The Slovenia Times

Slovenia celebrates Independence and Unity Day

Slovenian flags at the Ski Jumping World Cup Final in Planica in 2022. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Marking the day in 1990 when the results of the referendum on independence were officially declared, Slovenia celebrates Independence and Unity Day on 26 December.

Following a wave of multiple pro-democratic movements in the 1980s, many of which no longer saw Yugoslavia as a viable state and wanted to pursue Slovenian statehood, the first free multi-party general elections in Slovenia were held in April 1990.

The Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) won, formed a government and completed key steps towards the independence referendum in cooperation with the opposition, who wanted to shift the referendum to the spring of 1991 but eventually accepted the December date.

In return, DEMOS and the government acquiesced to the rule that the referendum would be successful if at least half of all the eligible voters opted for independence, after DEMOS had initially wanted an ordinary majority.

On 6 December 1990, the representatives of political parties and deputy groups in parliament signed a compromise agreement, in which all signatories pledged to work together in preparing and executing the referendum.

Based on that agreement, the parliament passed a law on the independence referendum. The vote was unanimous, with 203 votes in favour and four MPs abstaining.

It was precisely the overwhelming political unity on this issue that, according to many historians and analysts, acted as a unifying force on the electorate, which turned out in large numbers for the referendum.

On 23 December 1990, a 95% majority voted "yes", with a turnout of 93.2%, which means that over 88% of all eligible voters voted in favour.

When the results were proclaimed in the evening, DEMOS leader Jože Pučnik famously said that Yugoslavia no longer existed, and that it was all about Slovenia from then on.

The results were declared three days after the vote, on 26 December, an overture to a milestone year that included the declaration of independence in June 1991 and a ten-day war.

Independence and Unity Day has since been celebrated as a national holiday. Slovenian politics has become much more fractious since then and the occasion is often used to appeal for the kind of unity that the nation displayed at the time.

In his address to the main national ceremony marking Independence and Unity Day, Prime Minister Robert Golob described independence as an inspiring success story that was made possible because of unity and that should be built on.

The common goal now should be creating a positive social climate as a key to a prosperous society, he said.

He is convinced that 33 years on, Slovenians agree that attaining the country's independence was a success story, "which can inspire us, not only for today, but also for a brighter future".

However, this success story needs to be built on, both with collective and individual success stories, he said, offering as an example Slovenia's winning a seat on the UN Security Council as another.

According to Golob, winning the seat on the UN Security Council would not have been possible without unity.

"This should inspire us that when we want to experience the greatest collective victories, we must preserve unity at all costs, because it is unity that confirms us not only as a nation, but above all gives us credibility externally."

Opposition leader Janez Janša, already a prominent politician at the time, described the referendum as "the only time in history that the Slovenian nation - led by DEMOS - truly determined its own destiny. It preserved unity and bravery despite opposition from within and from the outside."


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