Once More Unto The Referendum Breach, Dear Friends

Apologies for abusing The Bard, but the upcoming referendum votes do have a tinge of Shakespearean drama to it. Or maybe it is the Shakespearean length of this post. Who knows. To quote Hamlet, fuck it. Going to the polls for the third time in as many weeks, and for the fifth time in eight months, is not a regular occurrence in Muddy Hollows.

Shepherd boy with flute symbolises RTVSLO. The fate of the public broadcaster in Slovenia will be determined on a referendum on Sunday.
Shepherd boy with flute, by Zdenko Kalin, symbolising RTVSLO since forever. But for how long? (source)

And yet, this Sunday might prove to be just as crucial as the April parliamentary election was. For those of you living under a rock for the past few months, Slovenians are about vote in three different referendums on Sunday. There is a vote in the Government Act, on the law on elderly care, and the law on RTVSLO, the public broadcaster. A fucking cornucopia of direct democracy if there ever was one. But there is a catch. Because of course there is.

In a time-honoured Muddy Hollows tradition, the proponents of referendum votes don’t really give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about direct democracy. The move is only the latest – but not necessarily the last – ploy by the SDS to stick it up to the government of Robert Golob. That, and to save face, while continue turning RTVSLO into a propaganda cesspool.

Excrement, but in legalese

To be perfectly honest, the reality is slightly more complicated that that. But just barely. The roots of the referendums lie in the first weeks (or even hours) of the new parliament. They present a full-court pressing by the SDS, with the NSi filling the role of trusty-but-not-overly-enthused sidekick.

After the Glorious Leader was defeated at the ballot box in April, the National Assembly met for its inaugural session on 13 May. Even before the new parliament got around to certifying the election results, the SDS introduced a shitload of draft bills into parliamentary procedure.

NSi followed suit with a smaller shitlet-load, and before Robert Golob knew what hit him, the legislative pipeline was clogged up with a significant amount of excrement, written in legalese.

Because once a draft bill enters the works, it needs to either die in a committee or become a law. Only then can the parliament consider a new draft on a similar issue. This can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months, depending on the subject matter. It also depends on how much of a fight both sides are willing to put up.

Masterclass in parliamentary procedure

Most of this was cleared up soon enough. As the Golob coalition was taking shape, members of GS, SD and Levica took their committee seats where dully killed these draft bills.

This allowed them to introduce their own versions of some of these bills. Most notably, an amended Government Act and a new law on RTVSLO. Long-term elderly care legislation followed soon thereafter. These three laws turned out to be the hills SDS and NSi decided to die on.

They slow-walked the process every step of the way. Filing a fuckton of amendments, moving to call a non-biding referendum and taking every opportunity to try and derail the process. The Party and the Sidekick Party once again gave a masterclass in parliamentary procedure. It was spectacular.

That said the unity of the usually free-wheeling left-liberal parties in outvoting the opposition was also a sight to behold.

So, why is all of this so important? Both readers might want to pour themselves a drink. We are going to be here for a while.

Government Act

In the lead-up to the April parliamentary vote, the would-be left-liberal coalition partners advertised a shake-up of the government top-level organisation.

Robert Golob ran on “I know energy” platform and wanted this reflected in the executive branch’s org chart. Luka Mesec of Levica was dead-set on a new ministry for solidary future. And Tanja Fajon wanted to appease the power-hungry centres of gravity within SD, lest they try to depose her as party leader.

But if Levica wanted an additional ministry, the SD was going to demand a plus-one, too. In the meantime, Robert Golob had to make sure that he didn’t come out of this looking like the dumb fuck who won all the marbles, only to give them away the very next minute.

Solving the riddle, The Big Bird came up with an expanded list of ministries. In addition to the usual list of seventeen portfolios, the coalition aimed to create three new ones: ministry for solidary future, ministry for primary education (to be split from the larger ministry of education and science), and ministry for environment, climate and energy.

Spanner, meet works

Predictably, it was Luka Mesec’s brainchild that got the opposition screaming bloody murder. Because solidary future means sOcIaLiSm!!! Or something. But that was all just for show.

What Janša and the newly-minted opposition parties really wanted was to throw a spanned in the government’s works. They hoped to make the Golob coalition either go chasing shadows, or start bickering over immediate division of power. Preferably both.

Which is why they deployed the full arsenal of parliamentary delaying tactics. Ultimately, this led to a popular vote on what is ostensibly a simple internal organisational matter.

However, the liberal left would of not be the liberal left if it did not find something to argue about amongst themselves. Specifically, the introduction of the ministry for environment, climate and energy.

Barking up the wrong tree

Some expert groups and NGOs fear that lumping environment and energy into a single ministry will favour the latter on the account of the former. Especially with Golob’s Energy First platform and whatnot.

Going on past experience, this is a legitimate concern. Too often were environmental considerations ignored when various power centres lobbied for their pet energy projects. The usual line of argument being that it was a Very Important Project and that opponents were just retard hippies standing the way of Progress. Case in point being TEŠ 6. And we all know where that is headed.

But while the overall concerns of environmental experts are legitimate, they are, to put it nicely, barking up the wrong tree. If the powers that be want to fuck with the environment to promote dirty infrastructure, they will find a way. They most definitely do not need a new ministry to do so.

So, the referendum on the Government act is not really about who gets to play with the environment. It is simply about the government organising its work as it sees fit.

Longterm care

Meanwhile, the law on long-term elderly care is turning into the unloved referendum child. Maybe it is because the details are very technical. Luckily, there are people way more in the know than pengovsky who to explained the issue succinctly.

But the bottom line is this: the Janša administration passed a law on subject matter just before the election. They promised a shitload of goodies for the elderly but neglected to actually allocate the funds necessary. The woved to do that some time in the future. If they were re-elected. of course. Which they were decidedly not. Plus, the whole thing is apparently completely unworkable anyway.

But since the law was to come into effect on 1 January 2023 no matter the election result, elderly care providers would have to hike prices. Consequently, many of them were left clueless as to what to do. It is not as if they wanted to fleece the elderly. But the end result of this law coming into force would be elderly people seeing the level of their care reduced. When it comes to right-wing social policies, irony is usually the first to die.

Virtue signalling NSi style

To prevent this, Golob coalition passed an amended law which simply postponed the kick-off date for a year. In the mean time, they promised to completely overhaul the system of long-term elderly care. Which, to be fair, does sound a lot like yet another promise that will go unfulfilled. But the alternative is to leave everyone else worse off. Pick your poison.

The original law (the one that will come into effect if the postponement is defeated on Sunday) is NSi’s handywork. It was supposed to signal, just in time for the election, that the Christian Democratic party cares about the elderly. The fact that older people the most disciplined voters is surely just a coincidence. Surely.

So, the NSi and the opposition are not really fighting for the elderly. They are simply trying to save face. Even if it means wreaking havoc on the system by keeping unfunded all the promises they made.

However, both the Government Act and the law on elderly care are merely kerfuffles over prestige The real star of Referendum Sunday is the Law On RTV Slovenia.

Public media make their last stand

Radiotelevision Slovenia, Muddy Hollow’s premier (and only) public broadcaster is under some sort of political pressure almost 24/7. That was, by far and large, the name of the game in this part of the world, since time immemorial. And it wasn’t always pretty.

But things accelerated massively early 2022. Around that time, Janša and his ilk finally gave up on destroying the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and turned their sights on RTVSLO.

To be honest, pengovsky always expected the last Janša government to go after the public broadcaster first. But apparently they were waiting for the term of two oversight bodies to expire so they could install their own people. In the mean time they went after the STA, signalling their views on public media to the entire world. But hey, no-one ever accused the Glorious Leader of being subtle.

Making a mockery of editorial autonomy

Incidentally, “not very subtle” could also be a very polite way of describing events at RTVSLO ever since SDS managed to install their foot-soldiers in both oversight bodies. Having shut out the opposition cold, the Janša crowd enjoy a comfortable majority in RTVSLO administration and can do whatever the fuck they pleases.

And when it comes to their pleasure, it is mostly about fucking everyone and everything up. SDS hatchet-man Slavko Kmetič said as much during the 2022 parliamentary election campaign. He outright admitted to orchestrating removal and demotion of news anchors: He also bragged about issuing instructions to the newly installed pro-Janša editor in chief on how and what to report.

To these guys editorial independence and autonomy are a fucking joke.

What is not a joke, however, is the level of mobbing, attacks and duplicity the pro-Janša RTVSLO leadership is engaging in.

Turning RTVSLO into a propaganda mouthpiece

Obviously, it is near impossible to work in this sort of environment. The new managment took an axe to the programming and to the personnel. Programmes are being launched that have zero journalistic quality and media pull. Instead, they mostly consist of Janša shills engaging in some every awkward circle-jerks, hoping that the big guy is watching.

And this is the main problem. The SDS onslaught on RTVSLO is increasingly turning the outlet from an (admittedly imperfect) public broadcaster into an propaganda mouthpiece, aimed at an audience of one.

Same shit since 2005

Ironically, most of this is legal. Or, at least, legalish. The current RTVSLO legislation dates back to the first Janša government and was largely written by one Branko Grims, MP. Today, this SDS MP is known for his far-right anti-immigrant diatribes that would not look out of place at a fringe MAGA rally. But back in 2005 (a year before pengovsky started blogging), Grims was Janša’s chief executioner. And he, well, executed flawlessly.

In all honesty, it took the left-liberal camp seventeen fucking years to understand what was going on. Barring a few exceptions, most left-wing parties were happy to cynically use provisions of Grims’ RTVSLO legislation to their own advantage whenever it suited them.

But this time around, there may not even be an RTVSLO to abuse, once this is over.

So the Golob coalition wasted no time in working with several NGOs to come up with a new draft law RTVSLO. It entirely removes the politically appointed members of RTVSLO supervisory entities. It also increases employee participation in the supervision and overhauls the management part. A crude comparison could be the BBC board of governors.

Which is why defeating this law is vital for the Glorious Leader, the Party and their long-term interests. And they are pulling all stops in doing so.

Conflict of interest, ratfucking and threats

They have, for example, instructed Andrej Grah Whatmough, the current Director General, to declare participation in the referendum campaign. This makes him legible to appear on referendum debates and argue against the new law. The same goes for president of the Programming Council Peter Gregorčič. He, too, declared participation in the campaign, as if he were just a simple private citizen, with no skin in the game. To these clowns, words like “conflict” and “interest” are just dictionary entries.

More to the point, however, the sheer level of manipulation, cajoling and threats in this campaign are beyond anything Muddy Hollows has ever seen. This includes ratfucking and threatening journalists’ children.

8. Marec Institute calling out fake ads falsely claiming supporters of RTVSLO are against the new law, when in fact they strongly support it.
A pro-Janša troll account replying to a RTVSLO journo to “watch her kid”.

On the other hand, the support RTVSLO and its journalists received is unprecedented, as well.

Liberals putting their money where their mouth is

The fact that left-liberal part of the political class united in increasing the public broadcaster’s autonomy is a sight to behold unto itself. Until 2020 and the pandemic, these guys rarely met a Janša-era law they didn’t like, if it suited their own immediate needs.

But this time around, it seems to have dawned on them that there will not be an RTVSLO anymore if they let the current situation stand. So, once for a change they are putting their money where their mouth is and actually doing something about autonomy and independence of public media.

More importantly, however, a large part of civil society is on board as well. Even more, NGOs like Journalists’ Association (DNS), 8. Marec Institute, the Legal Network for Protection of Democracy (PVDM) and many others took the lead in drafting and promoting the new law.

The last time something like this had happened (with a slightly different makeup of the pro camp) was the referendum on the Waters Act in 2021. And they took Janša and the SDS to the cleaner’s back then.

The world is still watching

And last, but certainly not least, the amount of international support for RTVSLO is phenomenal, as well.

Perhaps Janša and the SDS thought that after their electoral defeat, Slovenia will drop off the radar of the “Soros-funded woke leftard globalist cabal”. This would at least enable them to continue wreaking havoc in the institutions they managed to capture while they were in power.

Turns out, that while Muddy Hollows is not in immediate danger of slipping into an autocracy anymore, a lot of people are still interest in what is going on in the country. Not in the least because Robert Golob is – from their point of view – an untested politician whose motives are not yet entirely understood.

As a result, not everyone dropped their pencil and gone back to ignoring Slovenia. Which turned out to be a good thing as reactions as support for the public broadcaster was as forceful as it was broad.


That said, the result of the Sunday vote is not at all a foregone conclusion. Not in the least because referendums are a different animal than your regular election in Muddy Hollows.

Mathematics of the vote

SDS, NSi and their supporters, who initiated the three referendum bids need to clear two bars to stymie Golob administration and supporters of RTVSLO.

First, they need a simple majority of more votes against than in favour of the new laws. Secondly, even if they clear the first hurdle, the votes against must amout to at least 20 percent of all eligible voters.

This means that at least 339,066 voters will need to cast a “no” vote. And it will need to be bigger than the “yes” vote for the SDS and NSi to defeat the new legislation. Rinse, repeat, for each of the three referendums.

This may sound like an insurmountable obstacle, but it really is not.

Getting out the vote

Working together, The Party and the Sidekick Party are absolutely capable of getting out 20 percent of the electorate. Truth be told, it is the SDS that will do most of the heavy lifting here. But the two parties are in this together, so they will share either the joy or the misery.

Which means that supporters of the new legislation will need to get their vote out in numbers. And historically this is not their forte, despite recent votes buckling the trend.

Traditionally, referendum turnout tends to be on the low side. The 2021 Waters Act vote got a 43 percent turnout which was a historic high for a legislative referendum.

But that particular vote was the first one after the Janša government had taken the reins of power. As such, it was widely seen as the first outpouring of anger against the Glorious Leader and his regime. Since then, Janša got his ass handed to him twice more: in the April parliamentary vote and in the November presidential election.

One referendum to win them all

The question is, whether there is enough lingering resentment against Marshal Twito to augment the positive sentiment towards public media, and win the referendum on RTVSLO. The result on the other two referendum questions will likely follow suit.

See you all on the other side.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.