A Balkan fable
Dec 6th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Slovenia tries its hand at writing a happy ending for the former Yugoslavia
ON PAPER, it has the happy symmetry of a morality tale. In less than a month, the rotating presidency of the European Union will pass to Slovenia, the first chunk of Yugoslavia to gain independence 16 years ago. And as the Slovenes take their turn chairing the EU's summits and ministerial councils, their biggest job will be to oversee what could be the last chapter of Yugoslavia's break-up. Some time between January and the spring, the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo will declare itself independent of Serbia, against the wishes of Russia, Serbia's ally, but with the blessing of America and much of the EU.
In a children's fable European unity, under strain over Kosovo, would be rescued by Slovenia, the plucky newcomer. As the first ex-communist state to hold an EU presidency, and the only bit of the former Yugoslavia to join the 27-nation club, it would use its standing to remind the union of the awful costs of its disunity in prolonging the Yugoslav civil wars of the 1990s.
European diplomacy, of course, is not built on happy fables. A European foreign minister admits he would be “much happier” if the Kosovo crisis were not falling on Slovenia's watch. At best, he says, this nation of 2m people can hope to offer a “co-ordinating presidency” when it takes over on January 1st, keeping the seat warm in between the turns of two giants of the EU, Germany (EU president for the first half of 2007), and France (which takes over from Slovenia in July 2008). Slovenia must not be “too creative”, says the foreign minister. He even questions its moral right to demand that neighbours like Serbia face up to their history; Slovenia is in a “precarious position” because it has “not admitted all the wrongs” from its communist past, allowing ex-apparatchiks to remain in positions of power after 1991.
This litany of Slovene shortcomings would be bleak but for one detail: the foreign minister in question is Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia. Speaking at his country's spiffy new EU summit site (a modernist box of glass and wood in the grounds of a castle outside Ljubljana), Mr Rupel's candour suggests his country's presidency might, at the least, be rather interesting. In Brussels and national capitals, opinion is divided as to whether it is bad or good for Slovenia to be in the chair for the Kosovo crisis.
First the bad. Slovenia, more than many other EU countries, would like to avoid making painful choices between Kosovo and Serbia. The official EU position is that Serbia cannot be fully embraced until it hands over indicted war crimes suspects, notably the former military commander, General Ratko Mladic. But for many Slovenes, things are not quite so clear-cut. Slovene businessmen “like to do business with Serbia”, Mr Rupel admits. It is a valuable market, and there are ties of language and “nostalgia” between the two countries.
To some, any hint of equivocation from Slovenia risks triggering the default reflex of EU governments: to dodge tough decisions. “If the Slovenes come over all ambivalent and wring their hands, then others will say, well yes, that is how we feel too,” says an official. The risk of another Balkans fudge is clear.
There is a strong EU consensus that European “rule of law” missions, involving police, judicial and political advisers backed by substantial aid, must be sent to Kosovo to replace the United Nations mission shortly after (doomed) Kosovar-Serb compromise talks end on December 10th. But a clutch of EU nations does not want to recognise Kosovo as a new state. The holdouts include Slovakia and Romania, who say they fear that a breakaway state will embolden their own national minorities. Cyprus argues—with Greek backing—that Turkish-Cypriots in the north of the divided island may exploit Kosovo as a precedent. A temptation in the EU is to deploy its missions without taking a final decision on Kosovo's legal status. But that risks leaving the new state in a prolonged and unstable limbo.
Some say that Slovenia is “irrelevant” in such a major row, which involves Russia, America and the UN Security Council. True, little Slovenia has so few embassies that in 110 countries its EU presidency will be represented by French diplomats. To quote a scornful European official, the Slovenes may be chairing EU meetings next year, but it is hardly going to be their president who “convinces Putin” to change his mind about Kosovo.
Then comes the good. Slovenia brings to the EU unique knowledge of the region (though some in the Balkans find Slovenes snobbish). In the words of a diplomat, when Slovenes and Serb officials meet, the Slovenes “know when the bullshitting has started”. That is a skill that should not be underestimated.
The moral of the story
If Kosovo and indeed the region are going to make it, Serbia will have to be brought around one day. Mr Rupel is something of an economic determinist on this front. Seen from Slovenia, the main barrier to progress in the western Balkans is Serbia's underperformance. He quotes some striking figures: since 1989 Slovenia's annual GDP per person has risen from $5,000 to $34,000 at purchasing power parity; by contrast, Serbia's GDP per person has remained static at around $3,000 per person (though Serbian statistics are more upbeat). “They have not moved anywhere. This is untenable,” says Mr Rupel.
Slovenia has an advantage of credibility. It is telling the truth when it says it wants Kosovo and Serbia to join the EU (in contrast with the hypocritical posturing of some older EU members, which endorse Balkan accession to the EU but fear selling such enlargement to voters). It is, after all, in Slovenia's interest to have wealthy, law-abiding EU neighbours.
On its own, Slovenia is not going to resolve the Kosovo crisis. But the symbolism of its presidency is important, and well-timed. The visible asymmetry of Slovenia's success is a powerful rebuke to Serb and Kosovar positions entrenched round nationalism and ethnic isolation. If that moral sinks in, even a bit, it might just help the Yugoslav story to a happier ending.
Za manje od mesec dana rotaciono predsedavanje evropskom unijom preuzece Slovenija, prva republika bivse Jugoslavije koja je dobila nezavisnost pre 16 godina. Za Slovence kao domacine samita evropske unije i ministarskih saveta najveci zadatak bice nadgledanje poslednjeg poglavlja raspada Jugoslavije. U periodu od januara pa do proleca, Kosovo ce proglasiti nezavisnost od Srbije, protiv volje Rusije, koja je tradicionalno srpski saveznik, ali uz blagoslov SAD i veceg dela unije.
U nekoj decijoj bajci za evropsko jedinstvo, napetost oko Kosova bi bila resena od strane Slovenije, hrabre novopridoslice evropske unije.Kao prva zemlja bivse Jugoslavije koja predsedava unijom i jedina zemlja bivse Jugoslavije koja je postala clanica unije, Slovenija ce iskoristiti svoju poziciju da podseti uniju na visoku cenu svog nejedinstva i prolongiranja jugoslovenskog gradjanskog rata 90-tih.
No, evropska diplomatija, nazalost, nije bazirana na srecnim bajkama. Jedan evropski sef diplomatije priznao je da bi bio mnogo srecniji da kosovska kriza nije pala u vreme slovenackog predsedavanja.Slovenija ne sme biti "previse kreativna" dodaje on, pa cak i dovodi u pitanje pravo Slovenije da trazi od suseda kao sto je Srbija da se suoci sa svojom prosloscu.Osim toga, po njemu, Slovenija je i u "nezavidnoj poziciji", buduci nije priznala svoje greske iz komunisticke proslosti dozvoljavajuci bivsim komunistickim funkcionerima da ostanu na svom polozaju nakon 1991-ve.
Slovenacki ministar spoljnih poslova Dimitrije Rupel iskreno kaze da bi predsedavanje njegove zemlje moglo, u najmanju ruku biti ineresantno. Dok je u Briselu i evropskim prestonicama misljenje podeljno o tome da li je dobro ili lose da Slovenija bude predsedavajuci unijom u toku resavanja kosovske krize.