June 1, 2018
Among the 25 competing political parties that entered the election race, only one is led by a woman, the former and only female Prime Minister Slovenia ever had, Alenka Bratušek.
Bratušek took office in 2013 at the peak of the financial crisis, when the Slovenian government was only a few months away from bankruptcy. She did, however, manage the situation surprisingly well, keeping the Troika (IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission) from taking over the state’s economic policy, while at the same time preventing the government from shutting down. An amazing achievement for a newcomer.
However, the only thing people still remember about her leadership is her struggling with English in a CNN interview with Richard Quest, and her “overambitious” attempt on a vice presidential chair in the European Commission. Yet she keeps on fighting.
It appears that from the beginning Bratušek was expected to fall together with the near bankrupt government, and it seems that in Slovenia’s male-dominated political system, on both left and right, women are only given power when failure seems assured.
This was quite apparent in the previous presidential election. With the popular incumbent Borut Pahor running for a second term, the chances of defeating him were low. But as democratic systems must at least put on a show of competitiveness among the main parties, these sent into the fight a few turkeys to be slaughtered and save the faces of the much more important, and more masculine, candidates who would offer themselves to the voters a year later, that is now, at parliamentary elections where the stakes are much higher.
So it happened that in the 2017 presidential elections five of the nine candidates were women, including Maja Makovec Brenčič (the main coalition party, SMC), Romana Tomc (the main opposition party, SDS), Suzana Lara Krause (SLS), Angelca Likovič (GOD) and the only non-turkey female candidate at the time, Ljudmila Novak of the NSi-Krščanski Demokrati, a centre-right leaning party.
That Ljudmila Novak was no “turkey” is not only evident from her party leadership position, but also that her leadership actually affected the party’s policies, which changed significantly after her removal: rapprochement with the far-right SDS and proposals for legal and material restrictions as means of realising a pro-life policy have marked the shift from the softer centre-right interpretations of the party’s agenda by Novak, towards a more right-leaning leadership under Matej Tonin.
For example, Novak was pro-life in terms of addressing the source of a problem by stating that, she does “not support the ban on abortion, as many terrible things can arise from that … I don’t judge anyone. Only God can do that, conscience is above the law and the constitution.” (link)
The party’s new leader, Tonin, on the other hand, now interprets the party’s pro-life policy by addressing abortion in terms of a phenomenon that needs to be restricted: “I would make (access to) abortion more difficult and would also exclude it from the basic health insurance plan”, he recently stated for Večer.
This example of a methodological difference that aims at spreading conservative religious ideals – the line that separates the emphatic persuasive power of the word from an attempt to seize the state apparatus of coercion to submit the different other, in our case the majority of Slovenian voters, women – reached its peak in the recent “consultation” titled “How to prevent the extinction of the Slovenian nation” held in the National Council, the National Assembly’s upper house last week (note that this body has a very limited legislative authority).
In short, the debate began and concluded with male speakers expressing what might be understood as quite extremist views on the causes and solutions to the problem of the ageing population. Among other things the speakers, most of them functionaries of the Catholic Church, equated culture with race, expressed admiration for Islamic practices with regard to reproduction, and in general denied females autonomy over this, while called for the state to implement their “scientific” religious family laws. (link)
Responses from the public to these statements were mixed to negative, yet, as the recent polls reveal, the gender bias remains on both sides, left and right, and we should therefore expect such male-dominated “debates” over how women and their wombs can best serve the nation to become even more frequent in the future.