Entanglement Over Lunch at Palazzo Chigi

When in Rome, I always like to go for a meal, most preferably in the restaurant Tempio di Iside, where they always find completely new and exciting flavors to taste. And so, I remember and can describe the visits of various places, through unusual and unique searches of the distinctness of eliciting the mystery of food. I am connected to these same places, where I stayed mostly due to my work, also by the memories of interesting conversations, which were often accompanied by various issues regarding the development of independent Slovenia.

In the Italian capital, this was first of all the residence of the Italian minister of the interior and the chiefs of their police force, where one would not only eat well but could talk about confidential details in a relatively relaxed manner as well. Another such place was the Palazzo Chigi, the Italian governmental palace. In mid-June 1996, there was a very special meeting between the Italian and Slovenian Prime Ministers, Romano Prodi and Janez Drnovšek. The entanglement, a controversy, in fact, that Prodi was drawn into by his government adviser during the formal meeting and later, is now, almost 23 years since, relevant again. It was restored this Sunday by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, in a unique way for which he began apologizing a day later. On the Italian National Memorial Day of the Exiles and Foibe, Tajani concluded his speech with the exclamations “long live the Italian Istria, long live the Italian Dalmatia and long live the exiles” (Italian: esuli). The celebration of this day in the neighboring country, celebrated for the past eleven years, was one of the consequences for the adviser’s excitement back then. A kind of political compensation for his rage. And also, due to the appearance of the Italian Foreign Minister Susanna Agnelli before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament at the end of February 1995, a year before the meeting between Prodi and Drnovšek.

Agnelli presented the government’s position on the role, application and request of the Republic of Slovenia for full membership in the EU. She said that it is important for Italy that Slovenia becomes a member of the EU, as Italy will thus avoid obstacles at the eastern borders, which make it difficult for the penetration of Italian goods and raw materials into the markets of Eastern and Central Europe. However, and this was her key additional sentence, “although we have to focus on the future, the wounds that history has inflicted are not erased. Therefore, it is necessary to find a balanced agreement with Slovenia in which the expectations of the exiles will be appropriately recognized”. This was a progress made in the Italian position, in the previously reluctant or even rejecting opinion of the Slovenian request for EU membership. The great credit for this progress goes to then Slovenian Ambassador to Rome, Marko Kosin. In July 1994, nearly a year before the aforementioned speech of Agnelli, Drnovšek met for the first time with Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis. They were very direct. They said that it is necessary to return the properties of the optants and start a new discussion on the evaluation and the meaning of the Treaty of Osimo, before returning to the eventual discussion on Slovenia’s full membership in the EU. They added that the borders between Slovenia and Italy are not controversial, however that the Treaty of Osimo encloses contents that should be rethought. The fourth article of the Osimo Treaty referred to the fair compensation for the seized or abandoned properties of the Italian exiles from Istria and Dalmatia. With the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1983, the issue of fair compensation was operationalized. It was determined that the fair amount for the seized or confiscated possessions is US $ 110 million. It was also agreed that the entire amount should be paid in ten installments with the start of payments in January 1990. Slovenia accepted all obligations. This is right where the plot twisted. Berlusconi’s government estimated that it was possible, after the proclamation of Slovenia’s independence, to find a better and politically more favorable solution for Italy. Changing the Treaty of Osimo as well as the Treaty of Rome in such a way that Slovenia should return the properties in kind and not in compensation.

Right before Prodi formed the new Italian government, he visited some European capitals and also Washington. He had a conversation with President Bill Clinton. The American message was unequivocal. Italy and Prodi’s government should end the dispute with Slovenia. Drnovšek’s long-term and systematic strategy to put Slovenia on the European map had gotten a confirmation. The so-called Spanish Compromise stipulated that Slovenia would open its real estate market for those EU citizens who had previously lived on its territory. All this within four years after the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU. This had to become acceptable for Italy as well. Prodi wanted to solve the problem and obtain the necessary Italian vote to confirm the EU-Slovenia Association Agreement.

Now we can return to the meeting between Prodi and Drnovšek in June 1996 at the Palazzo Chigi. The conversation was well prepared. Kosin was replaced by Ambassador Peter Bekeš, his Deputy was Vojko Volk. Everything went as expected, somehow, until Prodi asked about the Slovenian compensation payments, in accordance with the Treaty of Rome. In his usual manner Drnovšek, while scribbling something down, said that Slovenia is paying its share of the debt, US $ 53 million, to the Dresdner bank’s fiduciary account in Luxembourg on a regular basis and that the last installment would be paid in January 2002. Prodi estimated that it is a fair amount and that the Republic of Italy would take the money and use it as compensation for the exiles. Then it happened. One of the participants in the conversation was former Secretary of State in Berlusconi’s government Roberto Menia. He got up from the table, came to Prodi and began to yell, stomping and banging on about a high treason against the state and that in his blindness the Prime Minister does not understand the necessity of demanding the immediate return in kind of all deprived land, instead taking compensation in Judas pennies on the fiduciary account of the bank. Prodi was embarrassed and visibly uncomfortable. He was afraid of political aggression because he knew what it could bring. Drnovšek observed showing all signs that something went wrong. He rubbed his mustache with his right index finger. Yet in the end, he said that Slovenia would fulfill all its obligations and change the article in the Constitution to fulfill the Spanish compromise.

Today, as the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani speaks of the Italian Istria and Italian Dalmatia, he is precisely aware that he is returning to the issues that have already been solved. His performance could not have been coincidental and it is unlikely that it was just a matter of gathering votes before the new European elections.

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