Virtually all over the map (both geographically and otherwise) political forces that be have a huge political credibility problem. That in itself is hardly news. In Britain Tories and Labour alike are tripping over each other, trying to run away from Rupert Murdoch with whom they were schmoozing beyond any good taste only months earlier. In the US, Democrats and Republicans were playing chicken over country’s finances and en passant produced a needless crisis. In France, bombing the shit out of Ghadaffi was equally complemented by a would-be presidential challenger who has a problem keeping his fly closed and in Germany going after multi-kulti was the obvious answer to a lack-lustre economic recovery.

The list, of course, goes on and on. Hungary went from a government of fucking liars to semi-autocratic, press-muzzling and dangerously nationalistic rule. Italy and Belgium, we won’t even mention, while Slovenia went from deliberatly harmful to depressingly incompetent. This was all exasperated by the fact that the electorate, having succumbed (or adopted, whicever you prefer) to consumeristic dictum in all walks of life including politics, demanded ever quicker solutions for ever bigger problems without giving up much of the ever more comfortable life in return. In short, clusterfuck.

With the decline of political parties’ credibility, grass-roots organisations and pressure groups began gaining on prominence. Ranging from corporate special interest to NGOs, from environmentalist initiatives to labour unions and religious organisations, democracy was becoming increasingly horizontal.

The good old days

Slovenia, as always, is a bit of a special case. Civil society saw its heyday in the late 1980s, when existing mono-party channels becoming painfully insufficient to run (if not rule) the society. Things were happening which the ruling Communist Party – which appropriated for itself the role of the societal avant-garde – was unable to comprehend, let alone control. But since the Party in Slovenia on the whole opted for reform instead of oppression (although it wasn’t as clear-cut as the sentence might suggest), Slovenia of the time was replete civic organisations of virtually every flavour. You name it, Slovenia probably had it, chief among them being the Committee for Protection of Human Rights, which for all intents and purposes can be described as a text-book case of a grass-roots organisation. In terms of civil society, late 80s in Slovenia were as good as it gets.

With the advent of the nation-state, most of these initiatives either transformed into proper political parties or disbanded, their raison d’etre spent. But individuals from either of the two types were popping up in the political arena faster than you could say ‘multi-party elections’ and starting in 1990 it seemed that the civil society in Slovenia was non-existent in the traditional sense becuase it was in fact in power.


Fast forward fifteen years (give or take a few) and the situation was beginning to take shape it has today. Political parties, although still the only legitimate player in the political arena are fast losing the initiative in virtually every aspect and are for some time now looking to various supposedly non-political players for ideas and support. This, of course is nothing special. Think-tanks, lobby groups and NGOs do have a place in a democratic society and rightly so. In this respect, Slovenia is only coming up to speed with the rest of the developed world.

However. In addition to the above, political parties instead of trying to harness the flow of ideas that was at last being generated by re-emergence of the civil society started hi-jacking it. And in this the political right in Slovenia has built up an impressive lead. While a couple of think-tanks have emerged both on the left (most notably the Liberal Academy, widely connected to LDS and lately Forum 21, created by former President Milan Kučan) and the right (such as Jože Pučnik Institute) the right mostly went about artificially creating “popular” movements, either to gain legitimacy or to have them say and do things that were unbecoming to a mainstream political party. In short, we’re talking about astroturf initiatives (hat-tip to Cornelius for this one)

One of the earlies examples of political astroturf was (and still is) Aleš Primc, former member of Slovene People’s Party (SLS) who took to baricades when the law on in-vitro fertilisation was debated and which proposed that single women without a pre-existing medical condition were eligible for IVF. Until then IVF was the last resort for couples which failed to conceive children any other way. The political right saw this as an attack on everything that was holy, natural and traditional and Primc’s initiative was used to go below and beyond the level of what was considered an acceptable debate at that time (way back in 2001).

The same, but worse

Careful observers did not miss the fact that those same issues (holy, natural and traditional) were raised again recently as the Family code was debated and passed and is now awaiting the fate of a referendum bid initiated by – you guessed it – Aleš Primc. The only difference between today and ten years ago is that the right wing parties of today are using Primc’s rhetoric of a decade ago, while Primc is saying everything they think but can’t say today.

Much more civilised but no less artificial are various initiatives of “concerned citizens” who recently took it upon themselves to cut short the life of the incumbent government of Borut Pahor. The self-styled “resetters”, a group of more or less high profile individuals including Gregor Virant, Žiga Turk, Janez Šušteršič, Marko Pavliha, Matej Lahovnik and Rado Pezdir first called for “a reset of Slovenia”, later upgraded that with a web petition to call early elections and got around 19k signatures to date. All fine and dandy even you don’t agree with them, but with one caveat: four of those individuals are former ministers. Turk and Virant served during Janša’s government, Pavliha and Lahovnik served under PM Tone Rop, with Lahovnik returning for another stint under Pahor, but both of them becoming bitter opponents of the current government (Pavliha over Arbitration Agreement, Lahovnik over TEš6 power plant). Janez Šušteršič and Rado Pezdir, however, were connected to Slovenian Macroeconomic Forum (a proper think-tank) which provided Janez Janša with a ready-made neoliberal economic platform prior to his 2004 electoral victory. To sum it up – nothing remotely grass-roots here, only people with their own political agendas.

Ditto for the Group of Active Citizens, headed by Matej Makarovič who last month brought together Tone Jerovšek, Borut Rončević, Lovro Šturm, Matevž Tomšič and Andrej Umek and pointed out the need to return to the roots (sic!) of “Slovene Spring” of 1988-1990. Of six individuals three served as ministers (Šturm, Jerovšek and Umek) while the other three are professors at some of the newly formed Slovene faculties which came into being with in the last decade. But a special mention goes to the leader of this outfit, Matej Makarovič (whom pengovsky fondly remembers as assistant lecturer during his days at the social sciencies faculty) whose forays into the political include being president of the SDS youth organisation and later being named honorary president of the same. Again, rather than true grass-roots, this congregation is pure astroturf.

Laying waste

And last but certainly not least we come to the the Assembly for the Republic, currently headed by (surprise, surprise) Gregor Virant. This assembly was created before the 2004 elections to drum up additional support for Janez Janša. While it never presented itself as a genuine grass-roots organisation it did not fulfil its initial promise to watch over the government regardless of the outcome of the elections. As Janša ultimately won the 2004, the Assembly for the Republic almost died off, briefly re-appearing in 2006 to support France Arhar in his unsucessful bid for Ljubljana mayor (Zoran Janković won with a landslide) and then went dormant until 2008 elections where it acted in Janša’s favour much more directly but to little avail. The left wing won the elections and Borut Pahor was appointed Prime Minister, while the Assembly for the Republic went dormant yet again, only to re-surface recently as early elections were mulled.

Astroturfing in Slovenia of course does not end there but goes on and on and on. And it will continue to do so since political parties (mostly right wing) have long taken their fight outside the parliament and onto other venues, civil society being one of them. To an extent this is to be expected in a country as small as Slovenia, but what they fail to see is that they are in fact laying waste to the society as a whole. And at the end of the day, when they find out their ratings don’t match their expectations, their only reaction is to serve us with more astroturf.

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Family Code: There Must Be Over Fifty Thousand Screaming Love And More For You…

It was Simon Zelotes or Simon the Zealot who in the seminal rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar urged Jesus to attack Roman occupiers for he was followed by the fifty thousand who screamed love and more for him. All that was needed was for Jesus to add a touch of hatred for Rome and Galilee would be free once again. It was, in short, an attempt to use religion and its followers to political ends. Fast forward two thousand years and you’ll find similar zealots in Slovenia. It’s just that they’re not fighting Romans but gays. And lesbians. And bisexuals. And anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the notions of “natural laws”, “normality” and “tradition”, freeing Slovenia not of Latin occupiers but of evil and unnatural ideas, making it a God-given heterosexual haven.

Aleš Primc’s “defenders of all things natural” (source)

As both readers of this blog know, it all has to with the new Family code which the parliament passed last week after what was most likely one of the more brutal legislative procedures in the history of this country. Not necessarily the most brutal, but definitely close. In fact, it was one of those cases where the entire breadth of the ideological and cultural divide in this country became visible. This was not a power struggle nor was it a fight over a slice of the ever thinning financial pie, not even a run on well-paid government jobs. It was, pure and simple, about what kind of a society Slovenes (will) live in. Was? Is, rather. Because even though the Family code was confirmed by the parliament, the ordeal is by no means over. The law, which was significantly watered down on most crucial points in a vane attempt to placate the right wing, miraculously escaped a veto in the National Council but is now subject to yet another referendum bid.

A grass-roots campaign headed by former SLS member Aleš Primc and heavily backed by the Catholic Church was and still is very vocal in their opposition to the new code. As the debate progressed it became more and more obvious that (just as the more observant suspected all along) positions of the political right-wing and Primc’s campaign itself were extremely harmonious and synchronised. In fact, Primc and his lot were only saying what the right wing was thinking. And in the end, they ended up saying it as well.

I’ve no problem with gays in fact I have many gay friends

The level of hypocrisy, double morals and false arguments reached almost unprecedented levels during this debate. No matter how often the myth of “a normal family” was debunked, the opponents of the code kept getting back to that (case in point being France Cukjati MD, of Janez Janša‘s SDS), claiming that by extending the definition of a family beyond its current scope, the traditional family (mother, father, offspring) would somehow lose on importance. That the very fabric of this society will be irreparably torn and that the nation as such will die off sooner rather than later. But woe be unto them who would dare to think that there was anything remotely homophobic in their opposition to the Code because… wait for it… they have a number of gay friends!

This, obviously is the most perfidious of arguments. Justifying one’s homophobia by claiming to have gay friends while bashing them and their rights is derogatory to the extreme. The more the political right tried to prove that their argument was not about denying gays and lesbians equal rights, the more they were proving exactly that. But to be fair, there was a lot of this going around on the political left as well, only in a more subdued manner.

This was quite probably the main reason the code was watered down significantly. Specifically, provision which originally allowed same-sex marriages was reduced to allowing civil unions with full rights while the provision allowing child adoptions by same-sex couples was tightened to allowing adoptions only if one of the partners is a biological parent of the child. Both provisions are a marked improvement over the existing situation but still stop short of completely equalling same-sex and heterosexual couples.

Clash of cultures

Officially, this watering-down was meant to placate Primc, his gang and the political right. But since the only way to placate them was to kill the code entirely, the move was more likely meant to make the code more acceptable to the “traditionalists” on the political left. The fact that the Code was passed by a relative rather than an absolute majority only further strengthens this particular line of thought.

Be that as it may, the new Family Code was passed and – miraculously so – the National Council did not veto it, which means that it should be enacted soon. Well, not really. There’s still the possibility of a referendum. And sure enough Primc and Co. collected 32,000 signatures (only 2500 were needed) to initiate referendum proceedings. In this enterprise they were assisted by the Roman Catholic Church which apparently was more than happy to let them collect signatures in or near churches. But since the Church takes it upon itself to decide questions of morality and properness (never mind the paedophile scandals and the 700 million debt accumulated by a single diocese in Slovenia) this was to be expected. Rather than going apeshit about it, one can only conclude time and again that when push comes to a shove the political and ideological right will resort to any and all weapons in this particular clash of cultures.

What. Happens. Next.

Anyways. President of the parliament Pavle Gantar (who, apparently, will step down sooner rather than later) is now obliged to initiate the procedure in which the proponents of the referendum must collect 40,000 confirmed signatures in a month’s time to call a referendum on the Family Code. Although they collected 32k signatures in a matter of days, the task is slightly more difficult as those 40k signatures must be given on a special form and confirmed by an official at an Administrative Unit (upravna enota) which – if nothing else – means a trek downtown, standing in line and doing the paperwork rather than just signing on the dotted line and being tapped on the back by the local priest. Gantar already said that the procedure will be initiated on 1 September since initiating it now would mean it would end during summer recess.

However, it is probably a safe bet that Primc and Co. will collect enough signatures to have a referendum called. Under this scenario, the government will then petition the Constitutional Court to deny the referendum on the basis that it would mean a popular vote over basic human rights and/or could mean imposing the will of the majority on a clearly defined minority of the population and thus discrimination based on sexual orientation which is explicitly forbidden by the constitution.

Elementary, my dear Watson…

The case seems open-and-shut. There can be no popular vote on human rights. They apply to everyone and are exerted directly, based on the constitution rather than via specific legislation. Elementary? Not really. Sadly, this may not be the case. Technically the Constitutional Court will be asked to deny petitioners their right to a referendum against the right of same-sex couples to have their family-related rights equalled with heterosexual couples. And all of a sudden the case becomes highly complicated.

Luckily, gays, lesbians and everyone else who would benefit from the new Family Code have one thing going for them: a ruling by the Constitutional Court which declared part of the existing law on registration of same-sex couples passed under Janša government unconstitutional and basically said that heterosexual and same-sex civil unions should enjoy equal rights. But before one gets one’s hope too high it should be noted that this case referred only to the right to inheritance. Recently, the Constitutional Court showed cojones and acted pro-actively, effectively making policy, but the question at hand is, whether it will choose to do so again or will feel the need to back up and show restraint.

The final verdict, therefore, is far from conclusive. And Slovenia will thus continue to see bigots waving placards saying how grateful they are to have had a mother and a father at the same time denying some children to have either, saying how marriage is a sacred institution, denying those who want to honour it.

In the aforementioned rock opera, Jesus replied to Simon the Zealot that he doesn’t get it and that is not what Christianity is about. Well, someone should tell Primc and his gang, the political right and everyone who swears to defend the “traditional family” and the “natural order of things that taking the Lord’s name in vain and forgetting the “love thy neighbour” part is making then anything but good Christians.


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