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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The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled…


(source)

You’ll see what a palace he had built for himself with the fortune
comparable only with Byzantine Caesar or the Great Khan of Tartars.
Now you probably understand why he issued all those bulls against
the idea of poverty. There are crosses in Avignon with Christ crucified
but with only one hand nailed to the cross while he’s touching a purse
around his waits with the other, as if to say that He approves use of
money in ecclesiastic matters.

The above passage from Umberto Eco‘s The Name of The Rose came to mind when pengovsky first heard of the financial hardship the Maribor archdiocese found itself in. And Lord, are we talking hardship. According to an article in Italian L’espresso (in English, surprisingly so), which exposed what until now was only alluded, the archdiocese, which gives guidance to a flock of some 100,000, ran up a debt of some 800 million euro. No, it’s not a mistake. Eight hundred million. That’s more than three times the amount of Slovenia‘s share in Greek bail-out. I won’t bother you with the details, especially since you can read them up in the original article. Suffice it to say that they’ve put all of their eggs in a couple of not very safe baskets and then forgot to watch the baskets. And now they can’t even make an omelette out of broken eggs.

Not that the archdiocese is helping its case. Their official response was full of hypocrisy, false humility and other nouns we’ve come to connect with the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, thev’ve written that they “are aware of their indirect responsibility to shareholders, employees and the public. Our special responsibility goes to people of Catholic faith and all those to whom we were sent to spread the word of Christ and help them in times of hardship. We realise that in the past we have not always made it clear that ours is purely a mission of spreading the faith, education and charity. In the past the Maribor archdiocese has focused on economic matters only to fund and further develop the above pursuits. Our goal was to strengthen our financial positions to better execute our pastoral, educational and cultural activities. These activities are in many countries partly funded by the state. As this is not the case in Slovenia, we tried to establish an economic presence. Today, we realize that this was a wrong decision.

It is highly tempting to go ha-ha (<- click the link, goddammit! 🙂 ) on the Maribor archdiocese (or on the Slovene Roman Catholic Church as a whole), especially since the clergy took virtually every opportunity to bash the Slovenian noveaux riches which have lately been distilled into failed tycoons a la Boško Šrot, Igor Bavčar (remember them?) and lately Bine Kordež of Merkur and Ivan Zidar of SCT. And suddenly, that same organisation, primarily tasked with spreading His word, love for little boys and preventing use of contraceptives turns out to be on the fast track to the fourth circle of hell.

Slightly more than a year ago there was a lot of talk about “exit strategies”. You know, getting back to the business as usual. Back then there were a couple of competing documents, all of which fancied themselves as “exit strategies” and all of them failed to deliver. One of those documents looked beyond the scope of immediately visible and while it didn’t provide answers it pointed out most of the right questions. The problem is that it was outside of the (still) accepted neoliberalistic socio-political discourse and it was quietly forgotten. Everything that followed in its wake were either half-baked compendiums of various semi-useful theories often contradictory in nature and content, badly disguised attempts to totally derail the country and take power by means of early elections or just plain old throwing sand in the wheels of any attempt to fundamentally change the situation. Two of those we can chalk down to Janez Janša‘s SDS, one to labour unions. You figure out who is responsible for what 🙂

Anyways, point being that since any attempt to kick-start things by broadening the spectrum of acceptable was doomed to failure be it from the opposition or the labour unions (plus a little waywardness within the coalition), the breaths of the acceptable became increasingly narrow. This narrowness of course is not something new, but rather became the “accepted norm” of the last thirty years (yes, Slovenes embraced capitalism before we embraced democracy). Soon everyone was expert at everything and those on the bandwagon looked down on those who did not or could not jump on it. And there were mighty few people who didn’t at least attempt the jump. With the power of hindsight it seems perfectly logical that Maribor archdiocese did what it did and that the whole thing went straight to hell but the scope of damage is staggering nevertheless. The total amount of so called “tycoon” credit lines extended to various Slovene companies reportedly amounted to 2 billion euro. Increased by another 800 million, this means that the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia is responsible for almost 35% percent of all bad debt in this country.

Granted, the Church had realised long ago, even before the dawn of capitalism that money and property mean power. This, after all was also the declared goal of Maribor archdiocese: to promote, evolve and expand the teachings (and with them the influence) of the Roman Catholic Church. But this time it wasn’t just that people who are in the business of faith switched to the business of making (or, rather, losing) money. What we have here is a situation where men of faith put their faith in money. This goes beyond pure attitude one has towards the Church, be it on an ideological or purely personal level. This is probably the final proof that capitalism as we had known it until the fall of 2008 indeed had no real alternative and that in many respects still doesn’t have one, since any alternative which oversteps the boundaries of a neoliberalistic discourse is automatically discarded and – vice versa – every alternative which does not overstep those boundaries is apparently self-destructive.

Generally admonishing the Catholic Church for their ultimate financial fail will get us nowhere, nor will it radically change the playing field. To those who generally are not favouring the Church this is only the latest proof of what was known all along. To the flock, this was probably a shock, but the relation of the faithful to the clergy is theirs to handle. However, rather than dancing on what is arguably soon to become the economic grave of Maribor archdiocese and possibly the entire Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia (it turns out that Ljubljana archdiocese was helping out as well) we should be worried sick. Because if an institution with two-thousand-years-worth of history and collective memory succumbs to the lures of casino capitalism, we can finally get some perspective on just how strong, how deep and how irrational this crisis is.

Two thousand years ago Jesus apparently freaked out and told them that his temple is a house of prayer not a den of thieves. But in this day and age it seems that Keyser Söze was right when he said that the greatest trick Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. This way, in a world which seemed like financial heaven, you could invest 800 million euro and like *that* it was gone.

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Stand By Your Man

Franci Križanič remains minister of finance in the government of Borut Pahor, the PM said during today’s press conference. He went to great lengths explaining why he went decided to ignore the Court of Audit which called for Križanič to be dismissed from office due to dereliction of duty.


Prime minister Pahor and finance minister Križanič (source)

PM Pahor pointed out that the Court’s call was merely a strong recommendation and that it was within his discretion whether to start the demission process or not. Furthermore he added that Križanič is the most burdened minister in these times of financial crisis and that he has performed well under the circumstances. Keeping the above in mind, continued the PM, combined with Križanič’s dedicated work in the part two years led to the decision to keep the finance minister on-board. Thus spake Borut Pahor.

Now what? Pengovsky believes this is a decision which will come to haunt the PM very soon. Regardless of everything this is a case of double standards. It doesn’t really matter if the coalition parties (and this includes DeSUS and Karl Erjavec, who was dismissed on similar grounds a year ago) claim to “understand Pahor’s motives”. They have the luxury to “understand” as this is a pool of hot water PM alone is in. True, Križanič’s job is probably among the least attractive in the country at the moment, but a year ago, during the protracted removal of Karl Erjavec the PM said that a new standard was set. Today, this standard doesn’t seem to apply.

Since Križanič is an old Social Democrats‘ hand who reportedly carries plenty of clout within the party, it is obvious that Križanič’s fate was primarily a question of relationship between Borut Pahor and his party. And with so many open fronts it is likely that the prime minister did not want to open one more. In the short term this means pacifying the party but enduring yet another round of mud-slinging in his general direction. Since the latter would most likely ensue regardless of everything, it may even seem prudent to keep Križanič on the team. But it is not.

With this rather important human-resource victory, the party, especially the faction Križanič belongs to, may get the feeling that it can play the table against the PM. And even though the PM is notoriously keen on compromise, he will not let challenges to his power continue indefinitely. Which means that a showdown within the ruling Social Democrats is inevitable and the closer to the 2012 elections this showdown happens, the weaker will SD be entering the election campaign. Next elections will be an uphill battle anyway, but with an internally divided party, success is virtually impossible.

Secondly, since it is likely that the Court of Audit do more of the same in the future (recommend ministers to be dismissed for dereliction of duty) the PM will be in an extremely tough position, especially if the minister in question will be of a different coalition party. What will the PM do then? Will he sack the minister, reiterating the appearance that different rules apply to ministers of his party than to ministers of other coalition partners, or will he waste even more energy and bend over backwards to explain how that (for now hypothetical) case is completely different than the two we’ve seen so far?

And lastly, the PM made it clear that the decision to keep Križanič as minister was his and his alone. This means that any possible fuck-ups Križanič might cook up in the remaining eighteen months will be the PM’s fault as well. And as readers of this blog know, Križanič is somewhat accident-prone. As of today Borut Pahor must keep finance minister Križanič on an extremely short leash. Whether this arrangement will work, is anybody’s guess.

There’s one other possibility, though. It could be that Križanič survived only temporarily and will resign later in the year, without immediate connection to the Court of Audit report. Since the minister is reportedly negotiating with Goldman Sachs to buy a stake in Maribor-based and state-owned bank Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (NKBM), it might seem prudent to keep the top negotiator on the team for the time being and have him resign after the deal is made. But this is speculation, especially since there was no official word from Goldman Sachs on the matter. We only know what Križanič told the media. The question is, whether the finance minister was again overly optimistic and if so how long can the PM stand by his man.

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