Harold Wilson once observed that a week in politics is a long time. Slovenian PM and everyone’s new favourite whipping boy Janez Janša proved once more that the late British leader was right on the fucking money. In case you spent the last 72 hours under a rock or trying to evacuate Kabul, the story is that the Glorious Leader again buckled under the tiniest of pressures from European Parliament and had suffered Twitter meltdown.
However, in an apparent attempt to keep things interesting, Janša laced his latest temper tantrum with a healthy dose of antisemitic dog-whistles, misogyny and choice conspiracy theories. Moreover, to erase what little diplomatic standing he had generated for himself and for the country he unfortunately leads, Marshal Twito started a diplomatic kerfuffle with none other than The Netherlands. Cue eating popcorn gif.
By now, the background should be familiar enough. If not, there’s a nice little explainer in Politico’s Brussels Playbook. Janša’s bellicose approach towards fancy-pants liberal concepts such as media freedom and rule of law in general, or the slow-moving car crash that is defunding of the STA in particular, prompted a lot of people in the EU (and not just in the EU) to start asking questions.
As a result, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veldt of Renew/ALDE parliamentary group decided to take a long hard look. This turned into a months-long excercise, part of which was an on-site visit by an eight-member delegation of her committee in Slovenia this week. You know, to take stock of the situation in the trenches, as it were.
The Committee of the Regions
In case you have not only have been living under a rock, but have also just arrived in 2021 from the past by ways of a time-travel accident, Janša and in ‘t Veldt have a bit of a history. Mostly because the Glorious Leader threw a hissy fit back in March when the MEP wouldn’t let him hijack a video-conference, by not allowing him to roll a propaganda video of his.
Naturally, an honest-to-God manly man Janša portrays himself to be is not going to be pushed around by some Dutch liberal chick.
Thus the Glorious Leader decided to show in ‘t Veldt who really is the boss by…
…suddenly realising he urgently has to do a presentation on priorities of Slovenian EU presidency to the goddamn European Committee of the Regions.
Dude, seriously? The Committee of the Regions? The fifth wheel of the European institutions that no-one gives a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about? Sure, the committee is a nice thing to have, with all the cross-border cooperation and whatnot, but seriously?
The Glorious Leader was scared shitless of in ‘t Veldt and chickened out, plain and simple. I mean, a “presentation of priorities of Slovenian EU presidency” happening mid-way through the said fucking presidency? Just who the fuck do Team Janša think they’re fooling here? Themselves, probably.
And in an extremely hamfisted attempt to make it look not at all suspicious, the government
propaganda communication office made damn sure to point out such an appearance by a head of state is perfectly normal and standard practice. Yeah, right.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
But even an urgent Committee of Regions briefing can last only so long. The MEP delegation, however, loitered in Muddy Hollows for three whole days. All this time they kept pestering poor Janša with requests for a meeting. I mean, the dude has a country to run, you know? So what if they were in Slovenia on his invitation to check out the hook (while the DJ revolves it). Or something.
Buckling under pressure
Anyway, after about five minutes of those fucking eurocrats pestering the Glorious Leader, the dude buckled under pressure and lashed out with the tweet that was heard around the world. Ouch, baby.
As with most things Janša, there’s a lot to unpack here. Strap in, both readers, as things are about to get bumpy.
EU makes its presence felt
The EU level is the simplest. The Glorious Leader is not incredibly popular in the EU. I mean, between quarterbacking Poland in their doomed legal sovereignty fight against the ECJ and Hungary in their homophobic legislative drive, the guy who was once billed as one of Slovenia’s most pro-European politicians has taken a nasty eurosceptic turn. And it is not all just for show. He started drinking his own Kool-Aid long ago.
But, much to Janša’s continuing surprise, what he says and does is no longer scrutinized just by the vastly underfunded and underpowered Slovenian media, and the five foreign journalists unfortunate enough to have to cover this part of the world. The game now involves the heavy-duty journos accustomed to navigating the rarefied atmosphere of EU and international politics.
Things already were not going well for Slovenian PM Janez Janša when Dutch PM Mark Rutte got in on the fun.
This sent Marshal Twito into a tailspin from which he has yet to recover.
Now, Slovenia and The Netherlands being embroiled in a serious diplomatic dispute using official channels (that is to say, not just a row to get sorted during a coffee break in Brussels) is a bad thing unto itself.
But what really sent Janša flying off the hook was the fact that it was his equal who told him point blank to go to hell. Or whatever the Dutch diplomatic equivalent may be.
Mark Rutte cannot be bullied into submission. He cannot be threatened with quitting the coalition or subjected to a smear campaign in the Party press. And even if some loyal scribe were to take it upon themself to write a hit-piece on Rutte, the Dutch PM probably wouldn’t give a flying fuck and doesn’t understand Slovenian anyhow.
Incidentally, Sophie in ‘t Veldt is not extended such privilege. She features prominently in several agitprop takedown pieces by the semi-official Party rag, both in English and Slovenian. Serves her right for being an MEP, and a woman at that.
At any rate, what only ten days ago was a civilised-if-suspicious relationship, is now making the War of Spanish Succession look like a walk in the park.
A week in politics truly is a long time.
But while the early belligerents already fired their shots, the general melee had only just started. And in short order, shitload of other people chimed in, including European Council president Charles Michel and EP boss David Sassoli.
Still other people called out Janša’s bullying tactics. They flat out attacked him over the antisemitic trope he employed. Or took issue with the fact that many people in that picture no longer are in the European Parliament, while one of them had already passed away. A tasteless tweet indeed.
In the end, the pressure proved too much to bear and the self-styled Fearless Leader and Defender of the Truth, well, deleted the tweet.
Which brings us to the second level of this god-awful shitshow.
Tweeting as a diversion
While the damage Janša’s repeated antics do to the Slovenian standing on the European stage is significant, the latest shenanigans do have an upside.
Namely, they refocused the public’s attention away from the clusterfuck of the relentless fourth wave of the pandemic, gratuitous use of tear gas, water canon and rubber bullets against the protesting masses, and the general fact that Janša’s minority government continues to rule by decree, possibly unconstitutionally.
So, for at least a couple of days the attention will be on the Glorious Leader’s Twitter habit and not on, say, more than 4600 dead Slovenians who had succumbed to Covid-19. Or, that it has been nearly a year since defunding of Slovenian Press Agency (STA) started. Or the fact a parliamentary inquiry is starting to shed light onto the government sleaze and corruption in medical procurement during the pandemic.
You know, things.
Such as the nearly forgotten story, that was all the rage as little as two weeks ago, about Janša getting caught schmoozing, for years on end, with lobbyists earning piles of cash in the public medical sector while the Glorious Leader was rallying the base against overspending in public hospitals.
But the national and international fury that greeted Janša’s stinker of a tweet was such that even Matej Tonin and Zdravko Počivalšek, leaders of junior coalition partners NSi and SMC respectively, dared utter words of displeasure.
The dynamics here is interesting. Počivalšek, not exactly known for a finely honed set of diplomatic skills, using the vaguest and most general terms possible, while Tonin, the master of vacillation, suddenly put his foot down and demanded Janša apologise to everyone involved.
As if. This reminds pengovsky of that other time Tonin reportedly asked Janša to lay off Twitter.
Reader, that didn’t age well.
Obviously, as a retaliation Janša will humiliate both party leaders in due course. For there’s only one boss in Muddy Hollows and it ain’t these two jokers, if you get my meaning.
To give an example at random: if a few weeks from now Počivalšek’s pet project of creating a state-owned tourist conglomerate (where he reportedly stands to make a lot of money) suddenly screeches to a halt, the SMC leader’s short-lived ethical standards will be the reason why.
Ditto if -or rather, when – Matej Tonin suddenly realises the story of mishandling of the latest addition to the Slovenian Army car park refuses to go away. Nice military rides you have there. Shame if something were to happen to them…
So yeah, there’s always an inherent risk involved in crossing the Glorious Leader. But there are also opportunities.
Former PM Miro Cerar saw one such opportunity and took a thinly veiled pot-shot at Janša on Friday. You know, a little tweet reminding everyone that just a few years ago Slovenia was on great terms with countries it now has an open diplomatic feud with.
Cerar trolling Janša is probably the most fun we’ve ever had watching the bland, professor/preacher/life-coach former liberal PM.
But the well-timed tweet also serves as a reminder to everyone that there was a time before Janša, when degrading rule of law, attacks on the media and general democratic backsliding were not the order of the day.
And if you want to interpret Cerar’s tweet as a sort-of-testing-the-waters of mounting a presidential bid late next year, pengovsky won’t stop you.
Speaking of the president of the republic, after keeping quiet for most of the day, the outgoing guy finally managed to squeeze out, well, words. They may or may not have meant something, but with Borut Pahor unable to detach himself from Janša, it doesn’t really matter.
Especially since, after a decade in the highest office in the land, and three decades in the top echelon of Slovenian politics, the dude still hasn’t grown cojones to call out Janša by name when the occasion warrants it, let alone condemn the antisemitism and sexism seeping from the offending tweet.
So, screw Pahor. He’ll be out the door this time next year.
Party over country
Thus it becomes obvious that the only real upside PM Janša’s filthy Twitter habit has, is supplying copious amounts of red meat to the base.
And even in that department he is playing catch-up as things are getting out of hand. Why else would the Party faithful be involved in an all-hands-on-deck effort at managing the fallout of Marshal Twito’s social media nuclear disaster?
Case in point being the chief spokesperson of the ministry of culture and everyone’s favourite Chinese bot Mitja Iršič, who took it upon himself to try and deflect virtually every tweet critical of Janša out there.
I mean, credit where credit is due, the guy must be working overtime.
But this after-the-fact cleanup can only go on for so long.
It is glaringly obvious that the increasing complexity of the situation is overwhelming the prime minister. The dude is notorious for his paranoia and micromanagerial style of governance. But with so many moving parts it is becoming hard for Janša to keep an eye on everything.
Also, it is not helping that the GOP-influenced and/or trained SDS clean-up crews are doing a piss-poor job of containing his shit.
That said, throwing a conspiratorial antisemitic tweet out there does calm the frayed nerves of the nativist, “muh freedoms”, anti-vaxx far-right part of Janša’s base.
Namely, As Janša’s train wreck of a pandemic response was becoming more and more focused on vaccinations and Covid-pass measures (the PCT system, as it is known in Muddy Hollows), the far right types were feeling the brunt of these measures more and more.
And since he already blew a giant hole in the budget, can’t seem to get on top of the health crisis, is being exposed cavorting with those same lobbyists he riles against and hasn’t got an external crisis on the horizon to rally the troops, the Glorious Leader had to come up with a new target to keep the base from realising they are being played.
And as targets go, The Netherlands is as good as any. Most of Janša’s radical supporters probably never venture north of Munich anyhow, how the fuck are they suppose to know what it is really like in Amsterdam or The Hague?
And as it was the case in these parts of the world all too often, a little eurosceptic misogyny with a healthy dose of antisemitism can go a long way.
So, if there really is rhyme or reason to this clusterfuck (and pengovsky is not entirely convinced there is), this is probably it. Party over country. How disappointingly pedestrian.
But regardless of whether there was a plan or not, this latest meltdown does indicate Marshal Twito is at his wits’ end.
No holds barred
He has given up any pretence of trying to score a big win with the EU presidency and has now gone into full battle mode for the upcoming election where probably no punches will be pulled. That likely includes claiming electoral fraud, procedural ratfuckery and continued attacks on the media.
The question for his involuntary EU partners however is whether they will just opt to keep him at an arm’s length, seething at the sidelines, and thus risk turning Muddy Hollows into another Poland or Hungary; or will they keep up the pressure and continue to call out everything that is wrong with his (technically still democratic) regime.