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Interview by President Dr Janez Drnovšek for Polish newspaper "Rzeczpospolita Daily"

Ljubljana, 04/13/2005  |  interview

Interview by President Dr Janez Drnovšek for Polish newspaper "Rzeczpospolita Daily", asked by Katarzyna Zuchowicz

Slovenia is a tiny country, but one of the most prosperous among the new EU states. You can even hear that Slovenia may become a second Switzerland. Its citizens can travel to the U.S. without visas whereas Poland is still fighting for such a privilege. What is the secret of such success? Does Slovenia have any problems at all?

Slovenia has indeed achieved a relatively good economic development, which is also evident from last year’s 4.5% economic growth. Such a situation can without doubt be attributed to various factors, notably to the decisions that ensure balance, sustainable orientation and progressiveness of development. But it is also true that Slovenia began from a slightly better starting point than the majority of the new EU member states, as its economy (traditionally) had a certain foothold in the European markets. With the accession to the EU, Slovenia was offered new opportunities for developing cooperation, not least with Poland which is our very important political and economic partner. It is encouraging to see that the level of economic cooperation between Slovenia and Poland is rising continuously; Poland is currently the sixth most important location for the foreign direct investment by Slovene companies.

Otherwise, we face similar challenges to those confronting other European countries, i.e. how to guarantee economic growth in the conditions of global economic competitiveness and simultaneously preserve the benefits of a social state. Another important challenge for Slovenia is its goal to adopt the Euro in January 2007. An additional considerable undertaking will be the holding of the EU presidency in the first half of 2008. As you can see, Slovenia does not lack challenges either.

A number of Slovenes have always repeated that Ljubljana is closer to Vienna than to Belgrade. Do you feel a Balkan state?

Both Austria and the community of Serbia and Montenegro are Slovenia’s important partners in the economic as well as political sense. In addition, there are strong historic and cultural ties that link us to both Vienna and Belgrade, considering that we used to share common states with both of them. Slovenia’s membership of the European Union is opening up new levels of cooperation with Austria, but at the same time it enables us to play an important role in providing a European perspective for the Western Balkan countries. We are indeed convinced that the only realistic possibility of development and long-term stability of this part of Europe is within the European Union. This of course also applies to Serbia and Montenegro. When it comes to the Slovene identity, we feel as a part of the Middle Europe.

How does the stability and security of the whole region look from the Slovenian perspective?

As I mentioned earlier, Slovenia believes that the stability and security of the region could best be assured through processes of integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions. Thus we are trying to assist the countries in the region with the transfer of our experience from the EU accession process. Slovenia is also one of the more important economic investors in the region and, in general, our economic cooperation with the region is widely ramified. Economic development is undoubtedly an area which is interdependent with other aspects of development and, not least, the long-term stabilisation of the region. In addition, Slovenia, just as your country, contributes to the international community’s efforts to bring about stabilisation of the region through the presence of its forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well as in Macedonia.

Quite a number of issues remain open in the region; those that concern status options and cooperation with international institutions are undoubtedly the most difficult to solve. The way they are tackled will largely influence the region’s stability and further development. It needs to be stressed that a satisfactory solution can only be arrived at with the participation of all actors with a stake in the outcome; finding such a solution is a demanding, most probably gradual process in which the underlying imperative should be guaranteeing adequate protection of collective and individual human rights.

Slovenia is the only state of the former Yugoslavia to enter both the EU and NATO. Do you support similar aspirations of Croatia? How do you estimate Croatia's chances to become a member of the EU?

By all means, Slovenia supports Croatia in its aspirations to become a member of the EU and NATO. We do not only wish to border on a country that is stable and follows predictable, European norms, we also believe that Croatia's level of development allows us to realistically expect that it will be able to adapt its internal organisation to the requirements of the European acquis in a relatively short time. Slovenia is thus interested in our neighbour Croatia starting the talks on the EU membership as soon as possible, and is in favour of setting a clear time for these talks.

Croatia seems to be the most difficult neighbour of Slovenia. Recently, a border conflict between both states has been widely commented by media abroad. What are the chances to solve the problem once and forever? What conditions should be met?

Slovenia lives in peace and friendship with all its neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, it is no secret that most countries have one or two specific open issues that need to be approached in a creative and patient manner, and which usually involve neighbours. In the case of Slovenia and Croatia there are some unresolved questions which are a consequence of settling relations and dealing with heritage after living in a common state. During the recent years the two countries have solved the great majority of such problems. The issue of the last few kilometers of the land border and of the sea border has remained open, but it cannot really be described as a conflict. It concerns finding a new joint solution for two former republics of a federal state between which a sea border did not exist until they gained independence. I believe that such a solution was within grasp when two years ago both governments confirmed a border agreement, but it did not receive the backing of the Croatian parliament. But the issue of the border can certainly be worked out, either through further bilateral negotiations or through an agreement on a request for assistance from a third party. In this respect, the confirmed agreement can serve as a valuable starting point. I would like to emphasise that none of the open issues that still exist between Slovenia and Croatia hinders the two countries from being good neighbours or from cooperating in all fields.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Slovenia erased the names of some 30,000 residents (ethnic Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanian Kosovars and Roma) from the nation`s civil registries. Slovenes have been widely critized for that and some organizations characterized such action as a kind of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Should the non-Slovenes have their rights restored?

After Slovenia became independent the citizens of other republics of the former Yugoslavia who lived in Slovenia found themselves in a transition situation in which they had to arrange their status in the newly formed state. The possibility to obtain citizenship or to arrange residence status was given to all citizens. The majority of citizens of other republics with a permanent residence in Slovenia made use of this legal possibility and acquired citizenship, or arranged residence status. Still, some of them did not manage to regulate their status. The Constitutional Court has established that, by erasing the permanent residence of these citizens of the states successors of the former common state and by transferring them into the Register of Aliens, the state had acted in an illegal manner because these persons had lost their permanent residence in the Republic of Slovenia. The Constitutional Court, therefore, requested in its decision that the Government and the Parliament set their status in order. Unfortunately, at a certain moment the issue became excessively politicized, and during the election year the parliamentary parties were unable to reach the required consensus on how to implement the Constitutional Court decision. All political actors in Slovenia are aware that the Constitutional Court decision will need to be implemented. The present efforts of the government and competent bodies are directed to this aim. I believe that they will soon prove successful.
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