WINTER is the time when Yugolsavs once thought about snow-filled holidays in Bled, this picturesque Slovenian Alpine resort near the Austrian border.
But today, most of the war-ravaged Balkan states have bitter, if any, relations with Slovenia, the first republic to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav National Army forces invaded the new state within hours of its declaration of independence, setting the scene for the ethnic-nationalist bloodbath that ensued in the former Yugoslav republics.
Bled no longer has a steady stream of visits by former countrymen. Instead, it hosts British, German, Austrian, and Italian vacationers who come to ski and ice skate. The mix seems to better suit Slovenes, who now spurn any Slavic roots for what they say is their strictly European identity.
Lojze Peterle, Slovenia's foreign minister who resigned last month to protest the rise of Communist power in parliament, is vice president of the European Union of Christian Democratic Parties. Paramount, he says, is his country's quest for European Union membership and Western European Union and NATO status. He insists this is a natural progression from Slovenia's acceptance into the United Nations.
Populated by no more than 2 million people, Slovenia has been the springboard for many more constructive developments than war. Mr. Peterle boasts of Slovenia's skilled work force - ``We have 4 million hands.'' In fact, Slovenia has been the historical base of primary industry and infrastructure for the Balkans. Its airline and telephone systems, which once serviced all of former Yugoslavia, for example, remain the region's most reliable.
The Serbs have long resented Slovenia's more developed economy. And Slovenians chafed at the former Yugoslavia's firm grip on their finances and were agitated that their hard-earned currency was being poured into more needy republics.
But the break-up of Yugoslavia has meant a dramatic drop in business for Slovenia. Not only did receipts dwindle for trade and tourism, they plummeted for Adria Airways, which was forced to shut down for three months, but quickly rebounded with new European routes.
Despite Slovenia's gains, violence still looms large. Located on a mountain-side lake, a 10th-century castle boasts a respectable display of knights in armor, daggers, crossbows, and the like. During a tour of the castle, a guide recounts popular lore about the on-going Balkan war, underscoring the brutality of the Serbs. ``Two hundred thousand deaths,'' he says with gross exaggeration, ``100,000 by the knife.''
Slovenians complain that Washington has been slow to rise to its world power responsibility of taking a firm position against Serbian aggression and making a strong commitment to ensure democracy and human rights. And they fault the West for leaving a vacuum for Russia, which they say has doted on the Serbs, while the West has virtually ignored the ``ethnic cleansing.'' Russia's influence on the Balkan situation, comments one Slovenian diplomat, has led to ``Russia believing it has been re-born as a superpower.''