in scope and reach) middle magament and occasional strokes of luck.

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    Janez Janša addressing the EPP Dublin Summit (source)

    While Karl Erjavec and his simpleton-diplomacy were taken apart on this blog already, the man is by no means alone in this enterprise.

    Roman Jakič and the Sochi controversy

    The embattled defence minister Roman Jakič found himself in a middle of a controversy at the beginning of all of this when he travelled to Sochi as head of the Slovenian Paralympic team. Namely, Jakič’s son Gal Jakič is the only Slovenian contestant in Winter Paralympics and Roman Jakič spends inhumane amounts of time and energy to be there for his kid who became disabled some years ago through no fault of his own and help him partake in various sporting events. For that, Roman Jakič deserves all the praise in this world.

    The problem of course arises when the super-dad happens to be a defence minister of a country whose official position is that Ukraine’s territorial integrity was violated by the very country which is hosting the Paralympic games. A visiting defence minister in whatever capacity he may be, just might send the wrong signal. To his credit, Jakič (who is under criminal investigation for his role in the Stožice project and is getting a lot of political flak over it) tried very hard to show that the office he holds has nothing to do with his being in Sochi. He even took annual leave and (apparently) paid the cost of the trip out of his own pocket. But senior public officials do not hold office from nine to five. A defence minister is a defence minister 24/7 and neither rain not sleet nor snow can change that. So, technically, Slovenia, a NATO member, has a senior government official present in Russia. Go figure.

    Erjavec strikes again

    But the woes of Roman Jakič pale in comparison with Erjavec digging an ever deeper hole for himself. Thursday last, while sparring with Dimitrij Rupel on national television (and trumping him in the process), he tried to spin his “Slovenia should mediate between EU and Russia” fuck-up. Admittedly, he did a half-decent job although no-one really believed him. But hey, he tried (for the record, he used the old they-only-published-a-part-of-my-statement gambit). OK, so he overdid it when he told the audience that US Secretary of State John Kerry told him his initiative was “subtle”. Really? Was Karl’s sarcasm detector off-line or what?

    Be that as it may, all that was water under the bridge when Erjavec, foreign minister of a NATO and EU member, managed to say that Slovenia supports territorial integrity of Ukraine and conceded in the same sentence that Crimea will in all likelihood become part of Russia. Get it?

    I mean, even though Erjavec most likely told what everyone else was thinking, a EU foreign minister simply does not say things like that. Such statements show Russians they’ve achieved what they wanted, namely to create a “new reality on the ground” and that the West is intimately apparently pondering telling Ukrainians to simply go along with it. This translates into EU a) not giving a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about borders in general, opening up a plethora of highly unwelcome scenarios all across the continent, most likely in the Balkans and b) apparently forgot the 1938 Munich lessons.

    Janša criticises Merkel

    The above, however, is nothing, and I mean nothing compared to the address by Janez Janša at the EPP Summit in Dublin the other day. Namely the nominal leader of the Slovenian opposition single-handedly discovered there are “post-communist and pro-Moscow forces at the head of EU and NATO member state” and added that all of this could be avoided if only Georgia and Ukraine were admitted to NATO in 2008.

    What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is warmongering and paranoia of the first order. Admittedly, it takes a lot of guts to go up there and tell Auntie Angela she fucked up. Because it was her who blocked NATO enlargement to include Ukraine and Georgia. And today she’s (apparently) the only foreign leader Vladimit Putin will talk to with some sort of frankness. Which makes her a pro-Moscow element. Not to mention the fact that outgoing president of European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso was a Maoist in his student years. Talk about post-communists running the EU. The question therefore is, did Janša really mean what he said or is he getting just more and more desperate and is running short on enemies to throw into the fire, supplementing them with friends?

    The reality (that be the thing Janša is working very hard to ignore) of course is that NATO could very well have found itself in the middle of a shooting war with Russia in August 2008 had Georgia been invited to the alliance some months before and NATO membership of Ukraine would probably only have sped up the events that are unfolding today. But what you see on the video above is vintage Janša. The only difference between that and the version we get at home are levels of cynicism (apparently beyond him in English) and occasional graphs depicting the communist conspiracy.

    And post-communists, as we all know, are everywhere. Even in the EPP, apparently. One of them, a proud platoon leader of a 1977 Yugoslav military march commemorating Marshal Tito, addressed the Dublin Summit. But, admittedly, he’s not running a EU/NATO member state. Not anymore, that is.

    A Reshuffle By Any Other Name

    What turned out to be a resignation-happy week, culminated on Friday last with a collective fuck-you-we-quit by the trio heading the KPK, Slovenia’s anti-graft body. Goran Klemenčič, Rok Praprotnik and Liljana Selinšek announced their resignations in what they called a protest against the fact that – despite their best efforts – the powers that be are doing their best to ignore the systemic issues of corruption in Slovenia (full statement in English here)

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    Samo Omerzel (DL) and Jernej Pikalo (SD) (source: RTVSLO)

    The move opens a plethora of interesting questions, not in the least the fact that their successors must be appointed by the very man who (at least by the virtue of his position) oversaw the making of the clusterfuck that is TEŠ6 coal powerplant. That be Borut Pahor, of course, who as PM did nothing to stop the investment which soon thereafter spiraled out of control and went from a doctored 600 million to ass-whooping 1,4 billion euro without a single megawatt of energy being produced yet. But we’ll deal with that in the coming days. Mostly because there is shit going on in executive branch of the government as well.

    Namely, after she ditched minister of economy Stanko Stepišnik and minister of health Tomaž Gantar bailed out of his own accord, PM Alenka Bratušek was faced with a miniature coalition crisis. Predictably it was Karl Erjavec of DeSUS who started making noises about how a proper cabinet reshuffle is overdue and that it should include head of SocDems Igor Lukšič who opted not to take on a ministerial position when Bratušek formed her government.

    This flip-flop position was thus far very profitable both for Lukšič and his party. The SD is leading in every poll imaginable not in the least because Lukšič manages to avoid the daily bad press and lets senior party figures take the heat while he supports the government unless it is opportune not to do so. Seeing this, Karl Erjavec thought he might squeeze out a concession or two, saying that unless Lukšič doesn’t take on a portfolio, he himself will “think about him remaining a part of the government as well”. Naturally, no-one took him seriously and lo-behold! Erjavec has taken on the health portfolio as well, it was announced yesterday. Which makes for a fun combo: Karl Erjavec, foreign and health minister.

    A rather less funny but far more intriguing combo is Uroš Čufer, who – in addition to finance – temporarily took on economy portfolio as well, thus joining two areas (supposedly) critical to turning the fortunes of this sorry little excuse for a country. Legally, this “pro tempore” solution can only be done for a period of six months (three plus three) and it seems PM Bratušek opted for it because Erjavec may still get what he wants, while Čufer will either go boom or bust in the same period. For “boom” read survive the banking stress tests and sell off at least some state-owned companies and for “bust” read none of the above.

    At any rate, while no-one is calling it like that, an across the board cabinet reshuffle is in the air. Especially since the coalition will begin negotiating a new agreement, extending until next parliamentary elections in late 2015. Also, minister of infrastructure Samo Omerzel is in a bit of a fix these past few days over his company doing business with state-owned motorway company DARS and although only today the company stated that it bailed out on extending the deal, it may be to little to late. The PS is making noises that Omerzel should go for the same reason Stepišnik had to go – not because he did anything illegal, but because it was unbecoming. And on merit, they have a point. Politically, however, this can heat up things a bit and not just because the opposition is clamouring for his removal.

    The thing is that not only is DL supporting their minister (obviously) but they would – if push came to a shove – probably make demands against other coalition partners as well. Which points to the conclusion that the Social Democrats will have to say goodbye to one of their own sooner rather than later. And that can only be minister of education, science and technology Jernej Pikalo. Not because he would do anything really wrong, but because he has the least clout of the three SD ministers in the Bratušek Government.

    With Dejan Židan being the Number Two of the Social Democrats and the key senior government official in a recently launched anti-tax-evasion campaign while Anja Kopač Mrak is heading the labour, family and social department which is a can of worms few people want to touch let alone open in the first place. Which leaves Pikalo. His replacement would mean that each of the coalition parties had to throw one of their own under the bus and – in theory at least – everybody would be happy.

    This, combined with new ground-rules being laid, the possibility of parties switching some portfolios among themselves and the fact that PM Bratušek is looking to replace three to five ministers within a year of her taking office is nothing short of a full-blown cabinet reshuffle. It’s just that nobody will be calling it that.

     

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