THU, 21 OCT 1999 11:28:24 GMT
Results of the latest Austrian electrions and harsh words of some of the politicians uttered during the election campaign, once again aroused fear among the Slovenes of aspirations of the northern neighbour.
"The tendency towards changes has ended in Austria with extremely anti-modern aspirations, since what we have seen in pre-election gatherings of the Freedom Party (FPO, which has become the second force in the state) was pure glorification of the personality cult... One could say that Austria, as concerning the key issues of the future of Europe, is becoming an unpredictable factor, and this will certainly make life bitter to its neighbours", claims correspondent of Delo Mojca Drcar Murko in her first post-election report from Vienna. Her commentary is a reflection of similar fear which is nowadays present in almost all Slovenian media.
The election results do not leave much room for guesses on the future course of Austrian policy. The party of Jorg Haider with about 27.4 per cent of the votes has undoubtedly become the political force which ranks second in Austria. This is a historical development, both for official Vienna and for Haider, although members of the People's Party (OVP), now ranking third, have not actually been badly beaten . They are lagging behind the ruling Socialists (SPO) by only 0.3 per cent, and in comparison with the previous elections they have in fact won one seat more in the parliament. The ruling Socialist (that is, the Social Democratic) Party of prime minister Viktor Klima has fared the worst having won 33.4 per cent of the votes which is by about 5 per cent less than four years ago. But this probably will not prevent president of Austria Thomas Klestil from giving the Freedom Party the mandate to form the new cabinet.
It is clear that establishment of the government will be a difficult undertaking; apart from the fact that they now have a reduced number of seats in the parliament, the two formerly ruling parties must face the consequences of the statements of their leaders made in the heat of the pre-election battle; and deny them. For instance, during the campaign the Socialists claimed that they would not form the government with Haider's Freedom Party for anything in the world, and the leader of the People's Party and Austrian foreign minister Wolfgang Schuessel resolutely promised that should his party end up third in the election race he would not enter the government again. It is evident that both the former and the latter are now unfeasible, especially because the the coalition of the People's and the Freedom Party cannot form the cabinet... The end of the story is quite predictable; since the rating of the People's Party is not as bad as it was feared, the main problem is how to explain to the voters the sudden shift in the policy of the People's Party and unite with the party with which "union is impossible" in order to remain in power.
Regardless of how combinations for the composition of the government will end, the rise of Haider is an indication of less lenient policy towards southern neighbours. The Slovenes who live in Austrian Korinthia, but those on the southern side of the Alps, too, have for years followed with fear the rising popularity of president of the Freedom Party Jorg Haider. His populism directed against both the ruling parties in Austria - the People's and the Socialist - also implies a definite anti-Slovene, xenophobic approach. Haider's views are no novelty - he has always advocated limited minority roghts of the Slovenes in Korinthia, he is a critic of an easy reception of Slovenia into the European Union, he is opposed to opening of Austria to "cheap labour force" from the south, he has persistently advocated protection of the rights of "German minority" in Slovenia and similar. However, Haider is more than a skilful politician; on the one hand he is limiting the rights of Slovene minority - in general, while on the other, he appears in the role of its great ally and donor on the local level, so that there have even been certain instances of cooperation between Slovene and Haider's deputies.
There are therefore, numerous unresolved issues on the table; they speak in favour of the pessimistic forebodings concerning the course neighbourly relations will take. Austria, for instance, does not recognise Slovenia's status of the successor of the Austrian State Treaty which warranted special rights to the Slovene minority in Korinthia; Austria has not consented to ratify a few major agreements, the agreement on the border inclusive; Austria's pressure to shut down Slovenian duty free shops is increasing, and not rarely Austrian diplomacy intervenes in favour of its home economy. The controversy on the origin of horses from Lipice will soon become an international problem which will be put on the agenda of World Trade Organisation. Finally, the Austrian party is highly interested in construction of electric power plants on the river Sava, the project which has for years been at the standstill; Slovenia claims that these power plants would generate very expensive electric power.
This is not all. Power plants on the river Sava are just a shield for Austrian demands that the nuclear power plant in Krsko be shut down altogether; to make things even more interesting, in a special memorandum independent Ljubljana has undertaken the obligation that it would shut Krsko down by 1995! And the partner, Vienna in this case, is not ready to forget such obligations. There is also the scandal about re-opening of the "German issue" in Slovenia, the project which was insisted on by Haider for years; Austrian diplomacy took over his course and after just a few months of exerting pressure it achieved enviable success - although Slovenia's Constitution "recognises" only three minorities (Hungarian, Italian and the Romany community) a special cultural agreement is in preparation which will guarantee special rights to the until recently hardly existing German minority (it consists of several hundred persons at the most).
Obviously there is a wide spectre of problems which could be opened in negotiations with Slovenia by future Haider's or other ministers of Austrian government who will due to Haider's success be forced to increasingly use his vocabulary. And acceptance of not only Haider's vocabulary but of his policy as well is what Slovenia is fearing the most. What it is like (although Haider was not in the government yet) could be seen during the recent election campaign. Thanks to the pressure from two provinces and Haider's parliamentarians, in the end of September Austrian government put Krsko nuclear power plant on its list of "hazardous" facilities. Official Vienna explained this measure by the fact that this power plant was constructed in the region with a high risk of earthquakes and as foreign minister of Austria put it that "devices in the nuclear power station are not American". Then an avalanche of evidence started from Slovenia that the nuclear power plant was constructed by American Westinghouse; even Slovenian president Kucan was involved in the polemic during his recent visit to his Austrian counterpart Klestil. It was stressed that Krsko nuclear power plant met all Western requirements, that its operation was supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that radioactivity was measured every half hour by no less than 26 special stations, that when danger of earthquakes was concerned Krsko was designed better than Swedish, Spanish and English power plants, and that seismic cross-sections and possible land slides were investigated by a team of Spanish, Italian and Austrian geologists as part of a project of the European Union...
Perhaps Krsko nuclear power plant would not have caused serious consequences on neighbourly relations which are in general despite incessant haggling mostly good, if it had not been for the nuclear accident in Japan after which Austria decided to block the process of rapprochement of Slovakia with the European Union which was interpreted as a bad sign in Slovenia. After that, Austria decided to boycott the meeting of the committee in charge of negotiations on full membership of Slovenia in the European Union if the question of the power plant was not put on the agenda, since Austria required from Slovenia the highest and not just average protective measures like England and certain other member countries. Politicians from Vienna are still sending friendly messages to Slovenian foreign ministry that everything done by their colleagues on the federal level is "only because of Haider" regardless of controversial moves of Austrian government. It is no wonder that uncertainty and fear are growing in Slovenian public that Austria - similarly as Italy a few years ago - might block Ljubljana's joining the Union.
Igor Mekina (AIM Ljubljana)