Notes On Slovenian Recognition of Palestine

One has to feel sorry for the Palestinians these days. Not only are they being roundly fucked over (again) with the US now not even pretending to be an honest broker any-more, they’re also being used as a campaign prop in Muddy Hollows. And you can tell by the photo below Abu Mazen is none too pleased about it.

Karl Erjavec and Mahmoud Abbass (source: Slovenian MFA)

Namely, Karl Erjavec, leader of pensioners’ party DeSUS who also doubles as foreign minister announced yesterday that Slovenia is ready to recognise Palestine as a sovereign country even without concerted action on the part of the EU and has indicated the parliament could vote on this in March or April. What Erjavec hasn’t indicated, however, is the fact that Slovenia will hold parliamentary elections in late May or early June.


Slovenian (non)recognition of Palestine has been – on and off at least – an issue almost since the day Slovenia declared independence. There was always an notable amount of public sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people in this part of the world, going back to Yugoslav times. There was an undeniable bromance element to the relationship between Tito and Arafat, much on display during the Palestinian leader’s visit to Slovenia (the part of Yugoslavia) in 1974. Back then Tito Arafat him in his residence by Lake Bled, a privilege extended only to the selected few. As a result, Abu Ammar was among the first foreign dignitaries rushing to the state funeral of the Yugoslavian autocrat in 1980.

In fact, Yugoslavia had broken off diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six-Day War and did not restore them ever again. On the other hand it did recognise the independent state of Palestine in 1988 and established a full set of relations by 1989. But by then the country itself was deep in its terminal stage, succumbing to nationalism on one side and being unable to control democratic forces on the other.

However, when Yugoslav shit started hitting the fan the PLO (understandably but also wrongly as it turned out) chose to back Belgrade over break-away republics. That and the fact that Israel’s help was instrumental in, well, equipping Slovenian fight for independence (both in terms of arms and otherwise) set the stage for a decade and a half on Palestine not really being on the political agenda in Slovenia, even though the plight of the Palestinians never lost importance within the more progressive circles. But, there was always something. Be it NATO, be it Iraq war(s), be it the relationship with Israel, Slovenia never decided to really take the plunge.

That it not to say, however, that nothing has been going on until now. In 2004 then-foreign minister Ivo Vajgl (current MEP for DeSUS and a man sympathetic to the Palestinian cause) attended the funeral of Yasser Arafat in 2004, but shit really took off in 2008 as Slovenia was preparing to to chair the EU Council. The year before, Ljubljana established its official representation in Ramallah and ever since Slovenia treats Palestine as a de facto state, like most of the rest of the world. Apart from diplomatic relations there’s also a fair amount of humanitarian cooperation with Slovenia providing rehabilitation for Palestinian children.

Officially, the reason Slovenia does not recognise Palestine as a sovereign state is “not to prejudice the outcome of the Middle East peace process”, which basically the same line you’ll hear everywhere in the West and is just code for “we don’t want to piss off the Americans”.

Enter Hubert H. Humphrey

So, what’s changed? Nothing, really. While an enormous amount of press was generated over these past few days and Slovenia suddenly finds itself at the centre of attention of Middle East watchers, one should not forget the words of the US Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey that foreign policy is just domestic policy with its hat on. That certainly seems to be the case here.

For four years this government has had little or no policy towards Middle East. Even when the Middle East policies showed up on our doorstep in the form of the 2015 refugee crisis, the predominant response was knee-jerk in nature and short-term in execution. And when the Palestinian question was in fact tabled in the parliament at the beginning of this Parliament, courtesy of The Left, the end result was simply maintaining status quo.

Thus, the unfortunate conclusion is that the current flurry of activity is less connected to The Donald throwing a big fucking monkey-wrench in the already fraught Mid-East peace process (if you can call it that) and much more connected to the upcoming election and Erjavec’s necessity to muster votes wherever he can, Especially since a poll this past Monday put him and his DeSUS just north of 5%, dangerously close to the 4% threshold needed to qualify for seats in parliament.

Now, it could be just a coincidence, but seeing as there are few coincidences with Karl Erjavec, it should be noted that in the previous government of Alenka Bratušek, the man orchestrated the upgrade of Slovenian representation in Ramallah to a full-blown Ofice of the republic of Slovenia only months before parliamentary elections. See the pattern?

To put it another way, if he couldn’t really be bothered with Palestine for the past seven years, Erjavec doesn’t have any real incentive to do things differently now. Other than boosting his poll numbers, that is.

Is this really happening?

It seems at this moment this is, indeed, happening, But, the vote has been scheduled for three months from now and a lot can happen between now and then. Since the US government shutdown ended yesterday, pengovsky assumes the American charge d’affaires has already announced he’ll be popping over for a coffee-and-a-straightening-out session. The Israeli ambassador shouldn’t be far behind.

One way out of this inevitable quagmire has to do with the fact discussed at the beginning, that former Yugoslavia recognised Palestine in 1988. Since upon declaring independence Slovenia assumed continuation of all international agreements, the parliament could – rather than vote on recognition itself – simply acknowledge that Palestine was recognised as independent by Slovenia from the very beginning.

(N.B.: one country recognising another is technically not an international agreement so pengovsky might have been over-imaginative here. Further clarifications are being sought :D)

At any rate, question is whether Slovenia is prepared for the diplomatic fallout of considerable proportions that is sure to follow. I mean, we can’t even handle the One China policy without knocking over a few pieces of, well, china. This happened during a sweatshop bust that (along with other people) flushed out a couple of Taiwanese, causing Beijing to freak out in an incident that still hasn’t been resolved.

Thus, even if the planets seem aligned in favour of Slovenia recognising Palestine in three months it would come as no surprise at all if, in the end, it didn’t actually happen.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.