Slovenia Ratifies Croatian NATO Entry


Yesterday Slovenian President Danilo Türk signed the Law on ratification of Croatian entry into NATO. This ended almost two months of speculation which started after Janez Janša refused to support the entry if the coalition didn’t support a cooked-up version of 2007 Annual Account. This was followed by a referendum petition which brought together serial petitioners, hooligans and self-proclaimed defenders of Slovene border and nearly caused a major international embarrassment for Slovenia, despite the fact that Croatian government did a lot to prove the petitioners’ point.

In any case, the referendum petition failed spectacularly as Party of Slovene Nation (the petitioners) collected only around 1100 signatures supporting their bid, which probably causes top echelons of Slovenian politics to give an audible sigh of relief. The whole episode was enough, however, to re-ignite the debate on referendum legislation where things are far from over.

All that’s left now is Croatian EU bid, where Slovenia and Croatia have a slightly bigger problem.

Don’t Panic!

As of Monday the Government Institute for Macroeconomic Analysis and Development – the aptly named IMAD – published new forecasts for Slovenian economic growth.

PM Borut Pahor and finance minister Franci Križanič (brushed up from source)

Growth? Think again…

IMAD predicts that Slovenian economy will shrink by 4 percent in 2009, which would apparently be the largest economic downturn in history of independent Slovenia. Apparently even independence itself and consequent loss of Yugoslav markets didn’t hit Slovenian economy as bad as this. New unemployment projections now show that as much as 100,000 people might find themselves being laid off, which would bring unemployment to about 9 percent.

Admittedly, the people at IMAD are not the quickest of cats at the best of times (its former director some three years ago famously said that there is no way for a price of a barrel of oil to go above 100 dollars) and they have maintained until recently that Slovenia will experience minimal growth, but this prediction is a much-needed reality check. It means that the government of Borut Pahor will have to dig deeper, faster and harder than anything we’ve seen to date.

Among other things this means that rebalancing of the budget which the parliament is expected to approve today is more or less worthless and that finance minister Franci Križanič and his team will have to go – in the words of Wile E. Coyote – back to the old drawing board. When asked about it last week, Križanič said that the crisis will turn in the middle of this year. The problem is that he sounded as if the crisis must turn in the middle of the year. As if they just spent their last bullet.

PM Borut Pahor adopted a hitchiker’s attitude as is saying (in nice, big, friendly letters): Don’t panic!. Some quasi-experts think otherwise and say it’s time to panic. Both pieces of advice are wonderfully useless.


How The Mighty Will Have Fallen

On Sunday Borut Pahor was re-elected as president of Social Democrats. That in itself is not news. The fact that he had no opponent and that he had just won the election made his re-election in the party a given. What was interesting, though, were elections of the party vice-presidents.

Borut Pahor, Igor Lukšič and Patrick Vlačič (source, source and source respectively)

The party has four VPs, two men and two women. The latter are Madja Potrata MP and Alenka Kovšča and their elections came very low on the Surprise Scale as well. The interesting stuff was going on in the men’s corner, where three candidates ran for two VP posts: Miran Potrč MP, minister of transport Patrick Vlačič and minister of education and party ideologue Igor Lukšič.

While Potrč’s election was all but guaranteed as he is enormously respected within the party, the battle between Vlačič and Lukšič bore huge significance. Not in the least because PM Pahor fell out with Lukšič over his candidacy for the post, saying that it would be improper for an education minister to be a high ranking party official. In between lines this read that education should not be an ideological battleground between left and right. Interestingly enough, just prior to its convention (a congress, as these gatherings are known in Slovenian political terminology) Pahor fell out with Vlačič as well. The latter had – in his capacity as minister of transport – the management of Slovenian Railways removed and had the Supervisory Board appoint a new CEO, but without a public tender. This led to numerous speculation that the new CEO Matic Tasič was appointed for his political affiliation rather than for his competence. Whether or not that really is the case, remains to be seen, but the move flies in the face of Pahor’s promise to run a transparent government.

But nevertheless Pahor made it obvious that he’d rather see Vlačič than Lukšič as his party VP. Lukšič ran for the position nevertheless and lost spectacularly as delegates at the congress heeded to wishes of the PM. Upon losing Lukšič (a political scientist) said that the result shows that a “form of corporativism has emerged and that is not good for Slovenia (…) The party became interesting for some circles which have now established a power-base within the party” and added that the emerging generation is extremely ambitious and demands immediate results.

To put things into perspective: Igor Lukšič is the brains behind Borut Pahor. Widely described as the party ideologue he was Pahor’s shadow ever since the latter became president of the party youth organisation some seventeen years ago. It was Lukšič who introduced Pahor to Anthony Giddens’ Third Way and together they styled the Social Democrats after Tony Blair’s New Labour. Igor Lukšič, Ph. D. worked from within the academic environment, where he is an established and oft-quoted political scientist as well as an influential professor at the Faculty for Social Sciences (FDV), contributing heavily to the perception of FDV as a “red” faculty.

In other words: if Pahor is the form, Lukšič is the content. For better or for worse.

And now, after becoming the PM, Borut Pahor got rid of his ideologue. That in itself is not bad. It is a political decision by the party leader which he may or may not come to regret. After all, it is not as if Lukšič can just switch parties and become an ideologue for the competition. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Lukšič spent himself and that he is fresh out of ideas for the party which – after winning the elections – needs to reinvent itself. Lukšič says that with him as VP Social Democrats could achieve even better results in four years’ time, but you sort of expect him to say that.

So Lukšič’s defeat is not a problem. The problem is Patrick Vlačič’s victory. His rise within the Social Democrats was meteoric. Nowhere to be seen five years ago, he started appearing as the party’s expert on transportation (although he’s a lawyer by education) and his rise has continued unabated ever since. Some see him as the younger version of Borut Pahor (i.e.: pretty but no content), to others he is an unscrupulously ambitious politicians who is quickly establishing his power-base and will not mince over choosing means to reach his aims. However, pengovsky is bothered by both of these pictures. Namely, there is one critical element missing from Vlačič’s track record.


Vlačič seems on top of his game. He controls a powerful portfolio, he can sack CEOs of state transtportation companies, he can decide which projects will get priority, in short, he is the Big Transport Kahuna in town. On top of that he just became his party’s second in command and is considered as heir-apparent. But – as Igor Lukšič will happily tell you – Newton’s laws apply to politics as well. In this case, what goes up must come down. Patrick Vlačič may feel that he is establishing his power-base within the party, but pengovsky has a feeling that it is in fact Vlačič who is being used by special interests to gain favour with the new government. The question is whether Vlačič is in on the plot. But he is probably also being used by Borut Pahor, who conveniently got rid of Lukšič but will most definitely not tolerate leadership challenges by a relative newbie and will bring him down crashing if he doesn’t toe the line 24/7.

Therefore, getting Patrick Vlačič elected as VP served nothing else than removing Lukšič from the top echelons of the party. It may be the first step in the younger generation taking over the party, but even if this happens, Patrick Vlačič will not be the one succeeding Borut Pahor. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to realise that.

The (Traditional) Family

I was meaning to write up about how Borut Pahor was re-elected president of the Social Democrats and how he – in what is apparently becoming a pattern – got rid of people who held his flank during the last ten years. But it will have to wait as something else caught my eye this morning: an email by Aleš Primc, a member of Slovene People’s Party (SLS) who in 2001 was one of the petitioners for a referendum on – watch this – Law on Treatment of Infertility and In-vitro Fertilisation Procedures with Biomedical Assistance.

Aleš Primc and a portion of his letter

To cut a long story short, apart from treating infertility of couples, this law provided for fertile single women to be in-vitro fertilised as well. Which shook the patriarchal structure of this sorry excuse for a country to the bone. Suddenly men felt as if they are being deprived of their manhood, for how will the world continue if women will be able to have a baby when they want and not only when men come. Furthermore, there were hysterical shrieks (mostly induced by the Catholic Church) that this is the end of traditional family as we know it and that – what horror! – lesbians will be able to have children as well.

Needles to say that the referendum was a big success and that at a traditionally low attendance (36 percent) three quarters of all votes cast were in favour of striking down the law.

But that was eight years ago.

And this morning, as I checked the Firm’s™ mailbox, there was, among tons of advice on how to “impress your girlfriend with new measurments”, “customer receipts/purchase informations”, “delivery status notifications” and Nigerians assuring me that I’m “a man of honour”, there was a letter by Mr. Primc (age 36, btw), who was outraged by Darja Zaviršek, a professor at the Faculty of Social Work in Ljubljana who apparently called for another go at legislation which was struck down eight years ago.

This prompted Primc to write – among other things – that “Some at Faculty of Social Work think about depriving us of our sex life and fatherhood. (…) Apparently some women in Slovenia find men repulsive. It happens. But I can’t understand that Faculty od Social Works gives cover and apparent scientific legitimacy to these frustrations. One would expect from teachers at the faculty to seek solutions to many social problems this country has, rather than create new ones.

In other words, rather than poking about what is scientifically defined as “the basic societal cell”, folks at the faculty should stick to the “natural order” (he uses that word elsewhere in the letter), not in the least because of the results of a referendum eight years ago.

Now, pengovsky won’t go into how any legislation can be overturned a later decision (lex posteriori derogat lex priori), or into how it is absurd that a referendum is held on a question which clearly concerns a definable minority of the society. I do wonder, however, how can a concept of family be a matter for a popular vote. This piece of legislation is in the same category as is marriage of same-sex couples or even non-marital partnerships. The former was socially unacceptable as late as a couple of decades ago, whereas same-sex couples still cannot get legally married. They can get registered, but it’s not exactly the same.

Societies change, Concepts do as well. 150 years ago people were outraged if a woman showed her bare ankles. In some parts of Switzerland women were allowed to vote as late as 1980s. In Slovenia having a child in a non-marital partnership was considered disgraceful by some as late as mid-eighties. In other words, the road from behind the stove to the middle of the living room holding the remote was a long one. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Pengovsky admits that he holds a traditional view of what a family is. Specifically, I believe that a child needs a mother and a father. But that in itself is not a guarantee for a happy childhood or for a functional family. Just ask Elisabeth Fritzl. Perhaps it is time to explore other possibilities as well.

No More Bacon

With all the brouhaha about bones, burglars and borders pengovsky was unable to write about a subject he feels strongly about and which is finally (as in: fifteen years too late) being addressed. According to state secretary Branko Lobnikar the ministry of Public Administration has drafted a law on integrity in public sector, its primary aim being to strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission, headed by Drago Kos. But one of the more daring provisions is establishing a conflict of interest between being an MP and a mayor.

Miran Koren, Branko Lobnikar and Drago Kos presenting the draft law (source)

The way things stand now it is perfectly legal for a mayor of a municipality to run for an MP, although the Constitution clearly stipulates that MPs are representatives of the entire people, whereas a mayor obviously has to think about his municipality’s best interest. This can be safely described as the Slovenian version of pork barrel politics, where the mayor doubling as an MP has a much better chance of bringing home the bacon. Had this been the only problem it would have been fine. But one of the (supposedly) unintended effect of the current situation is the fact that some municipalities are exerting influence massively disproportionate to their size, as well as inciting creation of new municipalities, all of which hope to get their mayor elected MP. This in turn makes the municipalities even more dependant on the state as their small size prevents them from accumulating significant monies via taxes.

Currently there are 20 mayors among 90 MPs, meaning that more than a fifth of the parliament may at one point or another come to represent the interest of 155,000 people (combined population of the 20 municipalities), whereas they should be representing interests of two million people at all times. This is painfully obvious every time the budget is being adopted, or when legislation on local self-government is being debated, as MPs/mayors will – as a rule – oppose legislation which would reduce powers of the municipalities in favours of (say) regions or the state.

And yes, those same mayors will have to vote on this particular piece of legislation. Out of twenty MPs/mayors twelve are members of the ruling coalition. Which will mean a lot of arm twisting if the Quartet is serious about this initiative. Because if it is indeed passed, those same MPs will find themselves in a tight spot a year and a half from now, when local elections are due and they will have to choose between a comfy-but-semi-anonymous MP seat and a career as a local Kahuna.