The Alternative President

It’s been 72 hours since The Donald was sworn in as the 45th US president and it is already clear that the next three-to-four years are going to be. So. Much. Fun.

I mean, yes, it will not be pleasant, to say the least. But the US will recover. Let’s not forget just how indignant the same crowd (more or less) was when Dubya was appointed president in 2000. Many people were freely using the term coup d’etat at that point. And indeed, this has brought at least two wars, human suffering beyond belief and an economic catastrophe of biblical proportions. True, it wasn’t all George W.’s responsibility and when shit hit the fan economically, it was the black man left holding the bag, but there you go.

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Code Name “Linguist”

POP TV seems to have stumbled across a whooper. Earlier today they ran a story claiming that Mitja Meršol, former editor-in-chief of Delo daily and now MP for Positive Slovenia of Zoran Janković was in fact an operative for Yugoslav secret service (SDV) while being a member of the Slovene desk at the BBC. Namely, documents produced by the POP TV namely show that the SDV ran an operative code-named “Linguist” who joined the Slovenian BBC desk in 1971 to cover culture, but was also tasked to report on Yugoslav immigration and internal BBC matters. Another document shown by POP TV then identifies Meršol as joining the Slovenian desk at the BBC in September 1971. Meršol refused to comment beyond saying that “most of the report is wrong” but also said that he will not provide details of his actions during the 1971-1984 period.

Mitja Meršol during the launch of his latest book (source: The Firm™)

This is more than just embarrassing. Although SDV (still commonly referred to as UDBa, after its predecessor) went through several transformations during the socialist regime and despite the fact that “working for SDV” could mean as little as unknowingly providing a piece of information (no matter how useless), documents provided by POP TV suggest that Meršol was recruited and knew full well what he was doing. That he continued in this role even after his BBC stint, when he became the London correspondent for Delo daily, only adds to the gravity of the situation.

At this point it needs to be said that a wise decision has been made twenty-or-so years ago, not go after everyone who worked for the socialist regime. The so-called “lustration” was – although often called for by the political right – luckily avoided and for two simple reasons. First, the last thing you need is a McCharty-style witch-hunt, and second, the Communist party and the socialist regime were so all-encompassing, that at some point in their lives almost everyone ended up working for them in one form or another. Be it a journalist, teacher, manager, deputy, you name it. Hell, even Janez Janša was a member of the Communist Party, until he was kicked out for being too hard-line. But avoiding lustration didn’t and doesn’t mean that people made a clean break with their personal histories. In fact, lack of lustration ensured that people can be held at least morally accountable for their past deeds. Sure, let bygones be bygones, but the past can still catch up with you.

The spook MP

Should Meršol resign? Probably yes. According to some reports he is thinking seriously about it, despite the party saying that the whole thing is his business. But the fact that he was apparently an SDV operative is not as important as the fact that he was in the spook business in the first place. Snitching ain’t kosher, no matter how you look at it. While being an elected representative of the people requires no special certificates save being of age, a certain moral standard is expected of people who run for office. Nothing much, just not too spotty-a-record. After all, we’re all human. But if you’re running for office, you really shouldn’t have the past haunt you too much. And a former spook – no matter which side he or she worked for – is in no position to take a stand, well, on anything, really. Because each and every time he or she will take a stand for something, the snitch-jacket will fall out of the closet. An elected representative with too much luggage is of little use to anyone, least of all to the citizens, regardless of how benign he or she is – and trust me, Mitja Meršol today is as nice and as benign a person as they come.

The Timing

But there’s another aspect which is also worth mentioning. The timing. Meršol, in addition to being an MP for Zoran Janković’s Positive Slovenia is aslo one of Janković’s Ljubljana city councilmen and as you very well know, Zoki is running for mayor in by-elections on March 25. With this in mind, the whole thing does get a wee bit more sinister.

Namely, the whole sifting-through-SDV-archives thing bears all the hallmarks of Janez Janša and his SDS. Just remember the Archivegate with President Danilo Türk at its centre. Only that the SDS seems to have nothing to do with it this time around. The Meršol-SDV connection was apparently discovered almost by accident by a POP TV journo, who was following another lead. Namely, some weeks ago, Veno Taufer, the new president of the Slovene Writers’ Association led one of many protests against abolishing the stand-alone ministry of culture and merging it with several other portfolios. In response, allegations were floated through media close to SDS that Taufer was an SDV operative. These allegations were false, naturally. Turns out, however, that Taufer too worked for the BBC Slovenian desk and – well, it was a relatively short walk from there.

Conspiracy Theories

But what if it wasn’t a coincidence? What if the POP TV journo found what he was supposed to find? Janković seems virtually unbeatable in Ljubljana, but dusting off an old spy story and selling it for more than it’s worth could be quite a coup. That and maybe chip off a couple of percentage points off his election result. As an added bonus, the whole thing could even out the fall-out from another scandal, pertaining to a DeSUS MP Ivan Simčič, who was found to have forged his high-school graduation certificate and is under heavy pressure from the media and the opposition to resign immediately (more on that in the coming days, it really is ugly). If both Simčič and Meršol resigned, two MP seats would be up for grabs in the near future, one on each side of the aisle, lessening the damage for Janša’s coalition a bit.

But pengovsky can’t shake a funny thought. Meršol was very adamant about how he will not go into details but said that most of the report (but not all of it) was wrong. You see, this was the Cold War and Yugoslavia was a founding member of the non-aligned movement, technically no-man’s land, although it was a nominally a part of the socialist camp. Back then it was common practice for journos on foreign posts to be at least vetted by the secret services of both country of origin as well as that of the recipient country. And in case of the BBC, both countries had to agree on every specific posting. This is pure speculation on my part, but what if SDV wasn’t the only service Meršol was working for? What if he was turned and worked both for SDV and – say – MI6? There’s not a shred of evidence to corroborate any of this, but it would be possible, given his relatively low-level posting and the thirteen-year-long stay in London.

Vetting process fail much?

But back to reality: until yesterday, Mitja Meršol was the Slovenian epitome of a gentleman journalist. Always wearing his trademark bow-tie, well versed in manners and protocol, of sharp and witty pen and all style, he was the definition of old-school journalism. As of yesterday, we know there’s a more sinister side to him as well. Which is not wrong in its own right. God knows what his reasons were. Patriotism? Naivete? Blackmail? Who knows. Today, it doesn’t really matter.

One would wish, however, that political parties would put take the vetting process seriously.

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London? Yes, London!

Looking at the rampage and looting in London, I can’t help but think of the Ljubljana student riots last year. Compared to what is going on in the British capital, rioting in Ljubljana was a walk in the park, but remembering how appalled pengovsky was after chairs, stones and bottles were being throw above his head into the parliament building and riot police, I can relate to the many Londoners’ outrage at the senseless violence that engulfed the city.


Now, it should be clear that – as far as pengovsky gets it – there was a legitimate reason for protests which then spiralled out of control into thuggery and violence. The police shooting of a suspect in Tottenham, regardless of whether it was justified or not, is never peanuts. And if the community feels that police handling of the situation was to an extent racist, this is not something to be brushed aside.

Secondly, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to put the rioting next to the recession which is apparently following the worst possible scenario. I submit to you that something along the lines of what we’ve seen in the past few days would be virtually impossible prior to, say, 2008. People, who did not benefit from the economic upswing of the past decades have zero incentive to care about anything save their immediate benefit when times get dire. Add to that the dose of revenge and a bleak future ahead and you can see how we come to a situation where the very fabric of the society disintegrates on 24/7 news. (hat tip to @multikultivator for the last two links)

However, having said that, I should point out that while the initial protests might have had legitimate grounds, anything beyond that point deserves nothing but some well directed police brutality. Minorities and/or socially excluded groups, that’s one thing. A lot needs to be done in that department all over Europe, London included. But teenagers and twenty-year-olds going out to have fun without any regard for property, dignity and fellow man (video via @AdriaanN) deserve nothing but a twice over with a baton and a long session in the courtroom.

But that’s where it should stop. I realise a lot of people are hurting and are enraged. But I must say I got the heebie-jeebies when I heard on the BBC that some people were thinking of bringing in the army. Please, don’t. You don’t want tanks on your streets, no matter how mad you are. As Bruce Willis put it in The Siege: “The Army is a broad sword, not a scalpel“.

I come from the part of the world where there was – not so long ago – plenty of army on the streets of its own accord. Indeed, even after Slovenia won the independence it took a while for the armed forces to retreat from the civilian life fully. The army, no matter how well meaning, doesn’t play by civilian rules. And it’s much easier to bring it to the streets than to take it off of them.

This thing will get sorted out. Maybe Dave and Boris will even be out of a job over it. But it should be solved using civilian means.


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Multiculturalism: A Teutonic Shift

German Kanzlerin Angela Merkel created a lot of hoopla Sunday last when she said at a party meeting that “attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have utterly failed” (BBC) abd went on to add that “those who want to take part in German society must not only obey German laws but also master German language” (Deutche Welle).

Die Kanzlerin (source)

This goes to the very heart of what can, for the lack of a better expression, be described as “post-war values” (keep your shirt on, we’ll get there). That nationalism is on the rise is, of course, hardly news. That public’s disillusionment with mainstream politics is invariably giving rise to extremists of all sorts is plainly visible (the latest examples being Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands). Wherever this starts happening, mainstream parties almost without exception start mimicking those hard-liners who are “stealing their electorate”, using their rhetoric, imitating their rituals and trying to re-establish themselves as points of reference for their wayward voters.

Same old story

This is not new. We’ve seen it time and again and the political menstrual cycle (where parties promise to bleed to the last drop of voters’ blood) is replete with such attempts all over the world, democratic or not. What is new is the fact that this phenomenon has transcended the normal constraints of a political arena and has taken on wider sociological and cultural connotations.

What we are seeing today is parties trying to stay in power not by adjusting their political platforms, but by adjusting their values to accommodate voters which have defected to the extreme poles of either left or right. As a result relatively small groups of fringe voters are increasingly starting to dictate the debate on scores of issues at the expense of those voters who are (from parties’ points of view) “already in the bag”.

Thus we have a triple fuck-up: moderates are disillusioned and increasingly refuse to take part in the democratic processes, thus leaving room for hard-liners. Their importance is amplified even more by mainstream factors – not just political parties, but also opinion leaders, media, and so on – trying to regain legitimacy with hard-liners by “talking the talk and walking the walk”. But what almost invariably happens is that the above mainstream factors loose out on both ends, since moderates will not see them as representing their morals and/or ethics, whereas hard-liners will only see it as proof that they’ve been right all along and will stick with their original leaders.

Ze Germans

So, what Angie M. said the other day is not just your ordinary “hey-I’m-one-of-you” act. It represents a marked shift of proclaimed values vis-a-vis the outer world. The fact that the fields in which this change of values has taken place are 19th century classics (language and ethnicity) makes it all the more worrying. I don’t want to go into a rant on how 19th century romantic notions of national supremacy paved the way for Europe to be raped twice over, but alarm bells are ringing. Especially since this is Germany we’re talking about. No offence, but both World Wars had a lot to do with Germany trying to forcefully “take its rightful place on the world stage”.

What is even more worrying is that Merkel did not say this at a congregation of some Lederhosen-clad old farts munching over an inhumane amount of beer, but to a congress of young party activists (Junge Union) who are always plenty eager to prove themselves in the eyes of the leadership, usually by ways of defending party positions with extreme prejudice and over-zealously executing party politics. I for one would hate to see Junge Union becoming Jugend Union, if you catch my meaning.

An added bonus, so to speak, is the timing of Merkel’s statements. Only weeks after Thilo Sarrazin, member of the board of the Bundesbank published a book where, among other things, claimed that “all Jews share the same gene” and that “Muslim immigrants across Europe were not willing or capable of integrating into western societies.” (HufPo). Sarrazin was forced to resign from his post (and is laughing all the way to the bank as his book became a bestseller) and condemned by top German officials, including Merkel. And yet, she found occasion to say basically the same thing only six weeks later.

So, what of Multi-kulti?

Pengovsky is out of his comfort zone here, as I have never lived in Germany, but I imagine patterns are the same all over this part of the world. The usual game-play is that other cultures are fine as long as they don’t bother the established order. Doubly so if the term “other culture” comes to imply “other religion” as is mostly the case in predominantly Christian- or even Catholic-conditioned Europe. Whenever the concentration of people with “other culture” reaches critical mass, the majority starts having “problems”. These problems are of course nothing but a veiled form of sense of superiority, chauvinism and even racism. Since European nations practically butchered themselves to death in the 20th century and somehow realised that they do indeed all bleed red, a new enemy was found. Or rather, an old one was rediscovered. Islam. With Turks comprising most of Germany’s four million immigrants (5% of total population), it really isn’t such a long walk, no?

But what Merkel describes as death of multiculturalism, is in fact its victory. Members of other cultures have (in this case in Germany) grown so strong, that they became impossible to ignore. Sure, until now these cultures existed parallel to one another and never really integrated, but – if you don’t mind my saying so – this is as much the immigrants’ fault as it is of the German state.

Merkel said that the bulk of these people came to Germany in 60s and 70s and then never left, contrary to Germans’ expectations. Duh? Seriously? You expected that? A woman from East Germany who (let’s be nice and fuzzy here) had to endure Communist propaganda and hardship in order to earn a living and was – due to her belief in a better life and freedom of man – heavily involved in democratic movement in a country with one of the most ruthless regimes of the entire Eastern Bloc is now feigning ignorance as to why immigrant workers came to Germany? C’mon!

Immigrants came in search of a better life (or at least in search of a better pay). Apparently they got it. Or at least got something close enough. And they brought their culture with them. I won’t go into all that All Different All Equal crap, but fact of the matter is that immigrants’ culture now is a part of Germany. It is a part of their cultural production, it is a part of their economy, of their sports, of their politics even.

The perils of a short-lived victory

Multiculturalism succeeded as it put Germany where it is today. A country and a society which can stand on its own two feet and throw its weight around a bit. It’s just that other cultures didn’t go sit quietly in a corner somewhere and remained respectful, but are questioning the world around them as they bloody well should. With this an until then commonly-accepted set of taboos is coming down and is making some people nervous.

But as reactionary forces do what they’re best at – react – there is a clear and present danger of a real defeat of multiculturalism. And with that of Europe as we know is. As this German debate is implicitly aimed against Islam, it may take on the form of a wider lash-out against Muslims in Germany and across Europe. But the continent (and Germany in particular) has a sad history of starting with a specific religion and then pointing their finger on a map of Europe and saying “I sink ve should go zhere.

Fearmongering the Slovenian way

What’s the connection between the economic engine of Europe and a sorry excuse for a nation of two million, you ask? Why, the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija (NSi), of course. The youngsters from this ChristDem party were proud to take part in the gathering of their German brethren in Potsdam and upon returning to home soil issued a scorching press release saying that what Merkel said for Germany goes for Slovenia as well. Only more so.

Because if Germany has problems with cultural co-existence, in Slovenia the nation and the country are at peril if immigrants will continue to refuse to integrate fully. This kind of multiculturation (not my word!) must be stopped immediately, sayeth the NSi.

Obviously, this kind of death-to-all-things-not-Slovenian writing is aimed primarily against immigrants from former Yugoslav republics. That they are mostly of Muslim faith is probably not a coincidence. Ditto for the fact that NSi is a Christian Democratic party. Fearmongering, you see. They refuse to speak Slovene. They will take our jobs. They will take our women. “They” being loosely identified as Muslims. Yesterday it was the Croats. Tomorrow it’ll be the Chinese. Or maybe just Slovenian socialists. There’s always someone you can blame for your own incompetence and inability to provide solutions for mounting problems.

Not all is lost

But there are a few rather humorous points in all of this, which show these fearmongers (at home and across the border) for what they really are: small-testicled windbags.

As a rule, defenders of all things Slovenian have a problem with Slovene grammar and syntax. NSi’s press release is no different. Words that don’t exist (multiculturation), wrong punctuation, incorrect syntax and extremely poor style all point to the fact that these people would probably bankrupt a even gold-mine let alone come to power by means of sparking mass hysteria and bigotry. At least they got the dual form right this time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more capable people waiting in the wings.

Oh, and Thilo Sarrazin’s surname is probably derived from the word “Saracen“, which was a common descriptor of Muslims during the Crusades. A late Austrian psychiatrist would probably go: “I sink hez got issuez…

P.S.: Some people are probably truly offended by now, if they even managed to read the whole text. To you I apologise. I tend to exaggerate to make a point. I also do not think all Germans are either xenophobic, racist or anti-Muslim. In fact, I think most are definitely not. But those who are, are becoming more and more mainstream. So for fuck’s sake, get off your sane German asses and really reclaim the space invaded by extremist loonies. And yes, this goes for Slovenia as well.

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