By: Dr. Tomaž Kladnik
When we celebrate anniversaries, we do not focus on the formalities, but on the purpose and content. Rather than celebrating old titles, we celebrate their transformation, which are the result of a new purpose. We give new content to the old.
It was an important historical change, a decisive break with the undemocratic order, a discontinuity. Those who celebrate the old, also celebrate its content, which was not securing independence and democratisation, but ensuring the existence of the old regime, which we denounced in Slovenia with our first democratic elections and with the establishment of an independent state. Those who praise the red star are defiling the symbols of the new democratic Slovenia, and the war in 1991 that defended the democratic order in the Republic of Slovenia. The red star does not symbolise the liberation from occupation in the Second World War, but the post-war totalitarian communist regime, which was characterised by harsh and far-reaching violations of human rights and basic liberties. It is the symbolism of the third totalitarianism which befell the Slovenian nation in the previous century.
Preparations for the announcement of independence
After a successful plebiscite, intense preparations began for the fulfilment of its result. The parliament and other state institutions had to prepare everything necessary for the independent functioning of the state in only six months. They had to pass new laws and legislation, which then became legal foundations for exercising the rights of the new sovereign state, especially the legislation, which had up to that point been managed by the federation, like monetary politics, foreign affairs and defence. After the failed attempt to restructure Yugoslavia as a federation, the Slovenian assembly passed a resolution proposing the unanimous break up with Yugoslavia in February, and with that, it officially started the breaking-up process. According to the proposal, this process should be done in accordance with the international law, and any potential conflicts would be solved peacefully. The resolution emphasised that Slovenia should be formed as an independent and sovereign state, whilst keeping the same borders as the internationally recognised borders of Yugoslavia, while the border with Croatia would be parallel to the border between the individual republics within Yugoslavia. On the same day, the amendment was passed into the republic´s constitution, which declared that Slovenia was one of the legal successors of SFRJ, and that the relations with other states and organisations would be dealt with in accordance with international law. All of the stipulations in the Slovenian constitution which passed the sovereign rights from the republic to federation were to be abolished. As early as at the beginning of January, legal decisions were passed at the republican level, which managed economic relations in Yugoslavia, and the systems of traffic taxes, customs and custom payments were taken over. In March, the government prepared a program of economic independence and the restructuring of the Slovenian economy, in which the key factors were monetary independence and privatisation.
Republic´s coordination as the headquarters of the supreme commander
On 18 March 1991, the Presidency of RS established the Republic´s coordination, an operative coordinating body in case of emergency. As a result, a body was established that coordinated all the necessary preparations for Slovenian independence, and managed all military operations of the Territorial Defence (TO), police and civil defence during the war. In fact, it was a body which coordinated all the preparations for the defence, and then acted as the headquarters of the supreme commander in war, while the role of the supreme commander was taken, in accordance with the constitution, by the Presidency of the Republic along with the Prime Minister. The ministers of defence, foreign and internal affairs, information, and the two commanders, or the heads of the republic´s headquarters for territorial and civil defence, also helped the presidency in their tasks. These were the secretaries for internal affairs and for defence, Igor Bavčar and Janez Janša. A projection council was established in April, and its task was to prepare and coordinate all the preparations for independence. First, a completely independent state budget was passed. It predicted a quotation for the federation, which was three times lower than the federation demanded. Then, at the beginning of June, Parliament passed a series of laws that entered into force on the day of the announcement of independence, including laws regarding citizenship, foreigners, passports, control of the state border, foreign affairs, custom services, financial dealings abroad, foreign currency business, and the Bank of Slovenia. The date 25 July 1991 is of historical importance for the Republic of Slovenia and for all of its citizens as it marks the intersection of the cultural and political currents that made the establishment of the Slovenian state and its recognition and continuous progress possible. On that day, the independent Republic of Slovenia was solemnly announced as a new state on the map of Europe and the world.
The roots of independent Slovenia go back at least a century and a half to the year of 1848, when, after the revolutionary period of the spring of nations, Slovenians voiced their idea of a sovereign Slovenian statehood for the first time. At first the idea grew slowly, but before and after WW1 it gained a new momentum, and then during WW2, especially towards its end, when distinct steps were made towards a partial and gradual realisation of an independent state. Therefore, the day of the announcement of Slovenian independence was a day of victory, the day a nation stepped into history, a manifestation of a great national self-confidence, but at the same time also of insecurity, risk and responsibilities that came with it.
Armed Forces of the democratic Slovenia
After disarming the Territorial Defence of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, the new democratically elected authorities, in their attempts to secure the measures of the newly formed Slovenian state, first planned an establishment of military resistance, and later for the Slovenian army that gained its final form in the Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection. Thereby, a special armed organisation was formed, which was able to protect Slovenia against any armed surprise attack with the help of a special unit and special units of Slovenian police, less than three months after the Territorial Defence was disbanded.
It was established through a thoroughly prepared secret action, led by Tone Krkovič. Amendments to the constitution were passed, resulting in the Slovenian Assembly abolishing the legitimacy of federal documents that were in contrast with the republic´s constitution. The amendment also states that the military service and Slovenian Territorial Defence are within the total jurisdiction of the republic. With this, the formal and legal terms for the take-over of the command of the complete Territorial Defence of the Republic of Slovenia were established. Janez Slapar was appointed as the new head of Territorial Defence.
Despite all the threats and pressures, the preparations for an armed conflict continued. On 17 December 1990 the first public line-up of the armed forces of the newly formed state, which later became the 1st Special Brigade MORiS that was later formed into a first professional military unit, was organised in Kočevska Reka. The line-up showed to the Slovenian public and to potential enemies the preparations and readiness to defend independence, or as the President of the Executive Council of the Republic of Slovenia Lojze Peterle said: “It smells like the Slovenian Army”.
Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection
The Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection was established within the preparations of the defence of the Slovenian territory and the new independent state. Albin Miklič wrote a book on the subject in 2005, titled Rebels with a Cause.
The Republic´s headquarters gave the order on 15 May 1990 to confiscate and move all the weapons, ammunition and explosives, which were outside of the facilities of the JNA, to within their own facilities. The new Slovenian leadership immediately reacted, and the new secretary of the defence, Janez Janša, send the message to the local authorities in municipalities responsible for defence in which he forbade moving any weapons into the facilities of the JNA. With an aim of securing measures taken towards the establishment of the new Slovenian state, first the military resistance was established, and then the Army of Slovenia, which gained its final form in the Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection. With this a special armed organisation was formed, which was able to protect Slovenia against any armed surprise attack with the help of a special unit and special units of Slovenian police, less than three months after the old socialist Territorial Defence was disbanded. It was established through a thoroughly prepared secret action, led by Tone Krkovič. It was established in all of the 13 regions of the Territorial Defence in Slovenia, and through it the bodies of the republic led and commanded the units. A basic defence plan was simple and logical. In the event of an attack, the national defence would secure key objects, while at the same time it would secure the possibility of the draft of complete formations, with swift attacks on army warehouses. Detailed plans were made for individual warehouses, and other important objects. In regions and municipalities, battle squads and detachments were put together in accordance with the available weapons and gear. Mobilisation documents for the new units, which were mobilised by the principle of self-drafting, were made in secrecy. Many secret warehouses were established for weapons and military gear. As early as in the summer of 1990, information about the YPA was being gathered, and on the basis of this information, evaluations of dangers, formations of unit and plans of action were made. Thus, the Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection should be regarded as the framework for arranging preparations for the defence of the Slovenian territory and the new independent state. It was a remarkable organisation that acted as the armed force of Slovenia in the preparation for the war of independence when the socialist old territorial defences were being abolished and the armed forces of democratic Slovenia were being established. With it, the concept of action, and the leadership of the Slovenian armed forces was made anew.
Pekre events in May 1991
When the learning centre of Territorial Defence was surrounded by the YPA, the residents of Pekre and Maribor blocked the road leading to and from the centre in May 1991.
On 15 May 1991 there was a very solemn atmosphere in the Territorial Defence learning centres, located in Ig near Ljubljana and in Pekre near Maribor. 180 new recruits entered through the main doors of the 510th Learning Centre in Ljubljana (Ig), and 120 recruits entered the 710th Learning Centre in Maribor (Pekre). The relatives of the recruits gathered in front of the facilities. They were joyful that their boys would be the first in history to serve the army in the Slovenian military. However, order was quickly restored in the centres. Recruits were assigned to their new rooms, gear was distributed and the learning units of the first generation of Slovenian soldiers were established. Since they were indeed the first Slovenian soldiers, they wore a big dark patch with a yellow number one, trimmed with the colours of the Slovenian flag on the left sleeve of their uniform. This remarkable day in the military history of the Slovenian nation is celebrated in the army and in the whole country as the Day of the Slovenian Army. While all this was happening, the opponent was increasing the psychological pressure on the elders and the soldiers in the centres and on the members of Territorial Defence, who were responsible for the general protection of the centres. This reached its climax when, on 23 May 1991, the YPA openly attacked the Slovenian nation and its path to independence for the first time, when they surrounded the 710th Learning Centre in Pekre. After the capture of one second lieutenant and one soldier of the Yugoslav army who were surveying the area around the learning centre, armed with snipers, a radio station, maps and knives, six armoured vehicles of the Yugoslav military police drove in front of the centre, ready for battle. The commanding officers requested the release of the two captives, along with the draft documentation of the 120 solders of the Territorial Defence and of the security officer of the centre. The leader of the centre informed the Secretary of Defence, Janez Janša, of these demands. He answered that the centre must not give in to the threats, but must organize the defence with its own forces and with the forces of the Territorial Defence that were guarding the centre. The recruits were to be moved in the safest place of the centre. At the same time, he promised backups and mediation with the Yugoslavian Army. Meanwhile, the soldiers of the Territorial Defence were facing the soldiers of the Yugoslav Army for several hours in an insecure position and under the threat of military conflict. The Territorial Defence was ordered to shoot if any of the enemy soldiers tried to enter. The situation changed dramatically when reporters and locals from Pekre and Maribor came to the scene, giving big moral support to the soldiers in the centre. The stand-off was now happening in front of an international public. The negotiations were moved to the chambers of the Maribor municipality, and the pressure of the Yugoslav army was increasing. During the negotiations, the commander of the East Styrian regional headquarters of the Territorial Defence, Vladimir Miloševič was abducted. The Slovenian side retaliated by cutting off the telephone lines and power of the Yugoslav barracks for the first time. Soon after the abduction, the armoured vehicles of the Yugoslav Army retreated from Pekre and the learning centre was no longer blocked. Lieutenant colonel Miloševič was court-martialled by the improvised army court of the Yugoslav Army, which pardoned him.
Final week before the war
On 25 June, the Federal Executive Council passed the “decree of the direct assurance of the execution of the federal regulations regarding the crossings of the state border of SR Slovenia”, which was in fact an order for a military intervention of the Yugoslav Army and the Federal Secretariat for the Internal Affairs (ZSNZ) in Slovenia. In the last week before the war, both the units of the Yugoslav Army and the ZSNZ were performing the following activities with the purpose of an “undisturbed” conduction of military actions on the territory of Slovenia: filling the ranks and the technical equipment, surveillance and recon, an increase and maintenance of battle readiness, gathering of information about Slovenian defence forces, tactical manoeuvres and redeployment of units and means, concentration of force around border crossings, threats to Slovenian militia and increase of pressure due to border signs and Slovenian flags being put up on border crossings, as well as other provocations.
Slovenian defence forces updated their security and defence plans in the expectance of war, checked their plans for the realistic situations, increased their readiness, mobilized and filled the units, prepared the terrain, established border control points on the Southern border and collected information regarding the movements of the Yugoslav Army.
About the author:
Prof. Dr. Tomaž Kladnik is a colonel in the Slovenian Army and a lecturer of history on the Department of Philosophy on the University of Maribor and in the Centre of Military Schools.
Revija Obramba (the Obramba magazine), 1991
Vojaška obramba Slovenije (Military Defence of Slovenia), 2011
Vojna za Slovenijo (War for Slovenia), 2014