The Slovenia Times

Independence monument, new attempt to unite the nation

Revolution Monument in Republic Square.
Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Slovenia is one of the few ex-communist or ex-socialist countries that has not opted for tearing down monuments associated with the former regime after it adopted democracy in the 1990s. However, now Slovenia's first president and last head of the country's Communist party has suggested just that.

Speaking at a WWII commemoration in Vrhnika on 5 May, Milan Kučan proposed erecting a memorial to Slovenian independence in Ljubljana's Republic Square, a symbolic place in front of the parliament building that has witnessed many seminal moments leading up to independence.

As president, Kučan himself addressed the ceremony celebrating the declaration of Slovenia's independence on 26 June 1991, famously declaring: "Today, dreams are allowed; tomorrow is a new day." Only hours later Yugoslav army tanks rolled out of the barracks and a ten-day war followed.

Kučan believes a memorial to independence would unite the nation, encouraging it to successfully address challenges ahead. It would pay tribute to Slovenians as a nation that achieved independence, an act of nation-building unparalleled in the history of Slovenians.

"Such a monument would rightly have its place in the central square of our capital, Republic Square, where many of the acts of independence took place," Kučan said. Standing in the square now "is a monument dedicated to another important time in our history, which unfortunately still divides our nation," he added.

Known as Revolution Square when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia, the large square features the Memorial to Revolution and a memorial to Edvard Kardelj (1910-1979), a senior Slovenian politician and a close aide of Josip Broz - Tito. Both monuments were designed by Drago Tršar, the acclaimed sculptor who died in April.

Response broadly positive

Kučan's proposal met with more or less positive response among parties and other officials. Prime Minister Robert Golob declared that the government would take the initiative to erect the monument, but it would be up to experts to decide on its implementation.

"I think it's high time we put an end to divisions and started working together, and if this initiative and such a monument should contribute to this, then we could all be the more satisfied," Golob said on 9 May after Kučan talked to him about his idea.

Lojze Peterle, who served as prime minister when Slovenia declared independence in 1991, noted that he had floated the same idea to President Borut Pahor in 2016, when Slovenia celebrated the 25th anniversary of independence, proposing a memorial to independence to replace the Memorial to Revolution.

In response to a query by the news portal N1, Pahor's office said that Pahor and Peterle at the time agreed that this would be a suitable thing to do and should be set down in a special law.

"However, as preparations for the erection of a memorial to victims of war and war-related violence in Congress Square culminated at the time, they assessed that it would be advisable to wait with this memorial," Pahor's office said, referring to the monument to reconciliation unveiled in July 2017.

Peterle, now head of the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence, agrees with Kučan that "the former times and the symbol we have in Republic Square divided us and that a new monument should unite us". He believes the monument should be a matter of national consensus, urging broad discussion on it.

Of the five parties currently in parliament, four have endorsed the idea of an independence monument in Republic Square on principle. Meanwhile, the Left spoke against removing the existing monument to Slovenia's WWII resistance and the communist revolution.

Janez Janša, the former prime minster and leader of the Democrats (SDS), said he considered all initiatives to erect monuments honouring the time that united Slovenians in their common independence efforts as "good and commendable".

Hopeful that the government will begin turning this idea into reality as soon as possible, he warned that such a monument could not replace the Slovenian Independence Museum, which was founded by his government but merged with the Museum of Contemporary History by the Golob government.

Janša sees the monument idea as "the cry of someone who has realised they have gone astray".

New Slovenia (NSi) endorsed the idea of its member Peterle that the erection of the monument should take place following a broad discussion in society and among experts "that would produce unanimous conclusions and unite our nation, rather than divide or split it again".


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