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    Copyright: All those wishing to use or publish the following text are welcome to do so, provided that they indicate the source and inform the AIM office in Paris which is interested to receive comments and reactions on the information it provides. AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 02 DEC 2000 01:29:30 GMT

    The Zagreb Summit

    Diplomatic Faux Pas

    Slovenia sent its Foreign Minister to the Zagreb Summit. In this way it wanted to show how its position within EU "differed from that of those in the Balkans". Without any doubt, this move speaks more about Slovenia and its diplomacy than about the importance and achievements of the Summit.

    AIM Ljubljana, November 26, 2000

    "What an honour for Croatia! All states have sent their Presidents as chiefs of delegations. Some sent state Presidents, others Prime Ministers, while one sent the President of its Bee-Keeping Alliance!" This was the comment of two passers-by at the poster "The Zagreb Summit 2000" showing Minister Lojze Peterle of Slovenia (who is also President of Bee-Keepers of Slovenia) with a large suitcase in the foreground.

    The cartoon on the front page of the "Delo" (Work) was not very funny (which is incidentally true of the majority of similar humoristic contributions in the mentioned newspaper), but reflected well the "special" position which Slovenia (in its characteristic way) has secured for itself at the Zagreb Summit.

    The fact remains that after much "deliberation and internal-political consultations" Slovenia decided that neither the President of the state(Kucan) nor the Prime Minister (still Andrej Bajuk) should go to Zagreb, although it was common knowledge that President of France, German Chancellor, British Prime Minister and other highest representatives of European states and Governments would be there; instead of a high-level delegation, the official Ljubljana sent a modest crew led by its Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle (whose days are already numbered).

    Behind this decision there was a bit of vanity, some diplomatic dilettantism; all kind of things - some neighbourly envy that something so big and important was happening in Zagreb (while Slovenia was doing everything to gain prestige in the international arena, particularly in respect to states of ex-Yugoslavia); on the internal plane, this move was another contribution to playing up to the domestic public – because Slovenia once again showed that "it is not a part of the Balkans". Finally, the eternal rivalry between Kucan, Drnovsek and Bajuk (Janez Jansa) and the accompanying intrigues should also not be disregarded...

    Speculations about the background of this move brings to light much dirty linen although not the answer to the question whether such a decision (in the first place Kucan's) was politically wise. Of course it wasn't. Short-term benefits from currying favour with the xenophobic strata of the local public are smaller than the extent of long-term damage this move will have on foreign policy. In any case, the sequence of events best reflects the situation. On November 14, Milan Kucan received the invitation to take part in the "Zagreb Conference on the West Balkans". Two days later Bajuk's and Jansa's Government decided that the Foreign Minister should represent Slovenia at the Summit in Zagreb "irrespective of what its name might be". At that time, no one knew whether by D Day in Zagreb Drnovsek would manage to form and Parliament would have time to confirm the new Cabinet or whether Peterle would have to go. The only thing certain was that Prime Minister designate Janez Drnovsek had already announced his intention to appoint Dimitrij Rupel as his Foreign Minister.

    In brief, Kucan had no other choice but to take a pen and write a letter to the French President Jacques Chirac on November 20 to explain his failure to come to Zagreb. Be that as it may, the outcome is well-known. Correspondents of the Slovenian National Television and private POP TV rushed to explain to their public the reasons for such low-ranking Slovenian delegation. They pointed out that it was a premeditated move on the part of the Slovenian diplomacy by which Slovenia wanted to show that it was "not the Balkans".

    The dailies were full of arrogant comments that the time had come for the "Europeisation of the Balkan cafe" (as the late Croatian writer Krleza called it) and for Serbia's "grilled meat to get a competition in a hamburger" (In this comment "Delo" lost sight of the fact that McDonald's started making hamburgers in Serbia ten years before this chain of fast-food restaurants discovered the existence of Ljubljana on the map).

    Be that as it may, the fact remains that the Slovenian Foreign Ministry did not deny such interpretations of Peterle's visit to Zagreb. In any case, the Zagreb meeting caused much headache to Peterle's team; a special "form" of Slovenian participation in the Conference had to be devised. The catch was for this "form" not to resemble the presence and participation of other states of former Yugoslavia which the Conference was intended for. This pointed to the conclusion that, first the Slovenian delegation could not be led by the chief of state. Would Prime Minister be an acceptable level for the Slovenian delegation? That was the level of German, French, British, Italian and other European delegations. Again - "raising" the Slovenian delegation to this level might have been understood as an inappropriate move, because Slovenia was still just a candidate and not a full-fledged member of EU. And that is how it was concluded that Foreign Minister would symbolise that Slovenia "is not the subject of study, but an exporter of stability".

    The official Zagreb was not happy with Ljubljana's decision, nor were those who received Kucan's apologies in Paris, nor leaders of other participating states in the Summit. Slovenia missed the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the great, Kucan passed up a chance to have his picture taken with the crème of Europe, not to mention this unique opportunity for meeting Vojislav Kostunica at the highest level and on neutral grounds. If Kucan counted on meeting Kostunica the next day, at the Meeting of Central-European Initiative in Budapest, then he was much mistaken. Because Kostunica was not in Budapest.

    This was not the first time that Slovenia was taught a post-festum lesson in diplomacy. In the past it lost face in a similar way when Prime Minister Drnovsek and President Kucan were unable to agree who should go to the UN General Assembly session in New York. In this last case the blame was laid on the outgoing right-wing Government of Andrej Bajuk. This could not justify Kucan in the least as the most responsible party for the low level of the Slovenian delegation in Zagreb. As President of the state and one of its "foreign representatives", Kucan could have made an autonomous decision whether to accept the invitation or not. Instead, on the day the Zagreb Conference was gaining momentum he opened the new building of the Law Faculty in Ljubljana and afterwards went directly to Berlin to some conference where, together with several dozen participants of various profiles, he finally managed to meet the President of German Parliament.

    Thus Slovenia again managed to send the same message as several times before: that it considered itself to be above other states formed on the territory of former Yugoslavia and that it did not want to find itself together with them in any "package". By this it said more about itself than it said about others; it confirmed that it was complex-ridden because of historic heritage and that Europe couldn't count on it as a reliable and sure partner.

    In addition, it also showed that it is no "expert" on peace in the Balkans. Such a message was sent at the moment when all electronic media in Slovenia were abuzz with news about the new breakthrough of Slovenian capital in the Balkans, at the moment when it started investing heavily in Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and when papers are filled with stories about the great Slovenian interest in economic cooperation with Serbia. Lowering of Slovenia's diplomatic contacts gives the impression that it is only interested in egotistic, material aspects and not in those values in the name of which leaders of countries members of EU have gathered in Zagreb the highest representatives of their states.

    Abstaining from contacts with "the Balkans" might have worked at the time when Tudjman and Milosevic were in charge in Zagreb and Belgrade. However, after democratic changes in these two states, this attitude becomes intolerable. It seems that Slovenia's reservation regarding "the Balkans" is so deeply rooted that it became a part of traditional culture. As far as diplomacy is concerned, it is disappointing that even after ten years of sovereignty and its own statehood, Slovenia did not move from political puberty which the last US Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman described as "Garbo nationalism".

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)