By: dr. Andrej Umek
With all the pride and joy of the plebiscite and its results, and with respect for the people who led us to this historic event, I think it is necessary to look a little further back to understand these efforts of ours. I dedicate this column to this view. In it, I would like to remind dear readers that the efforts for a sovereign Slovenia have taken much longer and had to overcome much greater obstacles than is generally mentioned.
I am convinced that at least continuous efforts for an independent Slovenia began as early as 1848. The March Revolution of that year or, as some call it, the Spring of Nations revived all the efforts for the Slovene nation-state that had died down since the Reformation. These efforts were formulated in a key document with the participation of the Slovenian Committee in Vienna by Prof. Franc Miklošič. This is how the letter to Emperor Franz Joseph was written: “What will the Slovenes ask the emperor?” (Stane Granda: The first decision of Slovenes for Slovenia). In this letter, the goal was clearly set: the independent kingdom of Slovenia under the Habsburg crown. Numerous signatures have been collected in support of this goal. This was a clear and rare signal at the time that we Slovenes wanted to shape our national state based on democratic principles and in accordance with the will of its population. In support of the movement for a sovereign Slovenian state, Peter Kosler prepared a map of the Slovenian land. This map also clearly showed which areas a sovereign Slovenia should cover.
Unexpectedly, the efforts of our ancestors for an independent Slovenia met with opposition on two sides. Emperor Franz Joseph was not in favour of this project. He always assured the representatives of the Slovenes that he wanted to preserve the “meine Erbländer” (my ancestral lands). His will was followed by the prime ministers of both Bach and Metternich. Therefore, on this side, the path to independent Slovenia was at least temporarily blocked. The second obstacle was somewhat unexpectedly posed by France with its geostrategic concept. Among our ancestors, only few individuals knew this, although it could be inferred from the Illyrian provinces, which covered only part of Slovenia. The basic French concept became clearer, but again to rare individuals, with a book by the eminent French diplomat and geostrategist Leger: Historie Autriche-Hongrie (History of Austria-Hungary), published in 1867. In it the author clearly defines that the primary France’s interest is in preventing Germany from gaining access to the Adriatic, and so on, which had a significant impact on our efforts for an independent state, that the Slovenes were overwhelmed to prevent this.
The appointment of Franz Ferdinand as heir to the throne was seen by the then Slovene MPs in the Vienna parliament as a new opportunity for the establishment of a sovereign Slovene state. Thus, began conversations between the heir to the throne and them. I have no written documents on the content of these talks and the conclusions. I rely on the story of my father-in-law Dr Vladimir Ravnihar, who, as an MP, took an active part in these talks, and I trust him completely in this regard. An agreement was reached that Slovenes do not demand changes during the life of Emperor Franz Joseph and that the independent Kingdom of Slovenia will be his gift to Slovenes at the coronation. At the request of the Slovene MPs that this agreement be written and signed, they received the answer: “Das kaiserliche Wort ist mehr wert als jedes Papier” (The Emperor’s word is worth more than any paper). Because of the information that has been passed down from generation to generation in our family, I am probably one of the very few who have heard of this arrangement.
After the assassination of the heir Prince Franz Ferdinand, Slovenian MPs in Vienna also tried to get confirmation of the agreement from the new heir to the throne, but they failed. World War I followed, and it became increasingly clear that the victorious Entente would dictate peace conditions that would require the disintegration of Austria-Hungary and the prevention of the formation of a Slovenian nation-state. It became clear that, at least now, Slovenes did not have the perspective of creating a sovereign Slovene state, so we must strive for the survival of Slovenes as a nation and not a nation state. Our politicians reacted differently to these unfavourable conditions. Dr Anton Korošec and his circle prepared the May Declaration of 1917. Based on it, he was invited to a talk with the new heir to the throne, where he uttered the familiar words: “Es ist zu spät Majestät” (It is too late your Majesty). In the autumn of 1918, a temporary Slovenian government was even formed in Ljubljana. All these efforts were more or less in vain. As a small part of a newly created “triune” nation, Slovenes were pushed into the centralist and unitarian Kingdom of Yugoslavia, ruled by King Alexander, who was brought up in Moscow at the court of the Romanovs. Even after the Second World War, the perspective of a sovereign Slovenia did not become any brighter. For agitprop reasons, first people’s and later socialist republics were established. However, both before and after World War II, Belgrade ruled. The only difference was that before the war it was the Belgrade Bazaar and the King. And after it, the Communist Party.
In the mid-1950s, the perspective for a sovereign Slovenia began to reopen. The first such sign was the establishment of the European Economic Community in 1954. This opened the perspective that if a sovereign Slovenia came into being, it could become a member of the European Community, which would ensure its security and enable economic success. The second component needed to establish a sovereign Slovenia was the collapse of communism in Europe. The beginnings of this decline began to be indicated in the late 1960s, when it became apparent that the technological gap between Western democracies and communist Eastern Europe was widening uncontrollably. This was also noticed by the American administration of Ronald Reagan (1982-1988) and designed its programme “War on Evil Empire”. This accelerated the collapse of communism in Europe (Peter Schweizer: Victory) with the collapse of communism and the disintegration of multinational communist states. This offered us Slovenes the opportunity to form our own sovereign state.
And this time we Slovenes skilfully took advantage of the opportunity. It began with the May Declaration of 1989. This largely followed all the necessary updates, following the concept of a letter from Prof. Miklošič from 1848. This first step was logically followed by several more ground-breaking steps: democratic parties were formed, the first democratic elections were held in 1990, Slovenia won its first democratically elected government, a plebiscite was held, the Constitution of Slovenia was adopted and proclaimed, and our now sovereign Slovenia was defended militarily. The project, which our ancestors started in 1848, was, at least in my opinion, fully realised in 2004 with the accession to the EU. There are too many people who built and defended the sovereign Republic of Slovenia in the crucial years 1989-1991 to name them here. Their names are well known to Slovenes in one way or another. At the end of this column, I would like to express my sincere respect and deep gratitude to all of them in the belief that Slovenians will celebrate and remember December 26th in the future.
Prof. Dr. Andrej Umek is a member of the SLS Supervisory Board, a former minister, professor, and a member of the European Ideas Network and the editorial board of European View.