Karma Is A Bitch

Yesterday, Igor Bavčar and Boško Šrot were sentenced to seven years and five years, ten months prison sentence for their role in takeover of Istrabenz. While both are expected to appeal the verdict, this event, coming on the heels of Patria verdict marks an important milestone.

Igor Bavčar and Boško Šrot (source via this)

As you know, the Bavčar/Šrot affair goes way back to 2005, when their respective MBO attempts were part of a larger scheme in which Šrot and Bavčar were given the go-ahead to take over Mercator and then went about taking over the companies they ran by employing a series of what at the time were seen as ingenious business moves, while Janez Janša and his government were given undue influence if not operative control over Delo, the nation’s largest broadsheet daily.

All these grand schemes have now crumbled to sand-dust and the symbolism of this cannot be overstated. On one hand we have nothing short of collapse of the grandeur of Slovenian independence. Sure, one could argue that the supposed virginity of this nation’s statehood was lost at least when the scope and systemic nature of the “erasure” became known, but still. Janša and Bavčar, two of the architects of Slovenian independence, who sought and were usually granted cult status, have now been found guilty of abuse of powers. The mighty have truly fallen.

If Bavčar and Janša represent the new political elite, then Boško Šrot is the epitome of the new economic elite. The nouveau riche of Slovenia. Having been hand-picked sucessor to Tone Turnšek, the guy who made Laško a serious player in the drinks industry, Šrot (who played a big role in Laško takeover of Ljubljana-based Union Brewery) went about wrapping up Laško’s hold on much of Slovenian economy: drinks, retail, media… You name it. Together with Bavčar’s Istrabenz which (to use a hase popular at the time) “consolidated” the foods industry, there was little he couldn’t do. Including help Bavčar try to take over Istrabenz.

Instead it all ended in tears, with Šrot now poised to join the ranks of fallen “pillars of economy”, construction bosses Hilda Tovšak, Ivan Zidar and Dušan Černigoj as well as former big retail kahuna Bine Kordež of Merkur, who was just recently locked up for six years on a similar charge.

Combined with the swift fall from grace experienced by Dimitrij Rupel, who in this constellation of the fallen represents those feel are simply entitled to powerful and prestigious positions, what we have here is a fairly quick disintegration of an important part of the ruling political class.

As for reasons for this, we can safely point the finger at the winter popular uprisings. It seems that apart from removing Janša from power, those were instrumental in breaking the spell politics had on various other sub-systems of the society. This includes the judiciary which was under nearly constant attacks over its incompetence and – truth be told – as time passed, these claims seemed to have ever more merit. But as if the uprisings showed that things can indeed be achieved if you try hard enough, the judiciary appears to have applied the principle of the rule of law primarily to those, who have gamed it for years on end and who – perversely – were the first to point out its inefficiencies whenever it suited them.

Just as in Janša’s case, the verdict against Bavčar and Šrot will in all likelihood be appealed at the Higher Court (OT: go see Rolig’s comment on “innocent until proven guilty”) But on the whole, the old adage has once again been confirmed: Karma is a bitch.

Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum

Once upon a time in a land far away
lived a monster, who one day woke up
and screamed: Where the fuck am I living!?
(adapted from a jingle by Radio Študent)

Interior minister Gorenak (source, author unknown)

More Google translate, this time a post by the minister of the interior Vinko Gorenak (SDS) who despite last week’s ruling by the European Court on Human Rights continues to deny that the Erased in fact exist, calling them “so called erased” and maintains that most of the 25.000 are just trying to cash in on the situation and that those few who have indeed been wronged should have their rights restored based on case-by-case evaluation. He also says that this restitution would include material compensation. Which is weird, since the position of his party has long been that the Erased are not entitled to any sort of compensation and in 2009 SDS even put forward a constitutional amendment to that effect. I guess he didn’t get the memo.

However, bad grammar aside, he apparently was in the loop when the latest talking points were being distributed. As of a couple of days ago, the line that SDS and (presumably) NSi are taking is that the only problem in town are compensation claims and that the whole thing is to be blamed on the political left wing. Translation: because Gorenak’s predecessor Katarina Kresal went about fixing what (among others) the Slovenian constitutional court told the state to fix long ago, it is now the left wing’s fault that state will have to fork out some money.

Further to that point, Gorenak repeats what his party boss Janez Janša said days ago, namely that despite the finality of the verdict the state doesn’t have enough money to cover its basic needs, let alone compensate “people who were sitting on the fence, while those who might have been wronged should be looked at individually, all the while keeping in mind the state’s financial situation“. Meaning that after everything else is paid for, the victims of the single largest violation of human rights in the history of democratic Slovenia will get what’s left. After having been screened for “traitors, malingerers and speculators”, of course. In other words, minister of the interior, whose portfolio since recently also includes state prosecution, publicly stated he just doesn’t give a fuck about a ruling of the European court of human rights. And nothing happens. Really, where the fuck am I living?!

Obviously, this perverted attitude towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law does not end there. As the state just reduced pension benefits granted mostly to retired WWII war veterans, policemen, judges and so on, and some 25,000 people (funny, how numbers keep repeating) saw their pension reduced by as much as 20% it is probably only a matter of days until some bright soul in the government spins this as if the Erased are to blame. As in: “no wonder we have to reduce pensions as we have to pay huge compensations to people who sympathised with the occupator, and you can thank the left wing and Katarina Kresal for it.

So, let’s get the story straight (again). When the erasure happened (26 February 1992) the government was run by PM Lojze Peterle (Christian Democrats). His government was comprised of every single political party from both sides of the spectrum save the liberal ZSMS which was later renamed in transformed into LDS (and then split into Zares and LDS). And while Igor Bavčar, lately of Istrabenz fame and Janez Janša’s war buddy was indeed the interior minister at the time of the erasure, he was nowhere near being a member of LDS. Back then he was a member of Democratic party, one of two parties created after SDZ (one of the first parties in Slovenia) broke up. No LDS, no Milan Kučan, no Janez Drnovšek and certainly no Katarina Kresal. This is not about whether the left or the right wing is to blame. The Republic of Slovenia is to blame.

When Janez Janša, Vinko Gorenak and the rest of the current administration came to power six months ago swore to “uphold the constitutional order, act according to my conscience and that I shall do all in my power for the good of Slovenia“.

If this the above is how Gorenak et al. perceive constitutional order, the good of this country and if that is what their conscience dictates, then the lunatics have truly taken over the asylum.

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Documents Sexed-Up For Dramatic Puroposes

As luck would have it, pengovsky is way busy co-handling The Offspring™ which sort of explains the blogging no-show of the past few days (still, you got the skin and meat :)) But that does not mean things were quiet this side of the Alps. Oh, no… What we had here in the past ten-or-so days was almost worthy of an Austin Powers adventure. Guess who plays Dr. Evil

Janez Janša and Danilo Türk as Dr. Evil and Austin Powers. Shall we shag now or shag later? (photoshop by yours truly)

Remember Operation North? When twenty years after the deed President Danilo Türk awarded a medal to the last socialist interior minister Tomaž Ertl for preventing a Milošević-induced mass rally in Ljubljana in 1989 aimed at overthrowing the reform Communist leadership and installing a pro-Serb hard-liners at the helm of the country? Slightly more than a year ago giving a medal to Ertl (who was, among other things, head of the state secret police) made Janez Janša‘s SDS go apeshit and move to impeach president Türk on the grounds of supporting human rights violations. Janša’s move failed spectacularly but in the whirlwind of half-truths, accusations and conjectures that were the “impeachment case”, a set of questions stood out like a sore thumb: “What was Türk’s connection to Ertl and what did the President know of Ertl’s involvement in acts of international terrorism”

Shaggadelic, baby, yeah!

Fast forward eleven months and SDS starts making noises about how archives of the Slovene branch of SDV (Yugoslav secret service) still remain inaccessible and how this is most unacceptable, undemocratic and (oy vey!) unlawful. It goes on to say that SOVA, the current Slovene secret service, still prevents access to archives of former SDV and by that prevents parliamentary and public oversight of the intelligence services (the pretext being that Igor Omeza, a man of colourful past and high-profile past was denied access to the archives when supposedly researching a story). This apparently pained Janša so much, that he discussed the issue even in a debate on WikiLeaks, where he – in the presence of the new US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph A. Mussomeli – made a quick argument against releasing the US State Departament cables but then went on a long tirade on why classified SDV archives must be made public in all their ignomy.

And then, a year almost to the day after Türk awarded Ertl with that infamous medal, SDS spectacularly “discovers” documents which supposedly prove that President Türk had detailed knowledge of the 1979 Velikovec (Völkermarkt) bombing in Austrian Carynthia in which three people were injured and which today is widely accepted to have been orchestrated by Slovene branch of SDV or at the very least cooked up by more rabid elements within the service. SDS claimed this directly linked Türk to acts of international terrorism as well as put him firmly in the circle of communist intelligence services. And what worse than an (albeit indirect) accusation that an incumbent president collaborated with communist secrecy service, by extension making either a spy or a snitch.

Enter Exhibit A

President Türk denied any prior or detailed knowledge of the Velikovec bombing. In what was an unusally strong-worded denial (Slovenian only) he bluntly accused Janša’s SDS of manipulation and deceit. Namely, the core of SDS’ case was a diplomatic cable from Yugoslav embassy in Vienna dated almost ten months after the bombing which was a compilation of official an unofficial Austrian responses as well as clippings from Austrian media in relation to the bombing. Recipients of the document included top Party brass and heads of other relevant institutions and committees, including one Danilo Türk, president of the SZDL committee for issues of minorities and diaspora.

At this point it should be noted that in 1979 Danilo Türk was a 26-year-old freshly minted law school graduate who just returned from serving in the army and landed his first job at SZDL (Socialist Union of Working People). The latter was a sort of all-encompassing umbrella organisation for groups and activities which were not strictly sanctioned by the Party, but were needed to be a part of the system to a) maintain the illusion of plurality and b) for the party to keep tabs on them. SZDL was designed to be the intermediary between the Party and the people and as a result, people working with or for SZDL could get away with a whole lot more than those working for the Party. Just to prove my point: the documents which started the JBTZ affair and ultimately began the final push for Slovenian independce were “acquired” by Igor Bavčar (today of Istrabenz infamy) in 1988 while he was working for that same SZDL.

Enter Exibit B

Anyways. Türk denies it and SDS immediately shoots back saying that not only is the President lying but also that it has in its possession a document which proves that Danilo Türk and SDV chief Tomaž Ertl (the one with the medal) go way back and did not meet face-to-face only last year as Türk had claimed during the impeachment proceedings. To back up their claim, they produced another document, a letter by interior secretary Tomaž Ertl from 1982 in which the latter informs the former that the Interior Secretariat is replacing its member of the Türk’s committee.

SDS of course failed to prove either one of their claims. Rather than proving that Türk was a member of the inner circle of the Party/SDV circles, the first set documents proves only that Türk was “privy” to diplomatic cables on the issue of Velikovec ten months after the attack and that information in that particular cable was stale, to say the least. Even more. The list of recipients of the said cable include not only the top Party officials, but people across the institutional spectrum of the socialist system (the Assembly, the SZDL, various committees) which points to the fact that the cable is a cleaned-up “civilian” version of intelligence collected (if there ever was any). In other words, it’s harmless. Secondly, claiming that Türk and Ertl go back thirty years (and again by conjecture trying to establish a link between the President and the inner circles of the SDV) by means of producing a bureaucratic notification is akin to fans claiming to be buddies with Bono of U2 on account of having his autograph. An exaggeration of biblical proportions, that is.

The plot thickens

However, things got even more interesting. First it transpired that SDV documents were sealed by the government of Janez Janša. It turned out to be a classic. First, Janša’s right-wing coalition passed a law transferring all SDV documents to the state archives and aimed at declassifying them. Only then did a special committee take a look at the archives and apparently discovered that some of them are smoking hot. As a result SOVA (Slovene secret service) reclassified parts of documents and Janša’s government set a new release date for them, forty years from now. So, rather than whining about how this government is unlawfully hiding the archives (and at the same time condemning Wikileaks for releasing some other archives), Janša and his party would be better off keeping their mouth shut.

However, this is obviously too much to ask. Releasing supposedly damaging documents has been Janša’s modus operandi for the past 25 years. Indeed, he was sent to prison by the federal army in 1988 for being in possession of a secret army document and after a glorious period during the war of independence in 1991 things only got worse. In 1994, during an attempted coup d’etat, army intelligence service loyal to Janša tried to plant forged documents and use them as pretext to topple the government. The plan backfired and the whole thing ended with Janša’s dismissal as defence minister. After that he made a career of sifting through old archives and publishing them in volumes on end, each and every time claiming to have shed new light on the role of key players of Slovenian independence. Although the documents were either declassified or have at the very least been in the public domain for a very long time, Janša always interpreted them in a way that extolled his role in achieving the independence and portrayed him as a victim of SDV, at the same time diminishing role of others key players, depending on who was his primary enemy at any given time. This time around this appears to be President Türk, who admittedly has little or no direct involvement in achieving the independence but is apparently enough of a problem for Janša to be discredited at all costs. Even if the released documents are forgeries.

Yes. It turns out that the first set of documents wasn’t actually a single set of documents but rather two different batches, sent to two different lists of addressees at two different dates. Indeed, one set (with more details in it) was not addressed to Türk but rather to his predecessor in the SZDL committee. So, in order to implicate Türk in a spy-ring-scandal, SDS published forgeries. If you want to be really lenient, you can call it a document that was “sexed-up for dramatic purposes”. At any rate, the documents thus became irrelevant, while Janša was once again caught lying.

But… Why?

This fuck-up-uncovered might also explain Türk’s strong reaction to Janša’s initial claims. Rumours were circulating for the past few days that Janša’s people took liberties in interpreting what they found in the archives, but few knew just how liberal-an-interpretation they cooked up. Türk apparently knew and it would seem logical for his office to have made inquiries into what exactly were Janša’s people looking for. So, why would the largest opposition party sex documents up in order to substantiate their claims against the president, when they’ve got so much going for them? I mean, SDS is leading the polls, economy is still going down the drain, most people see Janša as the next PM and all he has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Part of it most likely has to do with the fact that Janša will not accept defeat. Danilo Türk’s victory in presidential elections in 2007 was the harbinger of Janša’s electoral defeat a year later. Several of Türk’s moves (not in the least giving a medal to Ertl) were like throwing a gauntlet in Janša’s face. And Türk also stole some much wanted limelight during Slovenian EU presidency, having much more diplomatic clout than Janša and his foreign minister Rupel combined.

Secondly, it has to do with destabilising the country. The largest opposition party seems to have made it its mission to oppose almost every government move and actively try to block and derail any measure which could – even by a long shot – break the current social and economic status quo. This includes calling for referendums virtually on a monthly basis, prolonging the legislative process beyond any acceptable means.

And thirdly, it has to do with creating an atmosphere of distrust, deceit and paralysing fear, where no-one dares do anything for fear of what Janša and his people might dig out on any given person. It is an environment of paranoia Janša thrives in but which is ultimately destructive both to him and the country he wants to lead yet again.

Looks like someone lost their mojo

In short, what was meant to be a sort of political black-ops campaign turned out to be amateur night by people who keep feeding us the same shit over and over again, as if they’re caught in some sort of political Ground-hog day, constantly reliving the same idea over and over, always seeing ghosts and wanting to prove that there is some sort of secret clan of die-hard Communists who run the country, refusing to realise that the entire country is sick and tired of their stale tricks and wants to move forwards. If that is still possible at all.

BTW: As of recent the SDS has a lovely new site in English. It is definitely worth your time every once in a while. The more observant of readers will find in there literary gems by none other than former foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel, but even if that’s not your thing, you can still check the crap pengovsky posts against the sharp and deep analysis of the largest opposition party in Slovenia 😀

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The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled…


You’ll see what a palace he had built for himself with the fortune
comparable only with Byzantine Caesar or the Great Khan of Tartars.
Now you probably understand why he issued all those bulls against
the idea of poverty. There are crosses in Avignon with Christ crucified
but with only one hand nailed to the cross while he’s touching a purse
around his waits with the other, as if to say that He approves use of
money in ecclesiastic matters.

The above passage from Umberto Eco‘s The Name of The Rose came to mind when pengovsky first heard of the financial hardship the Maribor archdiocese found itself in. And Lord, are we talking hardship. According to an article in Italian L’espresso (in English, surprisingly so), which exposed what until now was only alluded, the archdiocese, which gives guidance to a flock of some 100,000, ran up a debt of some 800 million euro. No, it’s not a mistake. Eight hundred million. That’s more than three times the amount of Slovenia‘s share in Greek bail-out. I won’t bother you with the details, especially since you can read them up in the original article. Suffice it to say that they’ve put all of their eggs in a couple of not very safe baskets and then forgot to watch the baskets. And now they can’t even make an omelette out of broken eggs.

Not that the archdiocese is helping its case. Their official response was full of hypocrisy, false humility and other nouns we’ve come to connect with the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, thev’ve written that they “are aware of their indirect responsibility to shareholders, employees and the public. Our special responsibility goes to people of Catholic faith and all those to whom we were sent to spread the word of Christ and help them in times of hardship. We realise that in the past we have not always made it clear that ours is purely a mission of spreading the faith, education and charity. In the past the Maribor archdiocese has focused on economic matters only to fund and further develop the above pursuits. Our goal was to strengthen our financial positions to better execute our pastoral, educational and cultural activities. These activities are in many countries partly funded by the state. As this is not the case in Slovenia, we tried to establish an economic presence. Today, we realize that this was a wrong decision.

It is highly tempting to go ha-ha (<- click the link, goddammit! 🙂 ) on the Maribor archdiocese (or on the Slovene Roman Catholic Church as a whole), especially since the clergy took virtually every opportunity to bash the Slovenian noveaux riches which have lately been distilled into failed tycoons a la Boško Šrot, Igor Bavčar (remember them?) and lately Bine Kordež of Merkur and Ivan Zidar of SCT. And suddenly, that same organisation, primarily tasked with spreading His word, love for little boys and preventing use of contraceptives turns out to be on the fast track to the fourth circle of hell.

Slightly more than a year ago there was a lot of talk about “exit strategies”. You know, getting back to the business as usual. Back then there were a couple of competing documents, all of which fancied themselves as “exit strategies” and all of them failed to deliver. One of those documents looked beyond the scope of immediately visible and while it didn’t provide answers it pointed out most of the right questions. The problem is that it was outside of the (still) accepted neoliberalistic socio-political discourse and it was quietly forgotten. Everything that followed in its wake were either half-baked compendiums of various semi-useful theories often contradictory in nature and content, badly disguised attempts to totally derail the country and take power by means of early elections or just plain old throwing sand in the wheels of any attempt to fundamentally change the situation. Two of those we can chalk down to Janez Janša‘s SDS, one to labour unions. You figure out who is responsible for what 🙂

Anyways, point being that since any attempt to kick-start things by broadening the spectrum of acceptable was doomed to failure be it from the opposition or the labour unions (plus a little waywardness within the coalition), the breaths of the acceptable became increasingly narrow. This narrowness of course is not something new, but rather became the “accepted norm” of the last thirty years (yes, Slovenes embraced capitalism before we embraced democracy). Soon everyone was expert at everything and those on the bandwagon looked down on those who did not or could not jump on it. And there were mighty few people who didn’t at least attempt the jump. With the power of hindsight it seems perfectly logical that Maribor archdiocese did what it did and that the whole thing went straight to hell but the scope of damage is staggering nevertheless. The total amount of so called “tycoon” credit lines extended to various Slovene companies reportedly amounted to 2 billion euro. Increased by another 800 million, this means that the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia is responsible for almost 35% percent of all bad debt in this country.

Granted, the Church had realised long ago, even before the dawn of capitalism that money and property mean power. This, after all was also the declared goal of Maribor archdiocese: to promote, evolve and expand the teachings (and with them the influence) of the Roman Catholic Church. But this time it wasn’t just that people who are in the business of faith switched to the business of making (or, rather, losing) money. What we have here is a situation where men of faith put their faith in money. This goes beyond pure attitude one has towards the Church, be it on an ideological or purely personal level. This is probably the final proof that capitalism as we had known it until the fall of 2008 indeed had no real alternative and that in many respects still doesn’t have one, since any alternative which oversteps the boundaries of a neoliberalistic discourse is automatically discarded and – vice versa – every alternative which does not overstep those boundaries is apparently self-destructive.

Generally admonishing the Catholic Church for their ultimate financial fail will get us nowhere, nor will it radically change the playing field. To those who generally are not favouring the Church this is only the latest proof of what was known all along. To the flock, this was probably a shock, but the relation of the faithful to the clergy is theirs to handle. However, rather than dancing on what is arguably soon to become the economic grave of Maribor archdiocese and possibly the entire Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia (it turns out that Ljubljana archdiocese was helping out as well) we should be worried sick. Because if an institution with two-thousand-years-worth of history and collective memory succumbs to the lures of casino capitalism, we can finally get some perspective on just how strong, how deep and how irrational this crisis is.

Two thousand years ago Jesus apparently freaked out and told them that his temple is a house of prayer not a den of thieves. But in this day and age it seems that Keyser Söze was right when he said that the greatest trick Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. This way, in a world which seemed like financial heaven, you could invest 800 million euro and like *that* it was gone.

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