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Next Step : Year Later, Slovenia Is Above Fray : New nation is glad it bolted from Yugoslavia. Now, it's linking up with Western Europe.


LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — True to the national boosterism that claims Slovenia as "The Sunny bright Side of the Alps," Jasmina Velkovar shrugs off her joblessness and chooses to look on the bright side.

"Maybe I don't make as much money as I used to, but all I have to do to feel better is look at what is happening in the south," says the engineer who now peddles jeweled T-shirts from a sidewalk kiosk. "We were fortunate. Our war wasn't so long or so destructive, and now we are free."

Like most of the 2 million residents of Slovenia, Velkovar is counting her blessings and looking ahead. The republic that declared independence a year ago and suffered the first angry blow of the Yugoslav army may be mired in economic troubles, but it is all the more determined to tough out the hardships of breaking away.

The Balkan war that began here with a federal army invasion on June 27, 1991, is now raging in Bosnia-Herzegovina and poised to engulf nearly all of former Yugoslavia's south.

Its passage through the serene landscape of tiny Slovenia was brief, and some now see the attack as having galvanized public support for abandoning Yugoslavia.

"People were skeptical about the need for independence until the army that they had supported turned against them," recalls Miha Roth, a young government clerk. "As events unfolded, they realized they had done the right thing."

Seventy deaths and $2 billion in property damage were the costs of the short-lived and half-hearted federal attack on the republic that was the most prosperous in Yugoslavia. The invaders suffered the brunt of the casualties and limped off the battlefields after less than two weeks.

Slovenia's relatively easy exit from troubled Yugoslavia is unlikely to be repeated by the other republics, which still face opposition to their independence from Serbian minorities within their borders and from the Republic of Serbia itself. Only a few thousand ethnic Serbs live within Slovenia, depriving Belgrade of a cause for protracted resistance to its secession.

Free of the other republics that were an economic drag on bustling Slovenia and relatively confident that no further Belgrade aggression lies ahead, Ljubljana officials are turning their attention toward Western Europe.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrej Rupel has dispatched his young, polyglot emissaries to Brussels, London and Washington with orders to put Slovenia on the international map.

Though too small to be of much interest to foreign investors for its domestic market, Slovenia is pushing itself as the best bargain in Eastern Europe for joint production of export goods. Wages are low, productivity is high, and Slovenes share more of the work ethic espoused in industrious Austria than the more lackadaisical pace of some of their southern neighbors.

Slovenia's decision to secede after Serbia refused to allow Yugoslavia to be restructured into a looser alliance inflicted the first tear in the federal fabric that has come thoroughly unraveled over the past year.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, fearful of remaining in the Serb-dominated rump Yugoslav state, has been shattered by a Serbian offensive since following Slovenia's lead in voting to secede. Macedonia left the alliance without bloodshed, but remains unrecognized because of a dispute with Greece over its right to the name also claimed by a Greek province.

Both Slovenia and Croatia, which pulled out of Yugoslavia in tandem, are now internationally recognized and have seats in the United Nations.

The price Croatia has paid for its freedom has been considerably higher than that exacted from Slovenia. At least 10,000 have died in a year of fighting between Croatian national guardsmen and the federal army, which backs Croatia's Serbian minority in opposing secession. Tens of thousands have been wounded, one-third of the republic has been seized by Serbian rebels and expunged of non-Serbs, and vast stretches of Croatia's splendid Adriatic Sea coast are still too unstable for tourism to resume.

A U.N. peacekeeping deployment has scattered 14,000 "blue helmets" throughout the occupied areas of Croatia, curbing new outbreaks of violence but also firming up Serbian control of the territory.

By contrast, Slovenia is now thoroughly free of the Yugoslav turmoil and has overcome what was initially a Western tendency to see its secession as a cause of the conflict rather than a move to escape it.

"I have the clear impression that Western leaders now distinguish Slovenia from the other Yugoslav republics," says Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek, recently returned from a round of international elbow-rubbing at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. "We are out of the crisis, if I may say so."

Western countries, particularly the United States, at first blamed Slovenia for Yugoslavia's breakup. For months after the June 25 declarations of independence, they withheld recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in deference to Belgrade's professed desire to preserve the six-republic federation.

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