Serbs vote Sunday in polls in which Kosovo independence is a central issue. Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia.
This tiny verdant patch of Europe has been a star pupil among new European Union states. Now, after three years of diligent study, Slovenia took over the EU presidency on Jan. 1, the first central European state entrusted with such a job.
And, unexpectedly, the Alpine nation of 2 million is on the hot seat. In an irony of history, Slovenia, the first republic to break with Yugoslavia, is in charge as Kosovo tries to be the last entity to gain independence. That move may be imminent.
Kosovo is Europe's No. 1 security issue – especially as Serbs vote Sunday in polls pitting the pro-Europe incumbent president, Boris Tadic, against a hard-line nationalist, Tomislav Nikolic, who has made keeping the ancient Serb heartland of Kosovo, a crossroads of cultures and power tangles, his main platform.
"Since this seems to be an election about the European future of Serbia, the election does matter," says Slovene Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel. "I really hope Serbia step ups and intensifies its drive toward the EU, whatever happens in the elections."
For Slovenia, escaping the rotating presidency of the former Yugoslavia and earning the EU presidency has proven a long trip in a short time. It is also sensitive and tricky, analysts say.
"Kosovo will be the defining issue of Slovenia's presidency," says a Western diplomat here. Slovenia is attempting to manage the demands of 27 states, while not angering Serbia, Kosovo, or other Balkan neighbors.