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Slovenians went independent for pragmatic reasons, sociologist says

Ljubljana, 12 May - Slovenia broke away from the former Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991, becoming independent for the first time in its history. The move, which was defended in a ten-day war, is seen by sociologist Gorazd Kovačič as motivated primarily by pragmatic as opposed to ideological reasons.

Slovenia to mark 25 years since it went independent leaving socialism behind.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA
File photo

Part of a wider upheaval in Europe's social bloc, the independence movement was fuelled in Slovenia by an ever stronger civil society, while the democratic processes were also sped up by mounting economic and national tensions in Yugoslavia, where Serbia tried to strengthen its grip.

Kovačič of the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts told the STA that the decision for independence matured in 1988 and was based on the pragmatic realisation that Yugoslavia could no longer be counted on and that coming to an agreement on reforms with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević and the generals was not possible.

Kovačič dismissed the myth that the independence was the result of a millennium-old dream, arguing that "national awareness only started spreading among the masses in the last third of the 19th century".

"What is more, nobody was yet thinking about an independent state in the mid 1980s," the scholar said, arguing that Serb nationalism and the inability to find a joint approach to reforms had caused Yugoslavia's collapse.

He sees the 1988 arrest of the then journalist Janez Janša, who was later twice prime minister, by the military police as a key moment that turned public opinion in Slovenia against Belgrade and the Yugoslav army.

The next landmark moment came in 1990 when the Slovenia delegation, followed by Croatia's, left the congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia because its reform proposals had been rejected.

Politically, things already started moving in Slovenia after the launch in May 1988 of the Slovenian Farmers' Association (Slovenska kmečka zveza) as the first openly non-Communist political organization.

This was followed up in 27 September 1989 by the Slovenian parliament's constitutional amendments that formally allowed the formation of new parties.

The first multi-party election in Slovenia after WWII was held in April 1990, bringing victory for the DEMOS (Democratic Slovenian Opposition) coalition consisting of the Slovenian Democratic Union, the Social Democrat Alliance of Slovenia, the Christian Democrats, the Farmers' Alliance and the Greens.

DEMOS picked Christian Democrat Lojze Petrele for the prime minister of Slovenia's first democratically-elected government and Peterle formed a presidential trio along with President Milan Kučan and parliamentary Speaker France Bučar.

An independence referendum was held on 23 December 1990 and around 95% of the votes, cast by 93.2% of the electorate, confirmed the succession from the joint country.

Independence was formally declared on 25 June 1991 and celebrated at a ceremony the next day to be followed by a military attack on the country in the same night.

An armistice was agreed on 2 July 1991 and the Yugoslav army began retreating to its starting positions to completely withdraw from the country by 26 October.

With the European Community acting acting as mediator, the two sides had adopted on 7 July a declaration that Kovačič said "in fact meant the Yugoslav army agreed to Slovenia going its own way".

Kovačič feels Milošević had no interest in keeping Slovenia in Yugoslavia. "If he had had such an interest, he could have achieved this with the use of a massive military force," the scholar added, speculating that the initial attack could have been the result of Milošević "possibly not fully controlling the generals".

He noted the existing risk at the time of the West not supporting Slovenia. "They could have left us at the mercy of the Yugoslav army or possibly protected us security-wise but not economically. This would have broken Slovenia within a year," he said, pointing out the loss of the Yugoslav market cost Slovenia up to 150,000 jobs.

However, "fortunately Western Europe was experiencing a boom, our companies presented themselves with relatively high-grade products and a cheap labour force".

Turning to the situation today, Kovačič said that while people "saw independence as a symbolic cut with the previous political and economic system", many are disappointed today and are looking back with nostalgia.

"They are remembering the benefits of socialism that were dismantled during the transition," he noted, but added that "this would have probably also happened in Yugoslavia".

© STA, 2016