A squabble

The next anniiverssary guest post is by the funny and clever Michael Manske.

Border disputes between Slovenia and Croatia flare up with the regularity of teenage zits, and they’re about as equally exciting. The latest one to pop was in the swampy little Slovenian hamlet of Hotiza last week, when Croatian police arrested some Slovenian journalists and the tired cycle of outrage and mutual recrimination began again. Slovenia’s foreign minister promptly tattled to the EU, and Slovenian special forces were sent to the area where they and their Croatian counterparts engaged in a brief, but intense, staring match.

The EU has never shown much of an interest in the dispute, and this time was no exception. Commissioner Ollie Rehn, like a teacher in an unruly classroom, admonished the two neighbors to behave as befits an EU member and an EU candidate country. But otherwise the EU’s tried and true doctrine of telling everybody to just get along had very little effect on the Slovenian-Croatian dispute.

So what is the problem exactly? I don’t want to get too much into it (like I said, it’s not the most exciting topic — there’s an overview of it over here at wikipedia if you’re interested) but it goes beyond the ill-defined border to a chronic inability, or perhaps cynical desire, to let the issue fester on indefinitely.

Slovenia and Croatia have been independent now for 15 years, the wars of Yugoslav secession have been finished for more than a decade, and still the border isn’t clear. The closest the two sides came was in 2001 when they almost accepted the so-called Drnov¹ek-Raèan agreement. In the end, the Croats failed to ratify it — a mistake that may come to haunt them in any future negotiations, since next time around Slovenia will bring a nuclear weapon to the table: the EU membership veto. It’s been dangled threateningly in front of Croatia before. Back in 2004, the previous center-left government (during another border incident) explicitly said as much. Now the government is comprised of center-right parties and even includes Janez Podobnik, a man who personally got roughed up at the border a few years ago. (He’s now serving as environment minister.)

Slovenia knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a threatened veto. During Berlusconi’s mid-90s reign, Italy strong-armed concessions out of Slovenia with regard to property rights and the Italian minority. This culminated in the so-called Madrid (or Spanish) Compromise of 1995. The question is whether Slovenia will decide to pay it forward, this time with Croatia. And what effect that may have on already soured relations.