By: Gašper Blažič
I do not know how many readers still remember the delegate system from the time of Yugoslavia. In simplified terms, it looked something like this, that certain classes and groups elected their representatives to representative bodies (federal assembly, republican and provincial assemblies, municipal assemblies…). Since the last Yugoslav constitution, the delegate system, together with the negotiated economy and the orientation towards non-alignment in foreign policy, has represented one of the main pillars of Yugoslavian Kardelj-Tito socialism and the Archimedean point of the constitutional regulation and direction of society.
Of course, there is no doubt that in this case it was only a slightly reworked corporatist social model, which was established already in the late Middle Ages (flats) and later got a new impetus also in fascist Italy (which the Yugoslav theoreticians preferred to keep silent about as a precaution). Theoretically, the Yugoslav delegate system was described most precisely by the “father” of the last Yugoslav constitution, Edvard Kardelj, in his famous book from 1977, Directions for the Development of a Political System of Socialist Self-Management. The Constitution of 1974 (and with it later also its extension the Act on United Work) thus introduced the last phase of self-management, where it introduced the atomization (and with it, of course, the sinfully expensive bureaucratisation) of production into the economic system, and into the political system the concept of delegated representation, which meant the presence of the United Labour Union (ZZD) in every republican or municipal assembly. Until 1992, the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia also had such an assembly, which was transformed into the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia with the new constitution. The ZZD model was transferred to the State Council of the Republic of Slovenia, a kind of representative house of the Slovenian political system. With the local self-government reform that followed, municipal assemblies were abolished and municipal or city councils, and presidents of municipal assemblies also officially became mayors. Even the SZDL, during the totalitarian system, a socio-political organisation called self-governing interests, transformed into a “normal” party (the Socialist Party of Slovenia) already in 1990, and in 1994 it “drowned” into the LDS, similar to the LMŠ and SAB in the Gibanje Svoboda party this year.
Corporatism in politics according to Kardelj
What is characteristic of the delegate system? Let’s see what Dr Igor Lukšič (at that time still a Master of Political Science) wrote about it in 1992 in the Journal of Science Criticism: “With Kardelj and in corporatism, the fundamental subject of politics is a group that makes up a community of interests. Therefore, in both concepts, the individual appears as a category mediated by the group. There is no competition for power between the groups, but rather they agree, communicate, and coordinate their interests. With this, Kardelj does not accept the principle of liberal democracy, which pluralism only builds on, but elections as a principle of legitimising democratic representatives of power. Instead of the abstract citizen on which liberal democracy is built, Kardelj advocates that the “interests of the working man or true citizen as the bearer of a concrete complex of personal and social interests” be considered (Kardelj, 1977:85). For Kardelj, “political pluralism is only a part of interest pluralism” (Kardelj, 1977:97). Therefore, in contrast to liberal democratic parliaments, assemblies are formed “on the basis of general self-governing elections, and not on general political elections” (Kardelj, 1977:109). “Authentic interests” and not their politicised image must always come to decision-making positions. According to this characteristic, Kardelj’s understanding is covered by corporatism. Instead of a general representation of the liberal democratic type according to the principle of “one man, one vote”, he builds a system based on the functional representation of interests, which also forms the core of corporatism.” (Igor Lukšič, Corporatism in Slovenia in Disguise – the full article is available HERE).
Of course, it is also necessary to mention the opposite tendencies in Yugoslav politics – they appeared in the second half of the 1980s with the change of the Yugoslav constitution in a more centralist direction. In the federal structure, where Milošević’s Serbia was strengthening its position, the principle of “one man, one vote” seemed more convenient for the centralists and they could more easily assert their interests on this account. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1988 the delegate system virtually disappeared from the Yugoslav Assembly, as the ideologues of “Serboslavia” (according to Milan Kučan) hoped that the Serbian Montenegrin majority within the SFRY would be able to assert its power undisturbed. As an echo of the constitutional changes, the so-called writer’s constitution was born in Slovenia, which conceptually relied on the Slovenian national programme, published in the 57th issue of Nova revija. In 1989, the constitutional movement grew into the Assembly for the Constitution, and after the 1990 elections, the direct preparation of a new constitution began, but it was only adopted a year after the plebiscite.
When the delegate system brings a sense of “apolitical”
It is interesting that the introduction of the delegate system together with the self-governing communication of various social entities had a rather unusual effect on the people. If you read France Tomšič’s memoirs (Od stavke do stranke), you will be able to notice the author’s note about how in the 1970s it seemed that politics somehow withdrew from social, even economic life. This feeling was, of course, false, because after a major personnel showdown with Stane Kavčič, the Party began to clean up the education system and eliminate ideologically unsuitable personnel. But since Yugoslavia was then in a fairly favourable economic situation (after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, at the expense of its non-alignment, it could get oil cheaper from the Arab countries than, for example, the West), it was not even felt for a while. Moreover, due to the economic crisis in the West, a lot of temporary workers in Germany began to return, and with that the inflow of foreign currency into Yugoslavia stopped (the currency refers to strong foreign currencies at the time, especially German marks, which represented a strong counterweight to the fairly weak dinar, with which even hospitals could not purchase essential supplies and medical supplies).
And when, at the end of the 1970s, Yugoslavia was overtaken by a credit crisis and the inability to repay debts, the apparent idyll of the “apolitical” nature of Yugoslav society was also quickly ended. Inflation became a dragon that devoured the daily bread of all the workforce in Yugoslavia at the time. Despite this, even after the death of its conceptual father, Kardelj’s delegate experiment continued to die on rations for a whole decade.
However, this kind of corporatism did not completely collapse even in 1990. It was preserved in many places. Even at RTV Slovenia (until 1990, RTV Ljubljana), where the general director did not have absolute power, but had to listen to the Council of RTVS, a representative body, to which predetermined organisations delegated their representatives. Thus, the Olympic Committee of Slovenia delegated its then president, the now deceased Janez Kocijančič, the president of the succession of ZKS or ZLSD between 1993 and 1997. This, of course, was not important, as Kocijančič was the formally non-political president of the RTVS Council, this body was also formally non-political. I emphasise formally. Namely, it reminded of the aforementioned ideal of the delegate system in the second half of the 1970s. Indeed, all the time he could carry out the first-rate and dirtiest political manipulations, but he could always plead that politics had nothing to do with it. Given the proverbial asymmetry of Slovenian society, where party cadres maintained continuity of control over social subsystems, the RTVS Council was a very ready transmission of the exercise of covert power over the national RTV by the deep state or of the political underground.
This is how they sawed Žarko Petan…
Let’s look, for example, at the case of the late writer, satirist, and director Žarko Petan, who was also the general director of RTV Slovenia for a short time in the 1990s. Let’s remember: Petan was arrested in 1959 while serving in the military and sentenced to seven years in prison, but due to “lack of evidence” he was released early, but the shadow of the “class enemy” stigma remained over him forever. When he took over the management of RTVS, he suddenly got a proposal on the table that Jurij Gustinčič should conduct the interview with the then President of the Republic, Milan Kučan, even though it had already been agreed in the news programme that Lidija Hren would host the show. The “proposal”, which was actually an order, came to the director’s desk from the office of Špela Furlan (or Andreja Šinkovec), then the head of Kučan’s cabinet. However, Petan refused it. And soon he experienced revenge. First, he attacked him through Marjan Sedmak in “his” newspaper Republika at the time, saying that such a man as Petan should never become the director of such an institution. Invitations to state celebrations also stopped, where both assistant general managers were always invited, but Petan was not. Well, the resentment probably also stemmed from the fact that Žarko Petan also signed the appeal to Kučan because of the words he uttered in Nova Gorica in 1994 (“…first discredit, then liquidation…”). In July of the same year, in an interview for STA, he explained the dilemmas with the adoption of the new law on RTV, which even then assumed that the majority of the members of the RTVS Council would be appointed by the parliament. As he said at the time, many still do not distinguish (new) public TV from (former) state TV. Public TV, as a medium with great influence, should make the transition to a normal democratic society faster, the complications surrounding the appointment of appropriate representatives of civil society in the RTV council are a typical illustration of this fact, said Žarko Petan at the time.
The latter was appointed general director at the beginning of 1994, but he later had to obtain confirmation of the new composition of the RTV Council, which refused to vote for him on July 14th. The new composition of the 21-member RTVS Council rejected the appointment and dismissed Petan. In November of the same year, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia ruled that Petan’s dismissal was unconstitutional. Petan returned to the position of general director, but a new blow followed after a few months, as the newspaper Republika (or commentator Boštjan Lajovic) hinted that Petan had reached retirement age and should not be general director for a full four-year term mandate. Soon after, new problems followed: accusations about the disconnection of transmitters, staffing, financial losses, and attacks by trade unions… Interestingly, the Kučan-friendly newspaper Republika even claimed at the time that there were too many employees at RTVS – well, nowadays representatives of the transitional left do not care about such a thing. At the beginning of 1996, there was even a journalist’s strike.
Two years after the first coup, at the beginning of July 1996, the RTVS Council under the leadership of Vojko Stopar dismissed Žarko Petan again. The Council of RTVS thus adopted a resolution in which it was concluded that general director Žarko Petan on July 25th, 1996, fulfilled the conditions for obtaining the right to a full old-age pension, and on that date his employment and position as general director of RTV was terminated by law. This decision was supported with a secret ballot by 13 of the 20 members of the council present (which otherwise has 25 members) or this resolution requires an absolute majority. Thus, for the second time, the “non-political” Council of RTVS failed the “unsuitable” general director. As Petan later said in an interview for Družina, Stopar even offered him to remain general manager until the end of 1996 on the condition that he resigns at that time. However, Petan refused to accept this.
And this is the reason why the transitional left wants to bring back the opaque corporate system of RTV management…
This example is just a good illustration of how “independently” the central decision-making body at RTVS can function. Until the adoption of the current, “Grims’” law on RTVS, which introduced the RTVS Programme Council and the role of the National Assembly in electing programme councillors, it did not seem that the RTVS Council was in any political conflict with the transitional left. Quite the opposite – with two hidden political landings, he brought down Petan, who was never a politician, but a man from the cultural sphere and a cosmopolitan. I still well remember the numerous protests of various left-wing civil society extensions in relation to the law, which was then confirmed in a referendum, saying that RTV would be a political trumpet and that the transitional left, mind you, does not want to have a majority political influence on RTV itself, but RTVS should be completely politically independent. But the new law actually introduced a number of safeguards against the sudden surge of any political majority from the parliament, as the programme councillors were not chosen all at once, but gradually, in multiple cycles.
Nevertheless, the law at the time was a big slap in the face for the old political masters, as it prevented complete political control and a close incestuous connection between the corps of socio-political workers (called “journalists”) and their political commissars from party circles. At the same time, the new law made it possible for the space on RTVS to be at least somewhat opened up for those who do not belong to the chosen circle of the deep state. The corporate-delegation system of RTV management made this impossible in advance, as the members were merely representatives of those who delegate them, i.e., a kind of new SZDL that does not answer to anyone, least of all the public.
Putinisation by emergency procedure
And this is exactly the kind of system the ruling majority would return to RTV. And not only that: it would do it according to an urgent procedure. It is a parliamentary procedure which, according to the rules of procedure, can only be used in exceptional circumstances, for example in the case of war or natural disasters. The ruling majority justifies this with the actions of the programme councillors, who, with the support allegedly betrayed the interests of the public to Uroš Urbanija and did “irreparable damage”. This is also why the creators of the “Back to the Old Times” project are in such a hurry – because RTVS is getting out of their control, they would like to “Putinise” it as soon as possible and introduce an apparently “non-political” system where the old neo-communist luminaries will rule through informal levers of power, just as all power was exercised by one and only Party through the SZDL. And, of course, they are well aware that they can legally legalise such a cat in a sack, since they also have constitutional judges on their side. Judge and former MP Jasna Murgel knew this well…
And finally, if Urbanija becomes director, he will be directly accountable to the public for his work, both to the programme council and to the National Assembly. In the case of the new law, there will be no such responsibility, because everything will somehow be “covered” by the Self-Management 2.2 version, when it will not be known who drinks and who pays.
Of course, Slovenian engineers of human souls direct this same accusation of Putinisation at their opponents, just like the famous anecdote says, when Mark Twain was in court and the prosecutor pointed a stick at him, saying: “At the end of this stick is a big bastard!” Twain replied with a smile: “Yes, but at which end?”
P.S.: And just as I finished writing this column, I also received a notification that the National Assembly “democratically” decided to adopt the new law on RTV through an emergency procedure. Vladimir Putin can be proud of his students…