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Interview for Sinfo

Ljubljana, 1.1.2012  |  interview

A clear determination of priorities and standpoints

Journalist: Vesna Žarkovič

During these uncertain times, when the way forward is unclear and, according to the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, the emergence of viable alternatives is slow and gradual, we must set our priorities with greater sensitivity and a better feeling for further development. The new government will have to deal with new expectations.

President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk (photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA)Mr President, what are your hopes for the future?

There are no clear long-term alternatives – their emergence is slow and gradual. However, certain short-term tasks that need to be carried out by Slovenia are very clear. We first need to balance our budget and bring public spending into line with what we produce. I do not want to say that deep and severe cuts to public spending are necessary; however, the setting of priorities will require greater sensitivity and a better feeling for future development. This is a task that can no longer be delayed. We are currently in the midst of discussions on the establishment of the new Government of the Republic of Slovenia, and tasks such as these will be prioritised.

How will social relations be regulated in future and what is your vision of the economic and social structure of our country?

Our macro-economic position is quite positive. Nevertheless, we must reduce the budget deficit and put a stop to the growth of the national debt. These are high priorities. From a strategic point of view, we must open up new perspectives for the productive employment of young people and put more efforts into taking care of elderly people. All the reforms that we discuss, including the reforms of the labour market and pension schemes, are associated with these two strategic orientations.

This also involves our actions on the international stage. How will Slovenia ensure its statehood and international reputation is maintained going forward?

When taking the state as a whole into consideration, it must be made clear that foreign policy and the external positions adopted by the country comprise only one aspect of the state system. What is important is what we do at home. Domestic success will make success on the international stage possible. Certain relevant issues are closely intertwined. The settlement of relations with Croatia has played an important in our economic development and the stability of our position on the international stage. This involves a national, political and economic dimension on the one hand, and an international aspect on the other. Regarding our initiatives within the European Union and in the wider international environment, it is my desire to see Slovenia define its priorities and profiles more clearly with its own standpoints. So far, much has been heard of the French-German train and of the care that must be taken to ensure that Slovenia remains at the heart of the European Union in the future. This is clearly positive, but will not be sufficient on its own. During this time, we will need to develop our own viewpoints and ensure that we reach a reasoned and considered position.

President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk (photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA)An urgent problem is the situation faced by young people and the high level of youth unemployment. Are there any solutions in this regard?

We are just starting to resolve this problem. The problems faced by the young generation are not just gaining importance now. They have long been present, but we have not yet been able to deal with them. Previous attempts to address the issue have been unsuccessful. I would like to remind you of the efforts made to reform student work, mini jobs and the like. However, the problem has persisted. In our future endeavours to reform the labour market and the education system, particularly higher education, we will need to find solutions that contribute to better employment opportunities and an increase in youth employment. At this point, I would like to draw special attention to structural unemployment. Unemployment in Slovenia is rather high, particularly amongst young people, but we also have job vacancies that we are unable to fill. This raises the question of how we are going to eliminate such structural unemployment.

Is there an international agreement in place concerning the establishment of a wider international framework to tackle key future issues effectively and, if so, what is the UN’s role in this?

There has been no such agreement as yet. Countries hold their own positions. The UN is also adjusting to the change in circumstances by considering the will of its members. There were some new developments, an example of which was Millennium Development Goals – a project in which I participated. In the 90s, the UN held a series of conferences that dealt with the various views held on development problems. It began in Rio de Janeiro with a conference on the environment; there were conferences about settlements, women’s issues and other social topics, amongst others. In a way, this was a presentation of the development tasks of the time, which were then summarised in a special document – the Millennium Declaration. Some countries, such as China, took this document very seriously, using it as their framework for development, and achieved miracles as a result. Other countries were not so successful. Africa is gradually bridging the gap between it and the more successful regions. This is a mobilisation moment that stemmed from such activities. The UN took an important role in the development scene of the last decade. This new development is far from insubstantial; however, it is too modest if we take the need for changes to be made into account. At the institutional level, we have been unable to achieve such innovation. In dealing with climate change issues, the business world should take a more prominent role, while countries – particularly the largest – should assume the more onerous obligations. Unfortunately, this is not happening and time is running out. We can only hope that the recent Durban agreement on accepting new obligations by 2015 will stay in force.

Twenty years ago, the international community commended Slovenia on its maturity and capability for its ability to carry out comprehensive operations on the international stage. However, the question arises as to why Slovenia only managed to attain internationally accepted statehood in 1991 and not earlier. It could be perceived that Slovenians only developed the concept of independent statehood very late in the day.

It once held true that Slovenians were behind as a nation. This was understandable, as the occurrence of the conditions necessary for the formation of a country took a long time to develop and much time had passed when they finally started to materialise. The establishment of a country requires the formation of an appropriate territory, the existence of a sufficiently developed political community, the presence of a strong will for the establishment of the country, and appropriate international circumstances. All these conditions finally "came together" in 1991. They had not existed at any other time in our history. The state territory became rounded after 1945 when Slovenia gained the political status of a republic. This took place within the Yugoslav Federation, but in such a way that the establishment of a political community was possible in the entire state territory of the presently sovereign Slovenia. After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Slovenia had enough of its own political structure and possessed a sufficiently strong political consciousness to establish its own country. This was possible under the conditions at the end of the Cold War, when three socialist federations broke up: the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and, somewhat later, Czechoslovakia.

President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk (photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA)In their book ‘The Size of Nations’, the American economists, Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore, put forward the view that the end of the Cold War and the development of the free market coincided with an explosion of ‘political separatism’, since, in their opinion, small countries cannot prosper in a world with self-sufficient economies. Would you agree with this statement?

No, I do not agree with this statement. The basic condition for the formation of sovereign European countries at the end of the twentieth century was the break-up of three socialist federations: Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. The federal units were transformed into sovereign countries. The self-determination of nations was thus given new historical impetus and further confirmation. As for self-sufficient economies, it should be noted that they had not existed before and that no country was completely autarkic. The break-up of Yugoslavia was primarily a result of its strong dependency on international economic relationships and, particularly, its levels of debt. The final throes of the Soviet Union were marked by high oil prices and the economic stagnation that it ‘financed’ using high oil revenues. The break-up came later, associated with problems that occurred as a result of the falling price of oil. Thus, in my opinion, the thesis put forward regarding self-sufficient economies has no real grounds.

The international recognitions granted to Slovenia twenty years ago were certainly a major historical break from the past. Independent statehood is the greatest achievement of a country, which means that it should be securely protected. It is also protected in the European Union. Is Slovenia going to retain its sovereignty with no regard for future amendments to the European contract? A question that automatically arises is whether it is possible to lose our country.

Immediately after the Cold War, some two-dozen new countries were recognised. I do not believe that losing our country, as you put it, is something that could happen. However, we must be aware that a country is something that requires careful and, in particular, responsible handling, whether domestically or in international relationships. In Slovenia, it is entirely clear that we must empower the institutions of our legal system, enhance the responsibility of political parties and ensure better social dialogue. All these instruments involve the more responsible treatment of the country as our joint mechanism. At the international level, however, we must continue to develop foreign policy that is sufficiently realistic and provides for good relations with our neighbours, while also being sufficiently ambitious. We must provide Slovenia with an appropriate role in the European Union and in other multilateral institutions.

It is a fact that a country can gain full inclusion into international relations only on the basis of international recognition. Every newly established country strives for the recognition of the UN Security Council’s permanent member states, neighbouring countries, countries with economic power and countries with political strength. How do you recall Slovenia’s recognition by the Security Council’s member states?

The recognition process was quite lengthy. Let me remind you that, after Slovenia became independent, the European Community set up a special conference on peace in Yugoslavia, which was presided over by Lord Carrington. Within the framework of this conference, a plan was formulated that would enable a certain connection between the former Yugoslav republics. On 25 October 1991, Slobodan Milošević firmly rejected this plan. The result was that those who strove for the preservation of Yugoslavia gradually took over the position of recognising the former Yugoslavia’s successor states. The opinion of the Badinter Arbitration Committee that Yugoslavia was breaking apart and that its successor countries may, under certain conditions, assert themselves as sovereign countries was crucial in this part of the process. As the author of the Slovenian Memorandum on the Break-up of Yugoslavia and Recognition of Slovenia, I was heartened to see that the Badinter Arbitration Committee had adopted such a favourable position on our arguments. This happened in the arbitration opinion at the end of November 1991, which was followed in December by the political conclusions on recognition, and in the first months of 1992, the acts themselves – namely recognition acts. In this context, I clearly recall the significance of Germany and our neighbouring countries, particularly Austria, which were quick to recognise Slovenia’s sovereignty.

Is it possible that our development model, which was characterised by efforts made for inclusion in Euro-Atlantic structures, has already had its day?

Inclusion in Euro-Atlantic structures is only one aspect of our development model. This dimension has not run its course, since these connections provide Slovenia with opportunities to realise a significant part of its national identity and receive strong assurances for its existence and success on the international stage. However, what has run its course is our development model, in the narrowest sense of the word, particularly with regard to how the country decides on allocating its funds for investment and further material growth. In the past, we channelled significant funding into the development of the motorway network, other infrastructural projects, and construction in general. Today, this part of our development is no longer relevant. We have also encountered difficulties in setting priorities regarding the future allocation of resources, in determining key projects and development strategies, and in providing for the citing of projects in the space. In these respects, certain changes are necessary. It could be said that our development model has run its course with regard to certain basic aspects of the allocation of funds, and thus requires a thorough overhaul.
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