Closure of duty-free shops postponed—again
The long-awaited end of duty-free shops on the borders with Italy and Austria was planned for 1 June, but a ruling by the Constitutional Court has delayed it once again. On 28 May, just three days before the shops' duty-free licenses were to be revoked, the Court ruled that the procedure by which the law mandating the closure of the shops must be reviewed to establish its constitutionality. The shops' closure will be put on hold until the end of the review.
The initiative was filed by the non-parliamentary Nova Party. It was the latest in a string of appeals to the Court to halt the closure of the shops lodged by private citizens and non-governmental organizations.
At the request of the European Union, Slovenia initially agreed to close the shops in 1998, but due to tremendous domestic pressure the plan was never implemented. The EU consistently cites this as the major problem with Slovenia's membership bid and will certainly not take the news that the closure has once again been postponed lightly.
SFRJ succession agreement reached
After ten years of negotiations, a preliminary agreement on issues related to the succession of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) was reached last weekend in Vienna. Representatives of the five successor states initialed the agreement, which deals with an array of issues from finances to the division of archives, on Saturday.
According to the agreed-upon methodology formulated by the IMF, Slovenia will receive 16 per cent of the assets of the former joint state. It will also receive 14 per cent of the SFRJ's embassies around the world, including the one in Washington DC.
The parliaments of each of the five states (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Macedonia) must ratify the agreement before it becomes binding.
Significantly for Slovenia, the draft agreement does not tackle issues related to private bank accounts. It was decided that these issues will be arbitrated by an international financial institution, most likely the Basel Bank for International Settlements. Such issues remain a hot topic for Slovenia, especially with Croatia and Bosnia.
US-Russia Summit update
Preparations for the 16 June summit are in full swing. Hotel rooms have quickly become a hot commodity in the capital, with virtually all hotels reporting that they are booked to capacity. Several have even had to cancel preexisting reservations to accommodate the Presidents' entourages.
The fact that most hotels are reporting that most journalists have reserved rooms for ten days bodes well for press coverage that could raise the country's international profile. The extended stays should allow members of the press to venture out of the capital and acquaint themselves and their readers with the country.
The fact that Ljubljana's tourist information center is preparing a full array of promotional materials in both English and Russian should help insure strong coverage of the country itself in the international press.
Though they admit plans are not yet finalized, the police force is keeping its security plans under wraps until after the summit, when it will present the arrangements to the public. Dnevnik is optimistic, however, running a headline on Saturday that read "The hotels will be so full that there will be no room for any terrorists."
Terrorism is impossible to predict, but protests are easy. It is already clear that the summit will attract a share of protesters, both domestic and imported, to rival the best of the recent anti-globalization protests.
Aside from those who will come from abroad, Mladina reports that an informal protest group called Globala has been formed locally to organize protests throughout the month leading up to major demonstrations on 16 June during the summit, and on 17 June during the referendum on artificial insemination for single women. Globali hopes to use the summit to draw attention to various issues, including the treatment of foreigners and refugees in Slovenia, police repression of marginalized groups as well as the damaging side effects of Capitalism.
New national symbols?
Inspired by the list of constitutional amendments the EU is requiring, a Liberal Democrat MP submitted a proposal this week to parliament to remove mention of the specifics of the country's national symbols from the constitution. The move would enable changes to be made to the flag and other official symbols in the future.
This is the culmination of a decade-long debate about whether the national symbols contribute to Slovenia's low international profile. While many would like to see the symbols changed, others believe that changing the symbols now after promoting them for a decade could actually lower the country's recognition even further.
It does not appear that the proposal will be able to garner sufficient support to pass. Parliament will decide on the proposal in the coming weeks, though no date has been set.
And in other news...
- Last Saturday's New York Times reported that Russia plans to open one of the world's largest dumping ground for nuclear waste near the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk. Slovenia was listed among fifteen countries identified as potential clients, and indeed the issue of disposing of the Krško nuclear plant's waste products has been simmering for years. Other potential clients in the region include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The United States is opposing the plan, which could generate as much as USD 21 billion for Russia in the next twenty years.
- For the first time, Amnesty International has put Slovenia on its list of countries which committed human rights violations in the past year. It joins 149 others, virtually 80 per cent of the world's countries. Amnesty International included Slovenia primarily due to a rise in police brutality recorded in 2000.
- There is a major problem Slovenia must tackle before it can be fully integrated into the European Union: the severe lack of translators and interpreters. A participant at a conference this week in Graz stated that only twenty people have passed the European Union's Slovene translation exam so far, while 40 interpreters are needed for European Parliament sessions alone. As many as 200 qualified translators also must be found. While the country's university system is making slow but steady progress on this front, it seems to be time to develop a national strategy.
- The Council of Europe approved a report this week on local and regional democracy in Slovenia this week which points out several of the gaping holes in the country's regional policy. Based on the period December 2000 to March 2001, the report criticizes the lack of fiscal independence of the country's municipalities, and calls for increased cooperation between the Ministries of Finance and Internal Affairs on issues of municipal financing. Now that Slovenia is preparing a regional structure, the report also points out that it is crucial that the future regions have sufficient and clearly defined sources of funding. The other major point the report makes is that the standard of 5000 inhabitants per legal municipality must be enforced in order to prevent uncontrolled fragmentation.
Brian J Požun, 26 May 2001
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