“The disarmament of the Territorial Defense was essentially an act of declaring war because it was illegal and unconstitutional, even under Yugoslav law at the time,” the Prime Minister Janez Janša explains the situation from 1990, when Slovenia began preparing for its independence, which the presidency, then commanded by Milan Kučan, wanted to prevent with disarmament, in cooperation with Belgrade. However, the Slovenian people who fought for independence did not give up, but instead, with Krkovič leading them, established a Manoeuvre Structure of the National Defense in Kočevje and, thanks to their resourcefulness, found a way to arm it. In addition to Krkovič, Janez Janša, Igor Bavčar and others also played key roles in this process. The first armed Slovenian army also prepared the defensive tactics and successfully defied the Yugoslav People’s Army’s aggression, which consequently lasted only ten days. Today, however, some people want to systematically criminalize the Slovenian independence activists and thus reduce the importance of the events from that time, with the participation of part of the Slovene public and politics, which is outrageous. At the same time, it is scandalous that, in a similar way as in 1990, the Slovenian Armed forces are now financially starved. The pattern from years ago is repeating itself. “Slovenia is the only country in the world which has a negative assessment of the Supreme Commander of the Army. If this happened, for example, in Austria, the Government, the National Security Council, and other governmental bodies would meet immediately,” Janša adds.
On Sunday, the national television RTV broadcast a show entitled Latent war. In it, we hear about how Yugoslav People’s Army was once a military giant, who then left Slovenia when it was defeated on October 25th and 26th, 1991, when the last soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army left our homeland. Thus ended the story of the Yugoslav People’s Army in Slovenia. The wheel of history had turned in the right direction, which we did not expect. Democratic movements came to Slovenia at the end of the 1980s, giving Slovenians their own historic opportunity. The first free parliamentary elections in Slovenia were a celebration of democracy. Slovenian voters received a gift in the form of a free choice of the ruling parties, which set off an alarm with the Yugoslav authorities. The privileges of the rulers were being threatened. Demos’ victory was an incentive for the Yugoslav communist leadership and authoritarian military to respond. “They were afraid that the flow of the democratic change from Slovenia would spread.”
Accordingly, the weapons were then confiscated. In mid-May 1990, the Army leadership took control of the weapons, which were previously controlled by the Territorial Defense. According to Janez Janša, the then-presidency of the presidency, so Milan Kučan (who already knew about this on May 15th), did not stop this order. Igor Bavčar says that there was an accurate inventory of the Territorial Defense’s weapons a few months before the first parliamentary elections, which was certainly not a coincidence. Janša notes: “It would have been impossible to prepare this entire action without the cooperation from the old communist Slovenian authorities.”
According to him, the entire action was set to happen not only “in that week or month, but on those exact days and hours that were crucial when handing over the power from the old to the new executive council.” Igor Bavčar is convinced that the new government definitely needed some key levers for the implementation of authority. The purpose of the Yugoslav People’s Army was to completely disable Slovenia in terms of the military. At the same time, Bavčar added, some underestimated this, while others knew about it but intentionally did not react. “At the same time, it is incomprehensible that Kučan acted the way he did at the time, reacting so late. Most municipalities also obeyed the orders and returned the weapons to the barracks, but some resisted,” Bavčar says. Thus, Slovenia lost its weapons, which it would desperately need if the need arose for a physical fight for independence.
“I can tell you that the night that followed the day I found out about the order was probably the longest night of my life”
Vojko Adamič, who was working at the Territorial Defense headquarters in Ljubljana at the time, says: “I can tell you that the night that followed the day I found out about the order, was probably the longest night of my life.” And about May 17th, 1990, the then-Secretary for the People’s Defense of the Kočevje Municipality, Tone Krkovič, has this to say: “When I came to this yard through this door, in front of me and to my right were the warehouses, these failed, self-disarmed warehouses of the Territorial Defense, and that is when I saw something that was a complete surprise to me. I could not even think of something like that in my nightmare. All of the warehouses were wide open. To my right, alongside this wall, was where the Yugoslav Army trucks were parked, fully loaded with crates with weapons. The members of the Yugoslav’s Army, which took part in this action, were jumping back on the trucks as if they were mice,” says Krkovič.
To him, the biggest surprise was that he saw Lieutenant Colonel Čačić next to the first vehicle, whom he knew, as they were colleagues, but Čačić did not greet him. Instead, he jumped into the first vehicle, and the convoy drove away. Major Mihelić and the operative officer Darko Čop were also present at the scene, and he jokingly told them: “Guys, you will be retired before getting this back.” Both of them felt bad, as huge numbers of weapons were being taken away. Čop later also took part in the defense of Slovenia. Looking at the convoy at the time, Mihelić said: “It is better if the army takes it than if Janša takes it.”
“The disarmament of the Territorial Defense was essentially an act of war declaration because it was illegal and unconstitutional”
“The disarmament of the Territorial Defense was essentially an act of war declaration, because it was illegal and unconstitutional, even according to the Yugoslav legislation at the time,” says Janša. Ivan Bučar, the then-Speaker of the National Assembly, says that at the time of the events, “a quick operational meeting was convened, at which Lojze Peterle, who was the then-president of the executive council, Janez Janša, who was the Secretary of Defense, Milan Kučan, who was the president of the presidency, and Igor Bavčar were present. And we tried to get the information about what was really going on.” Kučan was bluffing, claiming that he knew nothing about the matter, and then Bavčar and Janša, contrary to the agreement between Peterle and Dušan Šinigoj, who was the previous president of the executive council, began to take action against the confiscation of the weapons. Janša said that they started pressuring the presidency to prevent the disarmament.
“Kučan was faking ignorance, and it took until the afternoon of May 18th for this order to be revoked. Kučan sent it to the municipal provincial headquarters, coded with the codes of the Yugoslav army.” This meant that it reached the commanders with great delay, because the municipal headquarters did not have professional coders. “And in those crucial hours, an even larger number of the Territorial Defense headquarters lost their weapons.” At the same time, Krkovič began to suspect something threatening. He called the president of the municipal assembly, Mihael Petrovič from the office, who took him seriously. He called the president of the executive council, Tone Turk, Ph.D., and they told him what was going on, as well as Miro Ferlin, who was the secretary of the Kočevje municipality. Ferlin said they should react strongly, that it was not enough to only inform the presidency, as they would likely remain silent on the matter. According to Ferlin, the latter would only react to a direct challenge. So the matter reached the wider Slovenian public through national television, with the title “Report on the disarmament taking place in Slovenia,” Petrovič said.
It was practically necessary to go illegal in order to resist the Yugoslav People’s Army, the Manoeuvre Structure of the National Defense was born
Krkovič reacted quickly that day and also called Vinko Breznik, the then-head of the police centre in Jasnica. Breznik and Krkovič worked well together in the following months. According to Krkovič, Breznik was also surprised by the alleged transfer of the weapons of the Territorial Defense. “He said, however, that a kind of diversion detachment from Jesenice from the municipal headquarters was training there, which was commanded by his colleague from the Yugoslav Military Academy, Brigadier Bojan Šuligoj. So I asked him if he could call him and check to see if anything unusual was going on. Ten minutes later, he returned my call and said, ‘Yes, the weapons are being taken away.’” Therefore, Breznik secured the weapons under his control and refused to hand them over, while using explosives to further secure the area of the centre with weapons. They were ready for anything, and they hid the anti-tank explosives.
On the next day, Krkovič and Janša, who had only taken up the post of the Secretary of Defense the day before, met. According to Krkovič, the meeting was short, but immensely important, as they carried out a serious strategic analysis in 15 minutes. Krkovič says that he recognized the aggression of the Yugoslav People’s Army, the disarmament of a potential adversary in a future war, “but we will just let them take the weapons away,” Krkovič adds, recalling what was happening at the time. Krkovič emphasized that what had been taken away, must be restored immediately. At that time, Slovenians had an extraordinary motivation to protect the Slovenian interests and their country. It was practically necessary to go illegal in order to resist the Yugoslav People’s Army. Thus, the Manoeuvre Structure of the National Defense (Manevrska struktura narodne zaščite – hereinafter referred to as the MSNZ) was born, which was of decisive importance, as it was a key element of initial preparations and formation of connections. “At that time, we managed to defend this country, we managed to arm ourselves, we managed to establish the structure and the team of the police and the Territorial Defense and the MSNZ,” Bavčar recalls. Slovenia was thus ready for self-defense.
Weapons had to be re-acquired in Ljubljana, which was a kind of challenge that required ingenuity
At the same time, the operation was coordinated with the available quantities of weapons. In Gorenjska, in particular, the weapons remained largely in the hands of the municipal headquarters, while in Ljubljana, for example, weapons had to be re-acquired from the YPA barracks, which was a unique and, above all, illegal challenge that required ingenuity. Bavčar says that the Yugoslav People’s army also underestimated such activities and was not informed about everything. The newly acquired weapons were hidden in 54 different locations around Ljubljana, and people cooperated diligently at the time. According to Bavčar, the YPA was still convinced that Slovenia was ‘barefoot and naked,’ which is why their reaction was so mild.
At that time, a network of people was formed, who risked their lives for Slovenia at that crucial time and, if necessary, even changed their identity, as there was a real danger of arrests by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Therefore, some had double documents. The first month of preparations and organization of the MSNZ took place in strict secrecy from the Army and the Presidency of Slovenia. That is how Janša and Bavčar decided. “Distrust was completely sensible in the situation, and in addition, the MSNZ was created within the law on internal affairs, which was within the competence of the Ministry of the Interior and was not bound by any formal consent of the presidency,” Janša is clear.
Under Krkovič’s leadership, the MSNZ project was created in Kočevje, and the meeting at Pristava nad Stično was a key milestone
Thus, under Krkovič’s leadership, the MSNZ project was created in Kočevje, which also included documentation and directives for combat use. The meeting at Pristava nad Stično was one of the key milestones of the MSNZ, which took place on September 7th, 1990. It was attended by Bavčar, Janša, Krkovič, Breznik, and Jože Kolenc. There they agreed on all the basic guidelines for action in the event of any variant of armed conflict, aggression against Slovenia, as they saw that the situation would not be resolved peacefully. At that time, they already had complete information about their opponent from the territory of Slovenia. According to Krkovič, all the aforementioned preparations were realized in 1991, in an effective security system, including the successful cooperation between the army and the police. Without this, no referendum would have helped, as the YPA would have defeated us without difficulty.
The key Slovenians for the protection of Slovenia were also prepared for the possible guerrilla warfare, as the informal order to confiscate the weapons was also a declaration of war for Slovenia, and there was no doubt about that. In fact, the war lasted from the time the weapons were seized, until the departure of the last Yugoslav People’s Army soldier from Slovenia, which is almost a year and a half. “We would have never been able to solve this situation with such a small amount of victims, with such small material damage, in such a short time and with such big goals,” Vinko Breznik is convinced, adding that everything went well for them when thinking about what could have been done better. Even what they did wrong, later turned out to be right. “Everything is possible, but only with extreme effort and courage of those who refused to surrender their weapons. God’s grace is to be thanked for the fact that in the end, everything turned out okay,” Janša is clear. Krkovič says that they correctly assessed the strategic position at the time, and that they were not surprised by the YPA aggression on June 27th, 1991. “They walked right into our trap because we were also very carefully prepared for attacks from close range.”
“The year 1990 is, in fact, the year when we established the Slovenian army and organized the Slovenian police”
If the preparations had not been made, the war would not have only lasted ten days, but rather several months or even several years. “The year 1990 is in fact the year when we established the Slovenian army and organized the Slovenian police, when, in this sense, we stood on our own two feet as a country, and waited for this conflict that occurred, for which we sensed it would,” Bavčar is convinced. And Krkovič is convinced that things would have ended badly for Janša and Bavčar as the leaders of this project, and for him as well. Vinko Breznik and many other participants in the independence project could have also ended up in a bad spot. “I want to be judged according to the Yugoslav law,” Krkovič criticized the constant attempts to discredit him, which relate to fictional events from the time of the War of Independence.
At the same time, Krkovič wonders how he and his colleagues would have been treated if they had been caught, that is, with all those who fought for independence. “It’s vile, it’s dirty, it shouldn’t be happening,” Krkovič said. The people who risked their lives for freedom certainly don’t deserve such lowly procedures. One part of the Slovenian society also went after those who fought for independence, which leaves a bad taste. “That same court acquitted all aggressors who killed civilians in Slovenia 25 years ago and caused billions in damage. None of them were convicted, even though dozens of criminal charges were filed, as well as indictments,”Janša says, referring to the Murska Sobota District Court, in connection with the trial of former YPA officer Berislav Popov, who was charged with war crimes against the civilian population in Gornja Radgona during the 1991 War of Independence, and who was subsequently acquitted because, according to the court, he did not violate the Geneva Conventions.
Such unjust proceedings, give the society the impression that the independence project was a project of criminals
Such proceedings, however, create the impression in the society that the whole thing was a project of criminals who wanted to steal whatever could be stolen, which is unfair and ridiculous, as it destroys the moral basis of independence. Part of Slovenian politics was in favor of such a treatment of Slovenian independence, as it built its foundations on some other historical events, according to Bavčar. “Therefore, it is no coincidence that all key people are being criminalized and that this period is viewed with a certain underestimation, and what is even worse in my opinion – that the younger generations and the entire school system do not pay due attention to it,” Bavčar adds. “The message is that if someone commits a crime, he will get a monument, but if someone defends the homeland, he will receive a summons to a court hearing of the state or the homeland he is defending,” Janša points out.
Krkovič emphasizes that the Slovenian army was formed with the MSNZ, so on May 17th, 1990, in Kočevje. “Everything else is demagoguery, and I would like us to sort this out somehow after all these years.” Krkovič also emphasizes that we talk a lot about the problems of the Slovenian army, even about its clinical death. “I say, no wonder, money was, is and always will be a problem, but I believe it is the least significant problem of the Slovenian army,” says Krkovič. “There is no other country in the world where such manipulations take place and where everything is as upside-down as it is in Slovenia,” says Janša. That is why something incredible is happening to Slovenia, where the president of the country, so the commander-in-chief of the defense forces, writes in the report, that the Slovenian army is not capable of defending the country in the event of a crisis or war, as their assessment is negative. “Slovenia is the only country in the world which has a negative assessment of the Supreme Commander of the Army,” Janša says. “If this happened, for example, in Austria, the Government, the National Security Council, and other governmental bodies would meet immediately.”