Political Implications of Fire-Retardant Foam

Today a wee bit more serious post on the political implications of the Šentvid tunnel fiasco. Long story short, as a chunk of fire-retardant foam fell off the ceiling for the second time, hitting a car of a German tourist, thus forcing closure of the tunnel for the third time in four weeks, the media and public outcry was so huge that it was obvious that heads must roll – even in Slovenia, where politicians and senior officials seem to be innoculated against responsibilis objectivis, sensus vulgaris and moralis generalis, especially when little green pieces of paper are involved.

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The destroyed car of the unfortunate German tourist (source: Dnevnik video)

Medical analogies aside, the mere facts that the tunnel was attrociously expensive and that it was completed more than a year after the initial deadline had passed drew enough criticism that deep down everyone quietly agreed with Minister of Transport Radovan Žerjav, when he said (during the opening ceremony) that he hopes everyone will soon forget all the bad things surrounding the construction of the tunnel. His nightmares, however, were only beginning.

Truth be told, Radovan Žerjav was minister for little less than a year, so he cannot personally be blamed for every fuck-up with the tunnel, however, with statements like this he put his head on a platter. Besides, he was selected because he was suppose to do a better job than his predecessors.

So when they cleaned up the mess after the first closure, reopened the tunnel and said that this time it was safe for real, imagine the disbelief and outcry when it turned out that the tunnel was not safe. It wasn’t just that the foam hit a moving vehice (smack right down on the hood of the car), but also the fact that the SOS line in the tunnel wasn’t working and that luckily another driver came by (it was 2 AM on a weekday) and called for help using his mobile phone. Luckily noone was hurt and time was not of the essence.

Heads were obviously going to roll. Or were they? A blame game ensued, with the government and DARS (the State Motorway Company) blaming the contractor, Ivan Zidar‘s SCT, the latter blamed its subcontractor, a British company Ceramicoat, and they in turn blamed the initial poor state of the entrance to the tunnel and poor management of the project. Days later, the board of DARS could no longer play stupid and tendered their resignations, as did minister Žerjav.

But this is where things start getting interesting: Both DARS’s board and the minister (a member of SLS, one of the junior coalition parties) offered to resign. But didn’t resign. They effectively said “hey, it’s up to you”. Furthermore they made their offer to the government. In case of DARS that was the propper way of doing things, as it was the government who named members of the board in the first place. However, minister of transport offered his resignation to PM Janša personally, and I’m still not sure whether that was an extremely cunning political move or just another case of political arrogance and ignorance combined.

Namely: under Slovenian constitution, ministers are elected by the parliament, not named by the prime minister. Thus the minister blatantly ignored constitutional provisions, as he would have to offer his resignation to the parliament, which would then have to hold a vote on it. But now the minister – knowingly or not – pulled the prime minister (who until now was keeping awfully quiet on the matter) front and centre, forcing him to take sides. Although it seems a very straightfoward case, the PM must have found himslef in quite a predicamend and kept quiet ever since. He is expected to make a statement (of sorts) today, almost two weeks after the final closure of the tunnel.

If the PM accepts the minister’s resignation, he a) admits that he let SLS pick the wrong guy (again) and b) grossly exceeds his constitutional authorities and abuses powers vested in him by taking decisions which are only the parliament’s to make. If however, he rejects Žerjav’s resignation, the PM takes direct responsibility for the fuck-ups surrounding the tunnel, putting his own head on a platter thirty-eight… no… thirty-seven days before the elections.

So far Janša is treadng carefully, but it will be interesting to see what course of action he takes. He might make the minister resign of his own accord and let him keep running the minister in a caretaker capacity, as the PM is unlikely to bother looking for a replacement candidate during an election campaign. On the other hand, forcing another SLS minister to resign will probably sever whatever links there still are between that party and the rulling coalition. This miight result in SLS walking out of the coalition just prior to elections, making this yet another coalition SLS walked out of at the very end of a term.

More will be known in the next few days, so stay tuned….

St. Weed

About five, six weeks ago a highway section near Šentvid on the outskirts of Ljubljana was opened. This 3,2 kilometre strech of the highway connected A2 and A1 highways, diverting hundreds of thousands of passangers daily around Ljubljana. Not. The tunnel was closed on the very same day it opened, because a chunk of fire-retardant foam fell off the ceiling. All eyes turned to the contrator, which just happened to be Ivan Zidar’s SCT. It however claimed that a British subcontractor, Ceramicoat was to blame. The tunnel was reopened, only to be closed a week ago, when another part of the foam fell off, this time hitting and destroying a car of a German tourist. Luckily noone was injured. The result so far: Minister of transport Radovan Žerjav and the board of State Highway Company (DARS) tendered their resignations (but noone accepted them as yet), while the blame game between the minsitry, DARS, SCT, Ceramicoat and supervisors is reaching new heights.

The tunnel, however, remains closed and heavy traffic is still rolling through northern Ljubljana. On the bright side, however, this has sparked a series of rather good jokes, one can laugh at while twiddling one’s thumbs in a traffic jam on a hot August afternoon…

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St. Weed tunnel – fun for the whole family!

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British subcontractors, huh?

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Del-boy! Are you sure that was fire-retardant foam we used?

Naturally, there are some serious political consequences stemming from all of this, but it’ll have to wait…

Georgian- Russian War

This new Georgian-Russian war puzzles me. I mean, I’m not really puzzled by the fact that it started, or why it started (there’s a short Q&A by the Beeb, if you need basic info), but rather by how it started. From what I understand it was Georgia which started serious military operations, presumably aimed at subjugating South Ossetia. What I don’t understands is, what exactly was Georgian leadership (especially President Mikheil Saakashvili) thinking.

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Mikheil Saakashvili caught on BBC camera running for cover (source)

I can imagine that it is not easy for Georgia and its leadership to live in Russia’s shadow and in what Moscow clearly identifies as its sphere of influence. Spheres of influence are an ugly 19th-century concept which has contributed vastly to the outbreak of both World Wars, was institutionalised during the Cold War as a “bi-polar world” and was thought to have died away in the nineties with the emergence of the New World Order (courtesy George Bush, sr.). The hard reality, however, is that it has not died away and that as Russia is getting back on its feet, the pendulum is swinging backwards from where it came and that the dynamic balance of powers is shifting yet again.

However laden with local colour and animosities, the Georgian-Russian war is not just about territory, historical rights and wrongs and bringing the former Soviet republic back under the flap of Mother Russia. This has to do with Georgia’s aim to enter NATO and gain leverage against Russia.

Namely: Georgia almost got an invitation to NATO months ago, but didn’t. Hoever, it would seem that the very prospect of being encircled by NATO is making Moscow very nervous. Until now, however, Russia played ball, although Vlad Putin and his protegee Dmitri Medvedev have increasingly been making noises about how things cannot be allowed to go on like that. Hoever, to date all Russina activity has been limited to diplomatic and/or economic areas. The US (with a little help from the EU) has driven a hard bargain against the Russians, enabling NATO to establish itself along stretches of Russian border (the Baltic, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, most notably Afghanistan). But Caucus was apparently seen as too risky even for some NATO members as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put Georgian NATO membership on ice. Add to that the fact that NATO as a whole and the US especially lost most of its detterant-power in the Iraq fiasco, Russia saw a window of opportunity to stem the tide of Western influence running along its borders all the way to China.

But reality on the ground is such, that Russia seems to be aiming for a complete victory. Military and probably otherwise as well. According to latest reports is it isolating Georgian capital Tbilisi, probably trying to have President Saakashvili replaced (softcore version) or arrest him (hardcore version) – not unlike what the United States did in Iraq. Moreover, since the US launched an unlawful aggression against a sovereign state in 2003 it has little moral ground to point the finger at Russia, which today is doing the exact same thing.

Moral of the story (if one can use that particular word at all): international laws apply to some countries more than they apply to the others. But that’s nothing new, is it? And that is why one wonders what Mikheil Saakashvili was thinking when he launched an attack against South Ossetia days ago. Oh, and scenes of him running for cover don’t look to good either…

EDIT@1230 CET: According to the BBC, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev ordered “an end to Georgia operation”. Is this is, or is it merely a tactical ploy?

A Problematic Poll(ster)

Today’s post is already sligthly outdated as new polls were published earlier in the day, but as I didn’t get around to entering the data, here are the results of a poll ran by TV Slovenia on Sunday. It is a funny poll and one could make all sorts of conclusions out of it. But as you’ll see, the main problem this poll has is – credibility…

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In this latest poll none but the two big parties (SD and SDS) received more than four percent of the vote. Which is odd. More likely, it is incorrect. These results are not corroborated in any of the existing polls – not even the one commisioned by the government. So I’m wondering: didn’t anyone at Interstat (they’re TV SLO’s pollsters) double-check the results or were they too busy tweaking them to make sure SDS comes out on top, to notice that they were getting a completely distorted picture in the lower part of the chart…

In any case, a problematic poll. Hence, no pengovsky’s projection today. Tommorow we’ll have more serious data to work with.