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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

    SAT, 22 JAN 2000 00:46:33 GMT

    Slovenia and Austria

    New Minority

    In the beginning of the year 2000 the post of Slovenian foreign minister Boris Frlec is seriously shaken

    AIM Ljubljana, 13 January, 2000

    News leaked in public that prime minister Janez Drnovsek was seriously considering the possibility of replacement of foreign minister Boris Frlec; there are several reasons for such a move. The formal reason is connected to the elections in Croatia - during a recent diplomatic visit to Finland, the interlocutors, among other, asked Slovenian foreign minister what he anticipated the results of the elections in Croatia would be like. Boris Frlec answered straight off that the elections would take place on 3 January. And that was all. His chief and prime minister Drnovsek was not especially happy because of the disgrace of his minister. The Finnish episode, however, is not the only such case in the career of Boris Frlec as minister of foreign affairs.

    Drnovsek reproaches his head of diplomacy for numerous other failures; for instance, for too long - almost six weeks - he was absent from the state for diplomatic visits to China and Japan. To make things even worse, Frlec and Slovenian diplomacy were praised in China for their allegedly restrained stand concerning Tibet. The news was denied after return to the homeland, and an unknown clerk was accused of spreading misinformation.

    Similar happened on the occasion of signing of the Resolution on the world without nuclear weapons. Slovenia participated in passing the Resolution, and then after criticism from Washington, official Ljubljana flatly gave up on the draft, and this brought Slovenian diplomacy the not at all flattering epithet of being feeble and indecisive.

    All this could have been anticipated from the very first statements of the newly appointed minister Frlec who was in the beginning of his term in office faced with the open issue of Old Austrian minority which seems to be the greatest Slovenian foreign political problem although ever since it had become independent there appeared to have been no obstacles to the re-established Slovenian-Austrian friendship. The first doubts appeared in public after the decision of the provincial government in Corinthia seated in Klagenfurt (Celovec) to demand from Vienna to take a firmer and a more resolute stand towards Ljubljana because of the ignored problem of the Old Austrian minority. The time for exerting pressure on official Ljubljana was excellently chosen because Slovenia had entered the circle of candidates for membership in the European Union and dared not allow any complications in relations with its neighbours to jeopardise it. Drnovsek tried to pacify the Slovenian public by minimising the mentioned demands while his (just appointed) foreign minister Frlec publicly claimed that neighbourly relations have never been better! A new denial followed soon after.

    At one of the secret sessions attended by leaders of all parliamentary parties, minister Frlec stated quite a different story. Among other, it proved that differences between Slovenia and Austria have a long history, in fact as long as disagreement between Slovenia and Italy about the status of the Italians who after the Second World War left Slovenia and all their property there. It is no news that the same happened to the Germans. According to conclusion of the Potsdam conference and with hearty logistic help of the allies, after the end of the Second World War, Germans from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia and other states were moved in an organised manner. About eleven million Germans who used to be a rich and progressive minority in other states for centuries were moved to the territory of Germany and Austria. Such an exodus did not seem strange to anyone at the time, but historically inevitable. Nowadays, after more than half a century, Austria is trying to reappraise the political moves made at the time and reduce the punishment inflicted against the entire German population.

    The history of the secret actions concerning recognition of the status of an ethnic minority to the banished Germans, or Old Austrians, started back on 28 August, 1991. That is when Oswald Verter, president of the association of Germans banished from Gornja Stajerska (Upper Styria) addressed a letter to the chairman of Slovenian assembly Franc Bucar with the demand that the question of injustice done to the banished Germans be resolved by the law on denationalisation. In the past few years, other similar demands of representatives of former German minority in Slovenia followed. That it was no longer funny became clear on 5 February, 1992 when the then foreign minister Aloise Mock declared that Austria was entitled to fight for the interests of the German minority members of which still needed to be counted and be reconstituted in Slovenia. It was estimated that this minority might have up to 15 thousand persons. This was the first time that the Austrians officially put the Slovenian minority in Austrian Corinthia on the same level as the German minority in Slovenia which was at the time still in exile.

    That Austria has no intention to give up despite persistent attempts of Slovenia to hush up the problem was proved to be correct six months later when Austrian charge d’affaires formally delivered to the Slovenian party a memorandum on German minority. Austria has never since missed an opportunity to raise the question of its minority in all diplomatic contacts.

    The case was finally internationalised by the official note of Austria addressed in 1993 to the Conference on Human Rights of the United Nations. That same year Mock stressed in a speech that at the end of the Second World War the Old Austrians experienced one of the most severe cases of injustice in the twentieth century, expressing hope that reformed former communist regimes would include the banished persons in revival of their economies.

    Years went by, Mock left the post, but pressure exerted by Austria never subsided. Charge d’affaires of Austrian embassy in Ljubljana informed his colleagues from the Slovenian foreign ministry that his bosses in Vienna would be forced to succumb to the pressure of the Austrian public opinion and strongly demand from Slovenia recognition of the German ethnic minority and return of their property confiscated after the war from all the Germans, or Old Austrians.

    Frlec’s diplomacy responded to Austrian pressure clumsily and then frantically changed course, and that is the greatest sin attributed to the current Slovenian foreign minister. In 1997 Boris Frlec rashly declared that he did not "know the German, that is the Austrian minority in Slovenia". When it became clear that the number of its members was not decisive for recognition of an ethnic minority, the Old Austrian minority was suddenly "recognised". The status of this hastily recognised minority was not only regulated by signing of the needed (European) conventions, but moreover Austria was granted the right to negotiate with Slovenia in the name of its minority. It did this very successfully - in just three months Austrian diplomacy managed to make progress from Frlec’s statement about "non-existent" minority to the cultural agreement and specific rights of this minority in Slovenia! Although he at first demanded that Old Austrians be listed in Slovenian constitution, even the president of Austrian rightists (FPO) Jerg Heider agreed to such regulation of the status of Austrian minority. Haggling then made Slovenia agree to demands of Austria (which demanded that the expression "ethnic minority" be introduced in the agreement while Ljubljana agreed to "members of ethnic groups") to such an extent that in the final phase they negotiated about an agreement which would have two different texts. And then the already finalised agreement got stuck in Slovenian parliamentary procedure. This was additional reason for the anger of Austrian counterparts who felt tricked.

    In return, Vienna is still not recognising the status of Slovenia as the successor of the Austrian state contract signed by Yugoslavia at the time it was protecting the Slovenian minority in Corinthia. Besides, Austria does not seem to intend to consider Ljubljana the successor of the contract which determined the border between the two states.

    All these issues were put on the diplomatic table again after the new Austrian government had been constituted, although it is already clear that due to increasing influence of Heider in the political life of Austria, but also due to indecisive moves of Slovenian diplomats many problems with Austria will continue to intensify. This story will hardly ever come to a happy end especially if Slovenia does not succeed in becoming a member of the EU by the end of 2004 when Heider’s new rush for power is expected.

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)