By: Vida Kocjan
Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković has had his perfect five minutes. What he failed to do in 2012 – namely, form a team and lead the government as the mandate holder – he has managed to do now. Back then, he did not know how to count to 46 and failed with his Positive Slovenia party (Pozitivna Slovenija) in Parliament, but now, he is succeeding. Through Robert Golob, the then-Vice President of Janković’s party and now-President of the largest coalition party, the Freedom Movement (Gibanje Svoboda). And it is not only Janković, but also everyone else behind the scenes – from the parallel mechanism – who is rejoicing as Golob is dancing to their tune.
With the populistic behaviour we have seen lately, Golob is creating anarchy. And to have anarchy in the country is always in the interest of someone from behind the scenes. The question that we should worry about, then, is: who is actually running the country? Because it is certainly not Golob. At the press conference last Monday, it turned out that he is tightly controlled and, as such, also restrained. Any further questions outside his context, or the context of those interest groups that control him, are not welcome.
He is certainly not a man of his word
Golob, who previously stood firmly behind his Minister of Health, Danijel Bešič Loredan, who is also Deputy Prime Minister (from the Freedom Movement party’s quota), changed tactics after the New Year. Apparently, he has succumbed to the pressure from all his open political and also private fronts – or, as the well-known journalist Bojan Požar put it, he had decided that from now on, he will only be “a political (prime ministerial) puppet.” If earlier it might have seemed that he could stand up to Milan Kučan and other key players from the parallel mechanism, after the New Year, things have turned around. Not only did he turn his back on the Health Minister, he also gave the green light for former the former chief of the State Security Administration of Yugoslavia, Janez Zemljarič, to be buried with military honours. But let’s review what happened one step at a time.
The humiliation of Bešič Loredan
Last Monday evening, Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan had to publicly apologise to Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković in front of the general public. Not once, but twice, and he bowed humbly to him both times. Janković did not hide his cynicism and enthusiasm, and Golob was also smiling happily. The attitude Golob has towards Bešič Loredan was also demonstrated when, at the beginning of the press conference, he pointed a finger at him and told him where to stand. Anyone who watched this could see that this was similar to giving a command to a puppy: stand here, on my right. On the left, Janković was contentedly smirking.
The public apology of Bešič Loredan to Janković in front of the press was reportedly demanded and achieved by Janković in a so-called conciliatory meeting between him, Golob and Bešič Loredan behind closed doors. Before that, for weeks (and months), we have witnessed Golob supporting his Minister, standing behind him and his actions, and Bešič Loredan’s alleged feud with Janković as Mayor of Ljubljana. Golob’s support crumbled into dust overnight, and insiders say that the bosses behind the scenes “simply showed Golob some of his papers, documents, probably from the Balkan Gen-I affair, and he quickly succumbed to the pressure.” If this is true, and based on what we know so far, we can definitely believe it, then this just further confirms that Golob is being held in check by those who made sure that he “won” the elections. This was already clear beforehand. Incidentally, the same obedience is expected of Nataša Pirc Musar, the newly-elected President of the country.
The core of the Loredan-Janković dispute
The situation in Ljubljana’s health centres is critical. At the Bežigrad Health Centre, patients were waiting in long queues in the early hours of the night a few weeks ago, for a possible appointment with a general practitioner. Minister Bešič Loredan invited Janković for a talk before the New Year holidays, but the latter decided not to come. Then the Minister received information that Janković wants to sell the “great” land where two Ljubljana health centres are located in the long term and concentrate the healthcare activity elsewhere. Last Monday, however, the Minister said that he had “personally completely misunderstood the facts” and that he had “different information from different sides.” He therefore apologised twice to Janković. However, Golob described this as “a mere miscommunication.” No further clarification was given, but the truth will come out sooner or later. Bešič Loredan has not been seen in public for more than a week at the time of this article being published.
A new slap in the face for the Minister
The government then set up an inter-ministerial working group for healthcare to oversee the preparation of the healthcare reform, which will be directly coordinated by Prime Minister Robert Golob. This is a clear vote of no confidence and a slap in the face for Minister Bešič Loredan. Golob commented that “this is about raising healthcare to the highest possible level.” But this is actually just a new level of madness. As an expert in selling electricity, Golob cannot regulate healthcare. That much is clear to everyone. It is more likely that those who intervened and made it so Bešič Loredan had to apologise to Janković will also be involved in this “regulation.” Thus, nothing will come of the healthcare reform.
The Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS) parliamentary group has prepared several initiatives to tackle the situation in the healthcare sector. They called on the government to propose a new wage system, to reintroduce a reference price system for the purchasing of medical supplies, to temporarily mobilise all available staff and additional resources, and to define a programme for the return of Slovenian healthcare workers who have left for other professions or have moved abroad.
A sensible doctors’ trade union
In the face of all this madness created by the current government, the doctors’ trade union FIDES, which had announced a strike for last Wednesday, has relented. Among other reasons, probably because everything seemed to indicate that Golob and his colleagues were also trying to turn the public against doctors. The government subsequently confirmed the strike agreement with FIDES. This provides, among other things, for the resolution of some of FIDES’ strike demands in the envisaged separate wage pillar for the healthcare sector. If this does not enter into force by the 1st of February 2024, the government will address the pay disparities of doctors and dentists in separate negotiations, it has said.
They have succumbed to the non-governmental organisations
Golob has a very condescending attitude towards doctors and dentists. This was also evident when he and his close colleagues took part in the so-called patients’ strike on Tuesday, the 10th of January. Which was anything but that. It was a rally organised by certain non-governmental organisations and led by Jaša Jenull, all of whom are known as the former Friday cyclists and as those who, before last year’s elections, put the presidents of the left parties (including Golob) on the so-called donkey bench in front of Parliament under the guise of being the Voice of the People. They had to answer the protesters’ questions by holding up a racket with a yes or no sign on it. Golob followed them then and continues to follow them now. It has never happened before in our country that a Prime Minister and his close colleagues have gone on strike against their own government and their own Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, which is what really happened last Tuesday.
Allowances for judges and prosecutors
Golob, however, has a very different attitude when it comes to the judiciary. At the general assembly of the Association of Slovenian Judges, on Monday, the 9th of January, he announced a reform of the salary system for public administration workers, with a special salary pillar for the judiciary. To show his seriousness, he promised every official in the judicial system (judges and prosecutors) a salary supplement of 600 euros gross per month, starting on the 1st of January, 2023. However, it quickly became clear that Golob had no real basis for his promise. The government did not decide on it, and the Ministry of Finance, which manages the state budget, was not aware of Golob’s bombshell promise to judicial officials. He acted as if he was sharing his own money, when, in fact, it was the taxpayers’ money. Of course, a special law has to be drawn up on this, which has to be adopted by the government and the National Assembly. That is why panic has reigned in the government in recent days. Golob is behaving like he is the king of our country. According to insiders, he is trying to save his own skin, as he is the subject of a pre-trial procedure related to the business operations of the Gen-I energy company, which he used to head, which is being directed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. He is also a hot topic in the Balkans, where some suspicious transactions linked to Golob and the Gen-I energy company are being investigated.
The sustainability of public finances is at risk
Golob’s actions related to salaries and selective bonuses have upset other groups of professionals. The Community of Municipalities of Slovenia also opposes the selective distribution of allowances to officials. Higher salaries are expected in the education, childcare, social care and healthcare sectors. This has also caused quite a stir in the police and the military. More and more groups in the public sector are demanding a pay raise, according to the system of “if there is money for some, there is money for others.” And they are right.
The Police Trade Union of Slovenia, which has so far rather uncritically supported the Golob government, now claims that the government has only tackled the problem in certain professions, thus breaking down relations that should only be the subject of negotiations. They are demanding a four-grade pay raise and a further raise for authorised officials with special powers. The police union has announced that if the government continues to ignore them, it will be “forced to drastically step up its trade union activities.” They expect a response from the government by the 30th of January.
Robert Golob has, therefore, seriously jeopardised the financial sustainability of the state.
Double pay for himself
At the same time, we are witnessing announcements that the government is preparing changes to officials’ salaries. The basic salaries of top officials are expected to double – from around 6,000 euros gross per month that they get now to around 12,000 euros gross, plus bonuses. The pay ratio is to be one to seven instead of the current one to 4.5. The government is expected to draft the amendments by the 30th of June, with effect from the 1st of January. The officials who would receive higher salaries include the President of the Republic, Nataša Pirc Musar, Prime Minister Robert Golob, and the ministers. It is worth pointing out that the government led by Janez Janša (March 2020) cut their salaries at a time of severe health crisis, even though they worked virtually day and night. This feeling of selflessness is not present in the current Golob government.
Rushing into a crisis
In the face of all this, Slovenia is heading towards a crisis. This was also discussed by representatives of the Slovenian Business Club (SBC), who called on the government to take measures to make the situation in our country better. You can read more about this in Jože Biščak‘s recent article in the magazine “Demokracija” (Democracy).
Firefighters are enraged; others also expect a pay rise
According to David Švarc, Secretary-General of the Professional Firefighters’ Union, recent events have brought their units to a boiling point. As he summarised, there have been pay rises in health and social care, education and training. Judges and other officials in the judiciary received an extra 600 euros as of the 1st of January. However, when the government took office, it had already raised the salaries of ministers and secretaries of state to the highest possible salary grades. A raise like the one they received would have meant an increase of eight pay grades for a professional firefighter in the 24th pay bracket. They are now demanding the same increase from the government, and expect an agreement by the 27th of January at the latest, otherwise, they will step up their trade union activities. They are announcing a rally in front of the National Assembly on the 16th of February as the first step. Of course, representatives of other trade union groups within the public sector are also expecting a new pay raise.