Friendly Fire

Last Monday Slovene Parliament again voted on the 2007 Annual Account, which – as you will remember – was confirmed in its original form regardless of the fact that the Court of Audit found that the Account wrongly presents a budgetary surplus rather than a deficit which Janša’s government created really. However. Since the former PM started sulking and threatened to boycott all votes until the Account is passed in the original form, the current government bit the bullet and quickly gave in. The reason? It needed Janša’s votes to ratify Croatian entry into NATO.

The Two Amigos

The speed at which Borut Pahor‘s government swallowed its pride astonished many. One minute there they were, tearing apart Janez Janša‘s handling of public finances and using creative accounting techniques, whereas the next minute they were told they’ll have to support it for the greater good. You can imagine it didn’t go down well with them. In fact, some people went positively apeshit. Understandably so. The memory of Dimitrij Rupel being resurrected from the political oblivion is still very much fresh, as are attempts of cuddling with the opposition in some sort of partnership, as if running the coalition was not difficult enough. And now this. Somewhat surprisingly though, the most fiery piece of criticism came from a somewhat unexpected direction. Slavko Ziherl, the man who resigned over Rupel wrote an open letter to PM Borut Pahor (pengovsky goes: “sounds familiar?“) where, among other things, he wrote:

Why do I write this? Because I want to benevolently warn you of the current political situation, which you – partly because of your good will – don’t see for what it really is. Because I want you to be my and our prime minister at least until 2012. Because I’m afraid that you will not last until then because you are paving the way for Janez Janša to regain power.

…and goes on to add…

They say that a mature person doesn’t feel the need to please everyone. It is enough for one to be respected by those close to him/her. It is especially important for a person in a leading position to be aware of that. Among Slovenian leaders you are the most important one at this moment. Had you realised this you’d have shown your maturity and political wisdon. Had you realised that. But as things stand, you produce exactly the opposite effect by looking for consensus with Janez Janša and at the same time neglecting your coalition partners. You are the laughing stock for Janša and his lot, you’re publicly making a fool of yourself, all the while losing support of us, who are your political companions and who share common liberal and human values.
Proof of this is Janša blackmailing you with the 2007 Annual Account.

Ouch. Very ouch. This was probably the most scorching attack from within on a Prime Minister in the history of independent Slovenia. And – truth be said – a lot of what is written (I’ve only quoted a couple of sentences) is true. Especially Pahor’s obsession with bi-partisanship and compromise, which often does leave us wondering just who the hell won the elections really.

However. As is usual in such cases, the letter says just as much about the person who wrote it. And in my opinion the letter shows a level of political naiveté usually seen only in the Peoples’ Party (SLS). Yes, Pahor was way too cosy with Janša. Yes, he is a bit to eager in trying to come across as a generally likeable guy. But he didn’t become the PM just because of that. Apparently, when push comes to a shove he is able to distinguish between long-term political objectives and petty politicking, a distinction which seems to be lost on Ziherl.

Namely: by giving in to Janša’s demands over Annual Account, Pahor took the issue off the table before it grew into a serious political problem. Moreover, he secured ratification of Croatian NATO entry, which was vital if Slovenia is to maintain a status of a credible partner in the border dispute, effectively saying “yes, we have a beef with Croatia, but we won’t let it endanger international security”. Sure, Janša scored a late goal in that particular game and Pahor has only himself to blame, but instead of being dumbfounded he quickly adapted to the new situation, weighed the odds and decided that losing face in Slovenia is preferable to losing face internationally.

The new PM, seems to have learned his lesson, however. He answered Ziherl’s open letter/blog entry with an open letter/website post of his own.

Don’t get me wrong. Political unity at any price is a funny illusion. Almost a dangerous one. According to their different mandates, people in a democratic society have different roles and responsibilities. My readiness to consult and even cooperate with political rivals never has nor ever will circumvent relevant institutions or roles we hold within these institutions. Afterall, we’ve had experience with this. So far, we’ve had four opposition/coalition agreements and none of them ever destabilised our legal and political system. They have, however, contributed to easier attainment of great goals. Goals we might not have reached had there not been for such cooperation.

..and adds

Your letter is critical of me. My position requires me to accept criticism as an everyday occurrence. I do not expect congratulations. My work in politics has always been and remains to be the belief that what I do, I do for common good

A lot of naivete there as well, one might say. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that what we are seeing is a carefully crafted image of a seemingly bi-partisan PM, who is actually rather ruthless in achieving his political goals which may or may not be those of his coalition. Be that as it may, one wonders why did Ziherl write the letter in the first place. It’s not as if we learned anything new. Furthermore, since Ziherl resigned his post and quit the government because of Rupel, he already said that he will have nothing to do with Pahor’s cabinet. Pahor noted the objection and moved on, appearing somewhat arrogant. But now, it is Ziherl who comes across as a slightly spoiled brat who will do anything to get attention.


Unless the true target of this letter is not Borut Pahor. Ziherl appears to have gone rouge rogue and wrote the letter without consulting the party. Which is all fine and dandy, had it not been for the small matter of him being LDS vice-president. Which automatically gives his letter an air of an official party line. Which LDS president Katarina Kresal was quick to deny, saying that the party has no position on the issue. Which in turn means, that she is having difficulties controling party’s top echelon. And again, we are faced with two most likely explanations. Either Ziherl is so politically naive that he is not aware of consequences of his actions, or this is a part of a plot to remove Katarina Kresal as LDS president. Could it be that she has outlived her usefulness?

Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to the Croatia NATO vote? The threat of a referendum still exists. Even more, the National Council (the sort-of-but-not-entirely second chamber) is threatening to veto the ratification, which would require yet another vote by the MPs, again needing a two-thirds majority. And after that, the SLS is threatening to call a referendum, unless the parliament passes a motion saying that Slovenia does not recognise any and all Croatian legislation which violates Slovenian sovereignty. Pengovsky will, however, debate the idiocy of these ideas if and when they become a reality.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

7 thoughts on “Friendly Fire”

  1. @Mr. P: “gone rouge” is a lovely conceit but I suspect you meant “gone rogue”?


  2. Whoa… Ziherl sounds like Bert Anciaux. Only, Anciaux would have stayed because he likes to be in a power position and vent from there. I’m surprised Pahor gave it the time of day. Given the current situation over here and now reading this (and everything about the Pahor cabinet prior to it), I have a feeling the current political generation appears a lot less experienced in doing politics than their predecessors, no matter which country you seem to live in (except Russia, that is, where it’s business as usual after a decade or so of more liberal government, even though it’s not typified as ‘communism’ anymore).

    Anyway, the comparison between Ziherl and Anciaux isn’t that far fetched, as they both are members of a party that make statements out of left field and as such, create a lot of difficulty for their party’s image. This could lead to internal struggle being fought out in the open, which in turn could lead to the party’s downfall come election time. That’s what’s happening over here (also because SP.a, Anciaux’ new party-to-wreck, looks like it’s out of ideas and is putting up very weak opposition), I hope it won’t happen to you because I can assure you it’ll be a right great mess…

  3. Well, inexperience certainly does play a role here. Especially in case of LDS where (on the surface at least) there are a lot of new kids on the block.

    But I don’t see how it could get any worse for LDS, short of them dropping out of the picture altogether, which – I’m sure – would not bring a single tear to the eye either of Pahor’s Social Democrats or Golobič’s Zares.

    Provided, of course, that we are indeed witnessing preliminaries to a power struggle.

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