Dob Prison Blues

Among many of his accomplishments, Janez Janša can now claim to be one of the few people on this planet to have attended their own wake. This at least was the impression given last Friday, when Janša started serving his two-year prison sentence passed on him in the Patria Affair. Namely, hundreds (thousands, by some accounts) of his followers descended on Dob prison facility and staged “a spontaneous” gathering with loudspeakers and all. The event, protracted as it was, culminated with Janša arriving and addressing the faithful one last time.

Janša’s prison summons. (source)

But what was no doubt meant to be the mother of all speeches turned out to be a lackluster campaign rally with Janša giving the impression of a man who finally realised the gravity of his situation. Namely, only the previous evening the SDS leader took part in an election debate and admittedly did a fair job, quite unlike a man who will not be picking up soap from the floor again until 2016. Perhaps he thought the Supreme Court would come to his rescue at the eleventh hour and suspend his serving of the sentence or even rescind the sentence altogether. No such luck. With the Constitutional Court nixing Janša earlier in the week with a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court just added insult to injury. From Janša’s point of view this was just another proof that the entire judiciary (save the three constitutional judges with their dissenting opinions) was out to get him. Under orders of a secret communist kabal headed by Milan Kučan, of course. The alternative interpretation, although admittedly boring, is that Janša simply fired his last shot and is out of legal and political ammo. Next stop: prison cell.

The brouhaha this created was (and to an extent still is) of epic proportion. After all, it is not every day a former PM is put behind bars. Some (Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (paywall) among them, apparently) questioned the timing, saying that putting a man in the brig three weeks before elections is fishy. Others hold that the decent thing would be a presidential pardon, since this is what self-respecting countries apparently do. Deputy chief of government’s legal service Janez Pogorelec wrote as much in the last issue of Pravna Praksa, a magazine on legal issues. And even Matevž Krivic, former judge of the constitutional court, now a tireless campaigner for the rights of the Erased says the legitimacy of the upcoming elections is compromised with Janša in prison. And last, but certainly not least, the SDS maintains the elections will neither be free nor fair.

Now, let’s take these arguments apart, one by one. First of all, the legitimacy of these elections has nothing to do with a political being put in jail. Janša was convicted some time before elections were called. He knew this was coming. And even if he honestly expected his appeal to be upheld, he could have at least planned for a contingency. Afterall, the SDS list of candidates was announced six days after JJ got summoned to prison. It’s not as if someone issued a Nach-und-Nebel order on him and dragged him out of his flat in the middle of the night on unspecified charges (although the SDS faithful will have you believe something along those lines happened). Quite to the contrary, in fact: the SDS leader is taking part in these elections and will most likely get elected to the parliament. And while there is a legal provision terminating MPs serving more than six months’ prison sentence, no such clause exists for members of the government. Meaning that if the SDS somehow secures an absolute majority, then can actually appoint Janša Prime Minister. The scenario is highly unlikely (even the Party doesn’t have the audacity to pull a stunt like that) but possible.

Janša in prison, therefore, does absolutely nothing for legitimacy of these elections. Yes, his incarceration will affect the outcome, but so would his remaining on the outside (especially if elections were cited as a reason). Everything we do affects the elections one way or another. Sure, Janša will not be able to attend election debates. But that is neither his right not prerogative. There can be debates without him. His two rights (to vote and run for office), however, are in no way infringed.

Legitimacy of elections is also questioned in the sub-text of FAZ’s reporting. But it needn’t be. Would the situation be any different if Janša were to start serving a sentence six months before elections? Wouldn’t the definition of “just prior to elections” be simply adjusted for time scope? What if the court had waited (as Krivic suggested) and summoned him to prison after he had won the elections? Just how ugly would that look? No, summoning him before elections was the only sensible thing to do. Even more so since Slovenia held at least one election per year in past seven of eight years. We tend to cast our votes around quite a lot in this country. And if we waited for a “clear stretch of non-voting” to put corrupt politicos behind bars, we might find to be in for a long wait.

Lastly, rule of law is paramount in any half-decent democracy. Granted, this sorry little excuse for a country is occasionally lacking in this respect, but this is no reason to go actively ruining what’s left of the concept. The important thing here is that a high-profile person who committed a felony is behind bars. Countries where the law applies to both rich & famous as well as the common man are more likely to have their political system seen as legitimate. This goes for the idea of presidential pardon as well. Pogorelec maintains that a presidential pardon would be a face-saving operation for Janša and the country, allowing the illustrious fighter for Slovenian independence to retire gracefully from public life.

Which is about as naive a notion as there ever was. Just what in Bob’s name forces Janša to quit public life if president Pahor issues a pardon? A gentleman’s agreement? Between Janša and Pahor? Yes, thought so… Also, a pardon would send a message that despite all the rage that was directed against the political class a year and a half ago, there are still perks which come free of charge if you play the game long enough. A presidential pardon of a high-profile politician would mean sweeping things under the rug. In fact, only if president Pahor stays true to form and does not pardon Janša (formal request to do so had not yet been made), will the people perhaps start believing that we are indeed all equal before the law.

And as for SDS claim about elections not being free nor fair? Well, this…

But far more intriguing than yet another attempt to pre-emptively undermine elections are the people who are coming out making the case in Janša’s favour. A plethora or people and organisations who have been trying for years to present themselves as independent, who were obviously astroturf but still shamelessly functioned as sort of think-thanks (or, at least, PR tanks), now rush to Janša’s rescue, each denouncing the judiciary from their own angle but all of them doing so without mercy or intellectual distance. Case in point being Matej Avbelj, the young dean of one of faculties founded during Janša government 1.0. More importantly, this included former Ljubljana archbishop and now Vatican cardinal Franc Rode, giving credence to the theory that the former leadership of Slovenian Catholic Church (since beheaded by pope Francis) was in cahoots with Janša, often at the expense of the more natural political ally of the Church, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija. Whether these are spontaneous cases of trying to please the master or a concerted effort ran from party HQ to shoot down the Patria verdict (after-all, the Supreme Court still has to rule on the issue), it doesn’t really matter.

Although his prison sentence is relatively mild (Igor Bavčar, for example, got seven), Janša out of the picture does mean great things are afoot. While the left remains in ruins and will probably be ruined some more on 13 July, the real development will be ob the right. Whoever takes over as interim leader of the SDS, will be forced to make decisions in an environment that is rapidly changing on account of Janša not being there. The SLS and NSi are growing a spine, the new party of Miro Cerar seems to be the electorate’s darling at the moment and the voters who tolerated Janša’s escapades will probably be much less keen on a person imitating Janša’s style of leadership. Doubly so if the SDS were to win the elections and appoint the PN (pengovsky still sees Romana Tomc as being earmarked for the job).

Janez Janša got transferred to a minimum security facility today. This means that he can again use modern means of communications, probably trying to run the Party from within prison. This will probably not work. Not on the operational level, at least. Sure, he might install someone he trusts to simply stick to his agenda and not have any ideas. But the last guy to try something like that in Slovenia saw his party split down the middle.