Fifty Years’ Worth Of History

Delo, the largest Slovenian daily newspaper marked its fiftieth anniversary yesterday. The paper took quite a beating in the last few years as it became an object of a bitter political struggle for media control. Several rapid changes at the company’s helm had an unmistakable impact on its content as well and – although entirely undeserved – the image below, taken in my apartment building is not flattering.

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Run. Hide. Believe. Be Afraid.

We are to believe that this swine flu will kill us all. We are to believe that migrant workers will take our jobs. We are to believe that a mosque will become a terrorist recruitment centre. We are to believe that we, people who earn money and create added value should pay for irresponsible behaviour of those who lived off the interest and other people’s money, otherwise we will all perish. In short, we are to believe and to be afraid.

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As some of you know, right-wing and neo-Nazi groups scheduled an anti-mosque demonstration which was to take place on Monday, 27 April. The date was carefully chosen as they wanted to depict Muslims as the new occupators. As a reaction, a number of centre-to-left wing organisation organised a counter-rally, which aimed to confront the rise of neo-Nazism in Slovenia. Pengovsky was there in his professional capacity and had a look around.

This was not your usual anti-globalisation rally. People from around the world came to protest the fact that Fascism is again becoming a viable option, even though Europe (and especially this part of the world) took the full brunt of this silly little ideology which somehow seemed appealing to a disillusioned people. However, according to dr. Rastko Mo─Źnik, Fascism today is not the same as in 1930s. He said that what we are witnessing today is actually post-Fascism (a term coined by Ton─Źi Kuzmani─ç), which on the surface dithced is romantic, Hitleresque ideas of racial superiority and seems to accept the concept of human rights. On the operational level, however, it still resorts to the same ideas and principles than it did eighty years ago.

In the end neo-Nazis didn’t even stage a rally. Offically it was rescheduled “until further notice” due to the fact that they did not get a permit. According to my information, however, they didn’t even apply for it, which shows that they are a bunch of big-mouthed inept bozos. Pengovsky already warned against stupid people in large groups. On Monday Ale┼í Guli─Ź, former MP echoed that, saying that “in 1920’s no one took those clowns seriously and as a result we had to start from scratch in 1945

However, the rise of Fascism today is connected to one other phenomenon. The Culture of Fear.

Did you notice that all of the sudden economic crisis is no longer top issue? Turn to any news channel and you’ll see a 24/7 live reporting on swine flu. The fact that so far it killed less people than your average flu does every year is not important. What is important is what it could do. The fact that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction was not important. What was important was that it could have had them. It is also very important that certain corporations make a lot of money in such cases.

Fear keeps people docile and looking for leadership. Fear makes people forget that their governments are accountable to them (and not the other way around). Fear keeps people apart from one another, because in the final analysis everyone is a potential threat to everyone else. Fear destroys two-way communication and creates a one-way highway for propaganda. Fear is an ideal tool for governments to divert attention from their ineptitude and lack of ideas. It is, however, also an ideal breeding ground for Fascism.

And the worst thing is that those who use and create this culture of fear probably don’t do that with malice. I don’t believe there is a dark, smoke-filled room somewhere, where a bunch of sinister-looking people with dark glasses manipulate the society. There is, rather, a reactionary reflex within all of us, aimed at protecting our position within the society. In short, they promise a return to business as usual. But challenges of today are – this must be said – a tall order for anyone who dares to tackle them, the authority of those in charge is being questioned. But rather than answering those questions, short cuts are being taken. Ways to eschew difficult questions. Decoys. Manoeuvres which give those in charge time to breathe. But it is a vicious cycle. Pauses between challenges are ever more rare and ever shorter. And soon a society will find itself plunging from crisis to crisis.

And then a leader will appear, who will claim to have all the answers. And everyone will believe him.

A Form Of Communication

Weeks ago I wrote about the fate of Igor Bav─Źar’s Istrabenz and hinted at La┼íko Brewery of Bo┼íko ┼árot going south as well. Apparently this is starting to happen as Infond Holding, one of the companies in a chain of ownership which allows Bo┼íko ┼árot to dominate La┼íko, has had its credit line extended to allow it to continue repaying the debt. The thing is that the bank which extended the credit line is none other than Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB), whose new CEO Dra┼íko Veselinovi─Ź caused some people to go apeshit when he was appointed.

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Vla─Źi─Ź (SD), Erjavec (DeSUS), Golobi─Ź (Zares) and Sajovic (LDS) in Sunday’s debate on POP TV (photo: Toma┼ż Skale/Dnevnik)

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Ever since 17 April events followed at lightning speed. As Veselinovi─Ź approved extension of the credit line, both he and Bo┼íko ┼árot of La┼íko found themselves at the receiving end of some particularly harsh criticism. At first Minister of Economy Matej Lahovnik floated the idea of Zares quitting the government as it is apparently incapable of stemming “tycoon loans”. This immediately opened fault-lines in several directions:

Various members of the government, including PM Pahor and Minister of interior Katarina Kresal took the position that what NLB did was bad, but that it was ultimately the bank’s call. This was, however, enough for La┼íko Brewery to claim that a witch-hunt aimed at bringing Delo and Ve─Źer dailies under government control.

The thinly veiled threat to quit the government irked PM Pahor just enough to send in his newly-minted second-in-command Patrick Vla─Źi─Ź (who in his spare time doubles as minister of transport) and have him say that if the coalition falls apart, early elections will be called (presumably with disastrous results for the quartet).

Zares’ swipe at NLB and its CEO Dra┼íko Veselinovi─ç rattled the cage at LDS as well, as party president Katarina Kresal snapped back at Gregor Golobi─Ź saying that the government musn’t direct the bank’s decisions and added that “it’s time for boys to stop fooling around and get back to work”.

Given the fact that she is one of the people with least political mileage in this government, her statement borders was audacious to say the least. But it apparently stoke a chord with Lahovnik, who said that it’s funny that calls to prevent government intervention come from “the lady who had her candidate for MP installed as CEO of Nova Ljubljanska banka”.

When things seemingly reached a boiling point, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Jankovi─ç appeared from nowhere and called upon leaders of the coalition to get their act together.

Somewhere in between, however, Dra┼íko Veselinovi─Ź felt too much heat under his feet and offered his resignation to NLB’s supervisory board. Unconfirmed rumours have it that he is not good at handling stressful situations, but this was a relatively shrewd move. He didn’t resign, but did offer to, maintaining all along that he did nothing wrong. In effect, he was bluffing.

But – to put in poker terms – minister of economy Lahovnik “saw his resignation and raised him a Friday”, saying that he is considering resigning from the post himself, among other things (but not limited to) because NLB extended the credit line to La┼íko, which “shows a fundamental difference in values”. Lahovnik said that he will decide on his resignation by Friday (tomorrow) when NLB’s supervisory board was to debate Veselinovi─Ź’s fate. However, after Lahovnik made his announcement, NLB’s board canceled its Friday meeting with a new date to be announced.

And to top it all, Janez Jan┼ía didn’t want to be late for the party and said that the country is being held hostage by the coalition which is too self-involved to notice that the country is headed for a crisis and forecasted that this will lead to unemployment rising to 150,000 people (out of some 950,000-strong labour force), as well as increase of public debt from 28% to 50% of GDP.

Jan┼ía’s remarks of course drew direct fire from Zares top dog Gregor Golobi─Ź who said that the whole tycoon-saga started with Jan┼ía and that it was Jan┼ía’s thirst for media control which set this complicated chain of events in motion in 2005.

Karl Erjavec of DeSUS predictably says that the whole thing is not fair to pensioners.

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT?

Funny things is that most of the above statements (with possible exceptions of Janša and Erjavec) are more or less true.

The government is trying to influence both newspapers by undermining La┼íko. However, La┼íko did get its credit line extended after coalition parties said that this will not be happening, which smells badly of pre-election debts being repaid. Furthermore, Dra┼íko Veselinovi─Ź was appointed CEO of NLB as a reward for LDS not being too problematic during coalition negotiation. If coalition falls appart, early elections probably are the only solution, as PM Pahor would probably have a tough time selling a coalition with Jan┼ía to his MPs. Zares is slipping in polls and needs some good copy, stat. And yes, there is a general feeling that we’re looking at boys (and a girl) with toys rather then responsible individuals running the country.

On the other hand, the whole thing has little to do with pensioners, which puts Erjavec’s comments firmly in the AW category, whereas Jan┼ía’s statements are pure manipulation. Namely, as the crisis deepens the unemployment will rise to at least 150,000 people and as more and more cash will be needed to alleviate effects of the economic meltdown, we will be lucky if public debt will reach only 50% of GDP – which, by the way, will still be well within the Maastricht criteria.

IS THIS GOVERNMENT BIG ENOUGH FOR ALL OF THEM?

Yes. The only way for this coalition to crumble is if they take things too far. So far, everyone is leaving everyone else more than enough room to back down without losing face. What we are witnessing is in fact an intricate form or communication. Of course coalition leaders are parleying in private. But at the same time they are sending public signals to each other, where what is said matters just as much as who said it and how it was said.

So when Lahovnik talked about Zares leaving the government, it was actually Golobi─Ź talking to Pahor that he should be careful at how he will play the NLB/La┼íko thing. Pahor responded in kind, having Vla─Źi─Ź say that in this case early elections are possible, which meant that Pahor knows what is at stake and that Golobi─Ź shouldn’t get any funny ideas about different coalitions, because if they go down, they will go down together.

Katarina Kresal got the message as well and since she is the only member of the coalition who is fully replacable, she knew that she would be laughed at if she talked about leaving the coalition and instead through her “a little less conversation a little more action please” message said that she will not give up Veselinovi─Ź and NLB easily and that Golobi─Ź can go suck a lemon, thank you very much.

Golobi─Ź, however, did get what he wanted. The government will apparently take tougher stand against “tycoon-loans” and will take a more active role in managing the companies it owns. At the same time Golobi─Ź managed to put a daylight between Zares and La┼íko getting its credit line extended. And finally, with Jankovi─ç (who is close, but not too close to Zares) appealing for calm, Golobi─Ź showed Pahor that there are other candidates for his job.

So, in the end, the whole thing turns out to be just a busy day at work. Unless of course, someone fumbles it. The coalition is not rock solid and all it takes is a short series of bad moves fuelled with pride and arrogance and the show could come to a premature end.

Special Announcement

As some of you noticed, pengovsky is slacking in his blogging. Unfortunatelly I was sick as a dog for most of the last week and am still not up to full throttle and can only squeeze 24 hours is a day, not to mention that some of us need to work for a living. Being past thirty sucks in this respect.

Anyways, things will get back to normal. Probably as soon as tommorow. There is a whole lot of shit to report including some deep divisions within the government.

Media And Neo-Nazism

An interesting question popped up after I published Tuesday’s post on Neo-Nazis: did media report fairly on the incident at the Faculty of Philosophy. Fact of the matter is that media did not report both sides of the story. But the real question is, are there really two sides to this story? Why were the Boneheads not welcome members of the public at the roundtable discussion and why exactly should they not be allowed to express their views if we are to call ourselves a free society. And – last but not least – isn’t intolerance against them just proving their point, that they are just like the rest of us?

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Ignoring this won’t make it go away (source)

To answer that, we should remind ourselves of the oft-forgot role of gatekeepers media are playing. Namely, that in the final analysis it is the media who shape the public opinion and provide a general sense of what is socially acceptable and what is not. Having said that, it should be noted that there are (in the words of Commandant Lassard) many many many instances where media fail miserably at this role.

We must also re-examine the functioning of a democracy. Specifically, a post-WWII European liberal democracy (as a political phenomenon, not as a political persuasion). Pengovsky likes to compare a democracy to a playing ground full of kids and only a couple of toys to fight over. Most kids will struggle to win the toys for themselves, others won’t play the game at all, other still will only sit in the corner and whine. But for as long as they will all remain within the playing ground (democracy) it is more or less OK. Sure, you can enforce stricter rules of the game, but that’s beside the point. The problem is, when a kid or a group of kids leaves the playing ground and – in order to win the toys (power) – starts throwing rocks at those within the playing ground. That kind of behaviour is not acceptable.

Turning to European democracies, it goes without saying that one of their basic postulates are anti-fascism and anti-nazism. These two ideologies brought so much suffering upon this continent that there is a general consensus established that both of them are inherently bad and completely unacceptable. Indeed, they are the very opposite of what post-WWII Europe, capitalist and socialist alike, stood and fought for.

Neo-nazism and its various offshots go against this fundamental consensus and therefore can not be regarded as legitimate paticipants in any discourse. Allowing them to participate would mean going against the very basics of a modern society. Some say that – ideologies aside – what happened at the Facutly of Philosophy was that a group of individuals was prevented from expressing their views and banned from the event in what was an act of intolerance and an attack on their freedom of speech. Had all things been equal, that would have been correct. However, things are not equal. The banned group has a clear superiority agenda and its appearance at the roundtable was a clear attempt at gaining legitimacy in what is technically known as “mainstream discourse”. In short, they wanted to be recognised as equal partners in a debate.

And that cannot be allowed. Even more: while one must always question what is right and what is wrong (if for nothing else, to reaffirm one’s set of values), one must also always look at the context (the bigger picture, if you will) of what is being said and done. And this is where media come in. While they often fail in that role, media are by definition equipped to put events in context and look at the bigger picture. With this power, which must be executed with great care and surgical precision, media decide what is a legitimate and acceptable position and what is not. Often this is not an easy or clear-cut task and that is why media seek and report “the other side of the story”.

But in this case seeking the other side of the story would mean giving neo-Nazis legitimacy they do not deserve and must not have. Because – as Uro┼í said in comments two days ago – making neo-Nazis part of the mainstream discourse means making other xenophobic political players perfectly acceptable.