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Wednesday, June 19, 2024


By: Božo Cerar

I had started working for Slovenia’s independence long before it was formally declared. Among the Slovenians employed in Yugoslav diplomacy in 1991, the vast majority sympathized with Slovenia’s efforts – firstly for a greater equality within the Yugoslav federation, and secondly for independence – but they did not want to expose themselves. 

I was among those who felt that there was no time to hesitate, and we were actively involved in these efforts without a second thought. 

For the benefit of our homeland 

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of our country, it is difficult to capture in just a few sentences all the activities that were conducted in favour of stopping the aggression towards Slovenia, its independence, and later its international recognition on the diplomatic stage in those crucial times. Let me, therefore, describe the events of a particular day when I used the knowledge, experience and connections I gained through working in diplomacy for the benefit of my homeland. This will be a clear demonstration of the importance of the contribution of us diplomats to the achievement of the ultimate goal from the very beginning – for the Republic of Slovenia to become a democratic and independent state, a member of Euro-Atlantic integration. 

Although it may not have seemed so at first, the Brioni Declaration made on 7 July 1991, adopted under the auspices of the European Community (EC), represented an important Slovenian diplomatic victory. which paved the way for Slovenia’s independence and international recognition. At Brioni, Slovenia performed on an equal footing with other internationally recognized entities for the first time. The declaration, which stopped the hostilities between the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and the Slovenian Territorial Defence and the militia, and froze our independence activities for three months, also contained provisions regarding the EC Monitoring Mission, whose task was to monitor implementation and compliance. On 10 July at the office of the RKMS (Republican Committee for International Cooperation) at Gregorčičeva 25, I received a call from J. Werner, Secretary of the Dutch Embassy in Belgrade, to say that a delegation of senior EC diplomats was to arrive in Ljubljana for a preparatory mission the next day, via Belgrade and Zagreb. The details of the work of the observation mission needed to be agreed. The Dutch, who were presiding over the EC at that time, also faxed us a draft agreement, the so-called Memorandum of Understanding. I started working at RKMS on 27 June, the day of the beginning of the aggression, having attended the ceremony to declare independence in front of the National Assembly building and the reception at Cankarjev dom the night before. 

Complications regarding the arrival of the EC diplomats 

On the morning of Thursday, 11 July, Dirk Hasselman, the Deputy Dutch Ambassador, confirmed to me by telephone that the delegation would be arriving to Brnik at 3pm. We were old acquaintances. I was even at his wedding. We agreed on the logistics of the visit. It was supposed to be a single conversation with the participation of our Ministers of Foreign and Internal Affairs and Defence. The delegation was expected to leave Ljubljana the same evening. Although we didn’t expect this, Hasselman and I talked a few more times that day. In Belgrade, where they were not at all happy because of the internationalization of the conflict with Slovenia, they tried to prevent the arrival of the EC diplomats in Slovenia. They did not like the fact that these diplomats had begun to treat us as an independent entity. They tried to agree on everything with them in Belgrade, without us. Consequently, they told the EC delegation that the airport runway at Brnik was badly damaged, and that Slovenian Territorial Defence soldiers could not be trusted, as they were shooting at everything flying through the air, without hesitation. In short, the flight to Ljubljana was, allegedly, too dangerous. It already seemed that our friendship would suffice, and that I would be able to convince Hasselman to the contrary, when his bosses stepped in and demanded concrete evidence. 

One of our many diplomatic battles had begun. Somewhere, my colleagues and I found an inspection report from Ljubljana airport carried out by the federal aviation inspector the previous day. He had decided that everything was fine with the airport runway, but that there were movable obstacles on it, which could be quickly removed. I sent a record of this, accompanied by the inspector’s signature, as well as a federal seal, to a Dutch colleague, and proved that they had been lied to in Belgrade. I added that the obstacles intended for Yugoslav Army vessels would, of course, be removed in time. But still, even that was not entirely sufficient. In particular, Budimir Lončar, Federal Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and his Deputy, Milivoje Maksić, continued to complicate things. 

We had to brainstorm a little more and involve Minister Rupel, and then the Prime Minister, Lojze Peterle, in the matter. In the end, we managed to swing the matter our way with two pieces of paper, actually with two letters from Mr. Peterle. In the first, he said that, as far as Slovenia was concerned, the flight was completely safe. In the second, he reiterated the guarantee of flight safety over the territory of Slovenia, with respect to the conduct of our defence forces. At the same time, he also expressed serious concern regarding the actions or delays of the federal authorities. 

During this period of negotiation, the EC diplomats squatted in a plane on the airport apron in Belgrade, roasting in the increasingly hot July sun. As the temperature rose, so did the sympathies of Hasselman and the European diplomats towards us in Ljubljana. After all the complications, the Dutch military plane finally appeared over Brnik at around 6 pm. We went to wait for the delegation with Minister Rupel, who, throughout the day, had become increasingly sceptical that it would actually come. The plane flew low over the runway, then flew off and, over Kranj, circled back to the east. The minister looked at me in disappointment and called out, “Cerar, I told you nothing would come of this!” Whenever he was in a bad mood, or when he thought I could do more, he always called me by my last name. I hurried to reassure him that they had just checked to see if the airport runway was really all right, and that if they had already come this far, they would land next time. The minister, still doubtful and grumpy, bet me a beer. He lost the bet.  

Immediately after landing, we headed towards Ljubljana; the Minister with the Head of Delegation, Ambassador Kroener, and me with his Deputy, General Messarshmidt. We went through Vodice, so that the guests could see the charred remains of buses from the battles for the airport, near the airport in the direction of Mengeš. The conversations with Rupel, Janša and Kacin, about which I took notes, took place without complications, and in a very good atmosphere. We received some clarifications and added some of our views. We did not, however, chat on unnecessarily, procrastinate, or demand the impossible, as the federal side had done, not to mention the ordeal it had caused to the delegation on its way to us. As good hosts, there was also a brief amount of time to serve dinner to the delegation. They flew back at 21.05. Just before dusk, which of course was not without significance, given that the YA had disabled our air navigation system. Minister Rupel hinted to me that the observers, who were expected to arrive in the following few days, would be my concern. I was supposed to be some sort of key link between them and our authorities. This, of course, is another story, which I described in my book Opazovalci (Observers). 

The final establishment of the Republic of Slovenia  

I am celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of our country and diplomacy as a pensioner. Looking back at the times when, full of enthusiasm, we laid the foundations of our country and diplomacy, I regret that, after our initial successes, at some point in our journey we began to falter, lose confidence, and even our compass. The anniversary, our second presidency of the EU Council, and the current government together represent an opportunity for a new impetus, and for Slovenia to be finally established in the international community as a proud democracy and a respected and successful member of the EU and NATO.  

Dr. Božo Cerar is a lawyer, longtime diplomat and writer. 



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