Slovenia finds memory of Yugoslav ties a setback

June 30, 1993|By David Rocks | David Rocks,Contributing Writer

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- As much as Slovenia would like to forget it was ever a member of the Yugoslav federation, the international community just keeps on remembering.

"Politically, we are still somehow in the minds of the European states a part of the former Yugoslavia," said Vojslav Suc, Slovenia's deputy foreign minister in charge of relations with multinational agencies. "They are linking the Slovenian position with the resolution of the Yugoslav crisis, but we think that these are old criteria."

Since Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia two years ago, the country has fought a long, slow battle for recognition -- with considerable success. Slovenia is now a member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe and has diplomatic relations with more than 100 nations.

The country, however, still is haunted by its former association with its warring neighbors. This spring, for example, Slovenia was not initially on the guest list for a conference in Denmark on East European economic development.

"At first we weren't invited," Mr. Suc said. "They said they didn't want to invite anyone from the territory of ex-Yugoslavia."

After Slovenia pointed out that its economy was more developed than any of the other East European states invited, and by many criteria as developed as the poorer members of the European Community, the country was admitted.

Still, Slovenia is lucky that its biggest worry is recognition. On June 26, 1991, one day after Ljubljana declared independence, troops from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army moved to occupy Slovenia's border posts in a show of force.

Slovenian loyalists set up roadblocks throughout the country and in some cases engaged the federal troops.

Faced with unexpected resistance, the federal army soon lost interest and retreated to more pressing battles in Croatia. Slovenia's war of independence lasted 10 days and claimed fewer than 70 lives.

Today, the Slovenian capital is calm and prosperous, looking much more like a medium-size Austrian or Italian city than embargo-starved Belgrade or war-battered Sarajevo.

Recovering from the war and the lingering effects of association with Yugoslavia, however, has not been entirely smooth.

In the last two years, Slovenia has lost more than one-third of its traditional market, the former Yugoslavia. GDP per capita has fallen from nearly $9,000 annually to $6,000, and unemployment has soared to more than 13 percent.

Furthermore, Slovenia has had to grapple with privatizing the "socially owned property" left over from Yugoslavia's Communist system. Because of radically differing views on how to accomplish this, the Parliament argued for nearly two years before finally adopting a privatization measure -- which came into effect only this month.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek and his broad coalition government, which includes Liberal Democrats, Christian Democrats and the former Communists, Slovenia is now looking to move ahead with the privatization process, with as many as 400 enterprises to be sold this year.

But some opposition politicians say that having invited the Communists into his government, Mr. Drnovsek will now be forced to compromise on economic liberalization.

Davorin Kracun, Slovenia's minister of economic relations, acknowledges that the coalition covers an unusually large slice of the ideological spectrum, but he argues that the government is as committed to privatization as any in the region.

"It's not easy to govern in such a wide coalition," Mr. Kracun said. "But in terms of privatization . . . I think the former Communists are as interested in developing a market system as the other parties in the coalition."

Slovenia's timely and relatively painless exit from Yugoslavia, meanwhile, has led to criticism that the nation abandoned its Slavic brothers in a time of need.

As the wealthiest Yugoslav republic, some say, Slovenia should have stayed to help the poorer members rather than leaving them to fend for themselves.

Most in Ljubljana reject this view. Slovenia, they say, hasn't abandoned other Yugoslavs -- witness the fact that more than 70,000 refugees have flooded the country, accounting for about 3.5 percent of its population. "Now it can be seen that the dissolution of Yugoslavia was a historical need," said Mr. Suc, the deputy foreign minister.

"It is not any fault of Slovenia, because if it hadn't started in Slovenia, it would have started somewhere else."

And furthermore, while Slovenes feel lucky to have escaped from Yugoslavia when they did, they also know they cannot wash their hands of the conflict entirely.

As long as there are problems in the Balkans, Slovenia will be thought of primarily as a member of the former Yugoslav federation.

"The EC says we have all of the requirements needed for membership: human rights, a market economy, political democracy," Mr. Suc lamented.

"They say, 'Of course it is not a problem to take you, but if we take you, then we will have to take the others.' "

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