Brezovica pri Metliki & Malo Lesce

On May 15, 2012 · 3 Comments

The border between Croatia and Slovenia turns particularly unusual and twisted at several points west of Zagreb. At one point a little bulb of Croatia protrudes into Slovenia like a geographic hernia. It’s not a practical exclave or a pene-exclave, either. A road goes straight down its pencil-thin neck to connect a small town and a few farmhouses within the bulb to the rest of Croatia without requiring residents to negotiate any border controls. I’d love to live in a little geo-oddity like that someday.

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Yet, inexplicably, this isn’t even the weirdest thing about that convoluted border. I mentioned Brezovica pri Metliki in Odds and Ends 3 some months ago. At the time I said, "It’s not worth going into detail when it’s already known." However, slowly, I’ve come to realize that while it may be known in small circles, even those who are aware of it don’t seem to have a lot of details. Otherwise, I wouldn’t receive a steady stream of search engine visitors on that page. All I did was mention Brezovica pri Metliki in passing. Twelve Mile Circle shouldn’t come up on the first page of Google results for that topic as it did this evening. That doesn’t make sense.

I still don’t have a lot of information although I’ve learned more than I knew before. Let’s take a closer look at the neighboring towns of Brezovica pri Metliki and Malo Lešče, both in Slovenia.

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That is one seriously messed-up border. Slovenia bulges into Croatia, but instead of being neat-and-clean like the previous instance, this one twists upon itself in an origami mess. Good luck trying to decipher those boundaries. It’s even more complicated than it appears, however. Google apparently left off one important detail: a place that is either the most tortured chunk of tethered border area ever conceived, or a true exclave.

Slovensko-hrvaška meja pri Metliki
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Observe the squiggle of Croatia running between Brezovica pri Metliki and Malo Lešče that opens into a little triangular splotch. The "Boundary Point" discussion group noticed this patch called Brezovica Zumberacka in 2007 and were still trying to decipher its meaning in 2011. Even maps produced locally in Croatia and Slovenia seem to differ in random ways (it’s not a Croatia versus Slovenia thing; neither seems to care much about this infinitesimal sliver). A slight preponderance of evidence seems to imply that it’s probably a Croatian exclave. A lot of evidence points the other way too. I’m not sure the discussion has arrived at the point of "agree to disagree" as much as it’s become a "we need someone in Brezovica pri Metliki, Brezovica Zumberacka or Malo Lešče to look for markers and confirm it one way or the other."

It does matter, at least for now. Slovenia became a part of the Schengen Area in December 2007. Croatia, conversely, is not within the Schengen Area although that’s expected to happen by 2015. Croatian citizens have been granted a special access arrangement which eases the crossing into Slovenia although it’s still not completely hassle-free:

Many people living near the border cross it several times a day (some work across the border, or own land on the other side of the border), especially on the border with Slovenia, which was unmarked for centuries as Croatia and Slovenia were both part of the Habsburg Empire (1527–1918) and Yugoslavia (1918–1991)… every Croatian citizen is allowed to cross the Schengen border into Hungary, Italy or Slovenia with an ID card and a special border card that is issued by Croatian police at border exit control.

It’s not unlike the border situation between the United States and Canada created in the wake of 9-11. Cohesive communities formed atop porous boundaries now find themselves split by border controls.

I found one Slovenian article that described some of the issues in Brezovica pri Metliki. Translation software wasn’t perfect but the point of the article seemed to be that convoluted borders at this location were rather inconvenient. Residents reported issues with policemen who were assigned to patrol the border but who were not from the area, and therefore couldn’t recognize who was a resident and who was not. Residents also felt like they were under siege with a contingent of police constantly in their midst, requesting identification repeatedly. This was also apparently a significant wine-producing area with individual vintners owning land on both sides of the border, now worried about harvest time when ordinarily they would invite friends and family from outside of the area to help bring in the crop. Additionally, hunters come to the area in search of game and were once a reliable source of tourist revenue. It’s a bit difficult to do that with those wacky boundaries. Border controls were expected to have a tangible economic impact.

This will become an academic exercise once Croatia joins the Schengen Area. It will be an interesting artifact that won’t have much of a meaningful impact anymore. In other words, it will be like the preceding five centuries.

Obviously I would be interested if the knowledgeable 12MC audience can find more information about this situation and can help enlighten the rest of us.

On May 15, 2012 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Brezovica pri Metliki & Malo Lesce”

  1. Stephen Wright says:

    The convolutions of this border match those of several others within the former Soviet bloc, such as the three way border between Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. They share the same origins and has much more to do with the cold war than arcane earlier Empire machinations. Each has the same chalk like substrata to enable the boring of missile silos and supporting subterranean spaces. Significantly missile personnel were drawn from other Bloc countries and no-one from the local community ever permitted to serve there. This particular location was considered too important to trust to any one Bloc country so the crenellations represent a separation of risk. This location was within range of all the Northern Italian ports suspected as to be used by the Americans if WW3 broke out. Similarly the silos along the German/Czech/Polish borders are within range of the English Channel ports. Some of the commercial mapping software is of such quality now that you can actually see underground railways leading to underground termini adjoining the silo complexes. Many of these silos were not disclosed, as required, under the SALT negotiations. Much of this has not touched the public domaine

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