AIM: start



SAT, 05 JAN 2002 00:56:01 GMT

Slovenia & NATO

NATO Go Home!

The number of Slovenians in favor of joining NATO has dropped to under 50 percent for the fourth time this year. This sounded the alarm for government officials and marked the beginning of a fierce media campaign against critics of NATO membership.

AIM Ljubljana, December 22, 2001

With less than a year to go before NATO officials meet at a summit in Prague to vote on accepting new member countries, a fierce government campaign was launched in Slovenia aimed at convincing the domestic and foreign public that Ljubljana should join NATO as soon as possible. A decision to act in this direction by Slovenia's cabinet and parliament was made several years ago, and now in addition to Slovenia, Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia are also lined up in front of NATO's doors. In order to keep pace with its competitors, the Slovenian Parliament recently granted additional funding to the Defense Ministry, allegedly for the purpose of modernization. Thus, by the end of the decade the military budget will grow to 1.87-2.3 percent of GDP. Slovenia is hoping that it chances for admittance will be augmented by the fact that it was one of the founders of the Vilnius Group, an association formed by the candidates for NATO membership.

Much less but not at all insignificant money has been invested in preparing the domestic public for the move. Officials are using all available means, mostly the Internet. Thus, for example, on the day when the NATO secretary general was supposed to visit Slovenia, a special Web site called Slovenia & NATO was created (http://nato.gov.si), and the cabinet earmarked a rather large sum for "informing the public." In addition to this site, which is worth DM20,000, the government information department will have another DM11.5 million to advise the people on "how Slovenia is being included in NATO." This investment is particularly interesting as it is part of the Membership Action Plan, which is considered top secret. Despite this, however, Slovenian Defense Minister Anton Grizold informed NATO Secretary General George Robertson that the public is "carefully, constantly and transparently" being informed of Slovenia's getting closer to this organization.

"We are participating in round table discussions, are more active in the local media, and pay special attention to informing the public properly." The flaw of this information campaign is not only that key papers concerning it are designated as top secret, but also because anybody who dares to publicly criticize NATO, even in the mildest terms, is exposed to a great deal of pressure. A polemic in the latest weekend edition of the Delo newspaper opened a season on opponents of the official views regarding joining NATO: supporters of the government plan came down on their adversaries fiercely, describing them as communists, liars, ignorant and suspicious people, because of "their family ties with Serbia," this immediately disqualifying them from discussing "a topic of such importance to the state." Minister Dimitrij Rupel (in charge of foreign affairs to the extent allowed by Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek) and Anton Bebler, chairman of the Atlantic Council in Slovenia, are at the forefront. The latter has a long history of being in the right place at the right time, and was during the socialist era one of the key promoters of the former Yugoslavia's system of national and social self-defense, and recently, promoting the healing effects of depleted uranium dropped on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the NATO intervention.

The bellicose and racist vocabulary of advocates of Slovenia's NATO membership has taken by surprise only that part of the liberal public that believed that such verbal attacks should be expected from rightists and clerics. "Once they were all for socialism and Yugoslavia, and today for Euro-Atlantic integration," author Peter Kovacic Persin summed it up in an essay in the Delo paper. Persin added that the current euphoria in promoting Slovenia's membership recalls the rhetoric of the past when socialism, self-management and the non-aligned movement were considered projects of the future, which could only be doubted by class enemies." These ever more nervous attacks by the promoters of Slovenia's NATO membership are very hard to understand because the government project is currently being criticized only by a handful of people and a group of university students from the Neutro organization. This also resembles a campaign by the former Yugoslav People's Army against its critics, when lists of "enemies" were drawn up and used for intimidation. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Ljubljana-based Mladina paper published the NATO secretary general's photograph at its front page with the slogan "NATO go home!" stamped on it. The paper once again, like ten years ago, found itself a target of the military, the only difference being that its fierce assailants are now NATO's followers.

Public opinion polls have revealed the reasons for this growing nervousness -- there are now more opponents of NATO membership than those supporting it. The drop in support has been particularly noticed over the past three months, when the number went below the 50-percent mark. According to a Polibarometar survey, commissioned by the Drnovsek cabinet and taken by the Center for Public Research and Mass Communications with the Ljubljana-based Faculty of Social Studies, at the beginning of the survey, in January 1997, 61.3 percent were for NATO membership and only 20.5 percent were against. In the following years the ratio continued to change to the detriment of NATO membership backers. The survey showed that the major drops (called "oscillations" by the defense ministry) occurred at times of crisis, such as in May 1999, when the intervention in Yugoslavia was in progress, or at the beginning of the year, when debates on the damaging effects of depleted uranium began. Until 2000, the number of supporters varied between 50.9 and 58.7 percent, but in 2001, the red light lit up. In January, April and September, the number of supporters dropped for the first time below 50 percent, and the last three months have shown that "oscillations" have become a trend. Thus in September 2001, supporters numbered 49.7 percent and in October their number went slightly up to 50.1 percent. Then, despite a fierce media campaign and the fact that 66.5 percent of respondents were convinced that Slovenia will become a NATO member, support for this move dropped to an all-time low: only 48.4 percent said they agreed with efforts aimed at joining NATO.

This is even more interesting when compared to surveys on how the population regards efforts aimed at joining the European Union. Almost two-thirds support such efforts -- 70 percent would vote in favor of it in a referendum. This is why the researchers in charge of determining the mood when it comes to NATO membership have concluded that "support for government efforts in that regard is slightly lower" and that the number of those who are against Slovenia's gaining NATO membership "has grown again." In September and October they accounted for 30 percent of the population, and in November for 34.6 percent, with the number of undecided going up. The analysis shows the political affiliation and other characteristics of respondents: the opponents of NATO membership are close to the Joint List of Social Democrats and Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, they have higher education, are 30-45 years old (or above 61), and live in towns. The supporters are closer to the parties of the right, have less education and mostly live outside towns.

Igor Mekina

(AIM)