Natural Order Of Things (Everyone Needs A Family)

One of the things that’s been stirring up controversy this side of the Alps is the new Family Code, drafted by ministers Ivan Svetlik (family and social affairs) and Aleš Zalar (justice). Family is a touchy subject in any society, doubly so in one as deeply embedded with traditional values as Slovenian. The government however, seems to have decided to take no prisoners as it proposed what is probably a more radical change than many have hoped for. For other, however, their worst nightmares are coming true.


The proposed legislation finally allows marriages between same-sex couples. As some of you know, until recently Slovenia sported a curious piece of legislation, where it allowed same-sex couples to “register” with proper authorities, whereupon they were entitled to some (but not all) rights as their heterosexual counterparts. The law, passed under Janša’s government, predictably stopped well short of allowing same-sex marriages, much to the horror of gay and lesbian community, especially after the government of Tone Rop, Janša’s predecessor already proposed a law allowing such marriages in early 2004. However, that attempt was half-hearted at best, as Rop’s government was in no hurry to pass the law, despite a nominal two-thirds majority in the parliament, as it was desperate not to alienate the centrist and even right-wing vote (a tactic that proved disastrously futile).

Fast forward five years, and the next left-wing government now proposes not only to allow same-sex marriages, but also the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt children. A progressive move, no doubt. But it must be said, however, that in this respect the legislation also a result of several important legal victories the gay and lesbian community had won in the last four years. Most notable was a decision by the Constitutional Court which declared unconstitutional some key articles of the “same-sex register” law and thus effectively said that homosexual couples in extramarital union (common law marriage) have exactly the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. This particular point was scored by journalist and gay activist Mitja Blažič and his partner. The same Mitja Blažič was also a victim of an anti-gay mob on this year’s Independence Day. Somewhat less public but still very important was a decision by one of Slovenian courts which validated an adoption of a child by a Slovenian homosexual couple, who had adopted a kid in California. According to minister Zalar, the state now had no choice but to allow adoption by same-sex couples lest it created an unlawful discrimination between those who adopt children abroad and those who cannot do that at home.

Although apparently very much controversial, the above is not the most important part of the new legislation. Pengovsky believes (and had already written to that effect) that the best, the most progressive and the most important part of it is the new definition of a family. Traditionally, a family is a union of parents or children (adoptive or otherwise). Under the new legislation, a family would be a union of two or less adults and a child/children. This of course means that adults in the union can be of same sex and still enjoy legal protection extended to families. Even more, it means that a single adult and a child can be a family even though they are not related by blood.

Why is this important? Because finally the law will allow people both to feel like a family and be a family. Imagine a situation where, through no fault of their own, an adult and a child end up in the same household and are especially close to each other. There are number of ways this can happen. Maybe the child’s mother died in a car accident and the other adult is a man she met after her divorce, but never married (not even under common law). And suddenly this man and her deceased partner’s child, although they care for each other and feel like a family, end up without any legal status.

Or, to put a more conventionally controversial example, why shouldn’t a community of two men (or two women) and a child be called a family? Families are about trust, values and safety. And if two adults of same sex can create a safe and trustworthy environment for a child, who is to say that they should be prevented from doing so? Naturally, this is a hair-raising notion for some people. Family is a union of a man, a woman and one or more children, they say. Period. It is the way it always was and the way it should be. It is the natural way. A child should have a mother and a father for a healthy development. As you can see, dilemmas are very basic. They depend mostly (but not entirely) on one’s world outlook and personal beliefs. They cut to the very core of one’s sense of right and wrong. Which is why it can get infinitely complicated.

Regardless of the legal pretexts for passing the legislation, this is an ideological question. The scope of legislation is inherently dependant on the fact that this is a left-wing government. The legislation is proposed because the government (or at least the two ministers who proposed it) believe that a new, broader, definition of a family will do more good than harm and will at the same time satisfy the constitutional provision prohibiting discrimination based on personal circumstances.

Naturally, this is also a political hot potato, which everyone is keen to fondle. Especially the right-wing parties which went head-over-heels in competing which will portray itself as the protector of the “Slovenian way of life”. Since there are no prizes for second place the competition was fierce. For starters, the aptly named weekly Družina (Family) which is considered a semi-official paper of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church ran an editoral pointing out that “we should again think about why is it that it was until 21. century that the society was not prepared to accept homosexuality as a was of family life. Our forefathers kept alive the concept of the family as we know it and now some would like to destroy this with a stroke of a pen“.

Christian democratic Nova Slovenia (NSI), specifically its youth organisation Mlada Slovenija stated that the proposed legislation “destroys the family as the basic societal cell. The existing definition of a family is the only normal one, with a millennia of tradition, which ensures basic physical and psychological development of a child”

Centre-right Slovene People’s Party (SLS) said that it seesallowing adoption of children by same sex couples as an infringement of a child’s right to a natural social environment. A man and a woman are at the core of a family, while a child needs a man and a woman during development, a male and a female component in upbringing

But the top prize nevertheless went to Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) and its president Janez Janša, who said that adoption of children by same-sex couples “does not, considering some natural laws, belong in the Slovene legal system

Now, before you start applauding or throwing monkey shit at any of the above, please note how the tone of the statements changes. The Catholic church is concerned with how behaviour, considered lewd as little as a couple of decades ago is becoming socially acceptable. This, of course has little to do with the concept of family itself, but has a lot to do with who exactly is the arbiter in social matters. The cultural influence of Christianity and specifically Catholicism in this part of the world is evident wherever you go. Socialism changed a lot of things, but the traditional concept of a family and of sexuality wasn’t one of them. In fact, it often transpired that the Party was in some way even more prudish than the Church. And this goes for all of Europe, not just Slovenia.

So, the Church is concerned with the notion of the family only insofar as it will not be the ultimate arbiter on what is acceptable as a family and what is not. This is of course reflected in NSi’s position as well, which points out the thousand-year-old definition of a family. I guess it would be useless to point out that for a long long time people had the notion of the Sun spinning around the Earth, but that turned out not to be the case.

Moving towards the centre, things start changing. SLS and SDS are not concerned with what is moral (or who decides, what is moral) but what is “normal”. This is the more primitive approach, since it does not require following one specific moral authority, but rather following the masses, whose members tend to mimic each other and thus create social mediocrity or (as they see it) “normalcy”. The problem with the notion of “natural law” is at least twofold: first, there are numerous interpretations as to what natural law really is. Pengovsky’s favourite is Hobbes’ definition, but we’ll leave that to the eye of the beholder, whereas the second caveat lies in the fact that Slovenian legal system is not based “just” on natural law, since natural law is not a purely legal but rather a philosophical category. In any case, this might be reading too much into it, since it is quite possible that Janša was just trying to say that some things are not to be changed (unless he okays them, no doubt) and that is, of course, natural.

So, what we are seeing here is an execution of a liberal agenda. First the Erased and now same sex marriages. While it is probably no coincidende that in both cases LDS ministers (Katarina Kresal and Aleš Zalar) played a part, execution of this agenda reflects on the entire government. To progressively-minded these will represent important achievements, to traditionally-minded this will be almost the end of the world. And mind you, the progressive/traditional fault does not run along the left/right fault. There are many die-hard leftist who balked at the possibility of same-sex adoptions and suddenly find themselves in the same camp with people whom they would usually avoid in the street.

This legislation has uncovered another layer of homophobia and general bigotry in Slovenia. Sentences like “you can’t be serious about faggots having kids?” are commonplace as well as savage mockery along the lines of “where are your daddy and daddy?” not to mention the usual argument that “kids with same-sex parents will be social outcasts”, convenietly forgetting that it precisely this attitude which will make them outcasts. Plus some unuttered-but-very-much-present feeling that homosexuality is somehow contagious and will spread like a disease. First on the kids and then on the society as a whole.

While pengovsky can understand the misgivings traditionalists have on the issue, the underlying prejudices and hatred are just another example of the fact that as a nation Slovenes are anything but tolerant. The most we can manage (on average) is a case of NIMBY syndrome, where we are content to be tolerant from afar. But fact of the matter is that existing family structure will in no way be endangered. It will only be complemented by other family structures, allowing more people to find happiness, safety and a stimulative environment, where they will be embraced by the state rather than shunned by it. And that everyone will have the opportunity to say “this is my family” and there will be no grounds for anyone to dispute that. Because there is one thing that all sides agree on: Everyone needs a family.

Pahor Appoints Gjerkeš As Ploštajner’s Successor

Earlier today Prime Minister Borut Pahor appointed Henrik Gjerkeš a candidate for the new minister for local self governance. Much like his predecessor Zlata Ploštajner, Gjerkeš is a virtual anonymous, with no reputation beyond his official bio. What is known is that the 44-year-old is a lecturer at the univesity of Nova Gorica, holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and has apparently worked on several energy-related projects.

Henrik Gjerkeš and PM Borut Pahor (source)

Pengovsky expected the job to go to Meta Vesel Valentinčič, Ploštajner’s second-in-command, but apparently DeSUS president Karel Erjavec made (or was forced to make) a different choice, opting for the son of Marija Gjerkeš, a DeSUS vice-president. However, a little birdie told pengovsky that up until an hour before Gjerkeš’s nomination Pahor rejected the candidate, reportedly telling Erjavec that he had someone else in mind. Whether or not this is true and if true, who or what (again) persuaded Pahor to change his mind cave in to Erjavec remains unknown.

Cabinet Reshuffle

Nine months into its term the government of Borut Pahor is – somewhat unexpectedly, but not all that much – about to experience its first reshuffle. Yesterday minister for local self-governance Zlata Ploštajner resigned from her position, creating a rather awkward situation for Pahor, who seemed to just about get a hold of running the government after a three-way power struggle ensued between himself, the leader of Social Democrats, Gregor Golobič of Zares and Katarina Kresal of LDS, where everyone was playing against everyone else, with the added bonus of Pahor playing against himself as well. As a result we have seen (in this chronological order) the Rupel Debacle, the Veselinovič Standoff and the Ultra Affair, each bringing one of the party leaders down a peg or two.

From right to left: Zlata Ploštajner, Borut Pahor, Meta Vesel Valentinčič (source)

However, once the intra-coalition circumcision-merry-go-round was finished, the government finally started going about its business. And none too soon, as economy is starting to fall apart, the dole-queues are slowly but surely building up and the only positive side of emergency legislation passed thus far is that the situation would probably be even worse if it hadn’t been passed.

But as things stood as little as a week ago, from the administrative point of view things were looking a bit better. The budgets for 2010 and 2011 had been drafted, so had the pension- and health-system reforms and to top it all off, the relations between the state and its capital city were finally improving with the government drafting a new Law on Capital City, allocating a fixed amout of money every year and allowing for additional direct funding. Readers of this blog will remember that withholding state funds from the city was one of major grudges Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković held against the previous government of Janez Janša and – failing to reach an agreement – campaigned hard against it in 2008 elections, adding to high turnout in Ljubljana and effectively winning the elections for the left bloc. And it was amid this flurry of good news that Zlata Ploštajner, who was the principal negotiator on the government side in negotiations between the city of Ljubljana and the Republic of Slovenia, resigned from her position, citing health and personal reasons.

Both reasons seem believable if slightly understated. Zlata Ploštajner always seemed ill at ease in her ministerial function. Appointed to the position by the Pensioner’s party – DeSUS (the fourth coalition member), she was head of the Kozjansko Regional Development Agency before ascending the ministry and before that she was a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences where she held odd-sounding courses which pengovsky had to take in order to fill his quota and defend his diploma.

Her nomination came as a surprise to many. She was virtually unknown to the public (pengovsky and his class being the obvious exceptions) as well as to members of DeSUS, the party which nominated her. Apparently she was the personal pick of party leader Karl Erjavec, who held only per functionary consultations with the party council, which obviously did not earn him brownie points with party officials.

As well as government as whole, Ploštajner too had a shaky start of her term. She was thrown head-first into the treacherous waters of dealing with Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković who had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve, but was getting increasingly annoyed as it was becoming apparent that he will not come even close at getting it. She also had to deal with was as best a sluggish tempo of drawing on EU funds, with as much as a billion euros being at risk of being lost forever, because not enough project on the local level were being submitted for financing, while those which were took ages to get a stamp of approval from the ministry. Her task, therefore, was clear-cut. Deal with Janković and deal with the red tape. And do it while holding an office without portfolio

In all honesty, stronger men would have failed at either of the two, whereas Ploštajner had the added “bonus” of having to deal with Mitja Gaspari, minister w/o porftoilo in charge of development and EU affairs who also serves as the unofficial vice-PM. Gaspari was a finance minister in one of Janez Drnovšek’s administrations and was appointed governor of the Central Bank, where he was the victim of character assassination by Janša’s government at the end of his term.. Subsequently he ran for president on an LDS ticket in 2007 but came in third after Lojze Peterle and Danilo Türk with the latter winning in the second round. When Borut Pahor started picking would-be members of his government, Gaspari was one of the first people who got onboard, much to the shock of his party, because he made it clear that his allegiances henceforth lay with Pahor’s Social Democrats. After the new government was established, Gaspari apparently made it no secret that he viewed Zlata Ploštajner and her work a nuisance at best, reportedly lobbying hard to snatch managing EU funds from her non-portfolio. It has to be said that having an EU minister who doesn’t handle EU funds is slightly odd. But on the other hand, EU funds Ploštajner handled went to local communities, much like those that go to farmers are handled by ministry of agriculture.

Ploštajner herself hinted as much saying in her resignation media statement that she thought that people in the same government worked to achieve the same goal and that they could openly debate the means to achieve it. But sensing that not to be the case, she concluded that the job should be performed by someone healthier and with more political prowess. And indeed pengovsky remembers that while he was at the university Ploštajner skipped a lot of lessons due to bad health.

Curiously enough, bad health is the reason why health minister Borut Miklavčič will probably step down early in 2011. In his case the health reasons he’s citing are beyond doubt. During his summer holidays, which he (like most Slovenians) spent in Croatia, the 65-year-old minister Miklavčič suffered a stroke while snorkelling and was rushed to a hospital in Split where he remained under observation for some ten two days for fears of brain damage. Luckily there was none, but the doctors forbade him to work more than four hours daily. Since his ministry just drafted the most sweeping reform of the health sector in decades, the halved workload will simply not do. Which is why Miklavčič apparently told the PM to find someone else to do the job which requires a 12-hour workday, while he can only work four hours daily.

So, Borut Pahor has to deal with his first ever cabinet reshuffle. All in all it shouldn’t be too difficult, as health portfolio is a part of Social Democrats’ quota, while local self-governance will probably be taken over by Meta Vesel Valentinčič, who (truth be said) joined DeSUS only a year ago, but was Ploštajner’s right-hand woman as her state secretary (sort of vice-minister). The fact that Vesel Valentinčič is also Ljubljana city councillor should make the decision all the more easy.

Upon hearing the news of near-double resignation opposition leader Janez Janša was quick to seize the moment, saying that the only true ant crisis measure would be calling early elections. While Janša never looses a moment when there is an opportunity to spread some instability and feeling of emergency, this is about the second time he did that in about as many weeks, which makes him look more like a spoiled brat lost at football and wants a rematch than a serious politician.

An Undeserved Honour

There is absolutely no reason for The Big O. to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean, I like the guy, but yesterday’s decision of the Nobel Prize Committee was completely unfounded. In case you forgot, the guy has been in office for only nine months and although he has set out an impressive agenda, he understandably has little to show for.

Barack Obama posing as Kent Clarke (source)

According to the Beeb, Obama “won [the award] for ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples’.The committee highlighted Mr Obama’s efforts to support international bodies and promote nuclear disarmament.” This is pure bullshit. If anyone deserved an award for nuclear disarmament it would be Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as well as Leonid Brežnjev and Mihail Gorbačov. No Barack Obama in the picture.

Even worse is the “strengthening of international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. Sure, the whole world breatherd an audiable sigh of relief when Bush jr. finally got left the White House (thank whomever for the 22nd Amendment), but I was always under the impression that international diplomacy was just another day at work for any given US president. And even if that were not so, Obama’s diplomatic track-record is still very thin. Afterall, the guy is the top dog for only nine months. Deliberate naivete aside, the Nobel Prize Committee makes it no secret that the Big O. got the award as a token of “support for what he is trying to achieve”.

Trying being the operative word here. Nine months into the Obama presidency Gitmo concentracion camp is still there. The US is still in Iraq and will remain there even after the “pullout” is over, with tens of thousands more soldiers apparetnly going to Afghanistan. The US just vetoed passing the UN report in war crimes in Gaza fighting of January 09 and propagators of financial derivatives still have not been held accountable. I am convinced that President Obama will tackle some of these problems sooner or later, but as his ass is being busted over the health care reform, these problems were put on the back-burner.

Some say that wore Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded. Simon Peres and Yaser Arafar turned out to be a sad joke, while Henry Kissinger was an outright insult. Yes, even Slobodan Milošević was apparently considered for the award at one point. But all of the above bluffed to be peace-makers, whereas Obama didn’t have to do even that. He just got the prize.

Pengovsky more often than not disagrees with Žiga Turk (former development minister in Janša’s government) but this time I cannot but concur with his yesterday’s tweet: “If Obama is half the man he would like us to believe he is, he would turn down the award

EDIT: In his reaction to winning the award Obama said he was “suprised and deeply humbled” and added that he did not view the prize as a recognition of his accoplishmentsz. Furthermore he said he feels he did not deserve to be in the company of other laureates but that he will use the award as a call to action.

The Ultimate Attempt At Reconciliation

After the forces of light won the Second World War, they turned out to have a rather peculiar idea on how to go about healing the wounds of war. The project was put on hold until the post-war management ran that particular company into the ground, after which the new management, helped by the local branch of the only true multinational company, tried to reconcile the nation by rewriting history. That didn’t go down well either and we’ve been seeing half-hearted attempts at national reconciliation ever since. Until now…

Forget bridging the political divide. Forget religious tolerance. Forget even bringing together feuding families. If this nation can come to terms with itself, it will do so by marrying industrial rock to turbofolk. Courtesy of Smetnjak (Dustbin) Group, pengovsky is proud to give you Tanz mit Schwanz, a Laibach vs. Atomik Harmonik trash-up, created by the Smetnjak team.


The only remaining question is, whether this makes us an “industrial folk” or a “turbo rock” nation? 😈