While most of Europe sighed in a collective relief upon learning that Alexander van der Bellen was elected President of Austria and at the same time ignoring the fact that a crypto-Nazi won 49.7 percent of the vote (seriously, Austria, what the actual fuck?!) important changes, albeit of a lesser degree, are taking place just south of the Austrian border, too. Namely, early on Monday the SDS of Janez Janša saw its first top-tier departure. To be fair, putting Andrej Čuš MP in the top-tier is a bit of a stretch, but the 26-year-old was once the leader of the Party youth organisation and elected to parliament twice (as a replacement deputy in 2013 and a full-term deputy a year later) so by virtue of the position he holds, count the kid in the grown-ups column. Also, the fact that he is the first one to walk from a party that is increasingly looking like a bad car wreck is not unimportant.
Now, in the past few weeks a lot was said and written about how SDS is bursting at the seams, pengovsky included. But almost invariably this was framed as the more sensible wing of the party jumping ship, leaving Janša increasingly isolated and dejected thus opening up space for Aleš Primc to upgrade his protest movement into a full-blown party and commandeer most of the right-wing. Čuš quitting the SDS signals that Primc may have opted for eating up the SDS from within.
You see, Čuš took on quite a visible profile during the autumn/winter refugee crisis. Fomenting protests against refugee centres in Kidričevo near his native Ptuj and later in Šenčur near Kranj, accusing the president of the parliament Brglez of high treason for advocating the location of the centre in his hometown of Logatec (where it was ultimately established), the kid toed the anti-imigrant line in a way that would make Norbert Hofer proud. And since the ChristDem NSi, the other parliamentary right-wing party is Angela Merkel‘s echo chamber on many issues including the refugees, Čuš is – for the moment at least – persona non grata for the NSi. So much for theories of in-parliament poaching. On the other hand, Primc has built up a relatively massive operation on the ground, full of anger, righteousness and populism in general, but is lacking direct access to the parliamentary arena. He can’t wait forever lest he loses the momentum and since elections aren’t going to happen any time soon, peeling an MP or two off the SDS is a sensible way to go about it.
For his part, Čuš claims to have been simply fed up with Janša obsessing over Milan Kučan and that it was time to think of the future, especially future of the young people whom he obviously sees as his constituency. As far as excuses go he could have done worse. But the whole thing is nevertheless so transparent that it hurts. Namely, the latest iteration of Janša so-not-being-over Kučan consists of a group of JJ’s
blowhards diehards indicting Kučan for high treason back in 1990 when he allegedly failed to stop the Yugoslav Army from hauling away a lot of weaponry earmarked for the nascent Territorial Defence (precursor to the Slovene Army). The case doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but this was just a cue Čuš was waiting for to make his move.
As per Rules and Regulations, he is now counted as an independent. But it will soon become apparent whether his “this is why we can’t have nice things” manoeuvre is just a ploy or is he really that stupid. Namely, his life as of Monday will become enormously more difficult. Not only will he lose access to the resources of a very large parliamentary group and will instead have to share limited resources in money and personnel with other independents . He will also have to contend with more constrained speaking time alloted and get generally to the back of the line on many issues and scenarios. It sucks being an independent in Slovenian parliament.
Unless, of course, you have outside support that will generate media attention. And this is where Primc comes into play. Yesterday Čuš was saying something about forming advisory councils and soliciting expert opinions on various issues as his path forward. Left to his own devices, this is a nigh-impossible task for one man, especially as inexperienced as Čuš is. If, however, the attendees were brought in by someone else, say an emerging political party with a wide grass-roots network and if Čuš provides a high-profile venue, such as, dunno, a conference room in the parliament, then the whole thing is suddenly very doable.
So, the smart money is on Andrej Čuš MP, formerly of SDS, to soon become the poster-boy of a new political party run by Aleš Primc. And if a few other SDS MPs were to follow in Čuš’s footsteps, we could soon find ourselves with several nominally independent MPs forming an unofficial parliamentary group which then in turn becomes a fully fledged party. We’ve seen that film before.