Govt declares 17 May memorial day for victims of communism

Ljubljana – At its last regular session before being relegated to caretaker role, the Janez Janša government on Thursday declared 17 May the National Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Communist Violence.

The government says that it acted based on two things – on “the civilisational norm that the perpetrators of violence and evil acts be measured by the same criteria” and “in an effort to prevent the most tragic events in our history from being repeated”.

Between the summer of 1941 and January 1956, communist violence in present-day Slovenia claimed tens of thousands of violent deaths of civilians and prisoners or war.

Under communist rule after WWII, communist violence affected hundreds of thousands of people in Slovenian through violations of human rights and freedoms.

First individuals and families were killed by communists in the autumn 1941, the government says.

However, 17 May was selected as remembrance day to commemorate the first mass massacre of civilians in 1942.

On that day, a Partisan unit killed 49 Roma people and four Slovenians in the Iška Gorge south of Ljubljana, among them 24 children.

The government says that “this crime was only the first in a series of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the communist partisan movement”.

These crimes peaked in the spring of 1945 after WWII when more than 15,000 Slovenians, or 1% of the population, were killed in just a few weeks.

Tens of thousands of POWs and civilians of other nationalities (Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Italian etc.) were also killed immediately after WWII.

Slovenia paid symbolic compensation to the relatives of some of the victims and rehabilitated them, while a good share of the executions have been researched and the sites marked.

However, the government says that the universal right to a grave and a memorial for all the victims of WWII and post-WWII communist terror has not yet been established.

It also says that a respectful memory of the suffering hundreds of thousands of Slovenian inhabitants endured as victims of other forms of communist violence is also not yet part of the public memory. These victims were refugees and exiles, victims of the violence of the secret police, and victims of concentration or labour camps, Stalinist trials and other forms of lawlessness.

The post lists victims of the class war against private property, the fight against religion and the Church, and those who wanted to preserve their freedom and beliefs that were not in line with the communist authorities.

Just like the EU, independent Slovenia was founded in 1991 on the foundation of condemnation of all totalitarian regimes, including communism, the government notes.

And while the victims of fascism and Nazism are remembered with respect, the awareness of the communist violence has not yet entered the collective consciousness.

As a result, the attitude towards the victims of communism is still disrespectful, the governments says on Twitter in English, adding that “even calls for a repeat of the most horrific forms of communist violence” are “increasingly loud and supported by the media”.

Historian Božo Repe, chair of contemporary history at the history department of the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts, described the move as an “ideological battle with the past” designed to divert attention from current events rather than a sincere remembrance of the victims of Communism.

It should be interpreted in the context of the outgoing government’s latest moves, including staffing and the sale of state-owned companies, he said, noting that holidays are officially designated by the National Assembly so this declaration is not binding on the future government or the community at large.