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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

    WED, 10 JAN 2001 21:42:01 GMT

    Slovenia From Within

    Bureaucratic Ethnic Cleansing

    The post of the Slovenian Ombudsman has become a stop for various outgoing politicians, while the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia warns that the "administrative ethnic cleansing" of non-Slovenes is still in progress.

    AIM Ljubljana, December 23, 2000

    The expected happened - Darja Lavtizar-Bebler, Kucan's favourite candidate for Ombudsman (defender of human rights) was not confirmed by the Slovenian Parliament. She needed the support of two thirds of deputies to be elected, but only 57 delegates out of the total number of 81 present delegates voted for her, while 20 were against, which was not enough for legally prescribed quorum. Although many thought that with Kucan's support Bebler was as good as elected, the electoral machine of the ruling party gave up just because of several rebellious SLS+SKD delegates (who voted against despite the fact that they are in coalition with Drnovsek's LDS). It is interesting that the Party of the Young, which was considered Drnovsek's satellite, was not in favour of Bebler's election either.

    The event itself would not be interesting had it not raised numerous issues concerning the state of human rights in Slovenia, as well as the hypocritical relation of the state and the media towards human rights violations "at home". Already at the moment the media published that the President of the state was in favour of Bebler as the new defender of human rights, it became clear that this was a bad move because Bebler was at the bottom of the list of 22 registered candidates regarding her private engagement in the human rights violations; that angered Neva Miklavcic-Predan, President of the Slovenian Helsinki Monitor, who also declared her candidacy within the legally prescribed deadline (in contrast to Bebler, who was late). Thus, serious violations of the law and regulations occurred already during the nomination of candidates for Ombudsman, which was why Neva Miklavcic-Predan demanded protection from the Constitutional Court of Slovenia. Her demand was rejected for formal reasons, but the fact remained that the irregular addition of Darja Lavtizar-Bebler's nomination left an embarrassing impression of the violation of the electoral procedure.

    It is interesting that the authorities also did not spare Bebler, corroborating the "Ombudsman case" with their claims that criticism expressed at her expense was justified. They pointed out that until now, as a delegate of the ruling party (Drnovsek's LDS), Bebler proved that she was good at following the instructions of her superiors, but also no one remembered her having her own stand or taking an initiative concerning human rights.

    Those running against her also added that an Ombudsman could not be someone who in the last ten years did not once raise her voice in defence of the stigmatised and oppressed. It is true that Darja Lavtizar-Bebler was a member of Ljuba Bavcon's influential Council for the Protection of Human Rights - but that was before Slovenia became independent when the protection of human rights in Slovenia was linked to the defence of basic national rights (eg. process "against the foursome before the Military Court of Ljubljana"). After 1991, when Slovenes found themselves in an autonomous situation - they turned from a "potentially endangered minority of Yugoslavia" into majority which, through its own state apparatus, is oppressing the others - primarily those that the yellow press likes to call "non-Slovenes".

    Has anyone raised his voice in defence of their rights? With the exception of several reporters, a bunch of lawyers and a few rare representatives of non-governmental organisations - no one. Although there are many "philanthropic" societies actively working in Slovenia.

    There is something perverse in the combination of politics and philanthropy. No one denies that there are cases of individuals leaving the repressive apparatus and joining the human rights fighters. Only, here that happens somewhat too often and so - easily. When Slovenia accepted the institute of Ombudsman, Ivo Bizjak was elected first among equals. A mathematician by profession he was Minister of the Police at the end of his career. Moreover, he was forced to leave the function of the Police Minister before his term was up since he was objectively responsible for some of his subordinates who got carried away - the Slovenian special unit members were caught stealing in Austria. During his term as Ombudsman Bizjak mostly resolved cases that originated from the time of his ministerial career in the police. As soon as his term expired, Bizjak again became a minister in Drnovsek's Cabinet; this time he got the cabinet post of the Minister of Justice. The state intended to appoint Bebler, from the ruling LDS, to his previous position as a kind of bureaucratic continuity. This points to a conclusion that in the position of an Ombudsman, the Slovenian state doesn't want a strong, autonomous personality who would do something concrete in the field of human rights protection at the highest level.

    "The state sees its care of human rights as an opportunity for hiding various violations of human right from the public eye", said Neva Miklavcic-Predan, President of the Helsinki Monitor for Slovenia. The facts prove her right. The role of Ombudsman in the Slovenian society is best described by the information that the Slovenian Parliament discusses Ombudsman's annual reports with two years delay. However, that has never triggered a reaction from the current Ombudsman, which makes the marginalisation of that official in this society even more clear.

    The consequences of this practice on the state of the Slovenian society are best seen on the example when all those who were denied Slovenian citizenship back in 1991, were also deprived of the permanent residence status. In this way, hundreds of people were left overnight without any personal identification papers, social and health care, right to work. The injustice was partially corrected in the "Law on Regulating the Status of Citizens of Other States Successors of the Former SFRY" which, eight years after the independence, rectified the denial of rights to tens of thousands of citizens from other Republics of the former Yugoslavia who happened to be in Slovenia at the time it became independent. Back in 1991, many of them did not even apply for Slovenian citizenship, while others did not get it for various reasons - insufficient knowledge of the Slovenian language, accusations of having "participated in the aggression" against Slovenia and because of a longer absence from the state.

    Their problem did not end with their deletion from the citizenship register, since the Ministry of the Interior of Slovenia decided to wipe out from the permanent residence register all those who had permanent residence in Slovenia till 1991, but who did not have Slovenian citizenship after Slovenia became independent.

    Many people lost their right to pensions and other "benefits" they became entitled to during their working life, and found out what had really happened only when they went to the municipal community for some administrative formality or other, and have clerks confiscate their personal papers and inform them that they "no longer live here". They destroyed their driver's licences, identity cards and passports. Many of them had no choice - they became unwanted foreigners and left Slovenia if they managed to obtain documents from their mother country. Human rights experts warned in vain that the Slovenian MUP had no right to strike people out from the register unilaterally and without a valid legal procedure, nor that the fact they had lost or refused to accept the citizenship of Slovenia automatically deprived them of the status of a permanent resident. That is an acquired right which every state should respect.

    In the worst case, after the independence those who until Slovenia became independent enjoyed the rights of citizens of Slovenia (Republican citizenship), could be reduced to a status of foreigners with permanent residence and not of citizens without any residence permit forced to fight for their status. Despite totally wrong policy, Ministry of the Interior kept refuting accusations about the illegality of its actions and reducing the number of those stricken out of the registers. Such a policy was successful for a long time, since because of the increased xenophobia of the Slovenes after independence, no one drew attention to this practice - neither PEN, nor the Association of Writers, nor many other "human rights protectors" in Slovenia. A few honourable exceptions were several jurists, headed by the mentioned Bavcon, and the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia, which is functioning with new composition as of 1995. The previous Helsinki Committee of Slovenia was led by ex-reporter and ex-minister Stane Stanic, until it was expelled from the Helsinki Federation because of its inactivity, which speaks for itself.

    The only organisation which later on tried to arouse the public conscience, was the renewed Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia. However, it was also somewhat discredited because its President Ms.Neva Miklavcic-Predan became known for occasionally using general and uncorroborated information. That is why its work was either fiercely attacked or ignored by the media. That would not be tragic in itself had other organisations, which claim to be protecting human rights in Slovenia, properly played their role of the detractors of the authorities.

    However, for years the mentioned organisations "did not see" anything controversial in the state of Slovenia, but ardently supported the rights of lamas in China. This kind of (patriotic) colour-blindness of organisations like Amnesty International, brought many a disappointment to the unprotected human race but, on the other hand, helped Slovenia fare very well in White House and other reports on human rights violations in Slovenia.

    What happened with those who have been erased from the register? For example, in its protests the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia pointed to the fact that in February 1992, under an unknown law unknown persons deleted from administration computers and permanent residents register some 130 thousand people who were citizens of Slovenia till then and overnight became apartides - people without a homeland and the right to apply for Slovenian citizenship.

    Despite numerous objections, the competent authorities have not yet determined who is guilty of the mentioned violations. To make everything even more bizarre, this deletion was done not only without any legal basis, but without the knowledge and the right of appeal of the people in question.

    That is why the redressing a wrong is not progressing smoothly. Under the new "Law on Regulating the Status of Citizens of Other States Successors of the former SFRY" only some 14 thousand people have re-applied for permanent residence. The Ministry of the Interior claims that "only" 0.36 percent of applications have been rejected. In addition, the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia warns of the fact that the police now demands some additional document, without any legal grounds. Article 12 of the Law on Citizenship requires "proof of uninterrupted stay", although permanent residence of these citizens had been truly interrupted by an illegal act of the state itself. "They treat the whole thing administratively, same as they administratively struck them out" commented Neva Miklavcic-Predan still claiming that the "administrative ethnic cleansing is continuing".

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)