Gotovi ste! - You’re finished!
Slovenia has had the sharpest decline in GDP since 2008 of any euro-zone member apart from Greece, although it has so far avoided having to ask for external aid owing to having entered the crisis with a far lower sovereign debt burden. The new Government has indicated that it will continue to avoid a bailout by driving through changes including bank restructuring, privatizations, and pension and labour reforms. However, poverty has increased and many people are no longer able to meet basic needs; without state assistance, the poverty rate is estimated to rise to 24%. Those who can’t find work have dropped out of the labour force. As a result, Slovenia has joined countries where people have taken to the streets to call for a more just and balanced economy, more participatory democracy and the rule of law.
At the end of 2011, Slovenia’s shaky centre-left coalition of Social Democrats (SDs) and their partners led by Prime Minister Borut Pahor collapsed and after the elections in early 2012 a new right wing governing coalition was formed, led by the Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) with Prime Minister Janez Janša. The post-election bargaining began rather surprisingly as the largest party, Positive Slovenia (PS), led by the mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković, failed to assemble a coalition. The new Government quickly began to show its leanings towards a more aggressive, neoliberal economics. Prime Minister Janša cited Slovakia’s neo-liberal Dzurinda governments (1998-2006) as a model to follow and has stuck to his word. However, the proposed structural adjustments are facing stiff resistance from many sides.
Apart from Greece, Slovenia has had the sharpest decline in GDP since 2008 of any euro-zone member, although it has so far avoided having to ask for external aid owing to having entered the crisis with a far lower sovereign debt burden. Moreover, the country's finance minister, Janez Susteršič, told CNN that Slovenia will be able to avoid a bailout despite the shrinking economy by driving through changes including bank restructuring, privatizations, and pension and labour reforms. Similar policy reforms were suggested to the Slovenian Government by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in their annual visit in early October. Yet Slovenia, an EU member that is believed to be even “more radical than the IMF when it comes to imposing cuts in public spending, lowering wages and reducing worker’s rights, can hardly be considered a guardian of the welfare state.”
At the end of 2012, Borut Pahor, the former Prime Minister, was elected President. Interestingly, the turnout was a record low (only 41.5%), while public protests against the political eliteas well as corruption and austerity measures, have been very strong, not only in the capital of Ljubljana, but also in smaller towns, particularly Maribor.
Family law referendum
On 25 March 2012 a referendum was held on a new family law that would represent the first comprehensive overhaul of family law. Rather than focusing on measures involving the protection of children’s rights, the opposition campaign focused on the rights of same-sex couples, to which many groups connected with the Catholic Church and the political right were opposed. The Archbishop of Ljubljana spoke about the "irreplaceable role of the family" and others argued that the law was against traditional family values and that gay couples should not be allowed adoption rights. As Slovenia had allowed the official registration of same-sex relationships in 2006, the negative outcome of the referendum was a definite step backwards in terms of protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups.
Increasing levels of poverty
According to the Statistical Office of Slovenia, in 2011 273,000 people, or 13.6% of the population, lived below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, an increase of 19,000 over the previous year. Their net monthly disposable income was less than EUR 600 per adult household member. Moreover, the material deprivation indicator showed that many could not afford some basic needs, such as adequate heating, or were late paying mortgages, rent, bills and so on or had inadequate resources to cope with unexpected expenses. The material deprivation rate was 9% higher than the year before. Without the redistributive function of the welfare state, which through social transfers mitigates the distress of low-income households, the at-risk-of-poverty rate would grow to 24.2%. Moreover, 32% of households already face difficulties making ends meet. Generally speaking, the main reasons for poverty and social exclusion are lack of jobs and low income.
Erasing the unemployed
In midst of a global questioning of current social, political and economic paradigms, Slovenia has joined the many countries where people have taken to the streets to call for a more just and balanced economy, more participatory democracy and the rule of law. It is currently difficult to measure the actual health of the country’s economy as many of the official statistics present a highly biased view, especially when it comes to employment figures. A stark example is the fact that in 2011 there were 936,000 active workers and 111,000 registered unemployed. In November 2012 the number of registered unemployed remained more or less the same, but the active workforce shrank to 807,000! This means that within a period of just one year close to 130,000 people (more than the entire registered unemployed workforce) were deleted from the public register of employment seekers. About 40,000 of those may be accounted for by unpaid housework, which is no longer counted as it was previously, but this still leaves up to 90,000 unaccounted for. This is significant as it represents about 10% of the entire workforce.
Corruption of high-ranking politicians
At the beginning of 2013, the Slovenian Independent Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC) announced the findings of a year-long investigation into the heads of parliamentary parties in relation to their declarations of assets and financial disclosure laws. The investigation revealed that two party leaders – Prime Minister Janša (head of the ruling SDs) and the Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković (head of the main opposition party – PS), had systematically and repeatedly violated the law by failing to properly report their assets to the CPC. The investigation uncovered private expenses and use of funds from unknown origins (Janša) and potential channelling of public resources through private companies (Janković) that exceed their official income and savings. Prime Minister Janša then launched a political counter-attack, discrediting the staff and the work of the CPC. It is clear that in Slovenia politicians and officials are unwilling to accept any responsibility for their actions and try to shift the blame elsewhere.
Protests, protests, protests
High levels of corruption and the fraudulent behaviour of key figures of the economic and political elite, combined with declining quality of life for the majority of the population have led to mounting discontent that was just waiting for a final spark. Resentment and outrage first exploded in Maribor, where a combination of national and local factors contributed to massive protests against the mayor and members of the town council. Inspired by the sheer force and scale of protests other towns quickly followed suit. There are several dimensions to this popular uprising. The protest banners and public statements from various groups that formed during the final months of the year carry divergent, yet clear messages. The revolt is both local (after the first uprising in Maribor, revolts took place in 27 other towns) and national, systemic and personal (against mayors and the current Government). A minor yet important component was the international dimension with some demands for withdrawal from NATO and protests against the EU.
While the revolt against key political figures, joined under the common slogan “Gotof je!” (You are finished!) was the predominant mobilizing factor, protestors also called for systemic change – such as the end of party politics, corruption, theft of common goods, casino capitalism and exploitation of workers. The response from the political elite was not surprising. The ruling party went on twitter to call the protestors zombies from the socialist regime, mercenaries of the opposition and marionettes of “godfathers in the background.” The opposition tried to capitalize on the uprisings but has not endorsed the movement beyond affirming the right to protest. The message of the uprisings was clear – the revolt is much more than just a protest against the current government and mayors, it is a revolt against the entire establishment.
A common criticism expressed by the Government and frequently repeated in the subservient mass media was that the protests have no clear message and offer no solutions. While the demonstrations themselves were more contra than pro anything in particular the parallel insurgence of people’s initiatives and civic movements has introduced a plethora of highly constructive proposals spanning the full spectrum of needed shifts in orientation. Several newspapers (including the mainstream media) and other web portals have opened up special websites where these proposals are gathered and discussed in the public arena. At the time of writing, the website of the main national newspaper Delo offers 53 articles on the transformation of the political system, 26 on the economy, 14 on the legal system and 26 on other topics. Many authors from very different professional and social backgrounds have shared their suggestions and analyses. And this is only one of the many forums where such an exchange is taking place: an ever increasing number of legal proposals are being put forth – mostly calling for anti-corruption measures, public control mechanisms and for participatory democracy. Some proposals go as far as the level of constitutional amendments and drafts of a completely new constitution are even being introduced.
Maribor – an exercise in participative democracy
The protests in Maribor were the first example of a successful self-organized popular movement that began on Facebook. The Facebook group called “Franc Kangler should resign as Mayor of Maribor,” which mobilized the first massive protests, currently has more than 40,000 supporters, not all of them residents of Maribor (the town has a population of 95,000). While the group has distanced itself from any other official demands or a political programme, other social networks quickly began to form, where people organized themselves in order to prevent the future corrupt conduct of municipal officials and their stooges. Some of these groups may in future form political parties or local alliances for elections and provide their own candidates for the position of mayor, while others seek to reform the system itself, looking for ways to bypass party political representation and reground political decision-making in town and district assemblies. The first such assemblies should start in the spring of 2013.
The impetus for this action came from one of the groups called “iniciativa Mestni zbor” (Town Assembly Initiative). Its membership is fluid and in a press releasethe group called for residents to organize themselves in local/district initiatives. Two parallel processes are happening at same time – the first are the protests against the town council, corruption and nepotism in the municipality and its subsidiaries which are assuming different, yet creative forms of dissent. Complementary to all that is a more deliberative, strategic process where members of the initiative are analysing the current state of affairs (reviewing existing/planned projects, the municipal budget deficit, social and communal issues, and topics related to the potential for locally based economic activities) and possibilities for empowerment of local citizens.
The idea behind both of these processes is to facilitate a grassroots approach to municipal self-governance and self-reliance. The general level of political participation is very low, which indicates disenchantment with existing ‘democratic’ models and a need for new ways of more direct democratic participation. While it is too early to tell whether these efforts will have a long-term impact, at least the first symbolic victory was achieved on 31 December 2012, when the mayor of Maribor resigned, thus becoming the first politician in Slovenia ever to step down due to a people’s uprising.
CNN Wire Staff, “Minister: Slovenia can avoid bailout despite shrinking economy,”20 November 2012. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/20/business/slovenia-finance-minister-sustersic/index.html (accessed 12. February 2013).
Marja Novak, “IMF says planned Slovenia reforms can avert bailout,” Reuters, 2 October 2012. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/02/us-slovenia-imf-idUSBRE8910MS20121002 (accessed 12 February 2013).
Mirovni inštitut, “The Double Crisis of European Integration.” Available at: http://dpu.mirovni-institut.si/index-e.php (accessed 10 February 2013).
Joachim Becker, “Social protests and electoral apathy in Slovenia.” Available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/116306748/Joachim-Becker-Social-Protests-and-Electoral-Apathy-in-Slovenia (accessed 12 February 2013).
“Family Law Struck Down,” STA, 26 March 2012. Available at: http://www.sloveniatimes.com/family-law-struck-down (accessed 12 February 2013); “Slovenians reject gay adoption law in referendum,” The independent, 26 March 2012. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/slovenians-reject-gay-adoption-law-in-referendum-7585060.html (accessed 10 February 2013).
SURS – Statistical office of the Republic of Slovenia, “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2012.” Available at: http://www.stat.si/eng/novica_prikazi.aspx?id=5070 (accessed 10 February 2013).
SURS, “Statistične informacije št.13, 16.oktober 2012.“ Available at: http://www.stat.si/doc/statinf/07-si-008-1204.pdf (accessed 10 February 2013).
SURS, “Aktivno prebivalstvo, Slovenija, november 2012 – končni podatki.” Available at: http://www.stat.si/novica_prikazi.aspx?ID=5263 (accessed 10 February 2013).
A change in the retirement legislation that entered into force on 1 January2013 (higher age/work years limit) has led to some earlier retirements, but the figures of retired people from November 2011 (594,000) and November 2012 (598,000) show only a modest increase as evidenced by ZPIZ (Institute of pension and invalidity insurance) database. See: http://www.zpiz.si/wps/portal/cognos/msp/upokojenci/prejemniki_pokojnin (accessed 10. February 2013).
KPK – Commission for the prevention of corruption, “Slovenian commission for the prevention of corruption found a number of violations of financial disclosures obligations by the prime minister and the head of the opposition.” Available at: https://www.kpk-rs.si/en/the-commission/news/-/01/2013/slovenian-commission-for-the-prevention-of-corruption-found-a-number-of-violations-of-financial-disclosures-obligations-by-the-prime-minister-and-the-head-of-the-opposition (accessed 10 February 2013).
Društvo Integriteta - Transparency International Slovenia, “Zero integrity in Slovenian politics.” Available at: http://www.integriteta.si/gradiva/clanki/271-zero-integrity-in-slovenian-politics (accessed 15 January 2013).
Delo, “Protesti,”2012. Available at: http://www.delo.si/zgodbe/interaktivno/protesti (accessed 10 February 2013).
See Delo, “Revolt,”2012. Available at: http://www.delo.si/revolt/ (accessed 10 February 2013).
Iniciativa mestni zbor, “Da nam znova ne ukradejo Maribora,” Pekarna Magdalenske Mreže, 10 December 2012. Available at: http://www.pekarna.org/web/index.php?page=novice&subpage=novica&id=1284 (accessed 10 February 2013).