Fire

On 18 May Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel Samuel Žbogar was in Brussels to officially deliver a letter containing Slovenian response to the latest proposal by Commissioner Olli Rehn to solve the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. However, agent Sam failed to make the drop, because a fire broke out in the European Commission building in Brussels. The package was eventually delivered by our man in Brussels, so there was no permanent damage.

The contents of that letter were pretty much along the lines of “we want to amend the latest proposal and don’t give a rat’s ass about Croatia accepting it because we feel it is biased in favuor of Croatia“. Namely, Zagreb sent word that as far as it is concerned the negotiation process is over as they’ve accepted Rehn’s latest offer and that’s it. So the Silent Finn summoned both Samuel Žbogar and his Croatian counterpart Gordan Jandroković back to Brussels to explain themselves, but guess what happened…

I guess someone really doesn’t want this solved :mrgreen:

Misinterpreting Facts

One of the more interesting side-efects of the brouhaha about Titova Street is a rare glimpse into the way the hardcore political right thinks. After Ljubljana City council passed the motion approving a new street to be named after Josip Broz Tito, right wing parties went apeshit, especially Mlada Slovenija, the youth organisation of Christian-democratic Nova Slovenija. After the motion was passed, Mlada Slovenija’s president Jernej Vrtovec wrote:

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As a native of Primorska I’d like to thank Partisans who gave their lives for liberation of Primorska from under fascist regime. When we speak of Tito’s crimes, we do not diminish the struggle of Partisans and especially not their struggle to liberate Primorska. Tito did not liberate Primorska. Our grandparents did, who sacrificed their lives at the altar of the motherland, while their self-proclaimed leader enjoyed the luxury of Belgrade palaces and selfishly lined his own pockets. I deplore the fact that his adherence to communism and his sick ambitions of grabbing power meant that Slovenia lost Trieste and Gorizia.

The above demonstrates clearly how the political right twist and deliberately misinterpret facts to suit their political ends, feign ignorance as to their previous statements, insinuate and hit below the belt.

First, there is the statement that Vrtovec and (by extension) Mlada Slovenija support and thank partisans for their fight during WWII. This is plain bullshit. Mlada Slovenija and its parent party Nova Slovenija are hell-bent on justifying WWII collaboration and especially actions of the Home Guard (domobranci), which – so they claim – fought Communism together with Nazis but never really collaborated. Their entire raison d’etre is based on uncovering “communist crimes”, decrying injustices of post-war socialism and thus justify their inter-war collaboration.

But spreading rumours and half-truths as well as taking things out of chronological order and presenting them to fit their needs is a sport they’re good at (I think there’s a word for that). While Tito indeed did enjoy a luxurious lifestyle after the war, this was not the case during the war. As a leader of a guerilla army he didn’t exactly have the luxury of sleeping in palaces, especially not in Belgrade, which was – as most other cities – infested troops of Nazi Army Group E, which was tied down in the Balkans, trying desperately to catch Tito and uproot partisans, while it was desperately needed on other fronts of the crumbling Third Reich.

Tito himself did not liberate Primorska. But partisans under his command did. The 9th Corps pushed as far West as Venezia region in Italy and had to pull back only after being openly confronted by the Allies. Immediatelly after the war was over, Partisan Army did control both Trieste and Gorizia, but rather than just giving it back, a Yugoslav-American stand-off began and Yugoslavia and Italy entered a long period of negotiations about what to do with Free Territory of Trieste.

Which brings us to the final claim – that Tito somehow “lost” both cities, because he was a power-hungry Communist leader. The statement implies that a) Slovenia is somehow entitled to both cities and that b) if Tito were a democrat, Slovenia (then a part of Yugoslavia) would be looked favourably upon by the US and UK which would gladly give Trieste to Slovenia instead of keeping it a part of Italy.

Which of course is naive at best. Trieste was – not unlike Berlin – a European flashpoint and it was entirely possible that one wrong move would start World War III, only that this time around the Allies would fight it out amongst themselves. There were definitely enough arms and manpower to go about it. Yugoslav and Slovenian partisans were a part of Allied Forces, but that didn’t stop Americans from getting in the way. The notion that they got in the way because Tito was a communist is just plain silly. The stand-off began because Trieste is a vital port city and Americans and Brits didn’t just want to hand it over to a country whose government they couldn’t control the way they could control Italy. It was a simple question of geo-politics.

And finally – the notion that one nation is somehow entitled to a certain piece of land is what starts wars in the first place. Yes, you will hear Slovenes bitching about how “Trieste is ours” and how we were robbed of this-and-that after both world wars. But saying that you lost something you never really had id tantamount to buying a ticket for a fast train to disaster.

A lot of people in Slovenia don’t like Tito and a lot of people in Ljubljana think that having a street with his name (again) is a waste of time and energy. Pengovsky included. But people hate it even more when they are being taken for fools, which is why in the end Tito Street got such a strong public opinion support. But I guess it figures. Jernej Vrtovec was born in 1984. He doesn’t know what can happen if you start rewriting history. He just feels that the world would be a much happier place if history were to his liking.

P.S.: This was an extremely difficult post for me. I don’t know if I should put it down to “Titova-Street-fatigue”, down to weather or to the fact that my relatives fought for liberation of Slovenia and especially Primorska region and that I happen to know that things did not go as smoothly as it might seem sixty-five years later. It’s just kind of sad that brave actions of a relatively small group of people (including their leader), who won against all odds still have to be defended today.

Adding Insult To Injury

Yesterday Ljubljana City councillors passed a decision to name the yet-to-be-built avenue after Josip Broz Tito. This in itself is not news as the result of yesterday’s vote was more or less a foregone conclusion, given the balance of power in Ljubljana City Council where mayor’s political group enjoys an absolute majority.

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Tito and his pioneers

What is noteworthy is the date of the vote – 25 May, the Youth Day in former Yugoslavia. Pengovsky is too old to believe in coincidences and this is no coincidence, believe you me. The date of yesterday’s session was deliberately chosen to humiliate the political right wing which sought to capitalise on discovery of Huda Jama mass grave and have Tito’s name erased from those few streets which still bear it. The move, however, exploded right into their faces, as mayor Zoran Janković and one of the more prominent members of his List Peter Božič moved to name a newly constructed street after Tito.

Janković’s move is highly controversial and had it been proposed on its own I’m sure he would have failed spectacularly. But as it were, he got a comfortable public opinon approval rating of 60 percent, most of which we can safely put down to SDS going after removing Tito streets all over Slovenia in the first place. The right-wing cause was not helped by the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija (NSi), a junior coalition partner in government of Janez JanÅ¡a (2004-2008), which went after Janković and generated a lot of media hype, but – failing to support its rhetoric with action (it only generated 5000 “sigunatures” all over Slovenia in an on-line petition) – overplayed it and came across looking rather ridiculous.

So instead of getting rid of what remained of Tito in Slovenian topography, right wing parties helped create one more Tito Street, in a city which was once already stripped of it. And it happened on the day when Tito’s cult of personality was celebrated in socialist Yugoslavia. This was a rather clever bit of agenda manoeuvring by mayor Janković and it produced a lot of fuming especially with NSi youngsters. Their president Jernej Vrtovec said yesterday that “Janković will not be mayor forever and once he’s gone, so will be Titova Street“.

But this was an easy victory for Janković. Everyone played right into his hand. His real test will be getting from Pahor’s government the money JanÅ¡a’s government took from him.

Shall We Overcome?

When Borut Pahor took over as PM, pengovsky (a self-important asshole that he is) wrote a public appeal to Pahor, which included the following:

[Y]ou were always big on words. Admittedly, you recognised that at the time you yourself lack specific economic knowledge to tackle the crisis, but will rely on your all-star team instead. However, you should bear in mind that you were not elected to snow us with big words, but because you flat out promised to do a much better job than Janez JanÅ¡a. Even more – you echoed people’s worries about the economy, while JanÅ¡a refused to admit that there is a crisis approaching, and this too got you elected. What I am trying to say is, that you will have to deliver regardless of the crisis. You will not be able to feign ignorance four years from now and say “I didn’t know it was going to be that bad”. You knew, we all knew. Except JanÅ¡a. But that’s why you’ll be the one answering during Q&A sessions of the Parliament.

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PM Pahor during Monday’s Q&A session (source)

Monday last, after six months at the helm of his government, Borut Pahor took part in one of those Q&A sessions, where – among others – he talked about how the government is tackling the crisis (transcript, Slovenian only):

We find ourselves in a difficult position, but Slovenia is relatively successful in tackling the crisis. Success will be complete when the crisis is finally overcome and today I say to you that we shall overcome. We shall.

Successful?

In the last six months at least 25,000 people lost their jobs. Companies are going bankrupt. The credit crisis hasn’t abated. GDP dropped as much as 4 percent in the first quarter and some projections say that it will dive even lower. State and municipal budgets are hardly worth the paper they’re printed on. Quality of life has fallen again, as people are cutting back even on the quality of bread they buy, to save money.

Without trying to sound too cynical – if this is success, one wonders what does failure look like?

At the same time, this government is wasting time by non-transparently appointing CEOs of state-owned companies, obviously as a result of political deals, and then – when shit hits the fan – removing them the very same way, and is bleeding much-needed credibility in the process. This is not just the case of Nova Ljubljanska Banka. The same thing occured when appointing a new CEO of Slovene Railways, ditto for appointing CEO of Hit Casions and will probably happen when naming a new CEO of Petrol – to name but a few examples.

Don’t get me wrong. Obivously no government – let alone this one – can work miracles. Things have been done. Or – at the very least – will be done, apparently rather soon. Today, the government will approve additional guarantees for DARS to continue constructing the highway system. The very same thing which added to overheating Slovene economy four years ago might now prevent it from dropping dead completely. Ministers for Development and Finance, Mitja Gaspari and Franci Križanič promised to introduce a scheme to back up banks lending to businesses by the end of the month.

But trying to placate the people by Churchillesque phrases will not work. The old fart knew exactly what to say and when to say it. For example, when British expeditionary forces (the bulk of British armed forces) were successfully evacuated at Dunkirk, people were thrilled, but instead of lulling them into a false sense of success, Winston told them that rather than a victory, Dunkirk was an epic defeat and that wars are not won by evacuations. So instead of idolising Churchill, Slovene PM would do well to imitate him and present the true state of Slovenian economy, its strong sides as well as its weak points. So that facts will be known and the government’s acts judged against them.

This government will not get us out of the crisis. Not by itself it will not. It must win cooperation, respect and trust both by businesses as well as employees. This is done by laying out bare facts as well as guaranteeing that suffering of those who will get the long end of the stick (businesses and employees alike) will not have been in vain. People must know that it will be worth it. Only than shall we – perhaps – overcome.

You’re Fired!

After only four months DraÅ¡ko Veselinovič in no longer CEO of Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB). In a surprise move the bank’s Supervisory Board accepted resignation Veselinovič submitted a month ago. The move is surprising because it was a) obvious from the start that Veselinovič offered to resign (but stopped short of actually resigning) only to placate those who screamed for blood when it transpired that NLB extended a loan taken out by Infond Holding (one of many companies in a web that controls LaÅ¡ko Brewery) to help out in BoÅ¡ko Å rot’s takeover of LaÅ¡ko. Even more surprising is the fact that Supervisory board accepted the resignation a month after it was submitted. The debate was initially scheduled only days after Veselinovič made his move, but then the session was cancelled, seemingly to protect Veselinovič and defuse the situation which reached boiling point when Minister of Economy Matej Lahovnik threatened to resign.

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Draško Veselinovič during happier times at the helm of NLB (photo by Matej Družnik/Delo, source)

At this juncture is not exactly clear what happened. DraÅ¡ko Veselinovič is a prominent figure of Katarina Kresal’s LDS, who was about to become MP after KK was appointed Minister of Interior. DraÅ¡ko took a pass, however, and enabled Tone Anderlič, an old LDS hand to become MP. In return Veselinovič was named CEO of NLB, a position he was overtly interested in. And since LDS and Katarina Kresal didn’t make a lot of trouble during the coalition negotiations, things just fell into place. With the small exception of Veselinovič being named without a tender, although NLB is still controlled by the state and that the Quartet promised greater transparency in selecting leading cadre in state-owned companies.

It took PM Pahor a lot of energy to calm down the shitstorm that erupted after Veselinovič was appointed, and it is entirely possible that he just couldn’t hold Gregor Golobič and Matej Lahovnik of Zares back anymore and had to give in. Unconfirmed rumours have it that president of the Supervisory board met with Finance Minsiter Franci Križanič only minutes before the session started and this line of thought goes that Križanič relayed a message saying that Veselinovič ran out of political cover.

Whether or not the above is true is actually only of tangential relevance. What is more important is the effect Veselinovič’s removal will have on the relations within the coalition. LDS president Katarina Kresal publicly stated that the decision was for the Supervisory Board to take and that it must be respected. However, is obvious that her party was just denied an extremely strong powerbase and that must not go down lightly either with her or LDS leadership in general (on that note: it will be interesting to see if her authority within the party will get challenged as a result).

On the other hand, this is a very big victory for Zares’ Gregor Golobič and Matej Lahovnik, who were extremely disconcerted by the fact that their former brethren in LDS were re-establishing themselves so quickly, as well as by the manner in which this was achieved. Truth be told, there is more than meets the eye to their continuous calls for tenders to be held instead of taking cloak-and-dagger decisions, but this will have to wait for another day.

And finally, it seems that PM Pahor had to give in to Golobič if he wanted to avoid appearing as if he condones the so-called “tycoon loans”.

However, Newton’s third law applies in politics as well. Every action is met with equal but opposite reaction. And it will be interesting how LDS will hit back. Because hit back it will