The most content eastern Europeans


In 2002 something happened to the Slovenian president
that victorious athletes representing the country have
often experienced, the Slovakian national anthem was
played in his honour. This faux-pas shows that for many
Europeans Slovenia continues to be terra incognita.
One reason for this is likely to be that the country has
been transformed quite noiselessly from a communist
dictatorship into a modern democracy. There was no
revolution and no ethnic cleansing of the kind experienced
in other places in the Balkans, nor have there
been any economic disasters. In 1989 the old communist
leadership itself assumed a key role in the reform
movement. When, in June 1991, Slovenia become the
first Yugoslavian autonomous republic to declare its
independence, the military confrontation lasted only
ten days, after which the then Yugoslavian President,
Milosevic, let the little country go its own way. As early
as 2004 Slovenia was accepted for membership in the
EU. In 2007 it was the first eastern European country to
introduce the euro, and in 2008 it assumed the EU Council
Presidency, the first post-communist state to do so.


Even in the communist era, Slovenia was Yugoslavia’s
wealthiest republic. Although the country had a population
of only two of a total of 21 million, it accounted
for close to one third of Yugoslavian exports. The
early reform course on which the old elites embarked
gave the country, which is no larger than the German
state of Hesse, an additional development edge over
the other countries of the region. The course adopted
by the government was less radically market-oriented
than Social Democratic in nature, and it included strong
labour union influence and a large measure of government
involvement in the economy. That worked out well
for a long period of time. Since 1995 the country has
reported unemployment rates of six to seven percent,63
and, excepting the three difficult reform years between
1990 and 1993, GDP has risen by an annual rate of three
to five per cent — even reaching six per cent in 2007. At
present Slovenia’s per capita GDP is close to 90 per cent
of the EU-27 average. This means that Slovenia’s economic
performance is far better than that of Portugal,
an old EU country. According to a study released by the
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,
the Slovenian people are more content with their situation
than the citizens of any other eastern European
country in transformation.




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