SLOVENIAN Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek says the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina has ``clearly changed'' for the better following the February NATO ultimatum, but that the same result could have been achieved a year or more earlier and saved many lives.
Western intervention, including the use of force, ``is something I advocated before [in Bosnia], and such an action could have been introduced a year ago with probably the same results,'' Mr. Drnovsek told the Monitor on Wednesday. He was in Boston to accept an honorary degree from Boston University. ``In between, nothing happened - just unsuccessful peace initiatives ... and much dying and suffering.''
Drnovsek, prime minister of Slovenia since 1992 and considered the architect of Slovenia's withdrawal from then-Yugoslavia in 1991 that led to the breakup of that country, said the NATO initiative to end the siege of Sarajevo caught Serb and Croat leaders by surprise. ``It was the first action that showed something could be different, and they respected this. I know they more or less counted on the [West's] indecisiveness.''
Still, the Slovenian head of state said the West should not be ``too satisfied'' with progress in Bosnia, and urged the US and Europe not ``to lose the tempo'' established by NATO peace efforts. ``Pressure should be maintained'' on the Serbs, Drnonsek said. He stressed the importance of Russian involvement, Western economic incentives, and a UN presence, but felt the United Nations sanctions against Belgrade should not yet end.
Drnovsek, who was president of Yugoslavia's collective presidency in 1989, feels strongly that Russia's role is important in the Balkans: ``I advocate very much using this opportunity to involve the Russians as much as possible in efforts to bring Serbs to an agreement in Croatia and Bosnia.'' He warned that if the West does not act, Moscow's policy ``can change and become more traditional,'' less cooperative and more anti-Western.
Nor does Drnovsek, who speaks in soft but firm tones, feel that the West should abandon punitive measures against the Serbs: ``It is important that there have been sanctions, and severe sanctions. This, together with strong actions and the Feb. 9 NATO airstrike ultimatum, shows that the international community is not ready to accept'' Serb territorial gains. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic should ``count on some sanctions as a punishment'' in his future calculations, Drnovsek said.
Slovenia, a tiny alpine state to the south of Austria with a 2 million ethnically homogenous population, was the first Yugoslav republic to vote for independence. Its 10-day war in June 1991 resulted in fewer than 15 Slovenian casualties, and led to a withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army that July and international recognition six months later.
Since then, Slovenia has sought closer economic ties with the European Union, is privatizing, and recently signed a free-trade agreement with the Czech Republic. It joined the NATO ``Partnership for Peace'' in February.
Drnovsek's trip to the United States comes in the middle of a small crisis in his own government after he suddenly fired his defense minister, Janez Jansa, last week. The departure of Mr. Jansa, a former dissident and hero of the 10-day war, followed his refusal to prosecute military police who beat up a civilian employee of the Interior Ministry accused of spying. The civilian was politically connected to Slovenian President Milan Kucan.
The firing of Jansa was met by widespread protest, including the signing of letters by many in the Slovenian intellectual community. While tensions in Slovenia are increasing between pro-Slovenian traditionalists like Jansa and pro-European modernizers like Drnovsek, the firing was seen as mainly an internal power struggle in the capital, Ljubljana.
Drnovsek defended his actions: ``For me it was a question of principle. According to our laws, the military police don't have any authority against civilians. Mr. Jansa was not ready to ... show who is responsible. So I have to take authority.''
Asked if the firing was not too severe, Drnovsek said, ``It would be easier for me not to take this action. But what happens the next time military police or special forces cause such incidents? Perhaps some of the people were not aware'' of a shift toward right-wing populism in the military.
Drnovsek agreed tensions between Slovenia and its southern neighbor Croatia have heightened since 1991 over border and property disputes, but said these were ``not significant problems.''
Drnovsek denied recent accounts by Balkan intellectuals that the liberation of Slovenia was arranged by Mr. Milosevic, who tacitly agreed to let Slovenia out of Yugoslavia, because it did not figure in his ``Greater Serbia'' aims.