Showdown At O.K. Švarc Pipan

When a small-scale dust-up between Dominika Švarc Pipan and her detractors within the SD kept getting bigger and bigger, pengovsky realised it has been north of two months since the last post on this blog. As both readers surely know, adulting is hard.

Dominka Švarc Pipan surrounded by SD aparatchiks, with PM Golob in the background, during a commemoration event in spring 2023.
Dominka Švarc Pipan surrounded by SD aparatchiks, with PM Golob in the background.

But then the sussy real estate deal ballooned way out of proportion and started engulfing more and more people. To the point where senior SD kahunas are now making thinly-veiled threats against PM Robert Golob and his grip on power. At that point this scribe realised he better get scribbling.

In a nutshell, a couple of weeks ago a story broke about how justice minister Švarc Pipan signed off on a dodgy real estate deal. In the deal, her ministry forked over serious millions of the common currency in exchange for a run-down place on the outskirts of Ljubljana. Allegedly, this was done to upgrade the working conditions for the main branch of the judiciary. Only that the state of the place made it obvious that the working conditions would not be improved for quite a while longer.

A goose well-cooked

Questions were starting to be asked and it soon became clear that not only was the contract dodgy; the ministry – that is to say, the taxpayers – massively overpaid for the place. And, best of all, the payment was expedited and executed way before the usual 30 days branches of government reserve for themselves to settle the bills.

Obviously, Janez Janša’s SDS didn’t miss a beat and promptly moved for a no-confidence debate against the minister. And when MPs from Švarc Pipan’s own party started grumbling about withdrawing support, her goose seemed not only cooked but properly well done.

Because, let us not mince words. At the end of the day, it is DŠP’s signature on that contract and the buck stops with her. And the SD can simply not afford a no-confidence debate in the middle of the EU election campaign. Especially since it would likely rip them a new asshole and quite possibly stymie their slow-but-noticeable rise in polls.

Beautiful Batshit Bonanza

You see, ultimately this whole beautiful batshit bonanza is not really about an overpriced decrepit office building.

It is about SDS fucking over SD in preparation for the EU vote. But it is also about elements of SD and SDS working together and stiffing the taxpayers. And it is about PM Golob cutting SD, his junior-but-far-more-experienced coalition partner off at the knees.

Most prosaically, however, it is about people who invested time, money and spinal consistency into landing a top government job. Only to be headed off at the pass by a brilliant international lawyer who joined the SD only months before lading the gig. And these people want her gone. Removed. Disappeared.

DŠP, however, is not going down without a fight. Which is kind of remarkable for a politician who had no powerbase within the party to begin with, and whom the party is now actively trying to kick out.

But be that as it may, Dominika Švarc Pipan is now claiming a fairly sprawling, possibly criminal conspiracy to defraud the taxpayers. And she is naming names, including SDS members within her ministry who were point-people for the deal. But she is also naming high-raking SD officials who pushed for the deal to happen in the first place.

SD Eastern Faction

Obviously, DŠP could be making shit up, just to muddy the waters and save her skin. But SD and SDS have a history of shady backroom business deals that end up costing taxpayers a fuckton of money (*waves hands in general direction of TEŠ 6*). So, the supposition is at least plausible. In pengovsky’s opinion, it is also very likely.

You see, a Venn diagram of SD people amenable to working with SDS, and SD people who would like to see both DŠP and SD boss Tanja Fajon face down in a gutter, is almost a perfect circle. Which sort of explains why Fajon bailed on Švarc Pipan and went along with demanding she resign tout de suite.

Fajon could sacrifice a competent minister who landed in a bit of hot water. Or, she could have a protracted and very public debate about SD credibility just before the EU vote. The calculus here is as simple as it is brutal.

But then there is also the small matter of Jani Prednik, Matjaž Han and other members of the loose Eastern Faction within the SD constantly circling Fajon and probing her for signs of weakness.

Throwing DŠP under a bus

Which is why – even if she wanted to – Fajon could never back DŠP up. She would simply run the risk of being wide open to attacks by in-party opposition. And as we all know, one should never be wide open. Especially in a party full of backstabbing motherfuckers, like SD.

From Fajon’s point of view, protecting the party also means protecting herself. Which is why she threw DŠP under the bus with all due haste. But then PM Robert Golob rushed onto the scene and saved Švarc Pipan from impending doom. At least temporarily.

To wit, the PM said that he will decide on whether or not to dimiss the minister when an internal review is completed. That, of course, is the same internal review which DŠP alleges will show an SD/SDS conspiracy.

Which would be like fucking Christmas for PM Golob, but in February.

Golob enters SD internecine war

Namely, Robert Golob, too, is mightily interested in a good result at the EU election. Gibanje Svoboda currently has two MEPs and the Big Bird would be happy to repeat the result. In fact, he wouldn’t at all mind if the good showing came at the expense of the SD. That would not only cement his leadership of the liberal bloc but also give him leverage left of centre.

(On that note, the same goes for Asta Vrečko’s Levica. They will happily take in any and all disaffected SD voters, come EU elections in June.)

Just as importantly, however, Golob’s gleeful forays into the SD internecine warfare are a preview of a much larger fight for the control of the energy sector.

It just so happened that SD’s Eastern Faction and the SDS primarily found common ground on energy policies. What was dubbed the “coal coalition”, goes way back to early naughts. Back then, SD and SDS agreed to push for construction of another coal power-plant in Šoštanj, the infamous TEŠ 6. And they present a formidable powerbase that can influence the Slovenian energy sector almost independently of day-to-day politics, ever since.

There will be blood

The coal coalition can direct strategic infrastructure and financial decisions without proper political and fiscal oversight. As demonstrated by the criminal clusterfuck TEŠ 6 turned into. It can also make or – more importantly – break careers of even the most experienced political veterans who dare take them on (see Golobič, Gregor).

And as TEŠ predictably 6 ran out of the fucking thing even before it’s original expiry date, Slovenia’s shift from coal is now a certainty. As a result, the country is now looking for a new energy mix. The sides in the public debate are, to put it crudely, split down the nuclear/renewables line. But the real divide is about who gets to earn money from this.

Predictably, the Eastern Faction SD and SDS want to go all in on one big nuclear project. In doing so, they are using the same playbook they used for TEŠ 6. But PM Golob, while not opposed to nuclear, has background in renewables and is partial to them. He would also like to break the SD/SDS stranglehold on the energy sector.

So, there will be blood.

Nice coalition you have there…

Unless, of course, the SD Eastern Faction somehow self-destructs in all of this. Which is not beyond the realm of the possible.

Judging by their reactions, they are not the cool, composed bastards they used to be back in the day. Economy minister and Faction member Matjaž Han, for example, said publicly that the PM is underestimating the SD leadership at his own peril. Which is just another way of saying “nice coalition you have there, it would be a shame if something were to happen to it.”

But as we all know from mafia movies, the guys making threats usually end up pushing up daisies in a remote area of the municipal park.

Point being that PM Golob, once for a change, seems to be thinking and acting strategically, with a larger goal in mind. Because, at the end of the day, he has very little to lose. If the SD somehow finds its spine and actually walks out of the coalition, they would complicate The Big Bird’s life quite a bit, yes. But technically, he doesn’t even need the SD to maintain a majority in the parliament.

And while the SD is now huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf they like to think they are, it is Golob who holds most, maybe even all of the cards. And this includes the fate of Dominika Švarc Pipan.

DŠP has yet to outlive her usefulness

Politically, the justice minister is now completely at the mercy of Robert Golob. She is clearly no longer welcome within the SD, she has no independent power base and whatever she does next will almost certainly be coordinated or even pre-approved by the PM.

Even so, she is unlikely to survive this politically. Sooner or later, she will be out of office, be it as an act of parliament or of her own volition. To put it in the words of Caesar Augustus, everyone loves treason but hates the traitor.

But as she is being thrown to the dogs by her own party, Dominika Švarc Pipan seems ready to take a few people down with her. As such, she may have not outlived her usefulness just yet. At least to PM Golob.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.