No News Is Good News In One Ex-Yugoslav State

You don't hear much news about Slovenia, and that's something Slovenes are proud of.

For a few days in 1991 as Yugoslavia broke up, world media turned its attention on this Alpine republic of 2 million. Its police routed the mighty Yugoslav People's Army and secured independence. Then the fighting shifted to the other parts of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia. Slovenia slipped into contented obscurity.

Now it's the most prosperous and perhaps most-stable country in Eastern Europe, with a per capita gross national product rivaling some of the EU's poorer member states like Portugal and Greece. While their Croatian and Serbian neighbors demonstrate against authoritarian leaders and struggle in war-devastated economies, Slovenes have problems others can only dream of.

Since last year's elections, the biggest dispute in parliament has been the pace of integration with the European Union. And Slovenia's over-abundance of foreign exchange income is now one of its greatest difficulties, as the resulting increase in the value of the national currency makes its exports too expensive.

Slovenia was an integral part of Austria for centuries, before becoming part of the newly created Yugoslav Kingdom after World War I. Its citizens confirmed their reputation for pragmatism and industriousness in Tito's Yugoslavia, where Slovenia's economic performance far exceeded that of the other republics. For a newly independent country, Slovenia has an amazing absence of chest-thumping nationalism. In other East European capitals, ethnographic museums are devoted to nationalist themes. Here, a current exhibit is on domestic lighting.

The Slovenian capital has become a center of migrants from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. But Slovenes are generally indifferent to problems of the other former Yugoslav republics. "I learned they don't care what's happening in Sarajevo," laments a Slovenian television reporter whose documentary on the Bosnian capital went mostly unwatched in his own country.

"People want to turn their back on the past, to pretend we were never in Yugoslavia, and face only Western Europe," says former finance minister Joze Mencinger. One exception is developments on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, which are watched closely because Slovenes spend their long summer vacations there.

There are many challenges ahead. While relations grow ever closer with Austria and Italy, disputes over fishing rights, interstate borders, and ownership of a nuclear power plant continue to chill relations with Croatia.

Many former state enterprises were legally taken over by former managers, their friends, and family shortly after independence, slowing industrial restructuring while increasing popular demands for these "spontaneous privatizations" to be reversed.

But don't expect mass protests like those in Belgrade. "Nobody would demonstrate in the streets today because their party won or lost," says journalist Ali Zerdin of the leading news magazine Mladina.

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