Becoming a republic

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  • A quarter of a century of the Republic of Slovenia

    The Republic of Slovenia is 25 years old. It is often heard that the country is still young, immature, thus experiencing many troubles despite its numerous successes. Many would say that it has just been formed, while other countries have existed for centuries. However, if the quarter of a century of the independent Slovenian state is placed in the wider context of time and space, completely new and different dimensions can be seen. Just try to imagine a centenarian in 2016 toasting to their 100th birthday and the 25th anniversary of their country.

    Anyone turning 100 today would have been born in the Hapsburg monarchy, known as Austria-Hungary, which existed only 60 years, which experienced tumultuous milestones in its history. Within that state, their fellow citizens would have been Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Germans, Croats, Hungarians, and many others. In those times, Slovenian inhabitants lived a developed political, cultural, and social life, and a sense of Slovenian consciousness was present in many homes, even though it had barely existed just a century earlier, at the beginning of the 19th century.  In those days, the majority of people thought similarly as the author Janez Trdina: "I thought that the best person in all things is a Carniolan, then a Frenchman and a German. I became infected with "Carniolan" patriotism when I was still at home and our farmers always spoke of Carniolans and the Carniolan land with some kind of pride. No one knew Slovenia, not even by name." Regional identity was extremely strong and did not easily bow to the increasingly popular nationalistic movements of the 19th century. How could it have been any different when Slovenia did not exist as a political or administrative entity?

    The end of World War I and dissolution of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Source: National Museum of Contemporary History
    Economic crisis in the mid-1930s. Source: National Museum of Contemporary History
    Ljubljana Grand Fair, 1925. Source: National Museum of Contemporary History

    Soon after the birth of such a centenarian, in 1918, the Hapsburg monarchy was dissolved and a new country was created – the first Yugoslav state, first called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians, and then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (for a brief period before that, there was also the interim State of Slovenians, Croats, and Serbs). In it, Slovenians made a significant contribution to the identity of the State and were an important political and economic factor, and Slovenian ministers were regularly included in the Government in Belgrade. The first Yugoslavia faced a plethora of troubles that it was unable to resolve in a satisfactory manner in the difficult times after World War I. This was a period full of grand ideologies that spread across states and cities devastated by the economic crisis. Therefore, Slovenian politicians were unable to achieve the goal that they had set for themselves in the previous state – namely the political autonomy of Slovenia with territorial integrity. Slovenia continued not to exist, but with regard to its territory, it partially coincided with a Yugoslav administrative unit known as the Drava Banate. Even before the centenarian of today turned 25, a new World War erupted, known under the terrifying name "Total War." This caused the collapse of the second (or third) state ... What followed were occupation, the division of Slovenian territory among its invaders, and severe denationalisation policies, to which the Liberation Front resisted vehemently. It organised the fight for the liberation and establishment of a (socially) fairer post-war society, a fight which it succeeded in winning.

    National Assembly in 1963. Photo: Leon Jere, source: National Museum of Contemporary History

    "Our" centenarian has already celebrated his thirtieth birthday in the new state that rose from the ashes of World War II (depending on how we count, this was already the fifth one). Then, a new, second, socialist and (with the good and the bad) Tito's Yugoslavia emerged. In it, Slovenia became a political unit for the first time; it gained its own statehood, constitution, flag, etc. It became a republic in the Yugoslav federation. Slovenian politicians made a much more significant contribution to its look and policies than in the previous Yugoslavia. However, in a similar manner to the first Yugoslavia, the second Yugoslavia, which was a centrally governed single-party state, also faced numerous troubles. Varying degrees of friction frequently arose with Belgrade and they only intensified following the death of Tito.  Finally, it became evident that there was no room for Slovenians in such a multi-national community. It should also be noted that, up to that point, Slovenian people believed in the Yugoslav state and its existence, as well as in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Hapsburg monarchy before that. The source of discontent was not the form of government, but the improperly managed position of Slovenians.

    Adoption of amendments to the Slovenian Constitution of 1974. Photo: Tone Stojko, source: National Museum of Contemporary History
    First multi-party elections. Photo: Tone Stojko, source: National Museum of Contemporary History
    Adoption of the Basic Constitutional Charter, the Constitutional Act and the Declaration of Independence. Photo: Tone Stojko, source: National Museum of Contemporary History
    Ratification of the Brioni Agreement. Photo: Tone Stojko, source: National Museum of Contemporary History

    By the time our centenarian had reached seventy, the still socialist Yugoslavia began to dissolve. The already delicate federal system became increasingly unstable and political control in individual republics began to waver. In Slovenia, there was no longer a monolith party with its organisations, but fragmented power that continued to break up further (the youth organisation called the Association of Slovenian Socialist Youth was one of the first opposition "parties").  The demands for pluralism and systemic changes were becoming increasingly more resolute and the Slovenian Socialist Assembly adopted numerous constitutional amendments to the Slovenian Constitution in September 1989, thus providing a suitable groundwork for gradually attaining independence and a multi-party system. Then, it also adopted suitable voting legislation and called for the first post-war democratic elections.

    At the elections in April 1990, in addition to some former social and political organisations reformed into parties, new parties also ran, combined into a coalition called Demos. Their support combined, these parties received the majority of votes and formed the Government. Political life was developing in the spirit of a multi-party parliamentary democracy.  On 25 June 1991, the Slovenian Assembly adopted three key independence documents, on the basis of which Slovenia became an independent and sovereign country.

    Democratisation was followed by the declaration of independence and then a brief, yet difficult and an uneasy war, the third war in the life of the centenarian (War) happened. Thanks to successful activities in the war and by means of adequate diplomatic and political actions (From the Brioni Declaration to the Badinter Arbitration Committee), after a brief moratorium, Slovenia gained international recognition and began to independently join international organisations.

    Adoption of the first Constitution of the independent Slovenia. Photo: Salomon 2000, source: UKOM

    In the new state ...

    In 1991, "our" centenarian began living in his seventh state, without ever moving. After the Hapsburg Monarchy, the State of Slovenians, Croats, and Serbs, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians /Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Third Reich (or the Italian or Hungarian occupation), socialist Yugoslavia, he now lived in Slovenia. Finally, all strategic conditions had been met for a full and a completely independent life in all areas developed by Slovenians in the past, yet as of 1991, completely at their own responsibility and with their own powers.  It was possible to build Slovenia's own educational system, establish its own cultural policies, lead its own foreign policies at the highest level, establish conditions for entrepreneurship and independently make decisions as to which international and cross-border organisations to become a member of (and then transfer parts of its sovereign rights to them). In 1991, this presented a great opportunity, yet also a great test and a great responsibility. 


    The European Community recognizes Slovenia. Photo: G. Pohleven/FA Vitrum, source: Slovenia Weekly Archive
    Slovenia’s Entry into the EU. Photo: Salomon 2000, source: UKOM

    A wide spectrum of political elites came into being, elections came one after another, parties and governments came and went. The period was dynamic. Some strategic decisions were met with wide acceptance, including the decision to join the EU, but many others caused disputes and problems. Historians characterise the period following 1990 as a transition, a period of changes. A state with the necessary infrastructure had to be built, numerous regulations had to be changed, new institutions established, a market economy introduced, etc. The transition was indeed a great change that was not only institutional and systemic, but also social; the transition represented a change in the mentality of people, who had to adapt to different attitudes and different relationships; they had to face not only with the successes and pleasures of the post-1991 period, but also the inevitable disappointments, which was characteristic of all countries in the eastern part of Central Europe. And now, if we look at the transition through the eyes of our centenarian, the brief period of the past twenty-five years undoubtedly seems different than if we were to only look back a few years.  It is up to the citizens to decide whether this time was used usefully and well.

    Jure Gašparič, Institute of Contemporary History