Summer is traditionally a time of slim pickings for the media, and indeed over the summer the Slovene papers were full of tourism statistics, weather reports and low-key news items as well. But there were several high-profile stories that managed to shake things up...
The end of the parliamentary crisis?
Until this spring, Slovenia's government was relatively stable. But, when a member of the governing coalition, the Slovene People's Party (SLS), united with the opposition Christian Democrats (SKD) to form the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party, all hell broke loose in parliament.
In the first days of April, the Slovene People's Party (SLS) withdrew from the governing coalition of Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek and announced its intention to unite with the Slovene Christian Democrat Party (SKD). Drnovšek proposed replacements for the exiting SLS ministers, but in doing so attached his proposals to a vote of confidence. He lost the vote of confidence 55:35, thus sending the country into parliamentary crisis.
Procedure states that after a failed vote of confidence, parliament has 30 days to propose a new head of government. If this is not possible, the President must dissolve parliament and call early elections. Elections had already been loosely scheduled for fall 2000, but President Kučan, (now-former) Prime Minister Drnovšek and other prominent government officials called out in favor of early elections, seeing that as the fastest resolution.
However, after the SLS and SKD united as the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party in the third week of April, they began agitating for their own prime-ministerial candidate, Andrej Bajuk.
Bajuk is a Slovene who has lived most of his life in Argentina. The considerable Slovene community there is predominantly the descendants of the Second World War-era Domobranci (Home Guard), who were denounced by the Communists after they took power. The return of Bajuk to Slovenia thus opened a pandora's box of unresolved issues from decades ago.
Parliament did not approve Bajuk on his first attempt, with a vote of 44 for and 33 against. On his second attempt, the vote was 43 for and 10 against. It was not until the third attempt, almost a full month into the crisis, that Bajuk managed to gain approval with a 46:44 vote.
Upon his approval by parliament, Bajuk had 15 days to form a government and nominate his ministers so that early elections could still have been called were his ministerial candidates not approved. On his first try, Bajuk failed to gain approval for his government with a vote of 45:45. The following week, Bajuk forwarded the same list of names but this time it was approved, 46:44.
That done, his SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party and the Slovene Democrat Party (SDS) formally entered into a coalition, called Coalition Slovenia.
The parliamentary crisis had immediate effects. A planned visit by the European Union Enlargement Commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, was moved from 16 April to 18 May. Shortly thereafter, NATO announced that it had postponed a review of Slovenia's membership bid from 13 April to 8 May.
The overwhelming concern, however, were the more than 60 laws that parliament had to pass this year to stay on track for EU accession in 2003. With the protracted crisis, EU legislation went out the window.
It was announced in mid-July that parliament's summer vacation was shortened from the original 1 August to 10 September to only 1 to 20 August in order to buy time to consider the EU legislation. In announcing the plan, head of the State Assembly Janez Podobnik told a press conference that only 44 laws needed to be approved by 10 September to maintain Slovenia's position vis-ŕ-vis the European Union.
The Trojan Horse
With the conclusion to the parliamentary crisis, it seemed that the major hurdle to normalization of the government was out of the way, but this was not to be the case. A seemingly minor issue grew in importance over the summer and posed a considerable threat to the new governing coalition's stability: a proposed change to article 80 of the constitution which would introduce a modified proportional electoral system whereby "lawmakers, excluding those representing ethnic minorities, [will] be elected under the system of proportional representation with a 4 percent electoral threshold needed to enter the National Assembly, and will allow the voters to directly decide on the individual allocation of mandates" (Slovene Public Relations and Media Office Press Release).
The new election law would become the second change to the Slovene constitution since independence. In 1997, article 68 was altered to allow foreigners to purchase land in Slovenia, a requirement of EU membership.
The SDS has advocated changing the electoral process since 1996, but favored a two-round, winner-takes-all system. A second proposal forwarded by the State Council was for a combination of a majority and proportional system as a compromise measure. A referendum was held in 1996, the results of which were contested and sent to the Constitutional Court. From there, the issue was debated in parliament and a bill mandating this change to the constitution had failed to gain approval four times since 1996. It was shot down for the fourth time in April 2000 with a vote of 45:20 due primarily to a new amendment calling for the redrawing of electoral districts that was vocally protested by the electorate.
The issue came up again in parliament on 26 July and was finally passed with a vote of 70:1. A two-thirds majority, or sixty votes, was required for passage. The SDS boycotted the vote, maintaining that the 1996 referendum supported their proposal and that this change to the constitution went against the wishes of the electorate.
This seemingly minor event, however, became the downfall of the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party and SDS governing coalition. Feeling their disagreement over the issue to be too great, the two parties declared the coalition agreement dead. Further, Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk of the SLS+SKD, who sided with the SDS in opposing the constitutional changes, stepped down as one of three vice presidents of the SLS+SKD and announced his intention to form a new party.
On 27 July, President Kučan declared that the fall parliamentary elections would take place on 15 October 2000. The campaign period is slated to run from 15 September until 14 October, when campaign activities must come to a halt.
Kučan expressed his hope that the late election date would help give parliament the necessary time to catch up in its task of aligning Slovene laws with those of the EU, and advised that parliament should work down to the end and not conclude its session thirty days prior to the elections as is standard practice.
A new Slovenia?
On 4 August, Andrej Bajuk announced he had gathered the 200 signatures necessary to register a new party, which he will lead, called the Nova Slovenija - Krščanska Ljudska Stranka (New Slovenia - Christian People's Party, or NSi). The party was formally registered on 10 August.
As Bajuk has been allowed to retain his post as Prime Minister even though he is no longer affiliated with the parties that put him there, NSi has become the de facto head of a coalition that no longer necessarily exists.
Given the short time before elections, there have been no moves to protest the maintenance of the status quo. Bajuk continues as Prime Minster at least until the elections, and all of his ministerial appointees remain in place.
The SLS+SKD pressed for a reorganization of the government in lieu of early elections, which would have ensured governmental stability for the sake of being the incumbent head of the governing coalition going into the fall elections. Ironically, they got their wish but the situation quickly turned against them in the face of the first real test of their coalition, the election law. They will enter the fall elections as the party notorious for tying up parliament for two months in a protracted crisis and will have little chance to avenge themselves before the electorate heads to the polls.
On 3 August, a list of Slovenia's highest tax debtors was leaked to the press and published in Slovenske Novine. The confidentiality of information related to tax debt is guaranteed by article 36 of the Law on Tax Confidentiality and Procedure. As of yet, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility and Slovenske Novine is not naming its source.
In an op-ed piece published the following day in Delo, Marko Osolnik observed that publication of the list may have been a move to disgrace the former government by the new Bajuk regime. The "ancien regime" has been criticized for its lackadaisical attitude towards the former Communists, and in this instance the former Communist heads of enterprises. It is speculated that the government may have allowed certain enterprises operating in the red to forego tax payment in return for "buying social peace." "This is just one more sign that the pre-election campaign is in full swing," wrote Osolnik.
Several of the persons mentioned on the list were based elsewhere in Yugoslavia and assumed Slovene citizenship (and thereby tax liability) upon Slovene Independence in 1991, but many of them have since left Slovenia, and this poses a particular problem for those who now reside in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Slovenia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have no diplomatic contacts or bilateral treaties that would allow Slovenia to recoup the tax money owed to it.
Osolnik quotes a leading Slovene tax authority, Stojan Grilj, as saying that the amount of taxes owed that may or may not ever be recovered is simply "the cost of transition." According to one macroeconomist's figures, taxes owed amount to about 2.4 percent of the Slovene GDP. But, as compared to similar figures, this amount is not staggering: Denmark, and EU member state, is owed tax moneys equivalent to a full five percent of its GDP.
On 8 August, representatives of the Society of Tax Experts of Slovenia (DDSS) gave a press conference at which they condemned the publication of the confidential tax information as well as the government Service for Legislation and Ministry of Justice. The DDSS head Ivan Simič declared the publication to be unconstitutional, and said the Union of Tax Experts of the European Union is condemning the publication. The incident, he added, will not only tarnish Slovenia's image abroad, but will also discourage foreign investment.
Official Slovenia has been rather silent concerning the affair. On 9 August, the Ministry of Finance released a statement denying involvement in the affair, adding only the relevant sections of legislation that would prevent them from allowing such information to be published.
Weeks later, on 21 August, Dr Jože Jerovšek, minister without portfolio responsible for Legislation, gave a statement to the newspaper Večer in which he agreed that publication was illegal, but that the most important issue now was whether such information will be confidential in the future. He stressed that the law says "yes." He also stated that he does not believe that the government, tax authorities or anyone associated with them were directly responsible for the affair.
Slovenia stands up to Serbia... and wins?
The fact that Slovenia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia do not enjoy diplomatic relations causes more problems than just preventing the government of Slovenia to recover tax moneys owed to it. On 31 July, Dnevnik ominously published an article about the plight of Slovene citizens imprisoned in Yugoslavia (Serbia / Montenegro), lamenting the fact that there is nothing the government can do to help them. The next day, two Slovene citizens were arrested in Montenegro, though the press was not informed until almost a week later.
The story of the two Slovenes arrested in Montenegro may actually have started at the end of June in the United Nations Security Council. At a special session of the Council, Slovenia jumped into the festering Serbia-Montenegro row by sponsoring a statement from Montenegrin representatives that maintained that it is no longer appropriate for Belgrade to speak for both federal units of Yugoslavia and that Montenegro's international representation would henceforth come exclusively from Podgorica.
During the special session, Slovene representative to the UN Ernest Petrič also reiterated the position of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia that the current Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can not be considered the sole legal successor of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ). This is the primary issue complicating the normalization of relations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other former Yugoslav republics, as Belgrade is not willing to renounce its claim to the rights and privileges of the former SFRJ.
Slovenia again stepped into the Serbia-Montenegro dispute on 11 July, when President Kučan met with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Croatian President Stjepan Mesić and Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović in Dubrovnik on the occasion of the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Kučan, Havel and Mesić issued a joint declaration formally and vocally announcing their countries' support for Montenegro in its resistance to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević.
On 11 August, the news broke that the two Slovenes, one woman and one man, had been arrested in Montenegro and that while the woman was released after three days, the man was still in custody awaiting trial for photographing sensitive military objects. On 12 August, the New York Times Op-Ed page ran an interview with President Kučan in which he again spoke out in support of Montenegro and against Milošević.
Fortunately for the two Slovenes, the woman was cleared of all charges and the man received only a light
There are several other major issues on the back burner that will come to the forefront of national debate in the coming months. Among them is the long-awaited Law on the Global Protection of the Slovene Minority in Italy, which will come before the Italian Senate in October. Right-wing groups are already on the offensive in Italy and throughout Europe to protest it - a demonstration of such groups will take place in Trieste (Trst) in the next couple weeks.
Issues related to the events of the Second World War will also continue to be discussed, both in connection with the current Prime Minister as well as in connection with the recent comments coming out of Austria regarding post-war declarations by Yugoslavia about the Austrian minority primarily situated in Yugoslav Slovenia.
The biggest story of the fall? The real horse race will be between the high hopes of Slovene athletes at the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia and the 15 October elections - hopefully Slovenes will not only root for their team, but will also take the time to carefully elect a more competent government than they have had for the past several months.
Brian J Požun, 4 September 2000
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