On Monday Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković marked his second anniversary of assuming office. He was popular and controversial at the same time even while he served as CEO of Mercator, but was removed from position slightly less then a year after Janez Janša won the 2004 elections. He took the dimisal very personally, even more so when it transpired that his removal was a part of a secret (and oft denied) deal between then PM Janez Janša and CEO of Laško brewery Boško Šrot to allow the latter to finalise the MBO of Laško brewery and buy Mercator under the table, while ceeding control of Delo daily to Janša and his yesmen. Zoran Janković wanted to join in on the political fun and decided to run for mayor of Ljubljana in 2006 municipal elections. He won in a landslide, getting 63 percent of the vote in the first round and was sworin in on 17 November 2006.
Two years have seen Zoran Janković rise from a powerful CEO to one of Slovenia’s few political forces that actually have to be reckoned with. Not only does he have the ear of former president Milan Kučan who apparently privately advises the mayor on occasion. He has also shown that he intends to fly his own colours and while professing similar ideology to that of Slovene left, he has on occasion broken rank with parties which later went on to form The Trio (SD, LDS and Zares). His influence in the city he runs is such that presidential candidates and political parties alike have flocked to him for support prior to the elections.
One of the reasons for Janković’s victory were the twenty-two projects, for which he set out an exact timetable, with the new Ljubljana football stadium in Stožice area being the centrepiece of his platform (and a sybol of two failed mayors before Janković). The trick is, that none of these project are his. They are old or adapted project which have been around for years, some even decades. What Zoran Janković did, was that he put them together, packacged them neatly and sold them to the voters.
His sucess will be measured by the timetable he himslef set. In that respect mayor Janković is behind schedule laid out by candidate Janković. It is also true that mayor Janković knows things candidate Jankovič could not have known and which made a somewhat reality check with some projects. However, fact of the matter is that things are making headway. Construction sites are being opened, longterm strategic urban plan is about to be passed, quality of life in the city is slowly starting to improve. Not that it was all that bad to start with, but closing the city centre for traffic was a major step forward and the pedestrian zone is about to be expanded.
On the other hand, the push forward took many by surprise. Almost without exceptions the 22 projects have given birth to one or more grass-roots groups which have opposed mayor’s plans. They soon started to follow an established pattern. The groups claimed that the mayor was creating a fait acompli by building first and asking questions later, while mayor Janković claims that these groups suffer from a clear case on NIMBY syndrome. So far the mayor has prevailed, but he will have to work on discipation of this resentment as well.
A special issue are his plans to overhaul locations designed by Jože Plečnik, most notably the Central Market and the Bežigrad Stadium. Here the government intervened on a couple of occasions – to the joy of some and to dismay of others and different architectural visions have clashed. And while renovation of Central Market seems certain (complete with an underground garage), Bežigrad stadium is far more dicey and at this stage it looks as if enterpreneur Joc Pečečnik, the private investor might get burned in the project. Also, another completely private project, the new Kolizej building in downtown Ljubljana is extremely controversial, both in terms of size as well as design and it is far from certain that it will actually be built.
I’m your worst nightmare
Mayor Janković is in the eyes of some plowing through Ljubljana with a delicacy of a buldozer on steroids. In the eyes of others, however, he was the kick in the ass this city badly needed. The latter still seem to be in the majority, but it is anyone’s bet if his enormous popularity will hold. At the end of last year he got an 80% approval rating. His approachable persona and extremely well-honed PR skills have made him a formidable enemy to the government of Janez Janša, which – seeing that he just might get elected – tried to discredit him with a poorly timed smear campaign. The result was that Janković shot way above the 50% needed to win the election, as did his list of candidates for city councilors. He thus enjoys a rare luxury of having an absolute majority of 23 councilors in a 45-member city council. As such he doesn’t have to form coalitions, making his political life infinitely easier.
Rather than removing an unwanted CEO, the outgoing PM Janez Janša facilitated the creation of a rallying point of Slovene political left, ulimately leading to his removal from power. Janković’s political position was strengthened by the fact that the government chose to funds for municipalities in such a way that benefited rural areas where it got more vote, depriving the city of Ljubljana of some 57 million euros. This created a massive wave of resentment, which Janković used masterfully. On election day 2008 it became clear that he delivered Ljubljana, so to speak. Ljubljanchans answered his calls for a massive turnout and gave that final push needed for Borut Pahor‘s Social Democrats to outperform Janez Janša’s SDS. The price: give Ljubljana back its 57 million euros.
Fall from grace
Politically speaking, Janković put a lot of eggs in one basket by building on these 57 million euros. The new PM designate Borut Pahor has already said that the unjustice Ljubljana suffered has to be undone, but that the specifics of this must yet be worked out. In political speak this means that just giving back the money is more or less out of the question. Besides, there is an economic crisis looming. Mayor Janković does have an ace up his sleave. Months ago the city filed a suit against the state for unlawfully depriving it of funds and it could be that there is a tacit agreement between Pahor and Janković to see the case through. If the court rules in favour of the city, then the state has legal cover to cough up the money. It has to. If however, the court finds in favour of the state, there is still the Law on Nation’s Capital City, which stipulates that the city of Ljubljana enjoys a special status (but does not specify that status). So ammending the law and putting in some bacon might just do the trick.
In any case, mayor Zoran Janković, who in his two years did more to develop the city that previous four mayors did in the last 16 years put together, is now facing a far more daunting task: Finishing his projects in spite of the economic crisis as well as proving to his fellow citizens that opposint Janez Janša and supporting the left was not in vain. Given his performance to date he can do it, but it definitely not a given. And while in the end he will be cut more slack than he claims he needs, his is a daunting task and the votes will show no mercy if on election day in 2010 they think he underpeformed. However, in order for Janković to be voted out of office, an equaly charismatic figure must appear on the city scene to oppose him, Right now, there is none. But that’s not saying much.