By: Jože Možina
I come from a family from the Primorska region – one of those ordinary, but also awakened Slovenian families, who did not have to be convinced about either democracy or an independent Slovenia. We and many others had been hoping for this for decades.
t home, we were used to the opposition stance. My father was imprisoned after the war for political reasons. He saw the atrocities the regime inflicted on Slovenian people, merely because they were wealthy farmers, who thought differently, or simply because they were different. A few years earlier, during the war, the National Socialists imprisoned my grandfather on my father’s side for collaborating with partisans, and as early as the 1930s, my mother’s father was sentenced to 5 years of confinement on the island of Ponza for working against fascist Italy. The opposition attitude meant that my father openly expressed his political and religious beliefs, as a result of which we were labelled, occasionally disadvantaged, and seen as second-rate. We, on the other hand, developed to be more courageous and free.
Military service in the YPA
At the time of the collapse of the Yugoslav socialist experiment, and thus also of the SFRY, I was in the Yugoslav army, in Bileća. After being transferred to Mali Lošinj as a platoon commander, later my military characteristics came out- it was obvious that, for them, I was not politically reliable. Of course, I did not join ‘the Party’. Boys with an opinion like mine had a bunch of excuses prepared in advance for if were ever forced into the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ). However, I was not even invited – although out of the 36 soldiers in the platoon, only 8 hadn’t received a “red card”. Order and a high level of affiliation still reigned in Bileća. There was a sense that Yugoslavia was solid. It was completely different to on Mali Lošinj, in Edvard Kardelj’s military post, where organisational and disciplinary disarray prevailed. There was no real training, except for those using a strictly guarded battery of huge Soviet-made “coast-sea” missiles, which were about 10 meters long and had a range of 400 km. These were carefully hidden and were only brought to the surface at night. Inspections were frequent. One morning our guard was checked by Rear Admiral Marjan Pogačnik, who was the commander of the naval sector in Pula. I handed him the report, and when he realised that I was Slovenian we exchanged a few more sentences. I spoke to him in Slovene, but he answered in the official language of the Yugoslav People’s Army. Thus, an active non-commissioned officer from our unit, from Brežice – and in all the months we were frequently together, he never spoke a single word of Slovene.
In the summer of 1988, by mistake, I found myself at a conspiratorial meeting of the management of Edvard Kardelj’s barracks, because a courier could not find the commanding active officer of our unit. The reason for the consultation was the protests in Roška and the JBTZ affair, and the meeting was chaired by a KOS officer. At the start, he presented the main events as an outbreak of Slovenian nationalism. He mentioned a bourgeois reaction, hostile emigration, and NATO. He was acting aloof, and spoke with cynicism; other officers did not engage much in the debate. I also remember at the meeting how they emphasized that many Slovenes came to the island, and that there had already been nationalist outbursts in Osor, an historic town at the junction of Cres and Lošinj. There was also talk of a longer description of the attacks on the Yugoslav People’s Army, where Janša and the weekly paper Mladina were talked about considerably, which was strictly forbidden in the army. Only a little later, in the tourist season, when Slovenian newspapers appeared in the kiosks, a military colleague from Bosnia came to me laughing with a fresh copy of Mladina, which he had bought in the barrack kiosk. Later he moved to Slovenia, and I used to buy fruit from him at the Ljubljana market.
Democratic awakening as a student
During our studies at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, most of us went to the famous gatherings after lectures, both at Congress Square as well as, later, to the Republic Square. I remember the sparks in the eyes, the shouts in support of freedom and democracy and its main protagonists. In the key moments, the thoughts of the participants were as one, as in any ritual. This was a mature crowd of Slovenian people, both old and young. Very calm, but strong and sincere, with a clear will for freedom and democracy. Completely different from the crowds of recent years, where provocations, arrogance, and even violence were at the forefront.
At the end of 1990, I joined the first democratic student government of the University of Ljubljana Student Organisation (ŠOU), after democratic changes washed away the socialist UK ZSMS. The government, led by Marko Kušar, was diverse in terms of its views, but had a clear Demos line. Even before the declaration of independence, our student organisation became a member of the ESIB (Association of European Student Organisations), at a famous meeting in Ciudad Real, where the student foreign minister at that time, Gorazd Jančar, made a huge impression. The student organisation had a lot of money at that time, and the money also supported our democratic efforts.
On the day of the declaration of independence, I was just returning from an excursion through Austria and Hungary, along with my fellow students. And again, most of us ended up in Republic Square; I still remember where we stood. It was solemn, yet loud and bright. I remember the cheerful faces of the young, and the inspired attitude of the old people, who had spent decades waiting for freedom. The session of the World Slovenian Congress in Cankarjev dom, where I was a delegate of the student organisation, was unforgettable. I remember many striking people from the diaspora who inspired a new dimension in Slovenian way of thinking. They talked about reconciliation in a fair way, and were extremely loyal to Slovenia. They offered the knowledge and energy of their homeland, which subsequently, for the most part, we did not know how to (or did not want to) use. As accredited personnel at Cankarjev dom, I was able to attend press conferences with Jelko Kacin, Janez Janša, Igor Bavčar, Lojze Peterle… I remember a short conversation with France Bučar once he had left the hall. He was visibly worried and shook his head, saying: “The Croats let us down…”
Acting for the benefit of Slovenia
At the ŠOU in Ljubljana, like other organisations, upon the outbreak of war we begged the international public and sister organisations by fax and letter to intervene with their governments for the benefit of Slovenia. One day around that time, I called from the office on Kersnikova and volunteered for the Slovenian Defence Forces. A colleague, otherwise close to the circle of LDS or ZSMS, was amazed by this. But at the time, the differences between us were not lethal. There was no time for that. I was supposed to go to my unit in Primorska, but at that time the connections were disabled.
In those days of the war, I remember how barricades connected to gas cylinders were placed at the end of Tržaška road. I talked to a group of territorials and shuddered with them when it was announced that tanks from Vrhnika would head towards the centre of Ljubljana. It was difficult for them, and especially so for those involved in the fighting that resulted in casualties. The same day I heard a bang and saw a helicopter downed not far from the student dormitory …
I had better stop with this recollection of the time of independence, because the memories perhaps also evoke many bitter things. Our process of liberation from one-mindedness is not at all over. At some points, because of the old compromised forces, steps back were also taken. But luckily there were more of those ahead. Important work awaits us, and the tools for it are truth, courage, and faith in the good.
The homeland also became a state
That magical time of the breakthrough should remain an inspiration – bright and fragrant like spring and summer. As a journalist, and an author of documentaries, I had the opportunity to talk to all the prominent actors or participants in the process of democratisation and independence: Dr Jože Pučnik, Archbishop Dr Alojzij Šuštar, Janez Janša, Lojze Peterle, Tone Krkovič, Igor Bavčar, Ivan Oman, Dr France Bučar, Milan Kučan, Dr Dimitrij Rupel, Dr Peter Jambrek, Niko Grafenauer, David Tasič, as well as many others. My colleagues and I have prepared a comprehensive review on this topic, detailing the most important period in our history, which is primarily covered by the documentaries Slovenski plebiscit (The Slovenian plebiscite) and Domovina in država (Homeland and State). The main message is, that there are few nations in the world that would get their own country in such a democratic way, after such a united will of the majority of citizens in the plebiscite, and such a successful war of independence, which claimed relatively few victims – even though every victim is a victim too many.
After a long period under foreign rule or ideology, the Slovenian man finally became a master of his own, and dependent on his own abilities. Over the centuries, many major nations have disappeared, many have lost their language and independence. In 1991, however, a piece of free sky opened to Slovenians, so that the homeland, defended in the war, could also become a state …
Dr. Jože Možina is a journalist, television presenter, and historian.