Referendum on the Family Code: Aftermath

The result of Sunday’s referendum on the Family Code left many people disappointed. Also, it left many people happy, especially those who felt that the supporters of YES campaign (including yours truly) were annoying little pains in the asses. But be that as it may, the rejection of the Family Code with a 54% against vote does have a couple of very serious rammifications.

First and foremost it’s the fact that children who live in same sex families still have only one “legal” parent, whereas their non-biological parent has zero legal relation to the child. True, there are ways around that, but that’s courts recognising legal loop-holes and not having a straight-up legislative solution. Secondly, a wholesome legislation regulating all types of partnership remains a distant prospect. And when I say distant, I mean it literally. Before 2012, the last time the parliament was about to vote on same-sex marriage and rights (although not as comprehensive a law as the Family Code) was way back in 2004. which means that at this pace, the next time Slovenia will decide on this issue will be 2020. Just lovely. :/

On the upside, however, even though the Code was rejected, the debate surrounding it, sour as it was, did plenty of good. This was the first time for a lot of peolpe to learn that so called “rainbow families” do in fact exist and that their lives are in every way similar to those of “traditional families” except for a set of really painful and awkward complications, such as the non-biological parent being unable to take sick-leave to tend the child.

So, why was the Code rejected, despite the last poll projecting otherwise? A lot of attempts at explaining it were given: that it was a case of slacktivism; that people don’t give a fuck; that the NO campaign mounted a last-ditch attempt and succeeded; that their lies simply paid off. Well. pengovsky’s take on thing is that for the general population this was a lot to take in as it were. No matter how tollerant people claim to be, they tend to be wary of people who are “different”, especially in an area as intimate as family relations. But even if you cross that brige, you stil have to have the people make a combination of a rational and emotional decision to cast a YES vote. And this is where things ground to a halt in my opinion. Most people were simply unable to make an emotional connection to the kinds of situations the Family Code provided for, even though they may have been able to rationalise into accepting it.

It would therefore be very benefitial if the effect of the YES campaign would go beyond just bringing out (too little of a) vote. If the momentum of raising and maintaining awarenes is kept, then the whole thing probably was not in vain. If, however, NGOs and other progressive groups which came together on this issue are again scattered wide apart, then… well… cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war… for the backlash of the conservative side will be fast and furious. This wasn’t just about gays and their children. It was about the society as a whole, whether it would continue in a more tolerant way or if it will start sliding back into ages past. On this issue status quo is simply not possible.

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Constitutional Court OKs Referendum on Family Code

The day many have dreaded, finally arrived: pengovsky is blogging again… 😉  No, seriously, this is bad news. The Constitutional Court finally ruled on the bid to disallow the referendum on the recently passed Family Code which – among other things – allowed same-sex weddings and adoption. In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided to allow the referendum bid to continue as potential defeat of the new code on the referendum would not create an unconstitutional situation.


Constitutional judges, an archive photo (source)

Obviously, all hell broke loose on the internets. The question of same-sex marriages and adoption is one of tolerance, diversity and general advance of civilisation. It is also a question of the general principle of rights of a minority being decided by a majority. Indeed, the debate on the issue in Slovenia is no different than anywhere else in the world. Or, if it is different, it’s only even more primitive, supremacist and laden with flawed reasoning and common sense, based on the elusive notion of “natural laws”. In short: the question at hand is why on earth should the majority decide on how and why should people love each other and have a family.

What the fuck happened?

On the other hand, we have the rule of law, the notion that constitutional rights can be executed under (more or less) the same standard and that all people will be treated more or less equally in similar legal situations. In this case, the question at hand was whether the referendum on the Family Code should be allowed or not. And the only way the court would ban the said referendum was for the government (which initiated took the case to the court) to show that the success of the referendum bid (i.e.: the rejection of the Family Code) would create unconstitutional consequences. It failed to do so.

It is all painfully simple, actually: What we had here, was not the question of a majority deciding on the rights of a minority. The legal right of same sex couples to marry and adopt children does not yet exist. One could argue that same sex couples have this right per se, but in terms of legal definitions, these rights are yet to be established when (if) the new Family Code comes into force. It is these future rights which were pitted against the existing constitutional right of the people to have a referendum on (almost) any given issue, provided they collect 40.000 signatures.

The catch

And ever since the whole question boiled down to this dilemma, the decision was more or less a foregone conclusion. Even more so, when it transpired (pengovsky failed to notice this) that the new code were to come into force a year after it would be published in the Official Gazette. Why this provision was put into the legislation in the first place, is beyond me. But fact of the matter is that a rejection of the law on a referendum only means that the parliament can not pass the same decision within a year. So, the government shot down its only potentially valid argument, because even if a “no” vote would somehow create an unconstitutional situation, it would only do so for a year. A year in which the provisions of the Family Code would not be operative one way of the other.

Furthermore, since the rights of same-sex couples to marry and adopt children were yet to be established, whereas the right to a referendum already exists, it is against the concept of the rule of law to suppress an existing right in order to establish a new one. Yes, this one is counter-intuitive, especially if – as the theme goes – all men and women are created equal and other than sheer narrow-mindedness, stubborn traditionalism and homophobia there is no reason why same-sex couples should not enjoy absolutely equal rights than their heterosexual counterparts. In fact, one could argue that the Family Code as a whole resolved an inherently unconstitutional situation, where same-sex couples were denied equal rights. But no one did that. Instead the government argued that a potential rejection of the Family Code would create (and not perpetuate) an unconstitutional situation. An even if it claimed “perpetuation”, the government would probably be overruled, as – technically – under certain circumstances, the court can allow same-sex adoptions under existing legislation.

Justice vs. Rule of law

Make no mistake. The backlash will be ominous. The “no” campaign spearheaded by Aleš Primc and his band of homphobic astroturf twats will naturally claim that this proves them right all the way and that the Family Code was declared unconstitutional. Various gods will be praised (for it was not only the Catholic Church which went against the Family Code. Luteran and Muslim clerics pitched in their two cents as well), politicians will once again take to the barricades of the clash of cultures and in terms of rhetoric we’ll be back in Medieval times before you know it.

But as long as we – as a society – adhere to the rule of law as the basic principle which governs interactions of our various rights, this is it. We may be unhappy about it (I sure am), but calling Constitutional Court names for upholding the rule of law (rather than bending it, as it – this must be said – did a couple of times), will get us nowhere.

Very recently, just prior to elections, the political right wing spearheaded by Janez Janša‘s SDS tried to differentiate between justice and the rule of all. In this, it came dangerously close to ideologies of various white supremacist groups in Slovenia (pengovsky has yet to write this up). At that a lot of people – yours truly included – went out on a limb to show just how dangerous and destructive a sentiment this was. And yet, here we are, a month or so later, with the more fervent elements of the left wing doing almost exactly the same. Just because you (me, we, whathaveyou) don’t like the decision of the court, it does not mean that it is inherently wrong. It’s just not what we would like it to be. Period.

Now what?

True, the institutions of the state are there primarily to protect the weak from the strong. In the big picture the weak got the short end of the stick this time around. But there are ways to go around this (albeit huge) setback. One is to change the constitution. This has been done before. Another way is to do your abso-fucking-lutely everything to help the legislation survive the referendum vote in the face of terrible odds. This, too, has been done before.

P.S.: I hate to be an I-told-you-so, but… I did tell you so…

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Pension Reform Awaits Landmark Ruling And/Or Referendum

I know this is starting to look a bit like Groundhog Day, but I’m afraid it cannot be helped. As of tomorrow Slovene labour unions led by Dušan Semolič will be collecting 40 000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum on the recently passed pension reform.


Wars are not won in the battlefields but in the temples – Sun Tzu (Constitutional court, source)

So we will have not one but two referendum bids, the other one trying to kill the law on menial work. While both laws are a part of “reform legislation” the pension reform is obviously crucial, which is why the government is doing everything in its power to impede this latest referendum. And with good reason too, as the unions made it abundantly clear that they will draw no punches in this fight. As a result both sides are now tangled into a complicated multi-sided tug-of-war where a whole lot of players who have their own agendas might get sacrificed as pawns in a much larger game called The Relative Stability of Public Finances.

In fact it is quite possible that some sacrifices have already been made. The one thing PM Borut Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik must avoid at all cost is to make the referendum on pension reform a referendum on the current government. Which is precisely what labour unions leaders are aiming to do. Should the succeed, the pension reform would be as good as dead, especially with the government’s popularity points being at an all-time low, barely reaching mid-20s.

So it seems (and I am being cynical here) that plan B, which is being implemented just in case, is to make the people vent as much anger as possible before the referendum on pension reform comes up and possibly make proponents of the referendum look bad for wanting the referendum in the first place. Case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia which PM Pahor basically fore-fitted and left minister of culture Majda Širca to fight her own battle. The same might very well go for the referendum on law on menial work, especially since both referendums will – should the proponents collect the necessary signatures – be probably held only a week apart, with a vote on menial work first and pension reform second, by which time the voters just might have vented enough. Combined with an effective PR onslaught the government might just barely make it.

So, this looks like plan B (if it exists at all, that is). What’s plan A? Not having a referendum in the first place.

Namely, the government has asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the referendum on pension reform is constitutional in the first place. The argument goes along the line of pension reform being necessary if Article 50 of the Constitution (the right to social security). In other words, if the pension reform is nixed on the referendum, then the state cannot fulfil its welfare role any longer, hence an unconstitutional situation would occur. Additionally, the state will also try to argue that the pension reform is a question of state budged, as the law on referendums prevents holding a referendum on several issues, one of them being the budget.

Obviously the unions will claim the above is not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys, despite the fact that they will be told that the government increased the minimum wage when crisis struck for real and that it should be the unions who should compromise this time around.

Can the government pull it off? Unknown. This will be a landmark decision by the Constitutional court. Should it side with the government, this will really take the wind out of unions’ sails and pave the way for a speedy adoption of the rest of the reform package (or whatever is left of it). On the other hand, should the court deny the government and the referendum goes fort, then the government is back to plan B (insofar it even exists) and then hope that people will vote against their instincts and support the pension reform.

And while we’re on the issue, many people – including some whose opinion pengovsky values – think that the reform, such as it was passed is not really a reform. Which is probably true. What we have here is a very watered down version of the original proposal which probably ensures solvency of the pension fund for the next decade or so (that’s two-and-a-half terms) and then the whole thing will start all over again. But maybe combined with everything else, this might give this country just enough of a kick to eschew falling down. Whether this will be enough to break the gravity pull and go for the stars? Well, things and projects are brewing, but they have little to do with welfare state. That’s more of a innovation thing.

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Referendum On The Law On Menial Work: A Case Of Assisted Suicide

As of yesterday the Student organisation of Slovenia is collecting 40 000 signatures needed to hold a referendum on the recently passed Law on Menial Work. Yes, another referendum is looming, the second in as many months and god-knows-which in the entire history of this country. This is the same law that sent students (and pupils) to streets on 19 May last year and produced the final proof that on the whole they are a bunch of irresponsible brats who generally can’t tell their ass-hole from from their ear-hole. Case in point being the said referendum which is a) un-fucking-believable and b) stupid.


Student protests gone sour in May 2010 (source: the Firm™)

Starting with a) I’m amazed at how leaders of the student organisation have the balls to do anything but sit quietly in the corner and do as they’re told. I mean, whatever clout they had with the “grown-up” politics and the general public, they’ve lost it last May as far as I’m concerned. There you have an organisation and its various branches and dependencies with combined yearly budgets of about 16 million euro (no, it’s not a mistake), there’s no real oversight and almost zero consequences in case of any wrongdoing. But then a demo goes bad and rather than trying to contain the situation they split the scene and blame everyone else. So much for responsibility and cojones. And yet, once the dust is settled and miraculously no one is even forced to resign (let alone charged with endangering public safety or something like that) those very same people go for a referendum? What is this? Some kind of a Vaudeville act?

But it does not stop there. Not only is this latest referendum bid (while perfectly legal) very dicey from an ethical point of view. It is also b) one of the more shining examples of shooting oneself in the knee we’ve witnessed in the past year or so. And with that in mind it is little wonder that the student organisation enlisted help of labour unions. Hey, why fuck yourself when you can get ass-rammed by others and be treated to a dirty sanchez.

Namely: The law on menial work (malo delo, link in Slovene only) will largely overhaul student work in Slovenia which has in recent years become more or less the only form of employing young people, especially in the private sector. The problem, which soon became common to tens of thousands of young people was, that despite having worked more or less full time for years on end, this did not officially count as experience, nor did it add towards their retirement age. Since the state paid for student’s social security, the pension fund was none better off and therefore student officially had zero years of working experience. And since most companies required at lest a couple of years’ experience even for entry-level jobs, you can see where this leads to: one big vicious circle, where young people can’t get a job, as a result can’t get regular income, as a result of that they can’t get a loan with the bank and are thus unable to gain any firm footing of their own, creating the unhealthy environment of ever longer stays at mama-hotels.

That labour unions are assisting the student organisation in their self-destructive enterprise is a deviously Machiavellian act which is aimed at maintaining the status quo, i.e.: keeping the students at bay, obstructing their entry into the real labour market as much as possible. In other words – while the student organisation is committing suicide on the students’ behalf, the labour unions are happily assisting. Though it may seem otherwise, students have no representative in this is debate. The only one who possibly cares for their interest is the government with this law, but one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of random act of human kindness. The law is a necessary element of shaking up the labour market and benefits it brings to the students are only a side-product of a larger enterprise.

What we have here is a situation where labour unions have long stopped representing “class interest” and are now only representatives of an ever-thinning group of people who want to retire as soon as possible, not caring about successive generations. Student organisations are also keen on keeping the status quo, primarily to maintain a cosy source of financing via “student agencies”, employment agencies dedicated exclusively to students, where they took a cut from every student’s income for “providing him/her with work”. If anyone is creating added value in this country, it is the high-skilled low-wage workforce (mostly students) but they are cannot expect any mid- or long-term rewards, thus only exasperating the problem of ever worse social security. But no one is speaking on their behalf, although everyone pretends to.

This is not an ideal law. Should it be enacted, the students will face increased job competition, because the unemployed and pensioners will compete for jobs previously held exclusively by students. However, the upside is that now the time spent working will count towards everyone’s pensions and work experience, students included. Furthermore, there will be no need to artificially extend student status (as was the accepted practice for the last twenty years) in order to be able to get work through “student agencies”, thus possibly radically reducing the amount of time people spend at the university. Right now it takes people seven-to-eight years on average to graduate in what is usually a four-to-five-year course.

So in general, students will be better of in mid- and long-term while they will quite probably be able to compensate short-term drawbacks by being better educated and more flexible than the competition of unemployed 45-year-olds or retired 65-year-olds, not to mention the fact that students probably wouldn’t touch the old farts’ jobs with a ten-foot pole in the first place.

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The Mother Of All Referendums (Slovenia Twenty Years After)

Twenty years ago on this day Slovenes voted on a referendum on independence. The question on 23 December 1990 was straightforward: Should Slovenia become a sovereign and independent country. The decision, as we know, was also fairly straightforward. With record voter turnout (93,5%) as much as 88,5% of all voters voted in favour on what will turn out to be the mother of all Slovenian referendum.


Official Gazette of Republic of Slovenia publishes the law on referendum on independence (source)

Twenty years later the situation seems all but hopeless. The crisis is in full swing, politics and politicians have virtually no credibility left and referendums are a-dime-a-dozen. In the words of the Charlie Watts quartet: You can’t always get what you want.

But really, is it that bad? On one hand, yes. I’m sure people would vote “no” in 1990 if the question would be something along the lines of “Do you want Slovenia to become a country of ever increasing social inequality, political bickering and a seemingly endless supply of either real or perceived scandals and corruption)”.

On the other hand, things are not that bad. I mean, they’re not that bad if one looks at them from the standpoint of 1990s. The issues we are faced with today are nothing compared to the issues Slovenia was facing back then. Twenty years ago it was about survival. It was about whether the nation can make a right choice collectively and hoping that this choice will be proven to have been right some time in the distant future. Today we can, regardless of the despair and dejectedness a lot of people are facing, say that the choice was right. And although – with the power of hindsight – it looks today that it was the only logical choice, that was not the case. It could all have ended very very badly. But it didn’t. Thankfully.

Anniversaries are a welcome interruption to our daily routine and they often remind us that there are issues bigger than our daily problems. That anniversaries are often used or misused to promote a particular political goal is regretful but no-one will get killed over it. That myths are being constructed is also just a sad fact. That Slovenia will today witness not one, but two celebrations – one official organised by the governement of Borut Pahor, the other one organised by Janez Janša and people who claim they represent “the true values” of Slovene independence is a curious fact which serves some immediate political purpose of the opposition, but nothing beyond that.

Because (as the good doctor often says), what everyone keeps forgetting is that there would be no independence without the people of this country, who bit the bullet and leapt into the unknown. That a selected group of individuals today claims exclusive rights to interpretation of events around 23 December 2010 is demeaning to this nation.

Independence today is what we make of it, for better or for worse. Reminding us “what it was all about” helps, but only to the point where it saves us from making the same mistake over and over. Anything beyond that is counter-productive. And there seems to be a lot of that going around lately. And in times of crisis one shuns what is not helpful 😀

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