Respite Van Der Bellen

The fact that Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party came within a whisker of winning the country’s presidency speaks volumes. Indeed, it is a sign of times that a Neo-Nazi candidate winning “only” forty-six percent of the vote is considered a success for the democratic order. The sad reality is that the election of Alexander van der Bellen for Austrian president is merely a respite from the onslaught of forces of destruction and division that have engulfed much of Europe and the Western world in general. A welcome respite, to be sure, but a respite nevertheless. The shit has not yet stopped hitting the fan.


The Most Interesting van der Bellen In The World (source)

That van der Bellen defeated Hofer twice and with a larger margin on the second go is a silver lining and perhaps strengthens the rationale for a second Brexit referendum. But one should not count on the far-right tide ebbing across Europe. Not with the Dutch, French and German elections still in play and with their own Neo-Nazis well positioned to make substantial gains and sow further discord and hatred. This, of course, was made possible (not solely but in substantial part) by several critical failures of both the European project as well as of the underlying concept of post-war liberal democratic order.

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Storm In A Populist Teacup

For a few long moments on Thursday it seemed as if the government of Miro Cerar drew its last breath. The issue at hand was an agreement between the minister of health Milojka Kolar Celarc and the FIDES, the medical doctors’ trade union (not to be confused with Victor Orban’s Fidesz) which ostensibly put an end to the MDs’ week-long strike. The thing is that at the same time the other public sector unions were negotiating with the government on rolling back austerity measures and getting what they see is their due. On top of that the doctors, unusually, weren’t getting a pass by the public opinion which normally forgave their antics regardless of how baseless they may have been (because doctors and shit). All of this while the government was about to unveil a much-anticipated draft of health-sector reform, a move which by definition makes a lot of players with plenty of vested interest, mighty nervous. But in the end, it all amounted to nothing.

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The Three Amigos (source, source and source)

Namely, while Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and Dejan Židan of SD were raising hell in the last couple of days on account of minister Kolar Celarc supposedly agreeing to exempt the doctors from a mechanism that regulates wages across the entire public sector, the true reasons for the entire circus were purely political and aimed at obscuring the fact that both junior coalition parties can ill afford parliamentary elections right now, for reasons both political and financial. And this, more or less goes for all political parties with the possible exception of the SMC.

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9 Upsides Of A Trump Victory

The Donald. Who would have thought. Well, the alt-right did, apparently, which makes them the next Nate Silver, I guess. Good luck with that. The next few days and weeks will be fun as the entire media and political bubble simultaneously tries to come to terms with a Trump presidency and their own misjudgements and miscalculations.

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The First Couple-elect (source)

For what it’s worth, pengovsky did maintain that in politics a week is a long time and that the race will be close but yes, I did expect Clinton to ultimately prevail. So maybe it’s best that initial analyses are left to others. Football bloggers seem like a good option.

Having said that, there are a few upsides to the entire connundrum

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Danilo Türk Eyeing To Be (S)elected UN Secretary General

The selection of the next Secretary General of the United Nations used to be a pretty dull affair. At least from the viewpoint of the general public. The big five states, the permanent members of the Security Council would, after a bit of behind the scenes wrangling and horse-trading, agree on the least-undesirable candidate. This time around, however, things are a bit more fun. And that’s not just because there’s a Slovenian entry, too.

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Danilo Türk during “informal hearing” (source)

Former president Danilo Türk made it no secret that he eyed the position soon after he lost the 2012 re-election bid. In fact, his entire diplomatic career, save the five years he spent serving as president of the republic, was connected to the United Nations in one way or another. Be it the country’s ambassador to the organisation and later a non-permanent member and (at one point) even chair of the UN Security Council or, further down the road, serving as Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs during the tenure of SecGen Kofi Annan. Add to that his mileage as professor of international law, his charity work and work in various forums and NGOs as well as contacts he developed around the world during this time, he’s a pretty strong candidate, at least on paper. Perhaps second only to Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO and widely touted as the frontrunner of the field consisting of eight candidates. Besides Türk and Bokova these include Srgjan Kerim, former foreign minister of Macedonia, Igor Lukšić, foreign minister of Montenegro, Vesna Pusić, former foreign minister of Croatia, António Guterres, former Portuguese PM, Helen Clark, former PM of New Zealand and Natalia Gherman, former foreign minister of Moldova. Did pengovsky say eight? Sorry, he meant nine. Namely, on the eve of the first day of “informal dialogues” with candidates Serbia submitted former foreign minister Vuk Jeremić as their entry, bringing the number to nine, with five of those coming from countries of former Yugoslavia.

Indeed, the fun part of this (s)election process is the sheer number of ex-YU candidates. All that’s missing now is a Bosnian candidate (or three of them) and we could have a rotating presidency, like in the good old days. But since we all know how that ended, maybe it’s best not to go down that road.

Anyhoo, while it was much fun to watch the candidates “informally present themselves” in a rather formal and organised manner, it was also fun to watch the representatives of UN member states and various groups somewhat struggle with the new process. While some questions to the candidates were specific to the point of crafting policy, others were outright duds, as if the representatives of member states didn’t exactly know what to do will all this (informal) power vested in them.

This goes for Türk’s hearing as well. He was asked a couple of hard questions, mostly on UN evergreens such as the Middle East conflict and misconduct of UN peacekeeping forces and he sailed through those pretty smoothly. But then again, he got a few softballs that were like “Dude, why are you even asking this?!”, but there, too, Türk fared pretty well, not coming across as patronising or condescending, an oft-repeated criticism during his stint as Slovenian president (full disclosure: pengovsky was involved with Türk’s 2012 reelection bid).

But the best part of today’s hearing was Liechtenstein asking Türk about his commitment to accountability and transparency. Liechtenstein and transparency. Now there are two words you don’t usually see in a positive correlation. But hey, if Arab countries can pretty much choose to ignore the various wars and conflicts on their own soil, if Israel can shift the blame for the shituation at home solely on the Palestinians and if Saudi Arabia can chair the UN Human Rights Council, then poor little Liechtenstein preempting the transparency issue any way it can is perfectly legitimate.

After all, this is the UN. And this is where Türk seems most at ease. Internationalist, but not interventionist. Recognising the sovereignty of member states, but not isolationist. Reform minded but recognising that different groups have different priorities. Good with buzzwords (people first!) but mindful of the reality and the UN’s heritage.

And this is where Türk probably nailed his presentation: When asked by te UK’s representative what the purpose of the UN is, Türk responded with one word: Peace

So, all in all, the man did good. Definitely better than a lot of people in Slovenia are willing to admit. In fact, a considerable amount of energy is being spent by his detractors back home to paint him as unsuitable for the job. Mostly on account of his supposed divisiveness, asking how can he unite an international organisation if he can’t even unite a country.

First of all, it’s kind of hard to unite the country where a major political player with a substantial following (who is now on the outs, but more on that in the coming days) is painting you as the devil incarnate and working actively to undermine any possible consensus in the country, political and otherwise. And secondly, despite their name, the United Nations were most likely truly united only once in their history: When the original 50 members signed the UN charter. From that point onwards it was about geopolitics, own interests and alliance-building. Which is a part of the reason why the organisation’s top position is “only” a Secretary-General and not a full-blooded President. The UN is not about unity, it is about building a consensus, i.e. the smallest possible level of disagreement, one issue at a time. And this is something Türk knows how to go about. At least in a UN setting.

And when people ask, what will Slovenia gain Türk if gets the job, the answer is “not much”. After all, the government to date spent a ludicrous amount of EUR 7514 (that’s right, 7k euros) in relation to his bid. So why should there “be something in” for a country in what is essentially a private individual’s campaign (true, the government did endorse him and formally put his name forward, but still). What is at work here is the unhealthy tribal instinct of Slovenians where a Slovenian who – against all odds – makes it out there in the big, big world, is somehow morally bound to help his fellow compatriots with jobs, pet projects and free money. They don’t realize that the primary concern is that of the employer. Just as the EU commissioner from Slovenia has to take care of European policies and not those of his/her home country, so is the UN Secretary General tasked with running the UN smoothly and not with promoting the agenda of his country of origin. One of these days we’ll all learn. But not today, apparently.

Anyhow, for all the bravado of the new selection process, the fact remains that when all will be said and done, it will be down to the permanent members of the Security Council to come up with a name. Which means that the back-room dealing is far from being over and done with. And it is entirely possible that a completely different name comes up on top.

Still, one would hope that the entire process will be slightly more civil than the upcoming Republican convention.

 

 

 

Sometimes Even Most Basic Principles Need Voters’ Confirmation. This Is One Of Those Times.

The international media have started showing some interest in Sunday’s vote as well. Politico.eu has a decent summary of events so far, for example. But with five days remaining to Sunday’s referendum vote on same-sex marriage, the one thing that has been noticeably lacking in the public debate are polls. While that will likely change in the days ahead, it left both YES and NO campaigns in the dark in terms of gauging their reach and fine-tuning their approach. Now, the rumor-mill has it that some in-house polling was indeed done and that the results suggest a slight edge for the NO campaign, but given the lack of (financial) resources both campaigns are struggling with, these things need to be taken with a grain of salt, although it would be wrong to disregard them completely.

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pengovsky already cast his vote

Having said that, the campaign this time around is so crude that public opinion polls would probably not do much difference. The NO campaign especially opted for an all-hands-on-deck approach, enlisting the support of whatever grass-roots and Astroturf support it could muster, ranging from crackpots talking about hormone disruptors to suspiciously similar looking associations and groups all the way to the Catholic Church and the right-wing political parties, both within and without the parliament.

Lies, damn lies and the NO campaign

And while the YES campaign enlisted support from non-parliamentary and parliamentary parties, including the ruling coalition, it is trying to keep the message simple and clear: the issue here is equal right to marry and little else. And while they have been fairly consistent in this approach (post-debate mockery of the NO side over the weekend notwithstanding), the other side have resorted to fearmongering, intimidation, bad grammar and abuse of legal procedures, all in the name of the cause.

Namely, the day after the debate on public TV which left many-a-viewer in a state of shock and disbelief (yes, there was actually a guy in the NO camp talking about hormone disruptors and yes, pengovsky knows this guy personally), the very next day there was a hearing in the parliamentary committee on human rights on the issue. Normally, such a hearing would be held during legislative procedure, but since the committee is chaired by SDS’ very own Eva Irgl, it was clear from the outset that the sole aim of the enterprise was to give the NO camp a platform to speak from. Especially since Slovene media still feel obliged to report just about every antic the elected representatives of the people think of. Sure, the YES campaign were given the right to counter the claims of the NO campaign, but it was more than obvious who were the protagonists in this particular farce.

Intimidation, fearmongering and bad grammar

Were that not enough (and apparently it isn’t), private individuals who let the world around them know they’re in favour of equal right to marriage, are being bullied and intimidated by those opposing the measure. Case in point being Maruša Žabkar, a young entrepreneur from the town of Krško, who according to her own account,  found a hand-delivered unsigned letter on her doorstep on Monday morning, full of accusations, homophobic slurs and bad grammar, denouncing her and (among other things) accusing of destroying the nation by supporting equal rights. Go figure.

https://twitter.com/russhie/status/676323137399705600

Still, the award for the most concentrated pile of bullshit goes to the Roman Catholic Church which provided a compendium of virtually every bigoted conspiracy theory you can find on the internets, some of which would make even the right wing of the Republican Party cringe. A sample, for your reading, well, pleasure.

The law allows for adoptions by same-sex couples. Do you really wish your child to be adopted by two homosexuals, should anything happen to you?

The law does not “allow” for same-sex adoption, as these are already legal in case of one partner being the biological parent or if the adoption took place in a foreign country (e.g. the USA). Should a child, bob forbid, lose both parents while underage, Slovenian legislation (as everywhere in the world, I imagine) provides for a custodian to be named, usually the next of kin. Usually, grandparents or uncles and aunts. And even if there is no next of kin and the orphaned child would indeed be up for adoption, the social services would act in the best interest of the child. This excludes any possibility of same-sex couples being somehow privileged in adoption procedures. Doubly so given the fact that there are way more prospective adopters in Slovenia than there are possible adoptive children. And if you’re still not convinced, there is a provision for children over 10 years of age to give their consent for adoption into a new family.

The law brings changes to curriculum. Do you wish for your children to learn that they can pick their own gender and that they should experiment with their gender and sexual orientation?

Wait, what? Not only does the law not say a word about teaching curricla, the “school-meddling” argument has been thoroughly refuted (link in Slovenian). But on the whole, pengovsky should point out that keeping your children from learning stuff (including on sexual orientation) only creates frustrated and socially inhibited individuals. Which is a fairly good description of the vast majority of the NO campaign.

The law kills freedom of speech. Do you wish to lose your job saying it’s better for a child to have a mother and a father than two people of same sex?

Pengovsky has yet to see a law that would repudiate an article of the constitution. Obviously, nothing of the sort would happen.

And so on, ad nauseam. A good run-down of absurdity of these “arguments” is available here.

One of those times

And if none of the arguments of the NO campaign hold water, the only question is, why vote YES? Simple: because all men (and women) are created equal and people who want to be together should be able to do so in a way that makes them the most comfortable. By allowing same-sex weddings, no one is disenfranchised, only slightly more people get to get hitched.

This might seem self-explanatory especially to young voters, but sadly it is not. Which is why Sunday’s vote is so terribly important. Sometimes, even the most basic principles of a modern society need to be confirmed by a popular vote.

This is one of those times.