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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    THU, 20 OCT 1994 09:10:53 GMT

    SLOVENIA AND ITS NEIGHBOURS

    Slovenia which had almost idyllic relations with its neighbouring countries after it had won its independence three years ago, is now in a very difficult situation. For some time now, it has had problems with Croatia in the South, but also with Italy in the West. News about terrorist actions against the Slovenes keep coming from Austria, and a constant danger threatens the Slovenian people there - the problem of Germanization. It appears that at present, this new, small state with only 2 million inhabitants has best cooperation with Hungary.

    Slovenia and Croatia never had very warm relations, neither in the first, nor in the second Yugoslavia. Their relations were not so bad either, but the Slovenes always had better understanding with the Serbs, so that for a long time a joke was passed round that they should dig an undergound tunnel to connect Ljubljana with Belgrade in order to avoid Croatia. But, after Milosevic had come to power in Serbia, the relations with Belgrade were at first seriously disturbed, and later completely interrupted. The Slovenian leadership at the time, supported by a vast majority of votes of the citizens of Slovenia at the referendum on the issue, announced secession from Yugoslavia, and when Belgrade (Serbian and Federal) authorities refused to talk about it, the intervention of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) in Slovenia took place. Croatia had similar wishes at the time, but it never had the courage to speak out loud about such demands. This was only natural, since a numerous population of Serbian nationality lived in Croatia, and it meant danger of war for it, which eventually broke out. The Croatian authorities, nevertheless, followed in the footsteps of Ljubljana at the time, and the relations between these two republics, later independent states, became better than ever. But, things quickly went "back to normal" after the first talks about the borders between the two states. There were, and mostly still are, several disputable points referring to literally minimum deviations - of several meters or perhaps kilometres at sea. But both parties are inflexible.

    The issue of the border between Slovenia and Croatia was more or less clear although there was some sloppiness in it too. It mostly coincided with the borders between Slovenian and Croatian municipalities according to land registers. In its negotiations concerning the border with Croatia, Slovenia is in favour of abiding by these land registers, while the Croatian party was in favour of double criteria: partly of natural borders, and partly of historical borders. While the Slovenian party did not wish to accept the historical principle in the beginning, it later returned the ball and declared that, according to the Croatian criteria, the border between the two states in Istria should go along the river Mirna - it is a natural border, since Mirna is a river, and also the historical one - since it once was the border, at least according to what extremist Slovenian nationalists claim. This is an equally crazy idea as the the stance of Croatia that the sea in the Piran gulf is Croatian, which would mean that Slovenia with its sea coast has no exit into international waters.

    The latest incident referred to the Istrian border. It concerned four villages (Skrilje, Mlini, Buzini and Skodelini) with only 31 inhabitants, so that those who do not understand the essence of the problem find it difficult to understand why such a hubbub was raised about these poor households which are far from everywhere. The villages were entered into the land register of the Slovenian Piran municipality, and Croatia was the one which brought electric power to them and put Croatian licence plates on the cars of their inhabitants. So these poor people do not know where they live - in Slovenia or in Croatia. But, nobody is concerned about the people. Should these villages become Croatian, the starting point for determining the border at the coast would be either the Channel of St. Odorik 200 meters from the municipality border according to the land register, or the former mouth of the river Dragonja two kilometres towards the North. According to this principle, the border at sea would be completely unfavourable for Slovenia. Similar to the way it treats Prevlaka at its border with Montenegro, Croatia would like to make the already short Slovenian coastline even shorter, while it prides with several hundreds of kilometres of sea coast. Due to that problem, protest notes are currently exchanged between Ljubljana and Zagreb, deputies in both parliaments are quarrelling, only the presidents of the two states seem to be somewhat more sensible. The Slovenian President, Milan Kucan, was the first to react, warning both parties that if they were not capable of settling their disputes on their own, but would intensify the conflict and seek internationalization of their disagreements, they could calmly accept the role of Balkan countries, and not expect to play the role of claimants of membership in the European Union. He also stressed that no state should materialize its interests on account of others. A few days later, the Croatian President Tudjman spoke about the almost idyllic relations with Slovenia...

    If Istria is not in Yugoslavia, then it is in Italy

    In the past year, the relations with Italy have deteriorated significantly as well. During the first two years of its independence, Slovenia had quite correct relations with Rome. During the intervention of the JNA in June 1991, the cooperation between the two armies - of Italy and of Slovenia - was even very good. The Italian party even offered assistance in case of any destructive attack on Slovenia. Various agreements were signed, and the Italian authorities promised that, despite the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Ossim agreements would remain in force, perhaps with some minor corrections. The promise was kept until the election campaign began, when Italian ultimate rightists raised their voices making various claims, and among them, the voices of the fascists were the loudest, of course.

    Finally, the end of the good relations started wuth the election of Silvio Berlusconi for the Prime Minister. Berlusconi accepted the fascists in his Government, which is the first such case in Europe after the fall of fascism. They started acting accordingly. At first they began by challenging most of the documents signed by Slovenia and Italy, and the severest attacks referred to the, according to them - invalid Ossim Agreements because they were signed by Yugoslavia, not Slovenia. Therefore, they do not recognize Slovenia as the successor of the dissolved Yugoslavia, although it acquired an equal status in the succession with the other former Yugoslav republics in all international agencies and organizations dealing with the "Yugoslav issue". Certain statements of Sergio Giacomelli are interesting in this respect. He is a deputy of the Furlania - Julian March and a member of the national council of the National Alliance, the successor of the former pro-fascist party of the late Giorgio Almirante. Mr. Giacomelli gave an interview to the Slovenian weekly "Mladina" and spoke about their establishing contacts with the Serbian authorities in Belgrade. Belgrade asked them to "maintain neutrality, as Greece did. In other words, if Italy had not taken interest in the Balkan conflict and if it had left the Americans to take care about the aid to Bosnia, the Serbs would have quickly won this war", Giacomelli said. He stressed that, had that happened, Italy would have got Istria, because if Istria was not in Yugoslavia, then it was in Italy. This is not just a threat to the sovereignty of Slovenia, but also (and maybe even more) of Croatia. To the question whether he believed in the possibility of changing borders in the middle of Europe, Giacomelli answered: "I have seen the border between the two Germanys disappear, and the day Croatia ceases to exist, the border between Italy and Istria will also disappear."

    Such statements may seem extremist, but they are a fact which cannot be disregarded in assessing the relations between the two neighbouring countries. The Slovenian part of Istria is just the first step on the way towards Croatian Istria which is much larger than the Slovenian. The recent attack of Rome on the Slovenian minority should be observed in the context of these ideas. The methods applied were identical to those of the fascists in the twenties. Roman banking auditors took over the Peasants' Bank in Gorica (in Slovenian, and Gorizia in Italian) despite the fact that the bank was in no financial difficulties, least of all in the red. Its only problem was that it granted credits to private entrepreneurs of Slovenian nationality in Italy, and even to some enterprises in Slovenia and Croatia. The Bank was actually assisting the Slovenian minority in Italy. This assistance was interrupted when the auditors from Rome arrived. The same thing happened during the rule of Mussolini, when the fascists financially completely ruined the Slovenian minority by applying identical methods, because they resisted fascism from the very beginning. The relations between the two states were, therefore, almost disastrous until the middle of October when the Italian Minister of the Exterior, Martino, warned Gianfranco Fini, the President of the National Alliance, in other words the successor of Almiranti's party, not to continue straining the relations with Slovenia, because Italy could be isolated by its European partners on account of that. It seems that things will be clarified by the end of October, when a meeting of the two Prime Ministers, Janez Drnovsek and Silvio Berlusconi, is expected to take place.

    Austrian "letters" and other bombs

    Austria is Slovenia's Northern neighbour. In the times of former Yugoslavia, the relations with Austria were traditionally bad or tolarable at best. The major problem in these relations for Austria was the Slovenian minority, which was left, after the Second World War and its postwar successors, almost without even the elementary rights which belong to minorities in democratic countries. And yet, just like the Italians, the Austrians offered help dring the short war Slovenia fought with the JNA. After that, the official relations between the two states have in no way deteriorated, but it is also clear that they will never flourish either.

    Austrian authorities are trying by all possible means to subordinate Slovenia economically in order to make it dependenet on Austria. They even succeeded in this in the beginning, but recently the Slovenians finally became aware that all "assistance" need not necessarily be well-meant.

    The other problem is Austrian terrorism. Among the series of cases of letters-bombs, there were attacks on prominent Slovenes in Austria. One of these letters was addressed to Wolfgang Gombocz, the President of the Slovenian Cultural Society in Austria. Even after a long investigation, the Austrian police did not detect the perpetrator, but did not even approach the German neo-nazists. After that, there was an attack with bombs on the bilingual German-Slovenian school in Klagenfurt (or Celovec in Slovenian). Special police units which came to investigate the case proved to be completely incompetent and found nothing. An interesting detail which illustrates their "interest" in the case was the question of one of them who asked whether the bilingual school was German-French or German-English. They had no idea that mainly Slovenians live live in that region and that Slovenian language could be the issue.

    There is nothing much to be said about the relations with the Hungarians. For the time being both states abide by the agreements on the rights of national minorities in other countries, economic cooperation is in progress, with Slovenia being certainly economically much better developed than Hungary, and political contacts are also good. This summer the Hungarian President, Mr. Goentz, spent his holiday in Slovenia where President Kucan was his host. The two Presidents have generally, established good mutual cooperation. In October, a Hungarian parliamentary delegation visited Ljubljana, and a Slovenian delegation is already planning to return the visit. Altogether the relations are very correct.

    Slovenia is much to blame

    One should not blame only the others for the difficult situation of Slovenia in its environment. Incompetence or, maybe, even intentional negligence of Slovenian diplomacy has contributed to it greatly. The head of the diploamcy, Lojze Peterle, who is at the same time the leader of Slovenian Christian Democrats, often paid more attention to the interests of other countries, than of his own. Critics of his policy reproached him on several occasions for being concerned more about the instructions he was receiving from the Vatican, than about the vital interests of his country and his people.

    It is uncertain whether Peterle was aware of his serious omissions, but it is certain that he has submitted his resignation and that the Prime Minister, Mr. Drnovsek, has accepted it. Now, Slovenia is waiting to see who will be proposed for the post of the Minister of the Exterior. It ought be a strong and competent personality, because Slovenian problems with neighbouring countries and the procedures concerning its joining the European Union will be neither easy nor quick.

    JANJA KLASINC,AIM