The government of Janez Janša as expected survived yesterday’s vote of confidence. The show we have had the dubious pleasure of seeing, however, bordeded on the inexplicable. What we have seen was the good old paranoid Janez Janša, who basically acused everyone who did not toe the line (his line) of high treason.

Janša analysing an issue of Delo newspaper (photo: RTVSLO)

His speech lasted for the better part of two hours. One would expect that – given all the supposed economic successes of this government – Janša would go on and on about it like an Energizer bunny. Instead he just leafed through it, showed a couple of powerpoint graphs and (among other things) claimed that higher birthrate in this country is a direct result of his government’s policies. Riiiight….. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that baby boomers are simply having kids…

But before that, for and hour and a half, we’ve seen some very blatant and direct attacks on Slovene media and some journalists in particular. Janez Janša kept asking himself rhetorically, where is this so called pressure on the media, since everyone seems to be attacking the government (in that moment he produces an issue of Delo newspaper, with marked articles by journalists who signed the anti-censorship petition).

Now – since in the past few days I was asked that same question – let me aswer it (although I must admit that doing so makes me feel rather uncomfortable, because journalists sure as hell aren’t the only ones feeling the heat in this country) :

The very fact that the prime minister debates work of journalists in the parliament is one of the most clear examples of media pressure. Two journalists, authors of the petition were named (by their names and surnames) in the parliament by the prime minister as being a tool in the hands of the opposition.

What. More. Do. You. Want?!?!

Perhaps the fact that one of these journalists was interrogated by the army intelligence in 2000 while Janša was minister of defence because he had published a confidential memo?

Or perhaps the fact that a moderator on national radio was fired (and then re-hired afer a public outcry) for making an unappropriate remark about the PM?

Perhaps the fact that non-government aligned media have a tougher time securing advertisments from government-owned companies who are still the largest advertisers in the country?

Perhaps you’re still not convinced and you don’t know about our foreign minister at one point telling the media that it would not be benefitial to them to pick fights with the government?

Or perhaps the fact that national television lent a willing hand in removing Mitja Gaspari as governor of the Central Bank?

Perhaps even the fact that (while they were good chums) Janša controlled Delo daily via Laško brewery, had a cooperative supervisory board, a cooperative CEO (Danilo Slivnik) and an even more cooperative Editor-in-Chief (Peter Jančič)?

You see, politicians all over the world find it hard to resist the urge of subjugating the media. Slovenia is no exception. It never was. Even the LDS is not without sin in this department. Janša was right on one point – that media cartels were established under LDS and we still feel the effect today. However, that does not make him any less responsible for media pressures that were (and apparently still are) exerted under his tenure.

But are big bad media being accused of?

Well, for starters, the said petition. Apparently JJ has no problems with rebelious journalists. Until it gets out, that is. He explicitly said that the problems journalists have should have been handled at home and that they should not have been brought to the attention of foreign and international organisations. And I went… WHAT. THE. FUCK!?! But wait, there’s more! Remember the Strojan family? And The Erased? The PM finds it insulting that he has to answer questions by foreign media about these problems when there are much more important things at hand – like Slovene presidency of the EU

Newsflash: Nothing, and I mean nothing is ever more important than human rights and freedom of information (and sex :)). I’m usually the one told to shut up, but this time I must admit that I am at the loss for words, disgusted and shocked by actions of my prime minister who – in a desperate attempt to keep face – accuses journalists of high treason for not falling into line of national unity just prior to EU presidency.

For the record: I personally don’t feel the pressure any more than I did prior to Janša’s rise to power. The Firm™ is far too insignificant for that (or maybe not – I still can’t get an FM frequency). But I soooo hate being told what to do, what to say and what to report. And if got yesterday’s message, than you can be sure a lot of other people did too. It doesn’t matter that most of us will not obey it. Pressure was brought to bear by the prime minister of a EU member state in the most public place of all – a session of the parliament. It was pathetic.


As promised, this is another Sunday Special by pengovsky.

Ljubljana saw the largest gathering of people since the end of World War II. 70.000 (yes, seventy thousand) workers demanded a rise in basic wages. The constant tug-of-war between the unions and the employers was fueled by rising inflation (shown in 10 – 20 percent raise in prices of basic food comodities such as bread, dairy product, etc…) which hit those with small incomes hardest. Employers of course will hear nothing of it and the end result was that negotiations broke down and unions took to the streets.

Unions don’t demand a staggering raise in wages – a mere 3.5 percent, just enough to offset the inflation. And – as odd as it may seem, the minister for labour Marjeta Cotman supports their cause. As does presiden-elect Danilo Türk, as you can see on the video.

Iif unions’ demands are not met, they will call a general strike. Which will make the 70.000-strong crowd seem like a picnic. So employers should think twice about not heeding to unions’ demands. I can understand that it may seem like blackmail, but if Slovene economy is really doing better, than a pay raise should be no trouble at all. The unions know that the days of free lunches are over. That’s why they called the demonstration on a Saturday. The employers have been given a fair warning.

And since things can be lost in translation, let me just explain the last part of the video. I used a song by Jani Kovačič, Delam (Working) – which is about people not being able to find work and still having to feed their families, while the only “work” they get is standing in a line at the local unemployment office. It became the unofficial anthem of Slovene working call (and others who are simply overworked).

Vote of Confidence

The so-called political crisis in Slovenia has boiled down to a storm in a tea-cup. Prime Minister Janez Janša went over to state television in a one-on-one with Jože Možina, director of TV programming (I thought they had editors and journalists to do that) and gave a carefully orchestrated interview where he announced that he will go before the parliament and demand a vote of confidence.

The PM looking very presidential, but talking somewhat wimpish… (photo: RTVSLO)

Of course he didn’t say it right at the begining, because he had an hour of programming to fill, so we witnessed some 50 minutes of whining and whimpering about what a shitty job being a prime minister is. We learnt the following:

The Boss and his ministers have a time-management problem (The parliament expects us to be at two places at the time – both in Brussels and in Ljubljana attending parliamentary committee sessions)

Nobody does JJ’s laundry (when I come home late at night I usually bump into a suitcase from my last trip)

His governing is a pure coincidence (in the last elections the voters gave a mandate for governing to all parliamentary parties. It just so happened that we formed a coalition)

He is good at approximations (there are between four and six coalition MPs who at one time or another did not support proposed legislation)

The opposition is very cooperative (it was basically due to low attendance of opposition MPs that we were able to pass a lot of legislation)

But enough sarcasm… In light of Thursday’s interview I must partly revise my evaluation of JJ’s statement on Wednesday. The fact that Janša demands a vote of confidence (to be held Monday night – I’m not holding my breath) strongly suggests that he has more troubles within the coalition than with the opposition. I still think that it was a smart move for him to mention the possibility of resignation, but the opposition was even smarter and stayed put (or ran for cover, depends on how you look at it). On the other hand Janša got hit from a slightly unexpected direction – DeSUS (the pensioners’ party), whose president Karel Erjavec (born in Aiseau, Belgium) called for PM’s immediate resignation and getting it over with. As a result Janša’s hand was forced and he had to do something – as opposed to continuing his bluff which noone really believed but didn’t want to call either.

Thursday’s interview showed two things: That Janša’s government is basically out of fuel and that he has no idea about what to do next – especially about inflation. When he wasn’t going on about what a shitty and thankless job he has (the poor-me syndrome), he cited economic (and other) sucesses of his mandate:

Unprecedented GDP growth (true, but this is an artificially induced by gov’t vouching for massive loans taken out by DARS to build highways. These loans will have to be repaid, probably in a more sever economic climate)

Lower unemployment (true, it went down on a yearly basis by 10.000 people, but in that same period about 7.000 people retired. I’m not saying that these are the same people, but that there is – if any – a net gain of 3.000 new jobs. Plus the fact that from September to October 2007 number of uneployed people rose by a thousand.)

Higher birthrate (Now, this one made me laugh… True, this year Slovenia recorded the highest birthrate in a decade, but that is solely because baby-boomers are finally starting to have children. This has absolutely nothing to do with the policies of this government.)

Also, there seems to be a new culprit responsible for the rising inflation – the euro. Remember, first it was the retailers and their cartel agreements. Then if was the City of Ljubljana. Now its the euro.

All in all, a good portion of this interview was used up by Janša whimpering about his job and effectively saying that if they want this job they can have it. And so he’s off to appear before the parliament.

The vote of confiedence is to be held on Monday late in the evening, as debate will begin as late as at 1800 hrs. And – as the whole thing will undoubtably be televised – you can bet your bottom euro on opposition leaders making good use of every minute of TV prime-time. Quite honestly, I can’t say I’m really looking forward to it, mostly because opposition MPs are not really all that famous for their rhetorical genius. Especially Milan M. Cvikl of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats (formerly of LDS), who probably deseves the dubious honour of being named opposition chief pitbull for his murderous and irritating style of speech. Fortunately (or unfortunately) he is not alone. On the other side of the aisle we have Branko “Gizmo” Grims of the ruling SDS, whom I like to compare to a highly virulent strain of influenza. Because onse he’s got you, you tend to run cold sweat and high fever.

So perhaps these two should be locked into a room, and whoever comes out alive, his side wins 😉 But since this is unlikely to happen, I think Monday night will provide us with fun for the whole family.

Now, before I sign off and go about creating anothe Sunday Special, this time on Saturday’s massive workers’ demontration, let me just alert my English speaking audience to a not-so-small detail:

The English version of PM’s webiste states that he proposed a motion of no confidence to the parliament. This is utterly wrong, borders on stupidity and is misleading at best. A vote of no confidence can only be initiated by a group of MPs and means that there is a replacement candidate already selected and that a new coalition is most probably (although not neceserily) already formed.

A vote of confidence (a move made by the PM) on the other hand can only be initiated by the government, which wants to check how it stands in the parliament and is mostly used as a tool to keep the existing coalition in check. If the PM loses the vote is means that he runs a caretaker government until a new one is replaced or early elections are called. The good doctor has the exact quote of the Constitution on this.

Just so that there’s no misunderstanding.

Juan Carlos Janković

A couple of days ago Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković provided us with another juicy remark – this time aimed at parliamentary chief whip of Janez Janša’s SDS Jože Tanko. Namely: Zoki was rather eloquent in his support of Mitja Gaspari and then of Danilo Türk during the presidential campaign. Furthermore, he said that Lojze Peterle is too close to the ruling coalition which is actively seeking to harm Ljubljana.

In the heat of the election campaing SDS of course responded by Tanko demanding a public appology. And on Tuesday last (one decision by the constitutional court and one electoral result later) mayor Janković struck back at Tanko, slamming him pretty hard:

I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help myself 🙂

Funny thing is though, that Spanish king Juan Carlos did basically the same thing to Hugo Chavez the other day. But he did it in person while his PM Zapatero was unsucesfully trying to be both calming and assertive. Anyone speak Spanish around here? 🙂

The Corbomite Manouver

Things are happening with lightning speed these past few days. Yesterday PM Janša acknowledged that Sunday’s elections were predominantly a vote against his government and said that in the aftermath anything is possible, including a resignation of his government.

JJ sworn in as PM

Personally, I think this statement was a very wise move, but perhaps for a not so obvious reason. But this does present a wonderful opportunity to see how a Slovenian government can be changed in mid-term. In short: it is mighty difficult to do so. As I already noted in this post, government is appointed by the parliament and can thus be changed only by the parliament. And the only was for the parliament to change the government is if some major political shift happens and a new coalition is formed. Because the incumbent PM can only be replaced by appointing a new PM – the upside being that there is a very short period of interregnum, where the outgoing government assumes a caretaker role.

Alternatevly, a government can resign. It can do so colectivelly or just by resignation of the prime minister. In this case, the parlimanet must appoint a new prime minister and a new government for the remainder of the four-year term. In this case too, the outgoing government assumes caretaker responsibilities.

And last but certainly not least, the prime minister can demand a vote of confidence. Should he/she lose this vote, the parliament must within thirty days appoint a new PM or confirm the incumbent one. If none of the two happens, the president of the republic disloves the parliament and declares elections.

However, I serioulsy think Janša’s statement is mostly of a pre-emptive value. It might be his pride talking, but in reality this was a very smart political move. Since he said that resignation is an option, he took this issue off the agenda and few people will press him on it. Especially the opposition which would rather gnaw its leg off than forming a new coalition with a new prime minister when parliamentary elections are only a year away and EU presidency is looming like a giant storm.

Opposition naturally ran for cover, saying that Janša can do whatever he pleases, but that noone is thinking of toppling him just yet. Which is again very smart – they would rather see JJ shoot himself in the foot repeatedly for the remainder of this term. Chances are that he will. Unless JJ outfoxes them and does indeed resign. In that case all bets are off. But I don’t think anyone (let alone Janša) needs an unstable enviroment just because the people elected “the other” presidental candidate (i.e.: not one to Janša’s liking).

So Janša’s statement was the political equivalent of the corbomite manouver: Janša is threatning to hasten his political demise which would in short term provide a lot of joy on political left, but would quite probably backfire a year later at parliamentary elections, since there is little that can be done in a year’s time. So the opposition – although aware that JJ is bluffing – is suddently tiptoeing, because… just because… what if he isn’t bluffing?