Slovenia pays tribute to its greatest general as first woman promoted to the rank
Ljubljana/Maribor, 23 November - One hundred years after General Rudolf Maister established the first Slovenian army in modern history, Alenka Ermenc was promoted to become the country's first woman army general.
Slovenia celebrates Rudolf Maister Day on Friday in memory of the day in 1918 when the general (1874-1934) took control of Maribor and in effect secured what later became Slovenia's northern border.
The ceremony at which President Borut Pahor formally elevated Brigadier Ermenc to major general and decorated the association dedicated to the preservation of memory of General Maister was only one in several events marking the anniversary.
Pahor noted that a century ago Maister, "with his bravery and patriotic heart, preserved Maribor and the Lower Styria as Slovenian".
"One hundred years later, Slovenia is one of the world's safest countries. It is the merit not only of our defence force, but of society and country as a whole."
Pahor noted that Slovenia had to defend its independence with an armed force in 1991 and that Ermenc, who was made the first woman general today, was a member of the emerging Slovenian army then.
"This is a momentous moment for her, for the Slovenian Armed Forces, for our national and civic confidence, four our homeland and country," he said.
Putting on her new uniform of major general and accepting the Slovenian flag from the president, Ermenc said it was "the love for homeland" that guided her on her path, which was not always easy.
"I'm aware that the army is victorious only through joint effort and that the average never win," she said, underscoring the importance of knowledge and hard work.
Ermenc graduated from the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences and from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and got her master's degree in 2009 at the King's College University of London.
She was actively involved in the 1991 independence war as a member of the Territorial Defence, the army's precursor. She has been employed in the SAF for 27 years.
She was promoted to the rank of brigadier in May 2011 and in March this year she was named deputy chief of the general staff, the highest rank for a woman in the army.
Roughly one out of six members of the active component of Slovenia's Armed Forces are women (1,097 out of 6,658), including 188 civilians. As many as 301 are officers or non-commissioned officers.
Pahor also presented an Order of Merit to the General Maister Association and its founder Milan Lovrenčič for their efforts in the preservation of memory of the general and his contribution to Slovenia.
It was thanks to the association that 23 November has been observed as a public holiday since 2005, although not as a bank holiday. At the association's initiative the Maister Library of the University of Maribor, which keeps his books, has recently been declared a monument of national importance.
Judging by his popularity, Maister is likely the most prominent military personality in Slovenian history. It is largely owing to him that Maribor, Slovenia's second city, and the north-east of Slovenia became part of the new Yugoslav state rather than Austria after the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed.
Maister was in command of the regional headquarters at the end of World War I and in 1918 assumed command of Maribor and the Slovenian part of Carinthia. He set up a Slovenian army of 4,000 soldiers, disarmed the German Schutzwehr security service, and disbanded the militia of the German city council.
The general then occupied Slovenian ethnic territory, establishing the northern border between Austria and Yugoslavia that was later ratified by the Saint Germain Peace Treaty. The same border still runs between Slovenia and Austria today.
The main ceremony marking the holiday was held in Maribor last night. In his keynote, Speaker Dejan Židan described Maister, a general and a poet, as a resolute, confident, courageous, selfless and honest patriot with the soul of an artist. He said people of his calibre were needed today.
"At the time it was about life and death. The situation called for quick decisions and actions, not just on Maister's part but on the part of everyone involved ... It wasn't until after Slovenia's independence that his historic merit was acknowledged by official politics." Židan said.
The ceremony was also attended by President Pahor and members of the government, including Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who praised Maister as the epitome of bravery, determination and resolve.
An exhibition showcasing Maister as general and poet was launched at the National Assembly today. While wreaths will be laid at his grave in Maribor, Slovenian air force aircraft will fly over the city.
In keeping with a tradition launched by him, Pahor is holding an open door at the Presidential Palace today.