Oh, So Fucking Close To Heaven…

For a brief moment yesterday evening it seemed that a consensus was reached in Croatian politics on the arbitrage agreement with Slovenia. At about seven o’clock, just in time for prime time news, Croatian media started making noises about an emergency cabinet meeting convened by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. The news was all the more melodramatic as a scheduled cabinet meeting had already taken place earlier in the day.

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Croatian opposition leader Zoran Milanović (SDP) explaining why he opposes the Pahor-Kosor agreement (source)

It turned out that following Monday’s visit of her Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor in Zagreb, Kosor held coalition talks where the agreement apparently got the reluctant nod. According to various accounts in Croatian media she then proceeded to see how things stand with the opposition and apparently things were looking good as she convened an evening meeting with leaders of all parliamentary parties which was to be followed by a cabinet meeting, where the government would formally approve the agreement, allowing Kosor to sign it perhaps as early as today, while she is visiting Brussels.

Unfortunately, the consensus (if there ever was any) fell apart as Social Democrats, the main opposition party led by Zoran Milanović apparently still had misgivings about the wording of the agreement. Specifically, they are bothered by the stipulation that the arbitrage tribunal will decide on Slovenian junction (or contact) with high seas. Incidentally, this is precisely the point which bothers opposition in Slovenia as well. At any rate, the lack of support by SDP meant that Kosor does not have the required 2/3 majority she needs to carry the motion in the parliament. As a result, negotiations in Croatia will apparently continue on Friday.

Coming this close to a solution naturally fuelled speculation about what exactly happened that allowed this sudden (if not entirely successful) push forward. Obviously Pahor’s visit to Zagreb did bear fruit, contrary to what leader of Slovenian opposition Janez JanÅ¡a said on Tuesday. Jadranka Kosor herself said yesterday after cancelling the cabinet meeting that Slovenia might very well re-invoke the blockade if the agreement is not passed. On the other hand it seems that SDP’s Zoran Milovanović was nudged a bit closer to supporting the agreement, since he was at least willing to talk it over, something he apparently refused to do until now. This may or may not have to do with the fact that Slovene PM Borut Pahor (who just happens to be Milanović’s social democratic brother-in-arms) paid him a visit after meeting Kosor on Monday.

Since the stick rarely works without the carrot, it seems logical (although entirely unsubstantiated by as much as a shred of evidence) that Pahor tried to sweeten the deal as well. Croatian media speculate (and Slovenian media is happily following suit) that Pahor offered to settle claims Croatian citizens have against Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB), which are the result of Slovenian restructuring of the banking sector in mid-nineties and which amount to several hundred million euros. Until now Slovenia claimed that these claims are to be solved within the framework of Yugoslav succession treaty, but – if media speculation is correct – there is a possibility of a quid pro quo on both issues. On the other hand, this could be just a ploy to undermine what was achieved, since this sweetener could easly be interpreted as a sell-out, as “money-for-territory” which would be tantamount to high treason. Not that these charges are limited to Croatia. Only today Slovenian PM Pahor was accused of high treason by Mlada Slovenia, youth organisation of far-right Nova Slovenija.

At any rate, more will be known on Friday, when negotiations in Croatia will continue. But fact of the matter is that the longer they take, the smaller the chances are for a consensus in Croatian politics. Obviously the same goes for Slovenian politics as well.

Leaks

Speculation is rife about what exactly is written in the Pahor-Kosor agreement. In case you forgot, prime ministers of Slovenia and Croatia Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor agreed on an as-yet-undisclosed text of an “agreement of arbitrage” which is to serve as a roadmap to solve the border issue between the two countries. Since the word of the day is “silent diplomacy” the details of the agreement are kept secret. While this initially had some positive effect, it is now starting to work against the possibility of actually reaching a solution.

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Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor. No matching clothes this time around (source)

Initially the two sides gained valuable wiggle-room keeping the lid on details of the text. This presumably allowed both governments to work out as many details as possible, without being pinned to the wall by the opposition (even within their own respective coalitions and/or parties). But since both countries claim to be parliamentary democracies, elected representatives of the people had to be included at some point. And it is only right that they should be. It’s called a system of checks and balances. However, at that particular moment the dangerous game of chess between Ljubljana and Zagreb becomes infinitely more complicated and requires playing multiple boards at once. Think 3-D chess from Star Trek.

Bear in mind that neither PM’s political position is not particularly strong. Borut Pahor is facing a rapidly disintegrating economy, ratings that going south even faster than the economy and a multitude of coalition problems which the opposition is obviously quick to take advantage of. Fact of the matter is that Slovenian politics has again turned into a myriad of under-the-belt punches and counter-punches. If the first few months of Pahor’s government were marked by punches being thrown between coalition members (think Ultra Affair and Veselinovič Standoff) the last couple of weeks are marked by heavy barrage between the government and the opposition (the sole exception being DeSUS, the pensioner’s party which is still trying to shoot itself on both knees).

The opposition (specifically, Janez JanÅ¡a’s SDS) is busting the government’s ass over a series of budget rebalancing measures, failing economy, presumably ineffective measures to kick-start growth (lower the taxes! they say. Spend less!) and allegedly breaking the election promise not to start recalling CEOs and supervisors in state-own companies who were appointed by the previous government. In effect, the opposition is calling the government inept and hell-bent on keeping power at all costs, while Rome burns.

On the other hand the government (specifically, PM Boru Pahor) appears to be reeling from the blow of winning the elections and is trying to do something. As his and his government’s ratings are taking a dive, PM Pahor apparently decided to offset that by going for the holy grail (solving the border dispute with Croatia) while the opposition is suddenly facing charges of corruption. Branko Marinič, one of SDS’s MPs apparently “forgot” to pay maintenance costs for the parliament-owned flat he lives in while serving as MP. In all honesty, it doesn’t amount to much (less than 3k euros over a period of a couple of years), but it doesn’t look good due to the fact that he receives a big fat salary ever month and the fact that he is (how embarrassing) the head of parliamentary anti-corruption committee. The same Branko Marinič was accused months earlier of having someone else take a German test in his name at Kranj Faculty where he was completing his education. Although harmless in the long run, stories like these are rather inconvenient for Janez JanÅ¡a and his SDS which is why the coalition is beating them over their heads with them. The real worry for Janez JanÅ¡a is the Patria Affair, which apparently rattled his cage pretty hard, because he immediately launched a counter-offensive, part of which are also attempts to undermine the fragile consensus PM Pahor is trying to build around the arbitrage agreement with Jadranka Kosor.

The top chick in Croatian politics has her own set of problems at the moment, chief among them being that lingering doubt in her ability to lead – both her party (right-wing HDZ) and the country. This includes allegations that she is flirting with Pahor. Then there are added “bonuses” of rampant corruption and other yummy stuff one came to expect of a Balkan country in a transition period, not to mention the repeated lack of enthusiasm in cooperating with the Hague tribunal and you can see that once Slovenia lifted the blockade of Croatian EU negotiations the government in Zagreb lost immediate interest in solving the issue. Jadranka Kosor simply can not afford to open another battlefield on the home front. Not to mention the fact that Croatia is in the middle of a hot presidential race.

And this is where we get back to Slovenia. All of the above is a matter of public record. What is not publicly known are actual stipulations of the agreement. Both Pahor and Kosor have alluded to them broadly, with Pahor immediately starting to take flak over it. This only intensified after he had circulated the agreement amongst members of the parliamentary foreign and EU affairs committees who started leaking information about the content of the document left and right. Not the entire document, you see. Only parts of it. Naturally, those parts which serve the leaker’s particular interests.

In Slovenia most leaks were oriented into proving the document is damaging Slovenian vital interests. This prompted a series of harsh and high profile criticisms, most notably by France Bučar, former president of the parliament and “father” of Slovene constitution, who wrote that if he it were up to him he would have never signed the treaty which in effect cedes territory which is Slovenian beyond doubt. Bučar’s opinion caught a lot of interest, not only because of the man’s stature and reputation, but because he was known for not jumping the gun and often dismissing as trivial things which at the time seemed of great importance. So, his opinion carries weight.

Opinion of Marko Pavliha, an expert on maritime law, former transportation minister and a man generally thought to be supportive of the government goes along Bučar’s lines although it is much less lucid in making its point. The same goes for the opinion of Miro Cerar, the TV-savy legal expert who mostly advises the parliamentary legal service, who wrote that the agreement is hurting Slovenia and that the government played its hand extremely poorly.

On the other side of the border, however, Vesna Pusić, leader of Croatian Liberal Democrats (as well as heir presidential candidate), said that the content of the agreement was intimated to her by a source in Slovenia and that the document is a step back in protecting Croatian interests. Namely, contrary to Pahor, Kosor did not circulate the document among Croatian MPs, who – apparently resorting to their own devices – decided the agreement is hurting Croatian national interest. PM Pahor presumably tried to convince at least some of them to the contrary. Yesterday he visited Jadranka Kosor in Zagreb, but then met with his brother in leader of Croatian Social Democrats Zoran Milanović. Neither was available for comment after the meeting and this prompted even more speculation about what (if anything) Pahor achieved in Zagreb.

Which again brings us back to Slovenia, where Janez Janša said yesterday evening that lack of progress is a good thing, since Slovenian vital interests (i.e.: direct access to high seas) are not at all protected in the agreement.

They say that a country’s foreign policy is only an extension of its home policy. But in this case it is the other way around. We are witnessing a text-book information campaign, which is already bearing fruit. The leaks were carefully placed to incite negative reactions to the agreement and then sources of the leaks will quote those negative reactions as proof of the document being even worse than originally suspected.

It would be safe to assume that if the document really bordered on high treason, it would have been leaked to the media long ago by either side. So, bearing in mind that not a single person, who extensively criticises the agreement, actually saw the entire document, while those who did see it, do not venture beyond broad criticism, leads to only one conclusion. That most political parties on both sides of the border see the agreement as an inherent danger not to their respective countries’ vital interests, but to their own political agendas as they stand to lose an extremely good rallying point.

The Finnish Conspiracy

Days ago Finnish crim-police unit investigating allegations of corruption in Patria Group visited Slovenia and questioned several people connected (or suspected to be connected with) the Slovenian arm of the affair. Led by lead investigator Erik Björkquist, investigators concentrated mostly on painter Jure Cekuta and former PM, now opposition leader Janez Janša

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Janez Janša in an interrogation room, circa 1988 (source)

Cekuta is a curious character whose name occasionally pops up in most unexpected of situations. While his artwork apparently leaves a lot to be desired (or so they say), it fetches uncanny amounts of money, with Cekuta being spotted and/or mentioned in connections with some really important people in this country. He even ran for president in 2002 but fared rather poorly. Word on the street has it that he is incredibly well connected and that almost everybody who is anybody in this country at some point passed though his White Gallery including (but not limited to) the late Janez Drnovšek .

Cekuta was named as one of the possible middlemen Patria used to allegedly – well – grease the sale of 135 pricey APCs to Slovenian army. As most of you know, the TV programme ran by Finnish YLE named then-PM Janez JanÅ¡a as the ultimate destination for grease money. JanÅ¡a sued just about anybody who participated in the programme, including the author, journalist Magnus Berglund. JanÅ¡a lost the elections of 2008 (although the scandal worked in his favour as Slovenes usually side with the victim, which was how JJ was perceived) and moved over to opposition. This brought about an increased level of cooperation between Finnish and Slovenian investigators, curiously lacking during JanÅ¡a’s rule. Results were not what some people expected, though.

It emerged that Patria-related money was flowing between Jure Cekuta, Austrian businessman Wolfgang Riedl who did business with Slovene ministry of defence and Walter Wolf, a Slovene-Canadian-Austrian businessman who happens to hold Croatian citizenship as well (some people may remember his stint in Formula One). Everybody denied it at first, and Finnish investigators voiced their frustration at the fact that they lose track of money at the point where it allegedly “entered” Slovenia. But as the Slovene end of the investigation finally intensified, Riedl confirmed that he paid Cekuta a sum of 340,000 euros for Patria-related services. You know, 340k€ buys a lot of paint.

So, money did come to Slovenia. And so did Erik Björkquist and his investigators who quizzed Janez Janša for about three-and-a-half hours. Björkquist refused to give a statement to Slovene media after the deed was done. Curiously enough, he was more than willing to talk to Croatian media (a part of investigation extends to this would-be EU member as well) and said that Janša was indeed quizzed as a suspect (not as witness) and that there is enough solid evidence against him to warrant the interrogation.

Janez JanÅ¡a, however, told a completely different story. Upon emerging from the interrogation room (parallels with his arrest in 1988 were unavoidable) he said that he was shown a “strategic paper” by Patria, compiled in 2005 on how to land the deal in Slovenia, that several names were mentioned, including that of the late president Janez DrnovÅ¡ek and former PM Tone Rop (who lost to JanÅ¡a in 2004 elections). JanÅ¡a added that Jure Cekuta was named as a contact/lobbyist who “covered” both DrnovÅ¡ek and Rop, while the problem – said the document according to JanÅ¡a – was the new government (JanÅ¡a’s government, the document dates back to 2005), to which Patria had no direct access. JanÅ¡a went on to say that the document contained no letter “J” (which led journalist Berglund to conclude that JanÅ¡a was the ultimate destination of the 21 million bribe), that he has no idea why the questioning took so long, since Björkquist only asked two or three questions and spent most of the time sending text messages while questions and were translated to and fro Slovene. Jure Cekuta was questioned the very next day and spent most of it with the investigators, breaking only for lunch. He said that he was not shown any “strategic document”, more or less admitted to have been given the 340k euros, but said that it had nothing to do with Patria.

Until now everyone involved more or less kept their mouth shut, but cracks in the story are beginning to appear. Right now everyone is trying to put a daylight between themselves and Jure Cekuta, who it seems is poised to be left out in the cold. Which makes him the perfect candidate for blowing whistle. Provided of course there is something to blow the whistle about. Things did not stop there, however, which might be an indication that JanÅ¡a’s cage was rattled pretty hard.

Immediately after the questioning he mentioned names of Janez DrnovÅ¡ek and Tone Rop. This serves no other purpose then to cool the heat he is apparently feeling. Ditto for saying that Björkquist was texting all the time. This is clearly aimed at portraying the lead investigator as an inept and incapable, at the same time inferring (but not saying) that he was either receiving instructions from or reporting to someone outside the interrogation room. And, sure enough, today’s Demokracija (SDS’s unofficial weekly) ran an interview with JanÅ¡a where the latter “assumes that Björkquist is following a political agenda“. And to top it all, JanÅ¡a’s party today released a statement accusing President of the Republic Danilo Türk of political bias and about-face, since he (upon hearing of DrnovÅ¡ek and Rop being mentioned) stated that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, whereas a year ago (when JJ’s name was mentioned) he said no such thing, but rather stated that this is a test for the rule of law.

You see the pattern? First JanÅ¡a says something, then someone else from his camp infers his statement is completely accurate and calls upon people whom JanÅ¡a named to explain themselves. As for JanÅ¡a himself, he is now claiming that basically everyone in this Finnish conspiracy is after him. There’s a word for that.

Love It Or Leave It

It seems that the general public was not the only one who stood amazed at the breathtaking speed and easy-going manner in which DeSUS president Karel Erjavec picked Henrik Gjerkeš as a candidate to replace the outgoing minister for local self-government and regional policy Zlata Ploštajner. It transpired that not everyone within the party was happy neither with the candidate himself, much less with the procedure (or lack thereof) in which Gjerkeš was appointed candidate.

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DeSUS MPs Franc Žnidaršič (left) and Vili Rezman (right) (source)

Party president Karel Erjavec is known for making up his mind and then “democratically notifying” party council which then formally approves Erjavec’s decisions. The thing is, that apparently there’s little debate beforehand, which degrades party institutions to rubberstamp level. Truth be said, the situation is probably the same in most Slovenian parties albeit in varying degrees of intensity. But in a party as small as DeSUS (small in terms of inner-party organisation and issues it pursues) cracks quickly become visible, voices of discord are heard more clearly and solo political escapades have graver consequences.

This time around Erjavec’s solo escapade blew the lid off the top of the heads of two DeSUS MPs, Vili Rezman and leader of DeSUS MPs Franc ŽnidarÅ¡ič. The former apparently said that he does not feel GjerkeÅ¡’s nomination had enough debate within the party, hence he does not feel obliged to support the candidate in tommorow’s vote. Party president Karel Erjavec consequently went apeshit and basically told Rezman to “love it or leave it”. This was too much for ŽnidarÅ¡ič, who feels for some time that MPs don’t get enough say in party matters and said that if Rezman is forced to leave the party group, he will follow suit.

As things stand now, DeSUS has seven MPs, making it the third largest coalition party. Were Rezman and Erjavec really to leave, Erjavec’s standing in the coalition would be severely damaged. Even worse, it is entirely possible that Rezman would defect over to Janez JanÅ¡a‘s Slovene Democratic Party (SDS), and this would suddenly become a major headache for Prime Minister Borut Pahor, who can not afford to start bleeding votes. Not in times like this, with government’s popularity going south, with unpopular legislation still to come and with JanÅ¡a stirring the pot and screaming for a “technical government” (with him at its helm, of course). Pahor and his Social Democrats can only thank whatever god they believe in that only days ago Franc PukÅ¡ič MP switched over from SDS to Radovan Žerjav’s Slovene People’s Party (SLS), which would mean that Rezman’s switcheroo would bring SDS’ MP count back to 29 and still keep it one short of Social Democrat’s 30. Were the two parties on an equal footing in number of MPs all hell would probably break loose, with JanÅ¡a demanding an overhaul of parliamentary committee memberships, since Pahor’s SD would cease to be the single strongest party in the parliament.

But there are probably simple enough reasons for all the commotion within DeSUS. Local (municipal) elections are about eleven months away and Vili Rezman is mayor of RuÅ¡e municipality near Maribor (another case of one person being a mayor and an MP at the same time). I’m not sure whether he has a lot to show for his work within the municipality, but since that part of Å tajerska region gravitates to the right side of the political spectrum it is entirely possible that Rezman is trying to secure his re-election by distancing himself from the government and the party. Mind you, he is not really a party member, he merely ran on DeSUS ticket. But being a DeSUS MP does give him a bit of say over party matters.

Cue Franc ŽnidarÅ¡ič, leader of DeSUS MPs. As noted above, he is frustrated with MPs being shoved around by Erjavec. During the post-election convention ŽnidarÅ¡ič’s frustration was big enough to run against Erjavec for party president. He lost spectacularly and then claimed to have done it merely to draw attention to the dwindling levels of democracy within the party. But he never denied his ambitions to take over the party at some point. In all honesty, he probably has the knowledge and skill, but he definitely lacks media flair.

So, odds are that Karel “Teflon” Erjavec will once again skate clean. And a good thing for him, too. The Patria Affair is starting to boil again and pretty soon he will probably be faced with problems which will make keeping the party together look like a walk in the park.

Political Theatre

Australian director Lindy Davies recently directed a production The Changeling, a play by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. The play premiered two weeks at Slovenian National Theatre Drama and is Davies’ first production in Slovenia, although talks of cooperation began as much as ten years ago.

The play is considered to be one of the best Renaissance tragedies and is – according to Davies – highly appropriate for the times we live in. Seems like Bush, Cheney and their poodles were anticipated already in the 17th century. Pengovsky recorded and published the interview for The Firm™, but since it was done in English, I thought it would make a nice addition to the blog. Besides, you will once again have confirmation that I indeed write better than I talk :mrgreen;

Lindy Davies directs “The Changeling” in Drama – Slovenian National Theatre from pengovsky on Vimeo.