After the war

President Milan Kucan

Slovenia's departure from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991 was almost bloodless. Why?

We Slovenes participated in the formation of Yugoslavia after the First and Second World Wars, believing in both instances that the national identity, existence and future of the Slovenian people would be protected in a South Slav state founded on the principles of national equality and a federal system. Contrary to these expectations, in neither the first nor the second Yugoslavia did conditions allow political, economic and cultural autonomy to be fully secured or a democratic system to be established based on a market economy.

In the latter half of the 1980s, Slovenia attempted to assert confederate status on the basis of the 1976 Yugoslav Constitution. Unfortunately, this was impossible because of Serbia's policy of subordinating the federation to its own hegemonic interests. On the basis of legal amendments to its Constitution in 1989 and a plebiscite in 1990, Slovenia declared itself independent of Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991. The federal leadership and army wanted to subdue us, but the aggressor was defeated in a ten-day war. Mediation by what was then the EC and Slovenia's agreement to a six-month postponement of independence under the Brioni Accord ensured an end to the war in Slovenia, the withdrawal of the federal army and the recognition of an independent Slovenia.

Slovenia avoided the bloodshed of Bosnia-Hercegovina because, of all the former Yugoslav republics, it is the most ethnically homogenous. Ethnic discord could not be stirred up in Slovenia as it was elsewhere. Slovenia is a central European country by culture, history and civilisation, which is one reason why Serbia's policymakers did not step up the pressure as they did in Croatia and Bosnia.

Slovenia's departure from the Yugoslav Federation was the result of a consistently legal course of action: a negotiated end to the military conflict and also recognition by the rest of Europe of the special character of this country, which has never belonged to the Balkans. As the most western part of the Yugoslav Federation, and the part most open to foreign co-operation, Slovenia forged many ties and alliances and secured international understanding during the difficult times of separation and the Serbian military assault.

We may also have had our share of luck, which we earned through the clarity of our goal, the depth of our unity and our sound organisation.

What effect did the fighting in other republics have on Slovenia's development since 1991?

During the war, we lived on the edge of a war zone, and were concerned that the fighting should not return to our soil. We cared for refugees, especially from Bosnia - there were 100,000 Bosnian refugees in Slovenia. With foreign aid and through our own efforts we were able to ease their plight. In addition, for several years, as internationally recognised members of the UN, we backed Bosnia and Croatia in their resistance to Serbian aggression.

We lost a large market because of the war. Slovenia was the most industrially developed of the former Yugoslav republics, and we sold more than 30 per cent of our output in the Federation. With much effort we have replaced this lost market with new ones in western Europe, and industrial production has for some years now been growing (as has the economy as a whole). In addition, the proximity of the fighting had until recently made us a high-risk country in foreign eyes, which affected tourism and slowed foreign investment. Finally, Slovenian assets left in the other Yugoslav states were in some cases simply confiscated.

Overall, in the five years since independence we have normalised life. However, we will clearly have to contend with the consequences of the failure to understand the causes of Yugoslavia's disintegration for a long time to come. This could mean unrealistic notions of the restoration of the Federation in one form or another, or the continued - and absurd - arms embargo against all the former Yugoslav states, including Slovenia, which is at war with no one, and does not in other respects match those conditions which prompted the embargo.

How optimistic are you that the Dayton accord will lead to a lasting peace?

I am moderately optimistic - but I have major doubts about the prospects for a rapid change and normalisation of life, especially in Bosnia, but also in the other newly-established countries south-east of Slovenia. Dayton and Paris are undoubtedly great achievements, since any solution is better than war. However, we should not overlook the fact that a peace agreement came about only after aggressive Serb nationalism had been halted by force, by the firm hand of the US.

The signs are that the logic of violence and ethnic cleansing has not been defeated: you only need to look at the orchestrated exodus of Serbs from Sarajevo, the conduct of the liberated military elite in Banja Luka, the cynicism of certain Bosnian Serb leaders and their disregard for the international war crimes tribunal. Also worrying is Hercegovinian Croat nationalism, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Any buying of peace at the expense of principle is very harmful. The course and character of the 1991-95 war should make Europe's policymakers realise that their reluctance to distinguish between aggressor and victim of aggression brought only fresh horrors and that only American intervention halted the escalation of war and genocide.

I myself have always drawn attention to the aggressive character of the war, which began and unfolded as neither a civil nor as a religious conflict: it was an offensive war with a known aggressor and a known victim, with the manifest aim of appropriating part of the territory of the sovereign state of Bosnia, a UN member. Sadly, my warnings and those of others were not heard until the very end. If the Europeanisation of these states has not succeeded at least in its fundamental respects by the end of the millenium, Europe will enter the next century with smouldering battlefields. Slovenia will strive to continue contributing initiatives in the establishment of peace.
What benefits, in terms of economic growth and regional relations, do you expect if peace is firmly established?

Economic co-operation with neighbouring and nearby countries is always very beneficial. I therefore see no reason why Slovenia should not renew its economic co-operation with all parts of the former Yugoslavia with an interest in equal co-operation to the advantage of all. We already enjoy relative success in sorting out our relations with Croatia and Macedonia, with which we have signed a string of economic, political and other agreements. We enjoyed good political relations with Bosnia, even during the war, and we are now starting to develop relations in all other areas. Slovenia has already recognised the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Slovenia expects, however, the FRY, like the other Yugoslav successor states, to be required to meet all the conditions for admission to international organisations (in accordance with the resolutions of the Badinter Commission on the succession to Yugoslavia). Slovenia will respect European criteria of good relations, and will hope that, under these conditions, fruitful, equitable co-operation will emerge among the countries of the former Yugoslavia - though certainly not a new regional alliance. Slovenia's relations will be primarily based on mutual economic, cultural, scientific and other interests.

What are Slovenia's economic priorities?

The figures for Slovenia's economic success are well known. Given our circumstances over the past five years, these achievements are commendable. This also makes its easier to talk of priorities, since the issue is no longer one of sheer survival.

Certainly, one of Slovenia's priorities is the creation of stable conditions for business. Inflation stood at 8.5 per cent in 1995, and fell a further 2 per cent in 1996. Given stable conditions for business, Slovenia will continue to enjoy economic growth (4.8 per cent in 1995, and 5 per cent for 1996), chiefly through growth in exports (7 per cent in 1996) and investment (11 per cent in 1996).

Tourism is an important sector: in what ways is the government seeking to attract more foreigners to Slovenia?

You are right about tourism. Slovenia has major comparative advantages, mainly because of the diversity of its natural environment, which extends from the Adriatic Sea through the fabulous subterranean Karst and the green hills of central Slovenia to the Alpine peaks in the north and the Panionian lowlands with their strong tradition of natural health resorts in the east of the country. Slovenia's small size and concern for the environment rule out mass tourism in favour of high-quality tourism for lovers of nature, sport, healthy living and culture.

Independence has brought a number of changes in the area of tourism. Above all, the pattern of visitors has changed: Austria, Italy and Germany account for 75 per cent of the current market. The organisation of the tourist industry at the local, regional and national levels is also changing, a process that will be encouraged by new legislation to stimulate the development of tourism and to provide for its financing, organisation and promotion. I am confident that these activities will contribute to a raising of the quality of services and ease the task of those in the Slovenian tourist industry who have always enjoyed good favour with their guests because of their traditional hospitality.

Since independence, Slovenia has pursued a policy of integration with the EU and former communist states. What has been achieved so far, and what remains to be done?

Slovenia was developing political and economic links with Western countries while still a Yugoslav republic. The border with Italy and Austria was regarded as one of the most open in Europe, and there is a long tradition of co-operation with these countries, reflected in good relations with the Alps Adriatic and the Central European Initiative. Since independence, Slovenia has strengthened these links, forging closer ties with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, and co-operates with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Slovenia's priority, however, is to join the EU, first as an associate member, then as a full member. I am convinced that Slovenian membership of the EU is not only in the interests of our economic, security, defence, cultural and other ties, but also in Europe's interests. Similar arguments apply in Slovenia's efforts to be admitted to NATO.

Where do you see Slovenia, and the rest of the former Yugoslavia, at the turn of the century?

Slovenia wishes to enter the next millenium as a member state of the EU. What is in store for the other countries which have arisen on the territory of the former Yugoslavia is hard to predict at present. The current situation, which is neither peace nor war, conceals two alternatives: Europeanisation or extreme Balkanisation. I am afraid that the horrific experience of war is hindering positive intitiatives which could overcome mutual suspicion. I therefore believe that Europeanisation depends primarily on economic, and also on political, assistance from the EU and from the US. I myself firmly believe that European and indeed global security and stability are inseparable, and that they are directly linked to individual countries' economic, social and political development. It is in our shared interest to preserve peace and to enhance stability in the Balkans; Slovenia wishes to help in this.

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