By: Sara Bertoncelj (Nova24tv)
“The government’s argument that the Museum of Independence should be merged with the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia for the purposes of “transparent and strategically outlined professional work,” is completely wrong and, in fact, a politically motivated argument which, objectively speaking, is directed against the understanding of the meaning of Slovenian independence and statehood,” wrote the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence (Združenje za vrednote Slovenske osamosvojitve – VSO) and called on the government to renounce this intention and thus prevent further polarisation. The guests on the recent episode of the show “Arena” were the current Minister of Culture – who is also facing an interpellation over the abolishment of the Museum of Slovenian Independence – and her predecessor, Vasko Simoniti.
“We have not abolished the museum – with this move, we have merged two public institutions that deal with the period of liberation history and also with the period of recent history,” Minister of Culture Asta Vrečko explained on the recent episode of the show “Arena” that a new public institution had been established, which will have a strengthened team and greater possibilities to research the period of recent history, which, according to her, includes the period of Slovenian independence and the democratisation processes of that time. She said that the previous government, by establishing the museum, had not provided the right opportunity for in-depth research into this period to really take off. In fact, the Minister also believes that the establishment of the Museum of Slovenian Independence was not even a serious project – which, of course, could be taken as an insult by many. The fact is that the Museum of Slovenian Independence no longer exists, as the government has decided to “merge” it into the Museum of Contemporary and Modern History of Slovenia.
Former Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti said that he disagrees with the current Minister, and that 30 years ago, an important break happened for Slovenia, that needed to be emphasised. This is a break that is made up of three important things: the break-up of the former state, the emergence of a new, independent state, and the change in the socio-political system, which was not democratic before, but is now hopefully moving in the direction of democracy. “In principle, of course, it has full guarantees that we have a free democracy,” said Simoniti, who personally believes that by abolishing the museum, the government has expressed a certain contempt for independence and for those who fought for our independence, in an attempt to show that there is a certain continuity from the previous to the new social system, and thus to dilute the new social reality, the order and, ultimately, the state. “This is shown in the most brutal way by the fact that members of the former secret police are being decorated or buried with full military honours – we are talking about people who were actually against the new social order,” says the former Minister, who believes that this establishes continuity, but that by closing the museum, it also blurs the distinction.
The host of the show pointed out that neighbouring Croatia has several museums of the Patriotic War – so there is also a certain symbolism there. But according to the current Minister, the establishment of the museum was not a professional decision, but a political project, undertaken in the middle of an epidemic, and there was no public debate in which anyone could have opposed the decision to establish the museum. “The question of whether something is in the name of a certain institution or not does not imply anything,” the Minister explained the decision to no longer have the words “Slovenian independence” in the name of the public institution, reiterating that their decision was not to abolish the institution, but to merge it. She added that the Ministry of Culture had also just set up a new group for museums, which was debating what kind of reform of the museum policy Slovenia needed to adopt in order to be effective, modern and well-functioning. According to the Minister, the aim of the merger is to optimise the work of the two museums, as everything will operate under one roof, and the period of independence will be able to be studied systematically. Despite all this, it is quite telling that Slovenia has at least four mining museums, five war museums, and many more museums dedicated to many other things, while the Slovenian independence period does not seem to be important enough to warrant an independent museum, according to the current government.
There are a number of museums in Europe dedicated to the independence of individual countries and their sovereignty, especially from the 1990s – but there are also museums in Africa, Asia and, of course, in the United States, where independence is truly alive. “All heritage is, by its social nature, inextricably linked to politics or the political,” Simoniti responded to the Minister’s accusation that the creation of the museum was a political decision, pointing out that the profession decides, first and foremost, on what these institutions have in terms of content. Simoniti also disagreed that the Museum of Slovenian Independence was not founded with the participation of the profession, because it was founded with the participation of one of the most renowned museologists in Slovenia with an international reputation, and the Council of the Museum is qualified and composed of people who have written more books than some people have even seen.
“I think that the museum was founded on solid foundations and is also necessary, because it represents the central point of that break, which should be particularly emphasised,” Simoniti pointed out, noting that the explanations for the decision to merge the institutions were built on shaky ground – the government had said, among other things, that the merger of the two museums would also be more cost-effective – while, at the same time, the same government was setting up new ministries. It should also be pointed out that the Slovenian Independence Museum had been fully funded, and its establishment was included in the National Programme for Culture – which means that the abolition of the museum is also in breach of this. “There are no real arguments in favour of the abolition, except that this is a negative attitude towards our independence, our self-determination, and the nation state that the Slovenian nation has been given,” said the Minister, who believes that the Museum of Slovenian Independence is something necessary, because it shows what we can be proud of – the state, identity, culture, the nation and the people who founded the state – that is, the totality of what gives us our identity. And as Edvard kadič wrote on Twitter, the real question is why anyone would even want to oppose a Museum of Independence in their own country – unless the country’s independence was never their preferred option and they were trying to lessen the importance of the country’s independence.
“If the government feels that the Museum of Slovenian Independence is one-sided in its portrayal of this period, it has every right to change the museum’s leadership, as it has done everywhere else. In this case, they did not abolish the management, they abolished the institution. Their excuses are extremely transparent,” Janez Janša, the Minister of Defence at the time of Slovenian independence, commented on the government’s recent decision at the recent press conference of the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence.