Off With Her Head (Take Two)


Minister of interior Katarina Kresal on Wednesday last survived her second interpelation. Unlike the first time around, though, this one was close. Not only did she have some serious ‘splaining to do, she also had to cover her back within the coalition and that turned out to be no small feat. 38 MPs voted for Kresal’s dismissal, while only 40 voted against. Not the best of the result, when one takes into account that the coalition has 50 votes in the parliament. Luckily for Kresal the opposition would have to muster 46 votes (i.e. an absolute rather than a relative majority) and that was not likely to happen. But it wasn’t impossible.

Namely: Kresal wasn’t just being dragged through the mud because of canine affair (where crim-police found no evidence of a conspiracy and could not conclusively prove animal abuse, let alone of multiple persons doing it, however, abuse of power to unlawfully return the dogs is still being investigated), but also because it she signed a contract to rent the the building of the National Investigation Bureau from Igor Pogačar, a business associate of her partner’s, a mid-size real estate magnate and a person with a chequered past. This was in addition to all Kresal-related evergreens, such as The Erased, the general accusation of her abuse of power in relation to several ongoing NIB investigations, et cetera et cetera.But these were the least of KK’s problems. While she had her political enemies to worry about, it was her political friends she had the most to fear from. When Karl Erjavec‘s ministerial future was in limbo, she helped rock the government boat to the point of Erjavec falling out. Karl did not forget that. Furthermore it became obvious that the Ultra Affair was actually a power-struggle between Zares and LDS and that much of what was used against Gregor Golobič as evidence was in fact falsified or deliberately misinterpreted. That too did no go forgotten. Then there were here repeated PR fiascos, where every time when she found herself under fire, she hid before the media, allowing a hostile version of the story to float around in media and emerging only days later to share her side of the story, by which time she was already guilty in the public’s eye (case in point being the canine affair and her official car being caught speeding with her in it). And just to top it off she fumbled her speech on Wednesday, losing track of time and running out of it before being able to bring the speech to a close. It did not leave a good impression.

However, she got lucky this time around. Just as she tried too hard to show that she’s acting within the law, so did the opposition, which – truth be told – put on a great show. Not only did this interpelation read like a “Best Of” of anything anyone has ever said or written against KK, but also showed they finally mastered the tools of the 20th century and put together a 66-slide Powerpoint presentation (I assume it was Powerpoint, since the little flacid software giant has a lucrative deal with various branches of Slovenian state) where they – in a true reality-show-manner – pieced their claims together into a political shocker which portrayed alternately portrayed Katarina Kresal as the witch, the primadona, the elitist, naive, mischievous, perverted, sinister, corrupt and even as horrible a thing as being a woman(!) – with one single goal: to drive a wedge between LDS and the rest of the coalition. And they had some success doing it.

A year ago, after surviving the first attempt at her political life (for this is what it’s all about – to kill her politically) Katarina Kresal was at the top of her game. Unwisely, however, she decided to play hardball. By trying to quickly assert her party both politically as well as business-wise, she was making enemies left and right, top and bottom. But playing hardball requires a lot of political leverage and spare political capital to pay the dues later on. LDS had neither and this was the greatest blunder Katarina Kresal made: she failed to realize that a) LDS’s human resoucre pool is much weaker than it was six years ago, courtesy of b) since name of LDS carries much less weight than it did six years ago, when the party fell from grace, that it to say that it fell from being the most powerful party in Slovenia, firs into into utter disarray, then split up and is now the most junior partner in the ruling coalition. This could be offset by large amounts of political prowess, but c) Katarina Kresal personally lacks those as well. She (naively?) believed that if she stuck to the letter of the law in everything she did, she should be OK. This, of course is not how things work. Not in politics.

Say you’re a minister and you’re driving in an official car, speeding down the motorway without any official insignia (rotating lights, etc). It doesn’t really matter whether you were on official business or not, but fact of the matter is that your driver was speeding and you get pulled over. Shit happens. But still. Not wanting to pull strings you accept the ticket (that is, you instruct the driver to accept the ticket) and move on. You were fined, you paid, end of story. But sooner or later the whole thing becomes public. What do you do? Well, if you are Katarina Kresal you unwisely believe that you did nothing wrong politically, as you accepted (and paid) the fine. Wrong answer. In the public’s eye you did everything wrong, at least according to the opposition who is once again screaming for your head. And since you’re not there to respond with a statement immediately, the opposition’s interpretation of events immediately becomes the accepted truth, painting you yet again as the elitist bitch who thinks she can get away with anything?

You see where I’m getting at? The rule of law is a wonderful thing and you can achieve wonders with it in a courtroom, where KK used to operate. But in the courtroom of public opinion (what an ugly phrase!) rule of law can become marginalised if it is not backed up with some sound political and PR management. This is where Katarina Kresal and indeed most of LDS senior leadership just plain fucked up. Not just with this interpelation, but a year ago, when they opted to punch way above their weight, but failed to prepare for inevitable return blows. Or, if you’d like this put in football terms: LDS’ political offence is good with formidable striker duo (Kresal and justice minister Aleš Zalar), but their defence which, due to the small size of the team must be played by the same people, sucks.So, Kresal’s dues for playing hardball were cashed in last Wednesday. SDS’ little powerpoit tricks worked and some coalition MPs were starting to wonder why exactly should they support her. It was only after PM Borut Pahor reined them in that she mustered enough support to continue as minister. Still, MPs of Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS and three MP’s of Gregor Golobič’s Zares abstained, while Roberto Batelli, Italian minority MP even voted in favour of Kresal’s dimsissal (minority MPs, one Italian and one Hungarian, traditionally side with the government on non-minority related issues). The end result was 38 in favour and 40 against her dimsisal. True, according to the constitution the opposition would have to muster 46 votes to see Kresal go, but politically, Kresal would probably be mortally wounded if more MPs voted for her dismissal than for her to continue as Minister of Interior. Had that been the case I’m sure Kresal would bend over backwards in quoting article 118 of the constitution, which stipulates the 46-votes-needed provisio, but the political reality would demand her leave the office. Hopefully, she understands that now.

Not that her life will be easy from now on. Her right hand, state secretary Goran Klemenčič announced days ago that he will resign his post on 1 June. Apparently this was the deal all along. Rumours have it that he will continue as special advisor to PM on justice and security. But be that as it may, minister Kresal is losing her key aide, a man who is said to have been the brains both behind establishing the National Investigation Bureau as well as the law on solving the issue of the Erased. Plus, the opposition announced that she should expect another interpelation soon.

Last, Best Chance

Delo’s Saturday supplement Sobotna Priloga ran a rather disturbing text on the upcoming referendum on the arbitrage agreement by Tine Hribar. The very fact that Hribar wrote a piece on the issue is news, not in the least because Hribar is viewed a member of core group of people who laid – shall we say – intellectual groundwork for Slovenian independence. His opinion carries an enormous amount of weight which is the primary reason why pengovsky feels somewhat out of his depth writing this post. However, there are things that need to be said.

Tine Hribar, Ph.D. (source)

To be honest, there are points where pengovsky agrees with Hribar. Like Hribar, pengovsky too noted the curious lack of a definite rejection of the arbitrage agreement by Janez Janša‘s Slovene Democratic Party. However, Hribar takes it even further and says that most of Slovene political right wing supports the agreement, either of their free will or due to outside influences. These outside influences, he notes, mostly come in the form of both the Vatican and the United States supporting the agreement. Then he switched gears and calls the referendum a charade, a scam if you will, and urges caution, since the Croat side was so quick to accept it. At this point Hribar’s writing and reality part ways.

The Croat Factor

Croatia was not “quick to accept” the agreement. Yes, given the fact that the whole dispute lasts for almost two decades, the agreement was concocted relatively quickly, but Hribar forgets (conveniently so) that Croatia was operating within a limited time frame which would still enable it to continue EU membership negotiations (so called accession conferences) and it was in Croatian interest to get a move on things. Furthermore, it was not as if Croatian parliament passed the agreement en passant. It took a deep cabinet crisis, countless negotiations, accusations of high treason and one very long session of Sabor (Croatian parliament) to pass the agreement. And even then with an added statement that the infamous word “junction” does not mean Slovenia’s direct access to high seas (in return, Slovenia declared that is exactly what the word means).

Some Most Slovene politicians suffer from a sort of inferiority complex in regard to Croatian foreign policy. Slovene media is happy to reinforce the sentiment and Slovene public is happy to accept it. In this picture Croatia has this world-class diplomatic machinery on a par with (lookie, lookie) the Vatican, which enables it to forcefully assert its interests and whose sole aim (apart from making Croatia a regional power) is to disenfranchise Slovenia in any way, shape or form possible. As a result, Slovenes should be wary of Danaans Croatians bearing gifts.

Curiously enough, Croats think the same way about Slovene diplomacy. If you feel this notion preposterous, just read any Croat newspaper for two weeks in a row and you’ll be surprised to learn that Ljubljana is home to some world class diplomats. The feeling one gets from reading Croat media is that Zagreb sports a rag-tag diplomatic core full of semi-competent people who have never heard words like “strategy” and “coordination”

So. Each side is convinced that the other side is trying to outfox it. It became the accepted truth of the past two decades and a starting point for any analysis of either country’s moves. While it is understandable that such a climate eventually permeates virtually every pore of a nations’ psyche (twenty years is after all a bloody long time), it strikes me as odd that an intellectual of Hribar’s stature whose feet pengovsky would be unworthy to lick, had he been in the feet-licking business, is unable to look beyond the constraints of daily politics and common-sense geopolitics (for the uninitiated: in political science “common-sense” has a negative connotation, not unlike “simpleton”)

The Foreign Powers Factor

History of the Balkans is replete with clashing of foreign powers’ interests. The bloody trail 20th century left in this particular part of the world testifies to that. In the case of the arbitrage agreement a lot was said about the role of the Vatican and the United States. Indeed, both countries are highly influential in this part of the world. The Vatican because it was one of few active sponsors of Slovene and Croatian independence (hoping for an increased role of Roman Catholic Church in both countries) and the US for obvious reasons: not only are both Slovenia and Croatia NATO members, the US also actively helped Croatia win their Homeland War with operations “Thunder” and “Lightning” in 1995, as well as the fact that Balkan carnage was stopped only after US under President Clinton stepped into the conflict. Therefore, the US – while obvisouly having leverage in Slovenia, mostly courtesy of former foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel – has way more leverage in Croatia which would probably still be one-third under Serb paralimitary control had it not been for the US and the international community as a whole

It is understandable that Vatican influence makes Hribar nervous. Not only is anti-clericalism one of his predominant themes (not that there’s anything bad with anti-clericalism, especially due to the dubious role Roman Catholic Church played in contemporary Slovenian history), but the fact that the Vatican has much more leverage in Croatia should make eyebrows go up. However, the Vatican support came in the form of Cardinal Franc Rode, former Ljubljana Archbishop saying that “since both sides are unhappy with the agreement it must be good” which is as muted and unofficial response as one can get. Remember, this was not the official position of the Holy See, but an opinion of a powerful clergy-man who is a) Slovenian and b) close to the pope.

Also, we must not forget that Slovenia is a member of the EU. While the Commission was “worried” about Slovenia blocking Croat negotiation process, unofficially some member stated were actually encouraging Slovenia to stick with it, not in the least because it a) curbed German/Austrian influence in the region, b) had and still have doubts about EU’s so-called enlargement capacity and c) had their own axes to grind with Croatia and were more than happy to see someone else take the lead. This goes most notably for Great Britain which has issues with Croatian (non)tackling of corruption, The Netherlands which has issues with Croatian (non)cooperation with the Hague Tribunal (the issue of so called artillery logbooks during operation Thunder) as well as possibly France on the issue of audio/visual copyright.

Point being that if there were strings pulled (and no doubt there were), it was Croatia that was leaned on much more than Slovenia. Not only because Slovenia is an EU member (this may have won Ljubljana some support, but also alienated some other member states), but mostly because a) Slovenia is playing ball in other areas and was calling in favours as well as b) Croatia was politically and strategically indebted in so many ways that it simply ran out of credit. Which is possibly why former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader resigned and was succeeded by Jadranka Kosor, after which the arbitrage agreement just sort of happened.

The Clinton factor

Much was said and written about a sentence by former US President Bill Clinton during his last visit to Ljubljana. Clinton (who, according to Robin Williams had the unfortunate accident of finding himself the only Jewish girl who couldn’t get a stain out) said that “Slovenia should be happy and content with the 42 kilometres of coast it has”. This was predictably taken as a direct snub and “a clear message from Washington” by those who oppose the arbitrage agreement and interpreted as the final proof of almightiness of Croat diplomacy (see above) which obviously lobbied for support in
Washington and got what it wanted. Hribar says as much as well in his article.

The thing, however, is that the whole sentence is taken out of context in so many ways that it hurts. First of all, Hribar should be aware of the fact that there is a tacit agreement between Bill Clinton and the White House that the former president does not comment on foreign policy, with his wife being the Secretary of State and all. Secondly, Clinton was visiting Ljubljana on a speaking tour, hosted and paid for by Diners Club Slovenia and was booked months before Prime Ministers Pahor and Kosor started their flirtatious relationship. Therefore Clinton was not “sent by the White House to tell Slovenia to back off”, even though the entire Slovene political elite was present at this speech. Even more, Clinton (who still enjoys the status of semi-diety in Slovenia) was careful not make his visit look like an official one, so he wouldn’t even meet PM Pahor officially. The two instead “met by chance while strolling in Ljubljana” thus allowing for one of the more bizarre scenes of contemporary Slovene politics (PM Pahor is “by chance going down to Prešeren square”, something catches his attention and he nudges his aide: “My word! Is that… No, it can’t be… But it is! President Clinton! My god, what a coincidence!” whereupon the two fall into each other’s arms and have a coffee)

Anyways, that is the relationship context that Hribar got dead wrong. Even more important is the content of Clinton’s speech which Hribar completely misinterpreted. The above sentence about 42 kilometres of coast can indeed be read as an ominous warning. Until one remembers that it was a part of a 45-minute speech Clinton gave on the subject of climate change and that the next sentence was something like “if the sea levels rose by a metre, you’d have so much more sea that the dispute with Croatia would cease to exist”. Ergo, Clinton was not “delivering a message from Washington” but was rather piggy-backing on his former VP Al Gore, stealing his material and trying to fill 45-minute time slot for which he was reportedly paid a five figure sum. The fact that his speech was rather boring and below-par only reinforces the notion that Hribar and those like him are reading way too much into everything anyone is saying about anything remotely connected to the dispute. Why is this?

Moving on

A couple of reasons, methinks. First and foremost the fact that – as much good as he had done and contributed to Slovene independence – Hribar failed to move on. It is  no longer just about establishing Slovene identity in relation to neighbouring states, but also about making Slovenia a responsible member of European and international community who is able to look beyond its immediate needs, however corny that may sound. Secondly, it has to do with ego. If the last piece of homework would finally be finished, the need for guidance from “founding fathers” the likes of Tine Hribar would be gone as well. While it is true that history repeats it self, first as a tragedy and then as a farce, it is also true that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.

And this is where the current arbitrage agreement is such a novelty. What were are dealing here is an outside-of-the-box bolution. Definition of “junction to high seas” does not exist. Yet both sides subscribed to it. Why? Because any other term that was put forward was rejected either by Slovenia or Croatia. If thinking within established parametres gets you nowhere, think outside of them. It seems that people who established Slovenia are unable to do so. Their role was crucial, however, they have – in this instance at least – outlived their usefulness. As things stand now, neither side has an absolute guarantee for success, nor is it guaranteed failure.

Whether Tine Hribar likes it or not, the arbitrage agreement between Slovenia and Croatia is the last, best chance for settling the issue. The odds are as even as they have ever gotten. And this is why pengovsky hopes that people of Slovenia will support the agreement on June 6.

Perhaps this way fantasies about Croatia “occupying” Slovenia will finally end. Today we celebrate the other kind of resistance against occupation. The one which made it possible for Slovenia to become an independent nation fifty years later and showed the world that this nation is independent, unbreakable and proud. The time has come to show that we’re sensible as well.

Happy Resistance Day, everyone! Smrt fašizmu, svobodo narodu!

The End of Belgium, Part II

A guest post by dr. Arf, naturally.

Like the Good Doctor reminded me today, Belgium hasn’t let anyone down and stayed true to its tradition of creating crisis and instability in this little country. I’ve been saying it before and I say it again : Belgium is only a country in name anymore and, as was once again evidenced in the past three years, the water between the respective regions is proving to get increasingly deeper, up to the point where it’s ocean sized. And in my somber estimates, we’re not far from that point. Sit back and have a drink nearby, this is a long one, because the matter is complicated and requires some explanation. My sincere apologies…


I already attempted to explain the problems situated in the region around Brussel, which is Flemish territory, but over the past fifty years got increasingly inhabited by francophones. Now, I must say there is a significant difference between francophone Brusselians and Walloons. Our Wallonian brethren and sisters probably are scratching their heads just as much as their Flemish counterparts about this issue, but one thing is for sure : everyone has become sick and tired of the whole thing.

A quick recap of what it is about: an electoral district was created, called Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde. Constitutionally, it is however illegal, because the Halle – Vilvoorde part is Flemish territory, meaning that Wallonian politicians have no legal right to campaign for votes there. The problem, of course, then becomes that there are too many votes to be gained from H – V for the Brussel Capital Region, and this of course doesn’t sit well with said parties, especially the Wallonian Liberals of MR and their cartel partner, the FDF, which in itself was established to claim the rights – rightfully or wrongly – of the francophones in the Flemish region around Brussels way back when. Their current president, Olivier Maingain has been walking around with a box of matches and a can of gasoline for the past three years, demanding that H-V should be added to Brussel, giving nothing in return and even demanding more money and the official appointment of three francophone mayors elected in the last municipal elections, who refuse to abide by Flemish constitutional law and therefore aren’t eligible to govern their respective municipalities. This, in turn, is of course fuel on the fire of moderate Flemish Nationalist party NV-A (not related to the Viet Cong, I assure you), for whom the division of B-H-V can only happen unconditionally. And even the other Flemish political parties don’t really feel like giving too much concessions anymore.

So, we had federal elections in June of 2007 and the winning party, Flemish Christian Democrats CD&V and their front man, prime minister Yves Leterme won the elections – with then cartel partner NV-A – on the promise of taking ?five minutes of political courage’ to divide B-H-V. It won Yves 800.000 preferential votes that immediately became the political millstone around his neck, as none of the Walloon politicians wanted to negotiate with him. You can read all about that in my previous series. Fact of the matter is that, ever since, there has been negotiation after negotiation, for three years straight, because the Walloon politicians simply refused to budge and neither did the Flemish. CD&V and NV-A parted ways not even a year after the elections because CD&V in the end didn’t prove to have the political courage to take those five minutes to divide B-H-V unilaterally together with all other Flemish parties. NV-A has since then become a major player, gaining a lot of votes in the last regional elections of 2008, not in the least because party leader Bart Dewever is an old school politician who knows his dossiers, is an apt historian and has a no nonsense attitude, telling it like it is and presenting himself the way he is unapologetically. He also has a dry and cynical sense of humor which seems to be appreciated by many a Fleming. In that sense, he and his party are the Wallonian parties’ worst enemy and that the politicians who landed this country in this mess some twenty odd years ago when Belgium became a federal state, on the idle hope that both regions would continue to understand each other. However, give a region its own constitutional powers and gradually transfer most of the governmental authorities that used to be in the hands of the federal parliament to them, and they will turn onto themselves, watching and reading only their own news bulletins, expanding on their own culture and becoming more and more ignorant about that of their neighbours and becoming more ignorant about each other to the point where Belgium has de facto become a divided entity, with few common ground to rally together. The common ground, in this case, consists almost uniquely of tennis players Justine Henin (Walloon), Yanina Wickmayer and Kim Clijsters (both Flemish). And maybe, just maybe, our blundering national football (soccer) team. And that, my friends, is it.

So what happened last Thursday? Well, after Herman van Rompuy, our beloved European President – if you count out UKIP EMP Nigel Farage, of course – took office, Yves Leterme returned as Belgium’s PM for a third time. It was agreed that former PM and European heavyweight Jean-Luc Dehaene, also of CS&V signature, would work out a plan to divide B-H-V that everyone could live with from December till Easter. Dehaene, who’s big on discretion as well as body mass index, wasn’t seen or heard, unless to say that this deadline was extended until the end of the Easter holidays. At that time, freshly elected Flemish Liberal Democrat party Open-VLD party leader Alexander De Croo – a coalition partner in the government – is alleged to have said that this deadline had to be respected and the B-H-V negotiations should by then have ?landed’, or they would leave the government. This was reiterated at the start of this week, when it became apparent that the Wallonian parties didn’t think Dehaene’s propositions went far enough and the latter exited in a huff of anger about their conduct during the negotiations, not in the least that of Olivier Maingain. The deadline came, and uncharacteristically true to their word, Open-VLD left the government, effectively putting this land in a federal crisis, causing the federal government to fall. De Croo alleged that it was apparent that the Walloons were just playing their tired old tactics of not wanting to negotiate, then saying the negotiations that DID take place were a basis for… negotiations to commence, and he would be right. However, all the other parties in the ?negotiations that were no negotiations according to the Wallonian parties’ came out saying that there was a basis to continue, at least until next Thursday, after which the Flemish parties would attempt to unilaterally vote the division of B-H-V. They further said that Open-VLD had agreed with that before concluding the negotiations, which was categorically denied by De Croo. Meanwhile, PM Leterme went to the king for the fifth time in three years to offer his government’s resignation, which the king said he’d take under advisement, and invited Federal Assembly president Patrick Dewael (Open-VLD) and asked him to put a stop to parliamentary proceedings for the day, in order to let everyone calm down, because it was apparent from early on that both CD&V and Open-VLD would try to put the vote to divide B-H-V on the agenda. The chaos which ensued in the Belgian parliament was something I watched with open mouth, while extreme right nationalist party Vlaams Belang took it upon themselves to sing the Flemish ?national’ anthem De Vlaamse Leeuw ? (The Flemish Lion), which is always guaranteed to disconcert the Walloons. It’s no wonder that, of course, this became the ?hot item’ on the Wallonian news as well as the newspapers down south. I’m sorry to say, but the Wallonian press and politicians just can’t seem to get their priorities straight. VB singing in the parliament scares them more than the fact they themselves have a big hand in helping to succeed what they fear most – the constitutional split of Belgium – while gangsters with Kalashnikovs raiding a jeweler and having a shootout in the midst of Brussel is considered a ?fait divers’. Nothing going on there, it happens in London and Paris too, so it’s not a big deal. I have to say ?quoi?!’ (yes, that is where Ljubljanchans get their ?kva’ from, thanks to Napoleon).

Back to the topic at hand, that same evening, Alexander de Croo was summoned by the king as well and afterwards went on record saying that he was more than willing to continue negotiations, if and only if the Wallonian parties would agree to set the deadline to next Thursday (that was implied, not said out right) and they would adhere to the propositions that Dehaene had made with no further additions. He also went on to defend his party’s governmental exit by saying that it was meant only as a strong signal to the Walloons that their philandering would not be acceptable anymore after three years of stalling. Other Flemish parties alleged that Open-VLD had made this move to score in the – constitutionally illegal – new elections that would undoubtedly follow this crisis and that they never constructively participated in the current government anyway, which of course was denied. My take on it is, that both grounds are true, with the one facilitating the other.

So, what will happen next? No one knows. The king appointed MR spearhead and vice PM Didier Reynders as negotiator to see if there’s still a basis for talks. Next Thursday, when the parliament reconvenes, it is however suspected that if talks fail, both CD&V and Open-VLD will put the ?division’ vote on the agenda, with the Walloons blocking it by filibustering and using what’s called an ?alarm bell procedure’, to take the vote off the table. As it stands, the Flemish parties could still unilaterally vote for the division, as they have done before. In any case, MR-FDF, in lieu with the other Wallonian parties, succeeded in making the Wallonian nightmare scenario, the end of constitutional Belgium, come dangerously close by their hardline demands and handing Open-VLD a way out of the government. Why? Well, if there will be new – and, again, illegal – elections, all political commentators agree that at the time of the new formation negotiations, the Wallonian politicians will find even less desire in their Flemish counterparts to come to a consensus, because it is becoming apparent that, while being sick and tired of the antics of their political representatives, theFlemish constituents will give their votes to those parties who will promise to make the division of B-H-V happen without any or at least the least amount of concessions. NV-A will have a field day. At least one Wallonian party – the Christian democrat CDH – sees that this would be a nightmare scenario and yesterday came out saying by way of party leader Joëlle ?Madame Non’ Milquet that the expansion of Brussel is not a must.

The only way this country will get a lifeline, is if both sides back down a bit, the Flemish accept that some concessions are unavoidable and the Walloons relent their unwillingness to negotiate and refrain from increasing their demands, knowing they will never get them. By which time the government can actually do what it is elected to : working on a solution for the economic crisis and improving people’s lives, none of which it apparently had the time or will to occupy itself with in the past three years. So far, we’ve had three years of nothing and have become the laughing stock of Europe to boot. But as it stands, the constitutional split of Belgium, as far as I can see, isn’t a question of ?if’ anymore, but of ?how soon’ and ?how’. With Flanders being tired of putting up with Wallonian demands about everything from land concessions to money transfers to prop up their badly managed economy (which is said to be on the rise, but so far, I’m not seeing it, while the long bankrupt Brussel Captial Region is still run on Flemish money, by the way) and Wallonia increasingly viewing the whole of Flanders as extreme separatist and making increasingly irresponsible political moves and demands as a result of that fear, we seem to go ?himmelhoch jauchzend zum Ende’. What this potentially could lead to, is something many a Slovene can testify of.

Parliament Ratifies Arbitrage Agreement While Janša Sits Outside

After a heated debate Slovene parliament yesterday finally ratified the arbitrage agreement between Slovenia and Croatia. In a somewhat curious development MPs voted with 48 votes in favour and none against, while the opposition collectively left the chambers and obstructed the vote. The vote will now be put to a referendum, which is expected to take place on June 6.


The debate went along the now familiar lines. The coalition more or less claimed that the agreement is the best thing since sliced bread (well, almost), while the opposition said that the whole thing is tantamount to high treason. In the last few weeks, as the government scrapped plans to hold a preliminary consultative referendum on the issue, the whole thing revolved around the question of a majority needed to ratify the document. The opposition claimed that the agreement deals in constitutional matters therefore it should be ratified with a 2/3 majority, just like the Lisbon Treaty or EU enlargements. The government on the other hand said that this is a bilateral treaty like so many others and that a relative majority suffices.

The government is of course right in this case. While it is true that the result of the arbitrary proceeding will deal in constitutional matters (i.e.: border between Slovenia and Croatia), the treaty itself does not. It only establishes a ways to come to a border solution which both countries will have to ratify regardless of the fact that they have committed themselves to abide by the ruling of the ad-hoc court of arbitrage.

But despite spewing tons of sulphur, magma, acid and volcanic ash in the coalition’s general direction, saying that the agreement will surely cut Slovenia from high seas, terminate it’s status as an Adriatic and Mediterranean country and otherwise spell eternal damnation for fearless seafaring Slovenes (Because if it didn’t why on Earth would Croats have ratified it at all? eeeer, because they… like… want to join the EU and were practically manhandled into cooperating? No, doesn’t count?), the opposition had precious little to work with.

Janez Janša, having been once already fucked by Ivo Sanader (the sensation was heightened by his own foreign policy inexperience and Dimitrij Rupel’s legendary ineptitude and self-righteousness) is in no position to oppose the agreement. He and his SDS have criticised the agreement plenty, but it is one thing to oppose it via legal and semantic interpretations of its text, it is quite another to oppose the document by voting against it.

Readers of this blog will remember the shitstorm Janša created after blocking Croatia’s NATO entry just because his government was shown to have done some creative accounting. The whole anti-Croatian thing nearly spun of control back then and he seems to have learnt his lesson. For now at least.

Therefore, rather than put his money where his mouth is and vote against the agreement, Janša and his SDS, followed by the rest of the opposition walked out of the parliamentary chamber and skipped the vote. The end result was thus 48 in favour and none against.

Janša’s “strategic withdrawal” can be interpreted in a variety of ways:

First (and possibly most likely) is the one where he just doesn’t want to be responsible for what would be rightfully perceived as sabotage of yet another attempt to solve the issue.

Second it is possible that he recognises that the document ain’t all bad and that there is actually a fair chance of a solution both Slovenia and Croatia can live with.

And third it might be that the public still favours the solution (the last poll showed some 55% in favour of the arbitrage agreement and 36% or so against) and he really doesn’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the public sentiment. Not now when the ruling Social Democrats have tumbled in the polls (from 17 to just 13 percent) and when more than 70 percent of people voters do not support the government.

So, as pengovsky wrote some time ago, Janša is trying to sit this one out for as long as possible, but his happy days are nearing an end. The coalition is expected to move to have a referendum called on June 6 and by then Janša will have to say whether he supports the document or not. So far he stopped just short of that.

However, he may have already passed the point of no return. Because if the agreement is a success, there is only one Slovenian who will be basking in the glory of the achievement and it will not be the leader of the opposition, if you catch my meaning.

But if the whole thing turns out to be a disaster, there will be a blitzkrieg campaign of “I told you so”, followed probably by collapse of the government and – you guessed it JJ at the helm and the dispute dragging on for another five to ten years.

And why June 6, you ask? It’s the last weekend before the World Football championship and apparently the government PR machine thinks that people will be a) at home and b) more positive-thinking. The fact that by then most of Slovenes will have already prepared their retreats at Croat seaside for the summer season (but not yet visit them) is believed to help as well. I’m not kidding. Given the volatility of the issue, it actually may come down to that.

Highway to Hell

Remember Operation Clean Shovel? Well, a couple of actors from that sorry public relations stunt act appear in the latest production of Slovenia’s Got Corruption Talent. Well, truth be told, this is a star-studded episode which includes almost every player in the country’s construction sector. But just to refresh your memory, here is a short paragraph from the aforementioned post, dealing in the way Slovenia went about building it’s highway system.


(…)it is more or less a matter of public record that companies, supposedly competing for winning contracts, formed a sort of a trust, fixing their bids and pre-aranging who would win which contract, hiring the remaining companied as subcontractors afterwards. Just that no one was able to prove it, because…. well… the government didn’t really feel like it, mostly due to the a,b,c cited above, plus the fact that some wealth was probably spread the government way as well (I won’t use the word bribe, but feel free to think it). But even if there was no direct bribery involved, the fact remains that people from construction companies would often find themselves in government or para-government posts (such as board of the Slovene Highway Company – DARS) or vice-versa. Nearly everybody is connected to nearly everybody else and in this game nobody tops Ivan Zidar, who is probably the single most-connected person in this coutnry. His connections span from old communist aparatchiks to the highest levels of the Catholic Church (SCT being its main contractor as well).

What everyone suspected now turned out to very much correct. Even more. As the Competition Protection Office went about investigating most of Slovenian construction companies on charges of tender-fixing, it unearthed – would you believe it – a written cartel agreement between most of the country’s construction companies detailing who gets what percentage of the business, who will bid at what price and how tender applications will be handled to achieve desired result. Unsurprisingly more than 70 percent of the entire project, which ran for twelve years and is estimated to have cost around 7 billion euros went to Ivan Zidar’s SCT. You do the math.

It should be said at this point that when initially envisaged, the price tag on Slovene highway project was dramatically underestimated. Some say that it was done intentionally, because the project had to be approved by the parliament and if the MPs knew the real price, they’d kibosh the entire project, development be damned. It should also be said that Slovenia did get it’s highways and that they are pretty good, occasional gravity-prone fire-retardant foam notwithstanding. However, the fact remains that prices were fixed, that the whole public tender procedure is now proven to have been a charade and that there was a ton of money made. Some of the profits were legit, but some weren’t. It’s not suppose to work that way.

Now that the rabbit is out of the hat, so to speak, the question is, what to do. The cynic in me (that is to say, me) thinks it is no coincidence that the document surfaced only now. Not only is the highway network more or less complete (rendering the cartel useless), but also the period of limitation, set to three years seems to have expired, making prosecution of the cartel a virtual impossibility. Funnily enough, the Competition Protection Office can apparently fine members of the cartel up to ten percent of their yearly income. Which might in this case be even a better solution than just sending a couple of rich old men to prison. With the situation in the construction sector being where the sun don’t shine, this could very well mean that at least some of these firms would go bust as a result of the fine.

This would literally be a poetic justice (if you’ll excuse the intended pleonasm) since it would mean that by grabbing whatever monies they could lay their hand on while building the motorways, these companies had built themselves a highway to hell.

None of this goes for Ivan Zidar and SCT, of course. Despite being the main honcho of this particular cartel he will probably skate clean. Or even if he is fined, he will probably be able to swallow it. The fact that he just closed a 300 million euro deal in Libya might even help ease the pain 🙂