What pengovsky first predicted about a month and a half ago finally happened on Tuesday: Aleš Hojs resigned as interior minister. Hopefully, the door won’t hit him on his way out. Or even if it did, this scribe couldn’t really give a flying fuck.
With Hojs’ resignation a period of internal affairs portfolio being headed by an abrasive, belligerent and uniquely incompetent politician comes to an early end. But while the move was apparently triggered by a police raid chez minister of economy and SMC leader Zdravko Počivalšek over his role in the PPE procurement snafu, the root causes of Hojs getting canned run deeper.
Hojs’s resignation letter, while covering a full page, is in fact nothing more than a laundry list of charges and accusations the SDS and its leader, prime minister Janša have leveled against various parts of the society or indeed the government even since they came to power in March and even before that. In fact, if it weren’t for his signature, one would be excused for thinking the letter wasn’t written by Hojs.
Attacking the media and the judiciary, accusations of the “Deep State” running the country, the us-versus-them approach, the need to drain the swamp, all of this we’ve seen in the infamous letter to the Council of Europe, the equally shambolic judiciary report to the European Commission and Janša’s very own “war with the media” brainfart.
And given that – as witnessed by his own tweet – Hojs’ resignation letter did not bear any official markings and was signed in hardcopy rather than sent by email, one does really wonder if the soon-to-be-ex interior minister did not in fact just sign a resignation letter someone else wrote. Or at least dictate to him.
Not very bright
From Day One, the former general manager of Nova24TV (an SDS propaganda TV channel owned by toadies of Hungarian leader Viktor Orban) was looking for ways to use the Covid-19 epidemic as cover to infringe on privacy and personal freedoms of his fellow citizens.
To be fair, some of the measures were unavoidable if the epidemic was to be put under control. But Hojs repeatedly pushed for things that went beyond what was absolutely necessary on account of the health crisis.
Be it policing powers for the army (the infamous Article 37a), allowing police to enter places of residence without a court order or have everyone submit to mandatory location tracking, Hojs’ ideas and proposed measures read like a sadistic illiberal wish-list.
And that was before we account for using his platform to attack and insult journalists, mock protesters and dabble in batshit crazy conspiracy theories, both foreign and domestic. All this while heading one of the largest bureaucratic and complex systems in the country. No wonder he didn’t get very far.
In his authoritarian zeal, Hojs rubbed many people the wrong way. Even those whose cooperation he needed if he wanted to advance any of his cray cray ideas.
Case in point being both police labour unions (in a true Pythonesque fashion, respectively named Slovenian Police Union and Union of Slovenian Police) ripping Hojs a new one after he lambasted a policeman for supposedly supporting the protesters (in fact he only did a thank-you selfie with a protester whose fall from a bike he prevented). And the fraught relationship only went downhill from there.
At the height of his push for Article 37a of the Defense act which would enable the Army to independently operate in a poorly-defined “border region” and police civilians, Hojs claimed that one of the police unions supported the move. And when the union strongly denied that, Hojs tried to pivot and claimed that he in fact meant the other police union. Unsurprisingly, the other union denied even having the conversation.
So yeah. Hojs. Not very bright.
However, lack of strategic forethought is not really a prerequisite for holding a senior political appointment. At least not in this government where the Glorious Leader is notorious for micromanaging stuff and where turf wars between various ministries are not really an option.
What did Hojs in was forgetting where his place on the totem pole is. He may be a loyal SDS footsoldier (and was one even back when he was a high-ranking NSi official, much to the annoyance of then-leader Ljudmila Novak) and an effective attack dog, but people like that need to be kept on a short leash. Instead, Hojs started pissing in other people’s pools.
That he, a minister in charge of police was trying to deploy the army, was as much an expression of his inner autocrat as it was an affront to NSi leader Matej Tonin. Namely, during his time with the NSi Hojs was keen to see the party remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of the SDS (see above). Tonin however backed then-NSi leader Ljudmila Novak in 2015, as she pivoted the party towards the centre. In 2020, Hojs was getting a bit of a payback by making Tonin looking weak and in over his head (which he was, but still).
Similarly, there were times when one couldn’t really be sure who was dictating public health measures: Hojs or health minister Tomaž Gantar of DeSUS. More often than not it was the interior minister who announced various new social distancing and lockdown measures, even though they squarely fell into the purview of the health minister.
But straw that broke the camel’s back seem to have been Tuesday’s police raids in the ongoing investigation of alleged corruption and abuse of power in procurment of PPE and medical ventilators.
Information of the imminent raids leaked a day earlier and apparently both SDS leadership and Počivalšek were aware of the impending clusterfuck. But apparently something went wrong and by Tuesday morning the Party propaganda machine was in full swing, trying to pin the blame on those media outlets who usually get the scoop on high-profile raids.
But this time around those media (specifically, American-owned POP TV) disavowed any knowledge of the raid and said their crews were nowhere near any of the locations raided. The Party media, however, were very well informed.
This provided for a bizarre spectacle where the entire SDS apparatus, it’s very own North Korean Fox News- style TV channel were denying and/or spinning something no-one but them knew was going on. And when the real media outlets finally did get their asses in gear, the details emerging were both amazing and embarrassing.
Long story short: a two-months long criminal investigation necessitated a raid on multiple locations, including Zdravko Počivalšek’s home, the ministry of economy (his place of work) and the Agency for Commodity Reserves. To add insult to injury, Počivalšek was detained by the police until the search was over, which was awkward, to say the least.
Which brings us back to the totem pole.
The basics of political power dynamics in Muddy Hollows dictate that coalition party leaders are beyond reproach even if they nominally do operate under the prime minister. This was a lesson the late Andrej Bajuk of NSi didn’t understand in Janša’s first government and former DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec understood in, well, every government he ever served in.
Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it
Zdravko Počivalšek knows full well that without the SMC Janša does not have a majority in the parliament. And he was probably none too pleased with how the dawn raid made him look. Nor with the fact that Nova24TV and outlets in its orbit had advance notice of events of Tuesday morning.
Suddenly, things started getting uncomfortable for Hojs. He had a direct line to the police by ways of appointing the acting police chief, as well as a direct line to Nova24TV, until recently being its former boss and whatnot. It doesn’t take a degree in advanced physics to connect the dots.
It could very well be that it was Počivalšek who demanded that Janša get his house in order. Or maybe Janša preempted that by going ballistic on Hojs. At any rate it seems that Hojs at first tried to save his ass by canning the chief of police. But given that the two we tight af, this was obviously not enough and despite all the bravado and belligerence he oozed in the last couple of months, Aleš Hojs was instructed to fall on his sword.
To put it in the words of Frank Underwood, proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it.
To some extent, this is a setback for PM Janša. But then again, Hojs was always expendable. True, people like him don’t exactly grow on trees, but they’re no unicorns either.
Janša has no shortage of loyal people who will walk over broken glass for him and be grateful for the experience. As a result, he was able to cashier Hojs without leaving much of a dent in his government policy-making abilities, such as they are.
Even more, Hojs willingly came for seconds later that day when he appeared on national TV (the very same he liked to kick around so much) and was given stern looks and “what the fuck were you thinking” treatment by an anchor usually sympathetic to politicians of right-wing persuasion.
Bottom line, we needn’t worry about Aleš Hojs. He will be temporarily holed up in one of the many SDS-related astroturf organisations and may even resurface eventually.
The effects of Hojs’ firing on Muddy Hollows have yet to be determined. The earliest indication of whether there will be a shift from police escalations will be the police treatment of protest movement.
Last week, during the celebrations of Statehood Day, the police cordoned off not just the entire Republic Square (Trg Republike) but also a good portion of the city centre, creating a double barrier between the protesters and the official event, with downtown Ljubljana looking more like an occupied zone than a cute Mitteleuropäisch capital.
If the police will dial down their posture a bit, then it will become clear that Hojs was in large part driving the open confrontation between the police and the protest movement. In that case, it will be interesting to see who will replace him.
Who will succeed Hojs and handle neonazis?
PM Janša has a couple of people at his disposal, first and foremost former Maribor mayor and current number two at the ministry of interior, Franc Kangler. A former policeman himself, he does have operational knowledge even if he is partisan as fuck.
But given that Kangler was the spark that ignited the 2012/2013 Winter of discontent, his appointment may be a bridge too far even for Janša. Not to mention the fact that Kangler, a long-time SLS cadre who since left to form a new party, doesn’t have the SDS mileage usually required for such an important position.
If Kangler is not an option, Janša can always call upon Vinko Gorenak who held the position the last time Janša was in power or any number of other loyal henchmen who are happy to parrot the party line. Hell, even Janša’s wet-behind-the-ears national security advisor/chief coffee maker Žan Mahnič could be in play.
However, if Janša were to take over as minister himself (which he can, for a maximum period of six months), questions regarding his ability to rally the troops would start popping up. Especially as this would by extension mean that he would then directly own just about every flare-up between the cops and the protesters, not to mention the uncomfortable questions of police handling the neonazi groups that have started staging counter-protests.
Long, hot summer
The one thing that Hojs’ departure will not trigger a government collapse, despite the opposition clamouring for one. And while the last couple of days have seen an increase in chatter on a yet another government change, there is a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.
That said, there is disturbance in the Force and the Glorious Leader may yet have to deal with pockets of resistance within the coalition and if he handles it badly, he could trigger the collapse of his own government, perhaps by making a miscalculation similar to that of Marjan Šarec in January.
Speaking of pockets of resistance, one such pocket seems to be forming around health minister Tomaž Gantar of DeSUS. Lately, Gantar has locked horns more than once with Jelko Kacin, the government Covid-19 spokesman and the man Janša tapped early on to be the public face of the government coronavirus response.
But seeing as Gantar is not a party leader and has in fact distanced himself from still-fresh DeSUS leader Aleksandra Pivec (who in turn is now covering Janša’s back above and beyond the call of duty), the health minister may yet find himself on the wrong side of a resignation statement sooner rather than later.
Politically speaking, Muddy Hollows seems to be gearing up for a long, hot summer.