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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, 25 FEB 2000 15:22:45 GMT

    Slovenia and Austria

    Haider and Slovenes

    Although it appears as if a bad omen for Slovenian politicians has come true, reactions of official Ljubljana to Haider's joining the black-and-blue coalition is reconciliatory, one could even say - benevolent

    AIM Ljubljana, 15 February, 2000

    "Haider is quite a reasonable politician, increasingly pragmatic", "One never eats soup immediately after it is cooked", these are just some of the declarations of the head of Slovenian government, Janez Drnovsek, which after the election success of the Freedom Party of Jorg Haider in Austria, marked the course of Slovenia's foreign policy towards its northern neighbour. Not even the proverbially beligerent Dimitrij Rupel nominated on the day Austrian government was elected to be the new minister of foreign affairs of Slovenia had anything to say concerning the situation in Vienna except that "Austria is a friendly country we can even love".

    And while Austria is criticised throughout Europe because of its new black-and-blue government, and while police cordons are clashing with protesters in the streets of Vienna, from the state to which Haider's followers are making enormous problems for years already it is possible to hear only kind words, warm-hearted to the extent that even the "devil from Carinthia" in person - Jorg Haider praised Slovenia's cooperativeness. "Only Milan Kucan was somewhat critical about our government, and Kucan was informed about the developments in Austria by our former prime minister who is a Socialist. This proves that there is no problem, but you can expect them when a Socialist informs another Socialist", Haider observes sarcastically while new prime minister Schussel is sending a letter of appreciation to minister Rupel because of Slovenia's benevolent stand. Is this a strategy of burying its head in sand or is Slovenia truly among the few ones who are happy with the changes in the government of its neighbour?

    All things considered, it seems that the former is true. Behavior of Drnovsek's ministers is similar to the apathy of a victim who sees a scorpion on his/her pillow and hopes that the dream is not true and firmly shuts his/her eyes to make it go away or waits for the monsters to change its mind and go away to a neighbour. The manoeuvre, however, is pointless. Haider's ministers are already in Vienna, and judging by his latest statement it is not impossible that the lively fifty-year old from Carinthia might even become the next Austrian prime minister. That is why the Slovenian public is simply infuriated by lethargy of its party leaders. Until now everybody in Europe knew who the sanctions are imposed on. And this certainly is not Vienna, Slovenia's ally and support from the end of the eighties, through its struggle for independence to this day, or more precisely until the "scandalous transformation" of the patron from the north into an isolated and boycotted pariah in the European Union.

    Calmness of Slovenia's prime minister and his foreign minister did not spread on the population. Public opinion polls show that fear of aspirations and power of the northern neighbour is growing all over again despite poetic salutes of Dimitrij Rupel. Indeed, Haider did apologise a few times in the past several days, but he has never withdrawn or denied his words from the election campaign when he declared that broadening of EU (which would oblige Austria, the outer "border" of the Union, to open borders towards the new members - Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic) was an act equal to "declaration of war" to Austria. His party, the ultra-rightist Freedom Party (FPO) fears among other migrations and opening of the market for the new labour power due to which Austrian workers could lose their jobs. And since the main strategic goal of Drnovsek's government is Slovenia's joining the European Union by the year 2003/2004, caution in reactions to Haider's success is the result of the wish not to stir up trouble and not to additionally provoke and enrage Haider because it could additionally deteriorate the unenviable position Slovenia has been in in the past ten years of close relations with the official Vienna.

    Haider's political motto, at least when Slovenia is concerned, is no news. Indeed, more than ten years ago his popularity grew on stirring up odium against everything that is Slovenian, both in Austrian Carinthia where until only eighty years ago Slovenians were a big majority population, while nowadays they are a hardly noticeable assimilated minority. It is an established fact that ever since the beginning of his political career, Haider advocated limitation of the rights of Slovenian minority in Carinthia (on Austrian state TV he repeated that he was in favour of divided and not mixed classes in schools so Austrian children would not suffer from contacts with foreigners), he criticised a hasty reception of Slovenia in the European Union, he is opposed to opening of Austria to "cheap labour power" from the south, he was the first to preach in favour of the rights of "German minority" in Slovenia.

    The painful issue of "German minority" concerning which Rupel's predecessor Boris Frlec at first claimed that it did not exist was intensively stressed by Haider for a whole decade. And he succeeded - last year his course was accepted by Austrian foreign ministry and after just a few months of pressure it yielded fruit - although Slovenian Constitution recognises only three minorities (Italian, Hungarian and Romany), Frlec recognised German minority causing a number of problems by doing this, from the questions of ownership to those of culture. For instance, a special cultural agreement is in preparation which will to the until recently unexisting German minority (which has slightly more than two hundred members) ensure special rights...

    However, it should be stressed that Haider is more than a skilful tactical player; he is always in a good mood, smiling, ready for a joke and a warm handshake, lately casually dressed in pullovers and jackets without a collar and a tie, with a sportish figure, looking as if he were hiding somewhere a picture of Dorian Grey, shortly - a modern populist (contrary to the plump and clumsy colleagues from the Balkans), who on the one hand generally mistreats Slovenian minority and on the other appears in the role of a patron and donor on the local level (when the governor is expected to allocate little sums of money for a performance or something similar...) driving his unskilful colleagues in Ljubljana crazy.

    There were also interventions of Austrian diplomacy in favour of local economy; Haider was among the first to demand shutting down of the nuclear power station in Krsko, once and for all. And due to Austrian pressure Slovenian government gave in concerning tax free shops having promised that they would be liquidated by the end of the year, although its full membership in EU is still far away. Everything listed (and a lot more) is what Slovenia fears the most - that Haider's vocabulary and intonation will become the style of new Austrian policy. The new government in Vienna is still sending friendly messages in the direction of Slovenian foreign ministry. At the moment Austria still has too many problems with Europe to permit straining of relations with Slovenia. On the contrary, it is striving to present its relations with Drnovsek's administration as "ideal".

    And this is succeeding; especially Haider who is using peaceful Drnovsek's statements in his propaganda and stressing that this is the evidence of "good neighbourly relations" and that fears of EU are unfounded. There is no doubt that bureaucrats from Ljubljana will not live in suspence for long: in the course of the process of first decision-making it will be clear whether Vienna will manipulate its right to veto (which was used by Rome so far in order to squeeze out of Ljubljana the best possible conditions for members of Italian minority) in order to block or slow down Slovenia's joining the European Union. For the time being, European Commissioner for broadening of EU will not hinder Slovenian negotiations on its full membership.

    It should not be disregarded, however, that in foreign policy and reception of new members the EU still operates on the principle of general agreement. This means that Austria, although under sanctions (perhaps even because of that), could block reception of Slovenia in the EU. Haider recently said that Austria had its rights and that Europe would have to treat it with more respect. It is uncertain how the court would rule in a case concerning possibilities of a single member blocking reception of new members although it is hardly possible that the court would deprive Austria of its right to veto. Finally, even if that occurred who would be able to open Austria's border towards new (southern and eastern) members of the European Union?

    A way out will most probably, as most frequently done in Europe, be found in a double compromise - Austria will accept strict rules in foreign and security policy (which is demanded by Romano Prodi within his institutional reform) - and Slovenia will give in to aspirations of Vienna. Similarly, the conflict between Italy and Slovenia concerning return of real estate to Italian citizens was ended. In other words, not only Haider but Drnovsek and his team are also heading towards hard and uncertain times.

    Svetlana Vasovic

    (AIM Ljubljana)