Slovenia's forgotten minorities


Slovenia's president has launched a blistering attack on what he calls "elements of intolerance" in his country. He was speaking after parliament approved a referendum, which seeks to overturn a Constitutional Court decision to restore permanent residency status and other rights to minority groups living in Slovenia. It concerns around 20,000 people, mostly Croats, Bosnians and Serbs who were living in Slovenia before it won independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. They were originally stripped of their permanent residency because they did not apply for Slovene citizenship by 1992.

In April 2003 the Constitutional Court ordered that the status of citizens of the former Yugoslavia who were erased from the population registry in February 1992, must be reinstated from that date onward. Although the decision refers to the fulfilment of basic human rights the issue caused a rift on the political scene. Miran Potrc, head of the United List of Social democrats wants a quick implementation of the Constitutional Court's decision:

"Our party wants Slovenia to respect the rule of law, we want a Slovenia that follows human rights and the clear and concrete decisions of the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court has stated repeatedly - the last time in April --which the erased have been deprived of their rights. We want the decision of the Constitutional Court to be implemented. I believe that a referendum in this case would be extremely useless and harmful. No legal proceedings will be solved, and everything will result in misunderstandings and a lot of interpersonal disputes and political discord. This, of course is not useful. If we want to continue respecting the rule of law in a country where people living together have understanding and care for each other, we have to solve this problem sooner or later. Delaying the problem and trying to find a solution by carrying out a referendum is not useful."

Slovenia's opposition parties however claim that the people in question were not erased in the first place and Zmago Jelincic head of the Slovene Nationalist party viewpoint on this topic differs completely from the intensions of the Slovene government.

"They were not erased from any register, but were simply not filed in the citizens register because they did not want to. The Slovene National Party is concerned about the estimated financial consequences of this decision as we are certain that restitution claims of the erased could be as high as 1 billion euros or possibly even up to 4 billions. We are convinced that all expenses will be transferred to the taxpayer's shoulders. With this ruling the constitutional court has annulled the act of independence and activities connected to it and also disgraced all independence fighters and equalled them to those who were acting against Slovenia's independence."

And it looks like there will be a referendum on the erased. But the question is, is it really useful to let voters decide on issues such as the erased or other minorities. And is there a point in carrying out the referendum, if the outcome has no effect on the Constitutional Court's decision.