Conch Republic Slovenian Style

In 1982, people of Key West, fed up with the fact that the US Border Patrol set up a checkpoint just north of the Florida Keys, declared independence from the United States of America. The logic was simple. “If they treat us like a foreign country and stiffle our tourism, we might as well act like a foreign country.” Immediately after promulgation of independence, the newly declared Conch Republic declared war on the United States, it’s first and only act of war being hitting a US naval officer with a loaf of Cuban bread. The Conch Republic surrendered immediately thereafter (Key West after all is one of the largest US Navy bases in the Atlantic) and requested one billion dollars in foreign aid to “rebuild the nation after a long federal siege”.

Breaking Slovenia apart

Conch Republic is fun. I was there. People are cool and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Still, they travel around the world (well, around the Caribbean at least) on their own passports and even get to dabble in diplomacy. In Slovenia, however, things tend to get way to serious way too soon. Thus, when Zoran Janković announced he’s going national, several mayors from the Štajerska region went apeshit about how this country is all centralised and how Ljubljana gets all the money and makes all the decisions and how their municipalities will not have a Ljubljanchan tell them what to do and how to do it.

Wait. What?

A Ljubljanchan? All along Janković was being derided for not being a Ljubljana native, the tell-take “-ić” suffix in his surname, denoting (in his case) Serbian descent being object of mockery, bigotry and even plain nationalism. That he is simply not Ljubljana enough. But lo-behold! The moment Jay-Z goes national, he becomes he epitome of Slovenian capital, the very essence of Ljubljana and a true swamp-man, who will appropriate all funds and channel them to Ljubljana. As a result, mayors of Celje and Murska Sobota called for their respective regions (Štajerska and Prekmurje) to be granted autonomy, while mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler called for outright independence and later toned it down to “administrative independence” without elaboration what that means.

Obviously, this is an election ploy, so it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But in case you ever wondered why Slovenia, a country of two million has 210+ municipalities, here’s your answer. Everybody wants to be independent from everyone else and Bob forbid they be told from Ljubljana what to do. But should the need arise (as it always does) they will be quick on their feet to call upon the state to provide them with money they’ve squandered, invested badly or planned wrongly. Case in point being the Maribor European Culture Capital where the state is throwing in loads of money to repair the theatrical and other cultural infrastructure. Additionally, they’ve received money to organise the 2013 Universiade, a project which threatens to collapse completely and put the city or at least its mayor to shame (pengovsky especially remembers a promise to build a curling hall in Ruše near Maribor).

Declaration of Independence

On the other hand, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković likes to point out that the government of Janez Janša took 60 million euro annually away from Ljubljana and that the Stožice sports complex, by far the biggest in Slovenia’s recent history, only got minimal funding from the state and the EU (a hefty loan from a state bank notwithstanding). To the said mayors and their brethren in Štajerska this is a major concern. By that same token, the construction of TEŠ6 coal power plant in Šoštanj should send sparks flying, but…. nada.

The “administrative independence” suggestion is as bad as they come. It would be funny if it came from a man in a Hawaii shirt and wearing Wayfarers. Instead it came from high-profile mayors of a particular political party (SLS) which profited both politically as well as materially from Slovenia being infested with municipalities. And although not serious, the move is completely irresponsible. Playing with integrity of this country borders on sick, even if only for election purposes.

Sorry, Kangler, you just ain’t funny!

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The Game’s Afoot

And so it begins. After both Zoran Janković and Gregor Virant announced their campaigns for Slovenian early elections to be held on 4 December, the field is more or less set and the race can begin. Pengovsky already noted that with Jay-Z and Virant entering the game, all the polls conducted before the end of last week can be thrown right out the window, which is why a poll by Delo newspaper published last Sunday can be considered as the opening salvo.

And what a salvo it was! More like a barrage, in fact. If Janez Janša and his SDS were considered victors-in-waiting only weeks ago, their lead washed away completely. Jay-Z, who is scheduled to form a party this Sunday Saturday (unofficial reports say it will bear the name Pozitivna Slovenija – Positive Slovenia), shot to the forefront, grabbing 19.4 percent support, marginally beating SDS which scored 19.3 percent. Gregor Virant and his list came in third with 6 percent while (still) ruling Social Democrats came in fourth with mere 4.1 percent. All other parties (new kids on the block included) scored below the 4% treshold.

What the fuck happened?

Nothing special, really. OK, a lot of people, mostly those who were already celebrating Janša as the new Prime Minister, went apeshit, saying that Delo basically rigged the poll and is creating rather than recording public opinion. But in fact Janković (and to an extent Virant) only grabbed the headlines for most of the last week and the result was there almost by necessity. In fact, Janša and SDS were nowhere to be seen. Pengovsky already wrote that they had the rug pulled right from under them, but the beating they took in the past week was indeed epic.

It should be noted, however, that this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of an end. Nor it is the end of a beginning. It is simply a beginning of a campaign which will be shorter than it would have been normally, but will be mighty long for some. According to Delo’s poll, only Jay-Z, Janša, Virant and Pahor would make the 4% threshold. This will not stand, obviously. Not only should Social Democrats end up with a considerably better result, the new players in the field have also considerably reduced the percentage of undecideds – from 40+ percent to 20.5 percent. And as immediate infatuation with new candidates decreases, these votes should at least partly be transferred to all other parties, most notably NSi, LDS and Zares, all of which need only a couple of percent more to make it over the 4% threshold.

The other new kids on the block

With Janković and Virant stealing the spotlight, other newcomers are in the field as well. Most notably TRS – Party for Sustainable Development led by former Ombudsman Matjaž Hanžek and Movement for Slovenia, a loose coalition of mayors from several Slovene municipalities. In all honesty it was Hanžek’s party which kicked off the trend of new arrivals and they’ve something to show for at the very beginning. 3.7 percent ain’t bad. “Mayors’ Caliition” on the other hand is scoring feebly and is probably already DOA, because they don’t have a network on the ground and with a feeble result, they don’t even have the incentive to establish one – unlike Zares, LDS and NSi which already have their respective networks in place and can focus on actually getting the vote out.


This is still early days and things could change dramatically. Janković and Virant are doing their best to capture headlines and knock Janša down for as long as possible. He is already bouncing back, but his initial lead is all but gone. Odds, however, will even out and in the end we’ll see more parties in the parliament than the first poll would have us think.

DATA: available in .xls file

OFF TOPIC (but still immensely enjoyable): Go forth and check out where a good friend of mine is proving that she should not be wasting her talent in a PR sthick. Slovene only, I’m afraid, but a highly witty and often painfully truthful take on life, universe and everything.

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Janković Takes The Plunge, Virant Follows Suit

It is decided. Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković will be running in parliamentary elections on 4 December. What is more, he will be doing so by forming his own party. This is the gist of his announcement yesterday. Janković set an ambitious goal of winning enough votes to clinch a nomination for the prime-ministerial position. While yesterday’s move is sure to redraw the electoral map, the actual impact of Jay-Z going national is yet to be seen.

Mayor Janković under media siege (source: The Firm™)

As of yesterday the industrious mayor of Slovenian capital is on a tight schedule. He needs to set up a party, with which – if all goes according to plan – will be catching deadlines to submit candidate lists, which also have yet to be formed. During this time, Janković must also decide whether or not he will indeed run for a parliamentary seat, as well as establish operation on the ground. Also, he should get cracking on an election platform. His record as mayor of Ljubljana will only get him so far.

Enter Gregor Virant

If Jay-Z was practically under 24/7 media surveillance, nobody saw Gregor Virant entering the race of his own accord. The (apparently former) president of Council for the Republic, a right-wing think-tank and Minister of Public Administration during Janez Janša‘s 2004-2008 government was at the outer edge or media interest lately. He did stir the pot a bit after he said that Janša’s goal of winning 50+ percent would be bad for democracy in this country, but everyone assumed that he had received a good dressing-down and he seemed to have toed the line ever since.

Gregor Virant, unnoticed in his outflanking manoeuvre (source: RTVSLO)

Which is why information of his entering the race was a bombshell. Pengovsky was all like 😯 because it seemed until Monday that the only thing that stood between Janez Janša and his complete and utter domination of the dark right side was a good showing on part of Radovan Žerjav and his Slovene People’s Party (SLS) which – wisely – decided to go solo and published their platform on Friday.

24 hrs after the initial shock, when they were able to come up only with “we’re unpleasantly surprised”, the SDS reacted with great vengeance and furious anger. In a formal statement, the party wrote that “Virant was sneakily forming his [candidate] list using SDS know-how and infrastructure, thus acting indecently. We deplore this and state that Slovenia will not solve its social, economic and moral crisis with sneaky actions, no matter how much shiny the rhetoric and non-partisan the appearances“.

They also point out that Virant is cousin of Jankovič’s wife and that Janša confronted Virant as late as end of September with rumours of him going solo, but the latter denied any such innuendo and even participated in a session of SDS Council on preparations for elections. SDS is basically crying treason and saying that the whole Janković-Virant thing is a set-up, possibly concocted by (naturally) Milan Kučan.

I’d be pissed too, if I were in their shoes right now 😀

Is it all just a scam?

With this being SDS and Janez Janša (of whom it was once written that he lives in a Ludlum-like world) one immediately thinks of the possibility of Virant and Janša… well… faking it. Fact of the matter is that SDS is not scoring nearly enough in the public opinion polls if it is to achieve its stated goal of 50, nay, 60+ percent. So, Virant could be just a ploy, to appeal to more moderate voters.

The former minister is appealing to the moderate right and he can fill in the obvious blank Janša is leaving behind. But he will also eat into SDS voters and the amount of venom the SDS spewed in Virant’s general direction suggests that this indeed is the real deal and not some sort of a double play. This is further supported by the anti-family-code astroturf initiative of Aleš Primc, which within hours released a statement denouncing Virant (and Janković) for accepting the compromise solution on gay adoption provided by the code.

The left clapping hands carefully

On the other hand, parties of the political left are cautiously welcoming both Janković and Virant into the game. Like Virant, Janković is also poised to eat into their electorate, but they are obviously counting on increased turnout, mostly by those voters which have voted for either of the three left-wing parties but have been disillusioned one way or another. The party which stands to lose most under this scenario are the (still somehow) ruling Social Democrats of Borut Pahor which are in danger of having to cede the leading position on the left to the newcomer from the Ljubljana City Hall. Their noticeable lack of enthusiasm is therefore understandable.

On the other hand the LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zares of Gregor Golobič tried a more cheerful approach, with the latter being especially perky when stating that what we are seeing today is a continuation of a trend of political innovation which was started and maintained only by Zares. While he may have stretched it a bit, he does have a point, especially when one considers their election platform which is a marked departure from the neoliberal rhetoric prevalent in Slovenia. Katarina Kresal, on the other hand went along the usual “more options are good for democracy” tune. Cliché, to be sure, but good enough.

Throwing the game wide open

What we saw in the past few days in Slovenia was a major shift in the political arena. Gregor Golobič is right in saying that the situation we have today was unthinkable months, even weeks ago. But just how fundamental a redrawing of the political map has indeed happened remains to be seen. Virtually all the public opinion polls that were published in the last couple of weeks can be thrown right out the window. Including the one published today and conducted by the Faculty for Applicative Social Studies which is thought to be closer to the right (not to be confused with the generally left-leaning Faculty for Social Sciences) and which – surprisingly – puts Janez Janša’s SDS at a mere 16,5 percent approval ratings.

One thing is certain, though. The 4 December elections were just thrown wide open. Anything can happen between now and then and as things stand now SDS were the only ones caught wrong-footed. They’ll probably bounce back, but after spending most of the three years undermining anything and everything the left did and preparing the terrain for a takeover of power, Janša’s SDS just got the rug pulled from under their feet.

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