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.

Continue reading Chemin De re-Fer-endum

Oxi


… and then, after the dust had settled, after placards had peeled away and the international clamour dissipated and supporters from foreign lands went home, when hangovers were cured and the euphoria subsided, when there was nothing more to say that hadn’t been said a million times over, the people of Greece were left to pick up the pieces all by themselves…

Scotland Referendum: Notes From An Independent Country

The first time pengovsky really went abroad (yearly summer migration to Croatia notwithstanding) was Scotland. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was, catching the last train from Prestwick to Glasgow on account of Ryanass flight being late and then walking alone in the middle of the night down the streets of Glasgow, map in hand and two backpacks on me, looking for a hostel which seemed pretty close on the map, but really wasn’t… Well, let’s just say I could have been an easy target. But instead this guy Ian came up to me, moderately inebriated, and asked me if I was lost. Since he was satisfied that I wasn’t, he proceeded to ask me where I was from. And upon hearing my country of origin, he broke into wild cheers of “SLOVENIA! ZAHOVIC!” and then decided my hostel of choice was “shite” and personally took me to “this other place”, which was cheaper and nearer. And sure enough it was. Run by Iggy Pop‘s long lost twin brother (or so it seemed), it was a shabby place which could only provide a mattress for the night, but since I was off to Edinburgh the next morning, it didn’t really matter. And I got a discount. But I digress. Point is, my first encounter with Scotland was bizarrely pleasant which is why the whole Scottish Independence Referendum Thing perks more than just my political sciences side.

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In the words of John Oliver: Nothing screams Scottish freedom more than a millionaire Australian anti-Semite on horseback (source)

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, freedom has no price. That much should be taken for granted. And in a few hours you, the good people of Scotland, will decide. There is no wrong answer here. But living in a country that did in fact pull off a relatively smooth independence (especially when one takes into account the bloodbath that followed in ex-Yugoslavia), pengovsky feels he is in a position to give some qualified unsolicited advice, should tomorrow come to a “yes” vote.

Borders

First thing you will notice once the will of the people is enacted for real is the border. There hasn’t been a proper land border in your area for the last three hundred and seven years and I’m sure none of you remember how it was before then. And I can tell you it will be much more of a hassle than you ever imagined. Especially if you commute regularly from Scotland to England (or vice-versa, for that matter).

Now, I’m sure that should you vote in favour of independence, both countries will try to make border crossings as painless as possible. But some hassle is unavoidable. And whenever there’s a terrorist scare or even a problematic football match, borders tend to become much more tightly guarded. Really, if you’re not used to it, it’s not pretty. And since England or “rest of the UK“, as Whitehall apparently calls it, will probably join the EU Schengen border agreement on the Saint of Never, you’ll be pretty much stuck with that for the forseeable future. And just to give you an idea of how much that sucks: after Slovenia entered the Schengen system and we started thinking of our borders with Italy and Austria and most EU airports as glorified toll-booths, it came as a real shock to me when, visiting the US for the first time, I had to stand in line for two hours just to get past customs.

Majority

Second, and I sort of hate to bring this up since it is much too late in the game, is the legitimacy of your decision. Again, whatever you do decide is fine, but you might take a moment and a deep breath, because you’re not just fulfilling a dream of a generation(s) of Scots but also setting the environment for your children and your children’s children. And I was startled to learn that only a simple majority is required for a “yes” vote to win. In real life this means that in an eighty percent turnout, a fifty-one percent vote in favour of independence would actually mean that minority of Scots voted “yes”. Somehow, that don’t really fly, don’t you think?

You see, when Slovenia was putting together its rules for the independence referendum, the issue of a majority was a tricky one, too. Most of the right-wing wanted a simple majority rule, while most of the left-wing wanted a qualified majority of all eligible voters. The argument being that if you can’t trust your own people to support you, who can you trust, then. And the argument prevailed. Not only did more than half of Slovenians of voting age vote in favour of independence, the “yes” vote gathered as much as 88,5 percent support. Which is about as unanimous as you can get in a democracy. Henceforth legitimacy of Slovenian independence was not a question anymore. It was only a matter of convincing others of that fact and, well, executing it.

Because once you go for it, there’s a shitload of stuff that needs to be done. Take currency. I take it you’ve realised by now the English will not let you keep the pound. Which means you’ll have to issue your own and back it up. Now, having your own currency is expensive. Although it is probably even more expensive (as things stand now, at least) to adopt the euro, which you’ll have to do if you decide to join the EU. So that kind of sucks.

President Salmond?

Next up it’s the constitution. You might think it is simply a matter of upgrading current legislation, but it is much more than that. With the constitution, everything is up for grabs. You can do what ever the fuck you like. But since I doubt Bonnie Prince Charlie has any legitimate successors and any claims to the Scottish throne will in all likelihood be fake, you’ll probably form a republic. Will you be a parliamentary republic or will you go for a more presidential system? Does the PM appoint ministers or does the parliament do it? You see, Slovenia was sort of in the rush when we adopted our constitution and just copy/pasted some silly German provision which haunts us every time a new government is being formed. So don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Then there’s the army. I know you guys have a long and proud military tradition and I know you want those nuclear missiles gone. But you’re not maintaining your army directly. And that’s one fucking expensive toy, I tell you. But you can’t really afford not to have an army. Sure, no-one expects Norwegian raiding parties to land on your shores, but you’re probably not want to throw away all those regiments or worse, give them to the English.

Patriotism

And trust me, there aren’t going to be any more jobs just because you got independent. Slovenia may be an extreme case since we lost about 90% of our market once Yugoslavia fell apart, but any way you look at it things are bound to go pretty bad pretty quick. And while patriotism may make you forget you’re hungry it won’t put bread on your table. Slovenians learned this the hard way. Looking back, in my opinion it was still worth it, but ours was an alternative of a Balkan carnage and/or an autocratic regime, so the choice wasn’t really hard.

As for you, Scotland, I’m in no position to judge. I just thought you might want some first hand experience from a country that gained its independence relatively recently.

Now go and do you your thing.

    Archive Referendum Results: Nothing To Be Happy About, Regardless

    A few takeaways on yesterday’s archive referendum results. The turnout was a dismal 11.68 percent, with 67.32% against and 32.68% in favor of the new archive law. Since the quorum of 20% of all eligible voters against the law was not reached, the law stands as passed by the parliament.

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    Referendum results (source: dvk-rs.si, graphics via ChartGo)

    Now, the response of the petitioning party (that be Janez Janša‘s SDS) was pathetically predictable: that at least they won “a moral victory“. That the “forces of UDBa are still at work”. That the people don’t appreciate the referendum as they should (clearly a case of pot calling the kettle black).

    On the other hand, the government hailed “a referendum victory” with minister Uroš Grilc adding that Slovenia finally has a modern archive legislation. Incidentally, the last law to have survived voters’ scrutiny (albeit under the old rules) was 2005 referendum on the law on state radio and television RTVSLO. And that law, too, fell under the purview of Ministry of culture. Just so you know 😉

    Now, while the bit about a modern piece of legislation might very well be true, everything else is pure bullshit-meter-breaking material. This is not a victory for the government. It is, at best, a defeat avoided. The feeling of “victory” is relative only to the ginormous foot the Party had just inserted in its own mouth. Namely, the SDS supported changes to the referendum legislation, instituting the “quorum against” which now worked heavily against them.

    Bonus points in the fuckwit category go for Milan Zver MEP who tweeted that two-thirds of Slovenians slapped the government in the face (this by extension meaning that only people who cast their vote on Sunday are true Slovenians). That the turnout on a referendum they campaigned heavily for is comparable to the 2008 fiasco with referendums on regions only adds insult to injury. As does the fact that back then Janez Janša claimed victory as well.

    But the biggest loser here are the people. Not because the law is now enacted (that, at least, is good) but because the SDS continues, even with the “new and improved” referendum restrictions, to abuse what is left of this crucial institute of direct democracy. This was the pattern for the better part of the past two decades and due to no small fault of the Party the word “referendum” is now tarnished beyond repair.

    Under the new rules it is almost impossible for a group of concerned citizens or an NGO to challenge a piece of legislation unless they have access to a well-developed political party network which (by definition) makes them more of an astroturf group rather than a grass-roots movement. With continued abuse, the “almost impossible” will without a doubt become simply “impossible”, as ignoring referendum votes will become not only acceptable, but indeed desirable. The ultimate goal of making voters indifferent to public matters is thus well within reach. Case in point being the general approval the people met with the new referendum rules.

    Citizens’ oversight is a scarce commodity as it is. Abuse of referendum legislation, such as witnessed Sunday last, only depletes it further. Pretty soon, there will be none left.

    Patriot Act: Constitutional Court Gives Goverment Carte Blanche

    Earlier today the Constitutional Court nixed referendums on laws on state holding company and bad bank. Brainchildren of finance minister Janez Šušteršič, these are perhaps the most crucial pieces of legislation the government of Janez Janša pushed through the legislative procedure so far. Or will have pushed at all. However, regardless of one’s take on this particular set of laws, it is the ruling of the constitutional court that will go down in history. Namely, in its drive to prevent referendums on these to laws, the court – willingly or by chance – gave this (and every other) government a carte blanche. Allow me to elucidate with references to specifics…

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    The sa(i)d ruling. Full text here

    Normally, pengovsky would go apeshit over denied referendums. After all, that same court in that same composition allowed a referendums on pension reform and the family code. In the latter cases judges defended the right to vote at all costs, while this time around they liberally applied “values before rights” approach. Specifically, they said that the right to a referendum must give way to values of a functional state including creating conditions for economic growth, human rights, including social and labour security and freedom of enterprise, fulfilling international obligations and effectively enforce EU legislation in Slovenia.

    The last item was the usual mantra of every government in the history of this country. “It’s the EU” was the trump card which effectively ended every debate. The fact that the Constitutional Court succumbed to it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Ditto for “fulfilling international obligations”. Both items mean that any government can make whatever deal anywhere in the world, be it Berlin, Brussels or Washington, ratify a treaty and have a referendum bid killed almost instantly.

    The second item, about human rights and social security is pure cynicism, the likes of which we’ve come to expect from Janša’s government but not from the supreme defender of the constitution. Allowing referenda on pension reform and family code a year ago, knowing full well both laws will be rejected and thus making sure life got no better for a lot of people, the very same constitutional court denies the right to a referendum on how to manage state (that is taxpayers’) property.

    However, all of the above pales in comparison with the first item. Functional state including creating conditions for economic growth is nothing short of a “State Protection Act” or, to use its international moniker, The Patriot Act. As of today, the government can do whatever the fuck it pleases. Traffic fines. Education. The budget. Bad bank. Voting system. You name it. Anything can fall in the “functional state” category. With this, democracy is no longer a system but a random act of benevolence of the powers that be.

    In the final analysis, the people of Slovenia are no longer the sovereign of this country. Instead, they’ve been relegated to status of “consultation body” which the government may ask a thing or two from time to time, but whenever the people would want to question decisions of their elected representatives, the need for a functional state” card can (and will) be played.

    Not buying it? Try this on for size. When this same constitutional court nixed Tito Street in Ljubljana, again citing various values, it made it clear that was a one-off decision, although the court’s rulings are usually taken as precedents. This time, however, there is no such clause. This is it. Functionality of the country comes first, our rights as citizens be damned.

    If you don’t agree with it, you can take it up with the Constitutional Court. Oh, wait..

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