Saturday-Sunday, December 23-24, 1996


Can relations between Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Slovenia ever be normalized?

Whether "Radenska" (Slovenian mineral water) will appear again in Belgrade after normalization of relations or not, it seems, does not fall under the auspices of market laws of supply and demand. In Slovenia, on the other hand, there are contentions to doing business with "those, down south." That would, it is said, feed the worst habits of Slovenian industry: making poor quality merchandize, which it then couldn't sell to the West.

By Jurij Gustincic

A ridiculous incident in the streets of London, from long gone 1953 -- seven years after second world war ended -- shows how difficult it is for passions of war, social, ethnic, racial and other similar conflicts to cool off.

In the middle of the street a "Jaguar" pulls over, ten feet in front of a little "Volkswagen", driven by this author. From that fact, it is obvious that he, that is the author, has forgotten divisions and furor of the war and that he uses his car simply for transportation. From the "Jaguar," a middle-aged gentleman appears, and with a typical Jewish London East End accent, shouts toward me: your water is dripping. Instinctively, I get out of the car to check it out. The water is, of course, not dripping -- "Volkswagen" has no water.

It was, plainly, a demonstration of hate towards the Germans, revenge -- to those who buy German cars. Many Brits, "Volkswagen" owners, ridiculed such an attitude by raising their hands into a nazi greeting. A joke, of course, as was allied singing of Lili Marlen . . .

I think of this bizarre episode when I am met with the first remarks that in the near future, communication links between countries of former Yugoslavia must be normalized. Normalization, what is that today? If we wipe the dust off the newspapers from four years ago, if we take out arguments and ideological sparks of that last of united period, normalization, my friends, is out of the question.

There, just recently, I read delirious mention of how it could happen again -- if we are not careful! -- that the symbol of "Slovenian exploitation of Serbia" may appear in Belgrade stores -- "Radenska" (Slovenian mineral water), although Serbia has its "Knjaz Milos" (mineral water bottled in Serbia, in the name of an old Serbian ruler; trans. note). That must be, say some excited combatants of ideological, nationalistic fray, prevented with appropriate laws. Economy, business ties, communication -- let the government oversee them. As in the good old days of social-realism.

Whether "Radenska" will appear again in Belgrade after normalization, it seems then, does not fall under the auspices of market laws of supply and demand, which have, incidentally, achieved that "Perle" (French mineral water), in addition to "Radenska", can today be purchased in Ljubljana stores. In Slovenia, it should be understood, there are contentions of their own ideological fences against doing business with "those, down south!" That would, it is said, feed the worst habits of Slovenian industry: making poor quality merchandize, which it then couldn't sell to the West. Cooperation with the Balkans is equated with falling behind. Again: sign laws that would make this, if not illegal, at least difficult.

The peak of militant abhorrence I found in a statement of a friend -- a patriot from the Serbian side, which has assured me in the worst of times, under sanctions, in 1993: "Slovenians and Germans! You are the last to be let in on our market!"

I don't know about Slovenians. Germans, of course, will show up among the first, and be let in with a smile!

When we remember the state of Europe after the mentioned Great War, one cannot but be baffled with the flexibility of the times. The war ended in 1945, Nuernberg trials a year later. Two more years and West Germany, practically, became part of the west, and seven years later, a member of NATO, with the strongest army after the United States.

Would we be able to stop the malady of normalization? Simple. It is enough we continue to argue the princpal issues interrupted by the war in 1991. To continue to claim, on one side, that Croats and Slovenians separated, and not, as constitutive nations of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, seceded. And that, according to the words of academician Kosta Mihajlovic, spoken exactly into the microphones of Radio Slovenia a few days ago, Slovenians, of course, must pay the highest price and so pay huge amounts in the name of former Yugoslavia financial debts, because they have developed most in Yugoslavia and had a higher standard of living than the rest. (It sounds as if higher standard of living is some form of primordial sin.) On the other side, the morality of establishing relations with someone on whom the United Nations (without a vote against) imposed sanctions because of aggression on Bosnia is contemplated.

Between Slovenia and Serbia, more than between Croatia and Serbia, the altercation can, and will be, the strongest and fiercest, because it is about the basic conflict that lead to the break up of Yugoslavia. Belgrade and Ljubljana are the main archetypes of the two contending ideologies, centralized and decentralized. And would we rather have normal relations, of the rudimentary sort, as among any two European nations? Again simple. The ideological penitence must be left in the cloak room along with the hats. Emotions are best left at home. An economics professor from Ljubljana, interested in this problem, said on Slovenian television that past should be reflected about the least, and future the most. Things are put on the scale. I will bet that emotions should weigh more for a long time to come.

© Yurope & ,,Nasa Borba", 1996.