On 2 December 2012 Slovenian citizens elected the fourth president of the republic in its short history as an independent and liberal democratic state. After two initial consecutive five-year terms of the former communist Milan Kučan, one term of Janez Drnovšek — a deceased former prime minister —, and one term of the former diplomat Danilo Türk, the turn is on Borut Pahor to become the holder of the highest political function in the state. Although the presidential function in a system of parliamentary government (see Strøm, 1995) such as Slovenian is by constitution reduced to more or less ceremonial obligations with very limited executive competences, its significance is in fact far greater. It is the only directly electable state-level executive function which generates significant legitimacy in comparison with the function of prime minister — a powerful but indirectly selected figure. Another important aspect of presidential function is its moral authority which previous incumbents more or less managed to preserve by not being implicated in numerous corruption scandals that shook Slovenian political elite across ideological spectrum in the past two decades and by being somewhat detached from every-day party politics. As it appears, this is about to change. I shall take the recently held presidential elections to illustrate this.
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The citizenship regime in Slovenia can seem to have two faces. For those who focus on its numerous malfunctions, the citizenship regime seems xenophobic, even apartheid-like. By contrast, those who focus on the initial determination characterise the system as progressive and civic. In this essay I will argue that there is truth in both perceptions: the citizenship regime in independent Slovenia reflects all these conflicting elements.
In the name of the nation
Determining the criteria for membership of the political community was an integral part of the state-building process. The demise of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and Belgrade’s contestation of Slovenia’s right to self-determination pressured Ljubljana to create a coherent citizenship regime for the secession period and after it. The foundations for the post-independence citizenship regime demonstrated a clear link between the new citizenship laws and the concept of an ethnically-defined nation. Though certain ‘civic’ elements of the transitional provisions were present in the citizenship legislation, several clear references to the ethno-national concept attest to the main concerns behind the act. Slovenian citizenship has been significantly shaped by the events leading to the proclamation of independence in June 1991.
The Slovenian language was a persistent issue during the nation-building process, particularly during the pre-secession clashes between Ljubljana and Belgrade. Also, Slovenian national continuity could only be traced through language, in a cultural sense, which in turn reinforced the dominant ethno-cultural conception of the nation. The concept of the ‘core nation’, which is clearly distinguished from non-Slovene permanent residents in Slovenia (composed mostly of people coming from other former Yugoslav republics), had a huge impact on the determination of membership criteria. Despite this, Slovenia eventually adopted a ‘milder’ ethnic model, in order to prevent the discontent of non-Slovene residents but also to gain crucial approval from the international community for respecting democratic standards.
The incipient citizenship legislation was in line with SFRY legislation that established a bifurcated citizenship regime consisting of republican and federal citizenship. Though more or less symbolic during the Yugoslav times, the republican citizenship proved to be of vital importance in the secession process. The new citizenship regime in Slovenia did not directly lead to widespread discrimination, but nonetheless contributed to a situation where there were severe human rights violations, the most grave of which was the erasure of citizens of other former Yugoslav republics. In February 1992, around 25,000 people were erased from the register of permanent residents without notification (a figure which includes those who decided not to acquire Slovenian citizenship and those who did but were denied it). The legislature’s decision to avoid resolving the issue of permanent residents in the Citizenship Act as well as in the aliens act in order to regulate it within the succession agreements, signed only a decade later, opened the doors to this kind of administrative discrimination against non-Slovene residents.
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Slovenian citizens went to the polls to elect their representatives in the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, after the President of the Republic, Danilo Türk, had signed an order dissolving the Assembly on 21 October 2011. The Republic’s first snap elections were called after a vote of no confidence on 20 September had brought down the left-wing government led by Borut Pahor (Social Democrats). The main reason for this vote, apart from scattered corruption cases throughout the main government parties, was that a lack of coordination, both among the member parties and with opposition parties and other social partners, had rendered the governing coalition unable to advance much needed reforms, and naturally fuelled public resentment.
Several long-term implications may arise from the election results and post-festum reactions. First, the balance of power on the left side of the ideological continuum has been completely reorganized, since the formerly dominant LDS has dropped out of the parliament, along with Zares, and given way to Janković’s new dominance, shared with the significantly weakened SD. Second, although ostensibly from the center, Virant has proved to be a new force challenging the dominance of Janša’s SDS on the right wing. Third, despite introducing two significant new political actors into the field, the new National Assembly leaves the balance of power between the poles virtually unchanged, and keeps up the usual shenanigans that form part of Slovenia’s political folklore. However, probably the most profound result of the elections is the rise of nationalism that was triggered by an anonymous author on the SDS’s official website. The writer accused Janković of coercing the immigrant population to vote for him by allegedly spreading the belief that a right-wing victory would cost them their citizenship (Siol, 2011). Janković, the son of a Serb father and a Slovenian mother who has lived in Slovenia from early childhood, gained significant support from the immigrant population, which the anonymous author called “voters in sweat suits”. The publication of this “analysis” divided the population and spurred some protests, but nevertheless highlighted the xenophobic and ethnic nationalist tendencies smoldering in parts of Slovenian society, including the political elite (see Deželan, 2011). In a word, the elections that were supposed to close the chapter of stalemate and failed political management during the economic crisis have opened a new chapter in the country’s shameful history of ethnic nationalism.
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