- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Countries have taken different paths since declaring independence

ZAGREB, Croatia — Twice a month, Vlado and Nada Pavlinic put their two children in the car and drive to Jesenice, a small town just over the border in Slovenia, where they stock up on staples like cooking oil, flour and coffee.
"The food we buy is up to 50 percent cheaper than here in Zagreb," Mr. Pavlinic said. By saving on groceries, "we can put some money aside to finish the house we're renovating," Mrs. Pavlinic added.
It's a pattern repeated around the Croatian capital, where a 10- or 15-mile trip across the border to Slovenia can save cash-strapped households real money. But there's a certain irony there.
Slovenia — by far the most economically advanced of the countries that split from former Yugoslavia — is one of the front-runners to join the European Union, and the average Slovenian citizen earns more than twice as much as his Croatian counterpart.

Tale of two republics
It wasn't always that way. A decade ago, when the two declared independence from the federation politically dominated by Serbia, they were far more evenly matched. Croatia had a thriving tourism industry, drawing visitors from across Europe, while Slovenia was producing brand-name goods like Gorenje appliances and Elan skis for international markets.
However, chafing under the centralized federal government and tired of sending tax money to Belgrade and getting few services in return, Croatia and Slovenia began looking for a way out.
Slovenia "didn't want to be treated any longer as a neglected minority," said Franc Bucar, who fought with Josip Broz Tito's Communist partisans against Nazi occupiers during World War II. Marshal Tito went on to become Yugoslavia's president until his death on May 4, 1980, and Mr. Bucar became a dissident who played a key role in Slovenia's independence negotiations after Tito's death.
Discussions between Slovenian and Yugoslav leaders to hold the country together proved fruitless and in 1990 Slovenia held its first independent elections, casting the Communists from power. Mr. Bucar was chosen parliament leader. Later that year, Slovenians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia.

A vote, then guns
Croatia followed suit, and on June 25, 1991, both declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Within days, the Yugoslav army mobilized in Slovenia, leading to a 10-day war that killed 64 persons.
Days later, the army mobilized in Croatia, leading to more than a year of death and destruction. Sporadic fighting followed, until the Croatian army reconquered territory seized by the country's displaced minority Serbs in 1995. That war killed about 15,000, left hundreds of thousands of refugees and caused about $20 billion in damage.
While the long-running war hampered Croatia's development, much blame also belongs to the nationalist policies of former President Franjo Tudjman, who died 11/2 years ago.
Mr. Tudjman was succeeded by Stipe Mesic, 66, a moderate who won the runoff election of Feb. 7, 2000. Mr. Mesic graduated from the University of Zagreb's faculty of law in the 1960s and went into local politics. He was imprisoned for a year in the early 1970s for advocating equality with Serbia during the so-called "Croatian Spring." After becoming president, the former parliament speaker canceled his party affiliation to show he would be "a president of all the people."
"Tudjman's support was to some extent based on the unfortunate conflict in the region," said Per Vinther, head of the European Union delegation to Croatia. Under Mr. Tudjman's authoritarian rule, corruption and nepotism pervaded almost all areas of life and those who benefited sought "to keep Croatia isolated in order to pursue their criminal objectives," Mr. Vinther said.

Separate paths taken
During the Tudjman era, there was "a lot of rhetoric on how European [Croatians] felt. In actual practice, there were no steps taken to convince us it was more than talk," Mr. Vinther said.
It was a different story with Slovenia, which quickly reoriented itself toward Western Europe. As a former Socialist country, it lacked technology, capital and know-how, and with the breakup of Yugoslavia, its major export market disappeared overnight.
"Our only salvation was to join the West as soon as possible," Mr. Bucar said.
One advantage for both Slovenia and Croatia was that Yugoslavia had been the most economically developed of the Socialist countries, giving them exposure to the principles of a market economy and experience exporting to Western buyers.
"[Yugoslavia] started 50 percent better than any other Socialist country," said Drazen Kalodjera, an independent economist in Zagreb. But even economically, the two countries took different paths.

Cronyism in Croatia
Croatia was quick to evict directors of state-run corporations, while Slovenia kept the most talented of them. Slovenia also was slower to privatize its industries and has not courted foreign investment, while Croatia sold many firms to Tudjman cronies and has continued privatization — partly to raise money.
To counter hyperinflation in the early 1990s, Croatia tied its currency, the kuna, to the German mark. This had the undesired effect of making its exports more expensive. Croatian unemployment tops 20 percent, nearly twice as high as Slovenia's, and many of Croatia's best and brightest have left in search of opportunities elsewhere.
In Slovenia, gross domestic product is close to $10,000 per capita — more than double the level a decade ago. In Croatia, it's around $4,000, which is 20 percent less than before independence, Mr. Kalodjera said.
"We desperately need radical reforms in all sectors, but what I see now is small steps," he said. "It will take 10 years to reach the level of what Slovenia has today with the economic policy of the government."

EU membership sought
Croatia also has a long way to go to catch up politically after years of estrangement from the West. A Western-looking government replaced Mr. Tudjman's supporters early last year, and Mr. Vinther said the European Union is pleased with the improvements that have been made in such areas as strengthening democracy and de-politicizing the legal system. The European Union and Croatia signed cooperation agreements this spring.
"For us, a genuine commitment has been demonstrated and work is in progress," Mr. Vinther said. While Croatia claims it will be ready for EU admission by 2006, Mr. Vinther said 2010 is a more probable date.
Slovenia, on the other hand, is considered one of the front-runners to join the union when it expands, probably by 2004. It also is likely to be included in the next wave of NATO expansion, which could take place next year.

Fear of losing identity
Franco Juri, who served as Slovenia's deputy foreign minister from 1997 until last year, attributed his country's success to the fact the government kept "Slovenia outside and far away from the typical Balkans nationalist and xenophobic tendencies."
Although nationalism does exist, "such tendencies are controlled and balanced by the strong consciousness of our main goals of joining the EU and NATO," Mr. Juri said.
But the prospect of joining the two organizations worries some in Slovenia, which had never been an independent nation before 1991. As a small country, "we're afraid of losing our national identity," Mr. Bucar said.

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