Notes From A Former Province (part deux)

Much has happened in the two months since the last post on this blog but as luck would have it we are dealing with la presidentielle yet again. Specifically, how the evolution (or is that regression?) of the Slovenian political landscape can be used to explain, albeit in broad contours, ouate de phoque happened in France. And that’s even without Macron’s campaign being hacked hours before the campaign media blackout.

To begin with, it turned out that our reading of François Fillon‘s political fate was spot on. He did cling on by means of ever more ludicrous claims which however did convince enough of his base to stick with him to claim third place. But since there are no points for third place, he is now reduced to claiming that a satire magazine “illegally influenced the campaign“. The absurdity of the sentence alone is worthy of making it Le Canard enchaîné‘s tagline.

Marine Le Plagiat

Speaking of Fillon, it was quite remarkable how he came back to haunt Marine Le Pen via a plagiarized speech she gave the other day. Even the dramatic pauses were placed in the same places. OK, so it may be a French thing and they may possibly even have had the same speech coach, but still, funny af.

Funny, but painfully familiar. You see, back in the former province we’re familiar with this sort of shit. Case in point (once again) former PM Janez Janša, the same one whose playbook Fillon copied with great accuracy in the first instalment of this post.

It was back in 2006 when Janša was on top of his game, the future was bright, money was cheap and adoption of the euro was just around the corner. Slovenia was to become a beacon of the 21 century and while we could never be the biggest we can be the best and all that jazz. The best in plagiarising, it turned out, as it became apparent years later that Janša lifted portions of his speech directly from Tony Blair.  So, yeah, we know how that looks like.

So, what’s next? Using made-up quotes, obviously. While it seems improbable that the French will be fake-quoting Winston Churchill anytime soon, there are plenty of other historical figures available for such abuse. Such as Marcus Tullius Cicero.

But let us not dwell on the (projected) losers.

Emmanuel Macron -> EM -> En Marche

Yes, Monsieur Macron, we see what you did there. But rest assured it’s been done, by none other than your almost-counterpart Miro Cerar, the incumbent Slovenian prime minister. When Miro Cerar lauched his party and styled it after himself (SMC = Stranka Mira Cerarja) most of the pundit class sneered and opined that the move was quite déclassé.

And yet, it was hardly the first case of a party (or, to be more specific, a list of candidates) to be named after its big kahuna. The truly first instance of this phenomenon in the Slovenian political landscape was none other than the industrious mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković who ran in 2006 on an high-visibility outsider ticket and won in a landslide. Not just the mayoral race itself but also the race for the council where a list of candidates bearing his name won a flat-out majority, giving him unprecedented power to reshape the city. Janković repeated the manoeuvre (sort of) in 2011 parliamentary elections which he won as well (but failed to secure a majority in the parliament)  when he named his now-defunct party as Pozitivna Slovenija – Lista Zorana Jankovića. Since then mentioning their leaders in parties’ names became a common occurence in Slovenia but personality politics was taken to a whole new level when Miro Cerar named his nascent political-association-turned-party entirely after himself and later renamed it into Stranka Modernega Centra (Modern Centre Party) to keep the acronym intact.

But similarities between EM and SMC do not end there. Not only are they both members of the liberal ALDE group in the European parliament. They both ran on a platform of hope, renewal and fuzzy promises. Admittedly, Macron had to come up with <I>some</I> policies for Round Two, but in Round One he was riding the wave of discontent-without-turning-over-the-table and came out on top in the implosion of the party system.

Speaking of which, the parties of the Cinquième République may have crumbled, but don’t write them off just yet. If Slovenia is anything to go by (and it is as good an example as any) the presumptive winner is about to realise that although soundly defeated the old establishment parties will not simply roll over and die but will use every ounce of arguably large heap of experience, every trick up their sleeve and will call in every possible favour (and then some) to continue their existence, often calculating that events like Macron are to be weathered rather than adapted to.

And given that Macron is already forced to make concessions on party affiliation to even consider a shot for a parliamentary majority in another elections six weeks from Sunday, rest assured that the mainstream parties are anything but gone.

The Žižek Strikes Again

And then there’s the Slovenian pop-philosopher, the only real star this sorry little excuse for a country has ever produced (next to Melania Trump, Goran Dragić and Anže Kopitar, of course) who stayed true to form and announced days before the election that Macron and Le Pen are basically one and the same . Just as he did days before the US presidential elections.

Now, one could make an argument that, however horrid, Žižek was bang on regarding the Trump effect. Electing the Tax-dodger-in-Chief did bring about long-unseen levels of civic engagements in the US. The system of checks and balances, dangerously skewed due to one-party rule is being restored via activism and legal means. And while we will never know whether Hillary trully would simply be a continuation of status quo (odds are events would have forced her hand one way or another), fact of the matter is that Americans are again taking their democracy seriously. And that’s a good thing.

With regard to the French scenario, however, Žižek might be a wee bit off mark and he seems to sense it.

First off, painting Macron as an extension of the baker elite is a bit of a brush-off Sure, he worked for the Rotschilds, but does working for an investment bank automatically make one a lassez-faire neoliberal elitist blowhard? Is being liberal a crime? Or, to turn the argument on its head, to what extent are both the left and the right wings willing to sacrifice civic freedoms in order to gain power?

Now, even if Žižek’s analysis holds (and, to be honest, it holds pretty damn often), the question remains just what exactly to do about it. There, Žižek takes a careful swipe at the left (far left? true left?) for apparently waiting for a wide-raging solution to present itself while they spend their energy at the barricades. It is as if Žižek is starting to realise that enablers of re-emerging fascism in Europe are not just liberals with their elitist-capitalist-enter-the-latest-buzzword agenda but the left wing as well, due to its contrarian and often luddistic approach to enacting change in a society.

Burning everything down so we can build anew might look appealing but the details can get messy.

In contrast to Žižek, however, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varioufakis went out on a limb and endorsed Macron, basically saying that however disagreeable Macron might be, he is committed within a democratic framework. This, of course, immediately precipitated a internecine war within the Slovenian left, with those supporting Varoufakis’ message stood accused of having sold out by the ideological purists.

And while were on it, you probably noted how Žižek tries to turn the optics and make you look from the other side, to break out of the bubble, if you will. He writes

The commonplace “enough talking, let’s act” is deeply deceiving – now, we should say precisely the opposite: enough of the pressure to do something, let’s begin to talk seriously, ie, to think!

Which sort of makes sense at first glance. Oftentimes one only needs a change in perspective to see a different solution present itself. But Žižek himself notes that no singular solution is presenting itself. So there’s a bit of a discrepancy there.

And before we start reading too much into this call to non-action, it should be noted that Žižek used this very same manoeuvre in the summer on ’88, during the “Slovenian Spring”, when an array of protests over a military court hearing a case against a little-known civilian and journalist named Janez Janša (among others).

Back then Žižek opined in front of a large audience that the powers that be always urge to quit talking and start acting and that the protest movement should do exaclty the opposite: quit acting and start talking. The audience erupted in laughter and applause, but the great philosopher counter-punched by saying that he’s a bit saddened by the audience falling for the cheapest of tricks.

Just so you know.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.