Notes From A Former Province (part deux)

Much has happened in the two months since the last post on this blog but as luck would have it we are dealing with la presidentielle yet again. Specifically, how the evolution (or is that regression?) of the Slovenian political landscape can be used to explain, albeit in broad contours, ouate de phoque happened in France. And that’s even without Macron’s campaign being hacked hours before the campaign media blackout.

To begin with, it turned out that our reading of François Fillon‘s political fate was spot on. He did cling on by means of ever more ludicrous claims which however did convince enough of his base to stick with him to claim third place. But since there are no points for third place, he is now reduced to claiming that a satire magazine “illegally influenced the campaign“. The absurdity of the sentence alone is worthy of making it Le Canard enchaîné‘s tagline.

Continue reading Notes From A Former Province (part deux)

Cultural Learnings of Azerbaijan for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Slovenia

The fallout from the report of the anti-graft commission is huge. On Friday the protest movement got a new impetus, putting Janez Janša and Zoran Janković side by side, along with the rest of the gang. Some 10.000 people attended the second edition of the “National Uprising” and the centre of Ljubljana was again packed, but it was in fact just a prelude to what turned out to be a bit of a cliffhanger Saturday.

(photo by Smetnjak)

Namely, after calling, nay, shouting at both the Prime Minster and the mayor of Ljubljana to resign, Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List held a powwow on Saturday where they were they… waited. They were waiting for Zoran Janković and his Positive Slovenia to wrap up their own party congress, where they (finally) adopted their party platform which – to chagrin of many – puts fight against corruption high on their priority list. I mean, it is slightly silly to adopt an anti-corruption platform while your party chief is being slammed on the head by the anti-graft commission. OK, so Janković is screaming bloody murder over it and professes his innocence (as does Janša, mind you), but still. On the other hand, Janković being Janković, this is exactly the type of thing he would have done in any similar case. A tongue-in-cheek move, to piss everyone off and try to prove his point. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise that at the end of the congress he announced he’s “freezing” his party leadership (cue penguin jokes).

Power play of galactic proportions

Hearing of it, pengovsky went oh-no-you-didn’t. This was the worst possible move for Jay-Z to make. He maintains he made the move to open the doors to a shake-up of the political landscape by removing himself from the picture and encouraging junior coalition partners to kick Janša and his SDS loose and possibly form an interim technocratic government until early elections are held. He maintains that he will have no part in any potential negotiations and will not contend for the PM job. Fair enough. But since at the moment the anti-graft report is the only game in town, his “freezing” the presidency (effectively resigning) by definition makes it look as if that was the prime reason and not the alleged political crisis. Also, the move fuelled calls for his resignation as Ljubljana mayor as well. After all the report dealt with his actions as a mayor. Also he could have simply said that he will not claim the PM position nor will he negotiate in any way, shape of form, empowering others in the party to do that, and achieve the same effect sans resignation. Alternatively, he could have resigned (or at the very least, “frozen”) as mayor as well and really send a powerful message. Either, or. He chose to sit on the fence and nothing good ever came from that.

Especially since the odds are, that the whole thing is just a power-play of galactic proportion over the Slovenian State Holding, the newly established mother-of-all-state-owned companies. Courtesy of the Constitutional Court and its “act on protection of the state” it became operational at the beginning of the year and has a nine-member supervisory board which is to be appointed by the parliament. Case in point being the fact that Virant called a “consultation meeting” on the issue only days after first calling on JJ and Jay-Z to pack their bags. Also, SLS of Radovan Žerjav extended their deadline for Janša to go from “immediately” to 8 March, i.e. after the board will be appointed.

Wet dreams of a Communist conspiracy. Also: Azerbaijan, douze points

Word on the street, however, has it that Virant is dead-serious with his threat to walk out of the coalition if JJ continues to cling to his job. That may be, but Virant is known for his being dead-serious over a lot of things but then backing off at the last second. On the other hand, he could have bluffed his way into a tight spot and now can’t get out of it.

Namely, the SDS (now lovingly known as The Party) is no longer pulling any punches and went all out against anyone who is doubting Janša’s fitness to do his job. This primarily includes the protest movement, which they’ve tweeted was “full of communist zombies”, pushing crack-pot theories about “left-wing fascism” originated by Slavoj Žižek (piggy-backing on a blog in The Telegraph) and generally claiming that the government of Janez Janša is the only thing standing between Slovenia and the Apocalypse.

Ironically, their main political targets are not Zoran Janković and his PS (after all, he and Janša are in the same fix) but rather Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List. For there seems to be a pro-Janša fraction in the party some elements of which have taken it upon themselves to debunk the anti-graft report in minute detail. At the same time the SDS parliamentary group said that Janša resigning “are wet wishes of some people”.

Yes. Wet wishes. Not wet dreams. Wishes. Geez, you’d think these people were never teenagers, playing the one-string violin or something. Yes, I know it’s a terrible mental image, but still. Also, today the SDS released a letter in English (!) explaining their take on things, which can basically be summed up in one sentence: IT’S ALL A COMMUNIST CONSPIRACY.

No, really. Here’s an excerpt:

The last President of the Communist Party of Slovenia and later on the first president of the Republic of Slovenia, Milan Kučan, who despite his retirement still figures as the most influential political persona of the hard-core Slovenian Left, has in his public appearances as well as via the background networks, activated members of the former secret political police, communist veterans, network of leftist organizations and some trade unions, and is also personally actively engaged in efforts to replace the government.

Read the letter in full. It’s a lovingly compiled scrapbook of their collective delusions, bad grammar included.

This, of course happened while Janša was in Azerbaijan, the winner of 2012 Eurovision song contest and apparently a new strategic market for Slovenia. In what has become a bit of a tradition, important things in this country happen while the man himself is out of the country. You know, alibis and stuff. The only problem is he was visiting the world’s Most Corrupt Leader of 2012. What were they doing? Exchanging notes? 😀

Letters Galore

Truth be told, the SDS only wrote the letter after first denouncing a similar letter (of opposite content, naturally) by KOKS, an association of people of creative and/or cultural milieu. Signed by thousands, the letter states among other things that

The government has also responded to the protests by closing down the centre of the capital city of Ljubljana, by using riot police, horses, armoured vehicles, water cannons, antiriot fences and helicopters in what can only be characterized as a gross overreaction to the largely peaceful gatherings of Slovenian citizens. Top members of
Janez Janša’s party (SDS) have described the protesters as “ultra left extremists,” “zombies,” and characterized them as radical “neo-socialists,” in an effort to balance out the actual presence of neoNazis during the first Ljubljana protest (possibly organised by the ruling government itself in an effort to discredit the protests at the beginning of the movement)

Read full letter here. At least the grammar is much better 🙂

Also the newly minted President of the Republic got a letter. His initial response to the anti-graft report was muted at best (he was “worried”). He added a week later that he supports the commission but that it was up to Janša whether to resign or not and that he will not enter party politics. And today, when pressed in a letter by Janez Stanovnik (last socialst president of Slovenia and head of WWII veterans’ organisation), Pahor wrote a letter of his own, clarifying that he supports the anti-graft commission in its drive to clarify its competences but that as a matter of principle he will not call upon any elected official to resign.

Note how Pahor is bending over backwards to avoid saying anything on the position the PM of this country found himself in. Also, it is extremely telling that the president did not support the anti-graft findings, but rather said that he is in favour of clearly defining the commission’s competences. Which is exactly the one of the point both Janša and Janković dispute the commission. Bottom line: Borut Pahor is paying dearly for Janša’s support in the presidential race. He even has to cover Janković’s back, even though Zoki was in the other camp.

What does Auntie Angela have to say?

At any rate, Janša is back in the country which means this particular game of high-stakes poker can continue. Will Janša resign and pick a successor from within SDS, as DL, SLS and DeSUS demand? Odds are he will not. The stakes are simply too high for him. Some, however, say that he will be forced to. Not by his coalition partners, but rather by Berlin and Washington. Sure enough, the outgoing US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph Musomelli has recently met with National Assembly vice-president Romana Tomc whose name was already floated as a possible interim-PM until early elections are called.

Now, this is a highly unlikely scenario in pengovsky’s opinion. Janša does not breed successors, he breeds followers. But the anti-graft fiasco was noted in Europe as well and it is quite possible JJ will find himself sidelined by Angela Merkel and the rest of the EPP pretty soon. Especially after the fiasco with alleged support by EU Council President Herman van Rompuy which turned out to be a gross misinterpretation of the facts Or as we call it – lying.

How does this play out?

There are three, nay four, ways this whole thing can go:

One: Janša doesn’t resign and roughs it out. Possible, but will leave him crippled for the rest of the term. Also, this probably only postpones the inevitable.
Two: Janša resigns immediately, no replacement PM is found and early elections are called in Spring. In the current climate of popular uprising, this would probably mean a very low turnout and a result which would only prolong the existing status quo (the PS would lose to SocDems, but overall picture would change little).
Three: a new coalition with a left-wing PM who is not Zoran Janković. This is unlikely in the extreme.
And four: Janša resigns, SDS goes into the opposition, while all other parties form a sort-of-national-unity coalition with a technocratic government which edges the country towards early elections some time in autumn, while it enacts the basic demands of the protest movement, including but not limited to changes in the voting system, anti-graft legislation and curbing austerity policies.


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Slavoj Žižek vs. Gregor Golobič: 20 Years After

Pengovsky slacked on blogging yet again this week. Not that there’s no shit to report (this is where David Suchet goes: “Au contraire, mon ami!”) but there’ll be plenty of time to do that. However, it is only fair and just that some content be put between meat and tits and as far as opportunities go, you could do worse than Thursday’s debate betwixt the post-lacanian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and leader of Zares Gregor Golobič.

Žižek, Pelko and Golobič (photo by yours truly)

This post is not really a summary of the event. It is, rather, a series of thoughts that pengovsky would have uttered out loud were there a Q&A session. Luckily, however, there wasn’t one which means you, my dear readership, get to bear the full brunt of the storm, the only silver lining being that although moderator Stojan Pelko (until recently No. 2 man at the ministry of Culture) kept the debate going for a good two hours, pengovsky wasn’t taking notes for most of the time so whatever thoughts I may have had on several issues, they are now long gone.


That the debate took place on 14 July is, of course, no coincidence. Žižek noted that revolutions (or any other social and/or political upheaval for that matter) can only be thought in hindsight and that the mother of all revolutions prevailed as late as two hundred years after it had started (in 1989) only to be defeated utterly and completely in the following twenty years. Bizarrely so, this is exactly the amount of time it took the 20th century to go from one revolution (or clusterfuck, depending on your point of view) to another. Doubly so for Slovenia, go Žižek and Golobič.

However, there’s a catch, sayeth yours truly. Until the 1988-1991 period of formation of Slovenia, revolutions tended to follow the out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new approach. But the 1988-1991 revolution (because in hindsight(!) that is exactly what it was) was performed by more or less the same group of people who partook in the 1968-72 social and student unrest in Slovenia. OK, give or take a few, but in general the statement stands. Could it be, that a revolution was “stolen”? Performed by people who had already had their go?

On one hand it is kind of hard to just say that, especially because it ended all-right. But on the other hand (and this connects to the next issue), there is this nagging feeling that 1989 was just a continuation of 1968. And that in fact it was not just a Slovenian version of the “European spring of nations” but rather a culmination of a much longer process which in fact took everyone (including those who would end up on top) slightly by surprise.


Secondly, both Golobič and Žižek were extremely harsh in their critique of capitalism. How can it be that the problems of capitalism are being solved by the very tools which caused the problems in the first place? Indeed, Golobič warned that Europe is being slowly but surely disassembled and if the trend continues, we will be lucky to escape another round of bloodshed this continent had seen way too much in its turbulent history. In this respect Golobič went after the recently published platform of Janez Janša‘s SDS calling it the same old neoliberal nonsense they fed this country during their stint in power. In fact, the platform as it stands now, is anything but neoliberal. It is a handbook of economic alchemy which would on one hand lower taxes, increase public investment and decrease budget deficit, whereas on the other hand aims to introduce (by amending the constitution, no less!) a thoroughly communist concept of ownership being both right and obligation with everyone contributing to the common good according to their ability. Sounds familiar? Thought so…

In short, rather than taking us down the neoliberal road once again (which is what Golobič fears) SDS’ economic platform will – if implemented – destroy what little potential for economic recovery this country has regained in the past couple of years. Thus, Golobič is wrong. We shouldn’t be afraid of neoliberals. It’s amateurs we should fear.

And while we’re on the subject of neoliberals: pengovsky thinks that in this case Golobič somehow chose to ignore the big picture. Yes, solving crisis of capitalism with even more capitalism will inevitably lead to disaster. That this disaster is most likely to take the form of a more or less global conflict (I won’t use the word “world war” but feel free to think it) is almost a given, especially if one looks back at the history of the 20th century. In this respect Golobič is dead right. But criticising capitalism at this point is like kicking a dead horse. The moment for radical changes in world economic order was missed sometime in the second part of 2009. The situation we have today is not the result of capitalism in pre-crisis neoliberal form raising it head, but it is because no sensible alternative was provided. This seems a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because people who were in position to provide an alternative did not do so because their main impetus was to get back to the “business as usual”, although there is no longer anything usual about any business. But given that the world is so interwoven economically there is probably no way to just drop everything and start afresh. We might come to that. In fact, Golobič is correct when saying that everything that was done to solve the crisis just deepened it further and that bloodshed is almost unavoidable. But asking to – well – cut to the chase and getting it over with is perhaps asking a bit too much.

So, what do we need? Naively, pengovsky proposes a Slovenian “space programme”. Not in the “sending-a-man-to-the-moon-and-returning-him-safely-to-the-earth” kind of way, but a far-reaching programme or initiative that would have positive side-effects which may in the long run prove to be even more crucial than the project itself. One thing that comes to mind is the introduction of universal basic income, which although his party toyed with it at first, Golobič dismissed as a noble but unattainable idea in a recent interview. That may be so (although some serious calculations would be in order), but pengovsky is willing to bet that just by initiating procedures to completely revamp the system of social security, a lot of positive stuff could happen. What is needed here is some outside-of-the-box thinking, just for the argument’s sake if nothing else.

More state, less homeland

Universal basic income is of course an utterly anti-market idea. Neolibs tend to have a fit whenever they see something being state-ordained. That the state would cash out equally to everyone is of course their worst nightmare. That the state rarely becomes leaner after neolibs tinker with it, is something we’ll conveniently neglect. But as we said, while Janša may tinker with neoliberal ideas, Milton Friedman and the faithful would probably scoff at Janša’s economic legacy and die of shame reading his economic plans. However, all the buzzwords are there. The lean state. The tax cuts. The pro-business environment. And the homeland. In fact, Janez Janša summed it all up in a recent reply to the good doctor on Twitter, where he said that homleand is priceless and doesn’t collect taxes. State is a legal framework, homeland is the content. And concludes that Žižek is mixing apples and oranges.

Making a fool of everyone present

What was it Žižek said that upset Janša so much? Well, it was in fact one of his usual rhetorical bravuras which sent everyone into a frenzy. Namely, the pop philosopher said that he fears Janša’s notion of more homeland and that this country needs more state and less homeland. This was predictably followed by a hefty round of applause. Similarly, at the very beginning Žižek countered those who label Golobič smart and corrupt, saying that he always thought of Zares leader as an honest but slightly stupid person (cue laughter). Sure enough, these and other soundbites had the intended effect: headlines were full of them the next day and Žižek was again lauded as the master of wit. However, what most of those present failed to see was that these rhetorical twists were only a manifestation of what Golobič said a bit later on, that the society today has no opinion leader and that on the whole people tend to follow rather than seek new paths. As if he had read the infamous poster which says that “left to themselves, people tend to imitate one another”.

Žižek again showed how easy it is to take control of the masses, no matter if the mass is comprised of people who thing of themselves as critically minded individuals. In his most excellent book Generali brez kape (Generals Without Caps) jouralist Ali Žerdin recounts how Žižek did something similar twenty-odd years ago when Janez Janša (then still an obscure scribe for Mladina magazine) was imprisoned in 1988, sparking popular protests which became focal points for all sorts of grievances Slovenes had against socialism and which started a chain of events which ended with Slovenia declaring independence three years later. Namely, Žižek was speaking at a gathering of the Human Rights Committee and said that the Communist Party was always using catch-phrases like “the time for words is past, now it’s time for action!” and that in his view showed that the Party had a legitimacy problem which it attempted to cover up by its hyperactivity at that time. So, Žižek proposed that the Committee hit the Party where it hurt and stated that “the time for action is past, now it’s time for words!”. Those present erupted in cheers and applause. But then Žižek delivered the final blow: “I must say I’m sort of embarrassed that you feel for a cheap trick like that” he said. Apparently many a face turned red.

Twenty years later we still have the same problem. Too many people fall for too many cheap tricks like that way too soon. And this, in pengovsky’s view is the ultimate lesson of Thursday’s Žižek vs. Golobič. Not whether leader of Zares is a credible person. Not whether capitalism is in it’s dying moments. Not even whether there will be blood. The lesson is that throughout the last twenty years the people of this country still count on someone else to take the hard decision and then criticise them for it from a comfortable distance, all the while falling for the same trick over and over again, learning practically nothing. Increasingly, the feeling is as if we’re stuck in 1991.

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