From Prison To Prison

Janez Janša, leader of the largest opposition party SDS was stripped of his MP seat yesterday on Wednesday, thus bringing to a close a protracted period of post-election second-hand embarrasment this country was collectively experiencing due to the fact that a convicted criminal was elected to the parliament and was indeed executing his office.

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The SDS put up a sign where JanÅ¡a sat in the parliament saying “Political Prisoner” (source: sds.si)

In case you live in the real world and not in this sorry excuse for a country, here’s a quick rundown: JanÅ¡a was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption in the Patria Case. He appealed his sentence, got his appeal dismissed by the higher court and then again by the supreme court. Some time in between (at the height of the election campaign this summer) he started serving his sentence, but was elected to the parliament nevertheless. Thus prompting a legal and political clusterfuck because – you’re not going to believe this – the law says an MP is stripped of office “if convicted to a prison sentence exceeding six months” but doesn’t specify if this means sentences after he/she was confirmed as an MP or does this apply to sentences passed before an MP is elected to office.

And while this legal minefield was navigated, JanÅ¡a was sleeping in a prison cell but was coming to Ljubljana whenever parliament was in session. Which was quite often in the past couple of months. And since JanÅ¡a had no intention of resigning of his own accord (after all, he sees his prison sentence as a result of a global communist conspiracy), a curious situation was created where a person convicted of criminal activity was deciding on laws in this country. Even more – staying true to form, i.e. pushing the envelope to breaking point – JanÅ¡a tried to have himself appointed in the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight committee.

Which apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the ruling SMC repeatedly blocked constitution of this committee, on the grounds of JanÅ¡a being able to access sensitive information as a member of the committee. Which is true. Having a convict attending a surprise inspection of a police wire-tapping facility is simply preposterous. Therefore, the question at hand was not only that of legality of JanÅ¡a’s MP seat, but that of legitimacy of the parliament. Because what kind of a sorry-ass parliament allows a convict to hold it by the balls through procedural maneuvering?

After months trying to have the cake and eat it, the ruling SMC of PM Miro Cerar finally got their shit together and realised the situation will require a political decision (preferably one which survives legal challenges) rather than a legal decision passed by a political body. Which was a marked improvement from their initial approach which was designate an ad-hoc committee of outside legal experts since the parliamentary legal service stated that in their view Janša can not legally be stripped of his term.

Obviously a whole lot of brouhaha was made about this document, especially by the SDS. But the parliamentary legal service is a child everybody likes to kick around when they feel like it and feign to protect when it makes them look good. Virtually every party in the parliament at one stage hailed documents by the legal service but flat-out ignored them at another stage. SDS is no exception. Even worse, whenever they disagreed with the position of the parliamentary legal service, they accused it of currying favour of communists, carrying bag for powers that be, etc, etc. Point being, that the new-found faith of the SDS in the legal experts of the parliament is probaby short-lived and confined to this particular issue.

Anyhoo, on Wednesday parliament finally voted on the matter and decided to strip JanÅ¡a of his term as per law. Which means that not only have the parliamentarians ejected a convict from their midst, they’ve also set a precedent and passed an interpretation of the disputed Article 9 of the Law on Deputies. Clause “if convicted to a prison sentence exceeding six months” is now interpreted as “regardless of whether conviction took place prior to MP actually being elected or after he/she was already sworn in” provided the sentence is still being served.

Again, JanÅ¡a can and probably will mount a legal challenge, but his luck seems to be running out. Not only is his star-lawyer Franci Matoz repeatedly failing to deliver for his client, he also has a couple of other cases against him due in court. Nothing of the Patria magnitude, but enough to be more than just a hassle. Despite the fact that there is a merry band of followers picketing the Ljubljana Court building every day, there is noticeable and growing dissent among the faithful. Even Reporter magazine, usually a mouthpiece for the most crackpot of SDS ideas (not to be confused with Demokracija magazine, which is actually part-owned by the Party), threw JanÅ¡a under the bus a couple of weeks ago, much to the man’s annoyance.

In 1988, when Janez Janša was put in prison, he was catapulted into top-tier politics where he remained ever since. It seems only fitting he should make his exit in the same manner.

    Dob Prison Blues

    Among many of his accomplishments, Janez JanÅ¡a can now claim to be one of the few people on this planet to have attended their own wake. This at least was the impression given last Friday, when JanÅ¡a started serving his two-year prison sentence passed on him in the Patria Affair. Namely, hundreds (thousands, by some accounts) of his followers descended on Dob prison facility and staged “a spontaneous” gathering with loudspeakers and all. The event, protracted as it was, culminated with JanÅ¡a arriving and addressing the faithful one last time.

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    JanÅ¡a’s prison summons. (source)

    But what was no doubt meant to be the mother of all speeches turned out to be a lackluster campaign rally with JanÅ¡a giving the impression of a man who finally realised the gravity of his situation. Namely, only the previous evening the SDS leader took part in an election debate and admittedly did a fair job, quite unlike a man who will not be picking up soap from the floor again until 2016. Perhaps he thought the Supreme Court would come to his rescue at the eleventh hour and suspend his serving of the sentence or even rescind the sentence altogether. No such luck. With the Constitutional Court nixing JanÅ¡a earlier in the week with a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court just added insult to injury. From JanÅ¡a’s point of view this was just another proof that the entire judiciary (save the three constitutional judges with their dissenting opinions) was out to get him. Under orders of a secret communist kabal headed by Milan Kučan, of course. The alternative interpretation, although admittedly boring, is that JanÅ¡a simply fired his last shot and is out of legal and political ammo. Next stop: prison cell.

    The brouhaha this created was (and to an extent still is) of epic proportion. After all, it is not every day a former PM is put behind bars. Some (Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (paywall) among them, apparently) questioned the timing, saying that putting a man in the brig three weeks before elections is fishy. Others hold that the decent thing would be a presidential pardon, since this is what self-respecting countries apparently do. Deputy chief of government’s legal service Janez Pogorelec wrote as much in the last issue of Pravna Praksa, a magazine on legal issues. And even Matevž Krivic, former judge of the constitutional court, now a tireless campaigner for the rights of the Erased says the legitimacy of the upcoming elections is compromised with JanÅ¡a in prison. And last, but certainly not least, the SDS maintains the elections will neither be free nor fair.

    Now, let’s take these arguments apart, one by one. First of all, the legitimacy of these elections has nothing to do with a political being put in jail. JanÅ¡a was convicted some time before elections were called. He knew this was coming. And even if he honestly expected his appeal to be upheld, he could have at least planned for a contingency. Afterall, the SDS list of candidates was announced six days after JJ got summoned to prison. It’s not as if someone issued a Nach-und-Nebel order on him and dragged him out of his flat in the middle of the night on unspecified charges (although the SDS faithful will have you believe something along those lines happened). Quite to the contrary, in fact: the SDS leader is taking part in these elections and will most likely get elected to the parliament. And while there is a legal provision terminating MPs serving more than six months’ prison sentence, no such clause exists for members of the government. Meaning that if the SDS somehow secures an absolute majority, then can actually appoint JanÅ¡a Prime Minister. The scenario is highly unlikely (even the Party doesn’t have the audacity to pull a stunt like that) but possible.

    Janša in prison, therefore, does absolutely nothing for legitimacy of these elections. Yes, his incarceration will affect the outcome, but so would his remaining on the outside (especially if elections were cited as a reason). Everything we do affects the elections one way or another. Sure, Janša will not be able to attend election debates. But that is neither his right not prerogative. There can be debates without him. His two rights (to vote and run for office), however, are in no way infringed.

    Legitimacy of elections is also questioned in the sub-text of FAZ’s reporting. But it needn’t be. Would the situation be any different if JanÅ¡a were to start serving a sentence six months before elections? Wouldn’t the definition of “just prior to elections” be simply adjusted for time scope? What if the court had waited (as Krivic suggested) and summoned him to prison after he had won the elections? Just how ugly would that look? No, summoning him before elections was the only sensible thing to do. Even more so since Slovenia held at least one election per year in past seven of eight years. We tend to cast our votes around quite a lot in this country. And if we waited for a “clear stretch of non-voting” to put corrupt politicos behind bars, we might find to be in for a long wait.

    Lastly, rule of law is paramount in any half-decent democracy. Granted, this sorry little excuse for a country is occasionally lacking in this respect, but this is no reason to go actively ruining what’s left of the concept. The important thing here is that a high-profile person who committed a felony is behind bars. Countries where the law applies to both rich & famous as well as the common man are more likely to have their political system seen as legitimate. This goes for the idea of presidential pardon as well. Pogorelec maintains that a presidential pardon would be a face-saving operation for JanÅ¡a and the country, allowing the illustrious fighter for Slovenian independence to retire gracefully from public life.

    Which is about as naive a notion as there ever was. Just what in Bob’s name forces JanÅ¡a to quit public life if president Pahor issues a pardon? A gentleman’s agreement? Between JanÅ¡a and Pahor? Yes, thought so… Also, a pardon would send a message that despite all the rage that was directed against the political class a year and a half ago, there are still perks which come free of charge if you play the game long enough. A presidential pardon of a high-profile politician would mean sweeping things under the rug. In fact, only if president Pahor stays true to form and does not pardon JanÅ¡a (formal request to do so had not yet been made), will the people perhaps start believing that we are indeed all equal before the law.

    And as for SDS claim about elections not being free nor fair? Well, this…

    But far more intriguing than yet another attempt to pre-emptively undermine elections are the people who are coming out making the case in JanÅ¡a’s favour. A plethora or people and organisations who have been trying for years to present themselves as independent, who were obviously astroturf but still shamelessly functioned as sort of think-thanks (or, at least, PR tanks), now rush to JanÅ¡a’s rescue, each denouncing the judiciary from their own angle but all of them doing so without mercy or intellectual distance. Case in point being Matej Avbelj, the young dean of one of faculties founded during JanÅ¡a government 1.0. More importantly, this included former Ljubljana archbishop and now Vatican cardinal Franc Rode, giving credence to the theory that the former leadership of Slovenian Catholic Church (since beheaded by pope Francis) was in cahoots with JanÅ¡a, often at the expense of the more natural political ally of the Church, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija. Whether these are spontaneous cases of trying to please the master or a concerted effort ran from party HQ to shoot down the Patria verdict (after-all, the Supreme Court still has to rule on the issue), it doesn’t really matter.

    Although his prison sentence is relatively mild (Igor Bavčar, for example, got seven), JanÅ¡a out of the picture does mean great things are afoot. While the left remains in ruins and will probably be ruined some more on 13 July, the real development will be ob the right. Whoever takes over as interim leader of the SDS, will be forced to make decisions in an environment that is rapidly changing on account of JanÅ¡a not being there. The SLS and NSi are growing a spine, the new party of Miro Cerar seems to be the electorate’s darling at the moment and the voters who tolerated JanÅ¡a’s escapades will probably be much less keen on a person imitating JanÅ¡a’s style of leadership. Doubly so if the SDS were to win the elections and appoint the PN (pengovsky still sees Romana Tomc as being earmarked for the job).

    Janez Janša got transferred to a minimum security facility today. This means that he can again use modern means of communications, probably trying to run the Party from within prison. This will probably not work. Not on the operational level, at least. Sure, he might install someone he trusts to simply stick to his agenda and not have any ideas. But the last guy to try something like that in Slovenia saw his party split down the middle.

    Karma Is A Bitch

    Yesterday, Igor Bavčar and Boško Šrot were sentenced to seven years and five years, ten months prison sentence for their role in takeover of Istrabenz. While both are expected to appeal the verdict, this event, coming on the heels of Patria verdict marks an important milestone.

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    Igor Bavčar and Boško Šrot (source via this)

    As you know, the Bavčar/Å rot affair goes way back to 2005, when their respective MBO attempts were part of a larger scheme in which Å rot and Bavčar were given the go-ahead to take over Mercator and then went about taking over the companies they ran by employing a series of what at the time were seen as ingenious business moves, while Janez JanÅ¡a and his government were given undue influence if not operative control over Delo, the nation’s largest broadsheet daily.

    All these grand schemes have now crumbled to sand-dust and the symbolism of this cannot be overstated. On one hand we have nothing short of collapse of the grandeur of Slovenian independence. Sure, one could argue that the supposed virginity of this nation’s statehood was lost at least when the scope and systemic nature of the “erasure” became known, but still. JanÅ¡a and Bavčar, two of the architects of Slovenian independence, who sought and were usually granted cult status, have now been found guilty of abuse of powers. The mighty have truly fallen.

    If Bavčar and JanÅ¡a represent the new political elite, then BoÅ¡ko Å rot is the epitome of the new economic elite. The nouveau riche of Slovenia. Having been hand-picked sucessor to Tone TurnÅ¡ek, the guy who made LaÅ¡ko a serious player in the drinks industry, Å rot (who played a big role in LaÅ¡ko takeover of Ljubljana-based Union Brewery) went about wrapping up LaÅ¡ko’s hold on much of Slovenian economy: drinks, retail, media… You name it. Together with Bavčar’s Istrabenz which (to use a hase popular at the time) “consolidated” the foods industry, there was little he couldn’t do. Including help Bavčar try to take over Istrabenz.

    Instead it all ended in tears, with Å rot now poised to join the ranks of fallen “pillars of economy”, construction bosses Hilda TovÅ¡ak, Ivan Zidar and DuÅ¡an ÄŒernigoj as well as former big retail kahuna Bine Kordež of Merkur, who was just recently locked up for six years on a similar charge.

    Combined with the swift fall from grace experienced by Dimitrij Rupel, who in this constellation of the fallen represents those feel are simply entitled to powerful and prestigious positions, what we have here is a fairly quick disintegration of an important part of the ruling political class.

    As for reasons for this, we can safely point the finger at the winter popular uprisings. It seems that apart from removing JanÅ¡a from power, those were instrumental in breaking the spell politics had on various other sub-systems of the society. This includes the judiciary which was under nearly constant attacks over its incompetence and – truth be told – as time passed, these claims seemed to have ever more merit. But as if the uprisings showed that things can indeed be achieved if you try hard enough, the judiciary appears to have applied the principle of the rule of law primarily to those, who have gamed it for years on end and who – perversely – were the first to point out its inefficiencies whenever it suited them.

    Just as in JanÅ¡a’s case, the verdict against Bavčar and Å rot will in all likelihood be appealed at the Higher Court (OT: go see Rolig’s comment on “innocent until proven guilty”) But on the whole, the old adage has once again been confirmed: Karma is a bitch.