Saturday, March 21, 2009

A border dispute in Balkans imperils Europe's expansion

By Dan Bilefsky

OBREZJE, Slovenia, or BREGANA, Croatia: Thanks to the vagaries of history and an accident of geography, customers at Kalin, a rustic 180-year-old tavern here, can eat their roast pork dinners in Slovenia, step a few meters away to Croatia to go to the bathroom, saunter back to Slovenia to pay their bill and end their meal on Croatian soil over a game of billiards and a shot of local pear brandy.

Just in case clients are confused, Sasha Kalin, the 36-year-old owner, has painted a fluorescent yellow line across the floor to delineate the very spot — next to a pool table — where the border between Slovenia and Croatia bisects the property. Tipsy customers who step outside and accidentally walk through a row of concrete potted plants demarcating the border are stopped by unsmiling armed Croatian border guards.

...The disagreement also threatens to derail NATO's 60th anniversary celebrations next month in Strasbourg, where Croatia and Albania are expected to be admitted into the alliance. While the Slovene government insists that it supports Croatia's NATO accession, the Party of the Slovenian Nation, a nationalist Slovene group, is racing to gather 40,000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum on Croatia's entry bid. In the event of a no vote, Slovenia's government could be forced to block Croatia's entry.

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