When Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, they surpassed all other Yugoslav republics in their readiness to enter European institutions, due to their Hapsburg legacies, geographical locations and advanced civic and entrepreneurial traditions. Leaders of the independence movements of both countries made euphoric proclamations of their "return to Europe" after being held "captive" in Balkan federations.

Yet, nearly ten years later, Croatia and Slovenia are in vastly different positions, due in large part to the extreme differences in the length and intensity of their wars of secession from Yugoslavia. Slovenia was one of the first five Central and East European countries to begin negotiations with the EU in 1998, enjoys the highest GDP of any applicant state (70 percent of the EU average, almost on par with its poorest members), and is generally hailed as a regional success story. Croatia took its first step towards EU membership by opening Stabilization and Association Agreement negotiations in November 2000. Former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman's dismal human rights record, intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and refusal to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) made Croatia a pariah for most of the 1990s and devastated its economy.

Croatia and Slovenia now face very different sets of issues regarding European integration. In the latest round of EU accession progress reports, the European Commission faulted Slovenia for its slow rates of privatization, de-nationalization, and foreign direct investment, and called for public administration reform and stricter border controls. The post-Tudjman administration has worked to improve its standing with the EU by recognizing the territorial integrity of Bosnia- Herzegovina, passing parliamentary legislation mandating cooperation with the ICTY, and facilitating the return of Serb refugees to Croatia.

Rethinking Sovereignty in Croatia and Slovenia

Like other Central and East European states, Croatia and Slovenia are willing to accept an exceptional amount of external influence on their internal affairs in order to gain membership in European institutions. If sovereignty is defined as a political entity's externally recognized right to exercise final authority over its own affairs, ruling elites in both countries have renounced some of their sovereignty to Brussels. The EU accession process requires that applicant states agree to abide, in full, with the over 80,000 pages of laws and regulations of the thirty different "chapters" of the acquis communautaire. The Association and Stabilization Process, especially designed by the EU in 1999 for the Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and the FRY, requires states to recognize each other's territorial sovereignty, resolve all outstanding issues of succession, and ensure the return of refugees before entering formal negotiations with Brussels.

The EU has thus far relied on a credible offer of membership to provide a strong enough impetus for reform in applicant states like Slovenia. Since most major political parties and a majority of their constituents (66.5 percent responding in favor of EU membership in recent public opinion polls) support European Union membership, this kind of passive leverage has been a sufficient strategy to motivate most elites to abide by EU demands. Indeed, this compliance has often been voluntary, since many acquis requirements duplicate economic and political reforms initiated prior to Slovenia entering accession negotiations. But aquis requirements have also acted as a powerful impetus to force governing elites to initiate reforms with little public appeal, such as minority protection laws, or abolishing laws with wide public support, such as prohibitions against the purchase of land by foreigners.

Passive leverage has however, often been inadequate in persuading nationalist leaders like Tudjman to disregard the domestic costs of cooperating with the EU. Because Tudjman promoted himself as the father of the Croatian sovereign nation and protector of Croatian national interests, any renunciation of sovereignty to the EU prompted backlash from nationalist allies. If Tudjman conceded to these nationalist pressures, however, he opened himself to attacks from liberals who argued that his anti-Western policies threatened to isolate Croatia from the international community. Prominent liberal opposition leader Vlado Gotovac warned in 1996 that, "Franjo Tudjman, as the key protagonist of Balkan, anti-European politics, has mired us in deep isolation, leaving us hopelessly anchored to the Balkans."

The new Croatian regime faces a similar dilemma. Prime Minister Ivica Racan and President Stipe Mesic's actions are constrained by deposed nationalists, radical political allies and sections of society who portray their increased cooperation with the EU as pandering to the whims of the West. The Croatian government must respond to the external demands of the European community and simultaneously mollify the internal pressures of domestic hardliners. These competing pressures have led to actions that sometimes appear incoherent to viewers of Croatian politics, as they sometimes promote and at other times obstruct the European integration process. One kind of rhetoric is often directed at the international community while another set is designed for domestic consumption.

Ethnic nationalists in Croatia have opposed many efforts by the new regime to reverse Tudjman's policies. Of all the reforms initiated by the new regime, two have prompted the most vociferous backlash: 1) increased cooperation with the ICTY; and 2) participation in Balkan regional associations.

Croatia and the ICTY

Although the EU has not formally made Croatia's entry conditional on its cooperation with the ICTY, Croats justifiably feel that their status in the eyes of the West depends on their continued cooperation with the Tribunal. This past spring, the Croatian parliament passed legislation requiring Croatia's full cooperation with the Hague, including the extradition of all indicted war criminals. Opposition to this legislation came to a head in the fall when nationalist parties, top army brass, and veterans' groups opposed the possible extradition of officers involved in the 1995 Croatian offensive in the Krajina - a war that most Croats still consider a defensive action. Even fellow coalition members (such as HSLS President Drazen Budisa or SDP vice president Zdravko Tomac) criticized Racan for devaluing the so-called "Homeland War."

This opposition to cooperation with the ICTY intensified following the recent changes in Serbia and the West's response. Many Croats charged that the West applied a double standard to Croatia and Serbia. Croatia's new government, despite its cooperation with Hague prosecutors, faces additional pressure to turn over war criminals, while Yugoslav President Kostunica's refusal to recognize the authority of the Tribunal and to turn over Milosevic did not prevent the UN from immediately recognizing Yugoslavia. As former HDZ President Ivo Korsky remarked:

"If we enter Europe now, we will remain in its backyard. Time will show that it was not necessary to be so humble and that the price of this humility was great Denmark has its reasons for which it did not accept the Euro and now these reasons are being debated. We see that Belgrade openly says that it is not prepared to fulfill certain conditions and this is respected. However, when Croatia says that it accepts all conditions, how then can we ask anyone to respect our national interests?"

This outrage however, was not only fueled by a sense of injustice. Some Croats openly express fear that once Serbia regains favor with the West, Croatia will lose its leadership role in the region and Western aid allotment to Serbia, which is larger, of greater strategic interest to the West, and in more dire need of aid.

Croatia's Cooperation with Balkan Associations

On May 26, 1999, the EU introduced a new Stabilization and Association Process for the Balkans to accompany the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, adopted on June 10, 1999 in Cologne. The EU reassured Croatia that although the Process requires a certain degree of regional cooperation among states, accession negotiations would follow the same bilateral framework as for other candidate countries.

Ever since the Croatian administration demonstrated its support for these regional initiatives by agreeing to host a summit of Balkan and EU leaders in Zagreb in November, the nationalist right in Croatia has warned the event would mark the rebirth of "Yugoslav associations." A Slobodna Dalmacija columnist made a particularly vitriolic attack against the summit:

"We will find ourselves faced with a new age kingdom of Serbs and Croats, minus the Slovenes plus five million Albanians. In that state, in a decade or two there will be no Croats. Instead we shall have an uncertain number of fat 'citizens of Croatia,' meek and hopelessly networked subjects of the big Orwellian Europe."

Jozko Kovac, head of the Croatian Peasant Party, asked, "Why is the EU not holding joint talks with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, why is Slovenia not part of the package, why are the Benelux countries not packaged?" He warned that the meeting was creating serious unrest among Croats and promised that, "We will defend ourselves again should it be necessary. Not perhaps a war of army but one of politics."

Slovenia and Foreign Property Claims

Competing demands on Slovene governing elites to abide by European mandates and mollify domestic hardliners appear in much different contexts and to different degrees than in Croatia. Support for European membership is high among major Slovenian political parties and their constituents. But, like in most candidate countries, EU membership does not have universal appeal in Slovenia. Appeals to defend Slovene sovereignty against infringements by Brussels draw significant support among some Slovenes.

The issue of whether foreigners are allowed to purchase land in Slovenia has spurred the greatest amount of public opposition to the EU. In 1997, Italy threatened to veto Slovenia's application to the EU if they failed to strike a constitutional statute prohibiting foreign ownership of land. Slovenia yielded to Italy's demand, making the first change to its constitution since its independence. Resentments from this episode reemerged recently when Austria demanded concessions related to the restitution of property of the German minority that was expelled from Slovenia after WWII.

Members of the Slovene nationalist, pensioner and reformed communist parties argued that the Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle, by conceding to Italian and now Austrian demands, had "destroyed the Slovenian state" and demanded his removal from office. A small coalition of Euroskeptics made up of former members of the first ruling party in Slovenia, Demos, warned that Slovene sovereignty was being transferred "from Belgrade to Brussels." Other self-described Euroskeptics expressed larger fears among many Slovenes that the free movement of capital mandated by EU membership makes Slovenia vulnerable to being sold to its larger and richer neighbors leaving Slovene a "banana republic." Or, as another critic put it, if Austrian and Italian minorities fail to obtain land by filing restitution claims, it is only a matter of years before they can simply buy it.

Resistance to foreign ownership of land could be attributed to xenophobic articulations of Euroskepticism. The insular defense of Slovenia's sovereignty might also lend credence to former Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman's description of Slovene nationalism as "Garbo nationalism." But it also reflects a real fear of economic dependency among Slovenes. One of the most prominent and well-respected Euroskeptics in Slovenia, former Finance Minister and chancellor of the University of Ljubljana, Joze Mencinger, publicly argues that Slovenes should continue to resist allowing foreign investment in Slovenia in order to prevent cheap sell-offs of Slovene property and avoid turbulence in its financial markets. Such sentiments are reflected in public opinion. The question of whether Slovenia can develop successfully even if it does not join the EU was answered positively by 48 percent of those questioned in a recent public opinion poll.


Opposition to the European Union in both Croatia and Slovenia has mainly been expressed in politically regressive ways. Arguments against cooperation with the ICTY in Croatia, selling land to foreigners in Slovenia, or resistance to Balkan associations in both countries all share two things in common:

  • a desire to protect the integrity of the territorially-defined sovereign state; and


  • a concern with preserving national interests and, concomitantly, an essential national identity.

Vojislav Kostunica's anti-Western proclamations - most notably his argument that the ICTY has no legal jurisdiction over Yugoslav internal affairs - are based on these same premises. It is no wonder that some nationalists in Croatia look to Kostunica with envy for, unlike the accommodations made by Racan and Mesic, he not only thwarts the ICTY but also does not shy away from his nationalist principles.

Such defenses of sovereignty, particularly the most strident variety, may seem anachronistic in an era of globalization and "humanitarian intervention." As the Croatian social critic Boris Buden points out, for all his legalistic defense of sovereignty, Kostunica should be the first to recognize that sovereignty has all but lost its political force in the world. Nevertheless, these examples suggest that the erosion of sovereignty as a principle of world or regional politics does not entail a parallel erosion of the sovereign nation state as a powerful source of collective identity.

Nicole Lindstrom spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on December 13, 2000. The above is a summary of her remarks. Meeting Report #221.