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ponedeljek, 17 januarja, 2022

Political centre as a point of national (non)agreement

By: Marko Špendov

What is the political centre? It is often talked about, especially recently, when we are already in the last phase of preparations for the 2022 parliamentary elections.

The answer to what the political centre is can be sought in two directions. What they both have in common, however, is that the centre is a kind of geometric imaginary. In terms of the state and its values, the centre represents that part of the political spectrum that seeks to capture the lowest common denominator, but at the same time relies on those values on which the state was based and on which the constitution is based as a fundamental document. In the Slovene case, this is supposed to be the Slovene spring, based on which we got both a multi-party system and a new, independent state. However, things are not easy, as most of the population, at least subconsciously, still recognises the NOB and OF as the foundation of Slovene statehood, and there are even more who reject any possibility of counter-revolutionary resistance embedded in the foundations of Slovene statehood. The principle of exclusion is thus laid down in the foundations of the political environment, which is otherwise very uncharacteristic of the political environment in countries with a long democratic tradition.

Experiences from the time of the Slovenian spring

Let’s look at the past and try to refresh those moments of the Slovenian spring movement when it seemed that the party nomenclatur and the emerging opposition were working for the same goals. This was happening in the face of Serbian centralism, as the new political forces in the late 1980s saw the future more in the federal structure of the former Yugoslavia than in the “renewed” centralised “Srboslavia” (according to Milan Kučan) indicated by the proposed constitutional changes. Therefore, the new political forces (in addition to the established opposition in the ZSMS) saw support for Kosovo Albanians in safeguarding Kosovo’s autonomy and amendments to the republican constitution (adopted in late September 1989) as at least tacit support, although party structures began to respond to centralism quite late and initially condemned the proposal of the so-called Writers’ Constitution of 1988 similarly like the national programme in the 57th issue of Nova Revija the year before. Of course, in 1989 there was already a so-called Assembly for the Constitution, which brought together the ZSMS, the new emerging parties of spring and civil society, which included both Catholic (mostly lay) intellectuals and neo-leftist “new social movements”. In fact, this was the real “round table” that the SZDL tried to organise in the autumn of 1989 as an attempt to prolong the life of the ruling structures. However, at least it succeeded in gaining signatories who had previously signed the “May Declaration” by publishing the “Basic Charter”. Although the desire for an independent Slovenia hung in the air, the situation was still too uncertain for a vision of the future arrangement of Yugoslavia or its disintegration to emerge. That is why the vast majority of the public favoured the regime’s wording on a “different” Yugoslavia and “different” socialism, which even the spring side could not loudly object to. But as it became clear that Yugoslavia could no longer be saved in its current form, it became clear that the question of the nation’s sovereignty would have to come to the fore. Slovenia had a much more favourable position here because it bordered only one Yugoslav republic (and at the same time three foreign countries), and it was also the only republic that did not border Serbia. And above all, it did not have a very influential rebel minority than, for example, the Serb minority in Croatia (which was also explicitly recognised by the 1974 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia).

The votes of the centre were hunted mainly by neo-communists

The other direction in defining the political centre is political marketing: it is an electoral pool that is located outside the circle of pre-defined voters of the parties of this or that option. So, these are the voters who are making decisions last minute, their attitude towards politics is pragmatic and in principle non-ideological, although they gravitate towards the option that has more influence in society. Many times, these voters do not take part in the elections, and most of the time they decide how good the turnout is. Also, this part of the electoral (certainly never empty) pool decides the winner. And the victory belongs – in most cases – to the party/option that draws the most votes from the centre. Slovenian political history shows us that the neo-communist nomenclature was the one that in most cases has so far won the most central votes. In the 1990s, it succeeded at the expense of the cold but charismatic Janez Drnovšek, which means that it bet a lot on the cult of personality. In 2008, after more than a decade of leading of the “proud successors of the ZKS”, Borut Pahor succeeded, and then took over the presidency. Ten years ago, the main “hero” of the elections was Zoran Janković with Positive Slovenia, but he failed in forming the government. In the meantime, there were already parties in parliament of the so-called centre, first the Party of Youth of Slovenia, and then Virant’s Citizens’ List, which tried to unite economically liberal-oriented cadres. Alenka Bratušek (in 2013 and 2014 the Prime Minister, later the Minister) “separated” from the ranks of Positive Slovenia and founded the Alliance party, now the SAB.

In 2014, Miro Cerar appeared as a “novelty” on the political market with his “ethical” emphases – with the party he named after himself. However, the party would never have been successful in the elections if two things had not happened: first, the political-commissioner misuse of the Patria case, which sent one of the political actors to prison unjustly, and the fact that Peter Jamnik had successfully set up the party’s backbone, but it was hostilely taken over by his old opponent Gregor Golobič, and the network of the transitional deep state then rose Cerar’s SMC to the heights. It was only after the election that it turned out to be just an “instant centre” – a charge of the SMC, which was renamed the Modern Centre Party (the abbreviation remained the same, like in 1994, when the Liberal Democratic Party became the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia by joining some parties, backed by Milan Kučan and Niko Kavčič). When the party’s charge was extinguishing, Marjan Šarec, a former PS official and then mayor of Kamnik, took the stage. He first ran for President but was not so successful in the parliamentary elections as to win first place. However, it was enough for him to become Prime Minister based on an “anti-Janšism alliance” that then disintegrated with his throwing in the towel. At the same time, he did not count on the fundamental laws of the centre: moderate pragmatism, which is also associated with concern for the state. He thus lost control of two parties that remained in the government coalition, this time Janša’s. One of them was SMC. The other was DeSUS, which has signed every coalition agreement in advance since it first broke into parliament. During this time, Miro Cerar also left the party that was originally named after him, but the resources of the nomenclature had already been directed to other parties. Therefore, the SMC has been a less important player lately, but still unfavourable enough for going after its president Zdravko Počivalšek with an affair regarding the purchase of medical equipment.

We see, therefore, that the transitional neo-communist nomenclature, based on its hegemony in social subsystems (especially the media), exploited its position of power so that it could legally and seemingly legitimately win victory after victory, even if sometimes it failed. On this basis, we can say that the Slovenian division and bipolarity is by no means symmetrical – quite the opposite. Therefore, we must be critical of those who are now declaring themselves an alternative to both the KUL and the SDS, which is supposed to be “right-wing”. Slovene politics has great problems with the “right” and the “left”, as there is no real right-wing party in the spring (“right”) camp. Both NSi and SDS are in the centre in one way or another, to the right of them is e.g., the Eurosceptic-oriented extra-parliamentary Homeland League, which brings together some right-wing sovereigns and sees the SDS as its main competitor. All other parties, including Glas party (for children and families) and the United Right, found themselves on the margins, as they were practically at a standstill since the elections. It is clear, however, that each side is trying to tear as much of the electoral cake in the centre as possible, as this alone brings extra points, but on the other hand, due to the current proportional system (for which there is less and less hope of ever changing), no party can form a government without two relatively strong partners. The current coalition consists of three parties, including MPs from DeSUS and SNS. On the other hand, we have the KUL’s “four without a helmsman” with the addition of another independent parliamentary group.

The centre will decide the winner

It is clear that after the next elections, none of the options will be able to form an ideologically fairly “pure” government. SDS and NSi are too weak for that. The new party Konkretno, which unites the current SMC and the Gospodarsko aktivni party (whose prominent member is DS president Alojz Kovšca), will certainly have more chances to enter parliament than the previous SMC, as it has indicated that it wants to go anew and look to the future, but it will still probably be too weak for big shifts. On the other hand, KUL will also have big problems and is already looking for an opportunity to mobilise voters with a new charismatic personality (first there was talk of Aleksandar Čeferin, now Robert Golob…). There are also various anti-vaccination and environmental initiatives (Jure Leben, Zoran Stevanović, etc.), which are unlikely to have a major impact on the composition of the government. To continue the success story from the current government, it is crucial that another stakeholder appears to address that part of the electorate that cannot fully identify with any of the current ruling parties but does not reject them. The formation of the coalition “Povežimo Slovenijo” is good news in this case, so we should not reject this option too quickly as a kind of new version of the “noble conservative party” to Kučan’s taste. Therefore, it may be good if the central civil society platform (Act Tank, the Assembly for the Republic, the Cathedral of Freedom…) and the SDS are not mutually exclusive. Experience from the time of the formation of the Assembly for the Republic (2004) shows that the electorate responds better when the parties show cooperation instead of resentment. Although the “centre” leaves behind a lot of uncertainty and ideological bloodlessness, the 2022 elections represent a great challenge and opportunity for the succession of the Slovenian spring.

Marko Špendov is an independent publicist, amateur historian, and political analyst.

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