The Lost Decade Of Borut Pahor

It has been almost three months since national bowling champion Nataša Pirc Musar took over as president of the republic from Borut Pahor. And while madam president has her work cut of for her, the ex-prez is finding it hard to adjust to his new role. That is not to say he doesn’t keep busy. He spends his time auctioning off his honey-wagon for charity and raising staggering amounts of money. But also pulling pitiful influencer-type stunts on Insta.

Borut Pahor doing Instagram stunts while on an official visit in Cairo.
Borut Pahor pulling Instagram stunts during an official visit in Cairo (source)

One thing that he most decidedly is not doing, is moving to an influential international position. No matter how much he might want that. Which makes this lull in the life and times of Borut Pahor the perfect opportunity to take a look at the legacy of the second-to-last member of the original cast of Muddy Hollows politicians.

Will this be a fair and unbiased blogpost? On the first count, probably not. And on the second, definitely not. But hey, life is hard. And why should Borut “I can hardly make ends meet with three thousand euros per month” Pahor be any exception, right?

To mi deli, miška!

If anything, Borut Pahor is the embodiment of an approval-driven politician. Not just ratings-driven, mind you. In this day and age, this sort of thing is par for the course. Borut Pahor, however, craves approval. In something of a perversion of Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, he wants you to like him. He needs you to like him. This is one of the basic drivers of his political actions.

In fact, Borut Pahor seems to have perfected the maxim of his erstwhile ideologue and latter-day sad, old, attention-craving ex-politician Igor Lukšič, who maintained in late 90s that form is the content.

Case in point, the infamous “to mi deli miška” incident, where Pahor – three years into his presidency – cat-called at a high-school student during a mass dancing event he was the honourary sponsor of.

At first it all seemed like an older gentleman who couldn’t contain himself at the sight of so many young women. Which, cringe. Doubly so when you realise his wife was standing right next to him. But, whatever. The point here is that Pahor wasn’t just an overexcited old fart. Instead, he was skillfully gambling at attracting media and public attention.

The Pahor Feedback Loop

Because while the dance event was a success, it was Pahor’s cat-call that marked it. So much so, that he later went in front of the cameras to sort-of apologise. But he also added that “it was him being spontaneous” and that he will try to do better, yet he is not making any promises. This firmly set the pattern we’ve come to expect from Pahor ever since (and possibly often-times before that, too).

Borut Pahor says stupid shit.

The media and the public react.

Borut Pahor is inundated with attention.

After a few days, he kind-of apologises, wink wink, nudge, nudge.

The media and the public react again.

Borut Pahor is again inundated with attention.

Result: Borut Pahor has successfully dominated the news cycle for almost a week, without doing one fucking thing of substance.

Rinse, repeat. Call it the Pahor Feedback Loop.

But it came at the expense of Pahor’s political work. Other than running a personality cult, there are only two ways of being adored by the masses: either you make 100% of the shots you take, or you hardly take any shots and hope most people won’t notice or mind. Borut Pahor clearly went for option number two.

He was obsessed by his public image even before he became the Big Cheese. There is, for example, a story of how he allegedly refused to get out of the car for his last Independence Day address in 2011. By then, it was beyond obvious that the much heralded centre-left government under his premiership was no more. An there he was, the leader of a EU member state, hesitating to go down the red carpet, for fear of getting booed at. Or so the story goes.

The king of Instagram

Nowhere did this sentiment manifest itself more than in Borut Pahor’s Instagram habit. Of course, the campaign positives of Insta oversharing are immediately obvious (more on that later). This is something Pahor seemed to understand much better, much sooner than anyone else. Save, maybe, Janez Janša.

But once he got to the top, the influencer and the president became one and the same. It was often hard to discern if Pahor was making moves to influence the political landscape or, you know, just for likes. In a very real sense, Pahor looked at the Instagram abyss and the abyss looked back.

The other defining trait of Borut Pahor’s decade in the big chair – and, in fact, his entire political career – was always seeking dialogue and reaching compromise.

Which is fine. Noble, even. Until seeking dialogue and reaching compromise become ends unto themselves.

And that is exactly what happened with the ex-president.

One-trick pony

Even before he got the top job, he made it a hallmark of his politics to broker all agreements. Any agreement, really. Because whatever he inserted himself into, he made it sound like he is solving the fucking Middle East Peace Process.

Which shouldn’t be all that surprising for someone who graduated from international relations with a thesis on peaceful resolutions of conflicts between members of the Non-aligned movement.

In fact, if you squint hard enough, you can see Pahor was basically a one-trick pony, never expanding his political horizons beyond what he had written about in his graduation thesis. Or, at the very least, never moving beyond that particular viewpoint in life. Doubly so when you consider that his thesis mentor, dr. Ernest Petrič (himself a diplomat and a lawyer of some note), sereved as his foreign-policy advisor throughout Pahor’s presidential tenure.

The mystery of Pahor – Janša relationship

Which brings us to Pahor next defining political flaw trait. When he was busy typing up his thesis, the non-aligned movement was filled with strongmen of every way, shape and form. Which goes quite some way in explaining why Pahor always seemed fascinated with bullying assholes, to the point of allowing them to mop the floor with him.

This, in pengovsky’s opinion (at least sort of) explains the mystery of the Pahor – Janša relationship.

Namely, no matter how badly Janša treated Pahor, the ex-president maintained that the two mutually respect one another. For example: whereas Pahor gave Janša a courtesy phone call just before the latter went to prison in 2014, the Glorious Leader in 2017 flat out compared then-president to Kurt Waldheim in 2017. And so on, ad nauseam.

Must be some new definition of “mutual respect” pengovsky is not familiar with.

Delusions of grandeur

But while bending over backwards to get into the Glorious Leader’s good graces was the defining feature of Pahor’s presidency, it went beyond that. Basically, Pahor caved whenever any sort of pressure was applied. And when he didn’t cave, he held delusions of grandure. As a result, his political achievements are few and far between.

Take, for example, his 2017 attempt to solve the Ukraine conflict and improve relations between the US, EU and Russia, just as the Trump era was really starting to bite.

I mean, in what universe does this come across as credible? At the time, Slovenia was at the tail end of being preoccupied with itself, slowly coming out of a decade-long slump (which, ironically, began under Pahor). It had no foreign policy to speak of, no real clout within the EU and definitely sub-zero clout in NATO. Obviously, it had even less pull with Russia. And yet, somehow everything was somehow supposed to fall in line?

Not to mention that every single detail of that silly little tour was leaked to the media. Which, of course, is the opposite of serious diplomacy and statecraft. But as long as he got do dominate the news cycle for a round or two, it was good enough for him.

At any rate, it turned out soon enough that the US-Russia relationship at that point didn’t really need improving.

Decent instincts, shitty delivery

Funny thing is, that on the whole Pahor’s instincts are mostly correct. He understands what the real domestic and international issues are. But whenever starts dabbling in it, he makes a fucking mess of things.

Take Western Balkans. Few people were more keenly aware than Pahor that the whole of ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, need a path to EU membership, pronto. But even fewer people almost blew the whole thing up more than once.

One such example was the Brdo-Brijuni Process. It started out as Pahor’s grand scheme to jump-start EU accession of Western Balkans. But it fizzled out almost immediately, as then-president of Serbia Boris Tadić wouldn’t be caught dead within a ten-mile radius of then-PM of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi all the while Pahor insisted that he can put the two in the same room.

Brdo-Brijuni continued as a nice regional photo-op, but it was up to Angela Merkel to pick up the slack with the Berlin Process.


More recently, however, there was the non-paper fiasco. Which was basically started by Pahor refusing to keep his fucking mouth shut, and just smile and wave. Instead, he did the most impolitic thing one can do in Bosnia-Herzegovina outside of ordering a cheese burek. He told Bosnian leadership of a supposed hush-hush plan to break-up Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He later maintained that he assumed it was all on the QT, but even if that was true (which, with Pahor, is always debatable), it was a fucking greenhorn mistake to make. Especially as it launched a story which evolved into what for all eternity became known as The Slovenian Non-Paper.

For someone with three decades-worth of experience in the top echelons of politics, Pahor has cooked up an awful lot of clusterfucks that ended up hurting real people.

Perhaps the most infamous example of this falls outside his presidential tenure, but it is telling none the less.

The Erased

In late 2003, the left-liberal coalition led by LDS in its terminal stage, passed a law that would have largely settled the issue of The Erased. The Janša-led opposition demanded a referendum but the parliament voted to ask the constitutional court to ban the referendum on the grounds of potentially infringing human rights. And they had a strong case, too.

But in an act of unimaginable administrative cruelty (much like the 1992 Erasure itself), the parliament missed the deadline to petition the court. It will come to no surprise to either reader that the Speaker of the parliament at the time was one Borut Pahor.

The referendum was held, the law defeated, and it would be another decade before the issue would be addressed again. An additional decade would pass for Pahor – this time as the head of state – to offer a formal apology.

Arbitration agreement

That is not to say that there weren’t instances when he managed to buck the trend. The one outstanding achievement in his personnel file was the Pahor-Kosor agreement on the Slovenia- Croatia border dispute. That deal set the stage for the Arbitration Court and took one potential Balkan flashpoint off the table. It also cleared the road for Croatian accession to the EU in 2013 and the Schengen Area earlier this year. Fitting bookends to the Pahor Decade, if there ever were any.

But the Pahor-Kosor deal was an exception rather than the rule. And besides, it wasn’t like he closed it single-handedly. The entire senior Slovenian leadership, including then-president Danilo Türk advised him and kept him focused on the ultimate goal.

For the most part, however, whenever actual aptitude for negotiations was required, Pahor woefully under-performed. It was just as well that as president, he didn’t have to do much negotiating. Which was OK by him, as it freed him to focus on what he loved best. Himself.

Cunning and intrepidity

If there is one thing Borut Pahor does excel at, it is branding. In fact, as far as recent history goes, he more or less wrote the book on political campaigns. As their leader, he successfully brought the Social Democrats from the badlands to their historic (and thus-far only) electoral victory in 2008.

He then proceeded to screw that particular pooch and was forced into a humiliating early election, whereupon he was handed his own ass, bigly. And yet, less than a year later, he managed to reinvent himself and win a surprise victory, turning Danilo Türk into a one-term president. Much to this blogger’s surprise.

Loathe him as one might, it does take a certain amount of cunning and intrepidity to pull off this stunt, repeatedly.

Nothing proves this point more than the fact that Pahor somehow managed to bear a grand total of zero consequences for the TEŠ 6 clusterfuck.

TEŠ 6 train wreck

The largest energy infrastructure project at the time went off the rails on his watch. There were also more than a few indications that the whole thing was backroom deal between SD and SDS. And if TEŠ 6 didn’t pass the smell test early on, it got downright putrid by the end, losing money at a staggering rate.

An energy plant losing money during an economic boom. Fucking twats.

That is not to say Pahor’ was unfazed by this. In fact, when a parliamentary inquiry finally got down to business of investigating the affair, he claimed that “he didn’t know”. Which is odd for someone whose government had to sign off on every major step of the project.

More to the point, when the parliamentary inquiry wrapped up, the report named names. Among the responsible were Borut Pahor and Janez Janša, both serving as PMs during the TEŠ 6 train wreck.

And yet, it all had precisely zero effect on anything.

Which, incidentally, is the only proper way to describe Borut Pahor’s presidential decade.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.