The Slovenia Times

Slovenians made history in referendum 25 years ago


The decision that Slovenia should become independent is an act whose consequences for the nation exceed those of any other event in Slovenia's history, said the recently deceased France Bučar, who is considered one of the founding fathers of independent Slovenia.

Independence was confirmed in the 23 December referendum in what was the culmination of democratic simmering that started in the 1980s with the rise of the civil society and calls for greater democracy, a process accelerated by increasing tensions in Yugoslavia after the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980.

The vote was held less than a year after the first democratic multi-party elections in April 1990 produced a clear winner in the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS), which won the majority on a pro-independence platform and formed a government led by Prime Minister Lojze Peterle.

Before the 23 December vote, party representatives signed an agreement on a joint campaign for what they perceived as a referendum of a historic importance.

The biggest differences between DEMOS and the opposition concerned the quorum. While DEMOS argued a simple majority of votes in favour of independence should suffice, opposition parties proposed a two-thirds majority or a majority of all eligible voters.

DEMOS saw this as an attempt to delay or obstruct the referendum process, while the opposition argued a stricter criteria would give the outcome more credibility in the international community, according to historians.

Finally, a decision was made that the referendum will succeed if 51% of all eligible voters endorse independence. But as it turned out, there was absolutely no need for the quorum concerns, as the turnout reached 93.2% and 95% of the voters were in favour of independence (88.5% of all eligible voters).

The result of the vote was officially declared three days later, hence the celebration of 26 December as Independence and Unity Day.

Slovenia's first parliamentary Speaker Bučar said at the 20th anniversary of the independence referendum that on 23 December 1990, the Slovenians took a leap into the unknown.

"It marked the start of the journey towards independence that we were not prepared for. We did not have our own country in the past, but we existed as a nation; independence however is no solid guarantee that we will continue to exist as a nation," he underscored.

Incumbent Speaker Milan Brglez has recently said that the unity Slovenians had attested in 1990 had been so great because the challenge of independence had been so great and unprecedented.

This unity came about gradually and due to the politicians who managed to exceed divisions, according to him. "Today this is not a desired option and in the last 25 years those who have tried to continue this practice were excluded from the political arena," he said.

Historian Božo Repe pinpoints three major milestones in the nation's recent history: joining the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes at the end of WWI, the national liberation movement during WWI, and the independence, which completed the process of national emancipation.

The referendum 25 years ago merely opened the door to independence rather than bringing it about, which is also reflected in the number of days Slovenia observes in honour of the process, Repe says.

Most Slovenians hardly notice Independence and Unity Day, National Day, Sovereignty Day, and they certainly do not distinguish between them, according to him.

Since the independence referendum was a success, politicians have since believed they can get away with anything by appealing to national emotions and that gaining independence was the climax in the Slovenian nation's history, according to Repe.

"This is a very misguided perception: National statements are always decisions for a better life, more democracy and civil rights," the historian says.


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