Cablegate: Slovenia: Electioneering Tactics Create

Published: Thu 23 Sep 2004 12:29 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) Summary: Slovenia's newswires have been alight since
the arrest and detention of Janez Podobnik, president of the
right-leaning Slovene Peoples Party (SLS), and 11 other
members of the party, by Croatian authorities in a disputed
border region, 22 September. With elections in just over two
weeks, no member of ruling left-of-center Liberal Democracy
Party (LDS) or any other serious parliamentary contender
could remain silent and allow cooler heads to prevail. Late
Thursday, the GoS cabinet decided it would withdraw any
further support for Croatia's EU accession. End Summary.
2. (U) As Embassy has been able to piece together from news
and other sources, SLS president Janez Podobnik and eleven
of his party members were taken into custody by Croatian
authorities on Wednesday evening. According to press
reports, they had been departing the residence of Josko
Joras, generally the center of attention on this particular
border dispute, where they had planted a linden tree. Joras'
property is in an area that is part of the border and
maritime boundary dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. He
has constructed a gravel road from his home to undisputed
Slovene territory in order to avoid using the Croatian border
crossing. It is on this road that Podobnik and others were
asked for their documents by Croatian authorities.
Apparently they refused to show ID, claiming they were on
Slovene territory. Interestingly, Joras, who is running for
parliament on the SLS ticket, and who has been arrested
several times on grounds of similar border violations, was
not taken into custody this time.
3. (U) In order to maintain patriotic credibility among the
voters, members of all political parties have been compelled
to make vociferous statements of outrage and dismay over the
incident, even if better judgment would dictate otherwise.
Prime Minister Anton Rop has called the incident
"unacceptable," and "un-European," and he has publicly
questioned Slovenia's ability to support Croatian accession
to the EU. Rop recalled his Ambassador to Zagreb for
consultations. Croatia's ambassador, Mario Nobilo, was also
invited in for a meeting. Slovenian authorities have been
ordered to prepare criminal complaints against the Croatian
police and Rop is also threatening a complaint against the
government of Croatia. In addition, opposition parties have
demanded a special session of parliament to discuss this and
other border incidents.
4. (U) The Government of Slovenia has also moved to involve
European authorities in the incident. Foreign Minister Ivo
Vajgl, who termed the incident as "inadmissible," returned
early from UNGA to attend aspecial cabinet session on
Thursday. Before departing New York, he raised the issue
with Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for the
common foreign and security policy, who, according to Vajgl,
assured that he would talk with Croatian authorities.
Slovenia's Ambassador to the EU, Ciril Stokelj, has informed
the European Commission of the incident and plans to raise it
in the EU Council as well.
5. (U) Late Thursday, the GoS cabinet adopted the position
that the actions of the Croatian police make it impossible
for Slovenia to further support Croatia's entry into the EU.
6. (U) Can cooler heads prevail in this situation? Some are
trying. The EU Ambassador to Slovenia, Erwan Fouere has said
the "first plea would be one of taking a step back and trying
to avoid any escalation of the matter." Fouere says the
European Commission is awaiting a full report on the incident
and that "as with all these situations, there seem to be two
versions." In response to PM Rop's threat to withdraw
Slovenia's support for Croatia's EU membership, Fouere said
that all acknowledge the long-term goal of bringing Croatia
and other Southeastern European countries into the EU fold -
"the quicker we can do that, the quicker we can avoid such
potential situations."
7. (U) Several Slovene voices have also piped up to try to
turn down the heat on this incident. In Brussels, Borut
Pahor, president of the junior ruling coalition member United
List of Social Democrats (ZLSD) and member of European
Parliament has said that "we must act prudently so as not to
lose credibility and give the appearance in the EU that we
are using tense bilateral relations as an excuse to block
Croatia's bid to join the EU." He continued that while
Slovenia had a legitimate right to highlight "un-European"
actions of Croatia, it is also of the "opinion that bilateral
issues should not figure in decisions on whether to accept
new EU candidates."
8. (U) Bojko Bucar, a foreign relations lecturer at the
University of Ljubljana commented that temporary withdrawal
for Croatia's EU accession "was not the right thing to do."
Bucar also pointed out that Wednesday's event was neither
unique nor unprecedented in cross-border relations, simply,
it is the one that has created the greatest stir. The head
of the Slovene Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business
organization that all Slovene companies are compelled to
join, said he was "troubled" by the incident on the border,
and he warned politicians not to undermine the good business
relations enjoyed by the two sides.
9. (SBU) Post has characterized past border incidents as
minor irritants in an otherwise good, if not warm, bilateral
relationship. What is different this time is that it has
happened just before what promise to be very close elections,
and a high-profile member of Parliament was involved. This
was a blatant political stunt by the SLS. They certainly
knew what the outcome would be and cannot deny their role as
provocateur. However, as planned, it is likely to gain them
votes in two weeks. There was no other realistic response
that any other party could have offered but outrage without
certain disaster at the polls. Despite the position taken by
the government today, the LDS ruling party may still suffer a
little as a result of this incident. In the past, the GoS
has not gotten involved when Joras has been arrested - at
least several times a year. There are also reports that the
GoS did not respond to requests for assistance until the
incident made radio and television news that evening. Now
everyone is making hay.
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