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June 13, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 142
Croatian Slovenian Relations

Kucan In Croatia

by Gojko Marinkovic

Slovenian President Milan Kucan was on a oneday visit to Croatia at the moment when everything is steaming in the Croatian political ``kitchen.'' Although it had been agreed that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Croatian President Milan Kucan would meet each other at least once a year, they finally met after twenty months. Their last meeting took place on Brdo near Kranj, Slovenia, at the end of 1992. As far as the Croatian side is concerned the latest visit was an attempt to remove at least one steaming pot from the stove, but everything turned out to be clumsy and unfortunate from the very beginning.

Preoccupied with other problems, Tudjman completely forgot his obligation and pledge, so that it was Kucan who reminded him through ``Europski magazin'' (one of a number of papers issued in Zagreb) about his lapse by asking the question, ``Why am I not being invited to Croatia?'' Only two or three days later the Croatian state news agency HINA reported that the President of Slovenian had been invited to Croatia and accepted the invitation. This information was released even before the invitation had been dispatched and let alone arrived in Ljubljana, and, before Kucan even had a chance to reply. That ``small misunderstanding'' was smoothed over with lots of diplomatic skill, good will and understanding. June 7 was set as the date of Kucan's arrival in Zagreb. In the meantime many things happened in the relations between Zagreb and Ljubljana that raised serious doubts whether the visit would take place at all. The relations between the two countries got strained over the Slovenian hostels in Istria where the Croatian authorities put up the refugees from BosniaHeryegovina, which Slovenia had approved, but the deadline was flagrantly missed. The Slovenians objected to the fact that the Croats continued to build the border crossing facilities in Plovanija since it still has not been established who has the right to claim that territory. It is a part of the wellknown story concerning the Bay of Piran and two different views of its division, but the crisis is likely to be overcome by international arbitration. There also was a series of minor disagreements like the clearance of forests in some disputable border areas. The Croatian side keeps insisting on the money that Ljubljanska banka (the bank based in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana) owes to the Croatian citizens and on Slovenia's intentions to isolate Croatia in terms of the road traffic by refusing to include the building of the ZagrebMaribor motorway on the list of priorities.

Kucan was under a lot of pressure by the Slovenian media not to go to Croatia and the leading daily in Ljubljana, ``Delo,'' directly accused the Croatian government of being fascist. While the media in Slovenia continued to fire criticism on account of Croatia, their Croatian counterparts seldom took up the gauntlet inferring that this had to do with some interior affairs of Slovenia.

Although Kucan had made it clear earlier that he was not satisfied with Croatia's conduct nor agreed with everything that had been going on in Croatia he nevertheless decided to go. But, considering what the two presidents had to say after their meeting it doesn't seem that any significant progress has been made in solving the multitude of the Slovenian Croat problems, most of which are being needlessly played up anyway.

By avoiding to pay a visit to Medvedgrad and lay a wreath on the Altar of Fatherland, which the President of Romania did do only a day before, Kucan made his stand towards certain ``phenomena'' in Croatia quite clear. Kucan used the opportunity to express his thoughts about antifascism as the cornerstone of European democracy, openly admitting that there are neofascists in Slovenia, but asserted that they represent only a sporadic phenomenon and as such cannot steer Slovenia from its course. The Slovenian President warned about the autism of the postcommunist countries, that now compete in showing themselves in the best possible light, which was interpreted in Zagreb as selfdirected criticism, but also as a message. The allusions were clear: the most democratic Constitution, the best economy, most democracy, and everything else described in superlatives, which is exactly what Tudjman usually says about his regime.

Tudjman could not remain silent and said that Italy's neofascist claims towards the territories in Croatia and Slovenia should force the two countries to coordinate their policies. ``We hope that the Italian Government will pursue the democratic policy of its previous governments, that of good friendly relations with our countries, but we cannot ignore the voices that openly glorify fascism and everything that fascism brought in the form of imperialism to the Croatian and Slovenian soil,'' Tudjman said.

Unfortunately, it transpires that fascism is the same as imperialism, while its manifestation in Croatia, whether it may have been imported or sponsored from abroad, is deserving of only a mild condemnation, and, naturally, of a kuna as Croatia's official currency, which is only a tip of the iceberg of the Ustashi legacy with which Tudjman now burdened the Croatian people and their state.

Disregarding the fact that Tudjman cannot possibly be satisfied with the results of these visits and Kucan himself said that the talks were occasionally polemic, even tough, and concerning the current difficulties of the Croatian political life, Tudjman must have been relieved by the fact that the visit took place at all. The critics, who rightfully warned about the Croatian policy that is not capable of speaking with its first neighbor and the country that literally represents its gateway to Europe, were at least temporarily silenced.

It was the visit that did not remove the Slovenian pot from the Croatian stove, but perhaps only lowered the temperature. Nevertheless, the middle ground was found, however absurd it may sound. There needn't be a dilemma over who benefited more, since the gains are really small. This is no turning point in the Slovenian-Croatian relations, nor is a new page about to be turned. Slovenia and Croatia remain to be economic and geo-political competitors, while the stacked problems only disguise deep rooted animosity.

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