Ili u zatvor ili za ambasadora*

*Either a prisoner or an ambassador (an old Serbian adage)

Celebrations have ended, speeches were given, nods were exchanged. The Prez gave an address on Tuesday, warning that the world around us is changing and that organisations like EU, NATO and UN have to either reinforce or reinvent themselves. He also took a pot-shot at the way the government of Janez Janša is treating the judicial branch (changing the penal code in haste, not respecting decisions of the Constitutional court), and so on. The entire text is available here, English translation pending (hopefully).

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The Prez and the FM in the back. Years ago Rupel was Türk’s boss

However, fun began an hour or so before the address, as The Prez said in an interview that he will not sign demissions of several Slovene ambassadors prior to elections on 21 September. The catch is that four-year terms of a handsome number of Slovene ambassadors to capitals like London, Washington and Vienna (to name a few) have ended and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed replacements, which – according to the constitution – must be approved by the President (one of the very few powers the President actually has).

As almost anywhere in the world, in Slovenia too ambassadorial positions are both political and diplomatic. It was more than once that a person with little diplomatic skill was named ambassador to a certain country either as a reward for something or as a punishment (in accordance with an old Serbian adage Either a prisoner or an ambassador (Ili u zatvor ili za ambasadora)) and despite the fact that we’re looking at a regular end of a cycle, naming new ambassadors raises evebrows. Because it is quite possible that high ranking politicians are seeking refuge in the face of what is increasingly looking as a change at the helm of this country. Although the foreign ministry claims that all proposed names are career diplomats, roumors have it that names like Iztok Jarc (Minsiter of Agriculture), Matjaž Å inkovec (senior ministry official and former head of the Slovene intelligence agency) and even the foreign minister himself are among the names. Granted, all of them have already served as ambassadors – with some distinction, might I add – but fact of the matter is that at the moment all three are high-ranking political figures.

The Prez, himself one of the most distinguished ambassadors this country ever had, will have none of it. Bang! He said that he will wait with naming new ambassadors until election are over with and thus slammed the door really hard on the foreign ministry and Dimitrij Rupel himself who is apparently eyeing an ambassadorial job in Vienna (possibly something to do with Benita Ferrero Waldner, former Austrian FM with whom he apparently really gets along, if you catch my drift).

Foreign ministry reacted with a two-page statement, written in a recognisible “enumeration” style which suggest that it was written by FM Rupel himself. The statement more or less goes “what the fuck do you mean you won’t name new ambassadors, you fuck, do you know who I am?”, but does it in diplomatic lingo, naturally 😀 . It is a well known fact that Rupel and Türk can’t stand each other. Apparently the former thinks of the latter as overly-ambitious, whereas the latter thinks of the former as utterly incompetent (a notion which pengovsky shares 🙂 )

Despite their personal animosity I think The Prez is right. One, naming ambassadors just prior to elections is extremely bad sport. It’s been done before by LDS government(s), but it never won a lot of friends. It is time to put a stop to bad practices (mostly done under the tenure of FM Rupel, mind you – he served under LDS as well). Secondly, the Prez can deside on ambassadors as he sees fit. Period. There are no ifs and buts to it. The Prez has spoken and the minsitry should accept it without hesitation. Instead it is issuing diplomatic notes as if The Prez is another country and the Ministry is defending Slovene international positions. You don’t really argue with your president. Especially if it is you who is up for re-election. And thirdly, it in extremely bad taste that (provided rumours are true) a foreign minister should propose himself as an ambassador.

Copycat

Tommorrow is Statehood Day. The day when we remember our glorious history, give historic speeches and speak with a gaze fixed somewhere in the undefined future. Perhaps with a tear or two glittering in our eyes. It is also one of those rare occasions when we actually listen to our elected leaders, because they may have something important to say. But historic speeches are a bitch. You can’t really write a speech with an aim of making it historical. One can be aware of the historic moment, but still fail to give a speech fitting the occasion. Usually, high ranking politicians employs speech writers, Bill Clinton and JFK come to mind. Quite rarely, politicians are great orators and can write and give a speech, fitting the occasion by themselves. Winston Churchill and Milan Kučan come to mind.

However, there seems to be a shortcut. You can copy from a historic speech and hope noone will notice. Apparently (and I emphasise the word apparently) Slovene PM Janez Janša did that two years ago, when he gave a speech on 15 years of Slovene independence on June 24 2006. According to several Slovene media, Janša more or less copied entire passages of a speech given by no other than Tony Blair when Labour finally won general elections in the UK in 1997.

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So, Tony, how about a copy of your vicotry speech? (source)

Slovene media cited these passages, Blair’s in English and JanÅ¡a’s in Slovene. However, there’s also an English translation of JanÅ¡a’s 2006 speech. Let’s take a look:

Tony Blair Janez Janša
We can never be the biggest. We may never again be the mightiest. But we can be the best. The best place to live. The best place to bring up the children, the best place to lead fulfilled life, the best place to grow old We will never be the biggest. We will never be the strongest. But we can be the best. We can create the best environment for a fulfilling life. The best environment for the safe and sound growth of our children. The best place for happiness.
Today I want to set an ambitious course for this country. To be nothing less
than the model 21st century nation, a beacon to the world. It means drawing deep into the richness of the British character. Creative. Compassionate. Outward-looking. Old British values, but a new British confidence.
Today, more than at any time before, we can set ourselves high aspirations for the future. We seek to become nothing less than one of the most successful countries in the world, one of the beacons of the 21st century. To achieve our aim we will make use of the best that is in our national character; even if in the past this was buried somewhere deep. Creativity. Diligence. Entrepreneurship. Dedication. Justice. Openness. Tolerance. Honesty. Solidarity. Traditional Slovenian values. New Slovenian self-confidence.

Admittedly, both speeches are a lot longer than just those two passages, but JanÅ¡a’s speech was remembered for precisely those two phrases. The one about “Slovenia becoming a beacon of the 21st century” was especially resounding. And now it turns out that it is not as original as we thought.

PM JanÅ¡a already denied the allegations, saying that former Checz president Vaclav Havel the first Czech president Jan Masaryk used many of these phrases countless times. That may be, but it is still not the same as making it up on your own. And that’s what we were lead to believe.

Awkward, to say the least.

Final Tally

So, the final results are in. Turnout was just below 11 percent and all but two regions were supported. Janez JanÅ¡a declared victory (surprise, surprise) and when pressed over the low turnout predictably said that everyone had a chance to vote and if they didn’t, well… tough luck.

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JanÅ¡a being rather pleased with himself: I once caught a fish this big…

Also as predicted, Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković claimed responcibilty for the extremely low turnout in Ljubljana. I mean, he might have played a part in it, but since turnout wasn’t exactly brilliant in the rest of the country, Ljubljanchans we probably just as beffudled by the whole idea behind the referendum, or – maybe even more so – just couldn’t be bothered to vote.

In the end, the referendum result gives Janša some much needed pre-election ammo. He announced that his government will propose regional legislation again, and will do it toot-sweet. The motion is doomed to fail as he will never get a 2/3 majority in the parliament (coalition only has 49 out of 90 seats), and this will enable Janša to play the referendum angle more or
less forever, possibly even after the elections and regardless of whether he looses or wins. And that was probaby his plan all along.

Less Than 10 Percent Turnout

8.66 %. That’s the official turnout on today’s referendum on regions according to the State Electoral Commission at the time of publishing this post. The polling stations had closed minutes ago, and it means that a little more than 145.000 people out of 1,6 million eligible had voted. Analyses and projections will be forthcoming in the next couple of hours and day. PM JanÅ¡a is due to give a statement at 2100hrs, while Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković (the one who called for a boycott) will give a statement minutes from now.

As predicted, a battle for interpretation will start. PM Janša is scheduled to give a statement at 2100 by which time all the votes will probably have been counted. The extremely low turnout (lowest of any referendums held in Slovenia, where referendums are not attended in huge numbers anyhow) suggest that those who voted, did so in favour of regions.

Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković will give a statement minutes from now. As you may recall, he called for a boycott of the referendum. It will be interesting to see if he will be tempted to interpret turnout in Ljubljana (only 5.5%) as a massive following of his advice. The reality namely is that we had a criminally nice and warm Sunday probably payed a part in the fact that less than 6% of voters cast their vote in Ljubljana (the lowest turnout in the country). But the main factor dirivng the voters abstinence is probably the fact that the voters didn’t care a pair of fetid dingo’s kindeys about a muddled referendum question and a severe lack of a referendum campaign. To elucidate with a refference to specifics: While casting his vote, pengovsky was actually asked by a member of the on-site electoral commission what this referendum was actually about. Go figure.

Stay tuned, more info after 2200 hrs.

On Referendum

The timing of yesterday’s post was fitting to say the least as Slovenes will vote on a referendum on regions on Sunday. The logic of this particular referendum (or rather: the lack it) have been detailed here, here and especially here. But just to give you a slightly better picture of what had happened: The government was hell-bent on holding this referendum, because initially regional legislation failed to get parliamentary approval (tough luck – the legislation requires 2/3 majority and the coalition is nowhere near that number) and it desperately needs at least one major political scoop.

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Mayor Janković calls for a boycott. Pengovsky diagrees (source)

But instead of giving a clear-cut question such as “are you in favour of creating (insert number) regions named (insert region names), each encompasing the following municipalities (insert municipalities) respectively“, the government opted to arbitrarily create some 13 “referendum areas” (which are to become regions), each with a different question concerning that particular region and nothing else.

So what we will be faced with on Sunday, will be a combination of 13 distinct referendum questions (plus two questions on region names) and – consequently – a zillion ways to twist and turn the results according to the government’s needs. But before we go there, let’s have a look at referendums in Slovenia

Mechanics of a referendum

The referendum is of a consultative nature, meaning that the result will have little or no legal cosequences. It would, however, be a political guideline for decisions pertaining the formation of regions. There is no census on the turnout, so technically, three people can vote and if two of them vote the same way, the referendum is passed. In Slovenia truth is often stranger than fiction and so it often happened that a very small number of people came to vote (traditonally, referendum turnout was about 30%), and so a mere 15% of the voters (the majority of the atendees) decided the referendum result. And finally, the result is calculated as a percentage of all valid votes, rendering the option of casting a blank ballot irrelevant, as a blank ballot will not be counted as a valid vote. This is an important deviation from the electoral legislation, where every ballot is counted, even those that are invalid, meaning that in elections you can cast an empty ballot and it will count in the 100% of the vote cast.

To give you an example, imagine a scenario with 100 voters, which vote both on a referendum and in elections. In both cases you only have to options (A and B) and 40 voters support option A, 30 support option B, while 30 cast an empty or otherwise invalid ballot. In an election, where all 100 votes cast count, the result would be 40% for option A and 30% for option B. In a referendum, however, option A would have received 57,15 % of the vote, and option B 42,85 % as only 70 votes would have counted.

Legitimacy of a referendum

Now, despite all the shortcomings, such a referenum is perfectly legal and legitimate. The question was asked and the people will vote. Or won’t. Those who will choose not to will have willingly put their fate in the hands of others. Which is not something you really want to do in a democracy, so attending a referendum (or any other vote, for that matter) is crucial if you want your policital actions and convictions to have at least some sort of effect on the way your country is ran.

When mathematics is in play I’m not the fastest of cats at the best of times (as proven on this blog on a number of occasions), but even I realise that under such rules of the game your decision not to vote means that you’ve actually cast two votes supporting the option you would not have supported anyhow.

Take our options A and B. You seriously don’t like option B, but couldn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kindeys about option A (or – as is mostly the case – you are convinced your vote doesn’t matter). Now: by not voting at all, you’ve not only substracted one vote from the total number of valid votes, but have also increased the number of votes for option B relative to the total number of votes

Reffering back to our example of a hundred votes (and a projected 30 percent turnout), this means that out of a hundred voters only 30 cast their vote. Say 12 of those support option A and 18 support option B. In this case option B (the one you really don’t like) gets 60 % of the vote, whereas option A loses with 40%. Just because you couldn’t be bothered to cast your vote.

Informed decisions

In comments to yesterday’s post Alex maintained that “referendums are never legitimate since people elect their representatives to make informed decisions on their behalf.”

This statement implies two notions which are in my opinion radically wrong. 1) If our elected leaders were to make informed decisions, the voters would have to make informed decision about electing their representatives. Since today’s democracy is based on soundbites, good looks populism and occasional wit, informed decisions are few and far between and even if they exist, they are subject to media interpretation and even manipulation. And 2) this statement implies that our elected representatives are an informed bunch of highly intelligent people who constantly ponder the big picture and the future of the country, even at their personal peril. Right… :mrgreen:

Referendums are no more and no less legitimate than any decision by the parliament or other representative body. In either case the decision must be both respected and subject to the mechanism of checks and balances.

This Sunday

Now, how does all of this translate to Slovenia? As noted in the begining, the government of Janez Janša has done pretty much everything to muddle the referendum. 13 distinct question (and two more) allow for no less than four hundred and fifty different combinations of results, according to the head of State Electoral Commission. Naturally, this was done intentionally and it shows that the government is far from certain of getting an overall positive result.

Sunday’s referendum is a slightly expensive introduction into an extremely bloody election campaign. How can I tell? By the fact that to date there has been no “referendum campaign”. Coalition parties – the very same which have called the referendum – have not posted a single banner, not a single second of airwaves was saturated with ads opposing or supporting the referendum question – nothing. Period. The fun will begin after the votes are in, as the battle for result interpretation will begin. Depending on the result, the government will either claim that the referendum was a success because a) most voters per region supported it, b) most voters nation-wide supported it or c) the referendum succeeded in enough regions to make it impossible to draw regions any other way. The opposition will naturally claim exactly the opposite.

Me? I will vote “no”. I think the only fair way to do it would be to ask every one about every region. Do I get a say on whether Primorska should be a single region or not? Should KoroÅ¡ka exist and is Central Slovenia a region or should it be split into Gorenjska and Dolenjska? I think I ought to have a say about it, because it does concern me. Not only from taxpayer’s point of view (where have my euros gone to?) but also because regions totaly redefine a way different levels of government communicate with citizens and because the government is putting yet another layer of authority between itself and the citizens. And finally, because I hate the fact that the one of the main aims of regions is creating refuges for politicians whose due-date is long past or (even worse) who shouldn’t ever have set foot in politics in the first place.

As odd as it may seem, PM Janez JanÅ¡a and pengovsky agree on one thing. It is vital to get out the vote. Naturally we’re doing it for different reasons, but if the referendum itself is wrong, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković is even more wrong. He called for a boycott of the referendum, calling it a farce. Yes, it is a farce, and it will be held in three days. And if we all just sit on our asses and do nothing, the farce will become a reality (even more than it already is) and those who will remain at home will have no right to bitch about it afterwards.

If you’re eligible and either support regions or oppose them – get out there and vote on Sunday.