In one of the last interviews before his fall, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad although freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer was in the best tradition of Stalinist sophistry: true, the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right to a safe, prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: if Romanian citizens were to be allowed to leave the country, the prosperity of their homeland would be threatened. In this conflict, one has to make a choice, and the right to a prosperous, safe homeland enjoys clear priority …
It seems that this same spirit is alive and well in Slovenia today. Last month the constitutional court found that a referendum on legislation to set up a “bad bank” and a sovereign holding would be unconstitutional – in effect banning a popular vote on the matter. The referendum was proposed by trade unions challenging the government’s neoliberal economic politics, and the proposal got enough signatures to make it obligatory.
The idea of the “bad bank” was of a place to transfer all bad credit from main banks, which would then be salvaged by state money (ie at taxpayers’ expense), so preventing any serious inquiry into who was responsible for this bad credit in the first place. This measure, debated for months, was far from being generally accepted, even by financial specialists. So why prohibit the referendum? In 2011, when George Papandreou’s government in Greece proposed a referendum on austerity measures, there was panic in Brussels, but even there no one dared to directly prohibit it.
According to the Slovenian constitutional court, the referendum “would have caused unconstitutional consequences”. How?
[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on January 16th 2013.]