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Creation of own army important piece in independence puzzle

Ljubljana, 12 May - The carefully planned and at times covert creation of a Slovenian army in 1990 and early 1991 is considered one of the cornerstones of Slovenia's independence efforts. An own army would prove vital when Yugoslav forces attempted to forcefully stop Slovenia from enforcing its independence.

Kočevska Reka
A ceremony under the sponsorship of the Slovenian president in 2015 marking the day 25 years ago on which the first Slovenian army unit was lined up in front of the prime minister.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Kočevska Reka
A ceremony under the sponsorship of the Slovenian president in 2015 marking the day 25 years ago on which the first Slovenian army unit was lined up in front of the prime minister.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Kočevska Reka
A ceremony under the sponsorship of the Slovenian president marking the day on which the first Slovenian army unit was lined up in front of the prime minister.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Efforts to establish an armed force began in 1990 when Slovenian politicians realised that Yugoslav authorities would likely not allow a peaceful dissolution of the country. They would be right, as Slovenia's declaration of independence in June 1991 prompted Yugoslavia to deploy troops, sparking a ten-day war.

After winning the first multi-party elections in April 1990, Slovenia's pro-independence parties began implementing a roadmap to independence on which they had campaigned. It was based on putting in place sovereign institutions, including a security apparatus.

Like all republics in the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia had a national guard of sorts, the Territorial Defence, which operated separate of the large and politically-influential Yugoslav People's Army (JLA) while remaining under its command.

As part of independence efforts, the Slovenian government set about transforming the Territorial Defence into a national army that would answer to the Slovenian political establishment.

In the first step to achieving this goal, Slovenia wanted to stop sending its men to serve their compulsory army service in the JLA or at least to ensure that they served their army duty in Slovenia. It was the norm for conscripts to be deployed outside their home state.

But it quickly became clear that Yugoslav authorities would not grant Slovenia's wish, stalling on the Slovenian requests and then responding with measures to block Slovenia transforming the Territorial Defence into a national armed force.

In the summer of 1990, the Yugoslav authorities issued an order for the Territorial Defence in Slovenia to turn over its weapons to the JLA. It became clear that Slovenia's plans for an army were in serious jeopardy.

This prompted a covert plan by several ministers and army officers to create a separate force to safeguard independence efforts. Under the watch of the ministers for interior affairs and defence in the new DEMOS coalition government, Igor Bavčar and Janez Janša, a decision was taken in May 1990 to establish the Tactical Line.

Formed by breakaway members of the Territorial Defence and police, the Tactical Line was sworn in in August 1990. The well-equipped paramilitary unit was headed by army officer Tone Krkovič, who came up with the idea for a clandestine force to protect independence efforts.

While it is widely agreed that the plan was in many ways a conspiracy, since all the relevant authorities were not informed of it, Slovenian politicians agree today that the force was a vital stage in the independence efforts.

Once set up, measures were taken to amend legislation in order to give the new force legal cover. The process was wrapped up in September 1990, when the Parliamentary Assembly amended the Constitution to give Slovenia full command over its security forces.

The Territorial Defence was brought under Slovenian command and the Tactical Line folded into it in October 1990 to establish a functioning fighting force. Janez Slapar was named the first commander of the predecessor to the modern-day Slovenian Armed Forces, which were officially formed in 1994, and Krkovič was made the commander of a special operations unit Moris.

In the same amendment, Slovenia assumed control of the deployment of conscripts. This raised tensions with Yugoslav authorities, who in November 1990 issued a decree that federal authorities would take control of tasks devolved to the states which were not being performed as mandated by Yugoslav law.

Unfazed by the posturing, Slovenia expanded the constitutional amendment on 7 March 1991 to issue a full moratorium on conscription service by its citizens outside of its borders. The move led to a gradual reduction in the number of Slovenians serving in the Yugoslav army in the coming months.

The first conscripts to be deployed to the Slovenian Territorial Defence began training on 15 May 1991, the day which has since been declared Slovenian Army Day. After completing their training at military centres in Maribor and Ljubljana a total of 300 troops were sworn in on 2 June.

This further angered the Yugoslav authorities, who were by now bent on putting a stop to Slovenian efforts for independence. A split of sorts was also beginning to appear in Slovenian political circles, as some politicians began to argue that pushing ahead with efforts to build an own army would stoke the JLA into action.

Tensions between the emerging Slovenian army and the JLA reached boiling point on 23 May 1991 when two JLA soldiers were caught trying to infiltrate the base in Pekre, Maribor. After being held for questioning, the pair was released, only to call in JLA units to surround the training centre.

The ensuing stand-off would end after several hours, but the events had a major rallying effect in Slovenia, prompting locals in Slovenia's second-largest city to gather for protests against the presence of Yugoslav army the next day.

At the rally, several protesters attempted to stop a JLA armoured vehicle from passing. Refusing to stop, the vehicle ran over a local man, Jožef Šimčnik, who died at the scene, becoming the first casualty of the independence efforts.

Slapar says that the events at Pekre confirmed the belief in Slovenia that there could be no peaceful breakaway from Yugoslavia.

"The Pekre events were an incentive to step up preparations for independence and a possible armed conflict with the JLA. It showed that Belgrade and the JLA would not let Slovenia leave Yugoslavia peacefully."

Only a month would pass until the ten-day Independence War broke out. The Yugoslav federal government responded to Slovenia's declaration of independence on 25 June by ordering the JLA and the federal police to "protect" federal regulations at border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia.

This set the groundwork for the attack on Slovenia that began in the night of 26 June. In the ensuing hostilities, 18 Slovenian fighters were killed and 182 were wounded. The Yugoslav army counted 44 dead and 146 wounded.

With international pressure growing to halt the attack, a ceasefire was signed by the sides on 2 July. On 7 July the two sides adopted a declaration on the Brijuni islands in Croatia ending all fighting and mandating a three-month moratorium on independence activities.

Once the moratorium expired, in October 1991, Slovenia pressed ahead with efforts to implement full sovereignty. On 25 October, the last Yugoslav soldiers left Slovenia on a ship that sailed out of the port of Koper.

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© STA, 2016