Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum (Policy)

It takes a special sort of naiveté to look at the last ten days in Muddy Hollows and see it as anything but a shameless run for cheap political points. The matter at hand is the issue of one Ahmat Shani, a Syrian refugee who ended up in Slovenia where the state is refusing to process his asylum application and is now facing deportation to Croatia.

Ahmad Shami (source)

Ahmad Shami was a part of the 2015 refugee exodus which – despite numerous warning signs – caught the EU more or less unawares and scrambling for stop-gap solutions, hobbling the Schengen area and inducing levels of panic and overreaction not seen since, well, the eurozone crisis. But Ahmad Shami probably cared less about that than getting to safety and making sure his immediate family could follow in his footsteps.

So far, so ordinary. His is basically the same story we’ve heard over and over again. Ordinary people looking for a reasonably safe place seeking little more than being reunited with their loved ones. What sets Ahmad apart from the rest (from a Slovenian perspective at least) is the fact that upon arriving to the country he took on a community role, learned basic Slovenian and was proactive in aiding other fellow refugees in geting their bearings in the new environment. There was only one problem: his request for an asylum was repeatedly denied on procedural grounds, citing that he should request asylum in Croatia, a country of his first point-of-entry as per the Dublin regulation. And this is where things get ugly.

Most of this was unknown to the general public. But a mere day after the second round of the presidential election, the issue burst into primetime and onto front pages with full force. All of a sudden this was a national issue and everyone treated it as an emergency of the highest order. But in reality this was (and still is) nothing but a badly disguised continuation of the election campaign being fought over the back of a poor sod who just wants to be safe and with his family. Very few people really care about tihs guy, especially among those who squeezed every ounce of media attention and PR value out of this.

The main problem, so to speak, is the interior minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar under whose purview the Shank’s be others asylum requests fall. She seems to fancy herself the Lady Protectress Of The Southern Schengen Border and acts the part. She stuck to denying Shami’s and other requests to process asylum applications citing the Aliens Act and the Dublin regulation even though both give her and the government discretionary right to act otherwise.

Specifically, the European Court of Justice, while affirming the right of Slovenia to deport Shami to Croatia added in no unclear terms that member states are free to act in solidarity with other member states in processing asylum requests. Translation: Slovenia, you can throw Shami out of the country but, seriously, don’t be an asshole.

Things don’t end there, however. For while Györkös Žnidar can be held accountable for running a perversion of a bureaucratic process, she is – within her own Kafkaesque bubble – completely right when she accuses other players in this game of false humanity. Namely, what had happened was The Left (formerly The United Left), the Social Democrats and elements of the SMC had the man come over to the offices of the SD parliamentary group, supposedly “for protection” as if they were sheltering him from being dragged away by the cops.

Several things are wrong with that picture: first, the parliament is no safe haven. The police have complete jurisdiction over it, especially in matters not directly pertaining to the MPs and their constitutional role. Pengovsky happens to believe that the parliament should for the most part be outside of the jurisdiction of the executive branch and its repressive arm but that is another story. As things stand now, no amount of posturing could help the poor man had the cops wanted to take him away.

Second: despite reports that the deportation is imminent, there is in fact a six-months window that expires at the end of January. Since the Slovenian state apparatus is not exactly known for expedience, chances are Ahmad will spend New Year’s Eve in Slovenia regardless. Hence, the newfound urgency is dubious at best.

And third: No-one (save perhaps the few human rights activists who’ve helped Ahmad from the get go) really gives a shit about either of the above items. Having the man in the parliament is about as sleazy a photo-op as they come. Causing an uproar, or at least participating in one, a day *after* your candidate wins the presidential election is cynical as fuck. Yes, I’m looking at you, Social Democrats (and DeSUS). And when PM Cerar finally succumbed to the pressure (and mind you, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure) and said a solution will be found for Ahmad to stay in Slovenia, there were celebratory tweets, photos and tweets with photos galore. Only it turned out they were premature.

But by that time the goal has been achieved. The photos were made, the MPs (both current and aspiring) got what they wanted and were keen to kick this particular can down the road. But not before a little display of one-upmanship where MPs of DeSUS, not to be outdone by their next-door competition in the parliament, put forward a bill granting Ahmad Shami not just asylum but rather Slovenian citizenship. But this, too, was just a photo-op and the idea was then quietly forgotten as party boss Karl Erjavec went over to the dark side (see below) thus roundly fucking his own people over.

This, of course, did not stop the other side of the aisle of trying to milk this thing as well. After PM Cerar said a solution will be found, thereby blundering into yet another of his trademark knee-jerk reactions only to be humbled by his own cabinet days later, the opposition SDS almost instantly produced a motion to impeach him. Obviously, the motion is going nowhere fast. Articles of impeachment are no small matter. But it provided the SDS with a plank to beat Cerar over the head with. Which they proceeded to so with much gusto, claiming abuse of power, playing political games with national security and electioneering.

Truth be told, they were on point with the last item, at least. Cerar was indeed electioneering. Or at least attempted to do so. It’s been somewhat of a pattern with him in the past year or so, to try and jump on a bandwagon early on and score points by playing to the crowd. Case in point the Calatan clusterfuck where he was pressured into saying *something* by a handful of vocal social media users.

As these things tend to do, it all ended in disaster for the Prime Minister who wanted the government as a collective body to extend Shami’s temporary residence permit. In this he attempted to do an end-run around his own interior minister, failed spectacularly and only suceeded in showing the government to be a house divided. In the end the SD and half of SMC ministers voted in favour whereas the other half of the SMC quota (presumably led by the interior minister) and the entire complement of DeSUS ministers voted against.

It was foreign minister and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec who then picked up the baton (and who reportedly even threatened to leave the coalition if the motion passed, a move he denies) who said that Shami should apply for asylum in Croatia and then cynically added that since half of Slovenians go to Croatia during the summer it can’t be that bad over there.

Which is true. The difference here being that unlike Erjavec, Shami doesn’t have a weekend residence on the Istrian Riviera and has had no connection with Croatia save the fact that he was processed there when he crossed the EU border.

Sarcasm aside, the most worrying part of this is the fact that Erjavec, willingly or not, echoed some dubious would-be comedy on the issue. Which is a tell-tale sign that DeSUS leader, too, is in election mode and is putting on his clown hat full time. Although this time around his act is more Pennywise than Bozo, apparently.

Speaking of clowns, the president of the republic decided it was time to honour his post-re-election pledge and chimed in on the issue. Only that it wasn’t a chime but rather more of a squeak. Because Bob forbid to actually take a position on the issue. Thus Pahor characteristically opted try to have the cake and eat it and said that he had called for a careful consideration of Shami’s case but warned against setting a precedent.

Which is fucked up because a discretionary decision cannot, by definition, set a precedent. And yet it is entirely symptomatic that various elements of the state apparatus will not use the numerous existing tools at their disposal but will either claim that there is only one possible solution or come up with an ad-hoc solution that is guaranteed to bite them in the arse down the road. Cases in point the barbed-wire fence on the border, the gutting of the bad bank, and the asylum policy. Where lunatics have apparently taken over.

There were a number of opportunities for Slovenian authorities to handle this in a humane and legally established manner. Or, they could have chosen to process Ahmad Shami’s asylum application. They could have given him straight up asylum based on their discretionary right, even. Instead, they opted for an internecine PR shoot-out, trying to outdo one another either by coming up with nice-sounding but useless off-the-cuff solutions or by competing in being the biggest badass motherfucker on the block.

You’ll notice how, as the story progressed, there was less and less talk about what can be done to help the man out and more and more talk about national security credentials and humanitarian credentials in general. Which was precisely the point. By this time next week no-one will have cared about the Syrian barber anymore as he will have outlived his usefulness as a political prop.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.