The Slovenia Times

Time for a New Chapter?


20 years of the Slovenian independence

An economic crisis, questionable judicial decisions that give people the sense that law only applies to the poor and unprivileged, general dissatisfaction with politicians, record low disapproval of the government, a feeling of no future within the existing forms of democracy, the distance between the decision-making bodies and the people, a rising rate of unemployed and those living under the poverty line... It seems that 20 years after Slovenian independence, things are a long way from the dream of freedom that was the main motive behind the process that, among other things, ignited the Yugoslav wars. The fact that the same people who were behind the process of independence still more or less run the country is not very encouraging. Not only they are getting old, their authority is .too often a result of informal power, personal connections and even justfied by some historical credits rather than operational capability.

Aspirations for Slovenian independence go back decades, but the key moments definitely belong to the eighties when civil society - especially in the form of culture and art - started to question the existence of the socialist federation of Yugoslavia and its ruling mechanisms. After the first multi-party elections in 1990 and the plebiscite in which the vast majority of people decided to leave Yugoslavia and establish an independent Slovenia, long negotiations with Belgrade began. On June 25 1991, Slovenia declared independence, which was followed by the ten days war between newly established Slovenian army and Yugoslav people's army, which was tasked with protecting the existing borders. Even though it was traumatic for everyone involved, it was quite insignificant compared to the wars that followed in other former federal countries.

Fallen kings

It was during this time that some of the figures that are still at the centre of political power today came into the spotlight. If we take a look at the government, political parties, economy and parliament, we can see certain new faces but many would argue too few.

Actors in the process of independence share different roles. Some have sunk into oblivion or retreated from politics back to their professions. For others it seems they may still be waiting for their turn back in first class politics. The list is extensive, yet there are certainly some outstanding people.

One such is Janez Janša, who was the first defence minister and the main strategist of independence war. Janša has seen both victories and defeats. Even though he cannot shake the rumours about his involvement in the illegal arms trade in the nineties, he managed to become prime minister in 2004 and, after four years in opposition, public opinion polls show his party has the best chance of beating current Prime Minister Borut Pahor. Meanwhile another independence character, Jelko Kacin - who as Minister of Information played a memorable role in communicating Slovenia's efforts to the world - is in his second term as a member of the European Parliament.

One of the most controversial figures is Dimitrij Rupel, the first minister of foreign affairs. Rupel has since carried this role numerous times in different parties, but has been cut from the political affairs after tensions among former colleagues after the fall of government of Janez Janša. The question is whether he is ready to become active again if his party comes to power.

Of course, there are also those who are the target of the public rage for their double role. Igor Bavčar, the first minister for internal affairs, is being blasted because of his role in the multi-million manipulations that caused the heavy financial problems at Istrabenz.

Same old story

Some other figures have moved away from active politics but are still considered important in all key issues the country is facing. Despite his retirement, France Bučar - who was the first president of the Slovenian parliament - is still considered one of the most influential conservative authorities in Slovenian politics when it comes to the formation of public opinion. He is a strong critic of the current political crisis in Slovenia. He believes that two decades after independence political parties have too much power, for it is his belief that decisions are not made in parliament by the elected representatives. He believes there are several "centres of power" outside of parliament that are making key decisions instead. He also draws several parallels between the dysfunction of the multiethnic Yugoslavia and the state of the EU today: "The EU lives with even greater difference, so how to integrate these differences into a common entity is a key challenge," he says.

Another key figure from post-independent Slovenia who has returned to private life is the first president Milan Kučan, who was in power between 1992 and 2002. Even though he has had no political function since he finished his last presidential mandate, the right-wing still views him as the "master of puppets of the left". Occasionally he appears in the media, such as in a recent interview in which he blamed politicians for making numerous mistakes. He is calling for the respect of the law; a guarantee for the respect of human rights, freedom, solidarity and honesty. He believes not all politicians are corrupt but that they have to gain trust of the people again. "They can do that by acting in a way that they set a new crossroad where political parties, civil society and unions will be able to quit the blockades they have created and to start a new dialogue and cooperation," Kučan says.

Ideological struggle

Independence is not the only important historical event that Slovenia is celebrating this year. 2011 is also the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Liberation Front (OF), which played a key role in the fight against Nazism and fascism. Even though politicians often try to use both events as key elements towards Slovenian statehood, this year's celebrations again show that there is a huge ideological battle still happening in terms of the interpretation of each event. WWII resistance is tainted with the post-war communist regime introduced by the same Partisans. The independence process on the other hand tends to be monopolised by the Slovenian right-wing.
For as long as the same people who fought for independence still hold political positions, it will be difficult to reach an agreement over who contributed most to the process: was it the liberal political force within the existing Yugoslav structures; was it the conservative dissidents, civil society or the angry rock'n'roll? 20 years later, the questions remain.


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