The Slovenia Times

Quarter Century Since Landmark Congress that Presaged Yugoslavia's Collapse



The congress came amidst increasingly vocal demands for more democracy, spearheaded by Slovenian intellectuals and partially picked up by the Slovenian Communist Party.

Accordingly, the Slovenian delegation arrived at the congress in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade with a reform agenda making human rights and greater autonomy for the republics the basic tenets of a new system of government.

However, their proposal was shot down in a vote dominated by the Serbian delegation that presaged the subsequent descent into nationalism and ethnic strife.

Ciril Ribičič, a member of the Slovenian delegation who would later become an MP and Constitutional Court judge, told the STA that the delegates had clear goals they wanted to achieve.

They sought to implement new, European standards, and prevent domination by individual republics within the Communist League by instituting decision making by consensus.

The Slovenians soon found they would not succeed and tensions emerged pitting those who wanted to walk out against older colleagues who wanted to wait and see.

After their proposals were voted down, Ribičič announced that the delegation would walk out, warning the congress that this would lead to the disintegration of the Yugoslav League of Communists.

Late in the evening on 22 January, the Slovenians walked out in front of TV cameras followed by their Croatian colleagues, in a move that would come to be seen as a landmark event.

According to Ribičič, the walkout meant that there were no longer realistic conditions for the Yugoslav federation to survive in the same form.

The League of Communists collapsed soon thereafter and the communist parties in the individual republics changed their names to socialist or social democratic parties, transforming into reform movements that were leftist but largely eschewed hardline communist ideologies.

However, it was not immediately clear to everyone what the collapse of the party that had had a tight grip on Yugoslav politics for almost five decades would mean.

Indeed, Ante Markovič, the Croatian who was last Yugoslav prime minister, thought Yugoslavia would survive just fine without the League of Communists.

Even Slobodan Milošević, the leader of the Serbian Communists who would later drag Serbia into a series of bloody wars, did not comprehend the meaning of the congress, former Slovenian President Milan Kučan, the leader of the Slovenian delegation at the congress, has recently told the dpa press agency.

But it was not long before Slovenia started drifting away from Yugoslavia, culminating with the independence referendum in December of the same year.

Some of the Slovenian protagonists of the last congress of the Yugoslav communist party will meet in Cankarjev dom today, hosted by Ribičič. The event will also be attended by President Borut Pahor, who was one of the Slovenian delegates at the congress.


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