AIM: start

MON, 10 DEC 2001 00:57:26 GMT

Slovenian – Croatian Relations

A Dead End

This July, the official Ljubljana and Zagreb informed the public with great pomp about the agreement they have finally reached regarding the determination of boundaries on land and sea, as well as the future fate of Krsko Nuclear Plant. Five months later this agreement has been called into question.

AIM Ljubljana, November 14, 2001

"Slovenia has done its part, but things are getting complicated in Croatia. What next?" asked Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek publicly at a recently held press conference, practically paraphrasing the well-known Lenin's phrase and all that in connection with the uncertain fate of the initialled Border Agreement. The problem is harder as Drnovsek thought that he had shelved the matter since it would come handy in the forthcoming electoral campaign for presidential elections and in his taking over the function of the President of the Republic from Milan Kucan.

It is possible that the problem of relations with Croatia is important for Janez Drnovsek just because of the coming electoral campaign. There is no doubt that it is equally important for his colleague from Croatia, Ivica Racan, who this July 19 signed the Border Agreement. It is clear that the two Prime Ministers will know how to use the successful resolution of at least some of decades-old open problems between two states in political battles that are ahead of them on home ground. Obviously, the wishes are one thing and their fulfilment quite another; that is precisely the item Prime Ministers did not manage to pull through. First, the Foreign Policy Committee of the Croatian Parliament postponed this item from its agenda several times and then Janez Drnovsek's letter to Ivica Racan appeared on the Internet. Also, the possibility of arbitration has been frequently mentioned in the last couple of weeks. Ivica Racan has decided to let the Parliament (instead of the mentioned Foreign Policy Committee) decide the Agreement's fate, since there is greater chance that he could secure in Parliament the majority necessary for the Agreement to be singed and ratified. It thus turned out that the July agreement got stuck, whereas its initialling served as a sort of photo session for both Prime Ministers since it does not legally bind either Slovenia or Croatia so that it would not be the first time for a sensationally announced agreement to subsequently go quietly down the drain. There have been previous cases in the past of the cancellation or "freezing" of signed agreements between two states.

Procrastination of the signing of the Agreement creates space for speculations and new proposals, which actually annul the already reached agreement. For example, according to Professor of international law, L.L.D. Davorin Rudolf the Border Agreement was contrary to the Croatian Constitution and Ivica Racan was not authorised to make a decision by which Croatia would surrender a part of its territorial sea. Along the same lines was the reaction of Dino Debeljuh, deputy of the Istrian IDS, who proposed the narrowing of the international corridor in the Croatian territorial sea to one kilometre wide and three kilometres long belt, but on condition that Slovenia surrenders to Croatia "25 kilometres long and 40 metres wide highway" which would lead over the Slovenian territory to Skofje – the Slovenian international border crossing with Italy. Allegedly, "fishermen from Umag" were also for this proposal. President of the Croatian Party of the Right, Ante Djapic went even further assessing that after the July initialling of the Agreement with Slovenia, Croatia should not accept arbitration since it had already "ruined its bargaining position".

The postponement of the signing of "July Agreement" also suits its fierce opponents in Slovenia. "Janez Drnovsek's latest statement for "Globus" is a proof that the Civil Initiative was right all the time regarding the border in Istria", said Daniel Starman, lawyer and President of the Initiative, at the latest press conference. He was referring to Drnovsek's allegation that in "case of arbitration Slovenia would demand four hamlets along the Dragonja river". Starman concluded that until now, Slovenia "did not ask for hamlets just because of the Agreement".

"If we decide on arbitration - we would ask for more! And we would get more," stated Starman with conviction. Despite that, analysts in Slovenia doubt that such a policy, which is consistent with the several years old pre-election slogan of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party: "More Slovenia!", would find fertile ground and be approved by the international arbitrators. However, some Starman's arguments could threaten the Agreement that was so hard to reach. True, the Slovenian Parliament gave a green light for the Agreement to be signed, but nothing is preventing the Slovenian Foreign Policy Committee to postpone the signing of Agreement on the Nuclear Plant Krsko (which is directly linked to the Border Agreement) in response to the procrastination of its Croatian colleagues. This would set off a chain reaction and endanger negotiations between Slovenia and Croatia on the debt of the Ljubljanska Banka to Croatian depositors. This is yet another proof that this is just trade on the highest possible level.

That is why the Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Drnovsek made a rather unusual move in diplomatic communications and sent an open letter to Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan in an attempt to break the deadlock in the resolution of problems at issue. In his letter Drnovsek rejected the possibility of new negotiations on the already agreed solutions. According to Drnovsek, new negotiations on this same subject could jeopardise "the achieved results that might have served as a model to the international community and states of the region, but could have also been a proof of political and historic responsibility of the two Governments in the resolution of this important problem". Interestingly, Racan's office did not attach much importance to the letter of the Slovenian Prime Minister and the Croatian media reacted similarly just briefly reporting about the letter of the Slovenian Prime Minister. Later on, in some other public speeches Janez Drnovsek did not reject a possibility of renewed negotiations or even arbitration, but called them "highly unlikely".

That Prime Minister Racan, nevertheless, tacitly agrees with the allegations from Drnovsek's letter is confirmed by Racan's statement that Croatia "will get more than it will lose with this Agreement" and that the resolution of disputable questions would benefit Croatia in the broader political context too. President of the Croatian Government explained that "Croatia cannot join Europe with unresolved problems or deteriorated relations with Slovenia". Despite all this, for the time being the instability within the ruling coalition, economic problems and complications with the Hague Tribunal are preventing the Croatian Government from making another step forward and sign the ratified Agreement. The failure of these negotiations is currently more harmful for Slovenia, which is about to join the EU and NATO, but over the long run it will not do Croatia any good either. As a result of unproductive press conferences at which politicians have been repeating the same clichés for years, diplomacies of two states lately look more like a tool for redirecting the public attention in the old Soviet Union-style, than efficient services for mutual communications and agreement-reaching between two modern states. This could be easily put right if politicians and diplomats on both sides of the Slovenian-Croatian border could agree, in an answer to the paraphrased Lenin's saying "What next?", to apply the iron rule of successful negotiations - that once granted concession cannot be revoked.

Igor Mekina