Andrej Bajuk (1943 – 2011)

Former Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk passed away Monday night. He shot to prominence in spring 2000 when he was put forward as a challenger to PM Janez Drnovšek whose coalition with Slovene People’s Party (SLS) had just crumbled. The latter had just undergone what for all intents and purposes was a shotgun wedding with opposition Slovene Christian Democrats (SKD) – with leader of the opposition Janez Janša holding the shotgun. The painful merger realigned the balance of power in the parliament and and as a result PM Drnovšek called a confidence vote which he lost. A short political crisis ensued and after much political wrangling Bajuk was appointed the prime minister seven months before elections were due.

Andrej Bajuk with Slovenia’s first euro notes. Photo: Arsen Perić

A Ljubljana native he fled to Argentina with his parents in 1945 aged only two and worked his way up in life from there. He did not gain prominence in Slovene diaspora, at least not in a way that would leave a mark in his homeland prior to his entry into politics. An economist by profession, he was working for the Inter-American Development Bank before he returned to Slovenia to become the nominee for the prime ministerial position. Such was the rush, that he was reportedly unable to make proper living accommodations and was living in a hotel near the parliament for some time after returning to Slovenia.

Andrej Bajuk was to become a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics for the next decade. Things got off to a rocky start, however. Late in his ill-fated stint as PM (where he was often seen as Janez Janša’s straw man, with Janša back in the saddle as defense minister actually calling the shots) he went out on a limb in what for all intents and purposes amounted to a attempted legislative coup d’état plotted by Janša.

Summer of 2000

Just prior to that fateful summer the constitutional court finally ruled in a four-year-long case of which electoral system won in a 1996 three-way referendum (majoritarian, proposed by Janša; proportional, proposed by the National Council or a combination of the two, proposed by then-ruling coalition led by LDS of Janez Drnovšek). The court ruled that the majoritarian system won although it got only 44 percent of the vote. Three of the judges who ruled in that case went on to become ministers in Bajuk’s government which in August 2000, just months before elections took the position that Slovenia doesn’t have a legal electoral system and that elections should be postponed until a new system is passed by the parliament as per the court’s ruling.

Postponing elections is, of course, a big no-no in a parliamentary democracy, doubly so if they were to be postponed not until a given date but until a (legislative) benchmark is reached. What if it is never reached? During those few weeks Slovenia was on the brink of suspending parliamentary democracy. However, the political and legal minefields were navigated successfully, as the parliament took a position opposite that of the government and amended the constitution and wrote basics of the electoral system into it, thus circumventing the Constitutional Court as well as preventing the possibility of anyone else getting the idea of claiming that it is legally impossible to hold elections.

The schism

The rift between the parliament and the government, although both were ran by the same right-wing coalition proved to be too much for the newly-merged SLS+SKD (as the new party was unoriginally called) and late in 2000 a splinter group comprised of senior Christian Democrats established Nova Slovenija (NSi) and elected Andrej Bajuk as their leader. Contrary to some expectations the new party, although leaving much membership and infrastructure with the SLS+SKD, made it to the parliament with as much as eight percent of the vote.

From strength to strength to final defeat

Things were going just great for Bajuk and the NSi. Having spent four relatively comfortable years in the opposition and making their stand on a variety of issues, including (but not limited to) first forays into what a decade later was to become the great Family Code debate, the party scored a surprising victory in the 2004 European elections where it won most of the proportional vote. Despite the victory, the party won only two MEP seats (SDS and LDS won two as well, despite finishing second and third respectively), but for Bajuk it was killing two birds with one stone. His party made a showing that would serve it for years to come and he got ‘rid’ of Lojze Peterle, his main rival to Brussels.

Later in that year Andrej Bajuk returned to the government, this time as finance minister and leader of the junior coalition member. His record is mixed. He was in office at the time Slovenia adopted the euro and was officially the first person to withdraw common European currency from a Slovenian cash dispenser. Additionally, he did in fact run the portfolio at the height of Slovene economic expansion but it remains debatable how much of the expansion was due to his, his party’s and his government’s policies and how much was simply due to going with the flow of the pre-crash casino capitalism. Conversely – and with hindsight – he did precious little to cool down the overheated economy.

No maverick

That is not to say, however, that he did not leave a mark. Reportedly, his obstinante refusal to sell the largest state owned bank Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) resulted in Jože P. Damijan quitting as minister for development after only 91 days in office, a record that is yet to be broken. Also, Bajuk was wary of introducing flat-rate tax, a cause championed by Janša and his neo-liberal economic advisors (Damijan being among them). He formed an ad hoc group headed by Marko Kranjec (who would later become the Governor of the Bank on Slovenia) and which proposed a simplified-but-still-progressive tax system as well as reducing taxes on profits and other tweaks of the Tax Code. The final result was much closer to Kranjc’s proposal to what Damjan wanted, so Bajuk can be (co-)credited with thwarting a project which would most likely send Slovenia down the drain the moment The Great Recession finally struck.

One of his pet projects was also blowing a hole in the seemingly unbreakable bond between SLS (the other coalition partner, which by then had already reverted from SLS+SKD back to its old acronym) and DARS (state-owned motorways company). The latter was widely seen to have been SLS’ turf with people flowing almost freely between the party (more exactly, the transportation ministry the party traditionally held), DARS and several big consctruction companies, most of them now gone bust as the crisis took the construction sector with it.

However, on the whole Bajuk was not a political maverick. It was intimated to pengovsky that he more often than not saw Janša as his boss rather than a partner and acted accordingly. Obviously this did not win him a lot of friends either within the party or without and opposition within ranks was mounting. By the time 2008 elections were nearing it was plainly obvious that Janša was moving to dominate the entire right wing, mostly at the expense of SLS and NSi. The former barely escaped the trap Janša had set for them and made it to the parliament, while the NSi was not so fortunate and did not pass the 4-percent treshold. Whether Andrej Bajuk did not see what was going on or was unable to do anything about it is still a matter of some debate, but after the elections results came in on election Sunday in September 2008, Bajuk did not try to cling to his chair and bid for time but did the honourable thing and announced his resignation as party chief immediate, visibly shaken at being demoted to the status of a political has-been in a matter of minutes.


On a more personal note and not so much in line with a would-be obit, I must say that pengovsky found Andrej Bajuk to be a generally agreeable person. True, he had his share of blunders and transgressions, one of them being his losing temper with a reporter for TV Slovenia who as a result was removed from covering business stories. But on the whole Andrej Bajuk was a joyful person and despite the fact that pengovsky did not agree with him ideologically and on many policy issues I can say that his politics was more or less consitent and that he was generally fun to be around.

Andrej Bajuk died aged 67.

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A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Hollywood is laden with epic “I quit” scenes, with pengovsky’s favourite still being the one in The American Beauty. But the cesspool that is the Slovenian political landscape can occasionally offer a gem or two regarding the style in which someone tells someone else to “take this job and… fill it!”, to put in the words of Abe Simpson

Gregor Golobič and Zares exit the coalition (original image here)

A moment like this occurred yesterday when Zares of Gregor Golobič officially quit the ruling coalition, leaving PM Borut Pahor to his own devices, with LDS leader Katarina Kresal by his side (for the moment, at least). Ever since Zares issued what for all intents and purposes was an ultimatum for a radical cabinet reshuffle, lest the party quits the coalition toute-de-suite, the PM either did not understand the message or thought Golobič was bluffing and did nothing which lead the three remaining minsiters of Zares to quit their posts. Thus Darja Radić, Majda Širca and Irma Pavlinič Krebs followed the example of Gregor Golobič who resigned his ministerial post on the eve of the super-referendum Sunday.

The Letter

To top it off – and probably to make sure that there is no doubt about who if the dumper and who the dumpee in this case – Golobič sent a rather longish letter to Pahor and Kresal, outlining the reasons for Zares taking the plunge. He puts the blame squarely on the PM, accusing him of being unable to rein in special interests and bad practices which this government promised to uproot but failed to do so, thus (says Golobič) affirming and continuing misdeeds of the government of Janez Janša. He specifically cites cases of Patria APCs (Janša in scheduled to stand trial over allegations of bribery and abuse of power over that one) where the government failed to take decisive action. Ditto for the case of Šoštanj coal power plant where the stand-off between Zares and Social Democrats was further complicated by a conflict between local and national interests and which caused a lot of bad blood within Zares as well, provoking open confrontation between Golobič on one side and Matej Lahovnik (former minister of economy) and Cveta Zalokar Oražem (former MP for the party) on the other. Neither Lahovnik nor Zalokar Oražem are party members any longer. And although he doesn’t mention it specifically, the list could be expanded to include the LDS-led fiasco with Draško Veselinovič as the CEO of Nova Ljubljanska Banka, where Katarina Kresal imposed Veselinovič as her man at the helm of Slovenia’s biggest (and state-owned bank) only to see him forced to quit over extending the credit line to Boško Šrot in his failed attempt to take over Laško Brewery (Šrot is standing trial for that one as well).

In other words, the list of grievances is long and distinguished. What is not explicitly mentioned (but is sort of a public secret around here) is the fact that Social Democrats often hijacked Zares’ initiatives, saying that they will gain support in the parliament only if SD is the one who officially introduces them and (by extension) takes the credit. But the real bomb-shell comes in the second part of the letter (Slovene only):

Instead of elementary decisiveness and responsiblity in taking the decisions necessary to ensure the well-being of the country and its citizens and looking for actual not just PR effects, we are increasingly faced with a hyper-production of senseless buzzwords about radars, trains, convoys, ships, throwing in towels and so on, all of which only goes to prove that this particular line of politics has emptied itself and is completely void of ideas.

Golobič then goes on to add

Rejection of our call to reshuffle the cabinet by the PM and leader of the Social Democrats was in our view a short-sighted move, one which opens the door wide open for ascent of the transition right wing with all its properties and effects. We will take no part in this. We do recognise our share of responsibility for the duration of our time in the government. However in the case of scenario which is (knowingly or not) unfolding, we will do no such thing.

In other words, Golobič is saying that Pahor fucked up royally, squandered the chance to make a difference and gave us PR fluff instead, thus rehabilitating the ways of Janez Janša who is already considered the new PM-apparent. Truth be told, Golobič on some other occasions gave credit where credit was due, especially in the case of the Arbitration Agreement and subsequent revolutionary thawing of relations with Croatia, but in terms of internal politics, the letter was about as strong a condemnation as they come.

Pengovsky believes that Golobič might be slightly off as far as ushering in Janša is concerned, but Pahor can take zero credit for that one. The leader of the SDS has crediblity problems of his own, including but not limited to Patria case, fake-grass-roots initiatives to call early election and – curiously enough – strange use of his Twitter account (where pengovsky even played an small and insignificant role).

Barely functioning government

Anyways: as a result, the ruling coalition barely deserves its adjective. The government has only thirty-three votes in a ninety-seat parliament, which makes it practically impossible to govern as the balance of power is now almost completely shifted towards the parliament. There is a gap twelve votes wide and bridging even once would be a political and logistical nightmare. Doing it on a per-vote basis is practically impossible. The government is bleeding as it is and pulling off a stunt like this (and doing it repeatedly) would require inhumane quantities of strength, politicking, horse-dealing and manhandling. It simply can not be done.

Even more so. With four ministers gone, the government is on the verge of being legally defunct. Namely, the Law on government specifies (Article 11) that the government is considered fully empowered if at least two thirds of ministers are appointed (ministers without portfolio notwithstanding). Since there are fifteen full-blooded ministries in this government, Pahor’s government is only two ministers short of being found operationally incapacitated. True, he can temporarily overcome this by assigning a sitting minister to take over another portfolio for a period of no more than six months, but this provision was meant to speed up the formation of the government, not extend the life of a nearly defunct one.

A day late and a dollar short

To put it graphically: when Golobič quit his post of science and higher education minister, PM Pahor entrusted the minister of (primary and secondary) education and sports Igor Lukšič (SD) to take over. He is reportedly poised to take over the ministry of culture as well, while minister of development and European affairs Mitja Gaspari (SD) is rumoured to stand in for Darja Radić in the economy portfolio. By that same token Aleš Zalar (LDS) is rumoured to take over Public Administration ran by Pavlinič Krebs. Given that minister without portfolio tasked with relations with diaspora Boštjan Žekš is already standing in for Henrik Gjerkeš, who was minister without portfolio tasked with local self-government until he quit for driving under the influence, you can see, that this is not even funny any more. Instead it’s bordering on ludicrous. That the government is mulling a reorganisation of the ministries, reducing them in number is just another case of PR spin and alleviating the symptoms rather then administering the cure.

In what is a glimmer of hope, reality seems finally to have caught up with PM Pahor as well, although he came a day late and a dollar short. Word on the street has it that he realised the gravity of the situation just prior to the official celebration of the Statehood Day Friday last and nearly had a melt-down. Whether that is true or not is basically beside the point but it is telling that it was Katarina Kresal who gave the initial reaction to Zares walking out yesterday and that the PM was seen only later in the evening at another official function where he gave a relatively impassioned speech. He is, however, expected to make an announcement regarding the new political reality in the next day or so.

What is this? Afghanistan?!

However, that the leader of the remaining junior coalition party said yesterday was also a relatively ill-conceived attempt at calming an explosive situation. Namely, Katarina Kresal more or less said that what is left of the government will first pick up the pieces, try to pass the remainder of planned legislation and then (this is the important part) work for an orderly transition to early elections, adding that they can’t just drop everything and walk out thus implicitly accusing Zares of doing precisely that. All fine and dandy, it sure as hell ain’t nice being dumped when you’re down and out although – mind you – it is entirely unclear what this will do to Zares’ ratings which leave a lot to be desired as it is.

But the bit about “orderly transition towards early elections” is just plain nonsense (and I’m being kind here, because I kind of like KK). What is this? Iraq? Lybia? Af-fucking-ghanistan?!? Slovenia has no need for “orderly transition” of any kind because save political hard-headedness of the current PM there is nothing that is out of order. Even more so: the constitution clearly provides for exactly these kinds of situation so there is no need to “work towards” anything. The scenario is very simple. If the government falls one way or the other, the sitting ministers and the PM continue in a caretaker role until a new cabinet is appointed. This applies even if the entire cabinet resigns tomorrow. Implying that the world will end if they all just let go is misleading at best. Doubly so since the government is barely functioning as it is.

Calls for early elections are mounting although few of them are genuine. It is a failure by the PM not to be able to tell those which were fake from those which weren’t. The one made by Zares was – well – meant for real.


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Killing Križanič Softly (With His Song)

Finance minister Franci Križanič is on the outs, it seems. Yesterday the Court of Audit released a follow-up report on several issues pertaining to ministry of finance, and in several cases found that no improvement was made and declared a grave dereliction of duty by the ministry and as a result recommended to Prime Minister Borut Pahor to start the demission procedure for minister Križanič.

Franci Križanič, once dubbed minister for optimism (source)

This basically a remake of what was happening to Karl Erjavec of DeSUS a year ago almost to the day. Back then PM Pahor said publicly that he has no choice but to heed to the request of the Court of Audit and this should be the standard course of action from now on. Which puts him in a bit of a tight stop this time around, especially since Franci Križanič is not just anybody but a heavyweight of Pahor’s very own Social Democrats. On the other hand, he is also very accident prone and has had Pahor save his ass publicly on a couple of occasions. Without going into too much detail, the gist of the matter is that in the opinion of the Court of Audit the ministry’s accounts are not up to standard. This is not something new and the auditors first raised hell way back under Janša’s government, when finance portfolio was held by all-but-forgotten Andrej Bajuk and it is safe to say that things go even further back. But the point is that the ministry is now run by Križanič and that things still aren’t in order.

Officially, PM Pahor gave Križanič a week to explain himself and the finance-minister-in-peril already said that he has no intention of resigning. However, this is more or less the same song we’ve heard in case of Erjavec. In fact, rather than being between a rock and a hard place, Pahor might be looking for a remake of that particular hit-single. We’ve seen time and again that a vocal support from the prime minister can soon crumble into sun dust, cases in point being several former ministers. Furthermore, Pahor has the ability to play stupid and claim no hidden agenda to the point of everyone else’s huge embarrassment, usually resulting in other people doing his dirty work. And so far all the signs point to Pahor cutting Križanič loose.

So, why would he do that? First of all, Križanič is about as popular a fetid dingo’s kidney. True, finance ministers tend to get that way, especially during times of economic crisis. But apart from objective reasons, Križanič has has more than his share of fuck-ups. He is also apparently heavily at odds with minister for development Mitja Gaspari who (apart from being former governor of the Bank of Slovenia) once held the post of finance minister so he pretty much knows the turf. But the main issue seems to be the immediate fate of Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) the largest state owned bank, where Križanič supposedly favoured strong state ownership, while Gaspari suppose to be a bit more, well, liberal, in that respect.

And then there’s the inter-party thingie. Križanič is an SD heavyweight, especially powerful within Ljubljana branch of the party. It was some time since Pahor shook up his own party ranks and opposition within the party has built up in the mean time. Križanič represented the more “social” part of Social Democrats and was apparently on good terms with old party hands and also won praise from the party’s youth organisation (not that the latter bears any significance). So what we are witnessing might possibly be described as killing a few stones with one bird, with PM Pahor giving the finger to the opposition within the party as well as getting rid of a minister of mixed fortunes and who just might have outlived his usefulness.

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