From Dubai With Love

While pengovsky was addressing the wider aspects of multiculturalism, a true human resource drama of nearly Shakespearian proportions was unravelling in Slovenia at the end of which Prime Minister Borut Pahor had to say goodbye to one of his closest coworkers, chief of staff Simona Dimic, who could (had this been a different James Bond spoof) rightly be called Pussy Galore on account of her looks. She was accused of corruption and abuse after it was revealed that she took out a EUR 350,000 loan with state-owned Nova Ljubljanska banka to renovate the house, that workers of the embattled construction company Vegrad worked on her project and even took materiel from a larger Vegrad’s construction site and, tangentially, that her partner’s tourist agency had a suspicious spike in turnover since the new government took over. The pressure was mounting and days later Dimic resigned from her post and reportedly took refuge from the media onslaught in Dubai, accompanied by her partner and their child.

Photoshop job by yours truly

The snowflake which started the avalanche was a loan of some 350k EUR which she took out with state-owned NLB to renovate a house she and her partner own in a plush Ljubljana neighbourhood Murgle. This was combined with claims that builders worked on the site incognito and were in fact employed by the embattled construction company Vegrad and that materiel for renovation was taken from one of Vegrad’s nearly-failed housing projects in Ljubljana. This was an explosive enough mix which – combined with some very clumsy PR, a couple of unanswered questions and a few inconsistencies – led to her resignation.

Vegrad and NLB

Vegrad probably deserves a post of its own, but to put in the context, suffice it to say that the company (which recently filed for bankruptcy) became one of the major players in the construction during the construction boom and undertook to build a large housing project in Ljubljana but went under because of if due to combination of the financial meltdown and some gross mismanagement of its CEO Hilda Tovšak (who, by the way, is on trial in the Operation Clean Shovel). As the company started its protracted and painful demise it turned out that wasn’t paying its already miserably underpaid workers, mostly foreign labourers from Bosnia.

With social injustice still (and rightly so) being magnum crimen in Slovenian society, this was and still is a huge story which boiled thrice over, to the point where everyone jumps at the mere mention of the company, almost regardless of the context.

Ditto for NLB, which still suffers from overexposure to bad loans, awarded to various politically or otherwise well connected managers and manager wannabes in the past few years. As a result NLB requires somewhere between 200 and 400 million EUR increase in capital, which will probably come in the form of taxpayer’s money. And since a 350k EUR loan is not peanuts – at least from the point of views of the “ordinary people” (an populist angle Slovenian media are increasingly covering all stories from) – a conclusion that was immediately made (or at least inferred) that the loan was granted without the usual scrutiny and that Vegrad was continuing it’s practice of exploiting its workers – all for beautification of a senior official’s crib.

… the fuck?

It looked bad from the beginning and it got only worse. For all her cunning, Dimic reacted badly and denied allegations but refused to offer further explanations thus only fuelling speculations further. At some point she sort of caved in and presented some documentation. But it was too little to late.

Fair’s fair and it must be said that while big, 350k EUR loan is not impossible. Yes, initially the bank will probably have refused or place some impossible conditions. But since a bank is not a supermarket where you just walk in and pick stuff from the shelf (not any more, that is), there’s always room for negotiations. Especially if your credit is more or less OK.

Furthermore, journalists always pressed Dimic whether it was Vegrad which renovated her house and she continuously denied that. But “Vegrad” is not the same as “Vegrad’s workers”. Pengovsky is not trying to unnecessarily defend anyone, but I can totally see a scenario where a worker or a subcontractor who went without pay for months, simply takes on another job and uses materiel and tools from Vegrad’s construction site to do a quickie somewhere else, cash on the nail. This is pure speculation, but it is somewhat corroborated with inconsistencies in Dimic’s later explanations where it transpired that a) her spouse signed a very loose contract with a small construction company to handle the project and b) there were some cash transactions, possibly to avoid paying taxes.

Escape to Dubai

But that was only the start of a very bad week. An old story about Escape travel agency was revived. This apparently somewhat obscure travel agency is owned by Dimic’s spouse (together with another partner) and is mostly selling Dubai destinations. According to media reports the company’s revenue sky-rocketed after the new government took over and Dimic became Pahor chief of staff, with various government ministries and bodies apparently buying airline tickets directly through Escape. Pegovsky can not say for a fact that there was anything illegal going on, but it does look unhealthy, no matter how you look at it. Especially since there’s a government-wide system for purchasing airline tickets where short-notice tenders are issued and travel agents then bid with the lowest price.

Anyways, point being that the media onslaught was such, that despite expressions of strong support by the PM himself Simona Dimic resigned from her post last Friday by ways of a tearful letter to the Prime Minister, thanking him for all that he’s done for her and the trust he had shown her, but added that it was all just too much and that she can’t take it anymore. The very next day she was on a plane to Dubai together with her son and spouse.

So, what was really going on?

Simona Dimic was one of Pahor’s closest advisers for the past twelve-or-so years, especially during his stint as a Member of the European Parliament. With his ascent to the premiership Pahor picked her as his chief of staff. Dimic was reportedly very effective in this powerful position. Some would say even too powerful, which was probably what caused her downfall. According to media reports her influence over who gets picked to various para-government positions was enormous, but little birdies tell pengovsky she increasingly had a say over various government policies. And with that she presumably overplayed her hand.

There are various competing theories as to what exactly happened:

1) Dimic has outlived her usefulness to Pahor and was starting to reach over his head.

2) The scandal was coalition-induced as a sort of revenge by other coalition parties and their leaders for the shit they had to go through, especially with Ultra Affair and Canine Scandal (Zares and LDS respecitvely)

3) It’s all Janez Janša’s doing, as a warning to PM Pahor that he too is vunerable and that Janša will do everything to destroy Pahor should the Patria Case proceed.

Let’s deal with No. 2 first, as it is highly unlikely. Neither Zares nor LDS at the moment have the capacity to launch a full-scale media offensive on the largest coalition party. In addition, this would require plenty of coordination on the highest levels of both parties, not to mention that it would all have to be planned during election campaign. However, it is highly likely, that all junior coalition parties and their leaders, Katarina Kresal of LDS, Gregor Golobič of Zares and Karl Erjavec of DeSUS just sat back and enjoyed the ride, since Pahor didn’t move as much as a muscle when each of them hit their respective badlands.

But Brutus is an honourable man…

Well, that’s not exactly true. What Pahor did each of those cases is to state very strong support for the embattled leaders of coalition parties. But there’s a twist. Each and every time Pahor publicly supported them but then left them out to dry. It is a shrewd tactic, not unlike what Shakespeare had Mark Anthony say in Julius Cesar but in this case serves mostly to save face and curb his political allies.

I’m not saying that Pahor initiated the whole thing, but if you will look closely, he – publicly at least – didn’t do much to help Dimic either (save the aforementioned expression of support) and not unlike Karl Erjavec of DeSUS she too buckled under pressure and resigned of her own free will, thus diverting at herself all the mud that was beginning to stick to the polished figure of the PM as well. Parallels with Erjavec’s protracted removal from ministry of environment are stunning, in fact.

If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead by now

It was Virgil Sollozo who said that to Tom Hagen in The Godfather, but it is possible that the media onslaught was orchestrated by Janez Janša of SDS who has his ever increasing pile of elephant shit to deal with. The Patria Case is progressing and the prosecution just upped the ante, changing the indictment from “attempted bribery and corruption ” to “complicity in bribery and corruption” which is a notch or two more serious a charge. If we presume for a moment that the prosecution does in fact have a case, then Janša is probably worried sick. And if that is the case, then he might have just sent Pahor a message, basically saying “I can get to you”.

While we’re on the deep end of the conspiracy pool: in 2005 Pahor and Dimic were returning from Brussels by car and it caught fire in a tunnel on Ljubljana-Koper motorway. Officially foul play was excluded, but some people claimed that it was in fact an assassination attempt. It’s more or less a crack-pot theory, but I thought I’d mention it while we’re on the issue 😀

Wrap it up, will ya?

Regardless of what actually happened, even if it was just media sort-of-performing their role in society (although they get no marks for style and only average marks for technical excellence), bottom line is that the PM is now probably better off then he was a month ago, because he removed (or had removed) a powerful courtier whose ego started issuing cheques her body couldn’t cash (to quote another favourite film of mine). And in the final analysis the story was a welcome diversion, steering the public away from other, quite possibly more important issues.

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Bossman is not Slovenian Obama

It was reported by The Beebs, The Guardian, AP and HufPo while CNN even did a live interview with the man. Sunday last Peter Bossman was elected mayor of the Slovenian Municipality of Piran and thus became the first black mayor in a post-socialist country in Europe.

Jonathan Mann of CNN announcing interview with mayor-elect of Piran Peter Bossman

Unlike the death of a certain allegedly prophetic mollusc Bossman’s victory most certainly is newsworthy. If nothing else, this is a first and media love firsts. So the underlying question is what (if anything) does electing a black mayor mean for Slovenia, its people and their attitude towards multiculturalism. The answer, I’m afraid, is – not much.

Be the same

A native of Ghana, Peter Bossman came to Slovenia (then still very much part of Yugoslavia) in early 1970s to study medicine and stayed here ever since. He married a Croatian-born fellow doctor with whom he has two daughters and eventually settled in the aforementioned picturesque coastal township where today he runs a private practice and is a respected member of the community.

Bossman ran on a Social Democratic ticket and in the second round narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor Tomaž Gantar, a candidate of Piran Je Naš List (Piran is ours). There’s a story behind the origin and the name of the list, but suffice it to say that the “ours” part is suppose to imply “local and regional” as opposed to “state controlled from Ljubljana“.

Anyways. Point being that Bossman won not on account of the colour of his skin but on account of his electoral platform. Which might be good news. Except for the fact that Bossman did not promote himself to voters as black candidate. He’d have trouble doing so anyway as there as there are not all that many black voters in Slovenia let alone in Piran. And this is the crux of he matter. Bossman is one of only handful of blacks in Slovenia, who do not pose any challenge to the established order of white-catholic-male-dominated society. Thus the colour of his skin was not an issue.

Every country has its niggers

Slovenia – especially its impressionable post-independence-born-MTV-infused-and-capitalism-conditioned youth – was quick to catch on to racial stereotypes of the Western world. Those who tread the soil on the sunny side of the Alps long enough will remember Ariel McDonald, US-born play maker for Union Olimpija basketball club who was at some point awarded Slovenian citizenship. He said in an interview that he was shocked by the fact that during league matches fans of the opposite teams would shout insults such as “nigger monkey” at him and then those same people would cheer him wildly during national team matches.

Insulting as it was, this was just people tastelessly mimicking other people’s prejudices. In Slovenia the role of “niggers” as second-class citizens who should be kept as low on the social scale as possible is (neglecting the Roma people) generally reserved for ethnicities of former Yugoslavia, especially Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians (or Muslims in general). The common derogatory denominator for these people is “čefur”.

Pengovsky vividly remembers 2006 when Zoran Janković ran for Ljubljana mayor for the first time and a lot was being said on account of the tell-tale suffix “-ić” in his surname which generally denotes a Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian origin. And this was in Ljubljana, which is supposedly one of the more cosmopolitan areas of Slovenia. Janković then went to great lengths to demonstrate that he is much more of a Ljubljanchan than most of the other candidates, regardless of the fact that he was born in Serbia and lived there until he was eleven years old.

The general conclusion thus being that the only reason Bossman’s skin colour did not play a role in Piran elections is that there are not all that many Ghanians in Slovenia and that the mayor-elect has integrated in the society well. After all, doctors are still among the most respected profession in Slovenia.

And now for the good news…

Piran and the Istra region in general (both Slovenian and Croat parts) have been at the crossroads of cultural influences practically since the dawn of time, even more so since Empress Marie Theresa had a rail road built between Vienna and Trieste, elevating this provincial little town to the status of a strategic port. With trains and ships came people from all over the region and even the globe. And with this developed tolerance. Perhaps of peculiar sort, but tolerance nevertheless. Pengovsky is only guessing here, but it is possible that municipality of Piran, which includes the resort town of Portorož and is heavily dependant on tourism is one of
few places in Slovenia where a black person can be elected to a high public office.

On one hand this of course goes to show that Slovenia in general is still a far cry from a truly tolerant society, but on the other hand it shows that it can be done.

Bossman is not Slovenian Obama

He said so himself in many of the recent interviews he gave for local and world media. And he is correct. And not just because Obama’s policies would put him right of centre on the Slovenian political continuum. Although definitely one for the books, election of Peter Bossman does not represent a tectonic shift in Slovenian society. That will only be achieved if and when Slovenians elect a president of Bosnian origin who will be a practising Muslim. And if you feel I’m adding insult to injury here, try this on for size: we’ll see just how much of a factor Bossman’s skin colour is, when he will start executing his policies and (by definition) begin alienating voters. If he will be voted out of office on account of his policies and/or party affiliation and not his race, then we will be able to claim some sort of progress.

Further reading: Camille’s posts on Peter Bossman

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Multiculturalism: A Teutonic Shift

German Kanzlerin Angela Merkel created a lot of hoopla Sunday last when she said at a party meeting that “attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have utterly failed” (BBC) abd went on to add that “those who want to take part in German society must not only obey German laws but also master German language” (Deutche Welle).

Die Kanzlerin (source)

This goes to the very heart of what can, for the lack of a better expression, be described as “post-war values” (keep your shirt on, we’ll get there). That nationalism is on the rise is, of course, hardly news. That public’s disillusionment with mainstream politics is invariably giving rise to extremists of all sorts is plainly visible (the latest examples being Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands). Wherever this starts happening, mainstream parties almost without exception start mimicking those hard-liners who are “stealing their electorate”, using their rhetoric, imitating their rituals and trying to re-establish themselves as points of reference for their wayward voters.

Same old story

This is not new. We’ve seen it time and again and the political menstrual cycle (where parties promise to bleed to the last drop of voters’ blood) is replete with such attempts all over the world, democratic or not. What is new is the fact that this phenomenon has transcended the normal constraints of a political arena and has taken on wider sociological and cultural connotations.

What we are seeing today is parties trying to stay in power not by adjusting their political platforms, but by adjusting their values to accommodate voters which have defected to the extreme poles of either left or right. As a result relatively small groups of fringe voters are increasingly starting to dictate the debate on scores of issues at the expense of those voters who are (from parties’ points of view) “already in the bag”.

Thus we have a triple fuck-up: moderates are disillusioned and increasingly refuse to take part in the democratic processes, thus leaving room for hard-liners. Their importance is amplified even more by mainstream factors – not just political parties, but also opinion leaders, media, and so on – trying to regain legitimacy with hard-liners by “talking the talk and walking the walk”. But what almost invariably happens is that the above mainstream factors loose out on both ends, since moderates will not see them as representing their morals and/or ethics, whereas hard-liners will only see it as proof that they’ve been right all along and will stick with their original leaders.

Ze Germans

So, what Angie M. said the other day is not just your ordinary “hey-I’m-one-of-you” act. It represents a marked shift of proclaimed values vis-a-vis the outer world. The fact that the fields in which this change of values has taken place are 19th century classics (language and ethnicity) makes it all the more worrying. I don’t want to go into a rant on how 19th century romantic notions of national supremacy paved the way for Europe to be raped twice over, but alarm bells are ringing. Especially since this is Germany we’re talking about. No offence, but both World Wars had a lot to do with Germany trying to forcefully “take its rightful place on the world stage”.

What is even more worrying is that Merkel did not say this at a congregation of some Lederhosen-clad old farts munching over an inhumane amount of beer, but to a congress of young party activists (Junge Union) who are always plenty eager to prove themselves in the eyes of the leadership, usually by ways of defending party positions with extreme prejudice and over-zealously executing party politics. I for one would hate to see Junge Union becoming Jugend Union, if you catch my meaning.

An added bonus, so to speak, is the timing of Merkel’s statements. Only weeks after Thilo Sarrazin, member of the board of the Bundesbank published a book where, among other things, claimed that “all Jews share the same gene” and that “Muslim immigrants across Europe were not willing or capable of integrating into western societies.” (HufPo). Sarrazin was forced to resign from his post (and is laughing all the way to the bank as his book became a bestseller) and condemned by top German officials, including Merkel. And yet, she found occasion to say basically the same thing only six weeks later.

So, what of Multi-kulti?

Pengovsky is out of his comfort zone here, as I have never lived in Germany, but I imagine patterns are the same all over this part of the world. The usual game-play is that other cultures are fine as long as they don’t bother the established order. Doubly so if the term “other culture” comes to imply “other religion” as is mostly the case in predominantly Christian- or even Catholic-conditioned Europe. Whenever the concentration of people with “other culture” reaches critical mass, the majority starts having “problems”. These problems are of course nothing but a veiled form of sense of superiority, chauvinism and even racism. Since European nations practically butchered themselves to death in the 20th century and somehow realised that they do indeed all bleed red, a new enemy was found. Or rather, an old one was rediscovered. Islam. With Turks comprising most of Germany’s four million immigrants (5% of total population), it really isn’t such a long walk, no?

But what Merkel describes as death of multiculturalism, is in fact its victory. Members of other cultures have (in this case in Germany) grown so strong, that they became impossible to ignore. Sure, until now these cultures existed parallel to one another and never really integrated, but – if you don’t mind my saying so – this is as much the immigrants’ fault as it is of the German state.

Merkel said that the bulk of these people came to Germany in 60s and 70s and then never left, contrary to Germans’ expectations. Duh? Seriously? You expected that? A woman from East Germany who (let’s be nice and fuzzy here) had to endure Communist propaganda and hardship in order to earn a living and was – due to her belief in a better life and freedom of man – heavily involved in democratic movement in a country with one of the most ruthless regimes of the entire Eastern Bloc is now feigning ignorance as to why immigrant workers came to Germany? C’mon!

Immigrants came in search of a better life (or at least in search of a better pay). Apparently they got it. Or at least got something close enough. And they brought their culture with them. I won’t go into all that All Different All Equal crap, but fact of the matter is that immigrants’ culture now is a part of Germany. It is a part of their cultural production, it is a part of their economy, of their sports, of their politics even.

The perils of a short-lived victory

Multiculturalism succeeded as it put Germany where it is today. A country and a society which can stand on its own two feet and throw its weight around a bit. It’s just that other cultures didn’t go sit quietly in a corner somewhere and remained respectful, but are questioning the world around them as they bloody well should. With this an until then commonly-accepted set of taboos is coming down and is making some people nervous.

But as reactionary forces do what they’re best at – react – there is a clear and present danger of a real defeat of multiculturalism. And with that of Europe as we know is. As this German debate is implicitly aimed against Islam, it may take on the form of a wider lash-out against Muslims in Germany and across Europe. But the continent (and Germany in particular) has a sad history of starting with a specific religion and then pointing their finger on a map of Europe and saying “I sink ve should go zhere.

Fearmongering the Slovenian way

What’s the connection between the economic engine of Europe and a sorry excuse for a nation of two million, you ask? Why, the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija (NSi), of course. The youngsters from this ChristDem party were proud to take part in the gathering of their German brethren in Potsdam and upon returning to home soil issued a scorching press release saying that what Merkel said for Germany goes for Slovenia as well. Only more so.

Because if Germany has problems with cultural co-existence, in Slovenia the nation and the country are at peril if immigrants will continue to refuse to integrate fully. This kind of multiculturation (not my word!) must be stopped immediately, sayeth the NSi.

Obviously, this kind of death-to-all-things-not-Slovenian writing is aimed primarily against immigrants from former Yugoslav republics. That they are mostly of Muslim faith is probably not a coincidence. Ditto for the fact that NSi is a Christian Democratic party. Fearmongering, you see. They refuse to speak Slovene. They will take our jobs. They will take our women. “They” being loosely identified as Muslims. Yesterday it was the Croats. Tomorrow it’ll be the Chinese. Or maybe just Slovenian socialists. There’s always someone you can blame for your own incompetence and inability to provide solutions for mounting problems.

Not all is lost

But there are a few rather humorous points in all of this, which show these fearmongers (at home and across the border) for what they really are: small-testicled windbags.

As a rule, defenders of all things Slovenian have a problem with Slovene grammar and syntax. NSi’s press release is no different. Words that don’t exist (multiculturation), wrong punctuation, incorrect syntax and extremely poor style all point to the fact that these people would probably bankrupt a even gold-mine let alone come to power by means of sparking mass hysteria and bigotry. At least they got the dual form right this time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more capable people waiting in the wings.

Oh, and Thilo Sarrazin’s surname is probably derived from the word “Saracen“, which was a common descriptor of Muslims during the Crusades. A late Austrian psychiatrist would probably go: “I sink hez got issuez…

P.S.: Some people are probably truly offended by now, if they even managed to read the whole text. To you I apologise. I tend to exaggerate to make a point. I also do not think all Germans are either xenophobic, racist or anti-Muslim. In fact, I think most are definitely not. But those who are, are becoming more and more mainstream. So for fuck’s sake, get off your sane German asses and really reclaim the space invaded by extremist loonies. And yes, this goes for Slovenia as well.

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Immunity for Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader

Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader share a great many things. Not only are both former prime ministers of their respective countries, their parties are also members of European People’s Party, they were both implicated in alleged (and then strenuously denied) fixing of border incidents between Slovenia and Croatia prior to 2004 elections and now they are both facing criminal charges. Talk about male bonding! 😈

“So, tell me Janez, what’s it like on the inside?” (source)

As you know, former PM and now opposition leader Janez Janša was indicted for aiding and abetting bribery and corruption (with four more people facing similar or graver charges). What has happened since is that the indictments were “tested” by the local court at which they were filed and the court approved them. This of course does not mean that the man is guilty, but it does mean that potentially the biggest procedural hurdle was cleared and that the trial will go forward.

Which is why today the parliamentary Committee for Public Office and Elections had to vote on whether Janez Janša should be granted immunity in the Patria Affair. Under Article 83 of the Constitution a deputy can invoke immunity if the maximum penalty for charges against him/her do not carry more than a five-year prison sentence. And since charges against Janša carry three years or less, the parliamentary Committee can (even against Janša’s wishes) grant him immunity.

But the man, who already knows what the inside of a prison cell looks like, said upfront that he will not invoke the immunity clause and hours ago the committee dully voted not to grant him immunity, which means that the trial can start with the full cast. Not so in the case of JJ’s buddy Ivo Sanader, who – it now appears – was virtually run out of office but not because of now-virtually-solved border dispute with Slovenia, but because there was no way to keep the lid on his (alleged) mischief.

One version goes that he was “summoned” to Brussels, but – instead of stalling yet another round of border-dispute negotiations – he was greeted by a stack of binders documenting in detail his supposed criminal activities, some of which are said to be connected to the downfall of the Hypo Bank and then to a series of fraudulent and embezzlement activities in his native Croatia.

However, unlike his Slovenian paisan, Sanader, having returned from what was officially a lecturing tour in the US (unofficially avoiding questioning by the parliamentary committee and Croatian CrimPolice), decided to claim his seat in the parliament and invoke the immunity clause, to which he is apparently entitled.

Fun times. Two former PMs looking at a prison sentence, while their successors iron out what even yesterday looked like insurmountable problems. Can it really be that easy? Nah, I’d be out of stuff to write, then… 😈

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