- Why Slovenia saw it fit to hold a referendum about whether people should have equal rights, after a law had already been passed to make rights equal.
- Why those who voted saw it fit to overwhelmingly vote against equal rights.
For decades, Slovenia has had a prominent but divisive political figure, Janez Janša, who has been Prime Minister at one point but is now in opposition. Mr. Janša builds support for himself by fomenting division. He has surmised that, if properly cultivated, Slovenia can be divided into two groups of people. On the one hand are the secularists: left-leaning – socially liberal, economically statist descendants of people who were privileged when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia until 1990. On the other hand are the Catholics: socially conservative, economically liberal, predominantly religious descendants of people who were underdogs. Not only were the underdogs treated poorly under socialism, but tens of thousands were summarily executed when Tito came to power after WWII. This makes for a wonderful source of division.
As leader of the "underdog" group, he does whatever he can to get people to more strongly identify either with his group, or not-his-group. The stronger identification on both sides makes it more likely that those who identify with his group will feel compelled to vote for him within that group. This means:
- Cultivating pet grievances of his group. One way is to be constantly bringing up people killed 70 years ago.
- When in power, deliberately pissing off the secularists, e.g. by bringing Catholicism into education. This gets the secularists to identify against the Catholics. This strengthens Janša's political leadership of the Catholics, and the perceived need for this leadership.
- When in opposition, leveraging things like popular opposition to gay marriage. It was overwhelmingly his camp that voted against.
Yet, consider this. Mr. Janša was himself a political prisoner, for six months, during the final years of the Yugoslav regime. His behavior seems consistent with a person who has never come to forgive his captors, and who appears to hold a grudge against everyone who inherits their position ideologically. As such, Mr. Janša cannot be a leader of Slovenia as a country. He does not represent all people. He represents one group of people against the others. Being like this, he can only ever lead a faction.
Suppose Mr. Janša forgave. Suppose that, after 25 years at the top of Slovenian politics, he came to realize he doesn't need to be cultivating that grudge, and its associated baggage.
Imagine the leader he could be, in that case.
UpdateThe above is, of course, not nearly all of the story. Janša's supporters argue he was again politically persecuted when he was embroiled in the Patria scandal. He was found guilty of corruption (involved in huge bribes) and sentenced to 2 years in prison. In the eyes of his supporters, this made him a martyr. After a stint behind bars, the Constitutional Court overturned the judgment, on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial. But that's not the same as innocence.
Supporters further argue that other political leaders have not been less partisan. That's true; there hasn't been a leader most people could tolerate since probably Janez Drnovšek. But this is a tu quoque fallacy. Just because everyone else is engaging in tribalism, that doesn't mean it's ethical to score politically by organizing a referendum to take away a minority's rights.
In this vote, the worst of Slovenia came to shine. A leader who thrives on division; hate and fear-based propaganda; and homophobia in small towns and country-side.
And guess what the campaign was called?