100 Days of Pahor’s Government

Sunday will mark the 100th day of Borut Pahor‘s government. In case you didn’t know, the “tradition” of giving the government a 100 days to get its shit in order actually started with FDR and his New Deal and given the current economic situation the comparison is not entirely out of place. So what did the new government bring us us in their first hundred days?

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ECONOMY

Definitely no FDR-like ramming of anti-crisis legislation through the parliament. Not that one would expect that in this day and age, but for all the talk of ingenious outside-of-the-box solutions, the government provided us with a conventional package of various economic stimuli combined with curbing of public spending. Not that this is bad per se, but if you look around and see that everyone else is doing exactly the same thing and getting nowhere, PM’s optimistic statements about Slovenia making it through the crisis relatively unscratched seem slightly out of place.

The problem of course is that Pahor’s government has little or no leverage over the causes of this crisis so it is largely restricted to soothing its consequences. It would be awfully nice if it could do some restructuring in the mean time, like shifting from work-intensive to high-tech and innovation industry. Indeed that was one of the premises on which this government was elected. Obviously such a quantum leap cannot be achieved in eleven weeks, especially if one takes into consideration the social aspects of the shift, but things will have to start happening in that department as well.

But even as things stand it seems that there was some initial pussyfooting about how to tackle the crisis as if the government was afraid that it would do too much instead of too little. Luckily the crisis will be deeper and longer than anyone initially thought, so there will be plenty of time for unconventional solutions (note the sarcasm).

HOME TURF

Turning to pure politics, the first hundred days of Pahor’s government were pure rock and roll. So far his inauguration speech remains the high point of his tenure which should set off at least some alarm bells. Instead of a clean break with some of the most stale appendages of previous government including (but not limited to) Dimitrij Rupel. Borut Pahor may have adhered to the old adage of keeping your friends close and keeping your enemies closer, but the fallout over Rupel far exceeded the troubles the former foreign minister could have made if he were cut loose.

However, it is somewhat amazing that although – in terms of votes in the parliament – this is not the weakest coalition in history, the government continually seems to be on the brink of collapse. On one hand this has to do with the fact that former PM JanÅ¡a run an extremely tight ship and although his competence as PM was questionable at best, the control he exercised kept up the appearance of at least mildly capable government. Until things started seriously falling apart. The current government, however, is made of different stuff.

Even though he is the nominal leader of the coalition, Borut Pahor is definitely not the authoritarian his predecessor was. He wants to come across as an assertive kind of guy, but his authority is constantly challenged. Which is alright, since this is a coalition government. The problem is that the PM refuses to acknowledge challenges from within the coalition yet at the same time readily seeks compromise with the opposition, sometimes even before an agreement has been reached within the coalition. Naturally, this does not go down well with the rest of The Quartet (save Karl Erjavec who seems to have learned his lesson) and is fueling rumours of Pahor and Janša looking to form a grand coalition.

However, the danger of this happening seems to have averted, for the time being at least, as the opposition filed an interpellation against interior minister Katarina Kresal for starting to settle the Erased issue. This obviously strengthened the coalition, and put a daylight between them and the opposition. It is not known how long this rekindled love will last, however.

BTW: The Erasure happened on this day, exactly seventeen years ago.

FOREIGN POLICY

Here too the record is definitely not in Pahor’s favour. Much was written on this blog about Slovenia blocking Croatian EU bid and the referendum on Croatian NATO entry, so we won’t go over it again. Both seem to have gone haywire and are a classic example of foreing policy being only an extension of domestic policy. It should be noted, however, that there is one not-so-minor success which PM Pahor did achieve and which shows that Pahor knows his way around diplomatic parquet. He managed to persuade Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi to keep one million euros earmarked for Slovenian minority in Italy in the budget. This might seem an insignificant issue, but until now most Slovenian governments have been incapable of doing anything much for the minority. At the very least Pahor kept things from worsening – and did it in a five-minute chit-chat with Berlusconi in Brussels.

MEDIA

Since pengovsky made a big deal about JanÅ¡a’s mistreatment of the media it is obvious that he’ll keep a close eye on how the new government goes about it. Minister of culture Majda Å irca (media are in her porfolio) initially made some encouraging noises but things have been awfully quiet since. In the mean time, we’ve seen the continuation of some unacceptable pratices on the public television, such as the PM appearing alone in the studio without anyone from the opposition to counter him. Perhaps this will change soon, but if it doesn’t, hopes for RTVSLO becoming the new BBC are not good, even though Pahor publicly said that his government will work towards that goal.

Not that others are helping. Days ago the national radio ran a live talk-show where a journalist hosted two pundits on the Slovenia/Croatia issue. Apparently Ivo Vajgl. chairman of the foreign relations committee was listening and was so annoyed with what he thought was a completely wrong analysis by one of the pundits that he called in and corrected him. According to Vajgl he first called the editor of the show and asked for permission, but that does not make it any better.

Things like that should not happen. Ever. No matter what Vajgl’s motives were he would be well advised to quickly apologize, both publicly as well as personally to the people involved, starting with the journalist and the two pundits. Next, I think the editor should be fired for allowing the call to be put through, because it was he who failed to protect the integrity of the show.

I have much faith in Vajgl and I’m almost positive that this was a momentary lapse of judgement, but the transgression is a big one. An old Slovene adage says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can’t have politicians calling in or showing up in studios all over the country uninvited and telling everyone else what’s right and what’s wrong. This is one of the reasons JanÅ¡a’s lot were voted out of office.

TO SUM IT UP

The first hundred days of Pahor’s government have been intensive. Economic crisis, blocking Croatian EU bid, being set up with the referendum on Croatian NATO entry and an interpellaton of a minister would be a mouthful for any governemnt. But – as I’ve said time and again – the Quartet was elected because it promised to do the job better than the other guys. Hic Rhodos, hic salta.

With this in mind Pahor’s government can get a passing grade for its first hundred days in power, but that’s it. Especially since there are problems which the government and the PM are creating for themselves, like the Rupel thing or coalition parties trying to outfox each other. And then there’s Pahor’s incessant bi-partisanship which somethimes still makes one wonder just who the hell won the elections.

All People Are Equal But Some Are More Equal Than Others

Everyone has the right to compensation for damage caused through unlawful actions in connection with the performance of any function or other activity by a person or authority performing such function or activity within a state or local community authority or as a bearer of public authority.Any person suffering damage has the right to demand, in accordance with the law, compensation also directly from the person or authority that has caused such damage.

Article 26 of the Slovenian constitution (chapter II, human rights and fundamental freedoms)

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Branko “Gizmo” Grims in action

Yesterday, Janez JanÅ¡a’s SDS filed into the parliamentary procedure a proposal for a constitutional law amending the Basic Constitutional Charter on the Sovereignty and Independence of the Republic of Slovenia – the act which set the basic principles of Slovenia’s relation with what was until then Yugoslavia. Among other things this act provided for the continuation of the rule of law after the declaration of independence and also set the basic rules regarding citizenship and/or permanent residence.

SDS, spearheaded by none else than Branko “Gizmo” Grims, the party’s chief attack dog and Goebbels wannabe, want the new constitutional law to provide for two basic things:

-that those Erased who already got the decisions reinstating them to their status of permanent residence be subject to re-examination of their status and

-that none of them should be eligible for any compensation or damages stemming from the erasure and that they were not eligible for any benefits from the time of the erasure to present, making the Erased an exception to Article 26 of the Constitution.

There are a few other SDS-like provisions, my favourite is the one about the public prosecutors being bound to initiate, within one year, re-examination of any and all decisions on legal residence if they are informed in any way, shape or form, of circumstances that could constitute a breach of the law. Meaning that a simple anonymous mail would suffice for the Erased to have to go through the entire ordeal again.

However, this was just the prelude. As you know, SDS also filed an interpellation of interior minister Katarina Kresal for issuing decisions on restoration of status of permanent residence to the Erased. They said that they would withdraw the interpellation if the ruling coalition would support the constitutional law, which – incidentally – must be passed with a double two-thirds majority. First it must be approved by a two-thirds majority on the Committee for Constitution and then by the parliament in a plenary session.

Normally, this manoeuvre wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. However, given PM Pahor’s chronic bi-partisanship there is real danger of him entertaining thoughs of humouring SDS yet again. Hopefully, he realises that last time around it was he who needed the two-thirds majority whereas today it is SDS which needs those votes.

They shouldn’t be allowed to succeed. While circumventing a decision of the Constitutional court by changing the constitution is legal, this would establish two classes of citizens and quite literally put into the constitution that all people are equal, but some are more equal than others.

PM Borut Pahor has given his full backing to Katarina Kresal. He’d better stick to his guns. Because if that support waivers for as much as a second, his coalition might fall apart sooner than you can say “inauguration speech“. Doubly so if he starts making noises towards cutting yet another deal with Janez JanÅ¡a.

Some would have you think that he is contemplating the ultimate deal.

Have We Learned Nothing?

Yesterday a year passed since Janez DrnovÅ¡ek passed away. The good doctor has a beautiful post on this, where she also touches the other hot topic of this week – the Erased. Specifically, she has a lot to say about Mlada Slovenija, the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija.

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The late President Drnovšek in Ambrus, December 2006 (source)

A memory-jogging exercise: Nova Slovenija (NSi) was one of the junior partners in the Janez JanÅ¡a‘s goverment. It held various portfolios, finance and justice being the two most important for today’s post. Nova Slovenija was wiped off the electoral map in last year’s elections. It didn’t even make it past the 4 percent threshold. There are numerous reasons for that, but the bottom line is that the party which only four months ago was the second most powerful party in the coalition has now joined the ranks of Party of Slovene Nation, National Labour Party, Lipa, The Republicans (go figure), The Communist Party, Clean Drinking Water List and many other parties which linger at the outer limits of Slovene political arena.

This might go some way in explaining why the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija (self-described as Christian People’s Party) issued a statement saying that “instead of being given to the Erased, money should be transfered to students who need it more” (Slovene only). Also, it helps to know that ministry of the interior today started issuing decisions to some of the Erased, legalising their status as legal aliens with permanent residence in Slovenia since February 1992.

NSi of course is not the only political party to go apeshit. Had it not been for some other factors (given below), their rant would go almost unnoticed, especially since SDS the largest opposition party (or, some would say, coalition party), filed an interpellation (a bill of impeachment, for those of you in the US) against interior minister Katarina Kresal. The fact that SDS did it on the same day as decision started being issued proves that they were planing ahead (unlike some people…. I’m looking at you, Borut!). However, not to be outdone, KK already issued a rebuttal. And – adding insult to injury – she did it on Facebook, one of the many tools of 21st century SDS still has to master.

Basically, SDS and NSi are saying that decisions are laying a foundation for the Erased to claim massive damages from the state, thus endangering the state of public finances.. Aside from the interpellation, SDS again proved it does understand parliamentary rules and procedures and filed a constitutional law (basically, a change of the constitution), which would prevent the Erased from claiming back-pay for the time their status was unlawfully revoked.

Holy shit! Not even pengovsky is capable of such cynicism! Claiming that someone should not be able to sue the state because the coffers are empty is nothing less than a complete denial of the rule of law. What are we doing here? Saying that you can only sue the state if you are bound to lose? What’s next? Opposition saying that noone should get their overpaid taxes returned because it would endanger public finances?

Guys, I realise you’re the opposition now and that with this PM you can get away with pretty much anything, but… really? Have you no decency? Have you really fallen that low? I mean, curbing basic human rights in the name of economic crisis is just bad sport. It shows you lack both the courage and the intelligence to come up with a persuasive argument against settling the Erased problem, which has been imposed upon more than 25.000 people seventeen years ago!

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The political right has ridden the wave of hatred, nationalism and ethnic superiority for quite some time now. in 2006 this exploded in anti-Roma riots in village Ambrus, where JanÅ¡a’s government succumbed to the mob and evicted a Roma family because the Slovenian majority didn’t want them there any more, although the Roma owned the land. There was pitchforks, riot police, bonfires and the whole shebang.

The Erased are only a big piece of an even bigger mosaic of paranoid nationalism. Rumours have it that a large anti-Muslim gathering is being organised to protest the construction of Ljubljana mosque. And then people ask how come a group of football hooligans with a deficiency in basic reasoning and a strong anti-Croatian sentiment can hold entire NATO by the balls.

On Christmas Day 2006 the late President Janez DrnovÅ¡ek tried to help the then almost-evicted Roma family by delivering food, clothes and shelter. Regardless of his position and without a shred of respect or decency he was stopped by a mob of local villagers, who forbade him (him, the commander-in-chief!) to deliver the relief material, because they decided that the Roma family, freezing near the burnt remains of their house, doesn’t need the help and would leave soon if denied it.

President DrnovÅ¡ek took on the mob (video, Slovene only), telling them that although they call themselves Christian, they don’t have a shred of Christianity in them because they would rather leave women and children freeze and starve than help them. Slightly more than two years later, NSi is calling for another group of second-class citizens to be denied their basic human rights. Seems like NSi as well is Christian only in name and not in the spirit.

Apparently, a lot of people learned nothing from President Drnovšek. May whichever god they believe in have mercy on their souls. I, for one, have none left.

Will Someone Please Shut Ivo Sanader Up? He Is Not Helping…

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The ratification process is over for us, after Greece ratified the Croatian NATO accession protocol on Tuesday night (..) NATO cannot wait to see if anyone in Slovenia would ask for a referendum and I expect the Slovene president will sign the ratification document.

Croatian PM Ivo Sanader in Ankara, Turkey, 18 February 2009

The above statement shows that Croatian PM is still painfully unaware of the fact that the only road to NATO leads through Slovenia. Croatia will not become a NATO member unless Slovenia completes the ratification procedure which – as of yesterday – looks set to include a referendum on the issue.

These are facts which cannot be avoided and Croatian PM would do a great service to his country if he would shut the fuck up and stop provoking idiots on both sides of the border. One of the (admittedly) more petty reasons for Slovene Nazi-wannabes to cook up this referendum shit is the continuous (and I mean non-stop) behaviour of consecutive Croatian governments as if Slovenia didn’t exist. I agree that grown-ups in Ljubljana should be able to brush off childish comments by Croatian PM, but by making them he is only proving the point proponents of referendum are trying to make and is making life all the more difficult for his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor, whose ruling coalition is bending over backwards to build some sort of fragile consensus which would make SSN (Party of Slovene nation, the Nazi-wannabes) withdraw the referendum proposition.

Instead of lecturing Slovenians that they are too unimportant to bother Croatia, PM Sanader would do well to restrain himself to phrases of him having “complete confidence in the ability of Slovenian voters to discern between questions of international security and bilateral issues between the two countries” or something like that.

Not that there is any guarantee that Slovenian voters will be able to discern between the two. Yesterday Slovene parliament adopted a declaration saying that Slovenia controlled all disputed border areas and that any Croatian legislation to the contrary is null and void.

Despite the seemingly hawkish text of the resolution, this has only limited value, since a) Croatian legislation is invalid in Slovenia anyway (we have our own legislation) and b) once the border is settled, there will be no disputed areas where a conflict of legislations could occur. This did not go unnoticed in Zagreb, where the foreign ministry was quick to say that the resolution has no international ramifications. Which was precisely the point. Strong wording of the resolution, however, did not yield the desired result. Marjan Podobnik did back down, saying that he was satisfied with what was achieved, but that left the SSN and its president Zdenko V. Vincenc, the formal petitioner for the referendum, who is making additional demands, saying that Slovenia should demand Croatia dismantles one of the disputed border crossings.

As I write this, PM Borut Pahor is making an 11th hour attempt at persuading Vincenc to back down. Personally, I think he has very little chance of success, but who knows, maybe Vincenc will get it into his thick nationalistic head of his that he is hurting rather than helping Slovenia with his antics. Why?

-Because the referendum would portray Slovenia as an unreliable member of NATO with little regard for international security.
-Because Slovenia will have lost credibility in blocking Croatian EU negotiations, where it does have legitimate concerns
-Because if Croatia and Albania don’t make it into NATO, then the whole NATO enlargement process is stalled at the very moment when it should actually pick up pace and start including the rest of Balkan countries
-Because if NATO does not integrate the Balkan states, war will break out again in 15 years.

EDIT: Talks between Pahor and Vincenc have collapsed, with Vincenc resigning as SSN president, citing health reasons and pressure. The referendum is still on, in line with the decision of party council. This is starting to look like a cat-and-mouse game and I’m beginning to think that someone else is running the show, with SSN acting like stooges.

Will Vajgl Beat The Clock?

The government of Borut Pahor (who, BTW, has already earned the nickname Borat) found itself in a race against time as the ratification of Croatian NATO membership was sabotaged by Podobnik & Co. yesterday.

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Ivo Vajgl, the man who has to come up with a plan (source)

Since 2500 signatures appear to have been filed correctly, president of the parliament Pavle Gantar must declare a 35-day period for the proponents of the referendum to collect 40.000 signatures which would require the parliament to declare a referendum on the issue. The thing is that almost no one in top echelons of Slovene politics wants a referendum, save Zmago Jelinčič of SNS, but the extent to which he counts as top echelon is debatable.

Croatia and Albania (where the Prez is visiting these days, incidentally) were supposed to be welcomed to NATO on 3 April, requiring member states to deposit ratification documents with the US government no later than 23 March. Which means that the signature collecting period would have to start today, which is legally impossible. It can start tomorrow at the earliest. Thus, we are faced with three possible scenarios:

1. There is some sort of agreement reached today and Podobnik backs down

This is what Pahor’s government is aiming. According to Delo daily, the coalition left it to Ivo Vajgl, the president of the foreign relations committee to broker a deal. The thing is that Podobnik demands that parliament passes a resolution citing three specifing border areas where Slovenia will not compromise on. He doesn’t seem to understand that this implicity means that Slovenia is willing to compromise on everything else. A similarly disastrous mistake was made by Dimitrij Rupel in early 1990s when he said, referring to Italy, that Slovenia is willing to negotiate on anyting but borders . And Italy said “fine, let’s re-negotiate Osimo treaty“.

Additionally, even if the parliament gives in to Podobnik’s demands, there’s no guarantee he’ll back down. He is not really what one might call a reliable party.

2. The signature-collectign period is declared, but Podobnik fails

If the first scenario fails, this one isn’t very likely, because you will always find 40k morons in this country who think that they have to take it out on Croatia no matter what. Additionally, is signature collecting starts, things will get ugly, with PM Pahor actively discouraging people from signing, whereas the opposition will probably be split, with SDS abstaining, not willing to help Pahor, but unable do support the referendum since they supported the ratification. The nationalistic-bordering-on-neo-Nazi element will be excited to the point of continuous multiple orgasm and it will be very hard to keep the heads cool on both sides of the border.

But in case Podobnik does fail and does not collect 40k signatures until 24 March, he sill has a week to present the results, which means that Slovenia will be able to send ratification papers to Washington no sooner than 2 April. In time for the NATO Summit, but whether this could affect the accession timetable is unknown at this time.

3. Podobnik succeeds and the referendum is actually held

Then the result is anybody’s guess. At the moment public opinion polls show that most people support Croatian NATO entry, but the problem with referendums in Slovenia is that the turnout is frighteningly low. Usually in the low thirties percent-wise, but – as you will no doubt remember – the referendum on regions saw only 11% turnout.

With such small turnout numbers it is impossible to say what would happen if the referendum is actually held. Furthermore, even with the shortest of time-tables the referendum cannot be held sooner than the first half of May, which basically puts Croatian and Albanian NATO entry off for at least six months.

The negative effects of a referendum would be numerous, but more on that tomorrow.