A Reshuffle By Any Other Name

What turned out to be a resignation-happy week, culminated on Friday last with a collective fuck-you-we-quit by the trio heading the KPK, Slovenia’s anti-graft body. Goran Klemenčič, Rok Praprotnik and Liljana SelinÅ¡ek announced their resignations in what they called a protest against the fact that – despite their best efforts – the powers that be are doing their best to ignore the systemic issues of corruption in Slovenia (full statement in English here)

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Samo Omerzel (DL) and Jernej Pikalo (SD) (source: RTVSLO)

The move opens a plethora of interesting questions, not in the least the fact that their successors must be appointed by the very man who (at least by the virtue of his position) oversaw the making of the clusterfuck that is TEÅ 6 coal powerplant. That be Borut Pahor, of course, who as PM did nothing to stop the investment which soon thereafter spiraled out of control and went from a doctored 600 million to ass-whooping 1,4 billion euro without a single megawatt of energy being produced yet. But we’ll deal with that in the coming days. Mostly because there is shit going on in executive branch of the government as well.

Namely, after she ditched minister of economy Stanko Stepišnik and minister of health Tomaž Gantar bailed out of his own accord, PM Alenka Bratušek was faced with a miniature coalition crisis. Predictably it was Karl Erjavec of DeSUS who started making noises about how a proper cabinet reshuffle is overdue and that it should include head of SocDems Igor Lukšič who opted not to take on a ministerial position when Bratušek formed her government.

This flip-flop position was thus far very profitable both for LukÅ¡ič and his party. The SD is leading in every poll imaginable not in the least because LukÅ¡ič manages to avoid the daily bad press and lets senior party figures take the heat while he supports the government unless it is opportune not to do so. Seeing this, Karl Erjavec thought he might squeeze out a concession or two, saying that unless LukÅ¡ič doesn’t take on a portfolio, he himself will “think about him remaining a part of the government as well”. Naturally, no-one took him seriously and lo-behold! Erjavec has taken on the health portfolio as well, it was announced yesterday. Which makes for a fun combo: Karl Erjavec, foreign and health minister.

A rather less funny but far more intriguing combo is UroÅ¡ ÄŒufer, who – in addition to finance – temporarily took on economy portfolio as well, thus joining two areas (supposedly) critical to turning the fortunes of this sorry little excuse for a country. Legally, this “pro tempore” solution can only be done for a period of six months (three plus three) and it seems PM BratuÅ¡ek opted for it because Erjavec may still get what he wants, while ÄŒufer will either go boom or bust in the same period. For “boom” read survive the banking stress tests and sell off at least some state-owned companies and for “bust” read none of the above.

At any rate, while no-one is calling it like that, an across the board cabinet reshuffle is in the air. Especially since the coalition will begin negotiating a new agreement, extending until next parliamentary elections in late 2015. Also, minister of infrastructure Samo Omerzel is in a bit of a fix these past few days over his company doing business with state-owned motorway company DARS and although only today the company stated that it bailed out on extending the deal, it may be to little to late. The PS is making noises that Omerzel should go for the same reason StepiÅ¡nik had to go – not because he did anything illegal, but because it was unbecoming. And on merit, they have a point. Politically, however, this can heat up things a bit and not just because the opposition is clamouring for his removal.

The thing is that not only is DL supporting their minister (obviously) but they would – if push came to a shove – probably make demands against other coalition partners as well. Which points to the conclusion that the Social Democrats will have to say goodbye to one of their own sooner rather than later. And that can only be minister of education, science and technology Jernej Pikalo. Not because he would do anything really wrong, but because he has the least clout of the three SD ministers in the BratuÅ¡ek Government.

With Dejan Židan being the Number Two of the Social Democrats and the key senior government official in a recently launched anti-tax-evasion campaign while Anja Kopač Mrak is heading the labour, family and social department which is a can of worms few people want to touch let alone open in the first place. Which leaves Pikalo. His replacement would mean that each of the coalition parties had to throw one of their own under the bus and – in theory at least – everybody would be happy.

This, combined with new ground-rules being laid, the possibility of parties switching some portfolios among themselves and the fact that PM BratuÅ¡ek is looking to replace three to five ministers within a year of her taking office is nothing short of a full-blown cabinet reshuffle. It’s just that nobody will be calling it that.

 

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How Danilo Türk Just Won The Presidential Elections (Tomaž Majer Strikes Again)

Despite everything, Slovenia made it through another year, celebrating its 21st anniversary yesterday. Well, “celebrating” might be pushing it a bit. Perhaps “being force-fed psychotic delusions of mentally challenged individuals chasing ghosts of their own pasts” might be a more accurate approximation. Allow me to elucidate with refferences to specifics.


Statehood Day ceremony last Friday (photo: Office of the President/Daniel Novaković/STA)

Every so otften a debate ensues on whether a militay parade should be held in honour of the nation’s independence. You know: tanks, infantry, Alpine troops, naval units, helicopter and jet (or, rather, turbo-prop) fly-bys, the whole nine yards. And every single time, the idea is tossed right out the window, for it is usually supported only by hardline nationalists and those elements of mainstream politics who hope to score cheap political points by waving flags as the troops march. Luckily, thusfar none have been in great demand.

That is not to say, however, that Slovenia has a history of pacifism. The latter was one of the bases of the civil society boom of the 80’s which ultimately brought about democracy. But even though it was openly discussed (and with some gusto on both pros and cons), the idea never really stood a chance. What it did, however, was establish a clear division between the military, the government and the society.

The JNA

In the old country, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) was everywhere. And I mean every-fucking-where. Conscripts were visiting elemntary schools saying what a blast it was to serve in the JNA and that only the lucky ones got to serve in the navy or in the air force. JNA had its own Party structure, pre-declared seats in various representative bodies, special access to decision-makers on republic and federal level and was for all intents and purposes considered a constiutuent element of Yugoslav society (insofar such an entity existed in the first place). As a result the Army was omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent. If anyone ever tried to challenge its position, the brass and the entire elite with it shouted treason, pointed to all the way back to 1941 and the Partisans fighting Fasicst and Nazi occupators, shot back with charges of counterrevolution and that was more or less the end of it. If you were lucky, that is. The unlucky ones found themselves publicly humiliated, without a job, thrown in jail or otherwise persecuted, depending on the  state the system was in at that exact moment. Bottom line: the world started in 1941, the Communist party was there to bring it about and woe be unto anyone who sayeth otherwise.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Slovenian war for independence which made the debate on pacifisim once again purely academic. Nevertheless the principle of unconditional civilian control of the armed forces was implemented, the army was confined to the barracks and by switching to a professional rather than a conscscript army, solidering became a job and not every man’s initiation into adulthood. In adition, parades were frowned upon, the history of warfare this nation had to endure instead being represented by the Guard of honour doing trick with rifles (the kind they probably teach in Marines prep school), the occasional fly-by of the entire Slovenian air force (it really doesn’t last long) and ensigns of various armed formations which have one way or another fought for the Slovenian cause at various periods in the nation’s history. And thus we finally get to the gist of it.

The Friday Clusterfuck

In preprarations for this year’s official celebrations, ensigns of the Partisan Army in World War II were, for the first time in the history in Slovenia not included in the official celebrations on Statehood Day. The official explanation was that they are bearing red stars, a symbol of the aggressor JNA which sought to quash the fledgling state on that fateful 25 June 1991. An uproar followed but the government committee in charge of these things reacted not by extending the invitation to the WWII Veterans Association post haste, but rather by retracting invitations already extended to three other veteran organisations: TIGR (a pre-WWII anti-fascist movement in Primorska region), The General Rudolf Maister Association (preserving the heritage of a Slovenian general largely credited by securing Slovenian northern border right after World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and – most perverse of all – the Disabled Veterans Association. As an act of solidarity, Sever Association (policemen who fought in the Independence War) refused to take part in Friday’s celebrations as well.

All hell broke loose and Friday’s events are still the talk of the town. It soon became apparent that the red star had precious little to do with anything. Instead, what really happened was an attempt at hi-jacking the history of this country (hat tip to the good doctor), making it look as if the world started in 1991 and that everything that went before that was a bad dream at best and that modern-day Slovenia has nothing to do with it. Which is not unlike what the JNA was doing for all those years. The fact that the incumbent prime minister was once a true believer (expelled from the Party for being too radical) only strengthens the point.

Quite a few good analyses of the entire event were given in the past few days (in Slovenian, I’m afraid), but then Prime Minister Janez JanÅ¡a finally made a statement on the issue earlier today, saying that “his only mistake was to have asked President Danilo Türk to deliver the address”. Thus two things became apparent. That a) JanÅ¡a had a bigger role in this clusterfuck than it seemed at first and – connected – b) that despite the ideologically charged debate the whole thing was more or less aimed at discrediting President Türk who is up for re-election later this year.

Tomaž Majer Strikes Again

In the days following the elections on December 4, when things still looked as if Zoran Janković was about to form a government, a highly bigotous and xenophobic write-up appeared on SDS website claiming electoral fraud and coercion brought Janković on top on election day, mostly “due to people with foreign accents wearing track-suits”. You can read the Google translation of the said post. It is still on the party website and is highly illuminating.

The post was undersigned by one Tomaž Majer, which turned out to be a fictitious person. Almost immediately conspiracy theories were floated that the post was actually written by Janša himself during one of his rambling fits. It is hardly the first one (again, Google translate to the rescue). But although ugly, pengovsky never wrote it up because it all seemed too convenient.

Saying that Janez JanÅ¡a is Tomaž Majer is in fact just a mechanism to single out one individual who – regardless of the fact that he is the big Kahuna of his party – can hardly come up with all of that shit. Sure, some of it. Even most of it. But running a party, running a campaign, fighting criminal charges, having a family, eating, sleeping, talking and coming up with stuff way beyond lunatic all the while keeping a composed, somber and lucid appearance is hardly possible. Either that or I seriously need to be taken to his dealer.

No. Pengovsky submits that “Tomaž Majer” is in fact a group of like-minded individuals (present PM included) whose reality only intermittently intersects with that of the rest of the country and who are not beyond starting a fully-charged ideological debate shouting-match for the sole purpose of achieving short-term political goals, not giving a fuck about poisoning the atmosphere in the country or indeed making sure that it remains as poisonous as possible. The only problem is that in their zeal to drive the message home the whole thing explodes right into their faces. Therefore, this thing with ensigns of WWII veterans was nothing more than a ploy to have Danilo Türk say something inflammatory on Friday and then beat him to political death with it come Autumn. Rewriting history was just a “bonus for the troops”, so that the rank-and-file believers would have something to shout about.

But as per usual, the whole thing exploded right into JanÅ¡a’s face, presenting President Türk with a chance to reach beyond these artificial divisions, being all presidential and stuff. The Prez did not waste the opportunity.

As if shooting themselves in the knee once wasn’t enough, the people responsible for the event (by his own admission this included JanÅ¡a) had the moderator deliver an on-stage statement, saying that “memories of those fallen for independent Slovenia should not be defiled by symbols of the aggressor army. At the risk of repeating oneself: as if the world started in 1991 and everything before that was just a bad dream at best.

Backfire

That the political left-wing went apeshit, goes without saying. Even the chronically consensual Borut Pahor said that “such events should be about bringing people together, not driving them apart”. What is more, this particular potato became too hot even for most of the parties of the ruling coalition. Karl Erjavec, facing leadership challenges in DeSUS was quick to threaten with quitting the coalition “if it ever happened again” (meaning he doesn’t have to make good on his word for at least another year) and even Radovan Žerjav of centre-right SLS said that the whole issue was counter-productive and called for the government to apologise to those involved. Most curious, however, was the reaction of Gregor Virant of Citizens’ list who issued a statement saying that “someone appropriated the celebrations”, that the whole thing was a solo action of Janez JanÅ¡a’s SDS and that the whole thing “was almost totalitarian”. In fact, it was only the Christian-democratic NSi which stood by the SDS, but they have a hard-on for anything even remotely resembling communism so that was to be expected.

So, yes, celebrations of this country’s birth were hi-jacked by those who deem themselves sole interpreters of The Truth. In this, they are no different from the aggressor army which sought to kill Slovenian state in its infancy (and for some time before that). But the real insult to the people of this land is not the fact that they attempted it (yet again), but rather that they went at it for the sole purpose of winning what for all intents and purposes is a prestigious political fight.

If recent history is anything to go by, Janez JanÅ¡a will pay a heavy political price for this one. And with him anyone who is too cozy with him. Yes, I’m looking at you, Borut Pahor. In fact, all things being equal, one could place a wager saying that on Friday last Danilo Türk won the autumn presidential elections. Which, ironically, proves JanÅ¡a right. It was a mistake to have Türk deliver the address…

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Slovenian Elections: Amateur Night

New polls for your viewing pleasure and boy, are they interesting. To be honest, the most interesting is the last one, published yesterday (this post should have been dated 15 November 2011) which shows Gregor Virant dropping staggering ten percent. Remember how pengovsky wrote that Virant is running on fluff and how he will probably go down once his spell on the media is broken? Well, the honeymoon is over and the polls’ runner-up is tanking, all of it on account of his faux pas regarding his income in 2009.


Politics 101: When you’re in deep trouble, say nothing and try to be cool

What happened was that the media – as per usual – went over tax returns of various party leaders and stumbled over Virant’s earnings in two-oh-nine, the year after JanÅ¡a’s government was ousted in 2008 elections. As you’ll remember, Virant was JanÅ¡a’s high-octane minister of public administration and after the change in government he became eligible for the so-called ‘ministerial compensation’, monies more or less equalling his basic ministerial salary but without bonuses. While perfectly legal, this compensation is one of the most controversial perks in the system. Originally envisaged to ease the return of ministers and MPs into their normal lives upon leaving their post (i.e. finding a job) it was and still is widely abused, mostly in the form of ministers and MPs being ‘unable’ to find a job. Miraculously, most of them found a job (or retired) only days after their year-long-perk expired. So did Virant. His problem turned out to be the fact that in addition to 66,000 euro compensation, he earned some 95,000 euro in consulting and lectures.

Whoops!

Media smelled blood and Virant held his ground only a day or so. During Thursday’s debate he maintained that he only took what the law provided for. Additionally, he shot himself in the knee saying that he took the money to make it up to his family. Which was not a very brilliant piece of political improv and it only got worse. Friday and Saturday saw Virant on an ill-conceived damage control operation where he promised to return the difference between taxed paid on his consulting and lectures earnings and the net compensation income (some 36k euro after taxes), the difference amounting to exactly 1285 euro. At which point all hell broke loose with people generally saying that Virant is taking everyone for fools if he thinks he can get away with it by giving back 1,2k. It was not a good weekend for the prospective prime minister.


Note Virant tanking in the last poll

Come Monday, Virant announced on a press conference that he will be returning 18,777 euros, a sum which includes social and health insurance paid for from the compensation income (i.e. by the taxpayers). And this probably finished him off. By returning part of the money, Virant admitted that it was not all right to take the money in the first place (which was his initial position) and if it wasn’t all right, why didn’t he give back the entire 66k? Also, Virant said that he gave the money back (technically this took the form of a donation to the state budget) by taking out a loan at the bank. Again, a fuckup. He decided on the ammount returned no earlier than Sunday. So on Monday morning he just walks into a bank and takes out an 18k loan, at a time when banks are not really in the mood of lending money. And even when they were granting loans left and right, it took at least a day or so to do the paperwork. So, what kind of a collateral did Virant put up to walk out of the bank the very same day with a loan that would buy him a mid-size car?

As you can see it just keeps getting worse and worse and come next Monday, Virant will probably be landing very hard at the lower end of the two-digit score. He would have done better to stick to the original position and take flak over that. He’d come across as a pompous bastard, but he wouldn’t be on the run. Now he’s bleeding support, media and his opponents smell blood and he came across looking like an amateur. Or, as the good doctor put it: when you’re in a hole, stop digging!

While we’re on the subject

Speaking of amateurs, TRS party screwed up in voting unit 3 (West Ljubljana and surrounding areas) because their list of candidates did not have the correct male/female ratio. As a result the entire candidate list in this voting unit got thrown out, while TRS – which among smaller parties fared noticeably well – will not be taking part in the debates on the national television (only parties with candidates in all eight voting units get to do that). And last but certainly not least, LDS of Katarina Kresal was under the spotlight for some minor cockups when filing their list of candidates in voting unit 3. There were some identity issues as to who is seconding the list and who is filing it with the electoral commission, but the problem seems to have been solved by this evening.

In other news…

State television held its first debate this evening and there were quite a few good punches thrown. It seemed that leaders of the smaller parties were especially well prepared and motivated and on general they made good use of the opportunity. We’ll see what new polls will bring in this respect, but for now let me just present you with the average numbers of all the polls to date.

N.B.: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xls file for download.

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