AIM: start

FRI, 21 DEC 2001 00:05:52 GMT

Slovenia vs. FRY

Return of the Forsaken

The dispute between Adria Airways and JAT over the reallocation of flights to Pristina and Belgrade has overshadowed the opening of the Yugoslav embassy in Slovenia, partly because the first-ever Yugoslav diplomatic mission has been placed in the very building once accommodating the branch-office of Yugoslav Airlines in Ljubljana

AIM Ljubljana, December 7, 2001

Following the first announcements that an agreement on the reallocation of flight destinations between the two carriers is about to be reached, Adria Airways issued a statement that it was "surprised by the news of a forthcoming deal" since "there were practically no negotiations to speak of". Adria also presented the Slovenian Foreign Ministry with a letter demanding that the authorities protect its interests "in reaching an agreement on air traffic". Finding themselves in a tight spot, through circles close to them, the Slovenian authorities hinted at the possibility of granting Yugoslav Airlines (JAT) the permit for operating in the country even without the consent of Adria.

The public was then to witness contradicting statements coming from each of the sides, all to be denied almost immediately. Such as the one saying that: "The business manager of JAT Dragan Nikitovic has said that the establishment of a regular line between Belgrade and Ljubljana by the beginning of December is quite probable". Or that of Mihaela Bastan of the Slovenian Communications Ministry according to which a contract - in line with the initial Slovenian-Yugoslav agreement on air traffic reached in Belgrade on October 12 - was to be officially signed and sealed on November 2, during the visit of the Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic to Ljubljana. Adria Airways’ Projects Director Mira Mocevic happened to mention that the said agreement would pave the way for the Yugoslav carrier to establish a regular flight connecting Ljubljana with Belgrade, with Adria being denied the same right". The news was carried by the October 27 issue of the Ljubljana daily Dnevnik and echoed by similar confusing reports in media throughout the country. Five days later, the festive atmosphere of the opening of the Yugoslav embassy in Slovenia was somewhat dampened by the fact the previously highly advertised agreement on air traffic had not been signed by Svilanovic and his Slovenian counterpart Dimitrije Rupel during Svilanovic’s stay in Ljubljana.

Over a month later, JAT and Adria Airways are still deeply engaged in a vigorous legal dispute. For the time being, the issue has been pushed aside in the media, along with a number of other unresolved matters between the two states. Besides conflicting interests, the main stumbling block between Adria Airways and JAT is the issue of the line to Pristina.

In short, JAT and Adria have taken irreconcilable stands concerning the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia over Kosovo and the authority of the international community to regulate passenger air traffic in the region without the consent of the FRY authorities. The Slovenian state carrier has covered the destination to Pristina for the past two years and the last thing it would like to see happening is that it now be denied the right to a highly profitable flight destination (of some 80 thousand passengers a year). But then again, Adria would be more than happy to obtain a permit for flying on a regular basis to Podgorica and Belgrade. On the other hand, backed by the Yugoslav diplomacy, the management of JAT is arguing that Adria cannot hope for an agreement which would allow it to yield but a half of a line while keeping for itself the other half, plus additional two flight destinations connecting Slovenia and Yugoslavia. Adria insists she was given the permit to fly to Pristina by the UNMIK administration and that Belgrade has no say in the matter, while Belgrade bases its argument on the UN resolution 1244 which guarantees FRY sovereignty over Kosovo, meaning that "the legal capacities of the Yugoslav authorities in this matter are perfectly clear". Who knows how long this seesaw of opposing arguments would have lasted if Foreign Minister Rupel had not decided to put an end to it all by concluding that "the two states can no longer afford being hostages of just two firms". On October 12, the Belgrade signing of the initial agreement on air traffic between Slovenia and Yugoslavia ensued. At the time, it seemed as though the final signatures ratifying the agreement on air traffic between the two countries were to be a mere formality, an additional impetus to the festive mood surrounding the opening of the first-ever Yugoslav embassy in Slovenia. As it turned out, the events took an unexpected turn, turning the occasion into a dismal flop.

Quite wisely, the Slovenian diplomacy decided to leave the choice up to the local carrier. Which does Adria prefer: to continue flying to Pristina or to obtain rights for flying on a new line to Belgrade? It has to be said that Slovenian authorities do not seem to be pressed for time, since the commitment of Adria Airways to either of the offered choices did not follow as speedily as expected by the Yugoslavs. At the same time, JAT claims that Adria is in the wrong, and that "not a single country in the world would consent to its demands." So, what are the Yugoslav offering Adria? A permit to continue flying to Pristina, this time with the blessings of the FRY authorities. Adria says it needs no such permit. Neither is it prepared to agree with the second demand of the Yugoslav side obliging it to pay millions of dollars in royalties to JAT as a foreign carrier flying on its domestic line, as is the case with Pristina. JAT is confident that the law is on its side and that it would not only win the case if it was to take it before an international arbitration court, but also be awarded damages for the losses suffered in the two years since Adria has been flying to Pristina. The differences seem insurmountable: the issue of national sovereignty is of vital importance for the Yugoslavs, Slovenian authorities cannot allow themselves to let down a domestic company and betray its interests, particularly not after Adria has publicly sought the protection of the Slovenian Foreign Ministry. And thus without end.

Were it not for this issue "of the skies", it would seem that the Slovenian and the Yugoslav diplomacies have managed to successfully resolve disputes dating back to Milosevic's regime and that the relations between the two countries have thawed after being on ice for a decade. Diplomats on both sides are pleased with what has been achieved following the changes which took place in FRY last October, as the frequent meetings of the two foreign ministers clearly show. The most recent, November meeting of Dimitrije Rupel and Goran Svilanovic was the fourth this year, a vivid illustration of the animated diplomatic activity going on. Were it not for the dispute between JAT and Adria which was given such a prominent place in the media because of its political background, all would be well. Thus, the opening of the Yugoslav embassy in Slovenia was overshadowed by the quarrel over flying rights, made worse by the fact that the premises chosen are situated within the building owned by JAT, symbolically associating the new embassy in the mind of any ordinary Slovenian not only with JAT, but with former Yugoslavia as well, the very mention of which evokes bitter emotions in this particular part of the world. In looking for a place to situate its embassy in Belgrade, the Slovenian diplomacy weighed the issues of finances and public relations more carefully. It thus avoided the mistake of situating the newly opened Slovenian embassy in Belgrade within former or present premises of any Slovenian firm in the capital of the once united country.

Further developments were to be expected, if judging by the approach taken concerning the opening of the first-ever Yugoslav embassy in Slovenia. Which is to say that things were carried out with a lot of clumsiness and just as many flops. First, this summer, a member of the Yugoslav embassy staff lost his life in a tragic incident. After that, a number of experienced diplomats (deserving credit for paving the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries) were replaced by individuals lacking the necessary experience for operating in the host country successfully. The decision to situate the embassy within the premises owned by JAT was reached in a haste, allegedly "due to financial reasons", while the same logic seems to have been forsaken when the choice of the Yugoslav ambassador’s residence was concerned. Furthermore, the moment in which the embassy was opened was ill chosen, too close to grand celebrations commemorating the withdrawal of the "odious JNA" (Yugoslav Army) from Slovenia. During the conflict in Slovenia in 1991, around 1990 YA soldiers and 400 Yugoslav Customs officials clashed with around 35 thousand strong Slovenian Territorial Defense forces. Several hundreds of Yugoslav Army recruits were injured., 44 killed. According to officially released facts, the Slovenians suffered 19 casualties (soldiers, policemen, civilians) and a total of 182 wounded. Six helicopters, 22 armored personnel carriers and 31 YA tanks were either seriously damaged or captured at the time.

In his memoirs, Janez Jansa wrote that his subordinates are to be credited with "draining the last remaining drops of blood" out of the Yugoslav Army invaders in the port of Kopar seeing that these forces withdrew from the said port "practically nude and bare footed". Ten years later, on the eve of the opening of the Yugoslav embassy in Ljubljana, in Kopar and throughout Slovenia, numerous festivities commemorating the withdrawal of the last contingent of the Yugoslav Army forces from Slovenia in October 1991 were held and memories in line with Jansa’s recollections evoked. The Yugoslav ambassador to Slovenia Ivo Viskovic found he had no particular cause to pay attention to the said events, nor did he feel obliged to respond to some of the things said. Later on, in an interview to Dnevnik, he found it suitable to inform the Slovenian public that he had kept track of all said celebrations while being "in full control of his emotions". As for his response to a possible invitation to the central celebration in Kopar, ambassador Viskovic said he was not certain he would have attended it even if invited, due to the "possible negative reactions of some within Yugoslavia", because ten years ago many of them "had been extremely worried... over the security of their children and relatives" then living in Slovenia.

It may be that the fact that the Yugoslav ambassador to Slovenia is more concerned with the perception his hosts have of him than with historical facts and the dignity of the country he represents is worthy of praise. But then again, the same attitude does not apply to some other aspects of the diplomatic "endeavors" of the new embassy. The odium caused by the trial - conducted entirely in Serbian - of four Slovenian citizens (Jansa, Borstner, Tasic, Zavrl) before the Yugoslav military court in Ljubljana at the end of the eighties is a well known fact. To a large extent, the outrage this caused in the public mobilized the masses in favor of the referendum on independence and contributed to the final severing of ties between the two states in 1991. Ten years later, the hand-picked flower of the Yugoslav diplomacy is hard at work in Ljubljana - without the knowledge of a single word of Slovenian. Quite understandably, this is what citizens seeking the services of the newly opened embassy (mostly visas) object to most often. None of the staff speak Slovenian - a fact which can be verified quite easily - and, upon our explicit and repeated requests that someone, anyone, who speaks Slovenian be found, the consulate general, finally, in utter desperation, asked us in Serbian: "Is it possible that you really do not understand me?!" In the aforementioned interview to Dnevnik, ambassador Viskovic confessed to trying to master the language himself at the moment, although this direct method of acquiring necessary language skills - a rather costly one for Yugoslavia - seems to have yielded no tangible results as of yet. Interestingly enough, some forty odd Slovenian diplomats operating in FRY at present have no such problem, being fluent in Serbian to the very last. Nevertheless, the first amongst Yugoslav diplomats in Slovenia, ambassador Viskovic, is doing his best to tone down the arrogance towards the mother-tongue of his hosts by wholeheartedly advertising Bled custard slices to all who venture upon the premises of his embassy. Ambassador Viskovic has become a veritable "good will" ambassador as far as Bled custard slices are concerned: there is not a single thing he does not know about them, including some amazing facts most ordinary Slovenians are completely unaware of - such as the fact that Slovenia has produced some seven million custard slices up to now....

The newly founded Yugoslav embassy in Ljubljana is burdened not only by language-related PR difficulties, but with the very existence of the Montenegrin Bureau for Cooperation with Slovenia, established two years ago in Ljubljana. At the time, the bureau (then headed by Branko Lukovac, the Montenegrin Foreign Minister to be) was widely advertised as the first-ever Montenegrin embassy world wide. At the moment, the Bureau is headed by the former Foreign Minister of Montenegro, Perovic. Relations between the diplomatic outposts of the two countries at present amount to the exchange of courtesy notes, while the Slovenian Foreign Ministry has been allotted the near-to- impossible task of balancing their expectations concerning matters such as: priority rankings, the allotment of diplomatic car plates and similar privileges due them. Not that the Yugoslav Constitution rules out the possibility of diplomatic missions such as the one established in Slovenia by the Montenegrin state authorities. But, what seems to be the problem is the fact that the Montenegrin diplomatic mission was established at the time no diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Yugoslavia existed and that the point in time coincided with the Montenegrin quest for independence.

No wonder then, that following the opening of the Yugoslav embassy in Ljubljana, misunderstandings between the two diplomatic branch-offices abound. Their exact nature is best defined by statements given by certain Montenegrin officials, such as the one claiming that "the Yugoslav diplomacy is solely engaged in representing the interests of Serbia proper." Solid evidence that this might well be true is probably to be found in the current dispute between Adria Airways and JAT. Adria has been flying to Podgorica for almost three years now without the official consent of the FRY authorities. The forthcoming agreement on air traffic between Slovenia and Yugoslavia would turn the line to Podgorica Adria now holds into a mere "negotiation asset" of the Yugoslav authorities. Ambassador Viskovic, an active participant of the negotiations in question, while protecting the best interests of the Belgrade firm, still insists he is by no means "solely an ambassador of Serbian interests".

If that were true, a crucial question would still remain unanswered: who is ambassador Viskovic actually representing if one the two states constituting the twofold federation has already publicly renounced the need for his services, while ambassador Viskovic himself found it necessary to disassociate himself with the last remaining constituent of the former federation, Serbia? To put it mildly, the situation could be defined as schizophrenic. The Slovenians are doing their best to untangle the present mess as diplomatically as possible. In the meantime, the status quo reigns: unhindered, Adria still operates the lines connecting Ljubljana with Pristina and Podgorica, while JAT flies on those between Belgrade and Podgorica. The more earthly ties between Ljubljana and Belgrade seem to still belong to the domain of virtual reality.