The Slovenia Times

Doing the Right Thing



As first workers are being laid off in what will probably be the worst economic cirsis for decades, the political elite is engaged in a bitter dispute over whether to uphold the rule of law in the country or not.

One would expect that the decisions of the constitutional court will be respected and implemented by those responsible, i.e. the government and the parliament, even if that does not necessarily go down well with the general public. This is what the rule of law is all about; guaranteeing the rights flowing from the constitution and the laws of the country, especially when political expediency dictates otherwise. But in the case of the erased, a group of people from ex-Yugoslav republics who were unlawfully deleted from state registers and thus with one stroke of hand made illegal immigrants in the country they had lived in for years, the rule of law broke down.

When the constitutional court ruled that the erased should be given back their status as permanent residents of Slovenia, the political class as a whole was flabbergasted. There it was for all to see, an act of administrative genocide that mars the history of Slovena's independence. However, the politicians did not move quickly to remedy the situation, but chose instead to work around the court's decision, stoking fears that the erased may, God forbid!, demand compensation for the wrongs inflicted upon them by the Slovenian state.

Curiously, Borut Pahor, then the speaker of the parliament and today the country's Prime Minister, was closely involved in efforts to establish a cross-party consensus on how to deal with the court's decision. Sadly, following the latter to the letter was never really an option. Accommodating those that were (and still are) hinting the deletion from the registers was somehow a just punishment for "southerners" who did not support Slovenia's independence had a priority.

But why? Mr Pahor has always had an urge to reach across party lines, to polish his image as an inclusive politician, an image that propelled him to the top of the polls, even if that has meant talking to people for whom pandering to their (and the electorate's) nationalistic passions trumps the respect for the constitutional court's decisions.

So it came as a relief when Katarina Kresal, the interior minister, decided to simply follow the court's ruling and give the erased back their status. The opposition fumes. Some politicians fear that the erased will now flood the courts around the country with demands for damages, and this at the time when the money would be much better spend on bailing out banks and such.

Nothing is easier than to mobilize people against a certain group by claiming that the latter will weigh heavily on their wallets. And this is just what the opposition is doing at the moment. Who would not agree that needy pensioners and students should get the money earmarked for the damages to people that fought against Slovenia's independence, the argument goes. You would expect to read such arguments in internet forum debates, but it seems they spilled over to the political arena. This is a shame.

But it is also a symptom. Take Croatia. Only a couple of months ago Mr Pahor's ratings shot through the roof as he took a hard stance towards Croatia, saying that Croatians could not expect to join the EU, if they did not give in to Slovenian demands regarding the sea border between the countries. The nationalists cheered and Croatia-bashing was, at least for the moment, given free rein. Today, Mr Pahor has a big problem on his hands: the posibility of a referendum that will block Croatia's entry in NATO and the EU, damaging Slovenia's reputation as a responsible partner in international affairs.

It has namely proved very difficult to call back the hounds, once they have smelled blood. The roots of the xenophobic discourse are the same in Croatia's and the erased's cases. Pandering to extreme fringes of the political spectrum and getting away with it unscathed has worked for Mr Pahor. His ratings are still sky-high, despite the fact that he obviously mismanaged both issues. However, sometimes doing the right thing, "even if my ratings drop to zero", as Ms Kresal said, works wonders. Maybe not for the politician doing it, but for the politics as such.


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