Invitation-Only Public Debate

Janko Veber, the freshly minted president of the parliament today called what is known around here as a ‘public debate’, a meeting between representatives of the parliament, legal experts and general public. Topic: referendum legislation. But rather than focusing on the topic itself, which is delicate enough, Veber (SocDems) provided us with one of the most despicable, perverted and blatant displays of arrogance. Of himself, his party and the political elite he as president of the parliament represents both symbolically and in practice.

Janko Veber (source)

Namely, six months after the people in the street made their dissatisfaction with the people who run the country plainly obvious, Veber set out to organise an “invitation only public debate”. And oh, the irony, the event was to be closed for public. After all hell broke loose, Veber opened the debate for general public, but the guest list remained unchanged. And what a list it was….

Knowingly or not, when picking the participants, Veber almost completely ignored the protest movement, inviting only Uroš Lubej. Granted, he was the first person to lend a face to the movement, but he doesn’t represent the entire movement nor did he ever claim that to be the case. On the other hand, the president of the parliament saw it fit to hand-pick the gay-bashing anti-same-sex-marriage firebrand preacher Aleš Primc who successfully shot down the family code a year ago (with a little help of the political right and the Roman Catholic Church).

And as if that wasn’t enough (for all his astroturfiness, Primc does have a legitimate interest in the issue), Janko Veber, the no. 2 person in the hierarchy of the country invited representatives of several (note the plural!) right-wing nationalist groups. These included Blaž Babič, a rabid opponent of Pahor-Kosor deal and a fervent commentator on this blog at one time, Ladislav “The singing major” Troha, a retired major of the Slovene Army and leader of a conspiracy-theory-happy movement OPS as well as Andrej Šiško of Hervardi, an openly nationalistic group, a guy who did time for attempted murder and made news when he threatened to call a referendum on Croatian NATO entry.

Now, one is tempted to say the stunt Veber pulled today was a fluke. That is was only the zillionth proof of the political elite either not having the foggiest or not giving a fuck (or both) about what sent the people of this nation to the streets. One is also tempted to say that Veber was actually only paying lip-service to the notion of “direct democracy”, using today’s event as an exuse to claim “the general public was part of the debate” down the road. And one is tempted to say the only criteria against which the guest list was composed was loudness. As in whoever made themselves heard in the past, got an invite today.

However, there is a more ugly side to this story. While we make fun of them, the likes of Primc, Šiško, Babič et consortes, representing the reactionary fringe of this society, get invited to the parliament to speak on behalf of the people. I mean, for fuck’s sake, how did we get here? Since when do these insignificunts get to be on stage, front-and-centre and have a say in, well, anything?

Since recently, as it happens. Case in point being the incident at the beginning of pengovsky-era, when the Strojans, a Roma family, were run out of village of Ambrus by an angry mob, prompting some well-aimed police brutality and a general outburst of good old racism. Sadly, this included Janko Veber, at the time mayor of Kočevje municipality, who went on live radio, calling the townsfolk to the barricades should the government attemptd to re-locate the Strojan family into the area. Not very social-democratic of him, no?

Fast forward a couple of years and then-PM Borut Pahor was trying to prevent a referendum on Croatian NATO entry, initiated by a little known “patriotic” group Hervardi. They claimed to have gathered the necessary signatures to put the ratification process on hold and possibly cause a major international embarrassment. PM Pahor went above and beyond the call of duty trying to persuade them to drop the subject. Unsuccessfully. And unsurprisingly so. Andrej Šiško was in fact paroled out of prison to meet Pahor and it was obvious from the start that a fringe group which got the attention of mainstream media will not stop doing the very thing that got it the (undeserved) attention in the first place.

So, on one hand we have a man who once lost no time in issuing a racist call to barricades and on the other we have a man who through his actions made a group of nationalist illegitimate-faced bugger-folk a part of mainstream politics. These men belong to Social Democrats, a supposedly left-wing party. Today, these men are President of the Parliament and President of the Republic, second and first person in the hierarchy of the country, respectively.

Pray to whatever god you believe in these were only shows of glaring incompetence. Otherwise we are truly fucked.


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Not Everybody Gets To Be An Astronaut When They Grow Up (A Few Notes on Borut Pahor)

On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.

Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)

Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.

Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…

First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.

Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.

Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….

Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.

Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).

Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.

And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.

Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).

In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…

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