The Erased: Either Pay Up Or Close The Shop

While the world watches in amazement at how the USA yet again managed to do the right thing at the right time and saw their Supreme Court uphold the Obamacare, this sorry little excuse for a country has seen a right thing done. But, sadly, others had to do it for us.


Namely, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (that is to say, on the appellate level) on Tuesday ruled in the case of Kurić et al. vs Slovenia. The eihgt plaintiffs were among the 25.000 Erased and the court ruled that six of them are entitled to EUR 20,000 compensation for “non-material damages”. Furthermore, the court instructed Slovenia to set up a compensation scheme for everyone who was unlawfully stricken from the “permanent resident database” in 1992 within a year lest the court will award damages for all remaining individuals. With this, twenty years almost to a day, a final chapter in what is arguably the single largest violation of human rights in the democratic history of this country is being written.

Symbolic damages

The damages awarded are symbolic at best. 20k euros may seem a lot, especially if received as a lump sum. But think of it this way. It took more than ten years (and numerous decisions by the Slovene constitutional court, most of which were simply ignored) for this country to recognise that “administrative removal” was legally and morally wrong. As the government of Tone Rop was nearing sunset, interior minister Rado Bohinc made a half-hearted attempt at solving the issue, but got nowhere, because he wanted to both have the cake (fix the status of the Erased) and eat it (keep face, minimize the number of people eligible and appease the right-wing). It didn’t work. The law in question was put to a referendum, where it was summarily struck down on the back of a fiercely xenophobic campaign. Little wonder, as it was an election year.

It took five or six more years for the government of Borut Pahor – specifically, interior minister Katarina Kresal – to really start righting the wrong. And she did. With plenty of help from her state secretary Goran Klemenčič (now head of the anti-corruption commission) and, ultimately, by the landmark decision of the constitutional court to refuse another referendum on the issue in 2010.

And today, after twenty years of being denied “official existence”, not being able to get a work permit, be eligible for health- and pension-insurance, these people (for we are talking about human beings) are awarded 20,000 euros. Thousand euros per year. Or about as much as your average MP makes in a week. So yes, the damages are purely symbolic.

That, however, did not prevent most of the right wing to cry murder. Even more: at first they denied the issue, then claimed that these people were “aggressors, members and sympathisers of the JNA who were erased and serve them right” (rings a bell, no) and finally, when the reality of what had been done to these people was too ominous to ignore, they wanted to pre-emptively prevent them being liable for compensation. Again, a familiar tactic.

Might as well close the shop

Which is why it came as no surprise (but was still appalling to watch) as PM Janez Janša yesterday said this country does not have the funds to compensate the Erased. It is absolutely degrading and distasteful to think of human rights in terms of whether or not one can afford them. If we can not, or – even worse – if human rights are extended only to those who can afford them, then something really is rotten in the state of Slovenia. For no country is worthy of its name if it can not come to (financial) terms with the fact that human rights of a specific group of individuals were systematically trampled on for two decades all the while the country in question claimed to respect and uphold the basic principle of respecting fellow man.

True, there are many cases of people having to go through living hell even today. Workers whose social security was not being paid by the companies they work(ed) for. People, who have to wait ages to have their cases ruled upon or even heard at a court of law. Roma people. Single parents. The LGBT community. You name them. But the case of the Erased stands out due to the systematic approach this country took when making them a “non-entity” and by the collective (governmental) denial of the act happening in the first place.

On the other hand, there is a special para-state fund this country has which has a stake in many a state-owned company and was established specifically with the aim of making money to compensate victims of other persecutions, be it by the Socialist regime, civilian victims or war violence or those whose property was nationalised after WWII whose claims to compensation the state in principle recognised to be valid.

PM Janša said that he has no idea how Slovenia will pay for the damages as it hasn’t got enough money to cover its basic needs. Well, here’s a newsflash. Human rights are a basic need of people living in a democratic society. Simple as that. Otherwise we might as well close the shop and call it quits.


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How Danilo Türk Just Won The Presidential Elections (Tomaž Majer Strikes Again)

Despite everything, Slovenia made it through another year, celebrating its 21st anniversary yesterday. Well, “celebrating” might be pushing it a bit. Perhaps “being force-fed psychotic delusions of mentally challenged individuals chasing ghosts of their own pasts” might be a more accurate approximation. Allow me to elucidate with refferences to specifics.

Statehood Day ceremony last Friday (photo: Office of the President/Daniel Novaković/STA)

Every so otften a debate ensues on whether a militay parade should be held in honour of the nation’s independence. You know: tanks, infantry, Alpine troops, naval units, helicopter and jet (or, rather, turbo-prop) fly-bys, the whole nine yards. And every single time, the idea is tossed right out the window, for it is usually supported only by hardline nationalists and those elements of mainstream politics who hope to score cheap political points by waving flags as the troops march. Luckily, thusfar none have been in great demand.

That is not to say, however, that Slovenia has a history of pacifism. The latter was one of the bases of the civil society boom of the 80’s which ultimately brought about democracy. But even though it was openly discussed (and with some gusto on both pros and cons), the idea never really stood a chance. What it did, however, was establish a clear division between the military, the government and the society.


In the old country, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) was everywhere. And I mean every-fucking-where. Conscripts were visiting elemntary schools saying what a blast it was to serve in the JNA and that only the lucky ones got to serve in the navy or in the air force. JNA had its own Party structure, pre-declared seats in various representative bodies, special access to decision-makers on republic and federal level and was for all intents and purposes considered a constiutuent element of Yugoslav society (insofar such an entity existed in the first place). As a result the Army was omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent. If anyone ever tried to challenge its position, the brass and the entire elite with it shouted treason, pointed to all the way back to 1941 and the Partisans fighting Fasicst and Nazi occupators, shot back with charges of counterrevolution and that was more or less the end of it. If you were lucky, that is. The unlucky ones found themselves publicly humiliated, without a job, thrown in jail or otherwise persecuted, depending on the  state the system was in at that exact moment. Bottom line: the world started in 1941, the Communist party was there to bring it about and woe be unto anyone who sayeth otherwise.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Slovenian war for independence which made the debate on pacifisim once again purely academic. Nevertheless the principle of unconditional civilian control of the armed forces was implemented, the army was confined to the barracks and by switching to a professional rather than a conscscript army, solidering became a job and not every man’s initiation into adulthood. In adition, parades were frowned upon, the history of warfare this nation had to endure instead being represented by the Guard of honour doing trick with rifles (the kind they probably teach in Marines prep school), the occasional fly-by of the entire Slovenian air force (it really doesn’t last long) and ensigns of various armed formations which have one way or another fought for the Slovenian cause at various periods in the nation’s history. And thus we finally get to the gist of it.

The Friday Clusterfuck

In preprarations for this year’s official celebrations, ensigns of the Partisan Army in World War II were, for the first time in the history in Slovenia not included in the official celebrations on Statehood Day. The official explanation was that they are bearing red stars, a symbol of the aggressor JNA which sought to quash the fledgling state on that fateful 25 June 1991. An uproar followed but the government committee in charge of these things reacted not by extending the invitation to the WWII Veterans Association post haste, but rather by retracting invitations already extended to three other veteran organisations: TIGR (a pre-WWII anti-fascist movement in Primorska region), The General Rudolf Maister Association (preserving the heritage of a Slovenian general largely credited by securing Slovenian northern border right after World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and – most perverse of all – the Disabled Veterans Association. As an act of solidarity, Sever Association (policemen who fought in the Independence War) refused to take part in Friday’s celebrations as well.

All hell broke loose and Friday’s events are still the talk of the town. It soon became apparent that the red star had precious little to do with anything. Instead, what really happened was an attempt at hi-jacking the history of this country (hat tip to the good doctor), making it look as if the world started in 1991 and that everything that went before that was a bad dream at best and that modern-day Slovenia has nothing to do with it. Which is not unlike what the JNA was doing for all those years. The fact that the incumbent prime minister was once a true believer (expelled from the Party for being too radical) only strengthens the point.

Quite a few good analyses of the entire event were given in the past few days (in Slovenian, I’m afraid), but then Prime Minister Janez Janša finally made a statement on the issue earlier today, saying that “his only mistake was to have asked President Danilo Türk to deliver the address”. Thus two things became apparent. That a) Janša had a bigger role in this clusterfuck than it seemed at first and – connected – b) that despite the ideologically charged debate the whole thing was more or less aimed at discrediting President Türk who is up for re-election later this year.

Tomaž Majer Strikes Again

In the days following the elections on December 4, when things still looked as if Zoran Janković was about to form a government, a highly bigotous and xenophobic write-up appeared on SDS website claiming electoral fraud and coercion brought Janković on top on election day, mostly “due to people with foreign accents wearing track-suits”. You can read the Google translation of the said post. It is still on the party website and is highly illuminating.

The post was undersigned by one Tomaž Majer, which turned out to be a fictitious person. Almost immediately conspiracy theories were floated that the post was actually written by Janša himself during one of his rambling fits. It is hardly the first one (again, Google translate to the rescue). But although ugly, pengovsky never wrote it up because it all seemed too convenient.

Saying that Janez Janša is Tomaž Majer is in fact just a mechanism to single out one individual who – regardless of the fact that he is the big Kahuna of his party – can hardly come up with all of that shit. Sure, some of it. Even most of it. But running a party, running a campaign, fighting criminal charges, having a family, eating, sleeping, talking and coming up with stuff way beyond lunatic all the while keeping a composed, somber and lucid appearance is hardly possible. Either that or I seriously need to be taken to his dealer.

No. Pengovsky submits that “Tomaž Majer” is in fact a group of like-minded individuals (present PM included) whose reality only intermittently intersects with that of the rest of the country and who are not beyond starting a fully-charged ideological debate shouting-match for the sole purpose of achieving short-term political goals, not giving a fuck about poisoning the atmosphere in the country or indeed making sure that it remains as poisonous as possible. The only problem is that in their zeal to drive the message home the whole thing explodes right into their faces. Therefore, this thing with ensigns of WWII veterans was nothing more than a ploy to have Danilo Türk say something inflammatory on Friday and then beat him to political death with it come Autumn. Rewriting history was just a “bonus for the troops”, so that the rank-and-file believers would have something to shout about.

But as per usual, the whole thing exploded right into Janša’s face, presenting President Türk with a chance to reach beyond these artificial divisions, being all presidential and stuff. The Prez did not waste the opportunity.

As if shooting themselves in the knee once wasn’t enough, the people responsible for the event (by his own admission this included Janša) had the moderator deliver an on-stage statement, saying that “memories of those fallen for independent Slovenia should not be defiled by symbols of the aggressor army. At the risk of repeating oneself: as if the world started in 1991 and everything before that was just a bad dream at best.


That the political left-wing went apeshit, goes without saying. Even the chronically consensual Borut Pahor said that “such events should be about bringing people together, not driving them apart”. What is more, this particular potato became too hot even for most of the parties of the ruling coalition. Karl Erjavec, facing leadership challenges in DeSUS was quick to threaten with quitting the coalition “if it ever happened again” (meaning he doesn’t have to make good on his word for at least another year) and even Radovan Žerjav of centre-right SLS said that the whole issue was counter-productive and called for the government to apologise to those involved. Most curious, however, was the reaction of Gregor Virant of Citizens’ list who issued a statement saying that “someone appropriated the celebrations”, that the whole thing was a solo action of Janez Janša’s SDS and that the whole thing “was almost totalitarian”. In fact, it was only the Christian-democratic NSi which stood by the SDS, but they have a hard-on for anything even remotely resembling communism so that was to be expected.

So, yes, celebrations of this country’s birth were hi-jacked by those who deem themselves sole interpreters of The Truth. In this, they are no different from the aggressor army which sought to kill Slovenian state in its infancy (and for some time before that). But the real insult to the people of this land is not the fact that they attempted it (yet again), but rather that they went at it for the sole purpose of winning what for all intents and purposes is a prestigious political fight.

If recent history is anything to go by, Janez Janša will pay a heavy political price for this one. And with him anyone who is too cozy with him. Yes, I’m looking at you, Borut Pahor. In fact, all things being equal, one could place a wager saying that on Friday last Danilo Türk won the autumn presidential elections. Which, ironically, proves Janša right. It was a mistake to have Türk deliver the address…

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Greek Elections: A Europe-wide Non-Event

A couple of random thoughts on the non-event that was the Greek elections last Sunday:

(source via TBIJ)

For all the brouhahaha about Syriza, it turned out that the more things change the more they stay the same. Even in Greece. Sure, the rag-tag coalition of left-wing parties was branded as radical, but it was anything but. As the question du jour was the bailout (which, again, is anything but), the foreign media divided the parties as either pro- or anti-bailout, which most of them translated as “in favour” or “against” the euro and the EU in general. But take a look at this BBC Q&A on Greek elections (scroll all the way to the bottom) to see where the various parties really stand (or, possibly, stood).

Indeed, most of the Europe, nay, the world! held its breath. Some in horror, others (pengovsky included) in anticipation. Had Syriza won, we would have – after five years – seen an end to the “there’s no other way” logic of handling the crisis. Sure, it is quite possible that Syriza would have failed. Indeed, one would not trade places with any European politician in power for all the farms in Cuba. But instead of a coalition whose plan was possibly doomed to failure, Greece is now stuck with a government whose plan does not work as it is. That much we know.

Bailouts EU style don’t work. Or rather, they do, if you’re a German (or any other non-Greek) bank, trying to stay afloat. Out of huge billions of euros sent to Greece in tranches, each of them being subject to “just one more” austerity meausre, most of that goes to service the increasingly bad debts of a country which no one will loan money to, while only a couple of years everyone was positively throwing money at a country known for cooking books.

But those huge billions are not nearly enough, because a) no one knows how deep the hole really is and b) the austerity measures take away what little chance Greece once had to kick-start its economy. Increasing the financial burden imposed on the state and its citizens while cutting public spending and consumption is a text-book vicious circle. It can only end in disaster, much more epic than the one we are in already. Because every new cutting measure is “just one more”. Every billion granted “is just one more”. And every pledge to appease the mythic “forces of market” is “just one more”. Indeed, what fans this fire of euro-crisis is the chronic inability of the few players that have the means to change the direction we’re headed in, to come up with a series of moves bold enough to change the course. Rather than sail into the uncharted waters, European leaders choose to remain in waters infested with economic and financial minefields, even knowing where the mines are, but refusing to change course, because “sooner or later, we’ll be out of this mess”. Well, the sad truth is that by continuing as we do now, the only way out of this minefield is – sinking of the ship.

I’m sure Syriza didn’t have a magic wand to make everything just go away. But they were the guys who looked around and said “why don’t we go that way?”. For that they were branded anti-European, radical leftists, relics of a spend-it-there’s-always-more mentality. Even though everyone else was spending money fast and furious for the last thirty years, even though the (proper) Greek Communist party branded Syriza as agents of capitalism and even though Alexis Tsipras said time and again that he wants Greece to keep the euro, while everyone else is planning to force the country out of the common currency, which would probably mean its exit out of the EU as well.

For about a month, there was a glimmer of hope that a sovereign nation, even though it is on the brink of becoming a European (let’s not use the word German) protectorate, could rise against its self-imposed (financial) masters and try to do it as it sees fit. That hope is gone now, as they voted in a coalition which is nothing more than a PR service for the Bundekanzleramt and is faithfully executing a set of tasks set for them by Berlin Brussels. Which, come to think of it, it not all that different from when Greece was adopting the euro. And if they cheated then, who says they’re not cheating now?

With Greece back in the austerity camp (until it is finally cured by bleeding to death), we’re exactly where we were a month ago and the only hope for this slow-moving train wreck that this the eurozone crisis (via Nouriel Roubini) is the newly minted French president Hollande with his pro-growth stand. But seriously, when was the last time Europe could count on the French to do something about anything?


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Not Everybody Gets To Be An Astronaut When They Grow Up (A Few Notes on Borut Pahor)

On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.

Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)

Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.

Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…

First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.

Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.

Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….

Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.

Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).

Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.

And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.

Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).

In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…

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