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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Slovenia at the main table

By: Dimitrij Rupel

A large crowd gathered at the anti-government protests on Friday. Cyclists, ardent leftists, trade unionists, Branimir Štrukelj, Rudi Rizman, and Boris A. Novak filled Prešeren Square and repeated their revolutionary demands, as if the government could be replaced on the road and immediately. Peter Jambrek and I prepared a “counter-event” with the Cathedral of Freedom and some guests (from the Assembly for the Republic) in Slovenska matica. My introductory performance was followed by others, among which the most interesting were Jambrek’s, Stres’ and Zobec’s. I have drafted a press release:

The conference mainly discussed five challenges or problems of current Slovenian society: on radicalisation or polarisation of politics, which stem from the dissatisfaction of the opposition or transitional left with the current government; on (non-)respect for the inviolability of the constitution, which is the anchor of Slovenian statehood or independence; on the imbalance between the Slovenian media and the school space; on communication between alternative policies (“building bridges” between two banks); and above all about the unstoppable thirty-year growth of national/state self-confidence, freedom, and prosperity.

I plan to finish the book of images from reality by moving to Trieste (2012) about ten years ago. The last time I took my word for it was when I was describing the year 2007. I was preparing for the EU presidency, which came to us in early 2008. I even wrote a book about it, which Branimir Nešović (Modrijan) did not want to publish for me at the time. He rejected me – at least that’s how I understood him – saying that I was unfair to Serbs. I then published the book (“Slovenian Presidency in the Fire of Personal Forces”) at Novi obzorji in 2009, and continued it at Slovenska matica with Slovenia on the world stage (2011) and Želez in žametom (2017). What is written, of course, makes no sense to repeat.

For me, one of the most interesting events of the presidency was the “secret” meeting of the Contact Group [1] on January 19th, 2008 in Brdo pri Kranju. For a long time, not so many (if I deduct myself) important foreign ministers have gathered around the round table on the ground floor of the castle. The British, the Frenchman, the Italian, the German, Solana, and Rehn came. Of course, we have been accustomed to ministerial transport – since Slovenia became an independent state; it was not an everyday thing for all the highest European diplomats to meet together here. For our situation, Brdo – at least since the Bush-Putin meeting in 2001 – has been a decent place for political meetings, but it is, of course, small and modest compared to English, French, Italian, or German castles. The greatest impression is made by meadows, forests, and views of the surrounding mountains. The location is spiced with a glorious past because it was once Tito’s, and before that the royal residence of the Karađorđević’s. Janez Drnovšek lived in Tito’s hunting lodge in the inaccessible – closed – part of Brdo for some time. He was not bothered by the fact that it was quite dark around it due to the dense trees. However, some important meetings of Peterle’s government or its ministers took place on Račji otok, which is located in the open part. There, the Demos decided to “go to the end” with independence.

I convened the meeting in Brdo because of the forthcoming declaration of independence of Kosovo, and they were supposed to talk about the date of proclamation, international recognition, and possible consolation moves for Serbia, i.e. for President Boris Tadić, who held elections on January 20th and to whom we wished victory. Condoleezza Rice initially pressured to declare independence as early as January, but was willing to wait for the result of the February 3rd Serbian elections. Our intention was to postpone Kosovo’s declaration of independence – also because of the Spaniards, who held elections on March 9th – until March 10th; the Americans and the impatient Kosovars with Thaci wanted it as soon as possible, in February – which then came true. With the ministers, among whom Miliband was the mediator of Condoleezza Rice’s communications, we arranged for dinner and for a conversation without journalists. Our trusted photographer Živulović took some photos and that was it. Then three interesting events followed. The very next day, the Italian La Repubblica published an article about our meeting, which d’Alema – I imagine – had to dictate on a plane when he was flying from Brnik to Rome. [2]

Another interesting event was the simultaneous publication of the stolen Washington dispatch in Ljubljana’s Dnevnik and in the Belgrade media on January 25th, 2008. Our opponents, whom we have known at least since Petition 571 (autumn 2007), proved that the Slovenian government and especially the Foreign Ministry are sort of a toy in American hands. The stolen document, which was a note about a meeting of Slovenian diplomats at the State Department at the end of 2007, contained an American initiative for Slovenia to be the first to recognise Kosovo. We would not be able to make this wish come true for the Americans, because the recognition process in our country is complicated and somewhat time-consuming. On the other hand, we have also held the Presidency of the European Union and unilateral measures would not be appropriate. As the Brdo meeting proves, we have tried to coordinate the Kosovo issue with both the Contact Group and EU members. Nevertheless, articles about Slovenia’s servitude to the United States, which are intrusively reminiscent of the protests before this year’s presidency, were literally leaked from the main Slovenian media. The Belgrade publication of the stolen document later (February 17th) contributed to the destruction of the Slovenian embassy there. Enraged Serbs recognised Kosovo’s godparents and Serbian enemies at the time of Kosovo’s declaration of independence and in the publication of the Washington dispatch, which was apparently the intention of the thieves. I think that the dispatch was stolen by a Ljubljana left wing extremist or a Yugoslav diplomat in connection with journalists who are friends or even married to Serbs. [3]

On February 12th, Sergej Lavrov visited Ljubljana and Kristančič in Goriška brda, and Janez Drnovšek died on February 20th. Meanwhile, Kosovo had declared independence. As we drove towards the European Council headquarters on Monday, February 18th, we came across columns of cars with red and black Albanian flags and listened to their merry trumpeting.

The third event was the coordination of positions on the recognition of Kosovo. It was happening at night in the inner circle, in the morning in the plenum. Among the colleagues, the strongest were the Spaniards, Greeks, Cypriots… Neither the Romanians nor the Slovaks were very weak. In making the decision, we asked our colleagues and other staff to leave the hall so that the final statement was made only by the ministers. After the session, I received congratulations for proving the success of Slovenia’s EU leadership. The statement was a compromise, we left it to the member states to decide individually (because the EU is not a state) on the recognition of Kosovo. What luck Slovenia had on December 16th, 1991, when the recognition of Slovenia (and Croatia) was directed by Genscher and De Michelis, and when we were recognised by all members, albeit with a one-month delay.

On April 29th, after lengthy negotiations with colleagues (Rehn, Solana, Verhagen), we reached a compromise on signing an “Association Stabilisation Agreement” (PSS or SAA) with Serbia. Tadić and I signed it, which, according to everyone, including European newspapers, was a success. We made a toast with champagne.

In 2008, Slovenia grew (in the eyes of foreign countries and also at home). I also remember with pride and joy the achievements that the transitional left did not acknowledge, although they were followed by the defeat in the elections and the defeat of Danilo Türk, whom Borut calls a Turk. Slovenia got (really only for half a year) a seat for the highest world table. Thus, I fondly remember the meeting of the foreign ministers of a G 8 Group on June 26th and 27th in Kyoto, Japan. We were the Foreign Ministers of Japan (which chaired the G8), Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Slovenia (which chaired the EU); in addition to us, a representative of the Council of the EU and the European Commission. Lavrov, who initially promised that we would fly from Kyoto to Siberia with his plane, did not come to Kyoto at all because he accompanied Medvedev to a meeting of presidents in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia, where Janša represented the EU and Slovenia. Kyoto is a wonder city, the old center was full of red lanterns that reminded me of scenes from the movie Geisha’s Memories. The first meeting of the Foreign Ministers was connected with a walk through a romantic Japanese park, which, in addition to trees and flowers, is characterised by ponds with large red fish. We then went to the teahouse where a group of extremely elegantly dressed professionals cooked and shared tea. If the Japanese are accustomed to drinking tea in the morning, and if they prepare it with as much care as our hosts, they must be late to work. Ministers discussed North Korea, the Middle East, Zimbabwe… The G-8 Group, meanwhile left by the Russians, is like the former Holy Alliance, with which our ancestors met in 1821 at the Ljubljana Congress.

Dr Dimitrij Rupel is a sociologist, politician, diplomat, writer, playwright, editor, publicist, and former foreign minister.

[1] In addition to the EU Presidency, the group also included Massimo d’Alema (Italy), Bernard Kouchner (France), David Miliband (United Kingdom), Olli Rehn (Enlargement Commissioner), Javier Solana (EU High Representative for the CFSP) and Frank Walter Steinmeyer (Germany)

[2] Glej Dimitrij Rupel, Slovensko predsedovanje v ognju lastnih sil, Ljubljana 2009, str. 105-107.

[3] Primerjaj prav tam, str. 110-115.


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