AIM: start

THU, 08 MAR 2001 02:38:17 GMT

Slovenia vs. Croatia

Get Out of the Box!

Or how a new Bermuda Triangle has been created in the Bay of Piran, which is "swallowing" the Slovenian warships. This is a story about a simple, practically "ingenious" solution for the Slovenian-Croatian territorial dispute. The idea is perhaps witty, but does not hold water. Especially not seawater.

AIM Ljubljana, February 17, 2001

"We the Slovenians and Croats still share the common Yugoslav sea. That has to be divided. For the time being, there is no Croatian or Slvenian sea. Point T5, which has recently been presented to the local public, is just one possible solution. We yet have to start serious talks with the Croats. This is just a stage in our consideration of the problem. If someone has a better solution, he should say so. I would be very glad for it." This is a short statement by Foreign Minister Dimitrije Rupel whereby he informed the Slovenian public about the contents of the mysterious plan "Point 5". According to Rupel, T5 is a miraculous solution for the settlement of years-long dispute over the sea border between Slovenia and Croatia.

However, Rupel did not dream that his words could have double effect - first, he shocked his compatriots by the revelation that the Bay of Piran was still hiding some remnant of the former state of SFRY, be it even as a part of the sea; and second, that there were serious intentions to build something like a Slovenian-style "Bermuda Triangle" in the Bay of Piran. For, T5 is nothing else but "a still undefined point in the North Adriatic where borders of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia would meet with international waters". In other words, that would be the central point of the existing "four seas".

The ingenuity of this invention, according to Rupel, is that T5 does not encroach upon the Ossimo border between Italy and Croatia. Thus Slovenia would get (or retain) a contact with the international waters of the Adriatic, while Croatia would not lose its priority - a link to the Italian territorial sea. This is, according to Rupel, a "nice solution" for "everybody is right" according to the principle "have your pudding and eat it too". The only flaw of the whole plan is, Rupel admitted in the end, that a special corridor would have to link Slovenia (Slovenian territorial sea) to Point T5. And here the Croatian side is expected to partly look the other way.

The most beautiful thing in the whole event is the description of the moment when Rupel had the master's idea; Rupel praised his muse with literary narration refusing to accept vulgar comparisons to Tudjman's one-time scribblings on paper napkins. "Dr William Perry himself said for that solution that it was 'out of the box' - something unconventional. I was in touch with him as early as two years ago. I went over to his place at Stanford. We were sitting in his study, at the desk, drawing maps and thinking. When I explained the situation he observed that the Slovenian sea in the Bay of Piran resembled a square, in fact a box. And then he made this remark that one should get 'out of the box'! In that context, the most elegant, the cleanest and simplest for application seemed precisely this version with a cross where all four seas meet", Minister Rupel explained dramatically.

A more accurate explanation of that event and the implementation of the idea itself followed several days later when Gregor Velkavrh, Master of Law, Attorney at Law and "expert on international law" stated in an interview he gave to the magazine "Delo" (Work) that he "would immediately initial" the mentioned plan. Only if he could.

And how does the Slovene expert assess the chance of neighbours obstructing the Plan T5? "If, for instance, Slovenia were at odds with Croatia and even if their allies were the Italians, then probably both would try to prevent us from passing through that point. However, they would not be allowed to stop a Slovenian warship so long as she is in Slovenian territorial waters, i.e. until she reaches point T5 and in that case that ship would in a matter of seconds pass through that point and find herself in international waters". M.A. Velkavrh, however, did not leave off at a tangent to ask what would happen if the partners at sea did not recognize the Slovenian warships passing through the imaginary point T5 in those several seconds and opened fire or seized her at the moment when they thought that she has entered their waters. It is no wonder then that T5 reminds many of a mini Bermuda Triangle on the edge of the Piran Bay through which war and other ships should pass like through the eye of the needle while neighbours and enemies turn a blind eye.

Therefore, the point "now you see it, now you don't" resembles a trick in which the understanding of neighbours could hardly be counted on because they should, for the sake of Rupel's and Perry's innovation relinquish part of their own sovereignty in Slovenia's favour. Unless Rupel succeeds with the help of supra-natural forces to have the symbolic point T5, like a black hole, "suck up" a ship on the one side of the territorial sea of one state then transfer her through the territorial waters of another state, and belch it out on the other side in the midst of untouchable international waters!

The high hypothetic nature of the entire project becomes more understandable if one knows that it was designed by US Defence Minister William Perry - a doctor of mathematics, Director of Research Laboratory of Electronics in California and one of the fathers of the invisible "stealth" technology. The question of how in practice a Slovenian armoured-rubber landing craft (provided it is not part of the stealth technology) would survive shelling by two hostile navies - does not worry the "Slovenian maritime expert". He invokes international law, which protects the ship against sinking. Naturally, with the help of point T5.

There is a dilemma whether there is anything in Point T5 that deserves the attention of the negotiators from the two states, the negotiators that have for as long as a decade been struggling to agree upon the most favourable division of the Bay of Piran? The answer is brief - No. To start with, the plan is neither new, let alone ingenious. Essentially, it is a stylistic version of the proposal offered five years ago by the then Slovenian negotiator Iztok Simoniti. It concerned the defining of a corridor that would link Slovenian territorial waters with point T5 which, in that scenario, would not be just a point, but something much larger. In those days there was even some haggling - swapping of the "Tomsic lot" disputable land border area between Slovenia and Croatia) for around 200 meter wide "sea window into the world".

The current Rupel proposal avoids haggling, but relies on the idea on the completely same corridor that ends in an immeasurable point(micro-millimetres, millimetres, centimetres, a metre or two?). And if such a corridor were to be really recognised, it remains unclear how Croatia would retain a border with Italy, which is Croatia's negotiating credo. The second problem which is raised in the search for similar "ideal" solutions, concerns the real situation in the Adriatic Sea. But, first things first.

The ultimate point of the one-time Yugoslav coastal sea is 18.5 kilometres west of the line connecting the outer coasts of the Croatian islands. In addition, the Adriatic is also divided by a territorial sea belt, or by the high seas, which on the Slovenian side includes also the external belt of the one-time Yugoslav, and today Croatian, sea. Slovenia enjoys the exclusive right of sea exploitation only in the coastal belt, and not in the territorial sea which, in accordance with the international law, comes under the sovereignty of the coastal state - Croatia. True, Croatia is forced to tolerate in that part "innocent passage of foreign ships" through its territorial sea, meaning that Slovenian fishermen may freely sail in that part of the waters, but may not fish.

The term "innocent" implies navigation that does not put at risk order, peace and security of the coastal state. This in practice means that if Croatia finds a foreign ship in its waters, regardless whether she is anchored or sailing in the direction of coastal sea, it is entitled to stop her and arrest the sailors and even suspend the right to navigation if it assesses that the ship poses a threat to the security of the Republic of Croatia. This is a detail that Slovenia would certainly like to avoid and, hence the effort to secure a "clean" access to the open seas.

Imagine the situation where Croatia really enables Slovenia to have a corridor towards the open seas. A corridor which like crescent roll lies exactly along the center of the Adriatic Sea and conically ends at point T5, in front of the Bay of Piran.

This is an ideal solution, but not the end of Slovenian troubles with sovereignty and delimitation. For, Croatia could at any moment "annul" the Slovenian access to the international sea. Such a conclusion stems from the one-time Yugoslav law on coastal sea, which Croatia has inherited and which defines the 10-mile belt of the territorial sea as well as the 2-mile external belt, which is in accordance with item 24 of the Convention of Territorial Sea and External Belt that does not allow any greater width. However, in accordance with the mentioned Convention, Croatia has the possibility to increase its territorial sea at the expense of the external belt, i.e. to 12 miles, a step already taken by Italy in 1974. If the same were to be done by Croatia as well there wouldn't be any space left in the Adriatic for international waters and it would remain divided between Zagreb and Rome. In that case, point T5 would be in the exposed position in the middle of Croatian sea and would no longer make have any meaning.

In this whole thing the way Minister Rupel presented his "plan" deserves special attention. After all that has been said it is clear that the re-activation of the idea of T5 has a cosmetic role of attracting admiration and bringing the applause. This was a school example of "self-promotion" and construction of Potemkin's villages. In his presentation Minister Rupel demonstrated not only a large dose of self-admiration, but also a customary contempt for the opinion of renowned experts, such as dozens of international lawyers, geodesists, historians and diplomats, who in the last ten years drew maps and racked their brains trying to come up with a just solution for the hardest problem of determining boundaries between the two states. And then Dr Rupel reappeared in the armchair of Foreign Minister and pulled a hare out of a hat. Or better said a piece of paper written in a split second on some table in Stanford and there was the idea which not one expert thought of.

The idea is original, unconventional and befitting an enlightened author, essayist and intellectual. As if it came out of a pattern of those boring logical tests on deceiving the senses, where you are supposed to connect several points and form a shape with just one move. In these tests the solution to the problem is always in some point "outside" all that an ordinary mind would consider logical - same as in the latest initiative on the division of the Piran Bay. It is nice, somewhat less ingenious and rather unfeasible. So bizarre that no Slovenian "expert" dared utter the heretic sentence that "the emperor is naked". Or at least a remark that Rupel's as much thunderous as baroque construction on the division of the sea - does not hold water at all.

Igor Mekina

(AIM Ljubljana)