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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

    SUN, 31 DEC 2000 00:48:51 GMT

    Slovenia and Croatia

    War Games

    Shortly before ceding office to the Drnovsek team, the Bajuk government adopted a decision ordering the Slovenian police to enter the hamlets on the left bank of the Dragonja River that Croatia considers part of its territory. The Slovenian police were expected to assist in the removal of Croatian house numbers and the putting up of Slovenian ones...

    AIM Ljubljana, December 18, 2000

    Promises that all existing disputes between Slovenia and Croatia would immediately follow Slovenian elections were once again made too soon. Not only have the problems remained unresolved, but they have grown to very serious proportions. The Joras Case was the most recent spark that boosted passions on both sides. The story is at first glance a simple one -- a villager from the disputed Istrian hamlet of Mlini went to a store and bought a dishwasher. He put the appliance in his van and headed home. The road to his home in Mlini, however, which both countries consider as theirs, is winding and at one point takes wayfarers through a checkpoint at Plovanija, which marks the border between the two countries.

    The Croatian customs officials took a look at the dishwasher and charged the villager customs duty, which Mr. Joras, the dishwasher buyer, refused to pay. He said he was a Slovenian citizen headed home, and was, therefore, in transit. That he was taking to his Slovenian home a dishwasher bought in a Slovenian store. According to his understanding of the law and geography, the appliance belonged to him and nobody had any business charging him import fees.

    The rest of the story is familiar: the Croatian police failed to show understanding for Mr. Joras' arguments, took him in for questioning, regardless of his views on the matter, and the Customs Service fined him a huge sum. The case made headlines immediately and raised the temperature on the Slovenian side. Zmago Jelincic, the leader of the rightist Slovenian National Party, lamented in Parliament the fact that Croatia had "abducted a Slovenian citizen," whereas the Drnovsek coalition partner in the government, the party of Franc Zagozen and brothers Podobnik -- the SLS-SKD -- organized a press conference at which the main role was given to the new Slovenian national hero, Josko Joras. At that point the Slovenian government, ostensibly with little zeal, stepped in. The Drnovsek cabinet attempted to deliver a note of protest to the Croatian embassy in Ljubljana, but the newly-appointed ambassador to Slovenia, Celestin Sardelic, refused to accept it.

    Meanwhile, Joras' home became the target of numerous pilgrims. The house is located some 100 meters from the Plovanija border crossing, and the patriots concocted a special way of protesting: they decorated the entire building with Slovenian flags and placards with the words THIS IS SLOVENIA. With every new day the Joras Case acquired new proportions. The public was informed that "patriot Joras," while being taken into custody, threatened to set himself on fire. The presence of a bottle of gasoline confirmed that this wasn't an idle threat. It was not used, however, and it was assumed that this was because (a) Joras wasn't too skilled in using gasoline bottles, or (b) Joras wasn't resolute enough to make good on his pledge.

    But that wasn't all: Joras refused to sign a report on the incident, and demanded that the Croatian Customs Service send the fine (equal to about 10 average salaries in Croatia) to his "true address," that is, to Secovlje No. 1, and not to "Mlini, no house number," which is how the house is registered in Croatia. The incident was later used (and maybe even arranged from the outset, if it is of any relevance at all) by extremist political circles in Slovenia. Daniel Starman, Joras' lawyer, publicly demanded that Slovenia transform the disputed border crossings with Croatia into special area, and that inspectors be dispatched there to remove house numbers put up by the Croatian administration, because they were "forgeries." Starman cited in support the fact that Secovlje now "de facto" belongs to the municipality of Buje, whereas once it was part of Piran municipality, something that some in Slovenia not only tend to remember with nostalgia, but openly request that its annexation to the mother country be carried out. They wave documents which confirm that, according to all maps, the four hamlets -- Mlini, Buzin, Skodelini and Skrile -- belong to the municipality of Piran, and therefore to Slovenia. The catch, however, is that communication-wise, they are separated from Slovenia by the Plovanija border crossing, which itself is disputed by official Ljubljana, under the pretext that it was established without any announcement on Slovenian territory immediately after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

    All this was great material for creating an explosive situation on both sides of the border: incidents similar to the one involving Josko Joras have been occurring day after day. There have been tens of similar situations ever since Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991. Both countries have formally accepted the principle of the inviolability of the administrative borders between the former republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but theory is theory, and practice something else. Even a superficial glance at the incidents over the past several years can make one's hair stand on end: two years ago Slovenian police arrested two Croatian intelligence agents on Slovenian soil. The dust had barely settled when a Slovenian flag was flown by a lighthouse marking the location of Secovlje Airport, lying at the border with Slovenia. This would not have been a problem had the airport not been located in Croatia. Croatian police removed the flag quickly, but the unpleasant fact was that a foreign flag had been visible for an intolerably long time to scores of tourists and locals. Then the leader of the Slovenian National Party, Zmago Jelincic, sent "an open letter to an unknown hero in the Slovenian government," blasting the treacherous policies of the Drnovsek administration towards "Croatian aspirations."

    Jelincic's provocation found its mirror reflection in a response of his Croatian counterpart, Ante Djapic, the leader of the Croatian Party of the Rights. Djapic expanded the list and proposed that the territorial dispute over the Trdinov summit, that is, Sveta Gera, be resolved simply -- using the army and force. This was a response to the action of the Slovenian Geodetic Administration which only a week before had boosted tensions after having distributed Slovenian house numbers to four homes in the hamlets right next to Secovlje, which -- needless to say -- the Slovenian side considers part of Slovenia. Since these hamlets are under Croatian administration, the project was branded in Zagreb as Slovenia's attempt "to occupy" Croatia, that is, take a part of its territory. But this was nothing new, because a similar event occurred with telephones -- the Croatian postal service cancelled Slovenian telephone numbers to the villagers and issued them Croatian numbers instead, causing an avalanche of protests on the Slovenian side. When to all this the two countries' unresolved sea border is added, and regular "close encounters" of their respective police patrols, it is a true miracle that this manipulating of passions and rattling of sabers had failed to claim actual casualties.

    This time around, however, war games have reached a thin line separating performances from bloodshed. The citizens of Slovenia and Croatia only recently learned of one of the latest moves of the Bajuk and Jansa government. At a cabinet session on Nov. 29 (shortly before the transfer of power), they adopted a conclusion ordering the Interior Ministry immediately (the same day) to ensure a constant presence of Slovenian police patrols in the municipality of Secovlje. At the same time, the Geodetic Administration was ordered "to check house numbers in the hamlets on the left bank of the Dragonja River...and remove all that were not put up" by its officials. The Slovenian Interior Ministry was instructed "to provide for adequate support in carrying out conclusion No. 3." "Constant presence of the police" was also requested, as well as that a report be sent to the government by 3 p.m. the following day!

    The conclusions of the Bajuk government correspond in tone to the rhetoric used in Slovenia at the time the former Yugoslav People's Army was "taking up positions on the borders" in June, 1991. By issuing such orders the Slovenian police have in fact been dispatched to a territory that Croatia -- justifiably or not, it really doesn't matter -- considers its own. This means that the Croatian police are de facto in charge there. To put it simply, the Slovenian police would face unpleasantly uncertain circumstances, because an encounter with the Croatian police forces would be unavoidable. Given that "the boys in blue" on both sides are armed to the teeth, it is obvious that their meeting would not end at verbal exchanges, and would have enormous consequences for the future of the region. To this day it remains unclear how those who issued such orders imagined the entry of Slovenian troops into the disputed hamlets. Were they supposed to go via the Croatian border crossing? It is encouraging, however, that the now former Slovenian government failed to be unanimous in formulating the above conclusions. Well-informed sources intimated that the conclusions were dictated by then Slovenian prime minister Andrej Bajuk in person, whereas Interior Minister Peter Jambrek expressed doubt that they could be enforced. The only official who openly opposed the campaign -- whose true author and instigator was the former Slovenian defense minister, Janez Jansa -- was the former foreign minister, Lojze Peterle. The disclosure of one of the last orders issued by the Bajuk government shocked both the Slovenian and the Croatian public. That it all remained no more than writing on a piece paper was due to the fact that the change of government occurred in Ljubljana on the next day. But this was not the only reason: the Slovenian police responded more maturely than the politicians and deliberately ignored the conclusions of the outgoing cabinet. Thus a certain conflict with unforeseeable consequences was avoided.

    Igor Mekina