Wag The Thompson

This sorry little excuse for a country spent much of the past week (and then some) fretting over a seemingly minor issue which – as per usual in this part of the world – was blown way out of proportion. We are, of course, referring to one Marko Perković – Thompson who was scheduled to give a concert in Maribor today but was banned only days ago over security concerns.


Marko Perković – Thompson being all patriotic and shit. (source)

When the concert was announced, everybody freaked out. The charge was led by local press, most notably Maribor-based Večer daily which has national coverage and soon half of the country was in overdrive.

Continue reading Wag The Thompson

PM Bratušek Meets The Pope, Gets Pulled Over By The Fashion Police

Alenka Bratušek met @pontifex today (or maybe it was the other way around) and the fashion police were out in full force. As if that were the main problem this country has. Admittedly, she does seem to have a penchant for tiger/leopard patterns, but surely a politician’s ability to carry out his/her office outweighs whatever fashion no-nos he or she might have committed. At the very least, it way better than having a PM who looks like he walked out of a Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue but is prone to committing diplomatic gaffes.

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Alenka and Francis, earlier today. (source: Delo/AFP)

Anyway, the thing is that while AB sported a leopard-pattern skirt while meeting her Italian counterpart, she put on a nice black outfit for her date with Francis (veil included) and was apparently toeing the line of the diplomatic protocol. So, everyone should be happy.

What is more important, however, and what we probably will never know, is what exactly they talked about. After all, the Maribor Diocese still has the 800 million debt hanging over its head and basically went tits up. Just for comparison, only days ago, the state OK’d recapitalisation of two largest banks, NLB and NKBM for a combined amount of 900 million. So you can see that the Roman Catholic Church has a bit of a problem in Slovenia. Which is probably one of the reasons the local clergy did not go ape-shit over the proposed real-estate tax which – according to a government leak – would encompass Church-owned real estate as well. That, and the fact that the local clergy is more Ratzingerian than Bergoglian and are probably still getting their bearings vis-a-vis the pop-Pope.

Also, it was reported the entire real-estate assets of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church amount to – you guessed it – 800 million euro. Repossession, anyone? No? Too heavy?

Point is that there are serious issues at play here. Bratušek government is about to start selling a batch of state-owned companies as well as start transferring toxic assets to a bad band bank. In short: the landscape of Slovenian economy is about to change dramatically very soon. But here we are, as a nation, talking about the size and colour of the PM’s skirt.

Really, maybe we deserve the shit we’re in.

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Lessons of Maribor

While ministers-in-waiting were undergoing parliamentary hearings and while pope Francis was being installed with President Pahor rushing to be there when it happened, a short lull descended upon Slovenian politics which can and should be used to analyse Maribor mayoral elections which took place Sunday last. Pengovsky delivers.

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(source: vecer.com

Maribor, as you know, was the original flashpoint of the Slovenian uprising. Provoked by speed-traps installed around the city as a public-private partnership between the city and a privately owned company, it uncovered deep resentment, anger and rejection of political elite and politics in general by general population and quickly spread throughout the country. As a direct result of (occasionally violent) protests, Maribor mayor Franc Kangler stepped down, prompting mayoral elections held last Sunday where independent Andrej Fištravec won by a landslide in the first round, leaving other candidates, most of them running on party tickets, in the dust. There’s only one problem: the turnout was only 31 percent, criminally low even by Maribor standards where historically fewest people ever bothered to partake in a popular vote. Rok Kajzer (@73cesar) has a good piece on the aftermath of the Sunday vote (Slovenian only), but there are other implications as well.

Namely, the low turnout shows that resignation of a despised politician (in this case mayor Kangler) does not solve the basic problem, the disillusionment of the people with the political process and the waning legitimacy thereof. Even more: Maribor may have gotten a new mayor on Sunday, but the city council remains largely intact, although the protesters demanded councilmen resign as well. Only a few did, not enough to have the council dissolved. Meaning that while a new mayor will soon be in the office, the coalition in the city council more or less remains the same one which supported mayor Kangler. Which spells bad news for the new mayor as he will have precious few people to cover his back. It is as if the people sensed that the basic problems of this society can not be solved by early elections only.

Which brings us to lessons learned: firstly, that the entire political process is so tainted in the eyes of the people, that simply putting up new faces up for elections will get you nowhere. Sure, you may win the elections (as Fištravec did) but the actual problems remain the same. Or worse. And secondly, that early elections alone can not offer anything new if force(s) stemming from the protest movement are not able to properly form and present a viable alternative to the existing ruling elite.

Had other parties (most notably the SD) gotten their way and forced early elections as soon as this summer, chances are the turnout would be spectacularly low since only established political parties have the resources to mount a campaign in snap elections. Like Maribor. And had snap elections be called in Slovenia today, the turnout would possibly be equally horrid.

The notion that early elections alone can be harbingers of changes is ultimately flawed under present Slovenian circumstances, even though this is one of the core demands of the protest movement. The only way early elections can change something is by altering the political arena first. And that takes time. Plenty of it. Otherwise the established elite can also brush newcomers off as incompetent.

National Council And The Kangler Paradox

The new National Council met today for an inaugural session and gained plenty of airtime. Mostly because soon-to-be-ex mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler was elected but immediately evicted as councilman during what was later dubbed The 1st Maribor Uprising, which started the wave of protests still sweeping the country one way or the other.


Franc Kangler leaving the National Council chambers (photo: RTVSLO)

The National Council is a weird body and pengovsky has long maintained that there would be no harm in abolishing it. Its members are elected indirectly, via electoral votes with half of them representing local interests and the other half representing various trade, labour and industrial interests. And the public sector. It is in fact a classic corporatist body where representatives of particular interests are allowed a say on matters of national (public) interest. In fact, it is a prime example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

The National Council is not a proper second chamber. It wields certain powers, but it doesn’t automatically have a say in the every-day legislative process. Among other things it can use a holding veto, forcing the National Assembly (the parliament proper) to re-take the vote on a certain law and it can call a referendum. As such is quickly went degenerated into a place of lobbying and back-room politicking where even representatives of trade/industrial interests take votes along the party lines or hidden agendas, depending on the issue at hand. The fact that council members can be granted immunity from prosecution only adds to the shadowy clout of the institution.

Enter Franc Kangler whose election to the council was reportedly the result of some serious political horse-trading in the Maribor region while protesters outside the Maribor City Hall pelted the building with eggs and the newly elected council member had to be escorted home by riot police. Between then and now Kangler announced his resignation as mayor of Maribor (effective 31 December) but his membership in the council seemed a fait accompli.

But in what is usually a mere formality of confirming new councilmen, members of the National Council voted to deny Kangler a seat in the body on – wait for it – moral grounds. As a result, Kangler will apparently petition the Constitutional Court to overturn the decision and allow him to start his five-year term as a member of the 40-seat sort-of-upper chamber of the Slovenian parliament.

So, what actually happened? As stated many times on this blog in the past few days, the political elite is scared. Think soiled-underpants-scared. Pengovsky has it on good authority that parliamentarians are bewildered with what is going on in the streets, they are starting to realise they have a general legitimacy problem and are slowly starting to panic. As a result, they are making rash moves, trying to save their face, hoping they’ll not have to save their skin.

This was the prime reason they denied Kangler his council membership. Trying to put a daylight between him and themselves, they singled him out as the proverbial root of all evil and attempted to evict him at the very start, thus making themselves look good. Which only proves that they still don’t get it. They do not realise that Kangler is not the cause of the troubles but rather symptom of a much deeper problem of state-capture. Contrary to common sense, the Slovenian state was not captured by the economic elite (although it often seemed so) but by its political sibling. The people have had enough of it and Franc Kangler was only the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In their rash and voluntaristic approach, the newly minted councilmen proclaimed Franc Kangler morally unfit to serve on the body. Which may even be the case, but it is not their place, neither legally nor otherwise to say so. Fact of the matter is that Kangler was elected to the position, albeit with a legitimacy problem of galactic proportions. But legitimacy (or the lack thereof) is only judged with respect to the people (i.e. this nation’s sovereign) and not with respect to fellow council members.

Just as he was forced to resign as mayor, Kangler could have been forced to resign as councilman. Media and public pressure can do the trick. He has shown his fragility on the issue earlier today where he actively avoided journos and cameras. He clearly wasn’t enjoying any of this and odds were he wouldn’t last long in the council. But in their stupidity and short-sightedness, his fellow council members presented him with the perfect tool to get away with it.

What the council did today was illegal. Council members have no authority to judge appropriateness of a fellow member once he or she has been elected. But they did it anyway. As a result, Kangler will petition the Constitutional Court which will have no option but to confirm his mandate. Thus Kangler will in all likelyhood be reinstated as a member of the National Council, ironically coming out of this mess with more legitimacy than when he entered it because his council membership will have been confirmed by the ultimate guardian of the rule of law in this country.

In effect, the National Council created a situation where the rule of law (the lack of which is one of the key issues of the protest movement) will, ironically, be strengthened with Kangler in the council rather than with him outside the council.

Omnishambles indeed.

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Conch Republic Slovenian Style

In 1982, people of Key West, fed up with the fact that the US Border Patrol set up a checkpoint just north of the Florida Keys, declared independence from the United States of America. The logic was simple. “If they treat us like a foreign country and stiffle our tourism, we might as well act like a foreign country.” Immediately after promulgation of independence, the newly declared Conch Republic declared war on the United States, it’s first and only act of war being hitting a US naval officer with a loaf of Cuban bread. The Conch Republic surrendered immediately thereafter (Key West after all is one of the largest US Navy bases in the Atlantic) and requested one billion dollars in foreign aid to “rebuild the nation after a long federal siege”.


Breaking Slovenia apart

Conch Republic is fun. I was there. People are cool and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Still, they travel around the world (well, around the Caribbean at least) on their own passports and even get to dabble in diplomacy. In Slovenia, however, things tend to get way to serious way too soon. Thus, when Zoran Janković announced he’s going national, several mayors from the Štajerska region went apeshit about how this country is all centralised and how Ljubljana gets all the money and makes all the decisions and how their municipalities will not have a Ljubljanchan tell them what to do and how to do it.

Wait. What?

A Ljubljanchan? All along Janković was being derided for not being a Ljubljana native, the tell-take “-ić” suffix in his surname, denoting (in his case) Serbian descent being object of mockery, bigotry and even plain nationalism. That he is simply not Ljubljana enough. But lo-behold! The moment Jay-Z goes national, he becomes he epitome of Slovenian capital, the very essence of Ljubljana and a true swamp-man, who will appropriate all funds and channel them to Ljubljana. As a result, mayors of Celje and Murska Sobota called for their respective regions (Štajerska and Prekmurje) to be granted autonomy, while mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler called for outright independence and later toned it down to “administrative independence” without elaboration what that means.

Obviously, this is an election ploy, so it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But in case you ever wondered why Slovenia, a country of two million has 210+ municipalities, here’s your answer. Everybody wants to be independent from everyone else and Bob forbid they be told from Ljubljana what to do. But should the need arise (as it always does) they will be quick on their feet to call upon the state to provide them with money they’ve squandered, invested badly or planned wrongly. Case in point being the Maribor European Culture Capital where the state is throwing in loads of money to repair the theatrical and other cultural infrastructure. Additionally, they’ve received money to organise the 2013 Universiade, a project which threatens to collapse completely and put the city or at least its mayor to shame (pengovsky especially remembers a promise to build a curling hall in Ruše near Maribor).

Declaration of Independence

On the other hand, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković likes to point out that the government of Janez Janša took 60 million euro annually away from Ljubljana and that the Stožice sports complex, by far the biggest in Slovenia’s recent history, only got minimal funding from the state and the EU (a hefty loan from a state bank notwithstanding). To the said mayors and their brethren in Štajerska this is a major concern. By that same token, the construction of TEŠ6 coal power plant in Šoštanj should send sparks flying, but…. nada.

The “administrative independence” suggestion is as bad as they come. It would be funny if it came from a man in a Hawaii shirt and wearing Wayfarers. Instead it came from high-profile mayors of a particular political party (SLS) which profited both politically as well as materially from Slovenia being infested with municipalities. And although not serious, the move is completely irresponsible. Playing with integrity of this country borders on sick, even if only for election purposes.

Sorry, Kangler, you just ain’t funny!

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