The Shortest-Serving Minister in the History of this Country

Early yesterday Igor Maher resigned as minister of infrastructure and spatial planning. In what was a widely expected move, he claimed to have done nothing wrong, but conceded that claims of his illegal country house near the Slovene coast would hamper him in executing his tasks. Cue pats on the backs and a round of atta-boy’s, as if he just landed a 787 with a faulty battery and a wing missing. The truth, however, is that Igor Maher fucked up royally and should have been unceremoniously sacked on the spot.

Igor Maher missing. Original photo by Matej Povše (source)

If not sooner, he should have gotten the boot after his press conference on Friday where he was suppose to come clean but only dug a deeper hole for himself and unnecessarily put PM Alenka  Bratušek on the spot, first saying to the press he didn’do anything wrong when Google Earth images plainly showed otherwise. So what apparently went down over the weekend was a massive face-saving operation conducted mostly on behalf of Maher and his party chief Gregor Virant, who once again proved he skipped school when “vetting process” was taught. Calling Maher’s (probably forced) resignation “an honourable act” is an insult to all the honourable men and women out there.

But the Maher Affair is just the tip of the iceberg of illegal constructions in Slovenia and the media just got a taste of the blood. It seems that the next in line is Vitoslav (Vito) Türk, the somewhat estranged brother of former president Danilo Türk and the man who was tipped by the former government of Janez Janša to head HSE, the Slovenian energy-producing holding. Namely, according to TV reports, Türk has a lovely bit of real estate near the coast which – shouldn’t be there. However, the fact that Vito Türk was to take over at HSE and that Maher’s (former) portfolio included energy gives (at least some) credibility to theories that what we’re seeing here is a massive struggle to control the energy sector.

But even if that is to, the spark which lit this particular fire was an act passed by Maher’s predecessor Zvonko Černač which made it possible to legalise every small huts-turned-country-houses that.what little tools we have. Lanscape architects all over the country are going bananas over this act and are looking for ways to kill it. With moderate success, might it add.

So. Bratušek government is a minister short. Perhaps some comfort can be found in the fact that Maher is now officially the shortest-mandated minister in the history of this country. But we’ll deal that some other time.


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Bratušek Cabinet Sworn In, Poised To Lose A Minister While Janša Goes AWOL

With 52 votes in favour, government of Alenka Bratušek was sworn in yesterday evening, making the first female head of government in history of Slovenia. After ministerial nominees more or less sailed through the hearing process, the final result was more or less a foregone conclusion. The debate was lacking zest most of the time, as if the newly minted opposition was resigned to inevitability of what was to come while the freshly baked coalition was looking for ways to get it over with as soon as possible.


Bratušek again set out basic principles of the government, which will on one hand look to soften the austerity and across-the-board budget cuts and raise revenues on the other. She added her government will start a couple of key infrastructure projects (mostly transportation and energy) but also vowed to continue with the bad bank, albeit in a modified manner. The debate picked up slightly only later in the evening when MPs went head-to-head and traded a few quips and smirks. However, if the SDS a bit low on morale, the right wing press was out in full force, looking for targets of opportunity.

Blast you, Retina display!

Thus they nailed then-yet-to-be-sworn-in minister of defence Roman Jakič (PS) who was going over some correspondence on what his first order of business will be upon taking over the ministry. Jakič was reading this on his iPad and a photographer got a nice shot of the tablet’s screen and promptly plastered the hi-res photo all over their web-ring.

The minsiter-to-be was, naturally, somewhat upset and threatened to press charges (and apparently he has a case), but the real lesson here is twofold: 1) the notorious iPad glare is not to be counted upon so watch your back, and 2) if you get your hands on stuff like this, you fucking sit on it! For all their awfulness, the right-wing press had a bombshell of a story right there and then and could use the shot as corroborative evidence later on. Instead they went “ha-ha, your fly is open!” But I guess that’s the most they’ll ever be capable of. Sad, really.

Blast you, e-government!

But then again, why set up a trap for a minister of defence, when minister of infrastructure is walking around with his pants down thinking no one will notice. Namely, Igor Maher (DL) in charge of infrastructure and spatial planning was discovered to have built a cottage without permit on prime farming land. Actually, three cottages. And uprooted an olive-tree orchard in the process. The story has quite a bit of background, but it got an impetus after he had his “sheds” legalised. Funny thing is he did it only a day before he was sworn in and was only able to do it because his predecessor Zvonko Černač (SDS) signed an act allowing smaller building to be legalised en masse.

Černač’s move made landscape architects all over Slovenia go apeshit, doubly so because he passed the decree a month or so ago, in his caretaker capacity. Obviously Černač is now pleading ignorance, saying the act was not intended to be used in this manner, but that’s pure bullshit. You see, Slovenia is teeming with “cottages” (often houses with all the amenities) built on prime farmland, even though this is a big no-no from a legal point of view. And you can be sure plenty of people were mighty interested in having this decree enacted.

Obviously it’s a bit of a credibility problem if a minister in charge of spatial planning owns an illegally built cottage. Doubly so if he had it legalised in what was for all intents and purposes was abuse of power (or attempted abuse of power, since the said decree was amended, effective yesterday). But to have it legalised on the last possible day (the day before yesterday) and by an administrative unit headed by your friend is either moronic or arrogant. Or both.

But Maher nailed the last nail in the coffin of his (presumably) short-lived ministerial career himself. He said that he bought the land with buildings already on it. Cue some ingenious use of historic orthographic data, showing the before/after pictures and it turned out Maher was full of shit. Which is why he is reportedly this close to being forced to resign. Who says e-government doesn’t work?! 🙂

Characteristically, his party chief Gregor Virant is playing it long, saying he needs a days or two do weigh his options, but it seems highly improbable that Igor Maher will celebrate Easter in his ministerial capacity. It is kind of ironic that it would be Virant, the guy who started the political downfall of Janez Janša, would trip over his legs five minutes into the new government. But then again, this is not a first for Virant.

And like that, he’s gone…

Speaking of Janez Janša, the transfer of office took place earlier today, with former PM losing all sense of reality by saying that his government achieved 150% of what they set out to do, leaving a billion euro surplus. Pink fluffy ponies died while he spoke, but hey…

But the real whooper came yesterday and was confirmed today: upon leaving the office of PM, Janez Janša will not be re-taking his seat in the parliament and will forfeit ex-MP benefits. Additionally, he will not be seeking employment within the party, choosing to lead it on volunteer basis.

Yes, you read it right: Janez Janša, the top-tier Slovenian politician who in the face of the anti-graft report claimed he is worth EUR 300.000 at best, most of that in (mortgaged) real estate and with another kid on the way, will not seek employment. SDS issued a statement saying he will do lecture tours and serve as advisor to various governments, but somehow I don’t see the phone going off the hook for an ex-PM of a country found by the IMF to have entered a downward spiral.

Odds are, he is is doing that to avoid further inquiries since the anti-graft commission can not investigate private citizens, but for the first time in twenty years, Janez Janša is going off the grid. That in itself is news, how little or how long it may last.

But remember: the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, was convincing the world he didn’t exist


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Lessons of Maribor

While ministers-in-waiting were undergoing parliamentary hearings and while pope Francis was being installed with President Pahor rushing to be there when it happened, a short lull descended upon Slovenian politics which can and should be used to analyse Maribor mayoral elections which took place Sunday last. Pengovsky delivers.


Maribor, as you know, was the original flashpoint of the Slovenian uprising. Provoked by speed-traps installed around the city as a public-private partnership between the city and a privately owned company, it uncovered deep resentment, anger and rejection of political elite and politics in general by general population and quickly spread throughout the country. As a direct result of (occasionally violent) protests, Maribor mayor Franc Kangler stepped down, prompting mayoral elections held last Sunday where independent Andrej Fištravec won by a landslide in the first round, leaving other candidates, most of them running on party tickets, in the dust. There’s only one problem: the turnout was only 31 percent, criminally low even by Maribor standards where historically fewest people ever bothered to partake in a popular vote. Rok Kajzer (@73cesar) has a good piece on the aftermath of the Sunday vote (Slovenian only), but there are other implications as well.

Namely, the low turnout shows that resignation of a despised politician (in this case mayor Kangler) does not solve the basic problem, the disillusionment of the people with the political process and the waning legitimacy thereof. Even more: Maribor may have gotten a new mayor on Sunday, but the city council remains largely intact, although the protesters demanded councilmen resign as well. Only a few did, not enough to have the council dissolved. Meaning that while a new mayor will soon be in the office, the coalition in the city council more or less remains the same one which supported mayor Kangler. Which spells bad news for the new mayor as he will have precious few people to cover his back. It is as if the people sensed that the basic problems of this society can not be solved by early elections only.

Which brings us to lessons learned: firstly, that the entire political process is so tainted in the eyes of the people, that simply putting up new faces up for elections will get you nowhere. Sure, you may win the elections (as Fištravec did) but the actual problems remain the same. Or worse. And secondly, that early elections alone can not offer anything new if force(s) stemming from the protest movement are not able to properly form and present a viable alternative to the existing ruling elite.

Had other parties (most notably the SD) gotten their way and forced early elections as soon as this summer, chances are the turnout would be spectacularly low since only established political parties have the resources to mount a campaign in snap elections. Like Maribor. And had snap elections be called in Slovenia today, the turnout would possibly be equally horrid.

The notion that early elections alone can be harbingers of changes is ultimately flawed under present Slovenian circumstances, even though this is one of the core demands of the protest movement. The only way early elections can change something is by altering the political arena first. And that takes time. Plenty of it. Otherwise the established elite can also brush newcomers off as incompetent.

All The Bratušek Men (And Women)

With deadline only hours away, PM-designate Alenka Bratušek finally submitted her list of nominees for ministerial posts yesterday evening. The name everyone was waiting for was that of the new head bean-counter (usually known as minister of finance) which was apparently also the toughest nut to crack. Media was rife with speculation about possible nominees and it would seem those who projected the first female minister of finance were not all that wrong. Namely, Bratušek said on live TV she wanted a woman to fill the post, but none would take the the job which ultimately befell Uroš Čufer, head of NLB asset management centre.


When Bratušek emerged as the person to de-throne Janša, she subscribed to the usual mine-will-be-a-government-of-experts rhetorical bullshit. Save a possible technocratic Monti-stlye administration, every government is political. Even more, political theory is clear on the fact that every decision taken by a government (even a technocratic one) is political. Thus it is only right this government is a political one. Because plenty of political decisions will have to be made. Starting with what to do about the banking sector. And before you start: yes, the decision on how to tackle the crisis in inherently political. In fact, it is ideological by its very nature. And when someone tells you that we should leave it to the experts, that in itself is a grossly ideological position.

It’s OK, we’re here now

So in this respect, the frankness of political appointees to ministerial posts is refreshing and shows that Bratušek will – at the beginning at least – not try to hide behind “experts” of various denominations. The nominations also create (or, at least, try to create) a sense of normalcy. It’s as if the coalition is trying to say “It’s OK, we’re here now”.

Whether or not this is true, remains to be seen. On one hand this country could use a break from the nervous and tense environment that Janša administration deliberately cultivated, but on the other hand the problems of this country go way beyond a political option subscribing to crack-pot political, economic and social theories. The problems are deep-rooted and most likely beyond the capacity of this government to solve them. In fact, the primary role of this government is not to actually solve the problems, but rather to create an environment where socio-economical and political problems can being being solved. Yes, it’s that bad. That Bratušek was shopping for a finance minister nominee practically until the 11th hour only reiterates the fact.

The other blunder she made early on was about reinstating the ministry of culture (which is good) and asking the civil society to provide a nominee (which is just plain dumb). Again: a government is an inherently political body. Putting a non-political person in charge of a portfolio makes him or her enter the political arena and become a politician. Thus asking the civil society to provide a nominee is akin to asking it to stop being what it is. Sadly, some groups within the protest movement have fallen for this. Not-so-sadly, Bratušek has smarted out of this blunder and put forward Uroš Grilc, head of culture department at the municipality of Ljubljana and the man who squeezed ludicrous amounts of money for cultural project from mayor Zoran Janković.

Speaking of Jay-Z, he is widely expected to abide by the conditions of his letter of resignation which stipulate its coming into effect the moment Bratušek sees her cabinet sworn in. Which can happen as soon as Wednesdays next. Unless rumours of a brewing rebellion within Gregor Viratn’s Citizen’s List are true. Also, shit it hitting the fan in DeSUS, where Karl Erjavec is crushing what little opposition he has left in the party. But more on that in the coming days.

Doing it right

One thing Zoran Janković failed to understand when attempting to form his coalition back in 2011 was that you simply have to have leaders of your coalition parters in the cabinet. It’s a matter of political prestige, yes and far from a perfect solution. But right now, that’s the name of the game. Janković tried otherwise and failed. Not just because of this, but also because of this. Bratušek and her team seem to have learned their lesson. Which is why Igor Lukšič of Social Democrats is the only coalition party leader who rejected a ministerial post. Probably because he calculated early elections are closer than they appear and he wants to be as “clean” of government politics as possible. We’ll see if he made a good bet.

Here’s the full list of Bratušek ministerial nominees:

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Karl Erjavec (DeSUS)
Minister of Interior and Public Administration: Gregor Virant (DL)
Minister of Defence: Roman Jakič (PS)
Minister of Family, Health and Social Affairs: Andreja Kopač Mrak (SD)
Minister of Education, Science and Sports: Jernej Pikalo (SD)
Minister of Culture: Uroš Grilc (PS)
Minister of Justice: Senko Pličanič (DL)
Minister of Economy: Stanko Stepišnik (PS)
Minister of Infrastructure: Igor Maher (DL)
Minister of Health: Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS)
Minister of Finance: Uroš Čufer (PS)
Minister of Agriculture and Environment: Dejan Židan (PS)
Minister w/o portfolio in charge of Slovenes Abroad: Tina Komel (PS)

P.S.: tittage to follow later in the day

Habemus Congregatio

With Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List (DL) ting in favour of joining the coalition of Alenka Bratušek earlier tonight, the PM-designate is expected to present to the parliament a full list of ministerial nominees tomorrow. This brings Slovenia a step closer to having a fully operative government which is to replace the administration of Janez Janša. Thus the coalition agreement between PS, SD, DL and DeSUS was signed shortly before midnight tonight. It gives Bratušek a majority of votes which can, if need be, excpanded to 55 out of 90 votes, including the three independent MPs and two MPs for Italian and Hungarian minority.

(source: RTVSLO)

In a curious twist of fate, the Vatican curia needed less time to elect the new Pontifex Maximus (that be Francis I., in case you were just unfrozen cryogenically) than the new Sovenian coalition needed to hammer out a deal. In fact, “habemus papam” beat the “habemus congregatio” by a few hours. But I guess it is easier to pick the supreme minister than a minister in a Slovenian government.

We’ll leave the list of nominees for some other day (maybe tomorrow) but even now it is perfectly obvious that the real winners is Karl Erjavec, who is poised to continue as foreign miniser. A few other people are expected to continue in their current positions, notably minister of health Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS) and minister for justice Senko Pličanič (DL).

Speaking of DL, there seems to have been hell to pay tonight at DL HQ, since Janez Šušteršič quit vice-chairmanship of the party. He said he will continue as party member, but the rift between his faction and that of Gergor Virant seems insurmountable. Although it must be said that the move to enter the coalition got a pretty solid backing tonight at DL. However, it appears that a party schism is forming within the DL and that could present PM Bratušek with more of a problem than she may anticipate this early in the game.

At any rate, the coalition agreement is signed and if there are no last-minute surprises Slovenia could have a new government within a week’s time. It will move away from purely austerity and across-the-board-cuts policies into a combination of spending cuts and growth stimulation with special emphasis on infrastructure projects. That and the banking sector. Plus a few other points of interest. And a possible increase of value added tax.

But we’ll deal with these issues in the coming days. Until the new cabinet is sworn in, the old one is still fully in charge, making last-minute appointments left and right.

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