Ljubljana – The first countries recognised newly-independent Slovenia soon after it left Yugoslavia in June 1991, but most of them were brand new independent states themselves. A major wave followed in December and in January 1992, when Slovenia was also recognised by Germany, the Vatican and the EU’s predecessor – the European Community.
Russia’s recognition came in February, followed in April by the US and China’s. Slovenia then joined the UN on 22 May 1992, a week after joining the Council of Europe.
“It seized a lucky moment,” historian Božo Repe has commented on Slovenia’s international recognition 30 years ago for the STA.
Recognition should be credited to successful efforts by Slovenian diplomats as well as to a unique geopolitical situation in the world and the European Community.
Slovenians living abroad also played an important role in swaying the official stances of the countries where they lived, from the US to Germany and France, Repe says.
It was not unimportant the bi-polar world order ended with communism collapsing, which brought an end to Yugoslavia’s non-alignment, while Germany was reunited and the EU was emerging.
In a broader context, the first Gulf War as the US’s foremost international priority was also important. Because of it, the US wanted to put side “worrying” about Yugoslavia, shifting it onto the emerging EU, Repe says.
He points to the role of the 7 July 1991 Brijuni Declaration as “the first international document which recognised Slovenia as an international subject”.
With it, Slovenia passed the maturity test to enter the international arena and at the same time put behind the war, which soon engulfed Croatia and later Bosnia.
The declaration obliged Slovenia to “freeze independence” for three months, and also set down conditions of the ceasefire.
It was negotiated under the European Community auspices on Croatia’s Brijuni Islands between Yugoslavia and two newly-independent states, Slovenia and Croatia.
“The Slovenian delegation was under great stress and faced with great dilemmas at the talks,” Repe says.
The deal almost fell through because the then defence minister, Janez Janša, refused to meet one of the key demands – release the captured Yugoslav army officers, but upon the Slovenian presidency’s orders, he eventually agreed, explains Repe.
“Keeping its word in relation to prisoners of war and the ceasefire was for Slovenia the most important test of maturity.”
He says it was Germany that led the way in “a fierce diplomatic battle to recognise Slovenia and Croatia” because it wanted to show its political power to match its economic power in an EU that was emerging as part of Maastricht integration.
Petra Roter, a professor of international relations, says that while every international recognition counts, there are some differences in terms of political weight.
“In this sense it is particularly important for a country to be recognised by countries which are seen as symbolically, politically or economically, culturally and historically important.”
In the three months after declaring independence at the end of June, Slovenia was recognised only by Croatia, Lithuania, Georgia, Latvia and Estonia.
“But there is also a group of countries whose recognition is particularly important for every country,” she says, pointing to permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain, which have veto rights in deciding which new countries to admit to the UN.
Slovenia’s first Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel pondered on the country’s international recognition in the publication Slovenian Independence 1991.
He writes that the Slovenian Foreign Ministry had to be reorganised to secure recognition, and all Slovenians working for Yugoslavia’s diplomatic service were invited to work for Slovenia, which they all accepted.
He says that in that key period, Slovenia’s diplomatic service made efforts to have good relations with three groups of countries – neighbours; the countries which had a similar fate as Slovenia; and with those which had a decisive role in the global political arena.
He says all those involved in the process of independence were guided by self-confidence and a goal this historical opportunity must be seized for Slovenians to have own state.