Ljubljana – Slovenia took key steps leading to its independence in June 1991. The then assembly passed the final major independence laws and three crucial documents to create the legal basis that would allow the country to declare its independence and sovereignty at a ceremony in Ljubljana’s Republic Square on 26 June 1991.
It was an eventful month thirty years ago with the country continuing with the process of democratisation and taking steps to break free from the Yugoslav federation and gain full-fledged independence in various domains, from creating its own military and monetary system to founding its own wire service.
On 2 June 1991, the first Slovenian recruits swore an oath of allegiance at the military training grounds in Ig near Ljubljana and Pekre near Maribor, whereby Slovenia started forming its own armed forces, based on the Territorial Defence.
Defence studies expert Vladimir Prebilič notes the importance of the swearing-in ceremony from several aspects. “We sent out a message to the citizens that their sons will not be used to shed blood elsewhere in the unravelling Yugoslavia, and that they will, should it come to that, fight for their own country on our soil.”
During that time many Slovenians still served mandatory military service in the Yugoslav army across the then federation.
“At the same time, the oath was a clear message to the Yugoslav leadership they can never again count on any living together in the common country any more […] It also mobilised emotions in the sense: We won’t surrender Slovenia and will defend it in every possible way,” says Prebilič.
In another crucial step, which was to rid the country of dependence on the Yugoslav press agency Tanjug, the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) was founded on 3 June. It was to be an autonomous public service to supply media content to everyone who needed it and provide the emerging state with a critical communication infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the Slovenian assembly was taking key steps, passing the last package of crucial independence bills on 5 June 1991. Those were laws governing the Slovenian central bank, commercial banks and foreign currency transactions, as well as laws dealing with citizenship, foreigners, passports and border.
All the while, Slovenia was in talks with Yugoslavia to agree a peaceful and consensual departure. This was amid growing indications that the Belgrade authorities would take military action to prevent Slovenia from breaking independent.
On 5 June 1991, a Slovenian delegation comprising Slovenian President Milan Kučan, Prime Minister Lojze Peterle and Janez Drnovšek, who served as Slovenian member of the Yugoslav presidency, met federal PM Ante Marković and Secretary of Defence Veljko Kadijević in Belgrade to try to clinch an agreement, but failed.
Peterle remembers having often met Kadijević and Marković at the time. “However, Belgrade showed no willingness at any level whatsoever to let Slovenia leave by agreement and in a peaceful way,” he has told the STA.
Still, Slovenia was intent on declaring independence. On 24 June 1991, the assembly adopted a constitutional amendment to determine the Slovenian flag and coat of arms. A day later it passed the Basic Charter of the Independence and Sovereignty of the Republic of Slovenia, a constitutional law to implement it and the Declaration of Independence.
Carried by 180 votes with two votes against and 12 abstentions, the charter declared that Slovenia is a sovereign and independent state and assumes all the rights and duties which under had been transferred the authorities of the Yugoslav federation.
In the declaration, Slovenia also set out what a country it wants to be, who it wants to link with and what relationship it wants to have with other former Yugoslav republics. With the three documents passed, the the assembly’s president France Bučar declared: “Long live a sovereign and independent Slovenia”. The delegates stood up and applauded.
In his book Making of the Slovenian State 1988-1992, Janez Janša, Slovenia’s incumbent prime minister who served as defence minister at the time, says that within hours after the key independence acts were passed, Slovenia took over all customs buildings, border crossings and air control.
A day later, on the evening of 26 June 1991, Slovenia declared its independence at a ceremony in the square in front of the parliament building as the flag of the socialist republic of Slovenia was replaced with the flag of the independent Slovenia.
Addressing the ceremony, Milan Kučan as the president of the Slovenian Presidency described Slovenia’s act of independence as “an inescapable and deeply thought out, unanimous act by this nation”, wrapping up his speech with his memorable quotation: “Tonight, dreams are allowed. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Peterle does not remember why the key independence documents were passed exactly on 25 June and independence was declared a day later, but he notes that the independence plebiscite act had set out that all constitutional and other acts to implement independence be adopted within six months after the declaring of the results of the referendum.
The referendum, in which Slovenians voted overwhelmingly for independence, was held on 23 December 1990 and the results were announced on 26 December 1990, so independence was declared exactly six months later.
Within hours after the independence declaration ceremony, the threats of a military intervention materialised as Yugoslav army tanks headed out of army barracks in the wee hours on 27 June 1991. A ten-day war followed in which Slovenia fought out its independence.