Transfer Window

Since the hubbub on the impending #Grexit has, for now at least subsided or – at the very least – morphed into #Agreekment, a short update on the sordid sorry state of Slovenian politics beckons. For it would seem that we have entered the Transfer Window.

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To be honest, what was and still is happening is peanuts compared to the sabre-rattling which occasionally threatened to break up the coalition, mostly along the privatisation fault lines. And although a full-scale political crisis was never a real possibility (not with the current distribution of power, at least), there was enough bad blood accumulated that some sort of a fallout was inevitable. Curiously, however, these tremors are not limited to the government of Miro Cerar only but are, for now at least, equally present in the opposition as well.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-re-rat

The big shocker was the parting of ways between former eternal foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and his political home of the last decade, Janez JanÅ¡a‘s SDS. Rupel, a long-time LDS cadre under DrnovÅ¡ek famously switched sides in 2004 and crossed over to SDS where he continued his diplomatic exploits. After JanÅ¡a 2.0 government was toppled, the man fixed himself a cosy cushion to land on, having the outgoing government appoint him Consul General in Trieste (a prestigious but not all that demanding a position). However, he was axed from the position by his successor at the foreign ministry, one Karl Erjavec, following the letter of the austerity legislation, passed by JanÅ¡a’s government (oh, the irony!) which stipulated that all civil servants over the age of 67 must retire, unless their superior finds a particular use for them. Needless to say Erjavec found no particular use for Rupel.

In fact, even before Teflon Karl started wielding the axe, Rupel and his supposedly coveted black book of contacts have been declining in demand. Which sort of made everyone think the man has finally thrown in the towel and limited himself to lecturing on a faculty of, shall we say, wanting reputation. After all, he clocked in his forty and should be able to enjoy the fruits of his long and illustrious career (give or take). Which is why it came as a complete surprise that he publicly announced his parting ways with the SDS. Quitting the Party is not small potatoes, because it was long assumed that if you in the Party, you in the Party.

Not so for the old fart Dimitrij. The Party, reeling from the massive haemorrhaging of resources to defend the Leader (that be Ivan) from the subversive communist abuse of the judiciary (that be The Patria Affair), just launched its shadow cabinet, a.k.a. SDS Council of Experts. Now, Rupel was apparently aiming at chairing the Foreign Policy Committee, but was passed over for Milan Zver MEP. This infuriated Dimitrij to the point of packing his shit up and leaving. He claims he was being punished for a recent interview in Reporter magazine where he (let’s be honest) failed to praise the Leader and swear to his infallibility. Instead, not only did Rupel had the guts to speculate on the post-JanÅ¡a future of the political right, he even had the balls to state that there was, in fact, a period in Slovenian history where Milan Kučan (JanÅ¡a’s arch-enemy) played a positive role. The nerve!

However, one could be excused for not entirely buying into Rupel’s self-righteousness. He is probably the only politico in this country which could possibly lay claim to have done a proper Churchill. Because anyone can rat. But it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat. Which is exactly what Rupel has done vis-a-vis JanÅ¡a, parting ways in 1994, only to rejoin JanÅ¡a in 2004 and now, another decade or so later, parting ways yet again. The conclusion here is simple: if Rupel is in search of a new political master (possibly Miro Cerar’s SMC), then the SDS is indeed in deep trouble since Rupel, one of the great survivors of Slovenian politics, apparently sees no further use for it. And parties which Rupel discarded himself of as un-prospective soon turned out to be politically marginalised and – ultimately – dead. Case in point every of his previous political dwellings: Slovene Democratic Union (SDZ), Demokrati Slovenije (DS), the once-mighty LDS and now SDS.

If political bellwethers such as Rupel are anything to go by, then the SDS should start worrying. However, one should not have high hopes for the SDS to change course any time soon. In fact, regardless of some pretty obvious intra-party opposition, the party proper is by and large committed to its president, increasingly creating a universe of its own and interacting with the reality the rest of us are experiencing only when need be. And before either of the two readers of this blog start pointing out the @prenovljenaSDS (reformed SDS) Twitter account it should be noted that the account might just as well be a ploy of JanÅ¡a to see who follows the account and thus single out the descenders within his ranks. Just sayin’ 😉

Tr00 fans only

Not that the SDS is overly concerned, it seems. Because, although they’ve lost Rupel, they’ve gained (for all intents and purposes) AleÅ¡ Hojs, nominally one of the VPs of the ChristDem NSi, but in reality a tr00 JJ fan. Namely, after the NSi declined to join SDS shadow cabinet, continuing on their own course (an approach which served them well ever since they found their spine a couple of years ago), they poached Hojs and co-opted him as shadow defence minister, thereby sticking a wedge in both NSi leadership as well as rank and file where Hojs does have a certain amount of clout.

The NSi is, for the time being, choosing to ignore the issue and Hojs nominally still remains a member of the NSi senior structure, but they will have to get rid of him expeditiously. The bad blood between the former S/M partners of the political right keeps on accumulating and the NSi with its new-found confidence and a couple of policy scoops under its belt (notably, the recently passed law on post-WWII grave-sites) will not be able to tolerate in-party insubordination and impunity.

Bruised egos

But such solo acts can last surprisingly long. Case in point being Bojan DobovÅ¡ek, until recently an MP for SMC of Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Namely, DobovÅ¡ek quit the party months ago, citing “continuing old practices” in filing governmental positions, hinting and cronyism and corruption. But you could not be blamed for thinking DobovÅ¡ek was – not unlike Rupel – sore for being looked over when booty was split. In this case, he was widely tipped to become the minister of interior.¸But the spot went to Vesna Györkös Žnidar, while DobovÅ¡ek quit the party but remained a member of the SMC parliamentary group. Which is technically legal, most unhygienic and sure to generate a lot of media attention. If you catch my meaning.

However, about two weeks ago Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group as well, thereby changing the internal relations within the coalition. Because with him gone, the Social democrats, most junior of coalition partners suddenly started to make a difference, as they provided the votes necessary for the coalition to claim a majority. While Dobovšek was on-board, the SMC and DeSUS themselves had 46 votes with SD more or less simply providing the body-count.

But with the man gone, SD leader Dejan Židan started boasting how the party will now claim its rightful spot, prompting DeSUS main honcho Karl Erjavec to tell Židan to get off that horse and not get ahead of himself. At that time it seemed as if Teflon Karl is (finally) suffering from a case of bruised ego. Little did we know the old trickster was about to do some political poaching of his won. Late last week Peter Vilfan of Alenka BratuÅ¡ek’s ZaAB announced he is switching allegiances and crossing over to DeSUS.

Transfer window

Vilfan, former professional basketball player (hence the title of the post) started out as an unlikely politician in Ljubljana city council, first elected in 2005 on the coat-tails of Zoran Janković’s sweeping mayoral victory and then – in similar vein – to the parliament in 2011. He quit the city council in February 2014, officially due to corruption charges against Janković, but was rumoured to have ulterior motives in a real-estate deal that a city council vote on a news zoning plan about that time would enable and wanted to avoid unseemly appearances.

Anyhow, Vilfan resigned as MP a couple of months later as well. He was involved in a traffic accident, hitting a pedestrian with his car and was a DUI suspect. To his credit Vilfan did not try to skirt the issue but quit almost immediately and paid the hurt senior citizen a visit in the hospital. Luckily, the victim only suffered a broken arm and a lab analysis showed Vilfan was not intoxicated while driving. In a sense he kept to a standard of political hygiene that one would expect from a representative of the people. Which, sadly, is news in Slovenia. But it probably also helped Vilfan get re-elected in 2014 snap elections as one of four MPs of Alenka BratuÅ¡ek’s fledgling party ZaAB, which splintered off from Jankovič’s Positive Slovenia. But soon after AB’s failed Euro-bid, things went south there as well, culminating for now in Vilfan switching teams.

Adding insult to injury, DeSUS not only picked up an MP, bringing their total to eleven, they also again marginalised the SD, giving enough votes to PM Miro Cerar to marginalize the most junior coalition partner and – not to be overlooked – being able to drive an even harder bargain protecting their particular interests in an already sluggish privatisation process.

Now, it seems plausible that Vilfan jumping ship on BratuÅ¡ek will start an exodus from the party group. Well, exodus might be overreaching a word since after Vilfan’s departure the ZaAB party group is down to three MPs, a minimum required to actually be a parliamentary party group rather than just a set of independent MPs and enjoy the perks that come with it, such as participation in committee memberships.

Exodus

But the point is that remaining ZaAB MPs may well be on the market as well. Save former PM Alenka BratuÅ¡ek herself, although given the egotistical lows she performed after successfully bringing the country from the brink in 2013, it is not entirely inconceivable she’d quit her own party group, too. But that’s just pengovsky being evil. More realistically, rumour has it that Mirjam Bon Klanjšček is to follow in Vilfan’s footsteps and make DeSUS male/female ratio look better come Autumn, the big question is just what exactly will Jani Möderndorfer do.

The man with a plan, the other great survivor of Slovenian politics, he hasn’t placed a bad political bet in his life. At the very least ever since he helped start a rift in the Ljubljana section of LDS in 2002 which ultimately led to the party breaking up and emergence of Zares (of which he, ultimately, was not a member). He then stuck with Janković all the way to the parliamentary elections in 2011, emerging as leader of the largest parliamentary group. But when things came to a head within the party in 2014 and Janković came to collect, Möderndorfer chose PM BratuÅ¡ek over Janković. Wisely so, it transpired, since Janković’s Positive Slovenia proper did not make it above the 4-percent threshold in 2014 elections, while BratuÅ¡ek’s ZaAB did, just barely.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see if M̦derndorfer jumps ship as well or will he go down with it for the first time. From where he stands, both are equally legitimate. The interesting part is that he now faces a dilemma not dissimilar to that of Dimitrij Rupel: does he quit politics and gets a job (he is, among other things, a certified sign-language interpreter), or does he make another leap, possibly finding himself on the same boat as Rupel Рas a member of the SMC.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.

The Week You Wouldn’t Trade Places With Zoran Janković for All The Farms In Cuba

To say that last week was bad for Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković is a gross understatement. The truth is it was just south of a disaster, a shambolic series of events which probably hasn’t ended yet and will one way or another have serious repercussions down the road.

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Worried (photo: TheFirmâ„¢)

It started with the National Investigation Bureau (NPU) filing an indictment against several people including the mayor over the Stožice sports complex affair, sixteen months after the cops raided Janković’s home and office. The case seems to have focused on what the NPU believes was a false contract between Sport Ljubljana (a city-owned institute running all sport facilities) and GREP, the Stožice developer. The contract, the cops claim, was signed only to give the appearance of GREP making it appear as if it had secured enough lease contracts for a consortium of banks to approve a 150 million loan for the project.

The loan, albeit topping at 115 million was indeed granted, the project went tits up financially with retail part being only half-finished (the stadium and arena are fully functional) and all hell breaking loose some weeks ago when the NPU raided the house of defence minister Roman Jakič who signed the contract in question, having headed Sport Ljubljana at the time. Jakič, too, was indicted and had maintained he will resign, should the court accept the indictment as valid. Jay-Z, on the other hand, intends to do no such thing. Not yet, anyhow.

But only a day later he lost another legal battle (well, the city did). A developer sued the city, claiming it had sold him land that wasn’t municipal to begin with. Some months ago both the NPU and the developer filed charges against Janković, but the court’s decision to invalidate the sale gives quite a bit of impetus to the whole thing. The immediate effect being the city will have to return a million euros it got from the now sale, as for the rest, time will tell. Ad then, just to top it off, Thursday last the cops descended upon the City Hall yet again, this time apparently investigating the much-advertised quid-pro-quo approach Janković employs running the city. Namely, he maintained from day one of assuming office that companies operating in the city and making a profit should give something back to the city. And so donations started pouring in. But while the NPU has no proof that donations went to places other than city coffers (NPU head Majhenič said do the other day), it was the manner in which donations were allegedly secured that bothers the cops.

Namely, the mayor is under suspicion of tying these donations directly to big city contracts, awarding them to the company which promised to give more back to the city. In this, Janković claims no wrong-doing and viciously defends his approach. And indeed it seems as if the cops and the prosecution will have a hard time arguing their case on this issue. Corruption and bribery as criminal act is notoriously hard to prove and in this case the beneficiary of the “pay-offs” is apparently not an individual but the community. But, pengovsky is told, it is the alleged act of bribery that counts, not to whom the pay-off was made. Anyways, point is Janković is in a pretty substantial heap of manure right now and will have to spend a considerable amount of energy and resources to deal with it.

Especially before the upcoming municipal elections this autumn. Which is why a theory was floated early on that the repeated visits by the local FBI are a form of not so gentle a hint to let it go and slowly fade out of the picture. The only problem is Janković doesn’t take hints. What is more plausible is that NPU felt they finally have enough to move on and are now fishing around for more things that might stick on the proverbially Teflon-skinned mayor. It all comes at a very awkward time for Zoki who is due to announce his decision on whether to run for mayor for the third full term (bur for the fourth time as he got elected twice last time around).

The big announcement is scheduled for 9 May, Liberation day, when the City Council meets for a special session to celebrate the city’s single most important anniversary. The drama and flair suggest a monumental decision although Janković stubbornly refuses to give so much as a hint on which way he’s leaning. Even more, he’s apparently actively giving mixed signals – preparing the groundwork for a record third term and yet being completely unenthusiastic, even bored with the very idea.

Because the outside signs are there. The 2014 city budget was increased 40% with respect to 2013 results, a shitload of infrastructure projects are planned and – as if learned a lesson with Stožice – most of those are city-financed, not some form of public-private partnership. A lot of other things, too, bear hallmarks of impending re-election bid. For example, plumbing is being constructed in a remote part of Ljubljana, which has been screaming for it for over three decades. New buses are on the shopping list. Stuff mayors do when elections approach. And yet, there seems to be precious little flair left. It wasn’t just regular visits by the cops. Positive Slovenia, the party which he formed almost single-handedly, has all but thrown him under the bus. Minister in the BratuÅ¡ek administration considered close to Janković are being replaced one by one. Prominent MPs considered from his stock are either evasive, deserting him or facing their own investigations. Renata Brunskole and Matjaž ZanoÅ¡kar being examples of the latter two. And to top it off, the “interim” Positive Slovenia leadership just signed the party up for ALDE membership in EU politics, linking it with the liberal camp, while Janković wanted the party to join the S&D, the so called Socialist Internationale.

Thus it was as much a recognition of the fact that he was effectively muscled out of his own party as it was pure bitterness when he said the other day he’d never consider forming yet another party. Which begs the question in what form will he enter the race for the third term at the helm of the city (presuming he does indeed decide to run and that the indictment is either thrown out or the court doesn’t rule on it yet). Technically, the city council has no Positive Slovenia councilmen as all of Janković’s majority in the council was elected on the Zoran Janković List (LZJ) in 2010 and there’s no reason why Jay-Z couldn’t do it again. Provided (again) things on the legal front don’t deteriorate further for him.

And although much of the panache is gone, the re-election of Zoran Janković is not as much a question of his “fitness for office” as it is the question of the opposition coming up with at least one credible candidate. Everything until now was more or less a joke with NSi‘s Mojca Kucler Dolinar being the most serious of generally laughable candidates for mayor in the past eight years. It will also be fun to see whether the PS will run their own candidate, against Janković. With this being the capital and all, it would be only fitting for the largest party in the parliament to come up with a credible candidate for mayor. But then again, even if their man/woman loses they’d have opened another bitter dispute with Janković.

All in all, as far as Ljubljana mayor is considered, his is a pretty shaky position right now and you wouldn’t want to trade places with him for all the farms in Cuba. Strengthening it will require time, but it’s not like he could whistle on his way home.

UPDATE, 19 FEB: Well, turns out Jay-Z’s woes are not nearly over. Today’s Delo reports (Slovene only) Peter Vilfan resigned as city councilman for LZJ. Vilfan, a former basketball star is also MP for Positive Slovenia and his resignation is no small matter in this respect (talk about MPs distancing themselves from Zoki). Namely, Vilfan said that despite his belief that Janković is a) innocent and b) the best mayor Ljubljana ever had, the prime reason for his resignation are mayor’s mounting legal problems with the added bonus being the fantastically fruitless debates in the city council.

Well, while Vilfan put himself in the classical foot-in-mouth position (If he believes Janković is innocent of the charges, why resign?), he is at least correct on the last count 😉