Boxing Solidarity

A new political party was formed in Slovenia on Saturday. In a country with 78 political parties and organisations this might not seem terribly important, but since Solidarnost (Solidarity) was formed by several people and groups integral to the popular uprisings in late 2011/early 2012, they do deserve a second glance.

The collective presidency of Solidarnost (source)

There has always been talk about new parties being formed out of the protest movement. But – as always – going from reaction to proaction proved much harder than many imagined at the height of the protest wave. Thus it is no wonder that it took almost a year for a new party to form. Especially since this is (broadly speaking) a left-wing party we’re dealing with here. And while political forces on the right traditionally care strongly only about a handful of issues, left-wing players care strongly about a zillion things. Each of them about a zillion different things.

OK, so pengovsky is exaggerating to make a point, but you get my meaning. If the common denominator of the protest movement was the administration of Janez Janša and its broad-sworded austerity policies, it was anything but easy to find a new common denominator of a heterogeneous group of strongly opinionated people whose initial motivation for entering the political arena was the questionable legitimacy of the existing political establishment and its power structure. I guess the best, albeit slightly stretched comparison would be if the NY Occupy movement tried to enter the race for New York mayor. In fact, the process was apparently so difficult, the party does not have a president, but rather a three-member presidency, comprised of Uroš Lubej (leader of one of the protest groups), Damjan Mandelc (a sociologist and political activist) and Marina Tavčar Krajnc (professor at Maribor University).

Anyways, point is that it took a while for Solidarnost to form. Now what? Interestingly enough, several polls published in weeks leading up to formation of the party showed a “protest movement party” would resonate heavily with voters, with at least one poll giving such a party as much as 40%. However, that was before Solidarnost’s platform was adopted and published. And therein lies the key to understanding the phenomenon.

People smarter than me (yes, there are a few of those, shocking as it may seem) made a good observation that the new party could become a focal point of voters’ wishes and projections. This, in fact, is probably the reason why “a protest party” scored so high in the polls. It is a pool of votes Solidarty can draw from. But if the difficulty of party-forming process is anything to go by, the expectations the voters have of the new party are even more wildly apart from each other than those of the founding members were.

Which is why it could very well be that the 12-point and 22-page platform, although addressing several key issues this country faces, will prove to be the problem rather than the solution. And for one reason only: it is, in pengovksy’s opinion, too specific. The left-wing, traditionally at odds with itself, is always happy to shoot itself in the knee and take issues with its own kind over even the most marginal of issues. Or the lack thereof. Case in point being the TEŠ6 clusterfuck, which is conspicuously lacking but a mention in the document. (EDIT: turns out TEŠ6 is mentioned, albeit only briefly (page 20). Still, the point generally stands.)

Point being, that Solidarnost is entering a heavily opinionated, heavily populated and heavily fractured territory, where few breaks are given. Not that the new party leadership is helping it cause, indiscriminately portraying the entire existing spectrum as “parties of the capital”, positioning itself further to the left. And despite what Slavoj Žižek recently wrote, that the only true left is today known as the “far left”, that is not a recipe for capturing much of the aforementioned 40%. Even worse, comparisons with German die Linke were floated around, which isn’t exactly helping if you’re trying to capture a plethora of voters of wildly different profiles.

In this respect, it is the least of Solidarnost’s problems that the media spotted a number of former LDS members at the event. Although this immediately resulted in it being painted a bypass-party for the heavily indebted and barely functioning LDS, Solidarnost really shouldn’t worry about that too much. They should, however, worry about being boxed into a corner and left (sic!) there to rot.

Namely, apart from the LDS connection, the evergreen rumour that former Zares leader Gregor Golobič is behind all of it. Or, – this from the right-wing media – that the new party is an “offshot of the Communist party and its remnants”. But since every self-respecting LDS member still crosses the road whenever he or she sees a Zares member approaching on the pavement and both will rather jump into the Ljubljanica river than be seen with an old communist hand, you can’t have it all. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit again, but you get the point. The left is fractioned. But the powers that be apparently see Solidarnost as enough of a threat to the “established order” that they will use every tool in their (for the time being) rhetoric arsenal to paint the party as “one of us”, the argument being that they’re all the same anyhow, but with the old guys you at least know who’s who.

Years ago Gregor Golobič “accused” pengovsky of declaring Zares D.O.A.. Fun times, those were. 🙂 But while not dead-on-arrival, Solidarnost is risking crib-death by starting to play the game others want it to play and allowing its position on the political spectrum to be determined by the established political players.

P.S.: Pengovsky’s first ever column for Nedelo more than five years ago was titled “Give us back the politics”. Solidarnost’s slogan is “give the politics back to the people”. They’re not winning any points with me for this one, but it is kind of neat 😉

Keep Calm and TEŠ6

Debating the ever more derailed project of Šoštanj power-plant bloc 6 (TEŠ6) the parliament played the blame game entire day yesterday. It was both fun and gruesome to watch. Like German 70s porn. Called by the opposition SDS it had one goal and one goal only. To put a daylight between them and a project that is spiralling out of control as has almost tripled in cost, going from 600 million to 1.5 billion euro. To put things in perspective: 1.5 billion may not seem a lot. It won’t buy you a Virginia-class nuclear submarine, to pick an example at random. But on the other hand, it represents about 4.5% of total Slovenian GDP. It will also buy you a lot of German 70s porn.


Now, you may or may not be fully up to speed on the issue, but while quite long in the making, the issue became hot during the Pahor era, when Zares of Gregor Golobič started making noises raising hell about how this project is run so badly it is going to explode into everyone’s face. In retrospect they were right and this was arguably the single most important issue that brought down the government of Borut Pahor. Namely, it emerged that an ad hoc SD-SDS special interest coalition formed on this project specifically and passed a law of a state guarantee for a 400 million loan by the European Investment Bank. At the time it was hailed as the only infrastructure project in Slovenia worthy of its name, a backbone of Slovenian energy self-sufficiency and a jobs maker in the area.

Very few people asked themselves how exactly TEŠ6 helps energy self-sufficiency if it is only meant to replace the ageing blocs 4 and 5 and thus producing almost zero net increase in megawatt hours. Few people asked themselves just how exactly do 3500 jobs warrant over a billion worth of stimulus when the entire country is going down the shit-hole. And finally, nobody really took care of the project, which means that TEŠ6 still has to produce a single megawatt of electricity.

A shitload of people had and still have a vested interest in this project which is why it was defended furiously. Case in point being this POP TV video from 2010 (Slovenian only) where Srečko Meh, a SD heavyweight from Velenje/Šoštanj area goes after Gregor Golobič from the very beginning, defending the project as financially sound, economically justifiable and socially necessary. Fast forward three years (June 24 2013) and Srečko Meh posts a video (Slovenian only), slamming the SDS for calling the parliament debate and pre-emptively distancing himself from the project and the parliament-approved guarantee he helped secure.

You see, TEŠ6 was meant to be a hunting ground both in terms of money for pet projects as well as securing high paying jobs for selected people. Which is why the entire project was based of the principle of fait accompli, with stuff being done first and then asking the relevant authorities to either OK it or cough up the dough. or both. Energy is where the money is and TEŠ6 was earmarked to burn the local lignite which has the energy density of a well-behaved rock and is pricey to say the least. It is also a matter of some debate whether – after decades of mining – there’s enough lignite left for the entire life-span of TEŠ6 or will this mean importing coal, driving the cost up even more. In fact, yesterday’s parliament session even pointed to the possibility of the power-plant making a loss. Yes. you read it correctly. Apparently, TEŠ6 is so screwed up it is liable to lose money rather than make it. It should come as no surprise then that Uroš Rotnik, CEO of the plant at the time when the deal with Alstom was sealed is now under criminal investigation

What we saw yesterday was a classic example of pot calling kettle black. It was perverse seeing SDS and SD pointing fingers at each other and screaming bloody murder over a billion-and-a-half worth example of pork-barrel politics. In fact, in a bizarre show of complete disconnect, the SDS actually moved to have the parliament set the price tag at 1.3 billion and not a penny more. As if Alstom, the French construction company which got the contract to build under suspiciously favourable conditions, would give a damn.

But if you think anything changed, you’re mistaken. The 800 million already spent remain with Alsom and 400+ mil state guarantee for an EIB loan stands, despite a new majority in the parliament and a new government at the helm. The only decision that begs mention is a measure instructing the Court of Audit to go over the books of state-owned HSE, the mother company of TEŠ. But the law does not give the Court the power to dig into companies that are indirectly state owned, like TEŠ is. So in fact, the parliament yesterday almost unanimously decided that the project is a disaster and then voted to carry on with it.


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The Return of the Jay-Z

Zoran Janković is to be sworn as mayor tomorrow and I still owe you a run-down on his victory on mayoral by-elections on 25 March, so here it goes: While the result was a virtual no-brainer, the whole episode is slightly more interesting than it may seem at first glance. As you very well now, the sole reason for these by-elections was the fact that Janković was elected MP on 4 December parliamentary elections and had to relinquish his position as the Big Kahuna of the coty. After being outmanoeuvred by Janez Janša and had the premiership snatched from under the nose, Janković was faced with quite a dilemma: whether he should continue as MP and a nominal leader of the opposition, or whether he should leave the parliament and try to – as schizophrenic as this may sound – succeed himself as the mayor of Ljubljana.

Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, pengovsky would like to remind both readers again that these were mayoral by-elections which had no effect on the composition of the city council itself with Zoran Janković List having an absolute majority of 25 out of 45 councilmen, so there was a theoretical possibility of a cohabitation. But in all honesty, the result was never in doubt. Ljubljana is Zoki’s turf and with the political right being continuously unable to mount a serious challenge to win since 1994 municipal administration reform which established Ljubljana as a single entity, the question du jour was not if Jay-Z will win, but by rather by how much. In the end the metre stopped at 61%, which is a) a repetition of his election results in 2006 and 2010 and b) still pretty awesome.

Having said that, additional and equally important issues were raised by these elections: a) why can’t the political right put up a decent fight in the capital and why it tried in vain to do so, b) what’s with the left side of the spectrum and c) what will Janković’s move from National Assembly to the City Hall mean for him and for the parliamentary opposition.

The Empire

As you know, right wing parties put forward two challengers to Zoran Janković. Mojca Kucler Dolinar, a joint SDS/NSi candidate and Matjaž Glavan, who stood for SLS. While Glavan scored a neglible 1% which is in line with that SLS got in municipal elections in 2010, Kucler Dolinar scored marginally better than she and Zofija Mazej Kuković did year and a half ago when they ran solo for NSi and SDS respectively.

But the real question is why did Kucler Dolinar run for mayor the second time knowing she’d lose. Pengovsky tried to answer this in his post running up to the elections (hoping for a reward down the road), but there are other factors to consider as well. Most of all the fact that for all intents and purposes Mojca Kucler Dolinar is now a spent force. She lost to Janković twice in a row and although one could claim that she did pretty well, she came nowhere near forcing Janković into a second round, let alone endangering him directly. This does not exactly do wonders for her political career as she has little to show for in terms of achievements. Also, word has it the joint SDS/NSi ticket was her idea but that the SDS had to formally extend the invitation since Kucler Dolinar’s NSi was strongly opposed to what they probably saw as a lost cause.

Bottom line: whatever political ambitions Kucler Dolinar might have had before 25 March are now probably up in smoke. She was probably hoping to re-enter national politics (she served as a higher education minister in the first Janša administration) but given lack of success on her part and the minute role NSi is playing the current Janša set-up, her chances are virtually nil. Ditto for any master plan she might have had to take over the party.

SDS came out of this mess virtually unhurt. From their point of view it doesn’t really matter who made the initial offer, fact of the matter is that by having Kucler Dolinar as a joint candidate they made at least a pro-forma challenge to Janković while not throwing away a name and a face they’ll have to send into battle in two-and-a-half-year’s time.

But even then they will still be faced with the same dilemma: Why can’t they win in Ljubljana? Well, the marginally younger, more urban and slightly more left-wing orientation of the population helps, but the reality is that the political right has been re-active. In other words, they always campaigned on »not doing stuff like the previous administration did it«. And had Zoki not burst on the scene in 2006, that might have just been enough. But he did and it wasn’t. As a result, they (as well as most of the other political parties) are hopelessly aping his platform which is broad enough to have encompassed most of the challenges this city will be facing in the next decade or so, as well as trying to beat him at his own game of setting goals and achieving them (or at least coming close enough). And when that doesn’t work, they fall back again to »promising not to do it like the previous guys did it«. It’s a vicious circle, which will only be broken if and when Janković (again) decides to quit the mayorship. Be it to return to the national lever, be it for good.

The Rebels

On the other hand, things are not exactly dull on the left, either. The suprise of the day was a relatively strong showing by Vito Rožej of Zares, who scored slightly above four percent of the vote, which was quite a feat for a party which barely registered with voters across the country only months ago in parliamentary elections and did only marginally better in 2010 local elections.

But before people start opening bottles of Dom Perignon ’58, we should make a few things clear. To an extent Rožej did get his four percent on account of being a relatively fresh but recognisable face on the scene (he did serve as councilman in city of Kranj and as MP in the previous parliament). Then again he was also active in the campaign for the Family Code, which must have helped. But most importantly, he had the good luck of SD, DeSUS and LDS opting not to enter the race with their respective candidates, so it is safe so say that Rožej got a fair amount of their votes as well. Just so we’re clear on that. No champagne yet, I’m afraid.

And while we’re on it: some of those votes must have gone to the lone ranger on Ljubljana politics Miha Jazbinšek, who scored a record 6 percent of the vote.

The return of the Jay-Z

So, the one last thing that remains to be answered is what will the return of the Jay-Z mean for the situation on the parliament? In the short term, nothing good, really. Sure, Janković didn’t exactly loiter in the parliament and his people had to do without him on occasion. But the fact that he will be physically gone will have its repercussions. If one is to judge by the situation in his city council group upon his leaving, Janković will have to make damn sure that MPs for Positive Slovenia don’t lose focus, motivation and go for each other’s throats. Because once the Big Kahuna is gone, a lot of small and mid-sized Kahunas will try to impose themselves unto their colleagues, despite the fact that the parliamentary group is headed by Janković’s former vicemayor and still-serving Ljubljana councilman Jani Möderndorfer. He will have his work cut out for him once Zoki is gone.

As for the left wing in general, things will become much more interesting. It is no secret that litlle love is lost between Janković and leader of SD Borut Pahor. That much became plainly obvious after the SD gave a cold shoulder to Zoki when he tried to rally all left wing parties some days ago and everyone save the Social Democrats and SMS-Green Party attended. The SD implicitly accused the re-minted mayor of trying to take over the left and impose himself unto others and they might have even been correct to an extent. But fact of the matter is that the SD finally started settling in-party scores and is locked in a bitter power struggle between Borut Pahor and Igor Lukšič, with the latter pulling no punches (and having no reason to, sice Pahor sidelined him early in his premiership for no apparent reason).

If Janković really wanted to unite the left under a common banner, he should have waited a couple of weeks, two months at best, for the shit to hit the fan witihn SD and for the defeat on the Family Code referendum to really sink in and he’d have almost all of the left eating out of his hand. But as things stand, he jumped the gun again (just as he did immediately after his election victory) and came out more or less empty handed.

But be that as it may, with Zoki in the City Hall as of tomorrow, a new centre of political power on national level is starting to emerge and it could very well be that the end result will be a situation not unlike in Austria, where nothing happens on the political left unless the all-powerful Vienna mayor Michael Häupl OKs it. And – funnily enough – Janković always said how he considers Häupl to be his role model. I guess he meant it…

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Ljubljana By-elections

Apart from the crucial vote on the Family code (more on that tomorrow), Ljubljanchans will vote in the mayoral by-elections this Sunday. The players are known and pengovsky introduced them some time ago, so we’ll dispence with niceties this time around.

Well, there you have it… (source)

While there’s always an outside chance of an election uspet, the result of the vote seems a foregone conclusion. Zoran Janković is poised to be elected mayor for the third consecutive time which will be a bit of a tounge-in-cheek as the by-elections were called because he was elected to the parliament in the first place. But since Janković was denied the premiership even though his Positive Slovenia won the elections, Janković probably won’t hurt in the pols too much.

While some candidates raised the question of apropriateness (after all, it isn’t really customary to cherry-pick positons you run for), the main thing is that this time around it isn’t Zoki’s charm that’s working for him, but rather the fact that – save a couple – all candidates are, well, bland. It’s allways nice to read about the challengers’ platforms, but delivery is just as important. Really, work on it.

The only two candidates besides Janković which did put some back into it, were Mojca Kucler Dolinar (joint NSi/SDS candidate) and Vito Rožej (Zares). Neither really has any chances to win this time around and both recognise the fact (semi-officially, at least). In fact, Janković’s bid nothwithstanding, the candidates are mostly laying groundwork for the regular municipal elections in 2014. Either that or they’re fighting a losing battle for a reward – say a more decent job description somewhere along the road.

At any rate: It looks like Zoki will take this one home in the first round. But paralel to the mayoral by-elections, Slovenes will vote on the refrendum on the new family law. As you’ll see tomorrow, the situation in that particular cesspool is “dramatic”. 😀


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Slovenian Elections: I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Well, now. It’s been a while since pengovsky last blogged on Slovenian elections. Thee last ten days saw a shitload of action, but you know how it is: things to see and people to do… :mrgreen: So, taking a look at how things stand, one can see that Gregor Virant has tanked completely and is virtually out of the picture (I told you he was all fluff!), with Borut Pahor‘s Social Democrats swinging into third place.

The story so far…

In the final stretch SLS and NSi seem to be making a dash for the 4 percent threshold, while DeSUS is well on the safe side. What is unknown is the fate of smaller parties, most notably Zares and LDS as well as (to an extent) TRS and SMS-Green party, both of which had their respective peaks. Word on the street has it that all of them are working their asses off in a grass-roots campaign, with LDS and Zares having some sort of advantage as they have relatively good networks on the ground. But the polls consistently fail to score them above any meaningful percentage. The answer will be known come Sunday.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Barring disaster, however, the two main contenders for electoral victory on Sunday night remain Janez Janša and Zoran Janković. For about a week now the two are locked into an exchange over their financial status and property ownership, with Janković being quizzed over transactions with his two sons (to whom he sold Electa, his construction and engineering company), a house in Grosuplje (ironically, Janša’s home town) and an undeclared part of a forest behind his house, while Janša became the subject of heightened scrutiny over how he bought and sold four or five pieces of real estate, making relatively hefty profits along the way and ending up with better property along the way.

Things got rather interesting on Wednesday afternoon, when Janša – in what was an obvious case of damage control, for he didn’t do a very good job at explaining his real estate deals on Monday – said that he will reveal his financial details provided all the other leading candidates did the same. His bluff was called almost instantaneously as Borut Pahor apparently released all of his financial documentation to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), while Zoran Janković brought his papers to a debate on cable television Info TV and literally handed them over to Janša, who had nothing to give in return and was thus made to look like a bit of a fool.

Jay-Z calling JJ’s bluff (source: Info TV)

Admittedly, we do not know exactly what is in Janković’s papers, but the damage was done and Janša didn’t have the means to return the blow. And while we’re on it, Jay-Z won the only head-to-head with Janša of this election campaign hands down. Granted, just as the real-life Jay-Z, the mayor of Ljubljana is facing an increasing number of problems in this election campaign, but the scandals that were thrown in his way seem to have done little to dent his poll numbers. Ditto for Janša, who seems to be going from strength to strength and is looking at the high-thirties region in polls. Take a look at this collection of polls by Ninamedia, which are slightly more relevant than just all the polls thrown togerher, as they are made on a similar sample with more or less the same set of questions


The way it looks right now, Janša seems poised to win on 4 December. However whether or not he will be able to form a coalition remains a mystery and is dependant as much on the result of Zoran Janković as on the result of Virant’s List, SLS and NSi. Additionally, an 11th hour dash by either Zares or LDS (or both) could alter the board significantly and given enough of a clusterfuck, Janša could well be left hanging out to dry. However, in all honesty, pengovsky thinks there’s not more than a 20% chance of that happening.

N.B.: Aside from the last graph, data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xls file for download.

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