Zoran Janković Marks Two Years in Power

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.

22 projects

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.

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15 thoughts on “Zoran Janković Marks Two Years in Power”

  1. “quality of life in the city is slowly starting to improve”

    How do you define that quality, and what has improved, from your perspective?

  2. Well, one example provided (and that I agree with) is the closing of parts of downtown to vehicle traffic. It never made sense to me why there should be cars and buses going every which way in the heart of the city. The mix of people hanging out in the square + tourists gawking at the church + taxis + the speeding #20 Fuzine never made sense to me.

  3. @kejt:

    First and foremost – closure of the city centre for traffic. This created a new meeting place for citizens and visitors and almost completely connected central market to Tivoli (Cankareva cesta from Joe Penas pub to National gallery being the missing link).

    I still find myself running for pavement when I step onto the Three Bridges and have to remind myself constantly that I can actually walk in the middle of the road.

    Secondly: Not that I’m a regular customer, but the fact that Kinodvor is back in action is very welcome, I take it.

    Thirdly: City buses are getting more and more comfortable (not that they wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Janković), some lines are extended, other redirected, and for the most part people welcomed that.

    Fourth: “Vrtički”, the little plots of land which are occupied semi-legally or even illegaly. Jankovič is getting rid of those.

    Fifth: Rakova Jelša area – where houses were built illegally and are therefore without sewage. He is fixing that as well.

    So I define quality of life as a mix of enviromental, cultural and transport factors and we are getting somewhere. We’re not there yet (I would support closure of the entire city cente for traffic and implementation of a congestion tax, for example), but it’s a start.

    @lisa: I couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

  4. Humm, Mr. P, an essential element is missing from the closing of the overview. But in any case, whether he runs again or not, I hope most of the projects will be implemented to the pleasure of all, regardless of their party allegiance.

  5. Having been only a temporary resident of LJ in the past seven years (ok, I’m not counting the two upcoming months, but who cares how long I’ve been coming to Slovenija anyway :wink:), I can say that things only have begun to change in the past two years. I’m aware – thanks, P – that these projects weren’t his ideas, but indeed, he got some done already and seems to be doing more. I, for one, am very, VERY pleased with Presernov Trg, Tromostovje and Wolfova Ulica being closed for traffic, as it makes the center even more appealing. After all, I like my pomarancni sok at Planet Plocnik (or whatever it’s called these days :razz:) without added lead and other petrol based particles. :mrgreen: LJ center is not that bad to get around in without a car, which was always appealing to me.

    I can’t speak of the other projects, but I do know – again, thanks to P’s blogging – that the vrticki were an eyesore, not to mention an environmentally questionable phenomenon, so I’m glad it’s being dealt with.

    Something that struck me personally and you might find laughable, was the ‘let’s clean up the city together’ ad campaign I encountered last year. It had Zoki’s name under it, encouraging the Ljubljanchans – and visitors who at least grasp a bit of Slovene 😉 – to keep the city clean by appealing to their own sense of responsibility towards the city they live in/visit. As far as I know, there wasn’t any political motive for this, but I know that if I lived in a city where a mayor who at least is trying to make good on several of his promises would launch such a campaign, I would be doing my bit. He could just as easily have raised taxes and let the city council take care of the garbage with more means (the Belgian way), keeping the streets clean and the people unhappy because they had to pay even more taxes, but instead he made a concerted effort to have the LJ residents do their bit in a non patronising and unifying manner. That may of course be my naive outlook on the thing, but it struck me in a positive way as soon as I saw it and Zoki gets major points from me for that campaign.

  6. @Mr. P: I suppose that you do not, but from the passage it would seem that you assume the current Mayor will run in the next elections. Possible, possibly even probable, but not certain by far.

    In view of the above and what I’ve seen over the years I believe, although possibly mistakenly, that Zoki is driven by other forces than your ‘average’ Mayor and re-election is not high on the list of motives.

  7. @P:
    I agree with you re: those points.

    My main concern however remains – traffic.

    Traffic congestions… I’m glad I don’t have to use car or buses when going downtown. I know this one is a tough nut, and that certain progress has been made, but the only real means of getting over that traffic shit is, in my view, city train, using the existing railway paths. I hope there will emerge the way to solve that!

    “Stebrički” on cycling tracks – e.g. Gosposvetska, Kavarna Evropa — that’s gross. I’m a cyclist and find them dangerous, though I know they’re there because of the cars – but cars still manage to avoid them and get on the pavement…

    Tivoli park parties… well… Umek just don’t belong there. Heard rumors that Mayor personally allowed them to extend the length of the party that night. If that’s true, I don’t find it ok.

    Then there is something not necessarily within the realm of the Municipality… The police attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists. I had problems with a police officer once because of cycling on Hribarjevo nabrežje (I stopped to tell the officer of a taxi-driver improperly parked there, but almost got punished myself, because, officially, cycling on “Nabrežje” is not allowed… yak).

    And then the last thing. SUVs should be banned from the city centre.

  8. @dr. fil: I stand corrected. Indeed, Janković publicly said that he does not know yet if he will stand for re-election.

    @kejt: Re traffic. Yes, a lot more has to be done, but I really don’t think a tram woud be a good idea. Why not battery powered buses? I mean, once you lay down track for a tram, it’s mighty hard to re-locate them, wheras you can change bus lines almost at will

    Besides – I’m all for entirely closing city centre for traffic and/or charging a congestion tax

    This would also in large part eliminate the need for unsighlty columns (stebrički) on Gosposvetska and the likes

    as for mayor’s style of running the city (like “personally” allowing stuff to happen), there is a lot of bluff there, but I agree that from time to time he may be taking his this-is-my-turf-attitude a bit too far.

  9. I was thinking about having the existing railway lines serve the purpose of local daily migrations. Like, almost everything is already here (except The Will – but it’s the SŽ having problems with the idea, isn’t that so?). It takes 5 minutes from Polje or Glinškova ploščad to reach the centre using the train. At 8 a.m., weekdays – how long does it take to cover the same distance by car or by bus? 🙂 But from that point on, nothing comes along to support that option. Bus connections from / to train stations are lousy, etc.

    Agree on closing the whole city centre +/or congestion taxes.

  10. @kejt: Point. Actually, the new traffic strategy is being drafted right now, but according to mayor’s estimates it will take a decade to completely all the traffic woes.

    @DearDeer: No dice. Too small a city.

  11. I don’t believe in Ljubljana subway.
    Pointless Utopia.
    Railway (+ connections via bus) is the way.

    Trains should accommodate cyclists as well. Nowadays, cyclists on trains are almost condemned. A colleague of mine got *thrown* outta train because she refused to pay the fee for her collapsable carry-under-arm-put-under-seat mini-bicycle on a short-relation train trip (there is a flat-rate ticket to have your bicycle on train, regardless of the length of your trip).

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