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In ten or fifteen years, a member of the club for the rich

by Iztok Sori

Slovenia – since the takeover of the EU council presidency, this small and previously rather unknown EU-newcomer has been thrust into the limelight. Much has been reported about Slovenia's assignments and targets for over the next half-year. Its economic success, too, is repeatedly emphasized. Yet how has this country become so successful? A view from the interior by the Slovenian journalist Iztok Sori.

It is not too long ago that Slovenia and Kosovo belonged to one and the same state. Yet over the last 16 years, much has happened in the region "between Vardar and Triglav”, as the song goes, echoing the lines of Tito's maxim of "fraternalism and unity” for former Yugoslavia. Nationalism has claimed thousands of victims and the song is only to be heard today at "Yugo-nostalgic” parties.

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana
Photo: iStockphoto

The former Yugoslavian part-republic will lead the EU council presidency for the next six months, and the former Yugoslavian autonomous region is planning to declare itself independent during this time. That is why the Kosovo question is right at the top of the Slovenian council presidency priorities. Everyone of course now wishes to know what precisely this little country has to say about the consistently tense situation in the Balkans – or perhaps not. In politically realistic terms, almost no-one is actually interested in the opinions of Slovenian politicians (only a few of which are female) on the Kosovo question.

The knowledge that Slovenia has been independent since 1992 seems to have spread widely; yet it repeatedly happens that the Slovak hymn is played during medal ceremonies for Slovenian sports personalities. After reacting indignantly during the first years, people now tend to accept it with good humour. The country is, after all, seen as the prize pupil in the EU. In spite of this – who knows that Putin and Bush actually met each other for the first time in 2001 in Slovenia? That Slovenia was the first "new” member of the European Union to take on the Euro currency approximately one year ago? Or that Slovenia has already overtaken Portugal in terms of the buying power measured in gross domestic product? So successful – and yet so anonymous. Advertising slogans such as the latest "I feel Slovenia” can hardly change the situation.

Will the rich be helping the poor once again?

And yet it could be of interest; what the people in this country think about Kosovo. After all, the Slovenians make good use of their capital of knowledge from days gone by, and are the largest investor in the Balkans, after Austria. Therefore, taking a clear position on political tensions is today a far more delicate situation than before. This has changed in comparison to the eighties, when not only the swiftly increasing Slovenian civil society, but also the communist elite protested against human rights offences in Kosovo, putting themselves squarely on the side of the Albanians. The richest people campaigned for the poorest, one could proudly say.

As Slovenians wish to participate in economic activities in Kosovo as well as in Serbia, however, the last comment from the Slovenian Foreign Politics Department came as a surprise. The "eternal Foreign Minister”, Dimitrij Rupel, who has taken the office of Foreign Minister now for the third time, represents, together with the Italian and Greek governments, the opinion that Serbia should be allowed an accelerated path into the EU. This is understandable; as the earlier the Balkan States are (re-)integrated into the Community, the better it will be for Slovenia's position. Yet the relatives of the victims from the last wars must be horrified that Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić are still at large.

Friendly and yet tense relationships between neighbours

Those most surprised are Slovenia's southern neighbours, the Croatians, who had to display full collaboration with the Haagener Tribunal for war crimes in former Yugoslavia without any ifs and buts. Only then were the EU government leaders prepared to begin entry talks. Not only that, but the relationship between Croatia and Slovenia is already "friendly and yet tense”, even without this unequal treatment. The course of the border between the states, which for centuries was only represented on paper and has since recently been controlled by the Schengener Regulations, has still not yet been clearly defined. For Slovenia, with its approximately 40 kilometres of the Adriatic coast, the problem revolves around access to international waters. Therefore, the people of the country understand the "Ecological Fishing Protection Zone" proclaimed by the Croats to be an act of prejudicing the border. Because the Croatian politicians have not kept their promise that the zone is not applicable for EU states, the European Union is now concerning itself in the issue. In spite of this, almost one million Slovenians holiday in summer in Croatia, and thousands of Croats come to the Slovenian skiing regions in winter.

A President who preferred to travel to India than to New York

Only once, just recently, it seemed that the solution to the conflict was imminent. The former Prime Ministers, Janez Drnovšek, Slovenia, and Ivica Račan, Croatia, had agreed on a compromise – which however gave rise to a lot of resistance from the Croatian parliament. It was Drnovšek, too, who in 2005 – then in his role as President – clearly stated that delaying the Kosovo question any longer was senseless and advocated independence. In doing this, he annoyed not only the Serbs, but also the conservative head of government, Janez Janša, as the statements had not been discussed with him. The President is voted directly in Slovenia, yet the function is seen as a more representative one. As President, Drnovšek was someone who attracted attention wherever he went. After being diagnosed as having cancer, he changed his lifestyle; became a vegetarian, lived in a little house in the wood and baked his own bread. He founded the "movement for justice and development” and preached in the Internet for life in harmony with Nature. He preferred to travel to India or to the inauguration of the Bolivian indigenous president, Evo Morales, than to New York.


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Iztok Sori
I.S., born 1977, is a lecturer at the University of Ljubljana. He also works
as a freelancer journalist for different slovenian media.
» to author index

Original in German

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The text is licensed under Creative Commons license by-nc-nd/2.0/de.


Further articles on the subject » History, » Economic Policy, » EU enlargement, » Europe, » Slovenia
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