(OpenDemocracy) Slovenia in turmoil

In the last months, a wave of protest and anger has swept through Slovenia, as thousands of people challenge the corrupt and out-of-touch political elite of a country that was once considered the wunderkind of democratic transition in the region.

Slovenia is currently sailing the roughest seas since it gained independence more than twenty years ago. The country that was once considered a wunderkind of democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe, registering solid economic growth and political stability, joining the European Union (EU) and NATO in 2004, adopting the Euro in 2007, is now enmeshed in a political paralysis of significant proportion, with no clear end in sight.

Before the crisis hit Europe’s economy, Slovenia had already confidently climbed the ladder and reached 91 percent of the average GDP per capita in the EU. Things were good. Unemployment was at historically lowest levels, just above 6 percent, prosperity was tangible. Shopping malls were full, real estate prices booming, the average car on the street was a solid German Volkswagen. A kind of Slovenian Dream was there, for everyone. Then reality hit.

Since 2008 almost 60 thousand people have lost their jobs, doubling the level of unemployment. 120 thousand in total are now out of work – in a tiny country of two million this is no small amount. Amid the EU-wide slump, Slovenia’s economy has contracted disproportionally. The banking sector, still largely state owned, remains fragile and companies are going bust by the day. The construction sector, which previously provided much of the inflated growth, has been wiped out almost in its entirety. Public finances have deteriorated and more recently rumours about a possible Greece-like EU-IMF bailout have grown louder.

Corruption and defiance

As if the dire economic conditions would not suffice, accounts of greed, corruption and defiance among the political and economic elites hit the headlines. The current Prime Minister Janez Janša, leader of the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka, SDS), is under investigation on corruption charges stemming from a multimillion defence contract signed during his previous stint as Prime Minister. Zoran Jankovič‡, the leader of the largest centre-left opposition party Positive Slovenia (Pozitivna Slovenija, PS) and mayor of the capital city Ljubljana, is under criminal investigation for corruption linked to the construction of a new sports stadium.

In October 2010, the head of cabinet of the then social-democrat Prime Minister Borut Pahorwas forced to resign when blatant irregularities were uncovered in the process of the remodelling of her private home. In 2010 also a member of parliament was sentenced to jail for extortion and illegal possession of arms.

In the last year alone, four members of parliament have been discovered to have falsified their educational credentials. Several prominent managers were exposed while trying to buy entire companies through dubious financial maneuvers, while others led their previously prominent companies into bankruptcy. The costs for large infrastructural projects – highways, tunnels, power plants – were continuously expanding, with taxpayers footing the bill. In one case, the contracted cost of a tunnel connecting two sections of highway around the capital Ljubljana, grew from an initial 48 million Euros to a staggering 135 million (link in Slovenian)…

(Read the entire piece on OpenDemocracy.net.)

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