Losing All Sense Of Proportion

Readers of this blog have no doubt noticed a recurring theme in the last few weeks. Namely, that this country as a whole is losing its grip on reality. Politicos, journos and pundits as well as ordinary folk are ever more inclined to find quick and easy explanations to events which surround and/or affect them.

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Bojan Traven, formerly of Kanal A (source)

One such even occurred yesterday, when American-owned Pro Plus media house which owns POP TV and Kanal A channels sacked Bojan Traven, editor-in-chief of Svet na Kanalu A (World on Kanal A), a two-and-a-half-hours-long flagship info programme of the said channel. It is widely speculated that the straw which broke the camel’s back was Traven’s interview for a magazine in which he all but dissed his employer and foretold their imminent parting of ways, while Pro Plus went on the record saying that the reason is Traven’s lack of motivation.

A few words about “Svet na Kanalu A”: Shit, basically. But shit with high ratings and a concept they stuck to vigorously. The show is based on populist journalism, which doesn’t dwell on details unless reiterating their specific angle of the story, readily provides commentary in the middle of info-bloc (not unlike Fox News, but with less gusto), uses the end-of-the-world rhetoric and calls it “we-just-say-it-the-way-it-is”. Basically, it is your average yellow journalism which hides its lack of professionalism by claiming to have balls. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Fact of the matter is that Svet na Kanalu A has ratings and ratings sell. And Americans understand sales numbers. Which is why Traven’s dismissal came as a surprise to some, pengovsky included. However, rather than trying to understand what had happened, explanations were readily provided, saying that Traven’s dismissal is a result of political pressure. And this is where opinion makers start parting ways with reality and similar trivialities.

Namely, some weeks ago, upon his return from self-imposed media exile, leader of Zares Gregor Golobič gave am interview in which he lamented the increasing “media sewage”. It was all a rather clever wordplay on account of Kanal A, as “kanal” in Slovene can mean both “channel” and “sewage canal”. But taking a swipe against the media (Golobič did not speak directly of Kanal A, but rather of a prevailing media trend, symbolised by Kanal A) is not the same as exerting political pressure. It may not have been the smartest thing for Golobič to say (and we all know that he made some stupid mistakes in relation to the media which contributed to the shitstorm that was the Ultra Affair), but it hardly consists media pressure. Let alone a drive to have one particular editor replaced. Because – as someone pointed out on Twitter yesterday – if Golobič is really behind Traven’s dismissal, why didn’t he then go all the way and had the entire show dismissed. Not only that – if Golobič really exerts such influence over media, why the hell didn’t he then put a stop to reports on his involvement in Ultra Affair, but allowed himself to be dragged through the mud for six months by second-grade journos?

I mean, people, seriously! Yes, conspiracy theories. We all like those. Yes, keeping the politicos in check. It’s what we do. But giving credibility to every fucking idiotism which springs into a disgruntled journalist’s mind is pushing it just a little. I mean ferfuckssake, there was hardly a media outlet that didn’t report on the issue. Protests statements were handed out. Twitter was set alight. One of Kanal A’s anchors UroÅ¡ Slak even tended his resignation, saying that Pro Plus curbed freedom of speech and then implied that Golobič was behind cancellation of his show Trenja (sort of like multi-directional HardTalk) which was taken off the air last year after running for eight years. It was as if the channel was shut down, not just an editor who was replaced.

Editors come and go. Especially those with an attitude problem and it is said that Traven is not the easiest of people to get along with. Pengovsky wouldn’t know for a fact, because I’ve never met the guy, but based on statements both by Traven as well as Pro Plus this was little more than a clash of egos, possibly spiced up by a row about Traven’s fee. But in this day and age it is far easier to put it all down to some ill-defined political influence rather than deal with one’s own editorial and journalistic shortcomings. Not unlike a former editor of a newspaper freebie who proclaimed himself yet another victim of Golobič’s media interventions. The fact that the newspaper in question really took of the ground only after he left does not bother him at all.

Pressuring the media happens. Both politicos and high-rolling CEOs do it from time time. It is the nature of the beast. In such a situation it is up to the editor and/or the company’s CEO to put a stop to it. But a foreign-owned channel with rising ratings is hardly the place to do it. And given the obvious lack of leverage Zares’s leader has over state-owned media, the theory about Golobič arranging Traven’s dismissal is pure bullshit. But leave it to Slovene media to serve you bullshit as pure fact. It is becoming a habit.

But as someone pointed out in comment section over at Marko Crnkovič’s blog, it could very well be that it was all just an elaborate transfer operation, with Traven and Slak switching from POP TV to state-run RTVSLO. As for me, I’ll wager you twenty euros that in the end it’ll turn out to have been about the money.

Putting All Of Your Eggs In One Basket

After yesterday’s ruling by the Constitutional Court on the Pahor-Kosor agreement prime minister Borut Pahor and the coalition as a whole started making noises about bailing out on a pledge to hold the preliminary referendum on the agreement prior to ratification in the parliament. While not entirely unreasonable, the idea has plenty of drawbacks too and could mean trouble later on. But, then again, trouble is not something this government is short on as it is.

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PM Borut Pahor after a favourable ruling by the Constitutional Court (source)

As you know results of a preliminary (consultative) referendum in Slovenia are not legally binding. Theoretically this means that even if the government lost the popular vote on the Pahor-Kosor agreement, it could still go through with ratification in the parliament. But it would do so at its own peril, especially since PM Pahor already committed himself to respect results of a referendum, whatever they may be.

But then again, even if the government were to hold and win the preliminary referendum, there is no guarantee that the opposition will not call a consecutive referendum regardless, citing “lack of clarity of previous referendum question” or some weird shit like that. Because this is no longer just about the territory, but about the future of Borut Pahor’s government. If he were to lose a referendum vote, either preliminary or consecutive, PM Pahor – having staked almost every ounce of his political credibility on this agreement – would probably be forced to resign. If he were, however, to see the whole thing through (that is, to ratify the agreement in the parliament, win a referendum vote and get a compromise border solution we can all live with), his stock would soar as he would have achieved what so many before him have failed to.

There is an awful lot riding on this agreement as it is and it would be an uphill battle even without the poisoned political and media climate Slovenia is experiencing in the past few months. But as things stand now, the odds are so heavily against Pahor and his government that it is no wonder that the coalition is entertaining thoughts on skipping the preliminary referendum. Winning one referendum vote will be a daunting task. Winning two would be a near impossibility.

The opposition of course knows this. After all it has done its part in painting the government as inept, corrupt and unable to tackle most immediate problems. True, the government itself did sometimes come across as any possible combination of the three, but the opposition was actively creating a feeling of emergency, either by endless re-runs of Ultra Affair or the canine scandal, by trying to impeach president Danilo Türk, rallying against same-sex adoptions and The Erased and by making it a weekly feature to call on this-or-that minister to “finally resign”. Looking back (and risking seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist), there seems to be a strange correlation between the various affairs which were endlessly debated, used and exploited to no apparent end but to create an air of mistrust, hatred and despair. It may be just a coincidence, but it seems that the opposition is aiming to have these negative feelings released in a referendum vote, preferably in a manner which would topple the government.

Five months ago the polls were somewhat surprisingly showed that majority of the people support the agreement. But today any vote against the agreement would in fact be a vote against the government as such and this is of course something Pahor will want to avoid at all cost. So now failing to deliver on his promise to hold a preliminary referendum is yet another chip off the credibility of PM Pahor, but this change is tactics is probably his only chance of success. Unless of course he strikes and 11th hour deal with opposition leader Janez Janša to secure a two-thirds majority in ratifying the agreement, which would probably make the referendum a political redundancy (technically only a relative majority is needed to ratify the agreement)

But since JanÅ¡a is not on board (he denounced the government yet again earlier today for going ahead with the agreement), the coalition has to make some tough choices. President Türk, who in the past spoke in favour of preliminary referendum reiterated his position yesterday, putting him at odds with Pahor’s government. And according to various media reports similar sentiment is shared by much of coalition MPs. The latter, however, made it clear that they will support whatever decision the government takes, which makes the possibility of ratifying the treaty first and holding a referendum second even greater.

Timing is also of the essence. This is only one of three “big” referendums which will be a hot topic in the coming months. Referendums on the Law on restitution of The Erased and on the new Family code will likely be called as well in the near future. And again the constitutional court will play a huge role, as it will have to decide whether these referenda would infringe human rights of the Erased, same-sex couples and/or any other group of individuals and rule whether to allow them to take place at all. Both of these issues are terribly important and are clear “agenda cases” of the incumbent left wing government. The question pengovsky asks is whether PM Pahor is contemplating on scheduling either of these referenda before the one on Pahor-Kosor agreement, hoping the voters would vent their anger by rejecting either of the above laws and then give a nod to his pet project. But then again, he could be aiming to win three out of three referendums, in which case the bets he is waging are truly galactic.

Constitutional Court OKs Pahor-Kosor Deal

Hours ago Slovene Constitutional Court ruled with an eight-to-one vote that the Pahor-Kosor agreement on arbitrage on border between Slovenia and Croatia does not violate Slovenian Constitution. Therefore Slovenian parliament can start the ratification procedure of the agreement which has sparked heated debate on both sides of the border and where both prime ministers – Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor – were accused of sell-out, high treason, acting against their respective countries interests and so forth ad nauseam

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But while Croatian parliament has ratified the agreement in December 09, things got hairy in Slovenia when the opposition said that it will call a legislative referendum if the coalition rams the ratification through the parliamentary procedure. at that time the coalition backed down, promising to ask the Constitutional Court to decide on constitutionality of the agreement and to hold a non-binding preliminary referendum on the issue before ratification procedure continues.

Today’s decision by the Court is a big victory for PM Pahor, as it comes at a time when his government is severely deficient in the good-news-department. Furthermore, an 8-to-1 vote in favour is a massive boost for the future of the agreement itself, as it shows that the infamous Article 3 is not nearly as dodgy as the opposition (in this case especially Radovan Žerjav‘s SLS) would have us believe.

However, this is only one hurdle cleared. The other part of the government’s pledge was to hold a preliminary referendum on the agreement. While results of a preliminary referendum are not legally binding (and have been ignored on occasions in the past) it would be politically intolerable for the government to lose a referendum and continue with the ratification regardless. In fact, it would have been politically intolerable for the government to lose the referendum. Period. Because if the voters decide against it, Pahor’s stock would sink and since it is not exactly buoyant as it is, he would probably have no choice but to resign.

So, the question du jour is whether go skip the referendum and risk a binding legislative referendum after the agreement is ratified. It seems that this is exactly what the government is mulling right now. Whether or nor this is a good idea and why there might be more to it than meets the eye, will have to wait for tomorrow, though 🙂

A Friend In Need

OK people, this has got to stop. Seriously. I can’t leave this country alone for five minutes without shit happening (EDIT: on second thought, it is probably her fault 😈 ). To cut a long story short, last week agents of the newly minted National Bureau of Investigation (yes, think FBI) detained minister of agriculture Milan Pogačnik, leader of Slovene National Party (SNS) Zmago Jelinčič and an SNS MP Srečko Prijatelj. As you would imagine, all hell broke loose, especially after it emerged that this was a result of a four-months-long sting operation, whose primary target was Prijatelj, whereas Jelinčič and Pogačnik got caught in it en passant. As a result, minister Pogačnik (already heavily wounded because of the canine affair) resigned, Jelinčič is fighting some seriously bad press and is inventing ever more wild conspiracy theories, whereas Prijatelj was put under arrest on charges of extortion as he was picked up after receiving some 320.000 EUR in what was allegedly blackmail money. He remains in custody.

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Srečko Prijatelj befriending cops (source)

It was a bombshell. There I was, entertaining happy troubles about whether go up the Empire State Building or The Rockefeller Center (The Rock won, thanks Adriaan), and the very next moment I read – or rather, am alerted to the fact – that the sky is falling down back home. So, what exactly happened?

According to various media reports Prijatelj was under surveillance for suspicion of blackmail and extortion in some real-estate mumbo-jumbo, where allegedly he, his friend (now somewhat alienated) Marijan Mikuž and former CEO of Slovenia’s main port Luka Koper Robert Časar divided profits from a scheme where state-owned Luka Koper sold some real-estate cheap to Mikuž’s firm (co-owned by Prijatelj’s wife), whereas the firm then leased that same real estate back to the port at double the price. The story goes that the trio supposedly worked well together, since Časar had access to some prime real estate out there, Prijatelj had some leverage as an MP, whereas Mikuž’s firms were used as a front for what was is fact a classic swindle. Until, apparently, Prijatelj started claiming that Mikuž owed his some serious money (whether or not that is true remains to be seen) and started threatening him and his family. Mikuž even claims that Prijatelj gave him the “kiss of death” and pulled a gun on him at which point he went to the cops. They put a wire on him, provided him with 320k EUR (amount Prijatelj is said to have demanded from Mikuž) and picked the MP up as the transfer was made.

Now, Srečko Prijatelj (whose surname literally translates as “Friend”. Go figure) is a generally disagreeable character. His hate speech is even more vulgar and below-the-belt than that of his party boss Zmago Jelinčič. To astonishment of many, he even won a law suit against a journalsit of Mladina weekly who labelled him as “cerebrally bankrupt” after he mimicked and stereotyped speech and body language of homosexuals. The ruling is now being appealed in Strassbourg, after a it got a somewhat unexpected nod by the Slovene Constitutional Court. The fact that he is disagreeable does of cource not make him inherently criminal and it has to be said that the investigation is ongoing and that charges against him have yet to be proven. However, this thing will have serious (if not huge) implications for the immediate political future. Not just that of Srečko Prijatelj, but that of Zmago Jelinčič as well as – possibly – the political right as a whole.

Namely, we are dealing with several overlapping stories. First, there is the investigation of alleged malpractice and abuse of power by former CEO of Luka Koper Robert Časar, who was appointed to this position by the government of Janez Janša. Allegedly tens of millions of euros evaporated as a result of his actions. While the police were investigating (even before NBI was formed), apparently Srečko Prijatelj popped up as actively involved in a part of this enterprise, so they put a tab on his communications as well. And in this way the cops learned about the deal SNS boss Zmago Jelinčič and now-ex minister Milan Pogačnik made. Pogačnik was to secure transfer or some 40 acres of farming land in Prekmurje region to municipality of Murska Sobota, which would in turn decree this become building land, where Zmago Jenlinčič would be able to build Aeronautics Museum, a project he lobbied for vigorously for the last ten years. In turn, SNS would support Pogačnik in a looming interpelation vote.

Since Pogačnik was a huge liability ever since the canine scandal, this latest revelation provided just that final merciful shot which killed off his mortally wounded political life. Although it must be said that – despite the overwhelming public and media outcry – there is nothing particularly wrong with that Jelinčič and Pogačnik were up to. True, the museum is Jelinčič’s pet project and he probably had as much to gain from it as did the municipality where it would have been built. But that is the way politics is being made. I’ll support you if you support my project. It may not be the most beautiful or the most exciting side of politics, but there you go. This is precisely the way budget funds are appropriated and policies crafted. Most of them, anyway.

When Janez JanÅ¡a needed those extra six votes of DeSUS to build his ruling coalition in 2004, he heeded to a demand by Karl Erjavec that pensions should be raised at the same rate as salaries are. This bought Erjavec a lot of stock with the older population (my pensioners, he used to say), while it bought JanÅ¡a his parliamentary majority. The fact that it nudged the pension fund even closer to insolvency as it already was, didn’t matter.

But since public and media reactions bear only scant relation to reality (as we’ve seen recently) the damage is done and political heads have rolled. Pogačnik is down and out, while Prijatelj claims innocence and refuses to step down as MP. But he is detained at the moment which makes SNS one MP short. Not that the party and its leader Zmago Jelinčič have a lot to look forward to. Having been comfortably well off poll-wise, Jelinčič was eyeing becomng even more mainstream. And he had a lot of help especially from SDS and SLS who are rapidly becoming ever more nationalistic and radical themselves, therefore making SNS even more politically acceptable to right-wing voters.

Jelinčič aimed to ride that trend, which showed in the way he piggybacked on SDS proposal that the Law on Capital City be declared unconstitutional. The law is a sort-of-but-not-quite thank you note to Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković, who campaigned hard for the ruling coalition prior 2008 elections, mostly on the grounds that the government of Janez Janša deprived Ljubljana of some 60 million euros of budget money, and arguably delivered the victory to Borut Pahor. He fully expected the new government to give the money back, but was to be bitterly disappointed and got only 16 million, plus a promise that certain project can be funded directly from state budget. But as this is a year for municipal elections, SDS needs to strengthen its position on non-Ljubljana areas, which is achieved the easiest by claiming that the new government prefers the capital over other regions.

However, this move, led by JanÅ¡a’s chief parliamentary hawk Branko Grims (a Kranj native. Figures) more or less fucked Ljubljana SDS, by putting them in an awkward position. If they support the party central, they’ve more or less already lost the elections in Ljubljana, as mayor Janković will beat them to death with a mantra of “first-you-took-60-million-and-now-you-want-to-take-16-as-well”, whereas they can’t really afford to oppose the move either, as the branch just got new leadership, after the old leadership was described as too doveish by JanÅ¡a himself.

Anyways, Jelinčič wanted to piggyback on this SDS blunder, looking to pick up enough votes in Ljubljana municipal elections to enable him and/or his party to return to the city council. He probably figured that anti-Janković voters would be just confused enough to vote for him, the master of short and sizzly sentences and quick solutions. But as he is now being painted just as corrupt as he is usually painting others, this master plan might not bear fruit.

Which then leaves just a question of whether all of this is a result of a months-long criminal investigation, or – as Jelinčič claims a left-wing conspiracy, led by Interior Minister Katarina Kresal and aimed to divert the public from scandals she herself is embroiled in.

Pengovsky says the first option is more likely, especially since four months ago the only thing nagging the coalition was the economic crisis and Katarina Kresal was at the top of her game. But as we have noted several times before: public opinion and media reports need not necessary be based on reality. And the same goes for politicians’ statements.

Hardcore

The Parliament yesterday started what promises to be the most hardcore session in recent history. The new Family Code legalising same-sex marriages and adoptions, a law on reinstitution of rights to The Erased and – last but certainly not least – start of impeachment proceedings against President Danilo Türk have the potential to develop into a political perfect storm.

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How Türk’s impeachment would have looked if JanÅ¡a had his way (source, edit by pengovsky)

As things stand now the political left is not in the best of shapes. The government of Borut Pahor as a whole is about as popular as a Klingon opera while the opposition is having a field day with individual ministers and/or party leaders. Parliamentary investigation of Gregor Golobič is slowly but surely transforming into a full-blown Spanish Inquisition, where the initial charges were proven wrong, but that doesn’t matter, because he surely is quilty, they just have to find out what of. Or so their reasoning seems to go.

Minister of health Borut Miklavčič is facing calls to resign because he apparently signed a bad contract with GlaxoSmithKline for delivery of swine-flu vaccine. Imagine what would happen if he didn’t sing the contract in the first place. He’d probably be taken off stage legs-first. As things stand that may indeed happen. Days ago Miklavčič was hospitalised for the third time in less than a year. Last summer he suffered a mild stroke and was advised to lighten his workload. Being in a middle of health reform Miklavčič, a known workaholic, agreed to work only twelve hours a day and on Monday the devil came to collect. It may well be that PM Pahor will gave to look for a new health minister toot-suite

Then there are the inevitable interpelations of agriculture minister Milan Pogačnik and interior minister Katarina Kresal, both of which are embroiled in the canine scandal. In all honesty, Kresal is in such deep shit only by virtue of her partner Miro Senica being the attorney to the late SaÅ¡o Baričević who is suspected of animal abuse, but there you go. It’s not what you do, it’s who you know.

And as of today it is quite probable that minister of labour, family and social affairs will become the next target. According to “traditionalist” groups the new Family Code will surely bring about the apocalypse as it violates the “natural order” where some people can have a family, whereas others are not allowed to. The debate predictably runs along ideological lines, which pengovsky detailed here some time ago. Even more. If the code is passed, those opposing it will call for a referendum. Which will probably (athough this is not certain) be struck down by the Constitutional Court. Which will probably then lead to calls for constitutional judges to be replaced as well.

The political right goes on to say that ust as same-sex couples should not be granted rights their heterosexual counterparts already have (as this would have lead to the destruction of the nation) so too should the Erased be prevented from reinstitution of their “legal alien” status, backdated to 1992, as this is unpatriotic, costly and will surely lead to the destruction of the nation. Even more, in both cases human rights of these two particular groups of citizens are, well, expendable in the wider interests of the society (“wider”, “interest” and “society” being defined by the political right itself :)).

However.

Those same human rights suddenly become paramount in case of impeachment of President Danilo Türk, who – as readers of this blog know – somewhat foolhardily gave a medal to the last socialist interior secretary Tomaž Ertl. Türk allegedly violated as much as thirty-four articles of the constitution, especially rights of those who were harassed by UDBa. This too is tantamount to high treason and utterly unpatriotic, or so the opposition says. This too, was covered here in detail and pengovsky won’t go into it again. But point is that on one hand human rights are paramount, whereas on the other their continuous violation is only encouraged, but demanded.

Which brings us to the final point of today’s longish post. Human rights, morals, patriotism and even “natural order” are but consumables, poker chips which are thrown on the table when upping the ante, in a game where ever more galactic bets are being made, where the ultimate prize is not money, but political power. To attain it, anything and everything is allowed. Judgements are being passed in advance, regardless of the facts. If the latter don’t fit the theory, so much worse for the facts. And when these judgements will not be upheld by the appropriate institutions, then – it can be expected – calls will be made to replace those institutions as well.