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Zagreb Faces Border Deal Backlash

Croats are furious over their government's border deal with Slovenia.
By Goran Ivanovic

Croatia's nationalist opposition parties are accusing the government of betraying the national interest over a recent border agreement with Slovenia. Polls suggest most Croats believe Prime Minister Ivica Racan caved in unacceptably to Slovene demands when he signed the deal on June 20.


The dispute between the two countries on their maritime frontier dates back to 1991, when both republics seceded from the Yugoslav federation.


The Croatian parliament, the Sabor, may even refuse to sanction the


agreement in the autumn, possibly generating a new crisis in the Balkans.


If Slovenia imposes frontier restrictions in protest, as is expected, Croats are likely to experience problems travelling through Slovenia to the West and the foreign tourists that the Croatian economy depends on may be held up getting to the Adriatic coast.


There are few disagreements over the land frontier, which the Badinter


commission delineated after the break-up of Yugoslavia. But a maritime border demarcation between Croatia and Slovenia never took place.


Slovenia's coastline is only 46 km in length - the Croatian stretch of the Adriatic is almost forty times as long - and it has no access to the high seas.


The agreement grants Slovenia a nautical corridor two miles wide, through which Slovene vessels can enter international waters. In return, Slovenia pledged to improve Croatia's road links with Western Europe, giving its citizens a fast-track entry procedure. Disputes over several hamlets on the land border were also decided in Croatia's favour.


The Croat leadership says the deal benefits both countries. "Certain compromises are always necessary," President Stjepan Mesic said, "and this is the way to resolve border issues with Slovenia. In compromises, one always gains something and loses something, but I think that Croatia gains more with this agreement." Racan warned that without a resolution of the frontier dispute, it could escalate into a serious crisis.


The Croats hope to extract other gains from the treaty, such as a resolution of the problems facing Croat citizens who have not been able to access their savings accounts in the Slovene Ljubljanska Banka since the break-up of Yugoslavia.


Another by-product of the deal may be an agreement over the controversial joint nuclear power plant in Krsko, located on Slovenian territory. The two states have failed to agree on a raft of issues, including its ownership, the quantity of electricity it should supply each side and where the nuclear waste should be disposed. Media speculation suggests the Zagreb and Ljubljana may make a joint payment to Russia to take over the waste.


Nonetheless, the public has overwhelmingly accepted opposition claims that a bad deal was done, and that Racan would have done better to seek


international arbitration. Anto Djapic, leader of the far right Croatian Party of Rights, HSP, which is allied to the Croat Democratic Union, HDZ, of late president Franjo Tudjman, accused the government of caving into blackmail and of "selling the nation's heritage".


Racan will have difficulty pushing the agreement through parliament with the required two-thirds majority. As his coalition partners in the left-of-centre government are far from delighted with the deal, a


considerable amount of lobbying will be needed to get enough votes.


But he has few options at this juncture. Croatia has only recently


initialled a stability pact with the European Union and cannot afford a


border dispute with Slovenia, which is already an associate


member of the European Union. The only question is whether parliament will choose potential EU membership over national pride.


Goran Ivanovic works as a journalist for the BBC's Croatian Service