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Together we must work for Slavic culture

Sofia, Bulgaria, 06/17/2003  |  interview

"We are almost in EU, but do not keep its values just to our selves"
Interview by President Dr Janez Drnovšek for Bulgarian newspaper “24 HOURS”

Q: What is the special purpose of your visit in Bulgaria?

A: Let me first say how pleased I am to be back in your beautiful country. The last time I was here was exactly five years ago, in my former capacity as the Prime Minister of Slovenia. I am therefore glad that yours is one of the first countries I am visiting as the President of Slovenia. This reflects the friendship between our peoples and our common expectations of the future. I thus look forward to discussing with my host, President Georgi Parvanov, ways to strengthen further our relations, with a view to an even more intensive cooperation in the united Europe of tomorrow.

Q: What topics will you discuss in Sofia?

A: In Slovenia we are currently engaged in a vigorous process of final preparations for entry into the European Union next year. I strongly believe, however, that while getting ready for full membership we should not forget about those whose aspirations to join the Union have not been fulfilled yet. If we accept the common European values this also means that we cannot keep them just to ourselves. I therefore expect an exchange of views regarding the current process of European enlargement, as well as a discussion of how we could help you best in your efforts to joint the European Union by 2007.

Of course, our talks will inevitably touch upon some of the pressing international issues, which are not without consequences for our countries, especially now that we have been both invited to join NATO. Another topic of common interest is without doubt the OSCE, in light of the upcoming passing of the chairmanship to Bulgaria next year. Since Slovenia is getting ready to assume the chairmanship of this important pan-European security body in 2005, we are very much interested in establishing good cooperation between ourselves, with a view to a mutually beneficial exchange information and experience.

Q: Slovenia is the country with the highest living standard within the members-to-be of the European Union. What is the key to such a success or is it due to some local characteristics?

A: It is true that Slovenia has already reached more than 70% of the average GDP per capita of the European Union member states. Even before independence, Slovenia was the most developed republic in the former Yugoslavia, accounting for a large portion of the country’s total exports. Bordering on Italy and Austria, it was familiar with Western market practices, due to its contacts with developed economies. After independence, the country started the difficult process of transition, building new democratic institutions and changing to a market economy.

Q: So far the relationship between Slovenia and Bulgaria are at good level. Are there any specific problems, which must be cleared out?

A: I agree that the relations between our countries are excellent. What seems to be missing from them, however, is more cooperation in the cultural sphere. I am therefore pleased that Bulgaria is supportive of the Slovenian initiative to establish a Forum for Slavic Cultures, with the goal of promoting the development of cultural cooperation among all countries where Slavic languages are spoken. I believe that the Forum can contribute to better mutual understanding through the exchange of information and knowledge, especially in the domains of literature, art and education.

Q: How do you estimate the commercial exchange between our countries? How could we cooperate better?

A: The level of trade between our countries has significantly increased in the past years, primarily as a consequence of the entry of Bulgaria into CEFTA. Nonetheless, at the current level of about 75 million euros there is still a lot of room for improvement left. I therefore welcome the readiness of both countries to conclude the agreement on avoidance of double taxation, which will be of great help to our businessmen. The promotion of contacts between our businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors and tourist experts needs to be accorded due priority.

Q: Do you have any plans to send peacekeeping troops in Iraq?

A: The situation in Iraq these days is such that effective action is needed to secure the peaceful life of the population. In this context, Slovenia is considering various options to take part in the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq. While provision of humanitarian assistance is on the top of our priorities, we are also looking into the possibility of sending to Iraq members of our military or regular police. Slovenia is also ready to get involved in the possible common European Union contingent in the stabilisation force.

Q: Are you ready to accept American military bases on your territory?

A: So far, the Americans have not expressed an interest in establishing military bases in Slovenia. Having said that I would like to emphasize that in my opinion American presence in Europe remains indispensable. The United States has intervened in both world wars and took an active part in the last half a century of European history, including, most recently, the crisis in Southeastern Europe. I believe that together we can efficiently tackle various future challenges. The goal of making Europe a crisis-free zone will only be attainable through close trans-Atlantic cooperation.

Q: Twelve years ago Slovenia gained its independence from the Yugoslavian federation without huge and bloody war, which was not the case with the other parts of the federation, like Croatia or Bosnia. What happened then, could you please share with us your point of view?

A: In 1989, in the first free elections in the former Yugoslavia, I was elected the Slovenian representative to the collective Yugoslav presidency and immediately assumed its chairmanship. I went through many difficult situations, trying to achieve the same things as the international community is trying to achieve today - to find a status for Kosovo, to find some balance between Serbs and Albanians. Unfortunately, my efforts to introduce more democracy, more Western-style dialogue, did not resonate with militant nationalism of Milošević’s Serbia. That is how the disintegration started. When it became clear that Yugoslavia was unable to find balance and common existence in democracy and equality, Slovenians opted overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The Yugoslav Army tried to oppose this decision, but during the Ten Day War in Slovenia it met well-organized resistance. This was almost exactly twelve years ago, but I still remember going through tense situations, negotiating with the Yugoslav generals about the withdrawal of their units from Slovenia and the repatriation of around 2,100 Slovenians who were doing military service in the Army. By the time the Yugoslav Army retreated from Slovenia, it had transformed itself from a federal, multi-ethnic institution, into a wholly Serbian military force, which turned against republics that – unlike Slovenia – had Serbian minorities.
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