Psychodelictual Sausage Fest (Local Elections)

You might not realise it, but this coming Sunday local (municipal) elections are to be held in all of 212 municipalities in Slovenia. If you’re asking how in the holy fuck did Muddy Hollows end up with two hundred and twelve municipalities, pengovsky can only say: don’t ask.


Destrnik hopeful Franc Pukšič sending mixed messages (source)

But if you insist and want to have your mind blown, suffice it to say it has to do with some half-baked decentralisation back in the 1990s, when the old commune system was dissolved and municipalities formed on the principle of “natural gravitation”, i.e. defining local societal centres and setting up a fairly flexible set of criteria for forming municipalities. This link provides a nice path down the rabbit hole that are Slovenian municipalities.

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Apology Of Ineptitude

Minister of education, science, culture and sports Žiga Turk a.k.a. superminister (due to many a portfolio that were joined together under one roof) recently held a speech where he touched upon what he called “the lost moral capital”. Delo daily ran the speech titled Why Nothing Happens and What Should Happen verbatim in its Saturday supplement Sobotna priloga and it definitely deserves to be commented upon.


minister Žiga Turk at a recent event (photo by yours truly)

First of all, it has been ages since this particular newspaper (or any newspaper worthy of its name, for that matter) ran a transcript of a politician’s speech. True, Delo once did that. Regularly. But in those days its tagline was “Workers of the world, unite!” and was officially still a socialist and party-sanctioned newspaper. In other words, running a speech by a sitting politician has an unwelcome taste of times past. One can hope the newspaper went with it for less obvious reasons, but still. A good three pages were spent on what was primarily an agenda-driven political discourse.

Because that’s exactly what is was. For what it’s worth, here’s a Google translation of the speech. In it Turk submits that the main problem of Slovenian society is the lack of moral capital and quotes Jonathan Haidt‘s Moral Foundations Theory to further his case. Bottom line? Moral principles are not only acquired, but mostly passed down genetically from generation to generation.

Now, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on whether Haidt is right or wrong. He is controversial, to say the least. The problem here is the approach minister Turk takes to explain the current sociopolitical situation in Slovenia. In short: it is a classic example of first defining a conclusion and then using whatever (pseudo)science there is to support it. The conclusion being that both sides of the political spectrum are equally right. Or, better, equally wrong. Also, morality of the right should be equally legitimate as morality of the left. And vice-versa.

Here, Turk enters the slippery territory of WWII history in Slovenia and declares that the fight against the occupation should be set apart from the social and political revolution that took place alongside it. To simplify: rebellion against Nazism and Fascism – good. Revolution – bad. And goes on to say that those who opposed the revolution were guilty of nothing more than a different set of morals. If it were only that simple. While there is no such thing as a clean war (and pengovsky wrote time and again that it is high time we bury our dead), fact of the matter is, that there was no middle ground in WWII and those who sought it usually made the disastrous miscalculation of “picking the lesser evil” which more or less amounted to (at the very least) tacit toleration of the occupation. Also, revolutions happen because the existing societal structure is not fair. They do not happen out of the blue.

Or, of you want a more recent example, Turk cites the Family code debate as a typical example of morals that neither right nor wrong. Just – different. Pengovsky, however, is still at a loss as to how exactly is “gays and lesbians do not deserve a happy family” morally equal to “everyone deserves a happy family”.

This of course is nothing more than the moral, social and especially political relativism which is at the core of neoconservatism. My morals equal your morals. Regardless of the effect they have on the society as a whole as well as on the individual. If right-wing morals are that some are by definition more equal than others, then – according to Turk – this should be accepted as a valid set of morals, no more right or wrong than the opposing set of left-wing morals that all people are created equal.

But all of the above is just a sideshow for the ultimate kicker: Turk adds that the left-wingers who (according to Haidt) subscribe to the first three moral foundations (care for others, justice, liberty) show disdain for symbols of Slovenian state while happily parading around with symbols of the old socialist state and that in this they are markedly different from right-wingers who (in addition to the first three foundations) also subscribe to loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity. In other words, left-wingers are unpatriotic and as such are not being constructive in the attempts to heal the state of the nation. Well, here’s a newsflash: This has nothing to do with (non)patriotism. Rather, it has to do with substance. Or the lack thereof.

You see, most people who today display the red star (or other symbols of the old regime) are doing it as a sign of protest. Just as they were defaming that very same red star and other symbols of the old regime twenty-odd years ago. The problem of this nation is not its inherent division, but a complete and utter lack of substance. Just as the old regime became a caricature of itself and needed to be mocked, so has this state become an empty shell, devoid of all inspiration, prospect and happiness. And this is where a large number of our elected representatives and other key players failed this country. Scattered across the political spectrum, too many of them are locked in a self-perpetuated power-struggle, suffering from a complete lack of imagination and – once in power – will pull no punches when their own positions are threatened. Even if it means shoving the country and its nation further down the drain.

Out of sheer benevolence, I will subscribe to the fact that Turk and people with whom he shares the reins of power these days genuinely want to do good. But this will not be achieved by wearing countless hats, switching at pleasure from role to role. A minister is a minister 24/7. He or she cannot choose to be a politician in the morning, a professor in the afternoon, a weekend economist and a moral philosopher on special occasions. Whatever a politician in office does, is inherently political. In fact, the more apolitical they claim it to be, the more political it is. They were elected and/or appointed to further an agenda. And if that agenda is not furthered or is having disastrous results, someone isn’t doing his or her homework. Looking outside for causes to this only makes it worse.

In fact, rather than “searching for moral capital”, the whole thing should be titled as “an apology of ineptitude”.

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Remember, Remember, the Eleventh of November

Back to politics. President of the parliament Gregor Virant signed a decree yesterday scheduling presidential elections on 11 November. The fact that the first of expected two rounds of presidential elections will be held on St. Martin’s Sunday, when Slovenes, well, celebrate turning of must into wine – by drinking even more copious amounts of alcohol than usual – caused many a smirk around the country (“so, which of the two ballots do I fill out?”), but will in all honesty have only modest impact.


Gregor Virant doing the deed (photo by yours truly)

In fact, it is unclear at this stage exactly what will have an impact on the presidential campaign. If the trend of the ever more vicious campaigns is to continue, we’ll surely witness many below-the-belt punches, mudslinging and manipulations.

Officially, the campaign starts around 11 October and no candidate has yet formally filed his candidacy. Some weeks ago Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the nationalist party (now ousted from the parliament) withdrew his presidential bid, saying he refuses to be a part of the system which will be this country’s undoing. Again, this drew some cynical laughter, as Jelinčič himself was a member of the parliament for twenty-one nineteen years, from 1992 to 2011 and was very much an integral part of that very same system, knowing full well how to exploit it for his own personal and political gain.

But with Jelinčič out of the picture (although pengovsky would not be surprised if he were to re-enter the game at 11th hour), we are now left with five candidates: incumbent Danilo Türk, Milan Zver MEP, who runs on an SDS ticker and erstwhile PM Borut Pahor who runs on an SD ticket. Additionally, there are two no-name candidates, Marko Kožar and Monika Malešič. The latter made a couple of headlines earlier today claiming that she’s receiving death threats. This, we can more or less safely file under “attention whoring”, since both of them will probably poll between 0,1 and 0,4 percent. Cumulative.

As a side note, Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List indulged in yet another case of political vanity. Some weeks ago Virant hinted that his party might consider supporting Pahor, which to an extent further alienated Pahor from the left side of political spectrum (where Social Democrats nominally reside). Then, days ago Virant said that they might produce their own candidate with the caveat that this person has not yet given his/her consent and, finally, yesterday he somewhat reluctantly said that they will not put forward their own candidate but will support one of the already running ones. Which basically leaves them with either Pahor or Zver. The thing is that Virant’s party is scoring somewhere between terrible and disastrous right now which is why the whole thing came off as a really bad bluff. Fact of the matter is that – politically speaking – the Citizens’ List has precious little weight left to throw around outside the parliamentary chamber. Practically none.

This leaves the three main contenders for the top political job in the country. According to the latest poll, President Türk is firmly in the lead with 45 percent of the vote, with Borut Pahor trailing at 30 percent and Milan Zver way back with 17 percent. Pahor made some gains recently, but that can mostly be put down to his increased media presence while both Türk and Zver are criss crossing the country, campaigning on the ground.

Ever since Borut Pahor entered the race it seems a given that a second round will be necessary to elect a president. Additionally, it seems safe to assume that President Türk will make it into the second round comfortably (provided there are no serious gaffes), which means the race for second place between Borut Pahor and Milan Zver will be much more interesting. Which makes for ample speculation room as to whom exactly the current PM Janez Janša actually supports.

While not exactly necessary, all three candidates will run with popular support, basically as independents with support of various political parties, collecting signatures and thus avoiding running on a strictly party ticket. Which makes one curious as to why the PM did not put down his signature in support of Milan Zver. True, Janša’s SDS (in cahoots with NSi) supports Zver on, well, corporate level, but given that a lot of high-profile SDS and NSi members put their individual names down supporting Zver makes Janša’s absence from the list all the more curious.

The eleventh of November is still quite a distance away, but it could very well be that it will be the one to remember.

 

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Slovenian Elections: Amateur Night

New polls for your viewing pleasure and boy, are they interesting. To be honest, the most interesting is the last one, published yesterday (this post should have been dated 15 November 2011) which shows Gregor Virant dropping staggering ten percent. Remember how pengovsky wrote that Virant is running on fluff and how he will probably go down once his spell on the media is broken? Well, the honeymoon is over and the polls’ runner-up is tanking, all of it on account of his faux pas regarding his income in 2009.


Politics 101: When you’re in deep trouble, say nothing and try to be cool

What happened was that the media – as per usual – went over tax returns of various party leaders and stumbled over Virant’s earnings in two-oh-nine, the year after Janša’s government was ousted in 2008 elections. As you’ll remember, Virant was Janša’s high-octane minister of public administration and after the change in government he became eligible for the so-called ‘ministerial compensation’, monies more or less equalling his basic ministerial salary but without bonuses. While perfectly legal, this compensation is one of the most controversial perks in the system. Originally envisaged to ease the return of ministers and MPs into their normal lives upon leaving their post (i.e. finding a job) it was and still is widely abused, mostly in the form of ministers and MPs being ‘unable’ to find a job. Miraculously, most of them found a job (or retired) only days after their year-long-perk expired. So did Virant. His problem turned out to be the fact that in addition to 66,000 euro compensation, he earned some 95,000 euro in consulting and lectures.

Whoops!

Media smelled blood and Virant held his ground only a day or so. During Thursday’s debate he maintained that he only took what the law provided for. Additionally, he shot himself in the knee saying that he took the money to make it up to his family. Which was not a very brilliant piece of political improv and it only got worse. Friday and Saturday saw Virant on an ill-conceived damage control operation where he promised to return the difference between taxed paid on his consulting and lectures earnings and the net compensation income (some 36k euro after taxes), the difference amounting to exactly 1285 euro. At which point all hell broke loose with people generally saying that Virant is taking everyone for fools if he thinks he can get away with it by giving back 1,2k. It was not a good weekend for the prospective prime minister.


Note Virant tanking in the last poll

Come Monday, Virant announced on a press conference that he will be returning 18,777 euros, a sum which includes social and health insurance paid for from the compensation income (i.e. by the taxpayers). And this probably finished him off. By returning part of the money, Virant admitted that it was not all right to take the money in the first place (which was his initial position) and if it wasn’t all right, why didn’t he give back the entire 66k? Also, Virant said that he gave the money back (technically this took the form of a donation to the state budget) by taking out a loan at the bank. Again, a fuckup. He decided on the ammount returned no earlier than Sunday. So on Monday morning he just walks into a bank and takes out an 18k loan, at a time when banks are not really in the mood of lending money. And even when they were granting loans left and right, it took at least a day or so to do the paperwork. So, what kind of a collateral did Virant put up to walk out of the bank the very same day with a loan that would buy him a mid-size car?

As you can see it just keeps getting worse and worse and come next Monday, Virant will probably be landing very hard at the lower end of the two-digit score. He would have done better to stick to the original position and take flak over that. He’d come across as a pompous bastard, but he wouldn’t be on the run. Now he’s bleeding support, media and his opponents smell blood and he came across looking like an amateur. Or, as the good doctor put it: when you’re in a hole, stop digging!

While we’re on the subject

Speaking of amateurs, TRS party screwed up in voting unit 3 (West Ljubljana and surrounding areas) because their list of candidates did not have the correct male/female ratio. As a result the entire candidate list in this voting unit got thrown out, while TRS – which among smaller parties fared noticeably well – will not be taking part in the debates on the national television (only parties with candidates in all eight voting units get to do that). And last but certainly not least, LDS of Katarina Kresal was under the spotlight for some minor cockups when filing their list of candidates in voting unit 3. There were some identity issues as to who is seconding the list and who is filing it with the electoral commission, but the problem seems to have been solved by this evening.

In other news…

State television held its first debate this evening and there were quite a few good punches thrown. It seemed that leaders of the smaller parties were especially well prepared and motivated and on general they made good use of the opportunity. We’ll see what new polls will bring in this respect, but for now let me just present you with the average numbers of all the polls to date.

N.B.: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xls file for download.

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The Kid Who Should Be Tarred And Feathered

I know there are more important subjects to cover, critical to the future of the country finances i.e.: pension reform and the general referendum hoopla including the epic fails (or are they?) of the government ‘yes’ campaign. However, the thing that got me shouting at the TV set yesterday was not the stupidity of putting a silicon-wrecked blonde in front of the camera saying ‘no’ to the reform and hoping for a ‘yes’ result via reverse psychology.


Aleksander Spremo blocking reporter of TV Slovenia from entering offices of Piran Student Club (source)

No, what sent pengovsky on an expletives-laden rant that would make German porn-stars cringe with discomfort was one Aleksander Spremo who, apparently, yesterday last weekend tried to take over the Piran Student Club in the finest manner of muscle democracy where the toughest guy gets the most votes and if you’re not cool with that there’s a big-boned gentleman in the back who sucks at chiropractics to give you a twice-over.

According to a report by TV Slovenia (Slovene only) Spremo and a group of colleagues showed up at a meeting of the Piran Student Club and declared himself president of the club. A stand-off took place which included a police intervention, changing of locks by the municipal authorities (who apparently own offices leased by the club) and even preventing access to journalists by Spremo himself.

Now, all of the above would not merit a blogpost had it not been for one tiny detail. Aleksander Spremo, now a freshman at the Faculty of Law (!) was until recently president of High School Student’ Organisation of Slovenia and was actively involved in student protests against (now dead) law on menial work a year ago which disintegrated into pointless violence and vandalizing the parliament.

The journalist in me knows that there are always two sides to a story. But Spremo’s excuse for frivolous interpretation of democratic standards, namely that the sitting president Rebeka Mahnič “failed to complete a satisfactory number of projects” is flimsy at best and hints at a thinly veiled agenda. What that might be, is almost a no-brainer: student organisations are possibly the last source of money where accountability is a mere after-thought.

I’m not saying that everything was a-OK with Piran Student Club to date (I’ve no information on the club, much less any interest in it’s working), but the very fact that Spremo is involved is disturbing. Namely, this kid, who apparently became the stereotypical arrogant freshman law student should be, instead of trying to muscle his way into a money-pot, hiding under the biggest rock in the darkest hole possible, hoping that no-one will ever remember him, much less find him.

If all things were good and fair in this world, Aleksander Spremo should be tarred and feathered on the spot. But instead he studies law, paid for by the very same state he helped stone a year ago. And he gets to shove journalists around. That he is probably just running bag for someone else is also almost a given. I’m not saying that he hasn’t the mental capacity to cook something like this by himself, but given the fact that things escalated to the point of grown-ups intervening indicates that bigger issues are at play.

Call it a hunch, but I bet this is somehow connected with rumours of emergence of yet another political party in Slovenia. But that will have to wait. Right now I’d just like to express my utter dismay at the fact that 20-something no-goodniks like Spremo, who haven’t an ounce of responsibility and shame, still have the balls to have a go at public matters. Instead, they should be treated to a healthy dose of bitch-slapping.

There, venting session over… 😀

 

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