Social Democrats Between Cerar And Veber-y Hard Place

in 1994, then-defence minister Janez Janša, refusing to quit office over Depala Vas Affair was removed from office by a parliamentary majority in what was probably one the most tense periods of Slovenian statehood. A defence minister using military spooks against civilians to his own needs is never a good idea, let alone in a fledgling democracy. And in an ironic fuck you by Mother History itself, twenty-one years later, almost to the day, Slovenia is again faced with a defence minister running amok and refusing to stand down. This time, however, it’s not Janez Janša, the now near-fallen leader of the SDS, but rather Janko Veber, of Social Democrats (SD) who directed OVS, the military intelligence service, to poke around the sale of Telekom Slovenije. Namely, he defied PM Miro Cerar and refused his calls to resign. AS a result, the PM will now ask the parliament to replace Veber.

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Now, drawing parallels between Janša and Veber only goes so far, although a nasty one pops up on a seemingly unrelated question of handling the issue of Roma family Strojan some years ago. This time around, there is no danger of the select army units being deployed to “secure key installations”, no thousands of protesters in front of the parliament sporting pitchforks and shovels and threatening to do generally unpleasant things to deputies if defence minister goes. But one would think that the political class would have advanced both in style as well as content in the past twenty-odd years. Especially political veterans such as Veber who definitely have enough mileage to know better.

As a result, a clusterfuck of reasonable proportions is now brewing inside the ruling coalition. The SD is, for the moment, standing firm behind Veber with party boss Dejan Židan (who doubles as minister of agriculture) going on and on about Veber doing nothing inappropriate and that SD will defend ministers who do their work. On the other hand, Cerar’s demand Veber step down won him a round of applause from the opposition NSi and SDS, while coalition member DeSUS is apparently still calculating how to profit from this as of today on the same boat with Cerar.

The thing is that although technically his boss, PM Cerar cannot simply dismiss Veber. Because constitution. The ground law namely states that ministers are nominated by the PM but appointed to office by the parliament, hence it is only the parliament which can dismiss them. This stipulation has caused trouble more than once, with mixed results. Amazingly, back in 1992, during his second administration, Janez Drnovšek tried to replace Jožica Puhar of what is now the SD (!) but failed. Puhar later resigned of her own accord, while Drnovšek went on to become one of Slovenia’s iconic political leaders.

The same conundrum, albeit with much more melodrama attached, was faced by PM Borut Pahor in 2010, when he demanded that DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec resign as minister of environment due to a damning report by the Court of Audit. Teflon Karl refused, forcing Pahor to call upon the parliament to remove Erjavec from office. Only then did the man give in and resigned, saying he wanted to spare the PM further embarrassment.

And this is quite possibly the scenario we are facing today. Not unlike DeSUS in 2010, the SD in 2015 can, despite reportedly a strong faction in the party to do so, ill afford to quit the ruling coalition. Because resources. You see, the party is but a mere shadow of its former self. It won 30 seats in the parliament in 2008. Six years later it hardly mustered six. And it fared only marginally better on municipal level. The only asset it really still has is its organisation and ground network. But that needs to be supported somehow, mostly by influence exerted on various levels to either bring in financing or to please the right people. Preferably both. And you can not do that when in opposition.

So while PM Cerar might be faced with an undesirable prospect of a single-vote majority in the parliament (SMC and DeSUS combined can put together 46 votes), going back to square one, reopen coalition negotiations and try to lure Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB to join in on the fun or even give a shot to a minority government rule, the SD is faced with a much more fundamental question of its survival. Of the party as a whole, not just survival of its current leadership set and the gravy train attached to it. The on

The only thing going in favour of the SD is the vast amount of experience it can draw from. The SMC is still well-versed in the intricacies of political maneuvering and is prone to trip over things that need not being tripped over. One such thing is the SD trying to shift the blame for the current situation on the SMC, saying the PM is not adhering to the coalition agreement by speeding through the motions to replace Veber. But Cerar really doesn’t have any other option. Even before the whole thing escalated to boiling point it was clear the PM can not simply let this one slide. There he was, faced with a minister who clearly stepped is bending over backwards trying to explain why, of all the possible agencies, bureaus and directorates did he have to pick army spooks to assess the sale of Telekom. Furthermore, why the bleeping bleep did that he, while claiming to have acted in the interests of national security, exposed the inner communication of military intelligence which – if nothing else – showed that the service was just as divided on the issue as the rest of the country. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a security risk. And Veber trying to explain all that was a textbook definition of a shitty job.

If Cerar ignored the issue or even supported Veber, he would have not only condoned Veber’s actions but – just as importantly – empowered the SD to the point of near-invincibility, because if you can get away with abusing military intelligence for political purposes, you can get away with anything. And before the faithful jump citing Veber’s concern for national security, we should not forget his party chief Židan who yesterday more or less plainly told the newsmedia the true casus belli was not national security as such but rather control of the Telekom. And this evening, Veber upped the ante, echoing Židan and even implied that while he was working in the interests of the country, Cerar wasn’t. Which is stopping just short of accusing the prime minister of high treason. And that’s a statement that’s very hard to walk away from. So the question do jour is whether the SD will walk away from Veber or from the government.

If pengovsky were a betting man, he’d bet on the former. Especially since there are other big companies for sale as well and if the SD quits the government, they relinquish what little influence they will have over the issue after the dust settles.



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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

4 thoughts on “Social Democrats Between Cerar And Veber-y Hard Place”

  1. I don’t entirely see it this way.
    Prime minister Cerar failed to explain which law defence minister Veber violated, only that the latter didn’t act transparently enough.
    Veber used the intelligence service OVS MORS, which is part of his office, while the civilian SOVA is the government agency and only PM Cerar could start an investigation. Veber indeed could have drawn PM Cerar’s attention to this fact and the PM could have started the investigation hmself.
    You just can’t compare this to the Depala Vas scandal, in which physical violence took place along with power abuse. Compared to the Depala Vas scandal this Vebergate looks as mere misuse of procedures and communication channels. The OVS intelligence service used only the data available to the public and did not use any other intelligence methods. NO, it can’t be compared to Depala Vas and YES, the media are making it a disproportionately big issue, following the opposition parties cues.
    The Social Democrats should stand behind their minister and leave the government coalition – to save their faces and make the party’s voice strong again.
    The whole incident is going to harm the biggest government party SMC, which is already losing its grounds.

  2. I did write thath comparisons to Depala vas go only so far. But Veber should know better than to use military spooks to look into a civilian matter. That’s the gist of it. There are any number of other agencies that could have done the same thing, possibly of their own accord. That includes SOVA.

    As for standing behind their minister: that depends. The one thing everyone save the SD agrees on is that Veber did an extremely poor job of explainig himself. That alone should be cause for grave concern. Quitting the coalition will do more harm to SD in the long term, because the party has yet to reel from the can of whoop-ass the voters opened on it. And while walking out on the coalition might rally the rank-and-file of the party, the fact remains that being in opposition severely limits access to resources. And that is a luxury the SD can ill afford right now.

    The SMC on the other hand is going to hurt much more from their own mistakes, such as today’s accusations of yet another case of plagiarising 🙂

  3. A Kočevje friend who knows Veber speculated/explained that the investigation ordered had more to do with keeping the gravy train of sinecure contracts between Telekom and a variety of players in the form of small companies intact than any real concern about national security. Apparently, the companies don’t actually do anything useful (or anything period), but the contracts provide income for various favoured players, apparently several hundred of them all sucking at the government teat.

    Preserving the pre-1991 system of personal, who you know, party affiliation connections such as the bank executive-(privatized)company owner pal loan arrangements and thus maintaining the status quo is the main priority according to this scenario. Further privatization is therefore to be avoided at all cost, regardless of logic and rational business practice. While a case can certainly be made for the state retaining control of certain industries such as power, highway operation, and telecommunications, the main goal seems to be preserving the gravy train.

    I wonder if the beneficiaries of this system are worried by the exemplary changes at the bad bank (imagine losing salaries of 5,000 or 10,000 EUR per month!) and the similar removal of the old supervisory board at Brnik Airport, who I assume also lose a cushy income for (probably) doing very little actual work.

  4. The poor explanation by Veber was a big faux pas. It looks that he didn’t choose to listen to the right PR specialists! 🙂
    My woman’s intuition tells me that the SD is going to be fine, unless they succumb to the sweet smell of power and the access to resources. However, if they manage to resist the temptation and keep their promise, by giving up the power and joining the opposition in the parliament, they could win their voters back with good arguments (against privatisation!). My only concern here is that I don’t see a charismatic leader among the SD party officials and members. They still have their political niche, though.
    Next Thursday is going to be a very interesting day, but I bet we haven’t seen it all yet. 🙂

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