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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Observations after the Bled Strategic Forum

By: Dr. Dimitrij Rupel

It is no secret that the Bled Strategic Forum was established during the first Janša government (2004-2008) and that the writer of these lines also strived for the best (as foreign minister). The decision to establish it was made in the summer of 2005 in a boat in the middle of Lake Bled. After achieving two main national goals the year before (NATO and EU membership), the consolidation of state identity/sovereignty and the diplomatic conquest of the Euro-Atlantic and other worlds logically followed. Namely, in 2005, we led the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Minister’s travels and consultations also extended to the countries of the European Southern and Eastern Neighbourhood (ENP): from the Western Balkans to the “flower revolutions” (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan) and “frozen conflicts” (Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria…). The culmination of Slovenian diplomacy was the presidency in the first half of 2008.

This was followed by a climax, also called an anti-climax. Slovenia got involved in a boxing match with Croatia, mistakenly thinking that it had The Hague (ICJ) and the Court of Justice of the European Union on its side. Slovenian state officials said that we would travel by French-German train, which did not go through, perhaps also due to the panic of Alenka Bratušek [1] regarding the “European trio”.

Bratušek: It is important that the trio does not come to the country. The Prime Minister, who is in charge of current affairs, and the President of the SAB party, Alenka Bratušek, emphasised on the occasion of the national holiday that Slovenia still faces many challenges. In her opinion, it is important that the country retains its sovereignty and that the European trio does not take over power. “Because if decisions in the country were made by the trio, the country would be significantly different. Many people would lose their jobs, pensions would be lower, school would no longer be free,” said Bratušek. [2]

Particularly diligent gravediggers of Slovenian diplomacy were Alenka Bratušek, Karl Erjavec and Danilo Türk, who proved themselves by demonising Janez Janša, and then – albeit by the way – by rejecting the already elected and confirmed Slovenian ambassador to Austria (2008) and removing Consul General in Trieste (2013) – after working there for only one year. In both cases, it was a person writing these lines. Then came the crisis with migrants (2015), who were called refugees by the left wing media, followed by Brexit (2016), and finally (2018) the comic government of Marjan Šarec. The disparaging media and even the comments of some “experts” at this year’s strategic forum are understandable, as the events in Bled were reminiscent of the golden age of Slovenian diplomacy (1991-2008) and the failures of boxing and comic governments (2009-2012, 2014-2018). The most comical thing is that they were constantly criticising the “sovereigntists”, that is, the policy that Mrs. Bratušek declared to be noble and redemptive.

So what happened in Bled?

The forum started with the presidents and some other top representatives of European politics – Andrej Babiš (Czech Republic), Eduard Heger (Slovakia), Janez Janša, Charles Michel (EU), Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Greece), Mateusz Morawiecki (Poland), Viktor Orban (Hungary), Pietro Parolin (Holy See), David Sassoli (EU), Dubravko Šuica (EU) and Aleksandar Vučić (Serbia). Their conversation was led by Marko Balažic, and most of the time was devoted to European policy regarding migration and EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. The President of the European Parliament from the ranks of the Italian Left and the Prime Ministers of Greece and Hungary clashed over migration. The Italian appealed for solidarity, the other two expressed reservations, with Orban being the sharpest, pointing to the Islamic element of future waves of migrants. Parovel drew attention to the need to recognise European values, among which – logically – he emphasised Christianity. Janša defined the issue of the Western Balkans’ integration into the EU as the future of the European Union, and the Serbian president gave an emotional speech, who on the one hand acknowledged that life in the EU is the best and on the other hand sharply criticised the EU. In the afternoon, the leaders of Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Slovenia and High Representative for BiH Schmidt made a clear and urgent message: the EU must include the Western Balkans and expand the Schengen area; however, some warnings were also issued regarding the expansion with a so-called “Big bang”: inclusion cannot be unconditional.

The contents of the panel of “former leaders” (Elmar Brok, Mikulaš Dzurinda, Andreas Kohl, Ana Palacio, Lojze Peterle, Jacques Rupnik, Mirek Topolanek), which I “softened” (moderated), the writer of these lines, I initially marked with the first letters of the alphabet (ABCD), starting with: Afghanistan, the Balkans, covid 19, and democracy. Given the fact that many experienced dramatic changes at the end of the Cold War, the discussion was also interesting from the documentary or from a witness point of view. Some continued the themes from the first panel (migration, EU enlargement), others pointed to Brussels’ misunderstanding of the problems of the former communist countries.

We spent the early evening at Bled Castle with a view of the romantic island and Triglav, behind which the sun was setting with special light and colour effects. Morawiecki told me that the Polish Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court (condemned in Brussels) is an exact copy of the Spanish regulation, but no one condemns the Spaniards. Kohl explained the restraint of Austrian Chancellor Kurz, which, together with Janša’s announcements regarding the reception of migrants from Afghanistan, was criticised by Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Asselborn: there are currently 44,000 Afghans in Austria who belong to the group of least flexible immigrants: European or Austrian rules and criteria are being adopted slowly and with great difficulty.

In some places, the Bled forum was called “Eastern Davos”, and in some – more left wing – circles (without a special basis) they claim that Slovenia has nothing in common with the Central European/Visegrad countries. They say that it once travelled by German-French train, but now it is driving in the wrong direction on Central European tracks, which are characterised by populism, sovereignty, illiberalism, so to speak, dictatorship and even fascism. Jože Pučnik would say about this: Nothing to anyone!

[1] This is a person who nominated herself for the post of Commissioner of the European Union, after which, in the autumn of 2014 – as she was long and wide – she failed at a hearing in the European Parliament. Danilo Türk repeated her fate even more tragically with his candidacy for UN Secretary General in 2016 – when he was rejected. In addition to other reasons, Slovenia’s deteriorating international reputation was also to blame for its failures.

[2] B. J., 25 June 2014 at 10:51, Ljubljana – MMC RTV SLO, STA.


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