Slovenia eyes EU after decade of freedom

By Caroline Wyatt, BBC News Online, Monday 25 June 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK

The people of Slovenia—the only part of the former Yugoslavia where the dream of peaceful secession came true—are celebrating 10 years of independence.

The country seceded from the Yugoslav Federation—prompting a 10-day war, in which it defied the might of the Yugoslav army.

It is a nation of just two million people, living amid some of the most beautiful mountain landscape in Europe.

Yet now Slovenia is preparing to give up some of its independence to join the European Union.

“We are an ancient European nation, even though our state is just 10 years old. Our spirit, our values are European. We belong here. By joining the EU and Nato, we’ll return to the Western civilisation we were wrenched from half a century ago,” explains Slovenia's president, Milan Kucan.

But that will leave many on the outside looking in.

Refugees from across Eastern Europe, as well as Iran and Iraq crowd the asylum-seekers' hostel in the capital, Ljubljana.

Yet Slovenia has promised the EU it will keep out those trying to enter fortress Europe—and that includes its former countrymen.

Once the rest of Yugoslavia came to Slovenia on holiday—today they come to seek asylum.

But even some Slovenes fear that joining the EU will yield few benefits, especially for its farmers.

“We don’t expect anything good to come of Slovenia joining the EU. Our farm is one of the biggest in the area, but it's still too small to compete in the EU. We won’t be able to sell our products cheaply enough,” says Stefka Pavlin, whose family have been farmers for generations.

She fears that she and her daughter Andrea could lose their livelihood in just a few years' time.

But while the EU's representative in Ljubljana, Eric Van der Linden, says he understands those fears, he believes Slovenes have little to worry about from the European Union.

“This is always difficult to sell to the population, to the men and women in the street, because they ask what do I get on my bread, what is going to cost me in terms of employment, and I think provided the appropriate policies are pursued, the danger is limited.”

Dr Josa Mensinga, one of the men who helped bring about Slovenia's smooth economic transition and now rector of Ljubljana university, is realistic about Slovenia's future.

“Slovenia will become a member of the European Union. I don’t know when, but we will not be very important members.

“We will lose a little bit of what we were fighting for—independence or sovereignty of the country—that's for sure, but I don’t think we have any other choice.”

The tourists who come to walk by the clear blue waters of Slovenia's lakes know little of this debate.

For them, this is a peaceful holiday haven, and that is the way most Slovenes would like it to stay.

Reluctantly, they do believe that giving up some of their new found independence is a price worth paying to return them to their rightful place at the heart of Europe.