Ljubljana related

21 Sep 2019, 17:13 PM

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.

You can keep up with Pengovsky on his blog or Twitter.

19 Aug 2019, 11:30 AM

STA, 18 August - Nearly two thirds of Slovenians believe that the government is doing a good job, suggests the August Vox Populi, while the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) remains at the top of party rankings.

Commissioned by public broadcaster TV Slovenija and the newspaper Dnevnik on a monthly basis, the survey shows that 59.2% of the 700 people who were surveyed believe the government is doing a good job. The figure is 1.3 percentage points lower than in July.

On the other hand, 35.2% believe the opposite, with the share up three percentage points compared to previous month. Nonetheless, the LMŠ remains at the top of the party rankings with a support of 22.2% of respondents. The opposition Democrats (SDS) are in second place with 15.5%.

The Social Democrats (SD) are third with 10%, followed by the Left with 6.2%. The rest of the parties all remain under the 4% threshold of the National Assembly.

Despite the high support for the LMŠ and the government, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has been dethroned in the politicians' popularity ranking by President Borut Pahor. MEP Tanja Fajon is in place three, followed by MEP Ljudmila Novak.

The survey also asked respondents about what they believe would be the best measures by the EU to help countries cope with the migration crisis. 67.7% said the EU should help source countries address problems that force people to leave.

Just over 36% believe that the EU should provide incentives to countries that would hold migrants back from the bloc, in Turkey, the Western Balkans and North Africa.

Another 33.1% believe the EU should beef up the control of its external borders and 17.7% believe that migrants should be given the option to request a work permit before even setting foot in the EU.

Nearly 14% believe that the EU should increase control on its internal borders, while 8.7% said that they should be able to request asylum in the EU before arriving here.

Assessing the work of the police, 41.8% said the force was doing a good job, 44.8% said the police were partly successful and 8.4% said they were doing a poor job.

Nearly half of the respondent (49.6%) believe that incentives to establish ad hoc militias to protect the border were unwarranted and 44.2% believe the opposite.

All our stories on Slovenian politics are here

11 Aug 2019, 12:30 PM

STA, 10 August 2019 - Slovenia is in for a hectic autumn as PM Marjan Šarec intends to peg the vote on the crucial 2020-2021 budget bills to a confidence vote, with the opposition Left saying it could withhold support for his minority government. But analysts see no reason for a no-confidence vote, which would trigger an early election that practically no party wants.

The Left, which the opposition considers a radical leftist party, has accused the government of "rightist policies", urging it to drop them if it wants to continue counting on its support.

But it is particularly unhappy with the slow fulfilment of commitments the cabinet made in an agreement with it featuring 13 projects the Left wants implemented.

By tying the budget and confidence votes, Šarec would test the coalition's trust and the support of the Left, which has had only one of the planned projects realised.

Without the Left, the government does not have an absolute majority in parliament, which is needed if legislation is vetoed by the upper chamber and put to a re-vote in the lower chamber.

If the Left indeed withdraws support, Šarec could potentially seek new alliances with the National Party (SNS), which voted for the revised 2019 budget, or with New Slovenia (NSi).

The conservative NSi has recently said it would be willing to work closer with the government on a project-to-project basis, an option also seen as viable by analysts.

Andraž Zorko from pollster Valicon believes the confidence vote resulting in no-confidence is highly unlikely, doubting Šarec would dare to propose it if there were any signs he could lose the vote.

"There is no reason for anyone to vote for the government's dismissal because there are only two scenarios after it: an alternative, centre-right government, which is rather unlikely, or an election."

Judging by opinion polls, Šarec is perhaps the only one interested in an early election, according to Zorko, whereas Alem Maksuit believes no matter how strong Šarec feels, he would not risk toppling his own government.

Zorko notes the prime minister's LMŠ party does better in opinion polls than in elections, saying "it enjoyed 26% in polls in February, but won only around 12% in the EU vote four months later".

Compared to the many parties that have emerged over the past decade in Slovenia, Zorko considers Šarec a survivor, with his "LMŠ doing everything smoothly for now".

"Šarec is a nice combination of a new politician with elements of populism adapted to the Slovenian milieu, which is more left than right, although he is faring well on both sides."

Maksuti from the Institute for Political Management says Šarec is using his polls-based legitimacy to exert pressure on his partners, "but things can change very quickly in Slovenia".

Noting an early election is in no party's interest at the moment, Maksuti believes "the only possible change is the NSi replacing the Left in cooperation with the government".

The NSi "is willing to compromise because it is aware how politics works and because it is not that radical", he says.

Zorko, on the other hand, sees the NSi's willingness to support the government "to distance itself from the Democrats (SDS) and narrow the Left's wiggle room".

Maksuti says the Left will most probably extend the period in which it expects its projects to be implemented, or terminate the pact with the government.

But he believes the Left is actually harming itself by further cooperating with the government.

Zorko does not expect the Left to change its tactics either, noting it is quite successful in navigating between the government and its electorate's (dis)satisfaction.

Another change to the political relations could come in October as the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the second strongest coalition party, changes leadership.

Miro Cerar, the SMC's leader and founder, said he would no longer stand for re-election after the party fared poorly in May's European elections.

He is expected to be replaced at a congress by Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, a member of the party's executive council.

Zorko has just recently told the STA that with Počivalšek as SMC leader, many cards are open because he is in a way a new face, somewhat peculiar and strong-willed.

However, if the SMC, which lacks a clear ideological profile, positions itself slightly more to the right economically-wise, this could well win it new votes.

Maksuti has begged to differ, asserting the SMC, which was set up just before the 2014 election, which it won in a landslide, is a political corpse and Počivalšek politically illiterate.

24 May 2019, 17:41 PM

STA, 24 May 2019 - All the latest public opinion polls ahead of Sunday's EU elections see the joint list of the Democrats and People's Party (SDS+SLS) as the front runner, followed by the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Social Democrats (SD).

New Slovenia (NSi), the Left and the Pensioners Party (DeSUS) also appear to be serious contenders for an MEP seat, while the prospects of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and National Party (SNS) seem to be more remote.

Overview of the latest public opinion polls ahead of the 26 May elections to the European Parliament

                 Ninamedia*  Valicon**   Parsifal***
SDS-SLS                25.0       22.1       16.4
LMŠ                    20.6       18.9       15.5
SD                     15.0       15.8       12.6
NSi                    10.4        7.7        3.3
Left                    8.3        5.9        4.1
DeSUS                   7.3        5.5        7.4
SAB                     4.3        5.0        2.8
SNS                     3.2        6.2        3.3
Greens of Slovenia      2.5        2.8        0.5
SMC                     1.5        4.0        0.2
Let's Connect           0.7        1.2        0.8
Good State              0.5        1.8        0.9
Homeland League         0.4        1.9        0.5
ZSi                     0.3        1.1        0.4
Don't know               /          /        28.9

*Ninamedia: projection based on telephone poll conducted between 20-23 May, 675 respondents
**Valicon: projection based on web panel survey on 21-22 May, 1,012 respondents
***Parsifal: poll conducted 20-22 May, 683 respondents, undecided voters included in final tally

03 May 2019, 08:03 AM

Get the headlines every morning here, while the events scheduled for the next week can be found here

A review of major events in the week between 26 April and 2 May, as prepared by the STA:

FRIDAY, 26 April
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary commission in charge of overseeing intelligence and security services accused Defence Minister Karl Erjavec of abusing the military intelligence service to dismiss Brigadier Miha Škerbinc as the force commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces. Erjavec, who denies the charge, appointed Brigadier Milan Žurman Škerbinc's successor effective on 30 April.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar and his visiting Norwegian counterpart Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide noted the good relationship between the two countries. Norway and Slovenia "are in many ways two similar-minded countries", Cerar said.
        LJUBLJANA/BRUSSELS, Belgium - Perceived independence of judges remains a sore spot for Slovenia's judiciary, according to the 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard. The country placed 22nd, based on 2017 data, a two-spot improvement over the year before. The country has considerably reduced court backlogs.
        LJUBLJANA - A poll released by POP TV on the first day of the election campaign gave the joint list of the opposition Democrats (SDS) and the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) 12.3% of the vote, followed by the coalition SocDems with 12.2%. PM Marjan Šarec's LMŠ polled at 10.1% and the opposition National Party (SNS) at 7.2%.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Some 75% of Slovenians who took part in the most recent Eurobarometer survey feel that being a member of the EU has benefited their country. Some 37% feel the EU is no longer on the right track, while 38% feel that way about Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Retail group Mercator posted EUR 1.6m in net profit for last year, an improvement over its EUR 184m loss in the year before. Sales revenue was up by 1.2% year-on-year, reaching EUR 2.18bn. Revenue from retail, the group's core business, increased by 3.2% to EUR 1.63bn.
        KRANJ - The recently sold Gorenjska Banka doubled its pre-tax profit to EUR 20.68m in 2018. Net profit nearly tripled compared to the year before, amounting to EUR 17.1m, showed the annual report.
        MARIBOR - The newspaper publisher Večer offloaded its entire magazine portfolio to focus on general interest media as it prepares to merge with rival newspaper publisher Dnevnik. The magazines have been sold to three companies that are part of a sprawling media empire controlled by Martin Odlazek, seen by many as one of the most influential people in Slovenia.

SATURDAY, 27 April
        JELŠANE - Some 400 locals living along the border near the Jelšane crossing staged a rally demanding better border protection and rejecting the idea of their community hosting a processing centre for migrants.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor described Resistance Day as a "glorious day" that celebrates rebellion against attempts to destroy the Slovenian nation. Rebellious people risked their lives and resisted are patriots who deserve respect and admiration notwithstanding what accompanied the national liberation struggle, he said.
        LJUBLJANA - Ratings agency Moody's upgraded Slovenia's outlook to stable from positive as it kept its country rating at Baa1. The outlook was changed due to the government effective response to issues exposed by the debt crisis, the Finance Ministry said.
        LJUBLJANA - A total of 103 candidates running on 14 lists will vie for eight seats allotted to Slovenia in the European Parliament, showed the final tally by the National Electoral Commission. There will be 51 women on the ballot and 52 men and six lists, including by five parliamentary parties, have made women their top candidates.

SUNDAY, 28 April
        LJUBLJANA - The government's approval rating improved by 3.6 p.p. in Aril compared to March to stand at 56%, showed a poll commissioned by POP TV. Support for the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) grew as well, to 17% from 16.5%. The LMŠ is followed by the opposition Democrats (SDS), which lost more than one point to 14.3%, showed the poll by Mediana.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia is seen as a stable, constructive and pro-European country which however does not fully use the potential to play the role a small country can play in the EU, Slovenia's former European Commissioner Janez Potočnik told the STA ahead of the 15th anniversary of Slovenia's EU accession.
        LJUBLJANA - Data from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) showed 47 people died in Slovenia in 2017 of causes related to drug abuse, seven more than in 2016. Drug-related deaths have been rising since 2013.

MONDAY, 29 April
        BERLIN, Germany - PM Marjan Šarec stressed as one of the participants the informal summit on the Western Balkans that the much needed agreement between Kosovo and Serbia would have to be in line with international law, well coordinated and comprehensive. Šarec highlighted Slovenia's support to the region on its Euroatlantic path.
        LJUBLJANA - The recently privatised NLB announced it will issue EUR 45m in subordinated notes with a ten-year maturity on 6 May. The bonds will have a fixed coupon rate of 4.2% in the first five years.
        KRANJ - The AGM of Gorenjska Banka, which is in 98.27% ownership of Serbian AIK Banka, squeezed out small shareholders. It will pay EUR 298 a share to owners of a total of 6,166 shares, the price per share offered in the recent takeover.
        LJUBLJANA - It was confirmed that the Competition Protection Agency's (AVK) approved on 25 April the sale of Slovenia-based sports equipment maker Elan to the Finnish-owned KJK fund.
        CELJE - Cetis, one of the top printing companies in Europe specialising in secure documents, posted a group net profit of EUR 2.4m, down 67.6% over the year before. The group's revenue dropped by 2.2% to EUR 59.7m.
        SAMOBOR, Croatia - Representatives of the largest trade union confederations of Slovenia and Croatia had their annual Labour Day get-together to adopt a joint statement which calls for prudent reflection and a broad social consensus when it comes to plans to increase the retirement age. The statement is titled 67 is Too Much.

TUESDAY, 30 April
        LJUBLJANA - The Ljubljana Local Court drastically reduced the fine originally issued to the opposition Democrats (SDS) in connection to the first of its two violations of the political parties act, while only issuing a reprimand as opposed to a fine in connection to the second. The court maintains the SDS broke rules on party funding with two illegal loans taken out in 2017.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's annual inflation rate in April was at 1.7%, up 0.1 percentage points compared to March, while 0.8% inflation was recorded on the monthly level. Annual inflation was mostly driven by higher prices of energy, and monthly inflation by dearer holidays and footwear, the Statistics Office said.
        LJUBLJANA - The Swedish news portal Nordic Monitor claimed it had obtained secret documents revealing that diplomats working at the Turkish Embassy in Ljubljana spied on a number of critics of Turkey's government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Foreign Ministry said it was not familiar with the report and did not want to comment.
        LJUBLJANA - Tourism and media group DZS posted EUR 2.5m in net profit last year, an improvement over the EUR 91,000 in profit generated the year before. Sales revenue was at EUR 87m, slightly higher than in 2017.

        RAVNE NA KOROŠKEM - Addressing a Labour Day ceremony in Ravne na Koroškem, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said that Labour Day was not an ideological holiday but a "holiday of good people, who like to spend time together, who work hard every day and who love their country."
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor urged Slovenians to cast their votes in the upcoming European elections in an interview with the STA ahead the 15th anniversary of Slovenia's joining the EU, observed on 1 May. "All of us, who see the EU as brining a future of peace, security, prosperity and the future for our children have the obligation to do something ... It is our responsibility to encourage people to vote," he said.
        WARSAW, Poland - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar attended a ceremony in Warsaw marking the 15th anniversary of the accession of ten countries to the EU. He said that "the EU is strong because it is united by its diversity and differences, big and small".

        LJUBLJANA - Both Slovenian journalist associations, the DNS and ZNP, took the opportunity of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, to urge a comprehensive overhaul of media legislation. The DNS highlighted the increasing concentration of power in the hands of ever fewer media players who care strictly about business as opposed to quality journalism.

24 Apr 2019, 15:54 PM

EU must resist populism

STA, 24 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec warned of the danger of populism in an interview with the Associated Press, arguing that the EU needed more efficient leadership to successfully counter the populist surge.

Mainstream officials and parties have failed to deter right-wing groups, and populists are advancing in Europe because moderate parties have not been successful with their agenda, he said in an interview released on Tuesday.

Šarec cited prolonged Brexit talks as an example of the EU's slow decision-making, even though he said that delaying Britain's departure from the bloc was nevertheless positive.

"Brexit is quite good example how things are done in European Union, endless debates, then the date of exit is coming, then we are faced with it and we prolong again," he said.

"We need another leadership ... we need such leaders that will be proactive that will be more capable of fast decisions."

Turning to the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, Šarec also warned that elections are "always unpredictable," even though projections indicate mainstream parties will retain the majority.

"You can never know what will occur on the elections and that's the main problem that we have now," he said.

He compared the current situation in Europe with the late 1930s and the actions of the British prime minister at the time, Nevil Chamberlain, who he said believed Hitler when he sought to negotiate rather than confront him.

Still, he said, "there is always a chance and we must act in that way."

Slovenia needs a proactive, balanced foreign policy

STA, 24 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec made the case for a proactive and balanced foreign policy as he addressed Slovenian diplomats gathered for their annual consultation on Wednesday.

"Some events in the world and in our immediate neighbourhood which raise doubt about the universally established principles of international relations, international law and European values affirm my conviction that such conduct must be resisted with a proactive European and foreign policy," he said.

For small countries with restricted resources, being principled and consistent, and having clear priorities, is crucial. "Slovenian diplomacy has all that."

Highlighting Slovenia's "continued commitment to a strong and effective EU and a firm transatlantic alliance," Šarec said it needed to remain in the most integrated group of EU countries and join forces with like-minded countries in strengthening the bloc's foundations. This will also be the guiding line of Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of 2021.

A functioning EU is in Slovenia's interest, which requires addressing shortcomings and casting aside bad practices. "Member states must be treated equally and European institutions and their representatives must work in the interest of all member states and in accordance with European values."

Turning to the upcoming EU elections, Šarec was hopeful that "integrative and forward-looking European forces will prevail." He also has high hopes about the performance of EU institutions after the vote since "their conduct will largely determine the future development of the EU."

Šarec also highlighted Western Balkans as a region of strategic importance and said Slovenia wanted to shortly see North Macedonia and Albania making progress towards the EU.

Implementation of the border arbitration agreement with Croatia would also be an important message to the region, he said, reiterating the long-standing position that Croatia's refusal to implement the deal is "unacceptable and raises concern about the state of the rule of law."

Despite challenges, Šarec wants a strengthening of relations with all neighbours in areas of shared interest. But it is also important that Slovenia expand its circle of partners and strengthen bilateral ties with other countries with shared interests.

"It is important that we are responsive to the developments in the international community and to constantly seek alliances and opportunities," he said.

Šarec also highlighted the need to pursue a balanced foreign policy, play an active role in international institutions, and actively participate in the preservation of international peace and security, including by investing in the defence and security system.

The prime minister also urged economic officers working at diplomatic missions to leverage economic diplomacy to help Slovenian companies penetrate foreign markets and promote Slovenia as a location for foreign direct investment.

23 Apr 2019, 17:50 PM

STA, 23 April 2019 - Commenting on the ongoing EU election race, the right-wing weekly Reporter says in its latest editorial that the newly-established party Homeland League (DOM) is not likely to eat away votes to the opposition Democrats (SDS).

According to the latest poll by Mediana, the Slovenian right will be defeated on the election Sunday, 26 May, as the lists of the SDS and the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) as well as the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) are projected to win only three MEP seats, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla says.

The joint SDS-SLS slate is expected to win the most votes, but only two of Slovenia's eight MEP seats. It could also win a third one by a hair's breadth, just like the SDS did five years ago.

Perhaps it will also manage to win three seats this year because of the alliance with the SLS. However, according to the latest polls, winning four MEPs is not likely, Šurla notes.

The NSi is also not likely to repeat its historic victory from 2004, when the first European election was held in Slovenia and the party won as many as two MEPs.

In the end, the left and right may very well each win four seats, just like ten years ago, Šurla says under the headline Race for Million Euro.

The centre-left has slightly more voters although they are inclined to change party preferences. Most of them currently favour the coalition Social Democrats (SD), which are projected to win two MEPs, while the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the opposition Left would each get one.

Meanwhile, voters of the centre-right, are much more decided. This is why Šurla expects no major flow of SDS voters to the Homeland League, which does not even appear in opinion polls yet.

Perhaps, DOM could cost the SDS-SLS list of candidates only the third potential MEP seat, Šurla concludes.

Keep up with news on politics in Slovenia here, and follow the European elections here

08 Apr 2019, 15:15 PM

STA, 6 April 2019 - Some 200 delegates gathered for the founding congress of the new far-right party in Ljubljana on Saturday. The first project of the Homeland League (Domovinska Liga), using the acronym DOM (home), will be standing in the EU election.

Bernard Brščič, a former senior aide to opposition Democrats (SDS) leader Janez Janša who works as an economist for power grid operator Eles, was elected president today.

Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, a lawyer who ran on the SDS ticket in the general election but later left the party because she thought it was too soft on migrations, was elected vice president.

Brščič told the press after the congress that DOM had no "uncles from behind the scenes". "This is not a project of Milan Kučan nor Janez Janša nor Vladimir Putin. It's an own-grown project that has emerged because the situation in the Slovenian political arena and in Europe is mature for the kind of platform DOM offers," he said.

The motto of the new party is Forward Slovenia. "We will always claim that the mission of the Slovenian state is to provide for the safety and well-being of Slovenian citizens. We also see the EU as a means to this end and not a goal, and we judge it by the way it contributes to the safety and well-being of Slovenian citizens."

"We claim that Slovenia is our homeland and we will not share it with anyone," said Brščič, a leading ideologue of the Slovenian alt-right.

The party, which was officially registered on 26 February, has already started collecting signatures of support for its candidacy in the upcoming EU election. The party's list of candidates will include Brščič and Šikovec Ušaj, but no other candidates have been revealed.

According to Brščič, DOM does not plan to join the European People's Party (EPP) but offer a new platform. The party is modelled on the Italian League and Fidesz in Hungary.

The party also elected an eight-member executive board and the secretary general today.

19 Mar 2019, 11:44 AM

STA, 18 March 2019 - A new far-right party is emerging on the Slovenian political scene two months before the EU election, modelled on the Italian League and Fidesz in Hungary, and drawing on former and current supporters of the opposition Democrats (SDS). It is seen as complementary with, or a competition to, the SDS.

Called the Homeland League (Domovinska liga) and using the acronym DOM (home), the party has a Twitter account and has so far sent out broad outlines of its policies, centred around opposition to migrations, to LGBT-friendly policies and to EU federalism.

One tweet reads that the party sees French President Emanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European People's Party (EPP) top candidate Manfred Weber as "destroyers of the EU".

"The European spring is coming, the spring of European nations... The European spring is symbolised by the sovereignist bloc under the leadership of Matteo Salvini. The Homeland League wishes to be a part of that undertaking," another tweet reads.

The party was officially registered on 26 February, which means that it had to satisfy the statutory requirement of having at least 200 members, and is provisionally headed by Žiga Jereb, a former mid-ranking member of the SDS who is largely unknown among the general public.

Quizzed by Dnevnik newspaper, Jereb did not specify what his current relationship with the SDS is, but the paper said in a report published on Saturday that individuals who parted ways with the SDS form the core of the Homeland League.

While remaining somewhat secretive until it formally presents its programme on 6 April, the party already has some visible supporters.

One of them is Bernard Brščič, a former senior aide to SDS leader Janez Janša who works as economist for power grid operator Eles and has become a leading ideologue of the Slovenian alt-right.

A leading proponent of the White Genocide theory, which holds that brown Muslims are bent on displacing whites with high fertility and terrorism, he uses Twitter to disseminate anti-Muslim and anti-immigration messages.

He has often warned against proponents of a "multiculti" society and "negroids" invading what he says is becoming "EUrabia".

Brščič is also a staunch supporter of the Generation of Identity, the Slovenian version of the identitarian movement. He wrote the foreword to a book the group published with Nova Obzorja, a book and magazine publisher co-owned by the SDS.

Brščič has confirmed he is in talks with the Homeland League to become their top candidate for the EU election and participated in drawing up the party's platform, though he is not a member.

Quizzed by the STA, he described himself as having "unparalleled experience and knowledge of the political situation in Europe" and said he doubted the party "will have a better candidate than me."

Some of DOM's positions

Another prominent supporter is Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, a lawyer who ran on the SDS ticket in the general election but later left the SDS because she thought the party was too soft on migrations.

Šikovec Ušaj is currently the legal counsel of Andrej Šiško, who is on trial for inciting to subvert the constitutional order with a local militia he formed in Maribor called the Štajerska Guard.

She is also a regular columnist for nova24tv.si, the web portal of the TV station co-owned by senior SDS members and businessmen with close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

She rose to prominence on social media with staunch anti-immigrant rhetoric and is currently being processed by the disciplinary body of the Bar Association for hate speech against migrants.

The emergence of the party is seen by some as an attempt to brandish the image of the SDS, which has veered far to the right in recent years, and move it back towards the centre.

Reporter, a right-leaning magazine, says in Monday's commentary that the Homeland League is "a satellite of the SDS, which appears to want to move back to the centre ahead of the election and leave the space on the right to its loudest and most controversial extremists."

The paper says this tactic could help the SDS effectively secure an extra MEP, but it argues the move could also potentially backfire.

News portal Siol similarly says in a report released on Monday that the move helps the SDS in that the new party is conceived as a "special purpose vehicle onto which the SDS will shift the most radical portion of the party."

It says this would help SDS leader Janez Janša keep a part of his base while still coming across as "more moderate and less radical and Orbanite."

According to Siol, such a move is the latest in Janša's long history of founding or subjugating rightist parties, which function as "planets that circle around a single sun following predictable orbits."

But there are also reports suggesting the party is a project not controlled by the SDS.

Commercial broadcaster Kanal A said in a report last week it had unofficial information indicating that SDS leader Janša is "very angry" at Brščič and Ušaj.

Political analyst Andraž Zorko described the new party for the news portal Zurnal24 as an attempt to consolidate the far-right base so that it could support the SDS from the fringe.

But while the move is designed to consolidate votes previously picked up by multiple parties, "it could also invariably chip off some votes from the SDS and the People's Party (SLS), if the latter plays the anti-migration card as it did in the general election," he said.

Keep up with Slovenian politics here

18 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 17 January 2019 - President Borut Pahor and the leaders of parliamentary parties decided on Thursday to draft changes to the electoral law following a Constitutional Court decision before the parliament's summer recess. However, neither the idea to change electoral districts nor the idea to abolish them enjoys enough support.

Pahor met the party leaders to see how they feel about possible amendments to electoral legislation after the top court declared last December the legislative provisions determining the size of electoral districts for general elections unconstitutional.

Since the number of constituents differs greatly from one district to another, the votes of those who cast their ballots in smaller districts count more than those cast in larger districts.

Slovenia has ten electoral units, including two single-seat constituencies for the Italian and Hungarian minorities. Each of the remaining eight units is divided into eleven districts to elect 88 MPs.

The Constitutional Court ordered the National Assembly to amend the legislation within two years, but did not decree by what method.

Pahor stressed at today's meeting that the legislation should be changed before the next election, which would be called in the spring 2022 at the latest, so as to avoid doubt about them being in line with the Constitution.

The minimum change to make the legislation constitutional would entail changing the size of electoral districts, which would require the support of at least 46 MPs in the 90-member legislature.

But if voters are to have more say about who will be elected MP, the electoral districts should be abolished, and party lists and preferential votes introduced. This would, however, require a two-third majority in the National Assembly or at least 60 votes.

Currently neither of the two proposals has enough support.

Pahor said as he spoke to the press after the meeting that experts would be invited to take part in the drawing up of the changes. He is also to meet the prime minister and the government secretary general in the coming days to discuss how government services could assist in this process.

Experts and negotiators from each deputy group will hold regular meetings to draw up the changes and Pahor will act as a coordinator. A task force will be set up to look into the possibilities of changing electoral districts, the president said.

The views of the parties on the changes remain unchanged. The coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Modern Centre Party (SMC), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), and the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), Left and the National Party (SNS) favour abolishing electoral districts and introducing a preference vote at the level of the electoral units, but disagree over whether the preference vote should be absolute or relative.

The largest opposition faction, the Democrats (SDS), has been advocating a majoritarian system but its leader Janez Janša did not give any statements today. He said on Twitter that the SDS supported any change to the electoral system which would increase the influence of voters to MP's election and help decentralise the country.

Matej T. Vatovec of the Left said that merely changing electoral districts, which could not be geographically united, would be a waste of time. He urged parties not to delay the changes.

SNS head Zmago Jelinčič said that changing electoral districts would be difficult and Maša Kociper of the SAB said that merely changing the size of the districts would not increase voters' influence. She said that it was evident that the older, established parties did not want change.

The coalition SocDems and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) did not give any statements today and have so far been reserved about the changes or against abolishing electoral districts.

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