It’s Not The Crime, It’s The Cover-Up

Right of the bat, pengovsky should note that there was no actual crime. Additionally, “cover-up” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. But with three, nay, two days before the end of the campaign, the three leading candidates (and certain other also-rans) continue to be their own worst enemies.

The debate on RTVSLO where leading candidates made it look like they were involved in a cover-up of their past deeds, even though they weren't. For the most part at least.
Presidential debate on RTVSLO (source)

Nataša Pirc Musar, Milan Brglez and Anže Logar have made an utter shitshow of explaining away the, shall we say, less-likeable parts of their respective political backgrounds. Be it personal wealth, leveraging access or simple party affiliation, they couldn’t come up with a line that would blunt these questions and force the media to move on. And then there is Miha Kordiš. Oh, boy…

Namely, it transpired that the Levica candidate was involved in some bureaucratic shenanigans to obtain special status for a pet project of his.

Veggie corner

A couple of years ago, Comrade Couch Guevara bought a plot of land and organised a little community agricultural activity. Basically, people growing their own veggies and selling the surplus to reinvest in the project. So far so good. The problem arose when Kordiš decided to incorporate and claim special “social enterprise” status.

At the time, businesses applying for this partially exempt status had to commit to employing several hard-to-employ people. Which Kordiš promptly did. Commit, that is. He never actually employed them.

Luckily for him, this requirement was dropped months after he set up his enterprise, so it is not as if he actually broke any laws. However, the way he went about answering allegations of wrongdoing are much more damaging than the fact that he apparently set the company up in bad faith.

He even said as much when a POP TV debate host asked him about this, saying something to the effect that it was the only way to obtain the special status. The implication here being that he was willing to sign anything to get the “social enterprise” badge, without actually following through on the commitment.

The Kordiš Eyeroll

And it went from bad to worse from there. He should have tried to explain that he never was in breach of the law. And he truly wasn’t, because the media overlooked (perhaps intentionally) a later change in legislation. Instead, he kept rolling his eyes to the point of becoming a Twitter meme, went on and on about how he personally gave the people land to grow their own food, and generally behaved like an entitled asshole about everything.

But this turned out to be only half of the story. People not only grew their own food. but volunteered to sell and deliver surplus at their own cost. And while the revenue was properly reinvested, there are at least some reports of volunteers not being compensated for their costs. Which, you know, no bueno.

Point here being that had Kordiš actually thought the story through and explained what really needed to be explained, he would have been able to nip this line of questions in the bud. Instead, he came across as a patronizing late-19th-century Russian intellectual revolutionary, who knows best what is the true interest of the peasant-folk.

Pirc Musar, the corporate lawyer

No wonder he can’t break out of the low single-digits. Which is kind of a shame, because he did broaden the debate. He also brought some colour to it, even if he kept dressing in anarchist trockyist black.

On the other hand, Kordiš was given a taste of his own medicine. He went after Nataša Pirc Musar with gusto, for her legal work representing a couple of corporations in labour disputes with union representatives.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with offering legal representation. It is what lawyers do. And she is apparently a damn good lawyer. But just as Kordiš was making a shitshow of explaining his social enterprise travails, so Pirc Musar made manure-filled theatre production of her perfectly legitimate work.

The obvious response for the independent candidate would have been to point out she successfully represented countless individuals, too. Especially those who found themselves at the business end of human rights abuses Janša government made under the guise of curbing the pandemic. This would have probably put paid to this particular line of attack, and swiftly.

Corporations are people, too

Instead, NPM started lecturing Kordiš on how legal representation is protected by constitution. And that it goes for corporations as well. Which is only a hop, skip and a jump away from saying that corporations are people too. Which is just about the worst thing that can be said in a presidential campaign.

Only in her case, it was the second-worst thing that can be said in a presidential campaign. She made an even worse mess of things when asked about how she and her husband, the would-be First Gentleman, came about their substantial wealth.

The issue came up in debate after debate, and the allegations were always the same. That back in the days of rowdy capitalism, Aleš Musar bought up companies for peanuts, bled them dry and transferred funds to offshore accounts. Then there were accusations of tax evasion and artificially lowering of her personal taxable income.

And while at least some of these questions were loaded (pun very much intended), it is not as if she shouldn’t have expected them. This is Muddy Hollows. If you are – in the words of Daffy Duck – comfortably well-off in Muddy Hollows, people will start asking questions and making conjectures. Maybe that’s unfair, but that’s the way it is around here.

Never ask me about family business, Kay!

Nataša Pirc Musar should have anticipated this turn of events, come up with a well-honed response and stick with it. Instead, she chose to explain as little as possible, and became stand-offish whenever follow-up questions came up. And when a push came to a shove, she really fucked up and said that she works hard herself and doesn’t discuss her husband’s business with him.

Cue The Godfather scene where Michael Corleone tells Kay to never ask him about his business. I mean, ferfucksake, how inept is this?!

None of the above amounts to any sort of illegal activity. It is iffy at worst, and an intentional misrepresentation at best. But she managed to make a real mess of it.

Truth be told, in the last week of the campaign she did manage to kind of get her act together. She now points out she pays all her taxes and then some, that she does a lot of pro bono work and is generally trying a more mellow approach. But the story is now firmly out there and will come up time and again, especially is she makes it to the second round.

Pay for chess play

The same goes for Milan Brglez, if he makes it to Round Two. The SD and Gibanje Svoboda candidate was also the boss of the Slovenian Chess Association, and it just so happened that a large sponsorship was agreed around the time he became the Chess Boss.

Which would have been all fine and dandy, if it weren’t for the fact that the sponsor was the state-owned Slovenian Railways. And the allegation that the deal was dependent on Brglez becoming the king on the board.

Once again, the issue here is not so much anything illegal but the sheer unseemliness of it. Although things like these are regular occurrence in sports (and, apparently, chess). If someone is able to secure funding, this someone gets to run the show. Precisely because they can secure funding.

But things like these inevitably have an air of pay-for-play. And getting play by securing para-state pay is a very SD thing to do. Which is why Brglez was keen to put as much daylight between this issue and himself as humanly possible.

Waving hands

And it may well be, as he claims, that he had nothing to do with the whole thing. That the deal was in the pipeline before he even became Chess Association head honcho. It is also beyond doubt that the deal and the entire finances of the association were given an all-clear by the tax authorities.

But the catastrophic way in which Brglez went about explaining himself, sure made an impression. Pengovsky asked about Brglez in his regular Ljubljana watering hole and the invariable response was “oh, the chess sponsorship guy”.

Which is unsurprising, given that the SD and GS candidate’s response usually consisted of a lot of umm’s, ahhh’s and well’s, half-finished sentences and plenty of hand-waving.

Even if there wasn’t anything untoward about this whole chess sponsorship (and it looks like there really wasn’t), Brglez made sure it looked as if he has something to hide.

Anže “Kumbaya” Logar

Speaking of hiding things, Anže Logar made damn sure his picture will appear in the next edition of the political dictionary, next to “avoiding the subject”.

The SDS candidate spent the entire fucking campaign doing precisely that. Billing himself as an independent, he used a lot of oxygen pretending he has no knowledge of all the authoritarian shit Janša and the government he himself was a part of, did or tried to do.

Case in point one of the most pressing issues Muddy Hollows is facing right now (bar, perhaps, the energy crisis). When a Večer newspaper journo asked him about the right-wing takeover and destrucition of editorial independence of public broadcaster RTVSLO, Logar said he favours tolerant dialogue.

When the journalist followed up with a question about termination warnings a slew of RTVSLO journos got for publicly supporting their colleague, he said he favours tolerant dialogue.

And when the journo repeated the question, Anže “Kumbaya” Logar answered that- you guessed it – he favours tolerant dialogue.

And so on, ad nauseam.

Just asking questions

In fact, it was next to impossible to get any sort of position or policy statement out of Logar throughout his campaign. It was only when pressed that he even acknowledged that he is, in fact a member of the SDS. And when someone mentions that he is no ordinary rank-and-file memeber of the Party, but rather the chief of SDS Council and a member of the Party’s politburo executive committee, he just agrees quickly and changes the subject.

Other than the art of avoiding the question, however, Logar also mastered the art of helping his competition to trip over. For most of the campaign, he was quiet as a mouse, pretty as a flower and minding his own fucking business. But whenever Kordiš, Pirc Musar or Brglez would stumble, he would be right there, wondering aloud if maybe there isn’t more to these stories than meets the eye. You know, just asking questions and shit.

And to be honest, it worked. While Kordiš, Pirc Musar and Brglez saw their numbers take a dive (albeit to a varying degree), Logar’s ratings remained stable throughout the campaign. His numbers vary wildly depending on the pollster. But if we take a look his performance on a per-pollster basis, he is incredibly consistent.

Mistaking hope for strategy

The lesson here is that Logar’s gambit of presenting a more mellow version of himself hasn’t really worked. He is still more or less within the range the SDS established at the parliamentary election in April. His only hope is that if he makes it through to the second round (and odds are that he will) that his kumbaya shtick will resonate a completely new pool of voters. And that this pool will be large enough to put him on top over either Nataša Pirc Musar and Milan Brglez. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is more a hope than a strategy.

The campaign is now entering its final stretch. At least in the first round. All of a sudden, candidates are taking positions and issuing statements like there’s no tomorrow. And for all but two of them, there will be no tomorrow.

But regardless of the result , the top three presidential hopefuls (and Comrade Kordiš) ran a fucking mess of a campaign with garbled messaging, next-to-zero improvisational capacity and an approach that made it look like they all have something to hide.

One only hopes that whomever comes out on top will be a better president than they were a candidate.

A spirited campaign, however, this was not.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not The Crime, It’s The Cover-Up”

  1. One question – do you still feel that it’s unlikely for Logar to win in the second round, given that Ninamedia, a pollster that some public opinion experts denounced as “clearly left-leaning”, gave him a not-insignificant lead over both contenders in the second round?

    I think the second round might be more brutal than expected even just a month ago. The left-of-centre candidates created quite a sewer for themselves, from which Logar was largely left out, creating a similiar effect as with Golob in the famous Pirkovič-style debate in the parliamentary elections.

    My concern is that the well is poisoned to such a degree, that Brglez/Pirc Musar/Kordiš voters won’t switch to the leading candidate, but rather stay home in the second round, which if we presume Ninamedia’s poll is at least semi-accurate, might actually be the case.

    Also a side comment, I don’t know how to fit somewhere – I think it shows how distanced Logar is from the chess-related shit-flinging, when a debate host(namely Erika Žnidaršič) asked him what his opinion on the matter is, the first thing he said was “My opinion on what? The sponsorship?”, like it’s an SDS-related scandal, not a weakness of one of his main contenders.

  2. Well, the Slovenian Railway, the state-owned company that provided the sponsorship is chock-full of SDS people, so you might be on to something 🙂

    That said, I really don’t think Logar has any realistic chance of winning in the second round. And for two reasons:

    1) The disarray on the left would have to be catastrophic for centre-left voters to stay home en masse, and allow Logar to win with the existing ceiling. And while there was some sniping, things are nowhere near as bad as they were, say in 2004. Or 2011.

    2) More importantly, that Ninamedia poll is utterly suspect. Not necessarily because it has a left-wing slant (it does), but because of the numbers used. The poll on 13 October recorded a 20% drop in voting intention compared to the poll published on 1 October. That just doesn’t seem plausible and smells of massaging the numbers to produce a desired outcome.

  3. Oh, the tragedy of young comrade Kordiš

    Kordiš has been one of the most interesting candidates to observe. In particular what, apart from his age, distinguishes him from the other candidates, is that he actually comes across as genuine and passionate about the well-being of the “working class”.
    On the other hand, as pengovsky observes, he also tends to articulate this in a way that comes across as a series of his convictions about what the “working class” should be content with rather than an endorsement of what the “working class” presented as its interests and issues.

    This is also a symptom of the Left’s eternal struggle – how to effectively shape a party messaging that focuses on its actual (proposed) politics rather than its philosophical ideology. The party itself is, in my opinion, a rare political genuine success story in these parts. They are unique in that they aren’t a spin-off/rebranding operation of a political reality that was established in the early 90’s and, despite barely flirting with double digits, are enjoying a kind of staying power that, left of center right, has become increasingly rare. The political talent is definitely there.

    Arguably their weaknesses aren’t as much inherently their own but rather a manifestation of the spotty record the country’s institutions and its intelligentsia has with dealing with the mere concept of (class) inequality which happens to be the core of the Left’s platform. We understand it in strictly ideological terms – as in we accept that what was established back in the socialist days and we managed to keep in capitalism, effectively acts as a structural preventive mechanism of any inequality actually forming. The Left, and by default activists groups (which inevitably skew “performative”), are intellectually rooted in this. The default rhetoric tends to reflect it – it focuses on “protecting (equality)” with a patchwork of “addressing (inequality)”. The latter is blamed on neoliberalism. This inevitably, and ironically, entails the disregard of any patterns of generational class reproduction – acknowledging that the “class” that left socialism disadvantaged is the one that got screwed in the shift to capitalism, would be a self-own for a socialist like Kordiš.

    Muddy Hollow’s intellectual class managed to translate and adapt the “case against neoliberalism” discourse in a tragicomic elitist fashion. It should go without saying that the core argument against a world view that in practice turned to be extra protective of the “haves” and ruthlessly punitive to the “have nots” does not work in a societal context that “ideologically” decided it provides equal opportunities for all.

    Where post WWII socialism differed from capitalism the most, relevant in a post-socialist society, is that socialism focused on expansion of the working class, while capitalism on the middle class. So, when we’re talking “equal opportunity”, it implies this relates to a “working class” socioeconomic status. This is very strongly reflected in educational research dating back to (at least) the 70’s. Students’ educational aspirations by the rule reflect those of their parents. Tertiary education attainment barely reached double digits by the early 90’s – the bulk of it being graduates from the wider Ljubljana area. While the educational system remains public, a “class” segregation pattern formed within it, starting from the primary school and getting progressively worse. In a longitudinal study, which followed students who finished mandatory education in the mid 70’s up to the mid 80’s, it has been found that “middle (and up) class” students were 6 times as likely to get a tertiary degree than those from the working class.
    By the year 2000 and in the following decade the % of students per generation was at 50% and went on to peak at 60% – of these 60% attended the University of Ljubljana. It eventually settled on 50% in the following decade. You can’t get to these numbers without students from the lower social strata – specifically mostly women at that (when the numbers went back down, it was exclusively due to a fall in female enrollment).

    This drastic shake up, of what was the forever status-quo, also became the context for the arguably most bizarre version of the socialism vs. neoliberalism debate. One would expect that this development would be welcomed by the ever so egalitarian leaning intelligentsia. But as one realizes we’re talking about university professors it may become clear why it wasn’t so. They seemingly perceived it as an affront to the institution(s), that is its elitist nature, itself, driven by politicians attempting to mask youth unemployment by hiding it behind enrollment in tertiary education. These new (inevitably from a working class background) students were explained away as neoliberalism personified. The popular talking points are either “excess of ambition relative to capacity” or “selfish entitlement (to high education)”. The implied message being that the state should provide “factories” for these people who should understand they have no place in their (academic/bourgeois) spaces.

    Now, when i say university professors and their general attitude towards the changing society, I’m also talking about the intellectual and academic context that formed Kordiš and his party itself. So, that their ideology/rhetoric would be inherently contradictory (condescending solidarity…) was to a point inevitable. It’s also unsurprising that the core of their base isn’t the working class but instead skews “intellectual”, urban, highly educated. This phenomenon (the most advantaged gravitating towards rhetoric in theory aimed at the disadvantaged) was recently on display in a “tough talk” type of interview with Nika Kovač. Uroš Slak, the host, assuming the role of the cartoonish neoliberal and Kovač of the socialist.
    In the intro Kovač’s family background was explored – she comes from a family with a history of ties with the academia, media and politics. Her father is heard saying she actually, due to her parents being divorced and her having diabetes, was relatively disadvantaged growing up. Slak’s attempt at a gotcha question was asking the activist if she can claim to be apolitical. The implication being she’s a front for agendas of groups her father and grand father are connected to. This is of course idiotic as even if all of the above was the case, it would have been perfectly acceptable within the scope of activism. The problem is that the role (in the broadest sense) the social and cultural capital she inevitably inherited in her gaining national prominence, is never questioned. Later on, archival footage is shown of Kovač saying, in the context of the “clean drinking water” referendum she was instrumental in bringing about, that they are proving young people aren’t lazy and indifferent to politics. The problem is young people like her, as in from her socioeconomic background, have always been exempt from that. They are presented as inspirational exceptions to the rule for the “lazy complainers” to aspire to. So much so that this was the actual dominant narrative around her when that footage was shot. It took a semi-generational form, as in Kovač’s young millennials proving they’re better than the entitled selfish neoliberal old millennials (remember what i said about “new students” being considered neoliberalism personified).
    Slak at some point juxtaposes her ideology to your garden variety “put himself up by his bootstraps and built a multi-million € company in his garage” neoliberal tale – as in Kovač and her ilk ain’t shit for vilifying successful entrepreneurs. This should sound familiar as pengovsky, in the above piece, falls with his whole ass in this same bullshit that Nataša Pirc Musar is trying to sell (and failing at it falling instead in some sort of a “social climber” misogynist stereotype; what pengovsky ignores is that essentially she’s being accused of enriching herself through her husband’s shady business connections, not her law firm). This is again common practice in Muddy Hollows’ public discourse. The “resentment” of the “have nots” towards “the haves” is never even discussed as a symptom of inequality, as in being a reaction to how success stories are presented (lacking intellectual honesty/grip on reality), rather than being a manifestation of envy in and of itself – because, the premise here is, everyone can achieve that, provided they are willing to work hard enough for it – if the people shitting all over neoliberalism concluded that, it must be factually accurate, right? The fact that there is seemingly a lack of awareness within the media of how these narratives actually translate, is telling. And, again, Kovač herself has been routinely written about with these same neoliberal discourse buzz words (for example, (social media) attacks against her are usually explained away as a reaction to her being a successful/strong woman – which (the emphases on success) given she’s an all around social justice activist, makes no sense whatsoever; when Janša attacks her for being privileged, he’s technically sending a dogwhistle, which she apparently fails to realize).

    The problem here is that two sides of the same issue are presented as opposite “world views”. In general, and outside of Muddy Hollows, criticism of capitalism/neoliberalism and their ramifications for class inequality include both the “success bias” and lack of context in “built a multi-million company in his garage with blood, sweat & tears” and that people with Kovač’s background have a relative advantage in life. The self proclaimed left of center right settled on an understanding of Muddy Hollow’s society which protects the (relatively) advantaged from ever having to be confronted with the fact that they are in fact (relatively) privileged. The ideological workaround here is that they accept society as being divided in them – the capable/hard working, the lazy/idiots and the vulnerable/week/small people (notice the condescending terminology) towards whom they have immense solidarity. Problem is, on the rare occasion statistics/research enters the public discourse, they miss the fact that is the “lazy” who make up the bulk of the ugly numbers. The Left is considered the party of the purest form of this (solidarity) ideology within the political arena with Kordiš being the face of its most idealist fraction.

    Political parties actually struggle with understanding (and predicting the behavior of) their hypothetical bases. We’re talking about a 2M country, it really shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out what resonates (or doesn’t) within its different communities. This issue also materialized in the epidemic messaging – even meeting the same patronizing/dismissive attitude within the institutions and the media and the settling on a broad strokes rationalization that, well it must be the lack of solidarity in today’s society (which is again, the same rationale used for the usual lack of political participation). I find this fascinating. There are always answers and explanations that reach some type of general consensus, it’s just that they are completely useless in politics (and frankly they don’t help the media either). Someone like Kordiš is then stuck with a “class war” rhetoric, where the “working class” is an ideological concept constructed so that it doesn’t hurt the sensitives of (part of) the (upper)middle class, that resonates with the “class” it’s supposed to alienate while the “class” (it seemingly votes, if it does, whatever it perceives as the lesser evil) it’s supposed to resonate with, keeps being pushed out of the public discourse and in general from the spaces where “rhetoric” is shaped and formed.

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