Name And Shame

Since this is a hot topic, it would not do for pengovsky not to chip in his two eurocents: Zlovenija.

A rather smart logo of Zlovenija

The wave after wave of refugees washed up something even more disturbing. A deluge of racist, xenophobic, hateful and whathaveyou comments regarding the refugees which would not abate. Things like “a bullet’s too good for them”, “get my gun”, “where’s Hitler when you need him”, “those trains should go straight to Auschwitz” and so forth. Just lovely. :/

Soon enough, a Tumblr appeared, collecting the pick of the crop of the couch-Nazis and putting their comment to their (more or less) hi-res photos, thus creating a striking contrast between people holding their puppies, spouses or children and their comments, most of which, to put it mildly, could provide grounds for criminal charges.

And yet, there is something inherently wrong with Zlovenija (a wordplay on Slovenia and Zlo (=Evil)). People smarter than pengovsky have weighed in, both in favour (here, here and here) and against (here and here to give a couple of links almost at random), but no-one touched on what in pengovsky’s views is the most crucial takeaway of the entire enterprise. Namely, that with this the bad guys actually won.

You see, whatever noble intentions led the creator(s) of Zlovenija, they are defeated by the very form chosen. Name-and-shame lists were, in what little experience Slovenia has with democracy, mainly tool of the political right. Think, a list of allegedly collaborators of UDBA, the Yugoslav secret police. The list that was used time an again to name-and-shame people who held public office at various levels. Or various “who’s-who” lists allegedly detailing networks of communist/gay mafia that supposedly runs Slovenia. Or various lists of journos who reported things the right-wing was unhappy with. Pengovsky was added to such a list. A bullshit scare tactic, but still, not something to be liked or wished for.

But wait, I hear you say, Zlovenija is exposing hate-speech! Surely, that can’t be the same as putting together lists of undesirable journalists? In substance, no. But in form, there is no discernible difference. And when the next list is made, pointing that out will be useless.

With Zlovenia choosing a similar name-and-shame silencing technique, lists of undesirables are one step closer to becoming fair game. Which is all that the reactionary side ever wanted. Not to win, but to call it a tie, to muddle the field so much that everyone looks equally dirty. Whenever the progressives pick up tools of the reactionaries, they lose. Twice. First, because they allowed themselves to drop to the reactionary level and second, because they can’t play that game well.

Just take a look at all those removed photos which were replaced by “apologies” by the authors of the comments. Only that precious few of them are actual apologies. When it all began, the blog set out some very harsh requirements for getting the offending picture and comment removed. It included posting a more or less groveling message with the author stating that he/she is aware of how wrong their actions were and to promise never to do it again. The requirements have since been loosened to disowning the comment via a short explanation. And now you’ve got everything, from “I was drunk” to “I’ve no job” to “I was afraid for my family” to “I’m angry there’s so much social injustice in Slovenia”… It’s quite an impressive list of non-apologies. Everyone’s got an excuse for being an asshole. And suddenly, that’s alright.

Well, fuck it. It’s not alright. And it goes to show that naming and shaming, while silencing some people does precious little to change people’s hearts. Because these people are going to get drunk again. They are still going to be afraid (no matter how baseless their fears are), they are still going to look for someone to blame for the situation (social or otherwise) they’re in. And since they can’t take it out on refugees, they’ll take it out on someone else. Women. The Roma. Socialists. LGBT community (there’s a nice one, with the referendum on same-sex marriage coming up and all). People with brown eyes. You name it. The list (sic!) is endless.

Just how bad an idea Zlovenija was, is aptly demonstrated by the fact that it has jumped into the offline world, with pictures being printed in large format and plastered in public venues. Seriously? How is that suppose to be educational? Not to mention that the author(s) of the blog remain anonymous, while the authors of hate-speech comments are up there with their names and pictures. I mean, if you’re going to out people, at least have the decency to put your own name to it.

How to go about hate-speech, then? Tricky. But as a journo colleague Lenart Kučić tweeted, there are no shortcuts. First and foremost, there’s the legal framework. Hate-speech is a punishable offence. Therefore, reporting it to the authorities is a must. Blogs like Zlovenija are nothing but a form of digital vigilantism that can only end in tears. Sure, Facebook is being an asshole and is often refusing to remove plainly abusive comments. But fuck Facebook. Use Slovenian Criminal Code instead.

But it does not stop there. What is needed is compassion. Despite plenty of hate speech on social media, there were a lot of good deeds in real life. People volunteered to help with the Civil Defence and Red Cross. Other people donated food, clothes, basic shelter. The police and the army are earnestly trying to keep the situation in balance the best they can. In short, there seems to be not a bad guy in the field. All of which makes the couch-Nazis look despicable, irrelevant and sad.

Point out the good thigs and you’ll see there is more than enough to counter the bad things.

But trying to “teach them a lesson” is not a good thing. Because rest assured that lessons will not be learned. Or rather, lessons that will be learned will be on avoiding detection and plausible deniability, they will not be on compassion. In that respect, Zlovenija only compounds the problem, it does not help solve it one tiny bit.

The Army Is A Broad Sword, Not A Scalpel

Following a surge in influx of refugees which apparently stretched Slovenian personnel and housing resources to their limits, the government of Miro Cerar came up with amendments to Defence Act granting the Slovenian army policing powers and rushed them through the parliament in a rarely used emergency legislative procedure. The move, backed by both the coalition and most of the opposition is aimed to provide relief to the overstretched police and Civil defence force. But in reality it opens a Pandora’s box of the military spilling over into the civilian sphere.

“The army will perform its duty.” Bruce Willis/William Deveraux in The Siege (source)

Admittedly, the numbers Slovenian authorities were dealing with are staggering in terms of the country’s size and its resources. More than 20.000 refugees came to the Slovenian border via the “West Balkan route” through Croatia in the last couple of days. Quite a substantial number of them, as per Slovenian government, without any notification from their Croatian counterparts who reportedly transported the refugees somewhere in the vicinity of theborder rather than to the actual border crossings and then cut them loose, leaving them to make their way across the river, fields and marshes into Slovenia.

And since Slovenia, trying to be European to a fault, insists on an orderly processing and transfer of refugees from Croatia through its several refugee centres onwards to Austria, things got tricky at the Slovenia/Croatia border, prompting the government in Ljubljana to employ the army as a policing force.

Which is a big fucking mistake.

The problem is, of course, many-fold. First, the mere fact that with this, the firewall between the civilian and the military sphere is being, albeit slightly and temporarily, torn down. Giving the army powers over the civilian population is a big no-no. Unless a state of emergency was declared and last time pengovsky checked, that wasn’t the case. Although some people act as if it were. And this is the problem number two.

A lot of what we were seeing these past few days were knee-jerk reactions to events that were and are apparently getting the better of people at the top of the food chain whose primary role is to keep things strategically in check. As if deploying the military was the only alternative to using police forces.

There’s the old adage that if a hammer is all you know how to use, everything looks like a nail. But this is not a case of trigger-happy politicos jumping the gun (literally) and launching a scenario not unlike in The Siege. No, a more proper parallel would be that of a first-time plane passengers on a very bumpy ride, already reaching for their life jackets while the flight crew is still serving drinks.

A number of those alternatives came to light as the parliament was debating the amendments to the Law on Defence. These include aid by the European frontier agency Frontex as well as bilateral help from other EU states’ police forces, most notably Austria and Germany. These options are now being considered and reportedly about to be enacted.

Problemo numero tres is the actual scope of powers granted to the military. While members of the Slovenian army apparently have some crowd control training, there is serious concern as to whether Slovenian soldiers have the (legal) knowledge and experience to execute these powers with necessary restraint and respect for human rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Slovenian Army are prone to human rights violations. What I’m saying is that the army – any army – was not designed with this in mind. Simple as that. And by the time enough military units are trained in the nuances of policing civilians and equipped to do that effectively, this crisis will have long passed.

Which brings us to the fourth and the biggest problem. This, too, shall pass. And after it does, we’ll be left with army units with a shitload of equipment they won’t need anymore and training that does not correspond to their basic mission. A waste of resources, if I ever saw one. But not only that. The most worrisome leftover will be the legislation itself.

Because if you think that the provision granting policing powers to the army is going to go away after this is over, you’re sorely mistaken. It is here to stay, for ever and ever. Just like increased political meddling with the public television or the fiscal rule.

And even if the government plans to repeal the provision after the crisis abates, someone should tell them they will fail to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. Because the right-wing parties which supported the provision practically without dissent (customary political bickering, gloating and we-told-you-so’s not withstanding) and who find Victor Orban a rather appealing character, were long clamouring for something like this. And now they got it, they’re not going to let go of it that easily.

There will be other governments and there will be other crises. And bringing in the army has suddenly become much easier. All that is needed now is a technical request by the government to the parliament and – poof! – the army suddenly has policing powers again.

Luckily, yesterday cooler heads prevailed and the bar for approving special powers was raised to a two-thirds rather than just a simple majority as originally proposed by the government. Also, the amended law provides a sunset clause for these powers which expire after three months if not revoked sooner. They can, however, be extended, too, pending a re-vote. Meaning that this is not really a strong safeguard against abuse.

Fear of abuse was present in the subtext of the presentation by the Chief of the General Staff, Maj. Gen. Andrej Osterman, when he addressed the parliament yesterday. Namely, among other things, Osterman said Slovenian army neither wants nor has asked for policing powers, but will perform the duty as instructed.

It was Bruce Willis in the role of General William Deveraux in The Siege who said that the army is a broad sword, not a scalpel.

And yet, here we are. What could possibly go wrong?


Bad, Bad Bank. Heel.

As both readers of this blog know, the government of Miro Cerar decapitated the management and the board of the BAMC – Bank Asset Management Company, a.k.a. the “bad bank“. With dismissal of Lars Nyberg as head of the board and Torbjörn Månsson as CEO, the rest of the international team left, as well, leaving a power vacuum at the top of the institution tasked with making the most of bad loans that hobbled the Slovenian banking sector and the economy in general.


Since its conception, the bad bank has been an unloved child, more or less forced upon the government(s) by the looming troika back in the days when shit was getting real and Slovenia was teetering on the brink of the bailout abyss. Now, the bank had its fits and starts, with outside consultants being heavily relied upon to turn the legal mandate into a reality while the political turmoil was reaching new peaks and the mandate itself was frequently changed. The management of the bad bank also changed quite a bit, finally settling down with Nyberg as head of the Board and Månsson (who served as a consultant during the conception of the bank) as CEO.

The bank and its management were never far from centres of controversy. Be it the way they managed assets, or the very nature of the assets they were given to manage, they always irked somebody. And since the top execs were outsiders (with Slovenians serving in non-executive management roles), there was a noticeable unease and even apprehension with the institution across the political spectrum. This of course did not prevent the political parties bashing each others’ brains out with whatever shit the bank dug out on any given day, depending on whose daily agenda the issue at hand served best. But the thing was that during the last 25 years enough dubious business moves were made and/or politically ordained on both sides of the aisle, that no one was coming out of the cesspool clean. There was no guarantee that politically sensitive issues will be kept at bay, that names will not be named and that clout will be kept.

This is one of the reasons the bad bank was under intense scrutiny from the very beginning. Leading the charge was the Court of Audit which, understandably, wanted to keep an eye on how state’s assets were being managed. Turns out that the management had a hard time putting legal provisions in practice and that not all decisions were up to standards. Accounting and otherwise. To put it plainly: in 2013, the first year of operation, money was spent lavishly but to little effect. Månsson defended his work saying that the mandate was changed frequently and that a lot of that money went for adapting to the new circumstances. And, to be honest, in 2014, the bad bank did come up with results, selling some debt (transferred at a discount) for a profit. On the other hand, managing real estate left a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. So the results were there, albeit not spectacular . But still. Since the bad bank was chartered for five years with the understanding that it would get another five, things were seemingly moving in the right direction.

Wag the dog

Not everyone was pleased with that. Local economic chieftains, once considered pillars of society (aren’t they all, until they come tumbling down), were quite unhappy with outsiders basically showing them they know jack shit about running a business when the going gets rough. With the downfall of economic powerbases a number of different informal networks, consisting of politicos, moneymen and opinion makers began to unravel which again, was an unwelcome turn of events for many. Which is why the bad bank was under a near-constant stream of accusations of wrongdoing. Most of these accusations were based on the audit for 2013, while others, more populist ones, included the claim that “foreigners were lining their pockets on account of the Slovenian taxpayer” and scandalisation over salaries of the BAMC top brass. A classic wag the dog moment.

And, as usual in Slovenia, this worked pretty well. BAMC management was well paid. Extremely well paid, to be exact. 20k € before taxes is not peanuts in Slovenia, although one gets left with slightly more than 50% of that after the various parts of the state (welfare and otherwise) have taken their share. Still, not exactly what one would call a negligible amount of money.

But while your average Slovenian was scandalised over the numbers, what no one cared about was that these rates are more or less common in this line of business. For all intents and purposes, Månsson was the official receiver of the state and para-state assets. And if you want someone from an international market to run that for you, you pay international prices. Sure, the management of the bad bank in all likelihood was not top-tier, but then again, Slovenia can’t afford to pay top-tier prices. We got our money’s worth and still Månsson and his people were able to do more in a year and a half than the various local polit-economic brain trusts were able to do in a decade. Which begs the question who exactly was, in fact, overpaid.

Point being that the public outcry over paychecks is just a smoke-screen for taming a force that was wreaking havoc on the established order of things. Because regardless of the waste the 2008 meltdown laid upon the economic landscape of this country, the balance of power remained more or less unperturbed. Even the fact that the right-wing slammed the left-wing for undermining the bad bank, it only did so because it was not itself in power. And had it been, the left-wing would have slammed the right-wing for fire-selling state assets.

When Christmas comes early

Oh, wait, but this is exactly what the left-wing has been doing for the past year and a half. You see, from their point of view, PM Cerar and FinMin Mramor are little more than agents of the neoliberal locusts, while from the point of view of the right-wing they are nothing but custodians of the communist economic power structure. Both views are as much self-serving as they are wrong. Cerar and Mramor (the latter definitely being on the hawkish side of the austerity debate) are primarily concerned with rocking the economic boat as little as possible. And since the SMC is essentially a populist party, given its quick rise and patch-work platform, they could ill ignore the issue which, however misguided, enraged the people. It was therefore easier to cut Nyberg and Månsson loose than to pick a fight that could well bring down the coalition.

As a result, the Social Democrats, the most junior of the three coalition partners, have again gained in strength as they will no doubt drive a hard bargain in negotiating who gets to be the bad bank’s new top dog. Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, too, will strive to cash in on the situation, but his is a different playing field. Everyone else, too, will want a piece of the pie in return for not causing too much trouble. The only ones who will be left out in the cold nursing their hurt pride will be the ones who carried the anti-bad bank banner all those years: the United Left (ZL).

The ZL went all out against BAMC on ideological grounds. Pure as their motives were, the party somehow failed to notice that they are merely carrying bag for their left-wing competition. While the “only true left-wing party” was up in arms, the SD (bleeding voters and probably ripe for a trip to the Happy Hunting Ground) was sitting back and enjoying the ride and is now laughing all the way to the (bad) bank. To put it another way: Christmas came early for the SD and ZL was the Santa’s little helper.

And now, in the power vacuum, all kinds of shady deals can be made. Including the one which seems to have caused the downfall of the bad-bank management in the first place:

This seems to be the crux of the matter. The moment it actually started doing what it was supposed to be doing, the bad bank stepped on so many toes so fast everyone wants it to just disappear. Much of this was summarised in this must watch interview-cum-explanatory with BAMC project manager Janne Harjunpää (in English) ran last night by the RTVSLO (of all places 🙂 ). The present situation is nicely summed up in this six-minute clip, together with the explanation why both left- and right-wing want BAMC tamed.

And before someone goes ga-ga over yesterday’s CrimPolice raid at the bad bank, supposedly investigating consultants’ fees and board wages, let us not forget that a) these things rarely come to fruition and b) are probably nothing more than just a back-up plan in case the dismissed top brass claims severance pay.

It’s the power, stupid

At the end of the day, the government of Miro Cerar will have to choose a new board. The PM said this will be done by an international tender, but this means nothing if he and the finance minister fail to curb the greed and power grab of the traditional political parties. Not only are they used to this, they need such an economic backbone to plot their way back to power.

After all, that is what it is all about.

Rule 34a

That Slovenia fought against watering-down of the Telecom Single Market directive (a.k.a. Single Digital Market) was for all intents and purposes the most surprising piece of information coming from this sorry little excuse for a country in the last ten days or so. Even more surprising than the decapitation of the bad-bank where the CEO and chief of the supervisory board were dismissed over excessive pay. And infinitely more surprising than the story of the NSA and German BND bulk-intercepting international calls from Slovenia between 2005 and 2008. Both of which will get written up here in due course. But first, this net neutrality thing.


You can read it up, but the nuts and bolts of it are fairly simple: either everyone gets to use the web under the same conditions in terms of speed, access and services provided or network operators get to decide which services or users get preferential treatment (for a price, of course) and which get to crowd with the rest of us sorry bastards on the slow end of the interwebz. Or, what could happen is that the network operators get to pick their favourite service(s) and charge less – or nothing at all – for their use, relegating every other competing service to the status of an also-ran. Point being that under the proposed Single Digital Market directive the telcos get to pick the winners and the losers.

This is about where and how you’ll get your news, for example. Or your porn. Not that there’s much difference, but still. On the neutral net, where telcos/network providers compete with one another with plans, prices and ease of access, you’re able to pick and choose between RTVSLO, BBC, Russia Today, (yuck) or even FoxNews. On the not-so-neutral net your provider will most likely limit you to a handful of news sites, at least one of them being their own. Everything else will either be available at a premium or at lower speeds. Or both. The same goes for porn. The neutral net brings you PornHub, Redtube or plain old /hc/ board on, depending on your fancy. The other web brings you your provider’s porn service. It is a sort of Rule 34a.


If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions. Provided you pay for it and we get to deliver it.


And would you really like your network provider to know exactly what sick turn-ons you have? Methinks not.

And this is just the way things are today. Imagine a couple of years from now, when the IoT takes off for real. You buy a net-enabled fridge telling you what’s missing and updating your shopping list. But on the not-neutral web your network operator gets to choose which brand of the fridge gets preferential treatment within its network or which on-line shops are available for such a device. Hell, it can even limit your online shopping experience, preventing you from getting the best deal out there. Or maybe it can charge you extra if your wifi-enabled car needs an update. The list goes on forever.

Also, this is about cats.

All of the above makes it all the more astounding that Slovenia actually took up the issue on the EU level. I mean, here we have arguably the single most important long-term policy issue since the introduction of the euro and this country actually wants to do something? Wow. Just wow. In fact, Slovenia and the Netherlands were out-voted on the issue, with Croatia and Greece abstaining, while the 24 remaining member states green-lighted the draft (page 13 of the link).

You see, the thing is that next to the Netherlands, Slovenia is the only EU member to have set net neutrality as a legal norm. More or less. In Slovenia at least the legislation was watered down via lobbying by the telcos, but not enough to prevent the first-ever rulings by AKOS, the comms watchdog, which in January fined the two largest mobile providers for providing zero-rating services. And now, as the year slowly draws to an end, the European Commission put forward a draft Single Digital Market directive which would have made these rulings next to impossible as it basically trades the much-hailed abolition of roaming charges (two years hence) for a two-speed Internet (most likely to commence in various forms immediately). Little wonder Slovenia and the Netherlands have problems with it since it directly undermines their national legislation, several orders of magnitude better than what the draft directive provides for.

At its most crudest, this is a case where a drop in profits in one segment of the industry is mitigated by a free-fire zone of surcharges in another segment. Not to mention the fact that the move will have massive repercussions far beyond the consumer sector. Limiting speed and/or access to information will impact education and research, creative industries will once again be divided into haves and have-nots and home will no longer be simply where the wi-fi is.

This, despite the name, will be anything but a single digital market.

The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court. Last year, the EP shot down a directive draft which – compared to the current one – was more than acceptable. But with Brussels packing more lobbyists than Washington D.C., one can never be sure of the final outcome. (Slighty OT: Here is a handy tool on lobbying stats, courtesy of

Which is why a number of grass-roots initiatives sprang up all over the EU to, well, save the internet. In Slovenia, too, where media and the politicos have apparently finally started paying attention. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen, but if the fate of the ACTA treaty a few years ago and the recent Safe-harbour ruling by the European Court are omens to go by, then this whole thing can still be overturned.

Because as it stands, for all the goodies it brings vis-a-vis mobile roaming, the TSM directive in fact heralds yet another social stratification. This time of a digital nature, ordained by the industry whose hey-day has long since passed.