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Slovenia heads EU as Balkan neighbors begin to stir

Serbs vote Sunday in polls in which Kosovo independence is a central issue. Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia.

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Slovenia is sometimes affectionately described as a bit sleepy. But it is not sleepy now. The old saying that the Balkans "has always produced more history than it can consume" was vividly true this week: In Moscow Tuesday the Russian foreign ministry condemned "secret actions" being taken by the EU to send a police force to Kosovo, something the EU voted openly for in December, and threatened "unspecified actions" if Kosovo declared independence. Albanian prime minister Sali Berisha accused Serbia of trying to "destabilize" the Balkans. President Tadic told a Moscow newspaper that no "foreign military bases" would be allowed in Serbia – a counter to Mr. Nikolic, who has said he advocated that Russian forces set up along Serbia's borders.

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Of key significance, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose support was seem as crucial for Tadic in Sunday's runoff, on Wednesday said he would not support Tadic. The news was viewed with gloom in Ljubljana and elsewhere – since Kostunica could realign Serbian politics after the election by joining with Nikolic's Radical Party to form a genuinely nationalist pro-Russia, anti-Europe government.

"In the EU, we want to make progress but not compromise on principles," says Slovenian President Danilo Turk in a Monitor interview. "What I would say [to Serbs] before the elections is that the EU is here, it is open, and it is waiting for you."

Balkan turmoil is hardly all the EU president faces. Slovenia, which holds the presidency until July, has been the venue for subjects from Turkish membership in the EU to European standards on technology. This week, the Slovenian Parliament ratified the Lisbon treaty, the second EU nation to do so. The treaty, set to start on Jan. 1, 2009, after the French presidency of the EU, will ideally streamline the governing structure for the EU, and usher in a much-delayed common foreign policy.

Slovenia left Yugoslavia in 1991, setting off the dissolution of the socialist state and formally joined the EU in 2004. Slovenia's per capita income in 1991 was about 5,000 euros; today it's above 20,000. Serbia, by contrast, has remained at about 3,000. Many in the Balkans sometimes grumble about Slovenia's departure and subsequent alleged disinterest in the tragedy that enveloped in the region thereafter.

President Turk calls this perception "unfair and inaccurate.

"Slovenia tried for a peaceful dissolution…. But we were realistic … we didn't indulge in illusions. Yugoslavia ceased to exist in the mid-80s. It was defunct. We proposed radical changes and peaceful dissolution … we had to think about our own existence. We didn't want to be part of a larger war that was looming on the horizon. How could we help by being a war victim?"