Flash Flood Of Unity

Pengovsky was either on vacation or steeped in work over the summer. Or both. As a result this here blog got slightly less love than it would have deserved. But that is all water under the bridge now. Or water over the bridge, as it were, as the flash flood in early August wreaked havoc in parts of the country and turned Muddy Hollows from a parable to a literal and very painful fact.

Borut Pahor, Janez Janša and Robert Golob at the one of the sites of the flood disaster
Borut Pahor, Janez Janša and Robert Golob, united af. (source)

But with this site being what it is, we should take a look at the political aspects to the calamity, too. Because in the true spirit of that New Yorker cartoon, raging waters may have destroyed large tracts of the country, but for a beautiful moment in time created a lot of unity across the entire political spectrum.

This is the second natural disaster to hit Slovenia in as many years of the Golob government. With a fiery inferno in Kras region last year and a deluge this year, the Big Bird and his cabinet look more like a crisis response team than your garden variety executive branch. This has had political consequences as well.

Cease-fire theories

First and foremost was the torrent of unity that rushed through the political landscape. (Yes, cringe, pengovsky is aware.) The political debate in Muddy Hollows is getting ever more toxic. As a result, it was more than a little surprising when the Dear Leader of the Opposition declared immediate cease-fire and threw his support behind the government’s relief operation.

There are various theories as to why Janez Janša chose not to fight Robert Golob on the issue of flood relief. A few of those even make sense.

Some posited that Janša wanted to keep a low profile. Soon after the waters struck, reports emerged that it was his 2008 government decision to relax construction requirements in flood-prone areas that contributed to the August clusterfuck.

Others claimed the SDS leader wanted to re-litigate his last government’s Covid-19 response. Specifically, that he aimed to demonstrate what “a cooperative opposition” really looks like.

The third explanation says that it is simply good politics on Janša’s part. Disasters like these often generate a rally-’round-the-flag effect and it could hurt the Glorious Leader and the Party down the line if they didn’t demonstrate the expected level of cooperation. Doubly so since many of the affected areas are full of SDS voters in need of immediate help.

And lastly, not causing grief in a moment like this is simply the humane thing to do.

Both readers will not be surprised to learn that pengovsky thinks it is a combination of all of the above.

Sitting around the campfire, singing Kumbaya

The truce made sense to PM Golob as well. Politically and otherwise. First of all, the optics were in his favour. Even without the pandemic comparison, he was now the guy in charge and it was to him Janša deferred (albeit just temporarily, see below). So much so, in fact that even former president Pahor felt that particular gravitational pull and joined in at the campfire and sang Kumbaya. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often.

Secondly, the Big Bird’s populist side came to the forefront again. He is at ease among people, even if he hasn’t yet demonstrated the ability to develop a coherent message. To wit, whenever ad-libs in the field, he either utters bog-standard platitudes or makes grand promises that cause ulcers to his operatives and which his PR people then desperately try to walk back without anyone noticing.

Nice-y neighbourly relations

Be that as it may, Golob did go out there, looked at the damage and talked to the people. These things matter, especially when done in a way that manages not to screw up the relief effort.

Then there was the international side of things. While the Civil Protection was never stretched to breaking point (the system is said to be among the most robust in Europe), the country did ask for foreign help, especially in heavy machinery and specialised equipment.

Making nice with negihbours, the EU and NATO is a win-win situation for everyone involved. And when Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel came to have a look-see and promised a fuckton of relief money, it was a right proper slam dunk for the Big Bird.

Speaking of money, the recovery effort will need plenty of it. So much so, in fact, that finance minister Klemen Boštjančič (now there’s a name this blog doesn’t feature very often) had to scrape the bottom of every single barrel and check behind every single couch to come up with some workable initial relief amounts. And that is only the beginning.

Not the reforms we deserve but reforms we need

This will, of course, mess with Golob’s policy and reform plans royally. And it wasn’t as if the much-heralded reforms were in a good place to begin with.

On the other hand, PM and his coalition were now handed the perfect excuse with which to explain away the distinct lack of progress on, well, anything, really. Low-rent flats? We haven’t the money. Meaningful health reform? We haven’t the money. Tax reform? We need the money, ’cause we ain’t got none.

That said, the relief and reconstruction effort will inject massive amounts of common currency into a wide variety of projects. Infrastructure, nature conservation, landscaping, but also housing and education, these will all be brought in the front of the queue. And in order to make things move along, a number of procedures will have to be redesigned, remade or plain our chucked out the window.

So, there is a distinct possibility that Golob’s government is in for a substantial reform package. It just won’t be the reform package they advertised. To put it in the words of Gotham City’s Chief Gordon, these will not be the reforms we deserve, but they will be the reforms we need. Or something like that.

Too much unity is never a good thing

However, none of this means jack shit outside of the very narrow scope of flood relief. And even within that scope, the much heralded political unity that caused a collective orgasm of the media and political class, fell apart quicker than the ashes of a post-coital cigarette.

(At this stage, pengovsky apologises for the mental image of Golob and Janša sharing a smoke after getting laid. But it is what it is.)

Point is that it was prudent for Janša to play nice, and it was even more prudent for Golob to reciprocate. But none of this could last beyond the initial trauma of the flood catastrophe.

Put another way, it took the SDS exactly two weeks to go from rubber-stamping everything Team Golob threw at the parliament flood-relief-wise, to starting to abstain and ultimately opposing specific measures.

This makes perfect sense, as there will be competing reconstruction priorities, both in terms of money as well as speed. And not everyone will see it the same way. More importantly, however, with a long reconstruction effort in place, there will be plenty of oversight needed. And that is literally one of the basic tasks of the opposition.

And when the largest opposition and largest coalition parties in Muddy Hollows start working together too closely, bad shit starts to happen.

Kabuki theatre

But it was all mostly just kabuki theatre anyway. Floods might have become off limits as an arena of political mud-slinging. For a while, at least. But at the same time other theatres opened up. Pun very much intended.

Like fear-mongering over migrations, again. Or bashing NGOs, again. Or claiming to be in possession of a porn video containing PM’s girlfriend and threatening to release it.

You know, the usual.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.