Seventy Votes (Franc Zagožen, 1942 – 2014)

“Seventy”, he said with his distinct drawl. “At this moment I count seventy MPs who would support a proportional voting system.”

Franc Zagožen had just been elected president of SLS+SKD, a powerful new party that united both Slovenian People’s Party (SLS) and Slovenian Christian Democratic Party (SKD) in a single political player. Since SLS was a member of Janez Drnovšek-led coalition while SKD was in opposition, Drnovšek was forced to call a confidence vote which he tied to demission of ministers the new party. The way the proposal was formed the government was bound to fall either way which enabled SLS+SKD and Janez Janša‘s SDS (back then still known as SDSS – SocialDemocratic Party of Slovenia) to form a centre-right government with Andrej Bajuk as PM. Zagožen, however, despite becoming an interim leader of the party, remained an MP and their chief-whip. This turned out to be crucial.

Franc Zagožen (photo: Aleš Černivec/Delo, source)

Namely, two years earlier in 1998, the constitutional court decided in favour of the Slovenian Democratic Party which petitioned the court to change the results of the 1996 referendum on election system. SDS submitted a majoritarian election system, while the ruling LDS-led coalition formed a mixed-system proposal (close to what we have now) and the National Council proposed a purely proportional solution. Voters voted on all three in a single vote and none got over the 50% treshold. But majoritarian system 44%, by far the most of all three options and Janez Janša‘s party wanted the constitutional court to rule in favour of majoritarian system winning. Against all odds they succeeded.

Instrumental in this mathematical enterprise (where 44% is equal or greater to 50%) were judges Peter Jambrek, Tone Jerovšek and Lovro Šturm. All three became ministers in the first (albeit short-lived) right-wing government in Slovenia. And almost immediately, the government, led by Andrej Bajuk of Zagožen’s SLS+SKD but with Janez Janša as defence minister pulling a lot of strings, took the position that – due to decision of the constitutional court, majoritarian voting system must be adopted immediately, ominously adding that the current system had been invalidated by the 1996 referendum and subsequent court decisions.

This is where things got tricky. Postponing elections “due to irregularities” is an old trick used by autocrats, dictators and military juntas all over the world. Slovenia had a perfectly legal voting system even back then and it was Franc Zagožen who recognised that the threat to constitutional order and the stability of the country was starting to come from the government and not from somewhere else. The fact that his new party stood to profit handsomely from a mixed voting system did help, but in the final analysis it was about basic democratic principles: elections are held on time no matter what.

Once it became obvious that SLS+SKD MPs are not on the same wavelengt as the SLS+SKD & SDS government was, things began to heat up. More often than not, Zagožen would pace up and down the corridor next to the men’s loo, the only place in the parliament where one could smoke at the time. And when he wasn’t chain-smoking, he was in his office, fielding calls, taking the heat and keeping tabs on his MPs.

In the end, a solution was formed which surpassed the ruling of the constitutional court: the principles of the voting system were ensrhined in the constitution itself, thus changing the game completely. The SDS(S) went apeshit. Lovro Šturm even said that the parliament was exceeding its authority, for “above the constitutional court there is nothing but blue skies” (and thus ruined his reputation for ever). But to achieve this, a 2/3 majority of 60 votes was needed in the parliament. It all hung on MPs for SLS+SKD and with it, on Franc Zagožen. No wonder he (reportedly) fainted in his office more than once.

In the end, on a hot July day, the constitution was amended, providing for a mixed electoral system. The final tally was 70 votes in favour, just like Zagožen said months earlier. The Professor, as he was apparently known, managed to maintain a 2/3 majority in what was arguably one of the more intense moments of Slovenian political history, foil what for all intents and purposes was an attempted coup d’etat and save the democratic foundation of the country.

If there is one thing he should be remembered for by the general populace, this is it.

Franc Zagožen died last Saturday, aged 71.



The Week You Wouldn’t Trade Places With Zoran Janković for All The Farms In Cuba

To say that last week was bad for Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković is a gross understatement. The truth is it was just south of a disaster, a shambolic series of events which probably hasn’t ended yet and will one way or another have serious repercussions down the road.

Worried (photo: TheFirm™)

It started with the National Investigation Bureau (NPU) filing an indictment against several people including the mayor over the Stožice sports complex affair, sixteen months after the cops raided Janković’s home and office. The case seems to have focused on what the NPU believes was a false contract between Sport Ljubljana (a city-owned institute running all sport facilities) and GREP, the Stožice developer. The contract, the cops claim, was signed only to give the appearance of GREP making it appear as if it had secured enough lease contracts for a consortium of banks to approve a 150 million loan for the project.

The loan, albeit topping at 115 million was indeed granted, the project went tits up financially with retail part being only half-finished (the stadium and arena are fully functional) and all hell breaking loose some weeks ago when the NPU raided the house of defence minister Roman Jakič who signed the contract in question, having headed Sport Ljubljana at the time. Jakič, too, was indicted and had maintained he will resign, should the court accept the indictment as valid. Jay-Z, on the other hand, intends to do no such thing. Not yet, anyhow.

But only a day later he lost another legal battle (well, the city did). A developer sued the city, claiming it had sold him land that wasn’t municipal to begin with. Some months ago both the NPU and the developer filed charges against Janković, but the court’s decision to invalidate the sale gives quite a bit of impetus to the whole thing. The immediate effect being the city will have to return a million euros it got from the now sale, as for the rest, time will tell. Ad then, just to top it off, Thursday last the cops descended upon the City Hall yet again, this time apparently investigating the much-advertised quid-pro-quo approach Janković employs running the city. Namely, he maintained from day one of assuming office that companies operating in the city and making a profit should give something back to the city. And so donations started pouring in. But while the NPU has no proof that donations went to places other than city coffers (NPU head Majhenič said do the other day), it was the manner in which donations were allegedly secured that bothers the cops.

Namely, the mayor is under suspicion of tying these donations directly to big city contracts, awarding them to the company which promised to give more back to the city. In this, Janković claims no wrong-doing and viciously defends his approach. And indeed it seems as if the cops and the prosecution will have a hard time arguing their case on this issue. Corruption and bribery as criminal act is notoriously hard to prove and in this case the beneficiary of the “pay-offs” is apparently not an individual but the community. But, pengovsky is told, it is the alleged act of bribery that counts, not to whom the pay-off was made. Anyways, point is Janković is in a pretty substantial heap of manure right now and will have to spend a considerable amount of energy and resources to deal with it.

Especially before the upcoming municipal elections this autumn. Which is why a theory was floated early on that the repeated visits by the local FBI are a form of not so gentle a hint to let it go and slowly fade out of the picture. The only problem is Janković doesn’t take hints. What is more plausible is that NPU felt they finally have enough to move on and are now fishing around for more things that might stick on the proverbially Teflon-skinned mayor. It all comes at a very awkward time for Zoki who is due to announce his decision on whether to run for mayor for the third full term (bur for the fourth time as he got elected twice last time around).

The big announcement is scheduled for 9 May, Liberation day, when the City Council meets for a special session to celebrate the city’s single most important anniversary. The drama and flair suggest a monumental decision although Janković stubbornly refuses to give so much as a hint on which way he’s leaning. Even more, he’s apparently actively giving mixed signals – preparing the groundwork for a record third term and yet being completely unenthusiastic, even bored with the very idea.

Because the outside signs are there. The 2014 city budget was increased 40% with respect to 2013 results, a shitload of infrastructure projects are planned and – as if learned a lesson with Stožice – most of those are city-financed, not some form of public-private partnership. A lot of other things, too, bear hallmarks of impending re-election bid. For example, plumbing is being constructed in a remote part of Ljubljana, which has been screaming for it for over three decades. New buses are on the shopping list. Stuff mayors do when elections approach. And yet, there seems to be precious little flair left. It wasn’t just regular visits by the cops. Positive Slovenia, the party which he formed almost single-handedly, has all but thrown him under the bus. Minister in the Bratušek administration considered close to Janković are being replaced one by one. Prominent MPs considered from his stock are either evasive, deserting him or facing their own investigations. Renata Brunskole and Matjaž Zanoškar being examples of the latter two. And to top it off, the “interim” Positive Slovenia leadership just signed the party up for ALDE membership in EU politics, linking it with the liberal camp, while Janković wanted the party to join the S&D, the so called Socialist Internationale.

Thus it was as much a recognition of the fact that he was effectively muscled out of his own party as it was pure bitterness when he said the other day he’d never consider forming yet another party. Which begs the question in what form will he enter the race for the third term at the helm of the city (presuming he does indeed decide to run and that the indictment is either thrown out or the court doesn’t rule on it yet). Technically, the city council has no Positive Slovenia councilmen as all of Janković’s majority in the council was elected on the Zoran Janković List (LZJ) in 2010 and there’s no reason why Jay-Z couldn’t do it again. Provided (again) things on the legal front don’t deteriorate further for him.

And although much of the panache is gone, the re-election of Zoran Janković is not as much a question of his “fitness for office” as it is the question of the opposition coming up with at least one credible candidate. Everything until now was more or less a joke with NSi‘s Mojca Kucler Dolinar being the most serious of generally laughable candidates for mayor in the past eight years. It will also be fun to see whether the PS will run their own candidate, against Janković. With this being the capital and all, it would be only fitting for the largest party in the parliament to come up with a credible candidate for mayor. But then again, even if their man/woman loses they’d have opened another bitter dispute with Janković.

All in all, as far as Ljubljana mayor is considered, his is a pretty shaky position right now and you wouldn’t want to trade places with him for all the farms in Cuba. Strengthening it will require time, but it’s not like he could whistle on his way home.

UPDATE, 19 FEB: Well, turns out Jay-Z’s woes are not nearly over. Today’s Delo reports (Slovene only) Peter Vilfan resigned as city councilman for LZJ. Vilfan, a former basketball star is also MP for Positive Slovenia and his resignation is no small matter in this respect (talk about MPs distancing themselves from Zoki). Namely, Vilfan said that despite his belief that Janković is a) innocent and b) the best mayor Ljubljana ever had, the prime reason for his resignation are mayor’s mounting legal problems with the added bonus being the fantastically fruitless debates in the city council.

Well, while Vilfan put himself in the classical foot-in-mouth position (If he believes Janković is innocent of the charges, why resign?), he is at least correct on the last count 😉



When In Doubt, Cut Through It And Call A Referendum

For the past week or so, Slovenia has been blanketed by ice. A cold snap combined with heavy snowfall followed by nearly constant rainfall provided ideal conditions for an ice storm that defies anything within living memory. Trees feel, power lines had snapped and as much as a quarter of population were left without electricity at the peak of the storm, with blackout lasting for almost a week in some parts of the country.

The Glorious Leader cutting up firewood (source)

Transport was severely limited with motorways closed and rail services suspended, while electronic communications were disrupted occasionally. An engineer was killed while his crew were repairing a powerline in the Pohorje area near Maribor. In short, the country was plunged into a mini ice age for a couple of days, with first responders and the army doing an amazing job of protecting lives and property as well as restoring services. Special shoutout goes to the scouts (taborniki) of Postojna, one of the areas hit he hardest, who organised an emergency centre (aka hotspot) after the municipality administration failed to do so for a number of days, to dismay of many.

…meanwhile, on Planet Right…

But, as if existing in a parallel universe, an ice age of different sorts hit the Slovenian political right. For about a decade and a half, the right-wing food-chain was firmly established with Janez Janša on top, his SDS immediately below him and the SLS and the NSi competing for the role of monkey-boy. Usually, it was SLS which every now and then showed cojones and common sense, occasionally departing from the Janša line, but they always paid a price down the road. NSi, on the other hand, were the faithful bag-runners, asking “how high” whenever JJ said “jump”. Well, guess what…

That the NSi was growing a spine, did not go unnoticed by pengovsky. But this time around, the bets are apparently off as the quarrel is getting out of control, to the point of both parties claiming support from the members of the other party. The apparent casus belli was new law on archives proposed by the government and – gasp! – supported by Nova Slovenija. The thing is that ever since it got caught red-handed with “creative copying” of archive material, Janša’s party has been using a couple of pawns doing their dirty work for them. This meant that people such as Igor Omerza and Roman Leljak, self-proclaimed “history aficionados” who seem to busy themselves mostly with activities of UDBa, the former socialist secret police.

Blast from the past

A curious note: In 1988, when Janez Janša was in army prison during JBTZ trial, one Roman Leljak, officer of the Yugoslav Army Intelligence approached the Committee for Protection of Human Rights which wanted to see the four prisoners set free and offered to feed them inside info on the federal army. His contacts were Igor Bavčar (head od the committee) and – you guessed it – Igor Omerza. The two later decided Leljak couldn’t be trusted and severed contacts. Leljak went on to set up a magazine and run it into the ground and was later charged with and sentenced for fraud in two separate cases. But hey, I’m sure Igor Omerza today thinks highly of his fellow archive-gopher.

OMG, they’re EVERYWHERE!!!

Anyways, this UDBa theme was lately blatantly used to Janša’s political ends, as “exposing” became the leitmotif of his party’s politics, lately trying – via a parliamentary committee ran by SDS very own Eva Irgl –  to implicate former president Milan Kučan (after it had failed to implicate former president Danilo Türk years ago), suggesting he knew about the illegal activities of the secret service which had – according to Leljak – killed a member of Croatian Diaspora in Austria, one Stjepan Crnogorac. And while it was all a headline-grabbing, media-space-invading blitz, it soon transpired that Leljak’s was only a ploy for the SDS to assert that UDBa is in fact still running the country. As per latest blogpost by former interior (inferior?) minister and now MP for SDS Vinko Gorenak (Google translate here) who calculated that as many as thirty-seven (!) MPs siting in the parliament from 1992 onwards were UDBa agents or informants.

A quick round of maths: 90 seats in the parliament with six parliaments called until now, makes for 360 seats. According to Gorenak’s number, this would mean slightly more than 10 percent of all Slovenian MPs were/are somehow connected to UDBa. There is no indication as to how Gorenak arrived at this number. He tweeted that he had used old files, an alleged printout of UDBa database where a large portion of the population was identified by name and tagged either as an asset (operative, source), target or “not of interest”. Now, Gorenak used to be a high-ranking police officer in socialist times so he should know a thing or two about Yugoslav security services. Having held his Communist Party membership until the latter’s dying breath makes him doubly qualifies for this. Even more: having done name-by-name analysis, he could have very well told us which party has or had the most UDBa connected MPs. But he doesn’t. Something tells pengovsky not all “hits” would come from the political left.

But still, the former “member of a security apparatus of a totalitarian regime” manages to botch the whole thing up. Namely, the database was incomplete and at least partly forged. Not unlike the SDS’ “report” on president Danilo Türk, come to think of it. Anyways, point is, Gorenak is making up things as he goes, using compromised sources as he does it.

Running on empty

But it’s not really about the truth. It never was. The shenanigans are meant mostly to cover up the fact Janša is losing his mojo and is primarily concerned with his staying out of prison rather than plot his return to power. And although the not-guilty verdict for Patria officials in Finland gave Janša some breathing room (the collective orgasm of the political right upon the verdict was a sight to see), it is the Slovenian court which sentenced him to two years in prison. Janša appealed the verdict. Point is, SDS is running on empty idea-wise and in such a situation it is always cheaper and more immediately pleasing to send someone to dig through the archives and when the state wants to regulate usage of archive material (like anonimisation and pre-checking for sensitive content), to raise hell and declare anyone who doesn’t agree with you as UDBa collaborator.

Which is what more or less happened to NSi. They are now painted as turn-coats, collaborators with the communist regime, accessories to murder, even. All because they supported a government law which sets down some basic rules on arhive usage (where a free-for-all reigned before that). Now, the Christian-democratic NSi may be a great many things. And although pengovsky considers them a “natural” element of the political arena, their key positions are about as agreable as a three-day-old egg sandwich. But collaborators with the socialist regime, they are not. And yet, their move made Janša start the procedure to hold a referendum on the issue.

Call me a referendum

That’s right. Should Janša and his SDS collect 40.000 signatures, a referendum on this law must be held. All because Janez Janša doesn’t have the foggiest about what to do politically. He’s in a tight spot: he no longer runs the entire right-wing bloc, but can not afford to admit it because this would undermine his position within the party as well. Not to mention his standing with partner parties in the European People’s party. I mean, seeing PM Bratušek hit it off with Kanzlerin Merkel must have been hard enough for Janša. Now imagine Angie hooking up with Ljudmila Novak of the NSi?! With both their parties being of christian-democratic denomination, this is a viable option and Janša’s worst nightmare. Especially now, three months before European Elections.

And this is the second part of the equation. If all goes according to plan, the referendum would be held on the European election day, 25 May. This, the SDS argument goes, would mean a higher turnout of the Party faithful on the archive issue which would translate into a better result (possibly victory) in the European Elections. On a purely mechanical level, there is some merit in this line of thinking. But it also shows that neither Janša nor the SDS give a rat’s ass about UDBa or the archives unless it promotes their purely political agenda.

From SDS’s point of view the NSi was problematic in the EU elections since forever, because they always punched above their weight. But ever since the top of the Roman Catholic Church was beheaded by the Vatican (courtesy of the 800+ million gaping hole in Church’s finances plus other beauties), the SDS is no longer the party of choice for the largest religious institution in Slovenia. The latter is, apparently, now re-focusing on a more natural, albeit weaker political appendage.

Enter the SLS

Nor has the SLS remained at the sidelines. They’ve initiated a bid to derail the real-estate tax, an instrument the Bratušek administration forced down the parliament’s throat amid great pains in order to close the 2014 budget. But since the SLS is mostly farmer- and suburbia/rural oriented, where relatively large dwellings and swaths of land are not uncommon, the party has a clearly vested interest in this tax never becoming enacted. And it looks as if they will be successful in this sad enterprise (financial stability of the country be damned). But that’s a story for another time. Point is the SDS had to play catch-up and tried to hijack the anti-real-estate tax platform from the SLS. Unsuccessfully.

Which is why it came as no surprise that NSi and SLS were/are pondering a united list of candidates in the EU elections. Should idea bear fruit (which is by no means a given), a lovely irony would have taken place, since Janez Janša lobbied very hard for ChristDem SKD (precursor to NSi) and SLS be unified into a single party, only to see SLS+SKD break ranks over election system in 2000, causing a split in the newly unified party and finally, formation of NSi by several prominent SKD members including Lojze Peterle and the late Andrej Bajuk (both PMs some point). The relationship between NSi and SLS has been uneasy ever since, but it appears enough water had flown under the bridge for two parties to make at least some sort of amends. And Janša seems unable to stop that. Which is telling enough.

As a result, his options are dwindling fast and he seems to be down to re-visiting his glory days, with ever fresh interpretations of the events leading up to independence, engaging in anti-communists witch-hunts (neglecting the fact that his own party is teeming with ex-Commies), playing spy-games with dead people, accusing everyone else of being UDBa collaborator, even head of SLS Franci Bogovič, which is downright preposterous, restarting a bid to change (lengthen) the national anthem and – a classic – calling a referendum.

Fighting dead things

During the ice-storm, Janša was apparently confined to his “official residence” in Velenje. There he had a picture taken of himself, being all manly, cutting up a fallen tree with a chainsaw. The caption read “fighting the nature, cut away from the rest of the world”. Which may or may not have been an intended over-exaggeration, but the symbolism is telling.

The nominal leader of the opposition cutting up a dead tree and calling it “a fight”. This is what he’s come to.