If you follow Slovenian politics and don’t read Slovene then should be following Pengovsky, the writer behind the blog Sleeping with Pengovsky. If you know his work you’re probably curious to know more about the man, and if you don’t know his work or style then following answers will give a good idea of what you can expect when you click on through to his site and start learning the backstories to the characters who populate the scene.
What’s the story – if there is one – behind “Sleeping with Pengovsky”?
There’s always a story, isn’t there? I started pengovsky.com in 2006, right after the Ljubljana municipal elections which I covered for radio KAOS. As I was doing all the footwork and production by myself and seeing as there were as many as sixteen candidates for mayor, I managed to squeeze in about three hours of sleep per night.
By the end of the campaign I got used to the lack of sleep and running just on adrenaline. And then, when it was all over, I suddenly had loads of time and virtually nothing to do outside my regular work.
I figured I might as well start a blog. I knew a lot of people would be grateful if I did as that would mean I would finally stop spamming *their* blogs with increasingly long comments. None more than the legendary Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International, whose Glory of Carniola was a blog a large number of us read religiously.
Imagine how thrilled I was when Michael first commented on *my*blog.
Speaking of Michael, he was also the one who unofficially sanctioned my nickname, saying that “it is really cool”. I came up with the “pengovsky” when I first commented on his blog, and the moniker is arguably still the only piece of decent copywriting I ever did. To date, sometimes people still think it is my actual surname.
And when the WordPress install wizard asked me about the name of the blog, Sleeping with Pengovsky came naturally. Not only was I single and in my late 20s, I also always thought “Sleeping with the Enemy” was an immensely cool film title. Not that I ever saw the film, but still.
It should be noted (and both people who have followed my blog for more than just a couple of years will remember) that originally the blog featured naked women and men as well and that at first the tagline was “sex and politics”. But as one grows older and even lands a column in serious newspaper, and as PornHub became a thing, posting tits and dicks every Monday and Friday became redundant. Not to mention there is more than enough fuckery in politics (if you'll excuse the graphic language)
Why in English? It wasn’t, at first. I really wanted to write in a more informal, emotionally charged Slovene. But couldn’t. The first couple of posts are just clumsy attempts in Slovenian to transfer my outrage into a blogpost. When I switched to English, however, things started flowing smoothly. Then, quite soon after that, I found out I had some sort of an international audience as well.
It never occurred to me back then, but at the time, the only other English-language sources on current affairs in Slovenia were either government-issued or at the very least state-owned. Turned out I inadvertently hit a bit of a niche, at least at first, before the political parties themselves started spewing out their propaganda in English as well
In your view, what are the main problems with Slovenian politics?
Had you asked me that five years ago, the answer would be that no-one is willing to ride off into the sunset, so to speak. In a way, that still is a problem, but from a different perspective. Back then, the country was at the crossroads, courtesy of a continuous economic crisis and social crisis. What it needed was for someone (or a team of people, say a government), to forget about their own political future and do what needed to be done. Starting with pension reform and then working their way down the list.
Instead, they opted for what I call the Classic Slovenian Approach: overpromise and underdeliver. (As a side note: given how the Brexit omnishambles are going, maybe Muddy Hollows was just ahead of the curve?)
As a result, the last pension reform, which didn’t go far enough as it was, is almost a decade old, the last change in the rules of the political arena ditto (it was no small thing when Franci Kek managed to secure a majority in parliament to pass legislation preventing mayors from serving as MPs at the same time), and we've only just (and grudgingly, at that) delivered on the promises given to the European Commission in 2013 regarding sale of state-owned companies receiving state aid (the deal Alenka Bratušek struck to stave off Troïka descending upon Slovenia).
In 2019, however, the real problem is learning on the job. If Alenka Bratušek can be forgiven for her inexperience in 2013 due to the circumstances of her ascent to power (and she had the good sense to at least surround herself with a good team), subsequent administrations came to power under much more regular conditions and cannot really be excused for much of their incompetence. Chief among those is the passing of legislation, under the Cerar admin at the height of the migration crisis, which allows for the army to police civilians. A rookie mistake, that will come back to haunt us when we least expect it.
That, however, is followed closely by the dismissive attitude Marjan Šarec seems to breed towards European institutions. In the long term, this is potentially just as harmful as it is enlarging the army’s jurisdiction. While Bratušek was in no position to negotiate and Cerar was clumsy, realising only later in his term that it is good to have friends in the EU, Šarec is actively doing as little as possible with the regard to the union.
The PM gives the impression that the EU is nothing more than a source of cohesion funds, and he seems to view the practicalities of the EU primarily through that lens. I guess you can take a man out of Kamnik but you can’t take Kamnik out of the man.
Do you see much hope for positive developments in Slovenian politics and society? If so, in what areas and why?
Bizarrely, yes. One one hand, there is a definite generational replacement going on. That can only be good, even if inexperience is part of the package. Secondly (and this is connected to the first instance), the old divisions between Partisans and the Home Guard (partizani in domobranci) seem to have lost steam. Again, this can only be good.
And even though hate speech and far-right rhetoric are on the rise and that the new cultural war is simply replacing the old one (or so it seems), slowly but surely, the world is coming to Slovenia, even if most Slovenians are still loath to venture outside of their immediate geographic neighbourhood and (crucially) cannot be bothered with global (or even regional) events.
Thus, the society is changing. Sooner or later, specific ecosystems (politics, media, etc) will follow suit.
You're now based in Luxembourg, another small country. Do you think it has any lessons for Slovenia?
Oh, yes! Firstly, Slovenians complain about all the wrong problems. Granted, things are far from ideal back home, but trust me: traffic jams, bike infrastructure and customer service are *not* among our worst problems. Neither is the speed and accessibility of public administration, schooling or health (and I readily admit the last two do need an overhaul).
On the other hand, Luxembourg always knew their strategic goals and worked tirelessly to attain them. Be it switch from coal and steel towards the financial industry in the 70s to the establishment of space industry in the 80s, and the way they’re coming back full circle with space-mining, they were always able to look decades ahead and to try and influence the way that particular game is played.
And finally, the one lesson Luxembourg can teach Slovenia is: engage, engage, engage. Luxembourgers and their leadership, regardless of shape or form, understands that keeping a *constant* dialog with *all* your neighbours (and beyond) on *all* levels, is paramount to political stability, economic development and social justice and cohesion.
It is not just the EU enables Luxembourg to play an outsize role on the continent. There is the Benelux parliament, the Grand Region (Luxembourg and the surrounding provinces in neighbouring countries), and other instances of cross border cooperation which ultimately result in people actually caring about what Luxembourg has to say on any given matter. Just ask Boris Johnson.
That said, the traffic situation there is pure, unadulterated shit.
If you wanted to show people “the best of Pengovsky”, what posts would you share?
Huh, that’s a tough one. Maybe this can count as a break-out post as it actually prompted Gregor Golobič to leave a comment which turned into a short conversation of its own. Then there’s one of the early ones, which I link back to often, as a demonstration of how perilously close Muddy Hollows came on several occasions to becoming a third-world autocracy. But this one, done in the middle of the 2013 crisis is vintage Pengovsky, too.
For readers who know Slovenian, can you recommend some media that give an interesting perspective on the country?
At the risk of tooting my own horn, I would first recommend the LD;GD podcast on Metina Lista, hosted by Nataša Briški, Antiša Korljan, Andraž Zorko and me. Not just because we have fun doing it while trying to stay on substance, but also because the other three give valuable insight into the daily dynamics of the political landscape.
Secondly, if you can, take the time for the national radio, especially Radio Prvi (RASLO 1) and science/technology programmes on Val 202 (RASLO2). In general, I've come to the conclusion that radio (especially Radio Slovenia) is one of the last refuges against the hysterics of the media landscape.
And thirdly, if you see a gap in reporting on Slovenia, go fill it. Ever since Glory of Carniola went dark, Slovenia hasn’t had a proper expat blog. At least none that I know of. As a nation, we could do with an occasional reality check. Both good and bad.
Are there any Slovenian cultural products that you think deserve more attention?
I wish Ali Žerdin's book Generali brez kape had an English translation. It describes the events around the JBTZ affair in 1988 but it also features all the household names that came to shape Slovenia as we know it today. Once you read this book (and I keep re-reading it) you come to realise that a lot of things that may seem incomprehensible about Slovenia were (are?), in fact, inevitable.
I also wish Slon in Sadež did their shtick in English. The duo and their albums are one of the reasons I think not all is lost and that our future is bright.
Lastly, if you can, go pay a visit to Vrabec restaurant, in Vače (next to GEOSS). You'll know why when you taste it.
Finally, do you plan on coming back to Slovenia and being part of the scene here, and if so in what capacity?
“Planning” is a bit too strong a word at this stage. But Luxembourg was never meant to be a one-way trip. That said, the initial plan called for a three-year decampment, but then kids started going to school, had made friends and generally felt good about the place, and it seemed cruel to uproot them again, just after they’ve settled in. So that plan went out the window.
In the words of Master Yoda, difficult to see, the future is.