Slovenia is often said to be located at the crossroads of Europe, and throughout the centuries, its borders have appeared, disappeared, and shifted, as kings, emperors, and presidents remade the European order. Sometimes, the results of these changes have affected the local population in unexpected ways.
Gostilna Kalin, near the town of Brežice, may look like any other Slovenian countryside inn. Just about the only thing that sets it apart is the Slovenian-Croatian border that runs right across the main dining room.
The unusual location of the border can result in some unique situations: Members of the same party may find themselves seated in two different countries. In fact, waiters have to cross the international border all day long just to perform their jobs. With Croatia’s EU accession, the number of potential problems caused by this situation has decreased, but intriguing legal dilemmas still occasionally pop up: When Slovenia banned smoking in restaurants, Croatia had not yet followed suit, which meant that the restaurant could have allowed smoking in one part of the room but had to ban it in another.
New borders in other parts of Slovenia had more serious consequences. The town of Rateče was assigned to Yugoslavia after World War I, but most of the village’s farmland was given to Italy. For years, local residents had special passes that allowed them to bypass regular border controls. Still, border patrol officers routinely used long rods to poke in hay, just to make sure that the locals were not using their unique status to smuggle counterfeit goods.
When the village of Libeliče was given to Austria after World War I, local residents staged protests and organized acts of civil disobedience in order to express their desire to join Yugoslavia. A few years later, the authorities gave into their demands, and Libeliče is now situated on the Slovenian side of the border. The experience did spell the end of irrational borders, however. After World War II, one proposal would have placed the border between Italy and Yugoslavia on the Soča River, essentially splitting the Soča River Valley – and its numerous communities – in two.
While the plan was ultimately rejected, a sloppily drawn border further south, near the town of Miren, split a local cemetery between Italy and Slovenia. Even some of the bodies were split between the two nations. At the height of the Cold War, the kin of the deceased could only visit the graves a few times a year – often under armed guard.
It wasn’t until the advent of the European Union that some of the unusually drawn borders have ceased being a very real inconvenience and become mere quirks of European history.