Chemin De re-Fer-endum

As the world watches the Teutonic Vote unfold today there’s another, albeit slightly less dramatic ballot taking place as the good people of Muddy Hollows are registering their preference in a referendum on the second rail track of the Divača-Koper railway.


(source)

Now, pengovsky wrote this one up some-place else (here’s an awkward and sometimes unintentionally profound Google translation) so suffice it to say here this is the sort of infrastructure project politicos usually foam at the mouth for. You know: big constructions with big machinery and big price tags where a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking he or she waded into a Freudian clinic.

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Storm In A Populist Teacup

For a few long moments on Thursday it seemed as if the government of Miro Cerar drew its last breath. The issue at hand was an agreement between the minister of health Milojka Kolar Celarc and the FIDES, the medical doctors’ trade union (not to be confused with Victor Orban’s Fidesz) which ostensibly put an end to the MDs’ week-long strike. The thing is that at the same time the other public sector unions were negotiating with the government on rolling back austerity measures and getting what they see is their due. On top of that the doctors, unusually, weren’t getting a pass by the public opinion which normally forgave their antics regardless of how baseless they may have been (because doctors and shit). All of this while the government was about to unveil a much-anticipated draft of health-sector reform, a move which by definition makes a lot of players with plenty of vested interest, mighty nervous. But in the end, it all amounted to nothing.

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The Three Amigos (source, source and source)

Namely, while Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and Dejan Židan of SD were raising hell in the last couple of days on account of minister Kolar Celarc supposedly agreeing to exempt the doctors from a mechanism that regulates wages across the entire public sector, the true reasons for the entire circus were purely political and aimed at obscuring the fact that both junior coalition parties can ill afford parliamentary elections right now, for reasons both political and financial. And this, more or less goes for all political parties with the possible exception of the SMC.

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Accountant-In-Chief

The term “hot political Autumn” is a staple of post-holiday media diet in Slovenia. It’s supposed to represent the exact opposite of the Silly season and signal re-entry of many-a-player into political orbit. Only that the Silly season was not really happening the past few years. In fact, until this Summer, Slovenia has been experiencing one long, drawn-out political and economic re-alignment, making the period between 2010 and 2016 one big political blur. Just think about it: four governments, just as many elections (on national level only) and seven referendums, with one being a 3-in-1 special. And then there was the euro-crisis and the migrant crisis and the Patria affair and a whole range of clusterfucks large and small. Thus many people were befuddled when the government of Miro Cerar declared a collective holiday and got the hell out of Dodge for most of August. Maybe it was the Olympics, maybe it was real, but no one really missed them, except for a few warning shots from the media and the opposition, but most of those were catching a few extra z’s around that time, too.

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Mateja Vraničar Erman, FinMin-to-be (source)

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Playing To Lose, Cerar Goes About Saving Private Mramor

Yesterday, finance minister Dušan Mramor offered to resign over a bonuses scandal that’s been overflowing for about two weeks now. In what was a somewhat unexpected move, PM Cerar did not accept the resignation. Instead he subjected Mramor to a mere slap on the wrist and then proceeded to extol Mramor’s track record at the ministry. Although the affair involved relatively modest amounts, the public and the media were indignant and the pundits were near-unanimous that Cerar will let Mramor go. Since he didn’t, the overall sentiment is that Cerar committed political suicide and will never be re-elected again. The truth, in pengovsky’s view, is somewhat different: Cerar has long since become unelectable, most likely on Day 2 of his tenure. It just took him over a year and two pan-european structural crises to come to that conclusion. Thus in terms of his own political future he has little to lose. He can, however, make the remaining three-and-a-half years count. And for that, he needs Mrarmor more than Mramor needs him.

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Miro The Man and Dušan The Man’s Man, some time ago. (source)

The gist of the story is that Mramor, while serving as dean of the Faculty of Economics in 2008, OK’ed use of special clause in labour legislation that provided for a 24/7 standby bonus. The clause was meant to be used to augment paychecks to various branches of first responders and similar services, but in mid-2008, apparently to circumvent the havoc wrought by the across-the-board austerity at the time, the faculty came up with this clause and, well, bent over backwards to expand its interpretation to cover university professors as well. The move worked so well that it was copied by nine out of eleven faculties, members of University of Ljubljana (Faculty of Theology and Faculty of Law being the notable exceptions).

Unmitigated disaster

Now, ever since the story broke, it has been an unmitigated PR disaster for Mramor and everyone else involved. This includes Minster of Education Maja Makovec Brenčič, former SD heavyweight and incumbent dean of the Faculty of Economics Metka Tekavčič and several other public personae. Especially daft was the feeble defence mounted by the faculty, now with Tekavčič at the helm, which only reinforced the perception of entitlement on the part of the academic elite. The fact that the whole issue centered on about half a million euros across nine faculties, did little to ausage the problem. Quite to the contrary. It is a known quirk of the Slovenian voter that the more he or she can relate to a number, the more emotional their response will be.

Case in point being Mramor who, over the years, accumulated around 45k euros in “standby bonuses”. 45,000 euros is not an unreachable amount of money. It’s about three-years-worth of average Slovenian wage. To put it another way, 45k will buy you an mid-to-upper-range BMW. Which is what makes the people so mad. They have an approximate idea about how much 45k euros actually is and they base their judgements on that. To put in perspective, only about a week ago, Slovenia was forced to pay 42 million euros (almost a thousand times more) to Croatia as damages for electricity not delivered from Krško nuclear plant between 2002 and 2003, when a political decision was taken to punitively and unilaterally withhold electricity from Croatia, even though the neighbouring country owns a 50% stake in the plant. Point being that the voters will more likely and more furiously take issue with smaller amounts of money. Doubly so if the payouts are legally dubious, as they are in this case.

Now, in the end Mramor has promised to pay back the whole amount, but only after being prodded by the media and – presumably – by the PM himself. Before that he somehow came to the conclusion that he would only pay back some 3000 euros. As if we learned nothing from the case of Gregor Virant in 2011.

Do-Goodnik becomes unelectable

But enough about Mramor. What he did was wrong, regardless of the motives. And while he’s not off the hook just yet, he does get to live another day or so and in politics a week is a lifetime. What is equally interesting, however, is why Cerar bailed Mramor out in the first place and squandered what little remained of the ethical platform the SMC ran on in 2014.

First, the already mentioned fact that Cerar has, in fact, been unelectable for some time. At the very least from the onset of the refugee crisis where he alienated a substantial part of the progressive vote by raising a razor-wire fence on the border with Croatia and empowering the military to police civilians. On the other hand, he only infuriated the right-wing which – although clamouring for these measures – predictably deemed them to little, too late, when finally passed. But in all likelihood, Cerar’s political demise began soon after he began his term, when the high-flying ethical do-goodnik platform met the bleak politcal and economic reality of Slovenia. After kicking ministers out for much smaller transgressions and having seen himself and Mramor brush with a similar affair, Cerar finally realized that it was in effect he himself who was pulling the rug from under his feet. Others were just helping.

Not that there was any lack of help. During yesterday’s press conference, Cerar took a swipe at SDS and SD, more or less saying that he will not have the composition of this government being dictated to him. That the SDS is making life difficult for Cerar is hardly news. After all, they’re the opposition, even if they’re being strangely blunt about that as of late. Namely, according to one source, the party openly threatened the SMC with making their life a living hell if the largest party does not support the SDS nominee for a vacant post at the European Court of Human Rights. The SMS refused to oblige. Hell did in fact commence.

SD ante portas

But the slap across the face of the SD was much more telling. The party, although still in relative ruin after its electoral flop, was given a new lease of life by Cerar’s strategic mistake of making them coalition partners. It soon started to re-establish its economic base and soon enough found itself in a massive brawl with the SMC over the sale of Telekom Slovenije. The SD lost that particular battle but stalled the whole thing just enough to derail the sale. Then came the beheading of the bad bank where SD gained a whole new range of informal power and – not unimportant – where Mramor lost. Which sort of made him the next target. And since he was apparently vunerable in the bonuses department… well, you now know the story.

From this point of view, had Cerar accepted Mramor’s resignation, the SD would have practically owned the government. They’ve squeezed a number of consessions out of Cerar as it is. The latest one being a shamelessly brazen creation of a party fief. officially known as the State Forest Company, it centralizes forestry management and falls under the purview of – yup, you guessed it – minister of agriculture, forestry and food, headed by leader of the SD Dejan Židan. Had Cerar allowed them to go any further, he would relinquish what little control he has on the home front.

Bond…. Sovereign bond

Ditto for the foreign front. Had Cerar relieved Mramor of his duties, Slovenia would in all likelihood start raising many-an-eyebrow of various investors all over the world. Until now, these were more or less happy to buy Slovenian debt precisely because Mramor and his predecessor Čufer handled the post-bailout situation adroitly and took the country of various watch-lists in Brussels, Berlin and Washington, even though (in all honesty) the pace of reforms and privatization has been glacial, at best. Bottom line, with the to-do list still being more or less the same as it was under Bratušek tenure, Mramor is Cerar’s best insurance against the possibility that the humanitarian and political crisis (in terms of EU issues) is joined by a resurgent financial crisis, too.

Thus, by protecting finance minister Mramor, Cerar conceded that he’ll lose the next elections. ironically, to win them, he probably has to play to lose, anyhow.

The Tomb Of National Heroes

Following snap elections on 13 July Slovenian parliament held an inaugural session on Friday which – if one attempted to describe it in full – would be somewhere between a Monty Python act, a wake and select scenes from They Live. In fact, what we had today was people an exercise in different planes of reality converging into the same point of the time-space continuum. The results were predictably ugly.

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Pahor and Janša make it to 9gag. That’s one off the bucket-list (source)

On one hand we had Janez Janša, the jailed leader of the SDS who was granted a short leave of his prison sentence to attend the session, providing for an extraordinary situation where a convicted criminal serving a prison sentence is elected and starts serving as an MP. On the other side there were a couple of hundred protestors in front of the parliament who demanded the release of Janez Janša from prison, called him a political prisoner and a martyr. Next, there was Janša’s SDS which refused to make nominations in a key parliamentary committee, vowing to do the same for every other parliamentary body until they are given assurances new elections will be held as soon as Janša is acquitted (as the faithful believe will and protest in front of the court daily to happen). Still further, however, are the trials and tribulations of PM-presumptive Miro Cerar who is paying a heavy price for his hardball tactics in the Slovenian EU Commissioner issue. Cerar has all but spent whatever progress he had had with Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and is, for all intents and purposes back to square one in coalition negotiations. If he ever left square one at all, that is. Oh, and then there’s the reality of President Pahor quoting Churchill again and (again) admitting he didn’t know his ass-hole from his ear-hole when he handled the outbreak of crisis in 2008.

You can’t always get what you want

The ugly part is that no-one got what they wanted and yet everyone got more than what they bargained for. Case in point being Milan Brglez, the man thought to be the brains behind Miro Cerar Party (SMC) and widely tipped to be the next foreign minister (on account of his international studies tenure at the Faculty of Social Sciences), was forced to accept the nomination for the Speaker of the parliament. This brings about an unusual situation where the Speaker of the Parliament, a post usually manned by the second largest coalition party, is a member of the largest coalition party which is now poised to occupy the upper-most levels of both executive and legislative branches. That it was Miro Cerar, the legalist and a man of high democratic standard, who had to break what little democratic tradition this country has, is especially ironic.

Having said that, it is possible that – regardless of his and Cerar’s statements – Brglez as Speaker is only a temporary solution. You know, just to get the parliament up-and-running. But for Brglez to make the switch to Foreign Ministry (a.k.a. Mladika, as the building is called), a lot of things must happen, chief among them being DeSUS actually joining Cerar’s coalition and Erjavec wanting to quite as foreign minister and take over as parliament chief. Either that or becoming EU commissioner (yeah, right 🙂 ). Brglez’s chances of clinching the top foreign-affairs job would increase greatly if his party boss were to cobble a coalition sans DeSUS. And if days ago Cerar and his people were wondering why they would make their lives difficult by not inviting Erjavec to the ruling gang, they’re probably starting to see that political life with Erjavec in tow is much more difficult than without him. But, as things stand, Cerar went from setting the pace to putting out fires in a matter of days. He needs to get his act together, fast.

The person who, amazingly, did hold her act together on Friday was Marjana Kotnik Poropat, an MP for DeSUS who, by virtue of being the oldest MP, chaired the inaugural session. Poropat, obviously coached and prepared, rejected every attempt Jože Tanko, head of SDS parliamentary group, made to derail the parliament from day one. Tanko made numerous procedural demands most of which had to do with MPs confirming the election results, thus finding they do indeed hold the mandate of the people and can start their work. The SDS, however, refused to appoint their members to the relevant committee and called for the parliament legal service to form an opinion on whether these committees can be established if not all parties appoint members. Further to that Tanko demanded time to stuy the legal service’s opinion, obviously trying to extend and possibly derail the parliament even before it would even formally establish itself. Poropat would have none of that and rebuffed Tanko repeatedly, much to annoyance of SDS masters of procedure and to amazement of the interested public (i.e. the Slovenian tweetosphere which had a field day yesterday).

Prison break

Whether Tanko was following a real plan or was just buying time for his boss remains a mystery. Namely, Janez Janša got a daily pass to leave prison and attend the session of the parliament to which he was elected. This predictably precipitated all sorts of false dilemmas on whether his mandate should be confirmed or not, whether he is fit to stand as MP or not et cetera. But the issue is indeed a fairly simple one. While an MP, sentenced to a prison term of six monts or more can be stripped of office (by a majority vote of his colleagues), there is currently no law that would prohibit a convict to stand for elections. Which is precisely the case with Janša. And since he was legally elected, MPs had no choice but to confirm his mandate, leaving it for later (and probably quite soon) to navigate the legal minefield of stripping Janša of his MP status.

Because as things stand now, the leader of the opposition gets to leave the prison every time he has stuff scheduled in the parliament and gets to complain that “even the old Yugoslav regime treated him better than Slovenian authorities do”. Which is bullshit, of course, but Janša and the SDS are forced tp resort to increasingly preposterous lies in order to maintain the enthusiasm of the faithful. But still, it must have been quite a downer to see only three-hundred people, mostly well beyond retirement age, chanting his name, cursing the communist conspiracy that runs the country and demanding Janša be released from prison. Which proved for a lot bizarre scenes where Janša went to meet his supporters during a break in session and the flock shouted that he should be let out of prison while he was there. In all honesty, factually, they are correct. But in terms of space and time, well… They funny 🙂

But the scenery was even more bizzare than the content. The Janša crowd gathered in a small park on the West side of the parliament and spent hours chanting to their hero, praising him as the saviour of the nation and insisting the country will not be free until he is. But long gone are the days when tens of thousands chanted Janša’s name in front of the parliament, like in 1994 when Janša was being removed from the post of defence minister in the wake of Depala vas Affair. From 30.000 to 300 people in twenty years is a sure-fire sign that Janša’s political star is fading. In a true Freudian twist, Friday’s pro-Janša rally was held only ten metres away from the tomb of national heroes. In the end, we’re all dead. Politically or for real.

Please, stop quoting Churchill

But stupidity, she is immortal. Case in point being President Pahor’s speech which was, as per usual, high on big words but low on actual content (but, admittedly, still much better than his Lorem Ipsum speech aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior days ago). In his parliament speech Pahor invoked Churchill and said that “after years of trying to solve the crisis the wrong way we now finally know what it is all about and can do it the right way”. Now, quoting Churchill is one of Pahor’s favourite political activities. And to be honest, Churchill is a quotable man with much to be quoted about. But what President Pahor was alluding to, however, was supposed Churchill statement that one can count on America to do the right thing after it had done everything else.

Now, for starters, President Pahor freely admitted that all of his 2008-2011 bravado, long-as-fuck press conferences and moving small red and green dots on a magnetic board that represented reform attempts, he didn’t know shit about tackling the crisis. You know, not even an “oops, sorry”. Just more bravado to the tune of “we finally nailed it this time.” Unfortunately, he didn’t. You see, the quote is taken out of context. What Churchill was supposedly referring to was an intervention of an outside power in what was then still a European armed conflict. Which of course is somewhat different from “we finally know what to do now”. And just to add insult to injury: Churchill never actually said that. So much for knowing how to tackle the crisis, when you can’t even pick a correct Churchill quote.But hey, as president, you can do whatever you like, I guess. Even shake hands with a convicted felon. Figure the tomb of national heroes won’t be needing an expansion any time soon after all.