The clusterfuck is complete and there will be a bloodbath. The legendary words by the late, great Jaša L. Zlobec, although uttered in a different context, never seemed more appropriate than these days, as the story of what is becoming known as “Slovenian non-paper” on partition of Bosnia and the rest of Western Balkans is developing at pace.
There are many angles to this story, none of them appealing to the eye. There is nothing to be gained by fooling around with redrawing borders in the Balkans. Doubly so when done in the crass and pedestrian manner the leaked non-paper suggests. The only potential upside to this might be the powers that be paying more attention to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Or at least it might result in Slovenian foreign minister Logar being thrown to the dogs, seeing as this happened on his watch and whatnot.
Balkan-watchers across Europe spent the last couple of days wondering where the non-paper originated. The usual suspects included Belgrade (plausible, but unlikely because reasons), Tirana (see above), Budapest (possible-ish, in a somewhat-not-really-sure kind of way) and Zagreb (possible, but a bit too-on-the-nose).
The non-paper dumpster fire also sparked a plethora of journalistic pieces. Each dug a little deeper and the current tally stands at not one but two non-papers, a series of denials, spins and rejections of the idea, and one really ugly-looking map of the region (see above).
As a result of everyone (minus the probably bemused Milorad Dodik) putting a daylight between them and this mess, Muddy Hollows and its galactically incompetent leadership crop are left holding the bag.
Specifically, the three people lingering under the fan just when the shit started hitting the blades were president Borut Pahor, prime minister Janez Janša and foreign minister Anže Logar. Basically, the entire Slovenian diplomatic A-Team.
It is hard to overstate the scope of dumbfuckery that took place.
Owning this for ever and ever
There are, to be sure, many moving pieces to this story. But at this point we can be pretty certain that president Pahor did indeed bring up the subject during his official visit to Sarajevo, and that the non-paper did not, in all likelihood, originate in Ljubljana.
And we know the second part is (very likely) true, because a) no Slovenian professional diplomat would be caught dead within ten kilometres of this crap, let alone write it, and b) no Slovenian political appointee has the imagination necessary to come up with this sort of an abomination.
Despite that, the document will likely remain known as the “Slovenian non-paper” for all eternity. Because life is not fair and first impressions count.
Which brings us to the question of just how the fuck did Pahor, Janša and Logar allow themselves to be seduced by the diplomatic equivalent of a Thai lady-boy whore.
The short answer is, because they’re stupid, arrogant, self-important fucks.
The long answer is, well, long.
Let’s deal with foreign minister Anže Logar first. It is extremely likely he had absolutely nothing to do with this. It is also likely that he will be out of a job soon for that same reason.
Namely, as pengovsky observed many times on this blog, Muddy Hollows doesn’t really have one, but rather three sets of foreign policy priorities. And between the president, the PM and the foreign minister, the latter is – although nominally independent in executing his office – positioned the lowest on the totem pole.
Not in the least, because the foreign minister has to report to the parliament on a regular basis and keep their actions and initiatives in line with the parliament-approved foreign policy priorities. Granted, these are vague enough to allow more than a little wiggle room, but still.
And seeing as the infamous non-paper falls squarely outside anything that was ever considered Slovenian foreign policy in the Balkans, it is fair to assume that Logar was not involved in any sort of non-paper shenanigans.
This, combined with the fact that Logar is a loyal SDS foot-soldier who went to bat for his boss even when the Glorious Leader went a little cray-cray, makes him utterly dispensable.
In fact, pengovsky does not see a way out of this for Muddy Hollows unless heads start rolling. And since the two people most responsible for landing the country in the mess will definitely not resign over this, Anže Logar seems the first next logical casualty. It is not a certainty, but it definitely is a possibility.
The next item in this Bosnian mass-murder-wannabe mystery is Slovenian president Borut Pahor who once again proved that he is about as tactful as a teenager with an Instagram account. Well, actually…
Anyway, point is that it was Pahor who broached the subject of partitioning Bosnia, in an official capacity, during an official visit to Sarajevo. He now claims he did it in confidence, to “warn his counterparts of the whispers in corridors of power”. As if…
That may even be true, but for a man who inhabited various orbits of high-level politics for the past 30+ years, the sheer stupidity of “confiding” in a fellow national leader (much less three national leaders with fraught relations) is flabbergasting.
However, it is also vintage Pahor. Older readers will remember the 2011 incident where Pahor, then a beleaguered PM, gave one of his regular long-winding press conferences, followed by an off-the-record briefing for select journos, given by the man himself. Obviously, someone recorded the meeting and leaked it.
In this briefing Pahor made liberal use of foul language (which pengovsky approves) and incendiary comments about national, regional and global partners (which pengovsky doesn’t approve).
Bust most of all, he showed complete lack of judgement in saying these things in person rather than have – as one usually does – an advisor or a PR grunt explain them on background or make them otherwise unattributable.
So, much like his 2011 off-the-record screw-up, Pahor in 2021 couldn’t keep his fucking mouth shut and had to stir the pot himself. And once again, it was his need to be the centre of attention, his patronising attitude and – paradoxically – his insecurity with his position that caused him to cause the very thing he (allegedly) tried to avoid.
Of Pahor, for Pahor, by Pahor
If he really wanted to let Bosnians know that shit was brewing, he could have let his advisers brief their counterparts in Sarajevo. Or, he could have left a message with the Slovenian ambassador in the country, to be delivered at a later date, on the QT. Instead, he wanted to be the centre of attention.
Make no mistake. For Pahor, this was not about Bosnia-Herzegovina. For Pahor, this was about Pahor.
Paradoxically, this also means that Pahor most likely destroyed whatever chances he may have had of a plush international gig when his second-and-last term as president expires in a year and a half.
I mean, which international organisation would like an ex-president who keeps saying the quiet parts out loud on their team? But we shouldn’t worry about Pahor too much. He can always return to modeling. Or open a fitness studio.
Which leaves us with Marshal Twito, the man who allegedly hand-delivered the non-paper to Charles Michel.
When the stories like these break, everyone knows the script. Swear by upholding democracy, unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina (or Kosovo, or whatever troubled region) and continue to offer whatever assistance our partners in said country will ask for.
Not Janša. Staying true to form in his recent foreign policy exploits, Marshal Twito did the worst thing possible and did not deny being the monkey-boy in this charade, nor did he directly deny authorship.
And when Michel’s people first confirmed the existence of the non-paper and then retracted the confirmation (but didn’t deny the existence, either), the story somewhat unexpectedly started getting legs.
Slovenian media, social and otherwise, are choc-full of pieces on Janša-the-warmonger, on how badly he wanted to see blood spilled during the 1991 war of independence and had to be outmaneuvered by the rest of leadership. Or how he was involved in the illegal arms deliveries to (irony alert!) Bosnia, and was rumoured to have siphoned off a pretty penny doing it. Or how breaking up Bosnia ties into his covering tracks on the (alleged) money-laundering schemes in Republic of Srpska.
While appealing all these theories ask us to believe that a man who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery (judging by the way fucked up the vaccination strategy and mishandled the pandemic), was able to pull off a geo-strategic long-play of historic proportions.
An exquisitely stupid idea
The sad truth is, this is just the latest in a series of Janša’s foreign policy blunders which suggest that every so often the cheese every so slightly slips off the guy’s cracker.
I mean, how in the everlasting fuck one sees even being near (let alone handle) what is arguably a blueprint to restarting all Balkan wars at the same time, as anything but an exquisitely stupid idea?
First it was doubling down on Trump victory and calling Joe Biden a weak president. Then it was a series of letters to EU leaders, each more deranged than the previous one. Then it was the vaccine procurement fuckup and his ill-advised hobnobbing with Sebastian Kurtz on the issue.
And now this.
What we are dealing here is a criminal lack of judgement. And that’s not even counting Marshal Twito’s continued allegiance to the Hungarian Óverlord.
Speaking of Viktor Órban, one of the theories is that the non-paper at least partly originated in Budapest. Most likely, that is because it references the Three Seas Initiative and whatnot.
But if you really want to dabble in conspiratorial guesswork, pengovsky likes two particular theories.
The Brussels-Backstab theory opines that the whole thing was engineered from Brussels, thereby neutering the upcoming Slovenian EU council presidency from the get-go.
The Glorious Leader had made enough enemies in the EU over the past year, what with his Brussels-bashing, attacking journalists and bad-mouthing NGOs, that very few people are looking forward to 1 July, when Muddy Hollows takes over.
So it stands to reason that the EU leadership would engineer something to make the presidency as uncomfortable as possible for Marshal Twito. But then again, that’s the same EU leadership that couldn’t work out a sitting arrangement around a schoolyard bully. So, no.
The other theory that pengovsky enjoys thinking about (although that doesn’t necessarily make it true) is the one where this whole thing is a Croatian set-up. The latest episode in an ongoing low-level feud between the two countries.
The Croatian Contrivance theory says Janša was taken for a ride by Croatians, who want more influence in Bosnia. He was duped, the thinking goes, into delivering the non-paper to Charles Michel. This would happen at about the same time Croatian PM Plenković uncharacteristically asked Janša to stand in for him at EU Council meeting in Brussels (Plenki was down with Covid-19 at the time).
Janša, stupid as he is, does what he sees as The Great Thawing Of Relations, and delivers the non-paper to Michel. The EU Council boss promptly puts it in the back of the bottom drawer. However, Pahor gets wind of Janša acting as a mule for batshit-crazy stuff and tries to warn Bosnians, thereby bringing the non-paper back to life.
A month later, the Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency is shocked to remember that Pahor said something about partitioning Bosnia-Herzegovina and runs to alert the press. Everyone runs away from the story, Slovenian foreign policy reputation (such as it is) is in tatters and Croatia gets to run the table on its other, seemingly less controversial, plan for revamping Bosnian political system. A double whammy, so to speak.
Back to reality
Funny as they are, these pet theories don’t really change the reality of the entire shituation. At the end of the day, no matter the source of the non-paper or the reason for its existence, Janša and Pahor (and Logar, by extension) have done near-irreparable damage to Slovenian standing in the Balkans as well as in the EU.
Since before Yugoslavia disintegrated, Slovenian politicians and diplomats were seen as having valuable insight into the region and its nuances. This has diminished somewhat over the course of the last three decades but, at least internally, the Slovenian political class fancied itself as being in the know in the Balkans.
Right now, and probably for a long time to come, Muddy Hollows will be seen as the idiots who would restart a war, just because they didn’t know better.
Or, to put in the words of Post-Yugoslav pop-culture, pretty non-paper burns pretty, but ugly non-paper stays ugly even when it burns.