Slovenia remembers WWI general

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Ljubljana – Slovenia observed on Monday Rudolf Maister Day, a public holiday in memory of the general who established the first Slovenian army in modern history and secured what would became Slovenia’s northern border.

The holiday marks the day in 1918 when Maister (1874-1934) took control of Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city, a move that Lučka Lazarev Šerbec, the chair of the union bringing together associations dedicated to nurturing historical memory of the general, said showed he had “a clear vision in a fateful moment”.

“The present-day heritage of Maister’s patriotism is the permanent concern for the assertion of Slovenian interests in the company of equal nations. Slovenia needs a vision today, and most of all it needs clear answers on how to successfully tackle present and future challenges,” she said at a ceremony at the Presidential Palace.

President Borut Pahor stressed that national holidays celebrate national identity and appealed on the people to nurture standpoints which unite the nation, not those that are divisive.

He said it would be better if politics were more united as well. “I’m not the only one who misses more substantive cooperation between [political] parties, between the government and the opposition,” he said.

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Defence Minister Matej Tonin, issuing a written statement, wondered how Maister would have defended Slovenia’s northern border if he had not had armed fighters, and noted that the present-day Slovenian Armed Forces deserved appropriate equipment and training.

“Actions by General Maister and his fighters are a genuine expression of patriotism, extraordinary courage and vision… They are also a reminder that a country cannot defend its sovereignty without an adequately equipped armed force,” he said.

Following the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Maister prevented Maribor and the Podravje region from being made part of German Austria, the country created after WWI comprising areas of the former empire with a predominantly German-speaking population.

After the German-dominated city council declared Maribor and the surrounding region a part of German Austria, Maister set up an ethnic Slovenian armed force comprising 4,000 soldiers, disarmed the German Schutzwehr security service and disbanded the German militia.

He then occupied Slovenian ethnic territory, in effect establishing the northern border between Austria and Yugoslavia that was later ratified by the Saint Germain Peace Treaty. The same border still runs between Slovenia and Austria today.

23 November has been observed as a public holiday since 2005, although not as a bank holiday.

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