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November 26, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 217
Interview: Milan Kucan, Slovenian President

Slovenes Always Pay Their Bills

by Svetlana Vasovic Mekina

VREME: Why did Slovenia and the representatives of other republics fail to invest more efforts to reform Yugoslavia? Hadn't actually Slovenia's secession sped up the war option?

KUCAN: Slovenia had tried to reform Yugoslavia. Everyone knows that. There are different opinions in Slovenia whether it had done enough and whether it could have done more. I think it did a lot. Slovenia believed that Yugoslavia's its economic, political, constitutional and legal systems enabled it to respond to the challenges of the new times.... If we are talking about the reasons of Yugoslavia's disintegration, we cannot avoid the fact that Yugoslavia broke up because of internal reasons and controversies.

According to the members of the top Serbian leadership of the time (Milosevic, Jovic), Ljubljana and Belgrade had had an agreement on Slovenia's peaceful secession from Yugoslavia before Slovenia declared independence?

There was a lot of speculation in the public about an agreement on Slovenia's peaceful divorce from Yugoslavia, which would be followed by a war for Croatian territories inhabited by Serbs. I know nothing about such an agreement and I don't believe any of our representatives would have negotiated on that. There had been a couple of talks and Serbia did attempt to arrange secession according to the "one man, one vote" law. These talks had not been held between Serbia and Slovenia, but by the Yugoslav institutions. According to that concept, the majority in the Federal Parliament would have set conditions to each particular republic which might have wanted to secede.

If there really had been no agreement, how can your joint statement with Milosevic that "Serbs have the right to live in one state" be interpreted?

The statement you are talking about has been taken out of the context; it was issued after a meeting between the Serbian and Slovene delegations in Belgrade; we aimed at basing the talks upon our decision to exercise the people's right to self-determination on the basis of a referendum and independence through disassociation. Asked whether we recognized that other peoples, including the Serbs, also had that right, we replied that we recognized all Yugoslav nations that right, therefore, the Serbian people too, but not at the expense of other nations' rights. This virtually meant that we recognize the Helsinki principle on the inviolability of the borders, and, as regards the members of a nation remaining outside their parent republics, we clearly said that it was possible only to speak of minority rights, i.e. the level of their autonomy. Which, of course, was totally contrary to the "official" thesis that Serbs cannot live as a minority anywhere. We argumented the above-mentioned stand by requesting recognition within Slovenia's existing borders and assuming upon ourselves the care for the Slovenes outside them as for our minorities in Austria, Italy and Hungary. That part of the sentence, the right to self-determination which does not infringe upon the others' right to do the same, was then not carried by the Belgrade media and we were later forced to correct it.

VREME: So, Milosevic had never told you "you may leave"?

No he didn't, unless these words are taken out of the context of a talk with Milosevic on Brdo pri Kranju during the infamous meetings of the presidents of the ex-Yugoslav republics. It's true Milosevic had then said to me something like: "You can see that no-one here knows what he wants. Let's the two of us agree on what can be made of Yugoslavia." I don't known how Milosevic now interprets this, but the talk had nothing to do with conditions of our secession from Yugoslavia.

VREME: The remaining four republics shared your interests. Couldn't you have done something more to prevent the tragic turn of events?

This might be true from the present perspective. It hadn't been like that then. Recall who had then allied with Milosevic and the balance of forces. The Army was first, then Ante Markovic's Federal Government and a large number of influential foreign countries which had supported Yugoslavia's existence for various reasons. That was the time when the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia still existed, when there were fears of their violent disintegration. No-one thought about the end to ideological divisions meaning an end to the reasons for the creation of these multi-ethnic states after W.W.I., not only because their nations wanted it, but because the super-powers wanted it.

VREME: Would Yugoslavia have survived if it weren't for Milosevic? Have you ever threatened him in your talks that Slovenia would really secede if he continued his policy?

Would Yugoslavia have survived if it weren't for Milosevic? That is a hypothetical question. We opposed the policy Milosevic personified. I don't think he was its author. An objective analysis cannot ignore the fact that Yugoslavia's connective tissue had over the last few years been considerably loosened, particularly because of the developments in Kosovo and later in all of Serbia. The constitutional changes of the autonomous provinces were made unilaterally, a state of emergency was introduced in Kosovo, the whole state was threatened by economic disaster, stagnation in development, the Army was becoming increasingly unitary and national, the international circumstances were changing. Each nation was forced to ask itself whether there was any sense in it remaining in such a state. The Slovene people asked itself that question much before it left Yugoslavia. We had then said we would not remain in such a Yugoslavia, unless it was able and prepared to make radical changes. 1945 and 1990 were the referendum years; 1945 was for Yugoslavia, 1990 against it.

VREME: Milosevic said in an interview to BBC that your delegation had pragmatically planned its departure from the LCY 14th Congress beforehand and that you had checked out of your hotel rooms before the voting?

To make a joke, I would answer that with: we Slovenes always pay our bills and debts, be they state or private. Milosevic had probably made up the payment of the hotel bills beforehand although I cannot claim how some of my colleagues had settled their accounts, maybe some of them had really paid beforehand.. However, the fact is that we had not left Belgrade as soon as we left the Sava Center Hall, that we had stayed overnight and flown back to Ljubljana the following morning. We actually seriously tried to include in the final document good solutions, solutions which responded to the challenges of the times. However, nearly all Slovene proposals and amendments were rejected and even ridiculed by the majority, which was orchestrated by certain Serbian delegates. And, when a resolution we found totally unacceptable, a resolution totally contrary to the vital interests of the Slovene people, was adopted, we left.

VREME: What did you dislike about Milosevic's policy the most?

KUCAN: I've known Milosevic for a very long time. I don't think it would be proper to speak about the differences in our understanding of politics in his absence. The differences were great. The fact is that it happened at public sessions, that there are minutes of these sessions and that they tell everything. So, what were our differences and when? There were very few points in which the two of us agreed.

VREME: What did you agree on?

KUCAN: For instance, that the transition to market economy was necessary for Slovenia, Serbia and Yugoslavia. We did disagree on how this should be done, but our basic commitment was identical.

VREME: How do you explain the fact that there was no war between Serbia and Slovenia, but that the two virtually have no relations?

KUCAN: It's true that the war in Slovenia in June 1991 was not the war of the Slovene and Serbian armies, but a conflict between the Slovene Territorial Defense and the ex-Yugoslav People's Army, which had defended the interests of the federal system, above all the Federal Government and the interests of the Army leadership. That conflict proved that neither the foreign nor other troops had any motivation to fight the Slovenes. It had already been the war between the Serbs and the Croats. Serbs and Slovenes had not clashed during W.W.I or W.W.II either; on the contrary, Slovene and Serbian partisans together fought for Yugoslavia's liberation. Our nations had never clashed. What I actually mean to say is that we had not clashed with the Serbian people, but that we have often clashed with the Serbian policy. To the remarks that the majority of the Serbian people support that policy, I reply that this would not be the first time in history that a nation has been manipulated with and has wholeheartedly supported a policy and later regretted it. Besides, there are many people in Serbia who have not agreed with Milosevic's policy. This is why I am not so worried about the future of Slovene-Serb relations. I am more worried about the possibility of the aggravation of tensions in Serbia after everything that's happened, of a kind of "civil war" which may be fought by legal means and which might expand to Kosovo and the neighbouring countries. That would be very dangerous for the whole Balkans and south-east Europe.

VREME: However, despite everything, Croats and Serbs are opening up their bureaux and negotiating, while there are practically no relations between Slovenia and Serbia. Isn't it strange that it seems that the animosity is becoming greater in time?

KUCAN: It is and it isn't. Serbs and Croats are at war and they know they have to resolve their problems through talks. The United States is forcing them to in Dayton. The bureaux are being opened to that aim. The Slovenes, fortunately, have not been at war with Serbs. However, while Serbia and Montenegro are under an international embargo, Slovenia, as a member of the international community and a UN member, cannot formally develop relations with Serbia and Montenegro, or its current state policy. Slovenia will follow the suit of other UN members which will have interests to cooperate with Serbia once the sanctions are lifted and particularly once it is internationally recognized.

VREME: Will there be greater opportunities to develop better relations among states after Dayton?

KUCAN: That remains to be seen. There is no doubt that the war in Bosnia will have to end sooner or later and that Slovenia will then be able to establish relations with all the states created on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and to develop economic, cultural and other forms of cooperation with them. It wants to. Of course, under the condition that the other party also wants to cooperate. Although the quality of these relations will in no way differ from the quality of relations with other states in the world.

VREME: Do you think that the international community has the right to force Serbs to live in a multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina?

KUCAN: The world has no right to force anyone to do anything. Responsibility is in question. If you ask me whether the Bosnian Serbs have the right to self-determination I will reply that they most definitely do, but under the condition that they recognize that the Croats and Moslems in Bosnia-Herzegovina have that same right, which means that they first must agree with the other nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina on their relations, on territorial, human rights and other issues. The exercising of that right today, unfortunately, seems much simpler than in the past, when no part of Bosnia-Herzegovina was as ethnically pure as it is now. All these parts of Bosnia are now ethnically compact, but at a very high, horrible price. This right would today be exercised through war and violence against other peoples and then it is no longer the right to self-determination as I interpret it and as we, Slovenes, tried and managed to exercise it. Therefore, not at the expense of the rights of any other nation. Also, the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a UN member should be borne in mind.

VREME: Some local media qualify you as the boss of a branch office of a Yugoslav State Security Mob, the head of the "Organization". Why haven't you reacted to such comments?

KUCAN: It is simply impossible to reply to such absurd accusations rationally. It would be senseless.

VREME: You had once said that you would not run at the next elections unless the extremist parties would gain greater influence if you withdrew. As the elections are getting closer and the local papers are increasingly writing about the upsurge of Fascism, even a new word, "Jansism", has been coined, will you run for President again?

KUCAN: Anathema and coinage have always been problematic. Recall the past. I will decide to run if Slovenia really faces the danger of truly extremist rightist parties coming into power. The chances of them taking over is still very vague.


What is your opinion of the initiative to deprive non-Slovenes of of their citizenship?

It is uncivilized, undemocratic and deceitful. Before becoming independent, Slovenia explained to everyone what kind of a state it wanted to build and promised all citizens of other nationalities that they would be granted Slovene citizenship if they wanted it. It has kept its promise. Depriving of citizenship all those who had been granted it under Article 40 of the Citizenship Law would not only be contrary to our Constitution and principles of a legal state, it would be simply dishonest. That initiative is proof that there are elements of nationalism and xenophobia in Slovenia as well.

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