Some Rights Are More Human Than Others

Remember Petition 571? A group of journos went wailing to the international community about the media onslaught Janez Janša and his government undertook during their tenure and PM Janša was really unhappy about it, saying that allegations of political influence over the media (the said petition) and human rights abuses (the Roma family Strojan and the Erased) should be dealt with on domestic scene as not to mar Slovenia’s reputation just prior to its taking over the EU presidency.


Part of what SDS was sending around the world

While SDS and its leader went apeshit when someone was dissing the family on their watch, they were happy to do it when it was their turn to sit in the back of the classroom (i.e.: lose the 2008 elections).

And they seem to have acquired a bit of a taste for it. Either that or some rights are more human than others as far as SDS is concerned. Because in the past few days this leading opposition party made a big show of tearing apart the nomination of Branko Masleša for President of the Supreme Court (not to be confused with the Constitutional Court). SDS went after Masleša for a number or reasons and saw it fit to go international with the story. And then some. And then some more.

In case you don’t want to sift through everything SDS threw at Masleša (although I strongly urge you to do so. Is a fun read. And is in English), here’s the basic beef: Masleša is unfit for President of Supreme Court because he:

a) Was the last Slovenian judge in Slovenia to sentence someone to death.
b) Took part in secret committees which inspected shootings of defectors across Yugoslav – Italian border as late as 1989.
c) SDS suspects he was opposed to Slovenian independence and allegedly claimed Yugoslav army will run Slovenia over.

Masleša in turn responded (Slovenian only), saying that:

a) Death penalty was legal in mid 80s and that it was a case of multiple homicide and that the sentence was commuted to a 20-year-imprisonment.
b) Those committees were not secret at all and that he was required to attend them as a judge at the District court in the border town of Nova Gorica.
c) Allegations of his “lukewarmness in the cause of independence” are false.

Now, pengovsky agrees that human rights are important. No. Scratch that. They are an infinitely important element of any society which even remotely wants to call itself democratic. And if SDS has a beef with human rights record of a candidate they have a duty to voice them. But it looks as if the issue is being abused for a tangible political goal which is only remotely connected to any (if any) human rights violations.

On one hand it’s bad form according to SDS and Mr. Janša to tell the world about how media is being pressured, how Roma people are being persecuted and how more than 20k people have no legal status whatsoever, but on the other mere allegations and suspicions are reason enough to sound the international general alarm thrice over. Secondly, it is more than just slightly worrying that a revolutionary mindset is being applied two decades after independence was achieved (and achieved it was with political, legal and military means). I mean “actively opposing Slovenian independence”? What is this? A search for the “enemy within?” The KGB was mighty good at that, you know…

But what is most bothersome is that thus far these allegations were not substantiated by anything other than more allegations by some of Masleša’s fellow judges (and a constitutional judge to boot). Which is more indicative of some seriously hurt egos rather than a systemic and continuous violation of human rights, the likes of which we’ve seen in the case of the Strojan Family and the Erased.

But since the power to nominate the President of the Supreme court lies with the Minister of Justice – in this case LDS’s very own Aleš Zalar (recently of Twitter fame) – the whole thing obviously has a huge political angle. Zalar already crashed and burned with his previous nominee for this post, as Marko Šorli did not get support of the parliament, which caused quite a few waves within the coalition. Secondly, the minister is for some time now pursuing ways to replace Attorney Prosecutor General Barbara Brezigar which is both dividing the coalition as well as freezing blood of some top SDS people. And lastly, prior to his entry into politics, Zalar was a highly profiled president of the Ljubljana District Court and reportedly stepped on about as many toes within the judiciary as possible (and took some ego bruising himself).

Which is why it comes as no surprise that SDS today in the afternoon started making noises about calling an extraordinary session of the parliament or even submit an interpelation against minister Zalar. Which is a classic manoeuvre. First you stir enough shit, then claim the whole issue is so unclear that extraordinary measures must be applied. All the while (ab)using human rights as a pretext. This will get dirtier by the day.

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Honey, I Shrunk The Coalition!

My, how the tables have turned! A little more than eighteen months ago Zares of Gregor Golobič floated the idea of some fundamental changes to Slovenian referendum legislation. What on the surface looked like a noble idea, had way to many drawbacks, but for purposes of this post suffice it to say that among other things this junior coalition party wanted to institute a “Referendum Day” or two where all referendum bids filed until a certain date would be voted on (Read The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions if you want to jog your memory).


The Boy with the Flute is a mascot of RTVSLO ever since it was created as RTV Ljubljana (source)

Today the government of Borut Pahor and Zares in particular are in a situation where such provisions (had they been passed in time) would most likely kill one or more key pieces of reform legislation which the coalition somehow managed to squeeze through the parliament despite copious amounts of shit being thrown at it.

Notably this goes for the famed Law on Menial Work (which was, truth be told, vetoed by the National Council hours ago and will have to be voted on again by the National Assembly) and especially for the new law on national radio and television (RTV Slovenija) which was passed last week and which (again) brings sweeping changes to the institution and (according to the Ministry of Culture) is returning the now-state-run media back into the public domain.

State vs. Public

A quick but necessary digression: Soon after Janez Janša won 2004 elections (so soon in fact that the LDS did not yet have the time to fall apart) a new law on RTVSLO was passed by the parliament which turned the former into a full-blooded state radio and television, mostly through changes in composition of supervisory and programming boards and election of its members and (further down) by altering the way Radio and TV chiefs were appointed.

The changes, however, were sold as “more quality programming for less money” since of the more debated provisions of the law was the so called RTV-fee (which was set at EUR 12) held the most tangible value. Everyone who’s ever worked in media knows that you never get more (quality) content for less money, but since RTVSLO was, is, and will be a money-guzzling-bottomless-pit and since quality of programming already at that time left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t a hard sell. And even so the law was barely confirmed on a referendum.

Honey, I shrunk the coalition!

The new law was passed on 20 October with an ordinary majority and immediately caused a bit of a rift in the largest coalition party as Andrej Magajna (leader of non-parliamentary Christian Socialist party, elected as MP on a Social Democrats‘ ticket) broke ranks and gave the crucial thirtieth signature needed by opposition Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) and Slovene National Party (SNS) to call a referendum on the freshly minted law. Furthermore Magajna left SD’s club and declared himself an indpendent.

One vote less in a squabble-prone left wing coalition is quite a price to pay for a single piece of legislation. This proves that the law, which was drafted in the ministry of culture (a portfolio held by Zares’ Majda Širca) has such a strong backing in the government and PM Pahor personally that he was willing to see his majority in the parliament reduced to 47 votes. just a vote above the single-vote majority.

Cynics will obviously say that this is a small price to pay to have RTVSLO shaped according to Zares’ and Pahor’s wishes, and to an extent that is true. The true question therefore is whether RTVSLO will truly be returned to the public domain as the coalition claims or will it be further politicised as the opposition claims. Janez Janša’s SDS crying foul on political influence over RTVSLO is of course a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, but this does not automatically mean that the law is good. But it does provide some basis for gradual comeback of quality content and serious journalism to what supposedly wants to be the Slovenian BBC. But nothing will change just because there’s a new law in place. Just sayin’

Oh, the irony!

Wait. What? Who said there’s a new law in place? The referendum bid was successful, which means that the voters will have the final say in the matter. And this is where we come full circle to the beginning of the post. It is somewhat ironic that today it is the opposition which wants to institute a “Referendum day”, mostly on the grounds that there are numerous referendums being mulled (RTVSLO, law on menial work and pension reform among others) and “since we’re at it, we might just vote on them all in one go”.

We’ll neglect the fact that this is a rather poor attempt at shooting down Pahor’s government at the expense of an overhaul this country badly needs and rather focus on the fact that Zares responded fiercely to the idea. Not just because they see the referendum as a “waste of taxpayers’ time and money” (which is the official party position) but also because holding a referendum on 17 April would a) probably sink the law by default as it would not be voted on on merit but as a protest vote against the government and b) would – if it somehow survived – come into force on 1 January 2012, more than a year from now. Which is precisely one of the drawbacks of Zares’ idea pengovsky pointed out a year-and-a-half ago.

Yes, I am feeling rather smug 😀

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Immunity for Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader

Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader share a great many things. Not only are both former prime ministers of their respective countries, their parties are also members of European People’s Party, they were both implicated in alleged (and then strenuously denied) fixing of border incidents between Slovenia and Croatia prior to 2004 elections and now they are both facing criminal charges. Talk about male bonding! 😈


“So, tell me Janez, what’s it like on the inside?” (source)

As you know, former PM and now opposition leader Janez Janša was indicted for aiding and abetting bribery and corruption (with four more people facing similar or graver charges). What has happened since is that the indictments were “tested” by the local court at which they were filed and the court approved them. This of course does not mean that the man is guilty, but it does mean that potentially the biggest procedural hurdle was cleared and that the trial will go forward.

Which is why today the parliamentary Committee for Public Office and Elections had to vote on whether Janez Janša should be granted immunity in the Patria Affair. Under Article 83 of the Constitution a deputy can invoke immunity if the maximum penalty for charges against him/her do not carry more than a five-year prison sentence. And since charges against Janša carry three years or less, the parliamentary Committee can (even against Janša’s wishes) grant him immunity.

But the man, who already knows what the inside of a prison cell looks like, said upfront that he will not invoke the immunity clause and hours ago the committee dully voted not to grant him immunity, which means that the trial can start with the full cast. Not so in the case of JJ’s buddy Ivo Sanader, who – it now appears – was virtually run out of office but not because of now-virtually-solved border dispute with Slovenia, but because there was no way to keep the lid on his (alleged) mischief.

One version goes that he was “summoned” to Brussels, but – instead of stalling yet another round of border-dispute negotiations – he was greeted by a stack of binders documenting in detail his supposed criminal activities, some of which are said to be connected to the downfall of the Hypo Bank and then to a series of fraudulent and embezzlement activities in his native Croatia.

However, unlike his Slovenian paisan, Sanader, having returned from what was officially a lecturing tour in the US (unofficially avoiding questioning by the parliamentary committee and Croatian CrimPolice), decided to claim his seat in the parliament and invoke the immunity clause, to which he is apparently entitled.

Fun times. Two former PMs looking at a prison sentence, while their successors iron out what even yesterday looked like insurmountable problems. Can it really be that easy? Nah, I’d be out of stuff to write, then… 😈

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Get Rid Of Him. Expeditiously.

Threatening journalists is not cricket. Regardless of whether you’re drunk as a skunk, in a middle of a bad spell or the journo in question is just plain obnoxious, there are lines you don’t cross and that’s one of them. Doubly so if you happen to be the son of freshly re-elected mayor who has a bad case of love-hate relationship with one Jaka Elikan of Finance newspaper.


Jaka Elikan explaining why he can’t accept the apology in full

Jure Janković, son of mayor Zoran Janković committed such a transgression Sunday last, when Elikan approached him (apparently more than once) to ask him about the state of his construction and retail company which was owned by Zoran Janković prior to his becoming mayor in 2006. I don’t mean to bore you with details, suffice it so say that earlier in the night Janković, jr. refused to answer questions, but Elikan apparently returned later in the night (with a colleague in tow) to press junior further on this. The kid seems to have lost his nerve, turned to his colleague and told him to “kill this guy“, meaning Elikan. Seeing this, mayor Janković intervened and sent everyone packing, but the deed was done and the next day shit hit the fan.

After the press and some political elements had a field day with this, Jure Janković apologized to Elikan who in the mean time pressed charges and added that he said the words in a state of drunkenness and agitation and that he didn’t mean them seriously, while mayor Janković issued a statement to the effect that if Elikan felt threatened he is right to press charges and that what his son did was wrong. Both Jankovićs also mentioned that Elikan was in their opinion out of line and rude. But that in itself is no excuse to ignore him, let alone threaten him. Despite what seems like (and I’m guessing here) shared animosity between Elikan and Jankovićs, despite his possibly objectionable approach, fact remains that the guy was doing his job. And that’s where the buck stops.

Having said that, the fact that Elikan did not accept the apology in full, saying that neither father nor son understand the role of the media in the society, does show a certain lack of grace on the journalist’s part as well. But then again, grace is not a job requirement in this line of work. There are ways of dealing with unfriendly press, but threats, no matter how irresponsible or not serious they were. It’s one thing to see Sylvester Stallone say “Get rid of him. Expeditiously!” in a sub-par film, quite another to say it for real. That is just uncool.

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Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part Four: The Round-up)

With two more days of campaign remaining, it is time for pengovsky to bring you the fourth and last instalment of 2010 local election guide-extraordinaire. For parts One, Two and Three click here, here and here respectively.


Debate of candidates for mayor of Ljubljana. Source: The Firm™

So, what to say about this campaign in Ljubljana local elections? One word comes to mind: lacklustre. In Slovene capital at least, there was no serious campaigning until the very end. As if the huge lead incumbent mayor Zoran Janković enjoyed from the start put his challengers off. To an extent that may very well be the case. However, this election season was also marked by striking similarities between platforms the candidates and their parties and lists were running on.

Platforms

Again, one word: traffic. With mayor Janković sort of delivering on most of his election promises from 2006 (although, it must be said again, things are not always as advertised), most candidates focused on problems this city has yet to solve. And traffic in Ljubljana is one big clusterfuck which will probably get much worse before it gets better. Candidates somewhat differ on approaches, but the bottom line is that some sort of railway will have to be constructed. Question is, whether Ljubljana should have a tram or a fast regional railway, which would connect Ljubljana to its airport and nearby towns (with SDS’ Zofija Mazej Kukovič and notably would-be councilman Žiga Turk opting for both). In addition, there are plans (mostly by mayor Janković) for widening main traffic arteries to allow “yellow lane” for buses and other modes of public transport. All candidates also vow to complete the network of cycling lanes. The same goes for most of other issues. Almost everyone agrees on what is needed, but they differ on how to get there.

Differences

Where there was some scuffling, it had mainly to do with challengers taking turns in criticising and attacking how incumbent mayor Zoran Janković ran the city in the past four years. The hick-ups related to Stožice sports we documented on this blog as well. But criticism also went in the general direction of his conduct during sessions of the city council, presumed arrogance, authoritarian tendencies and overspending.

Janković in turn generally replied that most of the people trying to oust him from office have one way or the other been in power for years on end (either on state or city level) and that they had ample opportunity do things their way, but instead just sat on their hands and talked too much. As for overspending, he maintains that, although higher than in previous years, the city debt is still well within legal limits and is being repaid without a problem.

How much is true?

Well, technically Janković has a point about city debt. By law a municipality can raise loans only up to a certain percentage of budget income, with the whole debt not being allowed levels which would hamper normal functioning of a municipality. This level is decided on a case-by-case basis by the ministry of finance. In case of Ljubljana this means that the current debt ceiling is set at about some 170 million euros, while the city currently runs a debt of about 124 million.

If there’s one thing one has to concede to Janković and his team is the fact that they know how to juggle numbers. As the mayor brought three of his four vice-mayors straight from the board of Mercator, financial planning is something they’re pretty good at. Although, it must be said they too sometimes find it hard to accept the peculiarities of public finances where not everything always goes according to plan. But in general Ljubljana’s finances are in order, it’s just a case of how much manoeuvring space remains should a financial emergency occur.

Secondly, Janković will apparently never forget how the government of Janez Janša took away 60 mil of spending money in 2006. After keeping quiet for most of 2010, he again brought it up with regard to Mojca Kucler Dolinar of NSi and Zofija Mazej Kukovič of SDS (his leading challengers, but both struggling in single-digit areas of polls). The mantra is naturally not as effective as it was prior to 2008 parliamentary elections, but Janković is very much an instinctive politician and his actions are rarely pre-meditated.

Which also reflects in the way he ran the city and (specifically) city council sessions. Pengovsky often said that the incumbent mayor is about as delicate as a buldozer on steroids when it came to enacting his policies. But if he was a bit rough around the edges at the beginning of the term, he got his bearings pretty soon and as a rule followed procedures. When he didn’t the city council rebelled (there was an issue of quorum) and he learned his lesson.

Approach

There are two things that work in Janković’s favour (and no, it is not media bias – a claim predictably uttered by Janez Janša a couple of hours ago). He is a text-book definition of a hands-on manager, who will go above and beyond the call of duty to oversee how things are progressing. He is also very approachable (if he wants to be) and he is known to be a great motivator, leading mostly by example. However, he is also the kind of person who loses his temper quickly if he feels people are wasting his time and can be very direct about it (to put it mildly). Case in point being a couple of outburst both in city council sessions as well as in press conferences. In one word, he is extremely charismatic.

And charisma is exactly what his opponents lack. Granted, most of them can hold their own. Some have more mileage in Ljubljana politics than it even bears thinking about. Some are in the race just for the heck of it, still others to lay groundwork for future terms (the latter case being especially Zares’ Milan Hosta).

In terms of campaign quality, the candidate that underperformed the most is in pengovsky’s opinion SDS’ very own Zofija Mazej Kukovič. Since she was deemed Janković’s main challenger, she was expected to tackle the incumbent mayor on a variety of very specific issues. But as time election day approached, it became painfully obvious that she is unable to go beyond clichés of allegations of mismanagement, corruption and dictatorial tendencies. She and her party also piggybacked on the initiative to hold a referendum on the recently passed new spatial-and-zoning plan, but failed to actively support it beyond posing for cameras while signing the petition. The deadline for collecting 11,000+ signatures to hold a referendum was yesterday and the initiative failed, in part due to lack of support from SDS, the only right wing party in Ljubljana with a power-base strong enough to make a difference.

On the other hand, the party which exceeded expectations (pengovsky’s expectations, at least) is LDS. In part still reeling from the 2004 meltdown, constantly scuffling with Zares and with its top two people (interior minister Katarina Kresal and justice minister Aleš Zalar) being almost constantly under fire, the party, which is not known for unity, closed ranks and got their shit together. Having been additionally fucked over by Zares which (contrary to expectations) ran their own candidate for mayor – thus trying to chip off votes from LDS, which supports Janković – the party went into town-hall-meeting-mode, organising events and discussions and tried to present itself as open to new ideas and approaches. We’ll see if the tactics works, but the overall impression was above average.

Projections

In the race for mayor Janković is poised to repeat his landslide victory of 2006. Pengovsky still maintains that the incumbent mayor will receive about 56 percent of the vote, but he will still leave his challengers in the dust. Ditto for the race for city council, where pengovsky projects The List of Zoran Janković winning about 20 seats and SDS about 10, while both will be followed by LDS, SD, DeSUS, Zares, The Green Party and possibly The List for Clean Drinking Water.

This concludes the Guide. Tomorrow is a you-know-what day, and pengovsky will be back with electoral results on Sunday 10 October, soon after 1900 hrs. Stay tuned! :mrgreen:

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