Operation Clean Shovel

A series of high profile arrests rattled Slovenia yesterday. In what appears to be the an almost year-long investigation, the anti-crime unit and a specialized team of prosecutors gathered enough evidence to detain Ivan Zidar, Dušan Črnigoj and Hilda Tovšak, CEOs of construction companies SCT, Primorje and Vegrad respectively.


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Ivan Zidar (SCT), Dušan Črnigoj (Primorje) and Hilda Tovšak (Vegrad)


To cover the intricacies of the Slovenian construction sector would require a whole series of posts, but suffice it to say that the past 15 years have been good for business in the sector. As the good doctor would have us know, real-estate prices in Slovenia have reached utterly pocket-crippling prices, but the demand outpaces supply by far, enabling contruction companies to practically sell whole blocks of appartments before even construction begins.

But this is just end-user market. The real money is in the infrastructure, namely in the Slovenian highway system, which was at the time it was commenced a) 30 years behind schedule and b) naivelly under-priced. This had two immediate effects: Slovenian construction companies, suffering the loss of the Yugoslav market and finding it increasingly hard to do business internationally (it is said that SCT built bunkers for Saddam Hussein in Iraq), were suddenly looking at a very bright future at home but at the same time the project kept getting more and more expensive until it became clear that someone wasn’t looking at the right column when adding up the total costs of Slovene highways.

There was more than enough work for entire Slovenian construction sector (and an occasional foreign contractor as well), but the most contracts by far went to Ivan Zidar’s SCT – some commentators estimate that his company earned €3,5 billion just by building highways.


Now, anyone who ever build a house (or even just redid the bathroom) knows that in the end it is always more expensive than initially thought, because “we had to change them pipes that were leaking all over the place” and that once you go with the project you don’t really change the contractor, because finding a new one again costs time and money while you can’t use the loo. And so Slovene construction companies followed the culture of underpricing and then, when a particular section of the highway was half-built, went “Errr… you know, about the price….”. And the government coughed up another tonne of money, because a) it didn’t want to come off as naive, b) this way it kept employment and GDP up and c) the deal was probably political anyway.

And this is the gist of it: it is more or less a matter of public record that companies, supposedly competing for winning contracts, formed a sort of a trust, fixing their bids and pre-aranging who would win which contract, hiring the remaining companied as subcontractors afterwards. Just that noone was able to prove it, because…. well… the government didn’t really feel like it, mostly due to the a,b,c cited above, plus the fact that some wealth was probably spread the government way as well (I won’t use the word bribe, but feel free to think it). But even if there was no direct bribery involved, the fact remains that people from construction companies would often find themselves in government or para-government posts (such as board of the Slovene Highway Company – DARS) or vice-versa. Nearly everybody is connected to nearly everybody else and in this game nobody tops Ivan Zidar, who is probably the single most-connected person in this coutnry. His connections span from old communist aparatchiks to the highest levels of the Catholic Church (SCT being its main contractor as well).

Yesterday’s arrests strike at the very heart of Slovene economy, especially since last year’s high GDP growth was riding solely on a government-funded construction boom. But rattling the economy cage, arrests are also political. If one had to name a party which had overwhelming influnece (especially in the highway business), it would be Slovene People’s Party (SLS), whose economic influence far exceeds its political might. Indeed, Finance minister Andrej Bajuk (NSi) allegedly ran a pet project of breaking this party’s grip on the construction sector, although both parties belong to the political right. Or maybe that was precisely the reason.


The stakes are high for PM Janez Janša. Although he (as he should) claims that he had no prior knowledge of the operation, noone really believes him. This is just to big for him not to be in the know. Moreover, he publicly declared a war against “tycoons” (i.e.: so called winners of transition) who ammased relatively huge ammounts of wealth in the past 15-20 years. So the police and the prosecutors better have an air-tight and waterproof case which they will close fast. Because if they don’t – and if the whole thing turns out to be just a political and PR stunt – the wrath the detained trio will bring down on the PM will be tantamount to Samuel L. Jackson’sgreat vengence and furious anger“.

And remember – the burden of proof lies with the government. This is not a traffic violation we are talking about here. Being convinced that the three are guilty of corruption and bribery and proving it beyond a shadow of the doubt are two very different things. If the government wants to avoid allegations of setting up a pre-election show-trial aimed at boosting its dwindling popularity, the prosecution needs to produce a smoking gun. And it doesn’t really matter they do it on a deal of building a new control tower at Ljubljana International, worth just € 30 million. Elliot Ness got Al Capone for tax evasion.


P.S.: If your comment doesn’t show up immediately, please be patient. Akismet is acting up…

Distance Slovene

Internet is a trully wonderful invention. Besides being a great way to get on the net (courtesy Bob Dole), a refuge for various radical leftists, revolutionaries, perverst, commie-pinkos, corrupted remnansts of a nepotist mentality, general no-goodniks and the rest of us scum who should be dealt with swiftly and mercilessly, internet can provide some awesome tools for things that do not have a large market potential. Like Slovene language.

But thankfully, some people acutally do use internet to get on the net and do not chase leftists ideals or just chase leftists. One of those people who actually spend their time on-line constructively is Michael N., who stumbled upon Distance Slovene, a website dedicated to distance learning of Slovene language.

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The site is a collaborative effort between The Centre for Slovene as a Second/Foreign Language, Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Higher Education and Technology and Laboratory for Telecommunications at Faculty of Electronics, and it rocks. All you need is to enable popups, register and start rolling.

So – go learn! Kaj še čakate!? :mrgreen:


P.S.: There are reports that the site has problems with Firefox. It worked fine in my FF, but I did have to manually enable pop-ups.

Niko ne sme da vas bije*

According to the latest reports, Kosovo will declare independence from Serbia on February 17th, and as we know from a leaked document, the United States, which strongly favour an independent Kosovo have been pressuring (or strongly indicating their desire, whichever you preffer) Slovenia to be among the first countries to recognize an independent Kosovo. This has sparked a heated debate in Slovenia, which has as of late concentrated mostly on who is to blame on the leak rather than should Slovenia actually recognize Kosovo, slthough the latter is a much more important question.


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While some prominent politicians (incluing Former President Milan Kučan) and some highly-respectable bloggers think otherwise, I’m covinced there are scores of reasons for immediate recognition of Kosovo. As odd as it may seem, Slovenia and Kosovo share a common link in recent history (apart for the fact that they’ve both been a part of Yugoslavia). Personally, I think that for a plethora of reasons it is Slovenia’s – shall we be dramatic – duty to recognise an independent Kosovo as soon as the province declares independence.

As all nations, Kosovars too have a right to self-determination and their drive for an independent Kosovo is far from recent. Still as a part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo demaded an “upgrade” from a status od an autonomous region withih Serbia to a full-fledged republic. This did not happen, although the cry “Kosovo Republjik!” was getting louder and louder. And while the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 did not recognize Kosovo as a state within Yugoslavia (the six republics were treated as sovereing states, a fact that helped Slovenia greatly in getting legal ground for independence in 1991), it gave the region all the attributes of a republic.

It had its own administration, judiciary, assembly, police, League of Communists, eductational system, media – and perhaps most importnatly: it has equal representation in all federal organs as the republics – including the eight-member Presidency, comprised of representatives of the six republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia) and two autonomous regions (Vojvodina and Kosovo). The 1974 Yugoslav constitution gave republics and regions as much independence as they could get without actually breaking up Yugoslavia – and it definitely gave Kosovars about as much independence as they could get for the next 34 years.

As Yugoslavia began experiencing a deadly mix of severe economic troubles, a grid-locked political system, a power-hungry Yugoslav National Army which was about to perform a coup d’etat and a drive by Serbia’s leadership (predominantly Slobodan Milošević) to solve problems by redrawing borders in favour of Serbia, the country that was once a powerful player began to disintegrate into sun dust.

A part of disintegration were also constitutional changes of 1988 which almost completely reversed the constitution of 1974 and – althtough illegal – stripped Kosovo of its autonomy, transfering all decisions about the future of the region from Priština back to Belgrade. And this is where paths of Slovenia and Kosovo intersect for a brief moment in history.

In Kosovo, the stripping of autonomy and subsequent replacing of region’s Kosovar leadership prompted miners in the mining town of Stari Trg to declare a hunger-strike until the autonomy is restored. The strike ended without meeting miner’s demands (naturally), but not before a meeting was held in Slovenia by both the emerging opposition and the ruling communist party supporting the miners, which sent shockwaves throught Belgrade, because Slovenia and Kosovo were suddenly on the same wavelenght – a seemingly impossible event until then.

But the fate of Kosovo was sealed much before that. In 1987 as the region grew restless and Serbs, being a minority in the region, but an overwhelming majority in Greater Serbia (Serbia plus both regions) often clashed with Kosovars – mostly with words, but sometimes with fists. And on one such occasion, Slobodan Milošević, then still Serbia’s second-in-command was witness to such a fight as Serbs in Kosovo gathered en masse and the predominantly-Kosovar police, fearing a riot, started using batons. Milošević ran out to see what was going on and he used a phrase which transformed him from a colourless aparatchik to a nationalist leader.

Niko ne sme da vas bije!” (noone is allowed to beat you), he said to the demonstrating Serbs, who were already throwing rocks as the police and the mob (correctly, as it turned out) understood that as a green light for a rampage. A rampage that went on until 1999 – the year that Milošević lost his fourth war in Yugoslavia, this time beaten by NATO forces. The phrase became the gist of Milošević’s political creed – that Serbs are somehow superior to all other Yugoslav nations and have the right to live in Great Serbia – a country which spans to wherever in Yugoslavia Serbs live.

Thus Milošević started the breakup of Yugoslavia in Kosovo and it is only right and fitting that the process come full circle and ends where it started twenty-one years ago. Slovenia declared independence only four years after that fateful phrase and the memory of every political power in the world (including the EU and the US) trying to block our way to independece one way or another is still very much alive.

Not so much out of solidarity or heeding to a US dictate, but out of the fact that Kosovo has similiar legal grounds for independence and that Serbia lost it by waging war against its people (just as it did in Slovenia), I think that Slovenia must recognize Kosovo as soon as it declares independence. I think it is only fair that Slovena uses the same arguments when deciding on this as it did when arguing its own case for independence seventeen years ago.

I recognize the fact that times change and that today Slovenia has a growing economic interest in Serbia and that the US is probably favouring independent Kosovo out of economic reasons (and that Russia is probably opposing it for precisely the same reasons) and that an independent Kosovo could be viewed by other independence movements across the world as a model for their cause, but it would be extremely unhealthy if the process of Yugoslav breakup is not completely finished. And that includes the fact that two of the most wanted war criminals, Radovan Karadžić and general Ratko Mladić, both responsible for Serbian atroccities in Bosnian war are still at large.

The EU (including Slovenian government) is in danger of short-circuting the process by giving Serbia a partnership agreement before the two are brought before the Hague tribunal. Should this happen, the Serbs will skate clean yet again, which will both undermine the seriousness of the Hague tribunal and the belief in human rights which the EU supposedly holds so dear. This would also send a disatrous message to other candidate states, especially Croatia and Turkey, possibly stopping the expansion completely and preventing the EU from becoming a global player also in geopolitical terms.

In short: Slovenia should recognize Kosovo as soon as the region declares independece and refrain from signign any treaty until Karadžić and Mladić are in the Hague – or at least until proof given that they will find themselves there in an extremely short period of time. This is vital both for completion of the conclusion of the Yugoslav breakup and the continuation of EU expansion.

*special mention (Serbian only): http://arhiva.mojblog.co.yu/p-niko-ne-sme-da-vas-bije/16777.html

Nada

Friday last Slovene parliament voted on a rather important piece of legislation – the regions. Non-Slovene regulars to this puny little blog have heard of read of Štajerska, Primorska, Dolenjska, Gorenjska, Prekmurje, and other Slovene regions. But speaking from a constitutional point of view Slovenia never had regions – only municipalities (the so called first layer of self-government). Two hundred and ten of them.

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The proposed division into regions which was not to be (source)

But as the drive for municipalities got out of hand, more and more people realized that a further division on a new level is needed, which brings us to regions. But as they were not created simultaneously with municipalities the latter were given enormous powers which they are unwilling to relinquish them in favour of regions. For example: Municipality of Sveti Miklavž na Dravskem polju which boasts some 5900 individuals (a tenth of whom are unemployed) has exactly the same powers as the City of Ljubljana (pop. 270.000), meaning that it can establish schools, primary health care, fire and civil defence, it has its own municipal council, municipal government, et cetera…

Out of 210 Slovene municipalities 198 are unable to sustain themselves which means that the state chips in on a regular basis (all municipalities get state funds, but some disproportionally more than others). All the more so if the mayor happens to be an MP as well which is the case with quite a few Slovene members of parliament. Especially they are vigorously opposed to creation of regions as it would most likely cost them their seat in the parliament. You know – no money, no funny. And if they don’t bring the dough no more, the people gonna find themselves someone who do

So passing the legislation on regions is nearly impossible in Slovenia as long as mayors can also serve as MPs and vice versa.

Having said that, however, Prime Minister Janez Janša knew that and still pressed on with the legislation which didn’t even enjoy the support of all ministers (minister for civil service was vigorously opposed). He pressed on and failed. Which is no disaster unto itself. Regions can wait. The only problem is that this was the last of the “big” project of Janez Janša and his government. He just fired his last usable round of political ammo and missed, which brings the total sum of his four years in office to a complete zero.

Want a rundown?

  • He ran on a ticket of radical neo-liberal reforms and all he could manage was a reduced tax scale because the unions went apeshit. Ass-whooping numero un.
  • He tried to take Ljubljana in local elections by backing France Arhar but people owerwhelmingly voted for Zoran Janković. Ass-whooping numero dos.
  • He tried to subjugate the media and instead Laško snacthed Delo and Večer from him. Ass-whooping numero tres.
  • He tried to get his candidate elected in presidential elections but the people went for left-wing Danilo Türk. Ass-whooping cuatro.
  • He made a big show of “a new start” in relations between Slovenia and Croatia, but Croatia presented him with an extended maritime area of control. Ass-whooping numero cinco.
  • He boasted of high GDP growth (even sans reforms) but got us higher inflation which ain’t going away even when the growth cools dows. Ass-whooping numero seis.
  • He vehemently started presiding over the EU but didn’t even last a week without screwing up and having Potrugese PM slam him over a careless remark. Ass-whooping numero sete.
  • And now he proposed legislation on regions, but crashed and burned magnificently in the parliament. Ass-whooping supreme (number eight, if you’re still keeping count)

So, the total result of Janša’s first term in office thusfar (some eight months before the elections) is: Zero. Zilch. Niente. Nothing. Nada.