Lahovnik To Quit As Minister And MP (His Schwartz Just Ain’t Big Enough)

Lahovnik and Golobič while they were still on the same team (source)

Yesterday the government communication office released the infamous letter minister of economy Matej Lahovnik sent to Prime Minister Borut Pahor in which he detailed grievances against his former party boss and ministerial colleague Gregor Golobič. Lahovnik’s adios to Zares was not really a surprise, but the timing left a lot of people, yours truly included, a bit baffled. Pengovsky speculated on reasons why Lahovnik took the Fatboy Slim approach (right here, right now) and now it turns out that he thought his Schwartz was bigger than anyone else’s and he turned out to be dead wrong. As a result, he announced his resignation earlier today and even said that he will not re-take his position as MP.

The letter was widely expected to be a bomb-shell. It turned out to be a dud. Basically, Lahovnik complained that companies owned by or connected with Ultra (a company in which Gregor Golobič owns a 7% stake) applied for public tenders and such. Lahovnik’s main grievance – at least according to the letter – was the very fact that a company in which a sitting minister owns a stake runs for public funds. But the devil is – as always – in the details. Lahovnik goes on to write that in no instance (at least no instance which he detailed) did any of the companies win any tenders, but – and this is where he seems genuinely pissed – in one case the company files a lawsuit against his ministry for kicking it out of the tender.

Let’s be brutal. The fact that a company, where a sitting minister (or any other elected and/or public official) owns a stake,  no matter how small, runs for a public tender, is not entirely cricket. The world would be a much nicer place if these things didn’t happen. However, the Ultra issue was over and done with. At least on relation Golobič-> Zares-> Coalition-> Government (the opposition is still trying to keep the whole affair simmering on a low temperature).  If Lahovnik had a problem with that, he should have quit months ago.

From a legal point of view, however, there is nothing wrong with Ultra (or any other similar company) running for public funds. The law stipulates that a company where a public official and/or his immediate keen hold more than 20% stake cannot take part in public tenders. And if it does it anyway, it simply gets thrown out. Pengovsky should know, it happened once with The Firm™. No ifs, not buts, one simply gets a nice letter saying “Sorry, you can’t take part due to anti-corruption legislation”.

But Golobič’s share in Ultra is not above 20%. It is not even, say, 19.5%, which would imply that he is following the letter if not the spirit of the law. No, he holds a 7% share, which he apparently earned by working for the company and that’s it. There are scores of public officials which own various stakes in various companies. After all, we are running a sort of capitalism in Slovenia. But Lahovnik goes on to say, that he finds it hard to believe that Golobič would not use his influence to put Ultra at an unfair advantage vis-a-vis other companies running for tenders. That may be, but in all honesty, you don’t need to have a sitting minister among your stakeholders to better your business positions. All you need to do is know the right people.

However, as noted above, Ultra did not win any of the tenders Lahovnik takes issue with. So, not only was no law broken by Ultra running for tenders, even if pressure was brought to bear, the system worked and threw Ultra’s application out on merit. The fact that the company then filed a suit against Lahovnik’s ministry over it only reiterates the fact that the system worked, because seeking legal protection against what an applicant deems an unfair decision is perfectly normal. It is done by scores of companies practically on a weekly basis.

So, on the face of it it looks as if Lahovnik doesn’t really understand how the system works. Which is kind of hard to believe for a minister who runs a pretty important ministry and (among other things) gave thins country a electronic one-stop-shop system (e-VEM) for setting up your own company.

So, waddafuck is going on? It looks more and more that there was a clash between Lahovnik and Golobič. Either there was some sort of a leadership challenge (less likely, as Lahovnik reportedly refused taking over Zares) or – more likely – Lahovnik felt Golobič was pissing in his pool and wanted to put an end to it. Only he played his cards wrong and put an end to his political life (at least temporarily).

Namely. One area Lahovnik specifies in the letter is the energy sector. There’s a relatively huge debate going on right now in Slovenia whether to invest in Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant (so called TEŠ6) or to start building the second reactor in Krško Nuclear Power Plant (known as NEK). Pengovsky says “both” and there seems to be a general consensus that Slovenia will need both investments in the mid-term, but the real question is which comes first. Lahovnik was very much in favour of TEŠ6, as it will replace the ageing blocs 3,4 and 5 and produce much less carbon dioxide to boot. However, since Šoštanj is part of Lahovnik’s electoral unit (constituency, if you will), this can also be seen as “bringing the bacon home“, to use an Americanism. Which would all be fine and dandy, had it not been for the fact that some dubious contracts were being signed for TEŠ6 even before the project started for real. I’m not saying that Lahovnik had a hand in this (he probably didn’t) and regardless of his feud with Golobič, energy still is Zares’ turf right now and if there’s a screw-up, Zares as a whole will take the blame anyway. But it seems probable that he felt he was being side-tracked and he took it personally.

The more pengovsky looks at this the more it seems as if Lahovnik only tried to do as much damage as possible and brought up the Ultra affair for no reason other than to hurt Golobič. But he took it too far and forced PM Pahor to choose between a seemingly competent minister and a whole coalition party. Pahor obviously knew where his priorities are and Lahovnik achieved nothing but maybe yet another dent in the government’s already ridiculously low ratings. As a result he really had no other option but to quit his post and PM Pahor undoubtedly told him that his credit just ran out.

This goes for his MP status as well. Upon quitting as minister he could have re-taken his MP seat as he was elected to the parliament first and made minister second. Thus he would have ousted Alojz Posedel of Zares, chipped off one sure vote for the coalition and would even help form a new parliamentary group “independent MPs”, as parliamentary Rules and Procedures specify three MPs are needed for establishing a specific group and there are already two independent MPs (Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman who quit DeSUS months ago), all of which would probably weaken the coalition grip on parliamentary majority, if not immediately, definitely some time in the future.

However, Lahovnik was probably told in no unclear terms that he would be branded a political leper had he returned to the parliament and started stirring shit, so he is apparently returning to the Faculty of Economics from whence he came – and will possibly be awarded membership in one or two low-key supervisory boards somewhere out there. He might have thought he was doing a good thing, but in politics, just as in real life, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such is the nature of the beast.

Oh, and just a technicality. Some Slovene media erroneously report that Lahovnik’s function will cease tomorrow. Not entirely true. While he has already tendered his resignation, he will remain in office in a care-taker capacity until a new minister is appointed.

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Lahovnik Quits Zares

Matej Lahovnik, formerly of Zares (source)

Minister of economy Matej Lahovnik yesterday quit Zares party. While the move is not entirely surprising, it wasn’t as if Lahovnik’s departure was the talk of the town in the last few days, so the gravity of the situation should bot be underestimated.

At this point one can only suspect what led Lahovnik to jump the party boat. In his statement yesterday evening he said that handling the economy portfolio is a demanding job that »being a member of a party no longer makes sense«. Obviously, this is utter bullshit. Just by being a member of a party one is in no way impeded in being a minister. However, there are a couple of ideas floating around why Lahovnik couldn’t reconcile one with another.

First of all it should be noted that in the last year or so Lahovnik went to great lengths in avoiding strictly political functions. Even when PM Pahor called a coalition huddle in late December 09, Lahovnik was the only minister to have given the PM a cold shoulder saying that he has no time for political games. And when coalition was of to a rocky start in early 2009 by a series of less-than-appropriate nominations (like that of Draško Veselinovič as CEO of Nova Ljubljanska Banka, to pick an example at random) Lahovnik did not mince words and threatened to walk out of the government, either by himself of with entire party in tow.

On the other hand, there could be trouble at home. Zares leader Gregor Golobič saw his position greatly undermined with the Ultra affair and it is possible that Lahovnik either saw this as a liability and is trying to put a daylight between him and Golobič, or already saw himself as the next party leader, only to be snubbed last week as Golobič was re-elected for another term at the helm of the party.

Thirdly, it is possible that Lahovnik just couldn’t accept certain decisions, which were as much political as were economical. On of the possibilities, which is being often put forward is the decision to expand the existing coal power-plant in Šoštanj where Lahovnik is strongly in favour, while Golobič reportedly has second thoughts over it.

And lastly, it could be that some other shit is brewing we have yet to hear about. Lahovnik was always considered a kind of political maverick, a notion he himself would probably not disagree with. His no-nonsense attitude seems to strike a chord with the electorate and thus he finds himself in a curious position of being a minister of economy in a middle of a recession and yet ranking among top five most popular politicos this side of the Alps.

More details will undoubtedly emerge in the next days, but rumours have it that together with his hasta la vista to the party, Lahovnik also sent a letter to PM Borut Pahor in which he (according to today’s Delo lead) puts the blame for the situation squarely on Golobič. Although it is not entirely clear what the “situation” might be, as the government seems to enjoy a period of relative calm (if one takes the dire economic situation as a normal state of affairs).

Which again brings us to reasons for Lahovnik’s jumping ship. If he didn’t do it in the past when it would be perfectly acceptable for him to do so, if there’s nothing going on right now which would precipitate his quitting the party, then the reason must lie with something that has yet to happen. Either that, or the move was agreed months ago and has for one reason or the other been executed only now.

Be that as it may, a not unimportant question is what Lahovnik’s move does to coalition mathematics. Technically, Zares is entitled to four portfolios under current government structure: Higher Education and Technology, Public Administration, Culture and Economy. Since all of them are strategically placed to ensure maximum party influence on various government policies, losing economy portfolio will definitely hurt Zares’ political influence. OK, truth be said, with Lahovnik running loose almost from the beginning, party influence in this area was limited to begin with, but it did give Zares an important leverage for implementing its political platform. With Lahovnik out of the party the leverage is gone or at the very least severely impeded.

However, if Golobič and Zares demand Lahovnik’s replacement, this would mean the latter would return to serve as MP (elected on Zares ticket, but probably declaring himself independent), meaning that Zares would indeed keep their portfolio, but lose an MP, which would by extension mean that the ruling coalition as a whole would have one less vote in the parliament which in turn might prove a rather big problem down the road, as Slovenia has yet to make some radical decisions if we are to survive the crisis in at least some sort of social and economic order.

Should Zares nevertheless demand PM Pahor replaces Lahovnik, Pahor would be in no position to deny them their demand. But he probably hopes  and (pengovsky expects) will frantically work towards Zares never making the demand in the first place. Golobič, for his part, is keeping his options open.

Lahovnik was dubbed a master of political survival. But barring the possibility the coalition is headed for a train-wreck most of us can’t see yet, he might have misjudged his position this time. When he skipped the coalition huddle late last year, PM Pahor reportedly gave him a pretty decent dressing down. And if the push came to a shove, Pahor will probably choose Zares as a whole over Lahovnik, despite the fact that some sources speculate that Lahovnik is liable to switch to Pahor’s own Social Democrats.

But should he do that, Lahovnik would probably soon find out that a) nobody likes a turn-coat, not even those to whom he turns and b) his real value for SD was in him being a troublemaker within Zares – in indeed that is what he was.

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Riding a Tiger of Bigotry, Supremacy And Proto-Nazism

Cafe Open a day after the atack (source)

As is usual this time of year, Ljubljana Pride Parade will take place on Saturday. Exactly a year ago, the event was preceded by an incident where a group of Nazi-wannabes raided Café Open in Ljubljana, tried to torch the place and wounded journalist Mitja Blažič. This year it happened all over again.

Now, last year there was a lot of hoopla about it, since the whole thing more or less coincided with Statehood Day celebrations on June 25. It turned out that the perpetrators were members of Green Dragons (the local variety of football hooligans). They were caught pretty soon and properly dealt with in a court of law, where they were convicted to a year and a half behind bars. At the time one was keen to dismiss the incident as an one-off event, despite the growing signs of bigotry in general and homophobia in particular becoming ever more mainstream in a country that as a whole was never tolerant to begin with.

As the trio of attackers was being sentenced, a group of a hundred-or-so hooded young people gathered in front of the Ljubljana courthouse. Again, just a form or free assembly, one might say. Afteral, a year-and-a-half is not a walk in the park. But it was more than that. It was a political statement. Proof was readily provided days ago, when again a group of proto-fascist staged a rally just hours prior to official Statehood day celebrations in Ljubljana.

This time around petrol bombs were thrown on Café Open and the façade was sprayed with slogans the likes of “Death to faggots” and “a bump is a bump, faggot”. Just venting anger? I don’t think so. The same thing (sans petrol bombs) happened at the house of Justice Minister Aleš Zalar, whose wife it turns out was the judge in the above case.

Raiding a café once is a homophobic incident. Raiding it on your country’s birthday is a political statement. Doing it twice is an in-your-face to the state. Raiding the house of a sitting minister and a judge is a direct attack on the country and its institutions. And now a Facebook group against Ljubljana Pride Parade appeared and is gaining membership fast. The group’s description reads “do not entice violence on this group. You can, however, use violence during anti-gay-pride march”. These are not isolated events. What we are seeing is a pattern.

More than a thousand group members are more or less united in the belief that homosexuality is a disease; that gays and lesbians are endangering the nation’s core and that it is all the result of a decadent, liberal and communist-infested society which is in dire need of cleansing. The fact that Facebook profile of Koper branch of Janez Janša’s SDS is listed among the group supporters only reinforces the political angle of the whole story.

Obviously, the mechanism at work is not new. It is “us, normal and patriotic people” against “them, sick unpatriotic fucks”. As if gays and lesbians are any less Slovene on the account of their sexual orientation. The love-it-or-leave-it syndrome is indeed very much present here, case in point being the groups description which (in addition to the above) reads “[gay activists] have Holland, Belgium, Israel and the US and they can spread their disease and evil there”.

However, what never fails to amaze me (and I should be immune to it at this point) is the fact that as a rule, self proclaimed patriots and defenders of Slovene nation, have a problem with Slovene grammar and syntax. Misspelled words, wrong punctuation and complete disregard for the language as a whole seem to be the norm with people who would rid Slovenia of “homo plague” with sword and fire. Furthermore, it is extremely funny how some of these would-be-gay-bashers are young men who posed topless for their Facebook profile pictures brandishing their near-perfect six packs. Time to come out of the closet, boys!

But why worry, one might say. After all this is just a Facebook group. There are scores of groups which bring together small-mined people with supremacist ideas. Well, it is not that simple, you see. If we neglect hate speech, death threats and leading to the use of violence (all criminal offences) which are abundant within the group, fact of the matter is that this group is the ultimate proof that the relationship between far-right, proto-nazi and nationalistic politics and small-minded, bigoted and supremacist public opinion has stopped being linear but is rather elliptical and entered a viscous circle. Thus proto-nazi politics feeds supremacist public opinion which in turn again feed politics, which gives a fresh impetus to the public opinion and so on ad nauseam. Case in point being the debate on the new Family code which resumed this week (as the good doctor noted) and where the political right as a whole again proved that it’s concept of justice, fairness and human rights is perverse to say the least.

During this week’s debate (which is intentionally being prolonged by the opposition, by means of debating every single article of the bill at length) the prize for the asshole of the week went to none other than sitting vice president of the parliament, France Cukjati of Janša’s SDS. Not only did he repeat the non-senses about the code being “unnatural”, that the nation’s future depends on the family being a union of a man and a woman, and so on. But this time he kicked it up a notch and said that “we need the definition of a perfect family otherwise we’ll lose our compass” and then went on to add that “Hitler too had the idea of children without a family”. Not only that, Cukjati’s boss Janez Janša saw it fit to compare abuse, attacks and death threats against Slovenian gay population to a death threat he received (sort of) on the internet while he was PM, where it turned out that an on-duty cop wrote that Janša should be “put away”. Needles to say that the guy who did that was located within days.

While it is somewhat surprising to see Godwin’s Law being applicable to national parliaments as well, this only shows the amount of manipulation and deceit opponents of the Code are willing to commit. First you declare a family exclusively as a union of a man and a woman and at the very next step you claim that kids who live in a same-sex family don’t have family at all. Ergo, they are considered second-class citizens whom it is all right to abuse. Sounds familiar? Who’s walking in Hitler’s footsteps now, biyatch!

Pengovsky said time and again that one should never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. But the problem with riding a tiger is that you cannot get off. And the tiger the ever more mainstream elements of Slovene political right are riding just got out of control. This will spiral into a massive outpour of some sort of discontent and by then parties which are happily providing “moral” cover for gay-bashers, bigots and supremacists, will have to deliver on their rhetoric. And that is dangerous.

P.S.: A special mention goes to Manični Poet for his take on things titled Family Code: If you’re not against, you’re a faggot (Slovene only)