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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

    FRI, 31 JAN 1997 00:03:42 GMT

    Slovenia and SECI

    A TRAP OR A REAL OPPORTUNITY?

    Last week, or more precisely on Wednesday, 15 January, 1997, on the fifth anniversary of the international recognition of Slovenia, Slovenian political leadership was panic-stricken after the visit of the American diplomat, Richard Schiffer. What was the cause of their concern?

    Mr. Schiffer, special envoy of the American President, presented to some detail the American Southeast European Cooperation Initiative, called SECI. It is an attempt to stabilize the situation in twelve states in the region - from river Soca to Dnyestar - with the help of economic cooperation. It can be observed that the approach to "stabilization" of the region of the United States of America is much more subtle than on previous occasions in the recent past. The Americans are trying to use the comparatively short periods of "love" among the states in the Balkans and its immediate surroundings (everybody knows the frequency of hostilities and wars in the region) and with fine economic mechanisms to permanently broaden and reinforce their influence in this part of the world. The American initiative can also be understood as an additional, completely economic instrument (for the influence in the Balkans), although primarily political dimension is stressed, which is for the time being categorically rejected by the USA.

    Although the White House is emphasizing all the time that the SECI will operate on a non-problematic economic principle and despite assurances about the non-political dimension of the initiative, the Slovenian political public is strongly shaken. But the "timing" of the offer was more than convenient for Ljubljana. The Slovenian political leadership which shudders from the very thought that it would have to sit down at the same table and talk about anything with its former compatriots, thanks to fortunate circumstances that Slovenia does not have a constituted government, it can without any compunction appear willing, but also calmly neutral. It is not surprising that the SECI was not warmly welcomed in Zagreb or Budapest either. Nobody wishes to be on the western border of the unstable southeastern Europe - they would all rather be the southeastern border of the West.

    However, there are also misunderstandings concerning SECI between the USA and the European Union, which is to a certain extent understandable, because in a broad sense it all comes down to competition for influence in Europe. In late autumn last year, Washington and Brussels reached an agreement that the SECI would closely cooperate with the OSCE and nominated Austrian Gerhard Buseck for high representative and coordinator, although it is well known that Austria has an extremely negative stance concerning cooperation in the project. Another fact connected to differences between Europe and America speaks for itself. From the very beginning in spring last year, Italy has expressed its wish to cooperate in the SECI. Its move can undoubtedly be understood in the context of its aspirations to be the leading power in the region. But the Americans flatly refused the Italians, showing their resoluteness to maintain full control of development of the initiative for themselves.

    Slovenia certainly cannot rejoice at the fact that someone else will decide about its future. But sooner or later it will have to settle for the fact that it is nothing but a pawn on the chess-table of global policy, and nobody asks a pawn when and where it will be moved.

    In rigid reality of geopolitics, there are some good news for Slovenia. The initiative is being offered by the USA and they were the ones who interrupted the latest bloodshed in the Balkans, and what is even more important, if it agrees to cooperation in SECI, Slovenia will show to Washington all the maturity of a state in evaluation of its geopolitical and economic position. In this way it would prove that it had understood the sense of the new role of the NATO, but also that it has reconciled itself with the elements of the new geopolitical orientation which is not too kind to it, but takes into consideration the real value of the geographic position of the state.

    The Americans have made a good move, because apart from making their wish come true to become dominant in the region, which will also make them the first in investments in the market with not at all negligible 150 million inhabitants and enable them to penetrate deeply into the Russian interest sphere. If the USA really care for making Slovenia the western border of the SECI, it would be wise if the White House made it clear that cooperation in this interest group will not change the character and significance of its candidacy for membership in the NATO and that it can be only favourable for it. Instead, the SECI arose fear in Slovenia that this is in fact just a comforting storage of those who were forgotten, but it also caused anger that the West was still treating them as a part of the unstable Balkans. Cooperation in the SECI, according to the opinion of many would significantly make the way of Slovenia to the NATO more difficult, and at the same time it could cause danger of reconstruction of a Balkan scenario - let us be reminded of the European proposal about Euroslavia which was supported by many influential Europeans, but it has never gone further than formation of information centres.

    The SECI is a form that could in time be filled with a content which will certainly be more than just economic. Nobody complains about that. But plans of the global power and the will of the people in the region could separate at a crossroad set by historic experience. The states in the region have been friendly in their long history only for a very short time. Immediately after external (international) pressure diminished and whenever they got the chance, the Balkan nations separated, so that time of hatred and conflicts was altogether much longer than times of harmony and cooperation. This proved impossibility of joint life (let us just remember the SFRY) sets a limit of the American project. The other limit is set, as it could be predicted, by the - money. Resources for realization of the SECI would have to be provided by Western Europe, and for quite some time now (as it was observed) it has not been inclined to the American idea. Judging by that, the initiative in the form presented by Mr Schiffer could come to life only in about a few years. Slovenia which obviously manifested scepticism at the time of the visit of the American diplomat, is not in a hurry to give its answer, waiting for June this year when the NATO will make public the names of states which will be the first to become its members. It is not necessary to stress how much easier it would be for Slovenia to join SECI if it became, at least with one foot, part of one of the major organizations - the NATO or the EU.

    Another side-effect of the SECI is also interesting. The new wave of Euro-scepticism in Slovenia has suddenly withdrawn when the only tangible alternative to the European Union materialized. The choice is now much clearer than before - the NATO and the EU or a new Balkan union. The answer of all party presidents in Slovenia to this question is so harmonious that it reminds of a past time when we lived in the joint Socialists homeland. It is: the NATO and the EU.

    Matilda Kojic, AIM