Thirty years of living between reality and illusion

Gašper Blažič. (Photo: Demokracija archive)

By: Gašper Blažič

If I have somehow euphorically celebrated epochal events in Slovene history on all previous round numbers anniversaries related to Slovene statehood – the last time was five years ago, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary – the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Slovene state left me quite unimpressed. Many people will wonder how this is possible, since this time for a change we have the spring government, which is actually based on the values of Slovenian independence. True. And in its own way, having such a government in such a situation of unfinished transition is a real little miracle. Even though it should be something completely normal.

As I said: I used to celebrate the anniversaries of these events very euphorically and pompously. And through books and signs of the times, I “drilled” into this “mine” of Slovenian independence. And I began to understand differently the entire course of the Slovenian transition so far. Current events related to daily politics are, after all, only a reflection of what has happened deep in recent history. And this is exactly the problem: today we are celebrating the anniversary of an idea of independence, and we believe that we have realised this idea, which has actually exhausted the Slovenian national programme. The goals and visions for the later period were in fact more or less just a very general outline of what the Slovenes should do in the future: accession to the EU (we succeeded), to NATO (we have also already achieved this) … And here the vision of the Slovenian national programme ends. It is true that the Slovenian presidency of the EU will officially begin any time now. I believe that Slovenia can carry out this project perfectly, but a broader vision will be needed, which will not be based solely on someone somehow breaking through to the elections and then starting anew. And this identity crisis is actually related to how misguided our notions of epochal events three decades ago actually are. Even though a whole generation of people, including political parties, have changed in the meantime. And to most of these “new faces” we can safely attribute that we would like to continue pouring new wine into old barrels from which we have never cleaned the acid that has formed at the bottom. What happens if you pour new wine into an uncleaned barrel? All the contents spoil and become inedible acid.

Perhaps all of the above is also a consequence of our perception of independence. In fact, we Slovenes did not want secession, saying that it would be a unilateral act, thus becoming a European Chechnya that no one would recognise. We preferred to wait until the “natural disintegration” of the common state and add to this our share of “counter-reaction”, for example through a plebiscite and the adoption of basic acts of independence. The process of separation from Yugoslavia was at the same time connected with the process of democratisation. And the concurrence of these two highly interconnected processes was in fact a high price for all of us – in order to achieve such a solid exodus from Yugoslavia, we had to sacrifice the process of final democratisation with a kind of reset, according to which all political options would have exactly the same starting points. Such an approach would, of course, also require a discontinuity with the previous system, but we ourselves know very well that there was no such discontinuity. The (neo)communist side accepted independence as a necessary evil and in fact did not oppose it much at all (I know, you will say that I forget about Kučan and his “intimate option”, but about that a little later). It considered it a kind of emergency exit and such a vision was also indicated by the Basic Charter of Slovenia, written by the regime’s SZDL as a kind of counterweight to the May Declaration from 1989. Of course, with the difference that the Basic Charter (we should not confuse it with the Basic Constitutional Charter!) mentioned socialism and Yugoslavia, but in a kind of new form. And it seems that the vision of the SZDL prevailed over the vision of the signatories of the May Declaration, as “socialism with a human face” and the status of Slovenia as a “small SFRY” have been maintained to this day. And it is not clear to many how this is even possible. That is why we act as if this is not the case, even though the aggressiveness of various Yugoslav nostalgic guilds shocks us again and again.

The idea of “socialism tailored to the people” or “socialism with a human face”, about which the reformist-oriented last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke a lot in the second half of the 1980s, first appeared in Slovene party programmes as early as 1958, albeit more fleetingly. But ten years later, the idea was started to be realised by the then reformist communist Stane Kavčič with a fairly liberal and autonomous practice of governing. However, Kavčič was unlucky: the head of state and party Josip Broz Tito was still alive and very active, and it was clear that sooner or later he would intervene, and at the time of the decision, the vast majority of Slovene communists completely opportunistically defined themselves as “healthy forces,” as otherwise they would have fallen out of favour with their supreme leader. The majority of the population did not even feel the consequences of Stane Kavčič’s political isolation, as Yugoslavia enjoyed the status of a fairly economically stable country in the following years due to the international situation (as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, it also had good support from Arab countries in the field of oil supplies, while foreign exchange – a term no longer used by the media today – came to the homeland through both tourists and expatriates looking for work in countries of a so-called rotten capitalism). Therefore, in 1974, Yugoslavia could afford to adopt a new constitution with an epochal last phase of self-government, where Kardelj’s considerable uncertainty as to whether Yugoslavia, by giving republics the attributes of states, saves or destroys them, was crowned by the fact that Tito did not sign the constitution. In those years, until the collapse of the financial structure of Yugoslavia, the red elite felt so confident that they could, with an easy heart, stomp around the academic institutions and carry out purges along the lines of moral and political suitability.

Kavčič’s period, however, triggered another novelty: the bearers of the “new socialism” began to introduce the measurement of public opinion through the FSPN, which was in fact a capitalist invention. Of course, no one doubts that this was not just a matter of measurement, but above all of controlling public opinion. If the bearers of socialism tailored to the people wanted to retain power and form a “democracy” to their liking, they had to maintain legitimacy through the support of the masses, including through psychological tricks through which they could control not only the masses (i.e. future voters) but also potential political opponents. And this is also the reason why Milan Kučan, after becoming the president of the ZKS Central Committee in 1986 and thus the most influential Slovenian politician, relied on the legacy of Stane Kavčič, while the party youth (ZSMS) in 1986 called for a stronger fight for “open society”, while it left the national question to literary circles, from the public tribunes of the Slovene Writers’ Association, the special issue of Revija 2000 all the way to the 57th issue of Nova revija. At the beginning, it was not possible to observe any particularly strong closeness between Kučan and the ZSMS (its republican conference was then chaired by the later well-known deputy Tone Anderlič). Apparently, Kučan was counting more on forcing the keenest members of the ZSMS to do him a favour without being aware of it. This is one of the reasons why the publication of Kavčič’s diary was actually water on Kučan’s mill, which Janez Janša described in more detail in the book Okopi. The spiritus agens of this event was Niko Kavčič (nicknamed “Sultan”), who supplied Stane Kavčič’s notes to Janša and Igor Bavčar in an “extremely conspiratorial” way. No one, however, suspected the real intentions in the background, much less that Udba was in fact very closely monitoring this happening all the time at the time, but did not react. It did not react because it was not in the interest of its bosses. Just like it was not in the interest of the bosses for the Yugoslav judiciary (Miloš Bakić) to prosecute the writers of the 57th issue of Nova Revija and the later writers’ constitution – Slovenian prosecutor Pavle Car (SDV collaborator!) rejected the complaint.

This is, of course, only a small episode from the time before the epochal year of 1991. But still very instructive. Namely, it shows how the bearers of real change were already falling into the trap of cunning red rulers, who very soon after the publication of Kavčič’s diary decided to sacrifice Janša and thus appease the appetites of increasingly impatient agents of the Belgrade Bazaar. The matter later resulted in the direction that the top of the ZKS nevertheless went into a battle with Belgrade – and no longer with the federal authorities and the army (YPA), but with the Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. Milošević’s scheming was in fact very useful to the Slovene political underworld, as the ZKS was able to tell the Slovenes that it could save it from frantic “southerners”, despite all the private meetings between Kučan and Milošević, which were “outside the cameras and headlights” much more friendly than usual. The crown of it all was the departure of ZKS delegates from the Yugoslav Party Congress in January 1990, just before the first multi-party elections in Slovenia. Namely, ZKS was well aware that with its proposals it was too radical for a fairly casual “south”. At that time, the ZKS was no longer saving Yugoslavia, but itself and its power. This is one of the reasons why its propagandists later asserted the thesis (which was even supported by Dr France Bučar) that Slovenian independence was in fact only a new step in the history of the NOB. However, if we know that NOB is only a synonym for revolution, then it becomes easier to understand why the Slovene Communist Party during the occupation (1941-1945) also counted on the possibility of disintegration of the then existing Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the possibility of the existence of an independent Slovenia, but as a province in the Kominterna. In parallel, the famous theologian Dr Lambert Ehrlich had a vision of an independent Slovenia, but in a completely different light. As is well known, the communist liquidator Franc Stadler-Pepe fired a fatal shot at Ehrlich in May 1942. Was the latter a fraudulent competitor in the field of visions? 45 years after this event, the assembly of the then SRS initially even supported the announced constitutional changes in favour of strengthening Belgrade centralism – only in September 1989 did the ZKS decide to reverse the process, which did not mean a final farewell from Yugoslavia. After all, Kučan was still under the influence of Stane Dolanc, one of the most ardent “Yugoslavs”.

This is, of course, only one of the indicators that in the situation we had in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was not difficult to get a decision in favour of Slovenia as an independent state at the plebiscite. Except that no precise vision has been made of what kind of country we really want. As has already been said: we had to sacrifice democratisation because of the independence processes, because it was clear that without an alliance with the old communist nomenclature, a peaceful exodus from Yugoslavia would not be possible. And we are still paying the price for this alliance today. Kučan’s vision of Slovenia as a small SFRY obviously came true because we did not know how to separate reality from illusions. And what good is endless debate today about whose intimate option was independence and whose “mere” independence, if we do not even understand that the whole point of the current anti-government thrashing is actually in a preventive effect (because it is not about the government doing something wrong, but about not accidentally tackling “holy cows”)? The Slovenian spring option actually has only one problem: it was actually created in the claws of the party nomenclature and it never got rid of these claws in order to be able to run the country completely freely. And that is the reality we never wanted to face. Maybe we will face it when the godfathers of KUL will use the technology of public opinion to steal the next election and retaliatory sanctions will follow. Will we then be able to say enthusiastically that this is the country we got in 1991? And we will unfortunately have to find out that sadly this is the same country.

Gašper Blažič is a journalist for Demokracija, a daily editor on the website and v. d. editor of the web portal