The Survivalists

A social network diagram of Slovenian governments is making rounds on the interwebz these days. Posted over at Virostatiq, it is an awfully nice presentation of how the “six degrees of separation” are cut down to, well, only a couple. If you’re Slovenian, you surely know somebody on that list, or at the very least, you know somebody who knows somebody on that list.

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Social network diagrams of Slovenian governments between 1991 and 2013 (source)

The diagram claims to show different levels of loyalty between members of various ranks of government officials, ranging from prime ministers down to the level of state-secretaries (the level immediately below a ranking minister). The fact that author Marko Plahuta wrote it up in English is also commendable. However, while mighty interesting and potentially useful, the diagram as it is now is only partly relevant.

Don’t get me wrong. Pengovsky is going ga-ga with excitement, because something like this was long overdue. Also, it hits close to home since distribution of political power was part of my thesis at the university and I know from first hand experience that one soon hits a brick wall of non-transparency when trying to find rhyme or reason when compiling a “who’s who” of movers and shakers (not that it can not be done, as it will be shown later in the post).

And this is exactly the point where the diagram fails. Among other things. So, my two cents on the entire thing, hoping the author finds them useful:

Loyalty of ministers

Loyalty between PM and the ministers is a much more fragile category than the diagram would have us believe. Indeed, some ministers are utterly loyal to the PM, while others much less so. To put it graphically and using the current government of Alenka Bratušek as example, we can say that ministers from Positive Slovenia (Bratušek’s party) are much more loyal to their prime minister than ministers from Citizens’ List or (perhaps even more so) ministers from SocDems quota.

So, ministerial loyalty indicator could be augmented a) by party affiliation and b) by the influence/power the party wields in the parliament/coalition/government. Actual ponders would have to be worked out, but a good rule of the thumb would be this: Unless a minister is a member of PM’s party, then the larger his or her party or the more ideologically different, the weaker a minister’s loyalty towards the PM.

The above is a direct result of a multi-party coalition system we sport in Slovenia, where a government’s agenda is the highest possible common denominator of all the coalition party platforms.

Loyalty of state secretaries

The author assumes state secretaries are a lot less loyal to their ministers than ministers are to the PM. Even if we neglect the varying degrees of ministerial loyalties demonstrated above, pengovsky contends that – if anything – state secretaries are more loyal to their ministers than ministers are to the MP.

Again, once you delve into the issue, it becomes a lot more muddled. The role of state secretaries changed dramatically over time. When the new public service hierarchy was developed, the role of state secretary was indeed meant to be that of the highest ranking bureaucrat, a link between political agenda of any given minister and a running public service, impervious to political squabbling and special interest.

Riiiiight….

Parties soon realised the position of a state secretary is arguably even more important to their agenda than that of a minister and it wasn’t long before positions on this level of administration were heavily fought for. This resulted in inflation of state secretary positions and At one point a sort-of-compromise was reached where one state secretary was politically appointed, the other supposedly for his or her expertise in a given area.

This was later abolished because and now state secretaries come and go with their respective ministers. Which is why in pengovsky’s opinion their loyalty factor should a) be increased overall to reflect dependence on their minister and b) corrected downwards on individual basis during the period where one state secretary was a political appointee, the other expert.

Also, the above sort of invalidates the claim that state secretaries are loyal to each other. Since their appointments are inherently political ans their primary role is to serve as a liaison between politics and public service (with their secondary role being lightning rods and scapegoats for high-level fuck-ups), the horizontal loyalty rarely goes beyond professional courtesy.

People who are not in the picture but should be

When we’re talking about distribution of political/social power in Slovenia, we can not by any means neglect political parties themselves. And this is where the diagram is noticeably lacking. Government officials, especially ministers and other political appointees are often caught between solving problems of their specific field and catering to their party’s interests. For “caught between … and….” you might want to read “neglect…. in favour of…”, depending on your point of view.

@Spovednik has an excellent blogpost on this phenomenon. In Slovenian only, I’m afraid.

But to continue and find an example at random: when the field of education was redrawn under the Janša 2.0 administration, minister Žiga Turk and especially the ranking state secretary Borut Rončević did undertake some necessary steps, but quite a few of them were directed to the ultimate end of state forking out money for private scholarly institutions close to Janez Janša‘s SDS party. Again, this is by no means the only such example, but it is a telling one, especially since it had the “added value” of being done under the guise of tackling the crisis.

In this respect, party officials who are not elected by popular vote, also sport great power and should be included in any such diagram. Again, the general rule of the thumb is that the bigger the party, the more important party people are, since at some point party leader(s) need to delegate decisions down the ladder.

Additionally, until recently, the name of the game in Slovenia was that party leaders are also government ministers or, at least, have some other high-ranking function. Not allowing the trend to continue was – among other things – the reason Zoran Janković failed in his PM bid in 2011. But with advent of the Bratušek administration, this is no longer the case as a) Igor Lukšič of SD chose to pass on a ministerial position and b) Ljubljana mayor still plays a big, although diminishing role in national politics (a blogpost is pending, fear not).

Therefore, while the diagram explicitly deals with members of the government only, this is by far not the entire scheme of distribution of political power in Slovenia. In the last twenty-odd years we’ve had a number of individuals who have exerted power over specific government decisions from beyond the limits imposed by this diagram. To increase its relevancy, this should be rectified.

The above does not include only party heavyweights, but also elected officials from other branches of power, especially since we are starting to see a trend of people starting in one branch and then continuing to another. Off the top of my head, the diagram would have to include the president of the parliament, leaders of parliamentary groups and (optionally) leaders of parliamentary committees. Also, in pengovsky’s opinion, the office president of the republic should be included in the diagram.

And although this might be stretching it a bit, the diagram begs consideration as to what exactly happens when a person is no longer part of the government. Does his/her influence stop immediately? Perhaps a diluted factor of loyalty could be allowed for a selected period of time? After all, every change in government produces more or less serious shifts in top layers of power.

The mysteries

Based on the graph, Virostatiq makes a number of erroneous or incomplete conclusion. One of them is the apparent surprise at the fact that governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop are the most similar. Well, they had to be. Not only was Rop finance minister in Drnovšek’s last government, there was also a tacit agreement that Rop, upon being sworn in as PM, will not replace ministers and other cadre Drnovšek picked only two years earlier. In retrospect, this was probably the single biggest mistake that led to Rop’s LDS having its ass whooped in 2004 elections. Therefore, while the similarities of Drnovšek and Rop clusters are undeniable, the reason for this is not their ideological likness, but rather pure political necessity.

Furthermore, when viewed from the point of view of various institutions, the analysis of the graph states that “prime ministers like to keep close Department of Defence, Department of Finance and Department of Internal Affairs. People close to these offices are the movers and shakers.”

Again, had the graph included party positions, distribution of power would quite possibly be markedly different. Also, the fact that a department shows up close to the PM, doesn’t necessarily mean the people in it are the big kahunas in town. Rather, this depends very much on the style of governing of a particular prime minister.

It is no secret that during the Andrej Bajuk six-months-long administration Janez Janša was the main honcho. Since he was the minister of defence at the time, the analysis might even seem correct in this case. The only problem is that you won’t find ministry of defence anywhere near Andrej Bajuk on the graph. Alternatively, saying that Janez Drnovšek kept ministries of defence and internal affairs close is a huge misrepresentation of the situation. On the other hand, he was indeed very much into the daily operations of financial ministry, but one could argue that he ran the show there rather than having people on the ministry run him. Ditto for ministry of foreign affairs which by all accounts should come up very close to Drnovšek, but doesn’t.

The survivalists

However, the Virostatiq diagram is far from non-usable. In fact, the most obvious but perhaps unintended result is seeing who are the great survivors of Slovenian politics. There are a couple, but on political/ministerial level you will not be surprised to find that the greatest survivors of Slovenian politics are Dimitrij Rupel and Karl Erjavec. Curiously enough, they’ve both held the post of foreign minister. Go figure… :mrgreen:

So, to wrap up. The diagram has limited use for the intended purpose. But with a little work this could become an awesome tool. But it desperately needs to include additional data. Just a hint: Ali Žerdin recently published a Omrežja moči, a book on social networks in Slovenian politics and economy. I’m sure it would provide a useful resource.

 

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Patria Verdict: The Immediate Aftermath

Y’all probably know by now that Janez Janša was found guilty in the Patria Affair and sentenced to two years in prison and a EUR 37,000 fine. Similar sentences (22 months in prison and 37k€ fine) were passed on Brigadier General Tone Krkovič (Ret.) and Ivan Čnkovič, owner of company Rotis, while Jože Zagožen, accused to have done the legwork in the affair, and Walter Wolf, international lobbyist, businessman of Formula 1 fame and an overall shady character, will be sentenced separately. This, of course, is the bombshell of Slovenian politics and deserves to have some light shed upon. Also, it is a good enough excuse for pengovsky to re-enter the blogging orbit after an unintentionally long break.

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Janez Janša leaving the courthouse and meeting his supporters (source: Gorenjski glas)

Firs thing’s first: the verdict against Janša et al. is not final as the defendants will most likely file an appeal. Therefore, they should still be considered innocent until proven guilty. Also, given that conspiracy theories are his soft spot, it should come as no surprise that Janša declared the court’s decision was a part of a wide-ranging communist conspiracy (which, if one is to follow his logic, expands to Austria and Finland and in fact goes back in time all the way to 1945. You see, they were out to get him before he was born). However, there is more to the events of last Wednesday than meets the eye.

Then there is the mobilisation potential of the verdict. Rather, the lack thereof. Granted, the Party shot to the top spot in the polls, catching up with Igor Lukšič‘s SocDems. Also, there was a relatively strong showing of support for Janša within party ranks as both senior and not-so-senior party officials rushed to pledge allegiance to Ivan, without as much as blinking an eye.

But what the verdict failed to generate, was any sort of meaningful street protest, despite calls for a mass rally and people reportedly being bussed to Ljubljana from all over the country. In fact only a few hundred people attended the rally in Janša’s support and even they were constantly heckled by a few dozen anti-Janša protesters stationed nearby. In addition, the pro-Janša Twitterati are conspicuously quiet. Conclusion: while the Party closed its ranks and manned the barricades, the non-faithful seem much less impressed.

The problem, therefore, is twofold. On one hand, Janša needs all the support he can get. And – to be honest – few things are conductive for the sense of belonging to a group (or, say, a political party) than a clear and present danger of imminent destruction. After all, Janez Janša is literally the centre of political beliefs of a number of people in this country. And a guilty verdict shatters these beliefs to the very core. Thus it is no wonder a lot of people cried as if Kim Jong Il died. Can’t blame them, really.

But on the other hand, it is precisely those strong held beliefs which present the gravest danger to the man and his party. Because if Janša’s guilty verdict is upheld by any chance and the man actually ends up in the slammer, a leadership crisis will ensue faster than you can say “our beloved leader”.

Janša of course knows this and has been keeping more or less mum for a week now as a result, save an occasional interview. Instead, he has been calling in favours from all over the place. Be it from people who owe him their (political) existence or from people who have lobbied him successfully in the past and are now returning the favour (such as an owner of a large media network who benefited greatly from changes in media legislation under Janša’s first government, to give an example at random). At least, pengovsky hopes that is the case. If not, then people who have a vested interest in Janša remaining a free man are operating of their own accord, meaning the Force is not strong with the Prince of Darkness.

What is clear, however, is that a guilty verdict would have made Janša about as popular in the EU as clap. Janez Janša is no Julia Timošenko and Slovenia is no Ukraine where democrats are labelled as such depending on whom they sell their gas to. There is no way in hell Frau Merkel or David “Super Injunction” Cameron are staging a photo-op with a convict.

But not to get ahead of ourselves: despite the fact that Janša & Co. were found guilty, the judge still has to put the ruling in writing, which reportedly might take up to two months. After all, there are apparently more than 22,000 pages in the case file. It only then can the former prime minister appeal the verdict and the appeals court can take its time deliberating, you can be sure Ivan isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But he just might find it increasingly difficult to direct things according to his wishes.

One thing, however, does strike pengovsky as funny. Upon having been ousted as Prime Minister for the second time, Janša chose not to take his MP seat, he rejected ex-PM benefits and refused being employed by the party, running it in his free time. In fact, his means of income remain a bit of a mystery this time around (officially, he’s writing books and giving lectures). But the point is that – looking back – it appears as if he was wrapping up business. We’ll know soon enough.

P.S.: pengovsky bet Janša and his chums would skate free out of this one with only Zagožen risking a suspended sentence, so from my point of view this is an intriguing and somewhat unexpected turn of events. And, again, the ruling can still be overturned.

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Alenka Bratušek Ousts Janez Janša as PM

Earlier today Alenka Bratušek was sworn in as Slovenia’s first female Prime Minister. In what was mostly lack-luster but long (10+ hours) debate which picked up only in the latter stages, the parliament voted 55:33 to have Bratušek replace Janez Janša as head of the government. Thus Bratušek became the first woman in the history of Slovenia to have been designated PM and only second individual to have ascended to the position in a “constructive no-confidence” vote. The last time the prime minister was replaced in this particular manner was in 1992 when Janez Drnovšek replaced Lozje Peterle.

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Alenka Bratušek signing her oath as PM-designate (source: rtvslo.si)

While momentous in its own right, this event is only the first step in a treacherous process of coalition negotiations between parties that have considerable history between themselves. Although technically ousted, Janša’s government remains in a caretaker role until a new government is confirmed by the National Assembly which must be done in 15 days starting tomorrow. Failing to do so in three attempts, her designation is voided and the procedure to nominate a new PM kicks is with president of the republic front and centre. In this case that would translate into early elections. And, truth be told, this is not an altogether unlikely scenario.

The key players in this particular game of political poker are Igor Lukšič‘s Social Democrats and Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List. While Bratušek announced that she – provided her cabinet is approved – she will seek a confidence vote in a year’s time, setting the stage for elections in early 2014, both Virant and Lukšič made noises today and in the past few days that early elections within a few months time are a viable option, especially if no deal on agenda of Bratušek government is reached.

While Virant is probably bluffing, Lukšič knows his current good fortune in the polls can not last. Also, if the SD enter the government, they will necessarily see their ratings plummet and within a year their current popularity will be but a distant memory. Therefore it is entirely possible that in the world of Slovenian cloak-and-dagger politics, Lukšič (or Virant) would engineer a disagreement which would allow them to derail coalition negotiations and still make it look as if they did everything they could. And since early elections would present Janša with a good chance for a comeback, he wouldn’t mind having them as soon as possible either.

This was the easy part, especially since even part of the SLS voted in favour of removing Janša. Hard work begins now. As of today and without SLS onboard, PM-designate Alenka Bratušek will need just about every vote she can muster and hope that (primarily) Lukšič isn’t in this simply to double-cross her at the very end.

 

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Has Janković Had Enough?

Days ago Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković for the second time this month dropped a hint in the passing which none of the news media seems to have picked up. Namely, that this will be his last term as mayor of the capital. At the start of a new school year Zoki, while cutting the ribbon at the new building of Ljubljana Waldorf school said that any further expansion projects will be overseen by the new mayor. While there were a few gasps in situ nobody made a big deal about it. Ditto two days ago, when upon unveiling the concept of a new housing project, he announced the new head of City Administration (to take over soonest) and told her that she will have to see that the next mayor will provide funds for the project as well.


Tired? Fed up? Bored? Or just having fun… (photo by yours truly)

Now, Zoki being Zoki, this could mean absolutely nothing. He can change his mind in split second, again full of zest and vigor and carry on as if nothing happened. On the other hand, he does seem a bit, well, fed up. Also, things are not going especially well for him. After being subjected to a year-long tax audit, his case was now referred to the state prosecution which will decide whether or not to press charges. No points for guessing what the decision will be.

The list goes on. In some circles he is constantly being mentioned as a possible “technocratic prime minister”, a sort of Slovenian Mario Monti (but much less sombre), but in pengovsky’s opinion those are just wet dreams of people who still think in terms of getting to the power first and thinking about everything else second. Janez Janša and his government are a fine example of this approach and the disaster it brings about.

All things considered, it seems extremely unlikely that Janković will (again) resign before his term is up. But if he really intends to make this his last term as mayor, political parties in the capital should start getting their asses in gear, because right now not a single one of them can produce a person with enough clout to cover all the bases in the city. Autumn 2014 may turn out to be plenty of fun.

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Janša Giveth, Janša Taketh Away

In a surprise move, defence minister Aleš Hojs (NSi) on Thursday dissolved the contract on purchase of Patria APCs, giving the Patria Affair yet another twist. On the surface the whole thing was declared to have been mutually agreed with both sides calling it even. Slovenia gets 30 out of 135 planned APCs while Patria gets 74 out of planned 278 million euro. But in reality, the whole thing is a mop-up operation which no doubt is overseen by PM Janez Janša.


(source)

You see, Janša giveth and Janša taketh away. While it is true that anyone can rat but only the ingenious few can re-rat, our illustrious PM definitely does not count among them. Janša and his band of merry men had to remove foot out of their mouth on more than one occasion lately. Like with the kindergarten-freebie his government instituted in the good old days but was among the first benefits to be thrown under the bus when the going got tough.

But the Patria thingie is one of definitive moments of modern Slovenian politics. For the first time a dodgy arms deal was prosecuted and for the first time a senior politician is prosecuted for it. Also, for the first time a senior politician was appointed to a top post in the country while prosecuted.

The irony of the situation could not be more pronounced. It was Janša government 1.0 which signed the contract and it is Janša government 2.0 which is dissolving it. The only difference is that the person who actually signed the now-defunct contract (Karl Erjavec of DeSUS) got promoted from defence to foreign minister. In fact one can not shake the feeling that Janša’s main purpose is to clean up after his 2004-2008 power-orgy. As far as the case against him is concerned, this doesn’t change a whole lot. I’m sure some bright soul will try to trump up some sort of legal mumbo-jumbo saying that since the contract is no more, so should the case against Janša be. But in reality the Prime Minister still stands accused of corruption in from of a criminal court.

Politically, however, things are even more funny. Ljubica Jelušič (SD), defence minister in Pahor’s government (the one between both Janša’s tenures, to refresh your memory), said that annulling the contract was a good idea. However, while in office, she was adamant about not annulling the contract, which puts her in a rather awkward position and somehow makes Janša look like a person who can make decisions as opposed to Borut Pahor, who, well, couldn’t.

And this is the crux of the matter. It was Janša and his government who OKd a deal that was fishy from the start and where handsome bribes were allegedly paid. The deal had and anti-corruption clause built-in and PM Pahor had both grounds and ample time to either sue for annulment of reach settlement with Patria. Apparently, it wasn’t that hard.

Truth be told, not everyone is happy about it. Especially NATO is apparently cross with us now, because Slovenia gave a commitment to form a mid-size armoured brigade some time soon. This will not happen now. And it was probably this why then-PM Pahor couldn’t bring himself to kill the deal. His incessant need to be liked by everybody and his brother once again worked against him. The deal was stalled as it was and it was clear that it will not be going anywhere but while Slovenia had the brigade at least on paper, Pahor got the attaboy treatment in Brussels. Which is fine and dandy. The problem is that he probably knew back then this country wasn’t going to deliver. But he chose to dodge the issue rather than tackle it. Which is probably why he’s running for president now (but more on that some other day).

Janša on the other hand cares jack shit about such things. He killed the deal as soon as he got the chance, making his domestic position a little bit more stronger. Which seems to have been his modus operandi ever since he came to power seven months ago. Mostly by trying to keep coalition partners in line with various doomsday scenarios. Even if it means losing whatever credibility this country has left with foreign investors.

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