9 Upsides Of A Trump Victory

The Donald. Who would have thought. Well, the alt-right did, apparently, which makes them the next Nate Silver, I guess. Good luck with that. The next few days and weeks will be fun as the entire media and political bubble simultaneously tries to come to terms with a Trump presidency and their own misjudgements and miscalculations.

20161109_trump
The First Couple-elect (source)

For what it’s worth, pengovsky did maintain that in politics a week is a long time and that the race will be close but yes, I did expect Clinton to ultimately prevail. So maybe it’s best that initial analyses are left to others. Football bloggers seem like a good option.

Having said that, there are a few upsides to the entire connundrum

Continue reading 9 Upsides Of A Trump Victory

Danilo Türk Eyeing To Be (S)elected UN Secretary General

The selection of the next Secretary General of the United Nations used to be a pretty dull affair. At least from the viewpoint of the general public. The big five states, the permanent members of the Security Council would, after a bit of behind the scenes wrangling and horse-trading, agree on the least-undesirable candidate. This time around, however, things are a bit more fun. And that’s not just because there’s a Slovenian entry, too.

20160411_dt
Danilo Türk during “informal hearing” (source)

Former president Danilo Türk made it no secret that he eyed the position soon after he lost the 2012 re-election bid. In fact, his entire diplomatic career, save the five years he spent serving as president of the republic, was connected to the United Nations in one way or another. Be it the country’s ambassador to the organisation and later a non-permanent member and (at one point) even chair of the UN Security Council or, further down the road, serving as Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs during the tenure of SecGen Kofi Annan. Add to that his mileage as professor of international law, his charity work and work in various forums and NGOs as well as contacts he developed around the world during this time, he’s a pretty strong candidate, at least on paper. Perhaps second only to Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO and widely touted as the frontrunner of the field consisting of eight candidates. Besides Türk and Bokova these include Srgjan Kerim, former foreign minister of Macedonia, Igor Lukšić, foreign minister of Montenegro, Vesna Pusić, former foreign minister of Croatia, António Guterres, former Portuguese PM, Helen Clark, former PM of New Zealand and Natalia Gherman, former foreign minister of Moldova. Did pengovsky say eight? Sorry, he meant nine. Namely, on the eve of the first day of “informal dialogues” with candidates Serbia submitted former foreign minister Vuk Jeremić as their entry, bringing the number to nine, with five of those coming from countries of former Yugoslavia.

Indeed, the fun part of this (s)election process is the sheer number of ex-YU candidates. All that’s missing now is a Bosnian candidate (or three of them) and we could have a rotating presidency, like in the good old days. But since we all know how that ended, maybe it’s best not to go down that road.

Anyhoo, while it was much fun to watch the candidates “informally present themselves” in a rather formal and organised manner, it was also fun to watch the representatives of UN member states and various groups somewhat struggle with the new process. While some questions to the candidates were specific to the point of crafting policy, others were outright duds, as if the representatives of member states didn’t exactly know what to do will all this (informal) power vested in them.

This goes for Türk’s hearing as well. He was asked a couple of hard questions, mostly on UN evergreens such as the Middle East conflict and misconduct of UN peacekeeping forces and he sailed through those pretty smoothly. But then again, he got a few softballs that were like “Dude, why are you even asking this?!”, but there, too, Türk fared pretty well, not coming across as patronising or condescending, an oft-repeated criticism during his stint as Slovenian president (full disclosure: pengovsky was involved with Türk’s 2012 reelection bid).

But the best part of today’s hearing was Liechtenstein asking Türk about his commitment to accountability and transparency. Liechtenstein and transparency. Now there are two words you don’t usually see in a positive correlation. But hey, if Arab countries can pretty much choose to ignore the various wars and conflicts on their own soil, if Israel can shift the blame for the shituation at home solely on the Palestinians and if Saudi Arabia can chair the UN Human Rights Council, then poor little Liechtenstein preempting the transparency issue any way it can is perfectly legitimate.

After all, this is the UN. And this is where Türk seems most at ease. Internationalist, but not interventionist. Recognising the sovereignty of member states, but not isolationist. Reform minded but recognising that different groups have different priorities. Good with buzzwords (people first!) but mindful of the reality and the UN’s heritage.

And this is where Türk probably nailed his presentation: When asked by te UK’s representative what the purpose of the UN is, Türk responded with one word: Peace

So, all in all, the man did good. Definitely better than a lot of people in Slovenia are willing to admit. In fact, a considerable amount of energy is being spent by his detractors back home to paint him as unsuitable for the job. Mostly on account of his supposed divisiveness, asking how can he unite an international organisation if he can’t even unite a country.

First of all, it’s kind of hard to unite the country where a major political player with a substantial following (who is now on the outs, but more on that in the coming days) is painting you as the devil incarnate and working actively to undermine any possible consensus in the country, political and otherwise. And secondly, despite their name, the United Nations were most likely truly united only once in their history: When the original 50 members signed the UN charter. From that point onwards it was about geopolitics, own interests and alliance-building. Which is a part of the reason why the organisation’s top position is “only” a Secretary-General and not a full-blooded President. The UN is not about unity, it is about building a consensus, i.e. the smallest possible level of disagreement, one issue at a time. And this is something Türk knows how to go about. At least in a UN setting.

And when people ask, what will Slovenia gain Türk if gets the job, the answer is “not much”. After all, the government to date spent a ludicrous amount of EUR 7514 (that’s right, 7k euros) in relation to his bid. So why should there “be something in” for a country in what is essentially a private individual’s campaign (true, the government did endorse him and formally put his name forward, but still). What is at work here is the unhealthy tribal instinct of Slovenians where a Slovenian who – against all odds – makes it out there in the big, big world, is somehow morally bound to help his fellow compatriots with jobs, pet projects and free money. They don’t realize that the primary concern is that of the employer. Just as the EU commissioner from Slovenia has to take care of European policies and not those of his/her home country, so is the UN Secretary General tasked with running the UN smoothly and not with promoting the agenda of his country of origin. One of these days we’ll all learn. But not today, apparently.

Anyhow, for all the bravado of the new selection process, the fact remains that when all will be said and done, it will be down to the permanent members of the Security Council to come up with a name. Which means that the back-room dealing is far from being over and done with. And it is entirely possible that a completely different name comes up on top.

Still, one would hope that the entire process will be slightly more civil than the upcoming Republican convention.

 

 

 

Sometimes Even Most Basic Principles Need Voters’ Confirmation. This Is One Of Those Times.

The international media have started showing some interest in Sunday’s vote as well. Politico.eu has a decent summary of events so far, for example. But with five days remaining to Sunday’s referendum vote on same-sex marriage, the one thing that has been noticeably lacking in the public debate are polls. While that will likely change in the days ahead, it left both YES and NO campaigns in the dark in terms of gauging their reach and fine-tuning their approach. Now, the rumor-mill has it that some in-house polling was indeed done and that the results suggest a slight edge for the NO campaign, but given the lack of (financial) resources both campaigns are struggling with, these things need to be taken with a grain of salt, although it would be wrong to disregard them completely.

20151215-blog
pengovsky already cast his vote

Having said that, the campaign this time around is so crude that public opinion polls would probably not do much difference. The NO campaign especially opted for an all-hands-on-deck approach, enlisting the support of whatever grass-roots and Astroturf support it could muster, ranging from crackpots talking about hormone disruptors to suspiciously similar looking associations and groups all the way to the Catholic Church and the right-wing political parties, both within and without the parliament.

Lies, damn lies and the NO campaign

And while the YES campaign enlisted support from non-parliamentary and parliamentary parties, including the ruling coalition, it is trying to keep the message simple and clear: the issue here is equal right to marry and little else. And while they have been fairly consistent in this approach (post-debate mockery of the NO side over the weekend notwithstanding), the other side have resorted to fearmongering, intimidation, bad grammar and abuse of legal procedures, all in the name of the cause.

Namely, the day after the debate on public TV which left many-a-viewer in a state of shock and disbelief (yes, there was actually a guy in the NO camp talking about hormone disruptors and yes, pengovsky knows this guy personally), the very next day there was a hearing in the parliamentary committee on human rights on the issue. Normally, such a hearing would be held during legislative procedure, but since the committee is chaired by SDS’ very own Eva Irgl, it was clear from the outset that the sole aim of the enterprise was to give the NO camp a platform to speak from. Especially since Slovene media still feel obliged to report just about every antic the elected representatives of the people think of. Sure, the YES campaign were given the right to counter the claims of the NO campaign, but it was more than obvious who were the protagonists in this particular farce.

Intimidation, fearmongering and bad grammar

Were that not enough (and apparently it isn’t), private individuals who let the world around them know they’re in favour of equal right to marriage, are being bullied and intimidated by those opposing the measure. Case in point being Maruša Žabkar, a young entrepreneur from the town of Krško, who according to her own account,  found a hand-delivered unsigned letter on her doorstep on Monday morning, full of accusations, homophobic slurs and bad grammar, denouncing her and (among other things) accusing of destroying the nation by supporting equal rights. Go figure.

https://twitter.com/russhie/status/676323137399705600

Still, the award for the most concentrated pile of bullshit goes to the Roman Catholic Church which provided a compendium of virtually every bigoted conspiracy theory you can find on the internets, some of which would make even the right wing of the Republican Party cringe. A sample, for your reading, well, pleasure.

The law allows for adoptions by same-sex couples. Do you really wish your child to be adopted by two homosexuals, should anything happen to you?

The law does not “allow” for same-sex adoption, as these are already legal in case of one partner being the biological parent or if the adoption took place in a foreign country (e.g. the USA). Should a child, bob forbid, lose both parents while underage, Slovenian legislation (as everywhere in the world, I imagine) provides for a custodian to be named, usually the next of kin. Usually, grandparents or uncles and aunts. And even if there is no next of kin and the orphaned child would indeed be up for adoption, the social services would act in the best interest of the child. This excludes any possibility of same-sex couples being somehow privileged in adoption procedures. Doubly so given the fact that there are way more prospective adopters in Slovenia than there are possible adoptive children. And if you’re still not convinced, there is a provision for children over 10 years of age to give their consent for adoption into a new family.

The law brings changes to curriculum. Do you wish for your children to learn that they can pick their own gender and that they should experiment with their gender and sexual orientation?

Wait, what? Not only does the law not say a word about teaching curricla, the “school-meddling” argument has been thoroughly refuted (link in Slovenian). But on the whole, pengovsky should point out that keeping your children from learning stuff (including on sexual orientation) only creates frustrated and socially inhibited individuals. Which is a fairly good description of the vast majority of the NO campaign.

The law kills freedom of speech. Do you wish to lose your job saying it’s better for a child to have a mother and a father than two people of same sex?

Pengovsky has yet to see a law that would repudiate an article of the constitution. Obviously, nothing of the sort would happen.

And so on, ad nauseam. A good run-down of absurdity of these “arguments” is available here.

One of those times

And if none of the arguments of the NO campaign hold water, the only question is, why vote YES? Simple: because all men (and women) are created equal and people who want to be together should be able to do so in a way that makes them the most comfortable. By allowing same-sex weddings, no one is disenfranchised, only slightly more people get to get hitched.

This might seem self-explanatory especially to young voters, but sadly it is not. Which is why Sunday’s vote is so terribly important. Sometimes, even the most basic principles of a modern society need to be confirmed by a popular vote.

This is one of those times.

 

 

Call Me A Referendum

Funny thing, democracy. Apparently it’s OK to have a referendum on gay marriage but not OK to have a referendum on policing powers for the military. This, at least, will be the final take-away of deliberations of the Constitutional Court on recent referendum issues. Namely, after having OK’d a disputed referendum on the new marriage legislation, the court is poised to nix the referendum on increased powers for the military, further cementing its appearance as a senior citizen’s club trash-talking the issues of the day without caring either for the effect this has on the society as a whole or on the legal system in particular.

20151207_zzzdr
Graphics by @mapixel

Now, it should be said that neither of the outcomes is at all surprising. Not with this particular composition of the court, that is. But the problem is the inconsistency that stems from that. Especially since this exact same court a couple of years ago came up with a “human dignity” benchmark when deliberating on whether to repeal a city ordinance naming a street in Ljubljana after Marshal Tito. But despite the fact that the court bent over backwards in coming up with at least a semi-coherent  definition of human dignity as a legal and consitutional concept, it was never ever applied again. Question is, why?

Random Senior Citizens’ Club

The short and the long of it is that the judges are acting more and more like nine randomly selected, rather well-off senior(ish) citizens, who – by the very nature of things – tend to lean conservative (as in “preserving status quo”) and more often than not decide from their particular view-point rather than from an eagle-eyed view of an ever-evolving democracy they were mandated with.

To put it crudely, you might as well go to a posh restaurant in downtown Ljubljana, randomly pick  nine individuals aged 50+ and you’ve an even chance of coming up with similar decisions. The only difference being that the judges are able to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as far as legalese is concerned. But in substance, there would be little discernible difference.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the referendum on the amended law on family and marriage, which allows for same-sex marriage by simply redefining marriage as being “between two people” and not anymore “between a man and a woman” was allowed, while the referendum on army having jurisdiction over civilians will in all likelihood be denied. It’s how a substantial number of Slovenians close to retirement age, when unchallenged, think about these issues.

The thing is, that the Constitutional Court is not “a substantial part of Slovenians close to retirement age” but rather the (pen)ultimate guardian of the republic, founded on civilian control over the military and equality for all.  But at this particular moment, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and there’s little we can do about it.

Really? Not exactly.

The GOP, Slovenian edition

While the referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on 20 December, the result is by no means a given, even though a much more comprehensive piece of legislation which included same-sex weddings was voted down three years ago. In fact, despite the vote being only two weeks away, there has been, until this weekend, an eerie quiet on the ground, with sporadic fighting going on only within the social media bubble. While no-one expected this to last, it does seem to suggest that outside the campaign proper, which is bound to pick up in the coming hours and days, there is little new to be said on the issue.

That, of course, does not mean that both YES and NO campaign are preaching solely to the choir. According to a Delo poll, the voters are split down the middle with 40 % being in favour and 41 % opposed to the legislation, which means there’s a roughly 20 % of the electorate available to swing the vote either way. And in this, the opponents of equal rights enjoy a huge advantage, as they don’t have to present actual fact, they only have to make people afraid. Of whatever. In fact, you could do worse than to draw a comparison between the NO campaign and the current GOP primaries in the US of A. You can totally see The Donald, Cruz and Rubio as being at the forefront of the Slovenian opposition to same-sex weddings. They’d fit like a glove.

Losing ground, gaining ground?

That scare-mongering tactics work, goes without saying. The problem is that the ultra-conservative opposition is far less sure of their own position this time around. Both in terms of arguments as well as in terms of numbers. Which, again, is strikingly similar to the position the Republican party is in. Their core base is shrinking, and while the scare-mongering may rally the supporters of the NO campaign it is far less sure to sway those who haven’t decided yet. And this in a situation where every vote might count.

Aleš Primc, one of the heads of the NO campaign is well aware of this, which is why he suddenly started making an issue out of voters’ registers. Namely, it turns out that, on average, fifty people per day die in Slovenia. From Primc’s point of view this translates into fifty people who could have voted no but won’t. And since the State Electoral Commission makes the final update of the registers about ten days before the vote (they take their data from the Central Citizenship Register), on the day it sends out invitations to all eligible voters to vote in a referendum, this means that around five hundred people who will not be voting due to the fact that they will be dead, will still be eligible to vote.

Now, normally, this wouldn’t matter. But unlike the election process, where the resulting percentage of votes is calculated against votes cast, the last iteration of referendum rules calls for a two-step verification. A referendum result only overturns the law passed if a majority of votes cast are against but only if the total votes against amount to at least 20 % of the entire electorate. Including those five hundred dead people who are projected to pass away in the days between the final update of the voters’ registry and the actual vote.

Five hundred votes is not exactly a big number and since last year’s referendum on archives was held under the exact same conditions and no-one objected, the State Electoral Commission told Primc he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but it all goes to show just how nervous the ultra-conservatives are about the final outcome. And if the whole thing does indeed come down to the wire and the NO campaign ultimately loses, you can be sure the result will be challenged one way or the other.

No man is an island

Adding to the complication for the NO campaign is also the growing discrepancy between their general world outlook, which is (nominally, at least) pro-Western and their stance on marriage equality, which is, well, increasingly pro-Eastern. I mean, just look at it: You’ve got devoutly religious countries, big and small, such as Argentina, Brasil, Ireland and Luxembourg (to name but a few) adopting marriage equality. You’ve got the US of A and the United Kingdom doing the same. You’ve got countries that are predominantly Catholic, Protestant or atheist doing the same thing over and over again: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, France…. the list gets longer and longer every year. Point being that the opponents of same-sex marriage in Slovenia are increasingly left without outside reference. Hell, even the Pope went soft-ish on the LGBT issue in general. Point being that no man is an island and that for all the doubts and misgivings the Slovenian electorate might have about the issue, there is mounting evidence that the world doesn’t end if people of the same sex can get married.

This of course does not prevent the NO side from coming up with a plethora of run-for-your-lives bullshit, including (but not limited to) the claim that same-sex couples will be “buying babies from surrogate mothers” and that “your kids will be turned into gays and lesbians by schools teaching them same-sex ideology”. Now, these and similar claims have been refuted time and again, the latter most effectively by Jure Šink (link in Slovenian), who held a senior position in the education ministry during the Janša 2.0 government. Which is yet another hint at the fact that the NO campaign is struggling with a broader appeal even with people with whom it would probably find common ground on other issues.

And yet, there is still every possibility that the YES camp loses yet another vote. Not just because bleeding voters on one side does not automatically translate into winning them over for the other side. It could be that come referendum Sunday, not enough people will be bothered to vote YES even though they support equal rights in the first place. This especially goes for GenY voters and even younger (apparently called GenZ) who take so many things for granted that they can rarely be bothered to care. I mean, LGBT rights, In Slovenia at least, are a cause old at least three decades. The vast majority of GenY wasn’t even born when gays and lesbians were starting their struggle in what was for that day and age a liberal environment. And one could argue that back then in many respects Slovenia was much more liberal than it is today. But since LGBT citizens have almost the same level of rights as their heterosexual compatriots, this can create a false sense of complacency to the tune of “ah, well, another time perhaps”.

Yes, there will definitely be another time. On the whole, the trend appears to be irreversible. But no right was simply acquired, every single one of them was fought over and won in a protracted struggle. So, the question for young voters, who are one of the key demographics for the YES campaign, should not be “why should I bother” but rather “why this wasn’t fixed already?” and then get out the vote and fix it.

The challenge

The YES campaign will also have to stay on message. That alone might prove hard enough. Namely, as many as 39 organisations have announced they will be partaking in the campaign which means that they get to have their say at least once. The majority of those are in the NO camp which means the ultra-conservatives get to have more exposure on a minute-for-minute basis than the YES campaign. And since a majority of the NO camp is consisted either by astroturf organisations and one-man-band crackpots, this puts the YES camp in the dangerous position of trying to refute the absurdest of claims thus wasting time, energy and credibility (pengovsky wagered 20 euros that someone will try to combine the same-sex marriage and the refugee crisis into one big scare mechanism).

The pitfalls of a substantiated argument against a “let’s shit all over them, something will surely stick” was described quite well in this Metina Lista podcast where Briški and yours truly talked to Grainne Healy of the Irish Yes Equality campaign which won the constitutional referendum in Ireland in May this year, enshrining equal right to marry in the country’s constitution by a surprisingly large margin.

The tl;dr of it being stay on-message, let others deal with bullshit and get the vote out.

Which basically sums up the next two weeks in Slovenia as well.

 

P.S.: At Diogenes’ request, here’s a translation of what YES and NO votes actually mean.

By voting YES, you vote in favour of enacting the law that was passed by the parliament and which makes it possible for LGBT couples to enter into marriage legally.

By voting NO, you vote to reverse the decision of the parliament, thereby allowing only heterosexual couples to enter into marriage legally, while keeping LGBT couples a couple of legal notches below, at “registered partnership” level.

 

Open Mouth Insert Fence

Earlier today Prime Minister Miro Cerar announced Slovenia will “undertake additional technical measures” on its border with Croatia. Yesterday, the government voted to “step up measures to control migrant influx including necessary measures on the Schengen border” which the media widely translated as intention to put up a fence on the Slovenian-Croatian border which doubles as the Southern Schengen border. Combined with last week’s reports that elements of a fence were already in the country, that the government has already selected a contractor to erect it and that lately government officials avoided questions on the issue saying it has been labeled confidential (probably in the interest of the national security and all that jazz) it does seem that PM Cerar is up for some open-mouth-insert-foot time.

20151110_cerar

Now, the whole fence issue has been on the table even since Hungarian leader Orban started putting up his own fence on his borders with Serbia and Croatia. At that time Cerar and his government rejected the notion of a fence as a viable tool in tackling the humanitarian catastrophe that is the refugee crisis. In doing that, Cerar earned praise from many quarters (pengovsky included), not in the least because after the initial stumbles the government branches most equipped for disaster relief have taken over control of the situation.

Ever since, however, there was slow-but-constant backtracking on the soft-handed approach as the influx of refugees stretched the country’s resources which – at least in part – was exabberated by neighbouring Croatia transporting those poor sods near the border in no particular order or schedule and then letting them loose to make their way across the border as best as they could – even across treacherous terrain or fast-flowing rivers.

But for the most part, the backtracking was generated by the attempt of the politically inexperienced top brass to respond to challenges from the opposition, the neighbouring countries and the EU, all at the same time. The inevitable result, however, was the self-induced sense of panic because those three challenges were conflicting each other. The opposition wanted to declare martial law (or something to that effect), the neighbouring countries wanted Slovenia to either take all the refugees dumped on her (Croatia) or put up a fence of their own (Hungary) of something in between (Austria) while the EU demanded the country behave like a member state should and take over the refugees in an orderly and effective manner.

Trying to accommodate all three obviously created a cacophony of messages, making the government appear as if it is losing the grip on the situation. And once *that* message got through, suddenly the idea of policing powers for the army didn’t seem all that bad. And once that line was crossed, the fence seemed like an issue not necessary to sit on anymore. And here we are. The only problem being that they got it all wrong.

Yesterday in Brussels, interior minister Györkös-Žnidar said that the decision was “political”. Well, politically, this is a disaster of magnificent proportions. Not only has the nominally centre-to-centre-left government alienated a large part of its (potential) base, it has failed to warm up to the right-wing, too. Despite the fact that it was clamouring for just such a fence. Because the challenges by the right-wing parties were never about the refugees. The SDS and the NSi don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about that or – to be more precise – they care just as much and in such a direction as Mutti Angela says they should. Thus, if PM Cerar is trying to show to the right-wing parties and their voters that he can manage the situation via erecting a fence, he’s in for a surprise. Because no sooner than he can say “migrant influx” someone from right-wing top echelon will be on the telly saying this was too little too late, asking when exactly does he intend to activate the army with its newfound powers, too.

Speaking of the army, the amendment to the Defence Act empowering the army with authority over civilians under special circumstances (for that is what it essentially is) is on hold pending a referendum challenge, with the plaintiffs now petitioning the constitutional court to allow the referendum since the parliament voted to prevent it, citing national security issues. Now, pengovsky has no doubts that the court will disallow a referendum on army powers just as it allowed one on same-sex marriage (more on both issues soonish).

But as it were, PM Cerar and the government have just declared the Balkan Mini Summit (called a few weeks ago by Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel) null and void and are now involuntarily sliding into the same bracket as Hungary, with a strikingly similar explanation. The government seems to be sensing this and is bending over backwards to explain to everyone who is willing to listen that these are “temporary technical measures” and not really a fence. And yet they seem to be the only ones buying that particular spin.

Needless to say that the pandering to both sides continues. During the press conference detailing those “temporary technical measures” PM Cerar at the same time said that while the fence will be put up it will not impede the ability to accept and process the refugees. Which begs the question why exactly are the new measures necessary. And, only minutes later, the PM explained at length that the sole purpose of the “technical measures” is to prevent dispersal of refugees, only to blurt out a while later that dispersal is in fact an unlikely scenario. So, which is it?

That there will be no simple and clean solution to the refugee crisis was clear from its onset. But it is becoming increasingly hard to watch this government talking itself into one political trap after another. As things stand now, the only ones profiting from his flip-flopping on how to tackle the crisis are his political adversaries. And he has just given them yet another stick to beat him with it.