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Independence result of demands for democratisation, turmoil in Yugoslavia

Ljubljana, 12 May - Slovenia's independence 25 years ago unfolded against the backdrop of broader democratic change across East Europe, as the deep economic and political crisis, coupled with reawakening nationalisms, spelled the end of the former Yugoslavia.

Belgrade, Serbia.
The flag of former Yugoslavia.
Photo: Tanjug/STA

Slovenia was one of the six founding republics that made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a federation kept together by the Communist Party, the army and above all President Josip Broz - Tito.

After Tito's death in 1980, the proverbial brotherhood and unity between the nations began to dissolve and political divisions between them deepen. The leadership crisis was made worse by a severe economic crisis.

The seeds of discord sprung up in the economy and the regional development policy, which compelled the advanced parts of the country to contribute substantial funds to help the underdeveloped parts to advance.

However, the advanced parts, including large parts of Slovenia, understood the policy as exploitation, especially as the differences between the developed and underdeveloped did not get any smaller despite substantial funds pumped into the effort.

Slovenia's population at the time represented 8% of Yugoslavia's, but the republic contributed a quarter of the funds to the federal budget.

Despite constant reforms, the economy was in the doldrums in the 1980s, struggling with hyperinflation, which at one time neared 3,000%. Factories were going bankrupt and unemployment figures were rising.

The situation coincided with demands for democratic change in the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Slovenia and other parts of Yugoslavia too saw a growing number of people, foremost intellectuals, demand greater political rights, respect for human rights, freedom of speech and of the press.

Historian Božo Repe says that at the time Slovenia was quite advanced compared to East European countries when it comes to democratic processes and economic development in particular.

Slovenia had well-developed economic democracy in the form of self-management, while the single-party system, much different from the East European type, had become much relaxed in the 1980s, he says.

A further advantage was that Yugoslavia maintained open borders and was not affiliated with any of the blocs, but was rather a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Slovenia's civil society developed in the first half of the 1980s reaching its zenith by the middle of the decade. France Tomšič founded the first independent trade union on 15 December 1987, a development preceded only by Poland of the East European countries.

Precursors to political parties began to emerge a few months later, the first of them being in May 1988 the Slovenian Farmers' Association.

The developments in the East were thus not a model for Slovenia but rather an encouragement to press on with reforms, Repe says. The focus in the East was then still on attaining freedom of speech and free crossing of borders.

The main message coming from the East, especially after Romania's bloody revolution in late 1989, was that the transition to a multi-party system must be consensual and violence-free, which was heeded in Slovenia.

The wars broke out until later, following the unravelling of Yugoslavia. The latter first saw national unrest erupt in 1981 in Kosovo, at the time one of two autonomous regions within the Republic of Serbia.

Serbia was trying to prevail in the federation, fuelling Serbian nationalism. The political course was set in a memorandum adopted by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986 that floated the idea of a greater Serbia. Slobodan Milošević became its champion.

The idea was most vocally opposed by Slovenia. Some of the local print media were voicing harsh criticism of the system and demanded democratisation.

The 57th volume of the literary journal Nova revija, which came out in March 1987, issued a call for Slovenia to become a democratic multi-party state of a sovereign Slovenian nation; if unable to live as such within Yugoslavia, Slovenia would seek a path outside it.

A series of meetings followed in which the presidents of Yugoslav republics attempted to find a solution to continue in a common country, possibly as a confederation, but the efforts failed.

Following the first democratic elections in Slovenia and Croatia in 1990, the Communist rule ended in both countries, and new democratic parties assumed power.

Both nations declared independence on 25 June, 1991, with Macedonia following suit on 8 September that year, so that in December the Badinter Commission could not but establish that Yugoslavia had fallen apart.

This signalled the beginning of bloodbath in the Balkans, with wars spreading from Croatia to Bosnia and on to Kosovo. The bloodshed claimed at least 130,000 lives and millions of people were displaced.

© STA, 2016