AIM: start

MON, 16 JUL 2001 14:45:21 GMT

Anniversaries: Ten Years Later

This July 7 marked exactly ten tears since the "ten-day war," that is, armed clashes between the Slovenian Territorial Defense and police, on one side, and the Yugoslav People's Army on the other. It all started that morning, after Slovenia's independence was officially proclaimed and the national flag hoisted in downtown Ljubljana. The fighting ended with a temporary cease-fire and then a permanent treaty, reached on July 7, on the island of Brioni, and brokered by the European Community (today's European Union). The Brioni Declaration was signed as the first in a series of diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

AIM Ljubljana, July 7, 2001

On June 25 ten years ago the Slovenian Parliament, acting on the basis of a plebiscite, adopted a declaration of independence. "Today, anybody may dream what they want; tomorrow is a new day," said Slovenian President Milan Kucan in Ljubljana, while a Territorial Defense squad was saluting the lowering of the Yugoslav flag and the raising of Slovenia's. The same night events took the expected course -- early in the morning Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) troops headed towards the border crossings. Slovenia responded with barricades, which in turn were destroyed by tanks. JNA armor had no mercy for civilian vehicles positioned to stall their progress, and the air force targeted TV and radio transmitters. Sporadic fighting went on for 10 days. The outcome was not hard to predict.

"Forces belonging to the Republic of Slovenia assaulted all 35 border crossings and certain smaller units in 87 watch towers and 40 other facilities... Since our forces numbered only 2,000 people, Slovenian Territorial Defense and police units easily outnumbered us, the ratio in some locations being 10 or 20 to 1. While our vehicles used the roads, the other side took the advantage offered by the mountains and was assisted by the local population, previously exposed to aggressive propaganda," recalls retired JNA general Konrad Kolsek, in his recent book, "Memories of the Beginning of the 1991 Armed Conflict in Yugoslavia."

Kolsek, an ethnic Slovenian, was at the time commander of the Fifth Military District based in Zagreb. Acting on orders issued by the JNA General Staff and the federal government (Federal Executive Council) he launched an offensive on his home republic. After ten days of fighting, however, it became clear that the JNA had no support from the dying federation or Serbia, where Milosevic (according to Borisav Jovic, then Serbian representative in the joint Yugoslav Presidency) said it should fight for the borders of "the future Yugoslavia."

It all ended with the assistance of the EC Troika in Brioni, where a three-month moratorium was declared on all decisions. The EC demanded that all federal border signs be reinstalled, all unilateral acts suspended, the return of all weapons seized from the JNA, etc. Only a part of these requirements was met. Slovenia's leadership was the first to realize that Europe was only making empty threats because it was recognizing the factual state of affairs; after all, this was EC policy ever since the very outset of the crisis (The only exception was the intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). After the publication of Kolsek's book it is interesting to compare the recollections of different participants of the Brioni talks 10 years ago. The first version was offered by Borisav Jovic, a Presidency member at the time, in his diary.

"We had talks with the EC Troika: Van den Broeck, Jacques Posse and Joao Pineiro, foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Portugal, on Brioni. Our talks were held during the attempts to have Slovenia and Croatia observe their promises and, with EC assistance, suspend their separatist decisions for three months, so that in the meanwhile a political agreement could be found. Practice so far had shown that nothing would come of it, and in the talks the EC threatened and warned Yugoslavia much more than the separatists and openly announced a 'change' in its position, in favor of dissolving Yugoslavia," Jovic wrote. He than quotes EC envoy Van den Broeck: "I am very pleased after hearing yesterday from Mr. Milosevic that he is in favor of the right to self-determination, that he accepts that too, and that, in time it could lead to the secession of certain republics from Yugoslavia. I was also very pleased to hear that he does not deny the principle of self-determination, but that he demands that such conclusion be based on negotiations or a dialogue, in other words, that the future of Yugoslavia should be decided in peaceful negotiations. In regard to this we very much agree with Mr. Milosevic."

Officially, the European Community dictated very serious conditions to the politicians in Ljubljana as well. "I think you are right when you constantly stress that any solution is possible if it is the result of negotiations. We keep stressing that unilateral acts, as such, will not lead to peaceful solutions... In our talks with Slovenians we have clearly said that there is a number of unresolved differences and problems... We have clearly told the Slovenians that if they want to attain their aspirations and their right to self-determination, they can do so only through negotiations," warned an EC representative.

It all ended very differently, however. At the beginning only weapons were used, and negotiations came later, to confirm the actual situation on the ground. What was observed were the results achieved by military means. The SFRY Presidency (composed of Janez Drnovsek, Stjepan Mesic, Borisav Jovic, et al.) could but confirm that the JNA should withdraw from Slovenia, and both Belgrade and Ljubljana voted in favor. The fact that Slovenia ultimately became independent thanks to Serbian votes in the SFRY Presidency (and that of Janez Drnovsek, of course), but that current Croatian President Stjepan Mesic voted against, is nowadays conveniently forgotten. Thus, for instance, at a round table discussion held at the end of June in the Zagreb Intercontinental Hotel on the occasion of Slovenia and Croatia's independence, the participants, Janez Jansa, Dimitrij Rupel, Igor Bavcar, Stjepan Mesic, Martin Spegelj, et al,. complimented one another. Only the Ljubljana-based Delo newspaper's correspondent from Zagreb warned of this somewhat embarrassing historical fact. Finally, it is beyond doubt that the JNA's departure from Slovenia meant not only the end of the SFRY and the beginning of Slovenia's independence, but the start of bloody wars which have yet to end.

As far as Slovenia was concerned, the crisis ended with the signing of several agreements between the JNA and Slovenian forces (on the "preservation of weapons and apartments belonging to the outgoing JNA" and the like) which were not worth the paper they were written on. The weapons that remained in Slovenia today belong to the Slovenian army, the apartments were largely privatized, and the families of former officers of the defeated army have been denied the right to live in them and to social benefits... Slovenia marked the tenth anniversary of its independence with fireworks, a huge celebration on Republic Square and a speech delivered by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the only representative of the EC that many years ago had tried to resolve the crisis in the former Yugoslav federation.

The media noted that Schroeder's announced address to the Slovenian people had resulted in certain dilemmas and brought up bad memories, because German speeches never brought any good to the country in the past. Given the current friendly relations, certain independent columnists saw the appearance of Schroeder as an excessive fawning on Germany. Thus it happened that several daily newspapers published editorials entitled "Danke Deutschland," alluding to the servile gratitude expressed until several years ago to power-mongers in Bonn and Berlin by neighboring Croatia.

Be it as it may, on the same day the Brioni agreement was reached ten years before, some other European representatives arrived in the former Yugoslavia with yet another "peace plan." Their destination this time around, was Skopje, the capital of the last former Yugoslav republic to be hit by the war as it made its way south.

Igor Mekina