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Border dispute divides tavern

By Dan Bilefsky

New York Times News Service

OBREZJE, Slovenia — Customers at Kalin, a rustic, 180-year-old tavern, can eat roast pork dinners here in Slovenia, step a few yards across the room to Croatia to use the bathroom, saunter back to Slovenia to pay the bill and end their meal on Croatian soil over a game of billiards and a shot of local pear brandy.

They can do so because of the vagaries of history and an accident of geography. To prevent any confusion, Sasha Kalin, the tavern’s 36-year-old owner, has painted a yellow line to delineate, next to the pool table, the border between Slovenia and Croatia.

Customers who step outside and accidentally walk through a row of plants in concrete pots demarcating the border are stopped by armed Croatian border guards.

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"This is the Balkans, so every little piece of land counts," said Kalin, whose father is a Slovene and whose mother is a Croat, and who woke up one day in May 2004 to find that the Slovenian half of his restaurant was in the European Union and the Croatian half was not.

Where Slovenia ends and Croatia begins might appear to be an arcane regional concern. But it has suddenly taken on geopolitical significance, with a border dispute dating to the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s now threatening to stall the eastward push of the European Union and NATO.

At issue are rival claims to an area in the Bay of Piran that includes about 8 square miles of the Adriatic Sea. Croatia wants the border drawn down the middle of the bay, but Slovenia objects, saying that a simple division of the bay would impede its ships from direct passage to the high seas.

Slovenia was the first former Yugoslav nation to join the European Union, which Croatia is eager to join as well, but Slovenia moved in December to stall Croatia’s bid.

The disagreement also threatens to derail an element of NATO’s 60th-anniversary celebrations next month in Strasbourg, France, when Croatia and Albania are expected to be admitted to the alliance.

Today, some Croats still dine at Kalin, but Kalin lamented that freshly resurgent nationalism was keeping many people away.

On a recent afternoon, two border guards from Slovenia sat outside the restaurant. They could smell the roast pork inside but dared not enter.

"We never go to eat there," said one, declining to give his name. "If we did, we might accidentally step onto Croatian territory and cause an international incident."

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