By: Dr Metod Berlec
On the occasion of the Statehood Day, we spoke with the historian Dr Andreja Valič Zver. We talked with her about the books and the project marking the 30th anniversary of the independent and sovereign state of the Republic of Slovenia, which she coordinated within the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia during the government led by SDS President Janez Janša.
DEMOKRACIJA: Mrs. Valič Zver, these days we remember the independence of Slovenia and the aggression of the Yugoslav Federal Army against Slovenia in 1991. Last year we solemnly marked the 30th anniversary of the independent and sovereign state of the Republic of Slovenia. The previous government, led by Janez Janša, paid special attention to this anniversary…
Valič Zver: Yes, it is true, these days we mark the 31st anniversary of the declaration and defence of the independent and sovereign Slovenian state. We remember the brave and at the same time difficult days, when Slovenian men and women in various ways defended our firm decision at the plebiscite in December 1990. At that time, Slovenian politicians were given the order to implement an independent state. We can say that the peak of the historical maturation of the Slovenian nation was reached in 1991. Therefore, the 14th Slovenian government of Janez Janša adopted a celebration programme last year with a special resolution, which included more than 600 events at the level of ministries and other bodies of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia, state and other bodies, organisations, associations, societies, and local communities. There were probably many more different celebrations in Slovenia, abroad and around the world. After all, we celebrated this year as well, especially the anniversaries of international awards. A few days ago, we set up a permanent exhibition on Brdo pri Kranju about what has happened on the estate since 1991.
Special attention is paid to the events in the year of independence in 1991 and the two Slovenian presidencies of the Council of the EU, in 2008 and 2021. Brdo also played an important role in establishing a commemorative landscape of events from the time of the Slovenian political spring and independence…
DEMOKRACIJA: As part of this, last year on the government website gov.si/slovenija30 you published daily contributions in which you remembered what happened in Slovenia and beyond in 1991… How did it go?
Valič Zver: As part of marking the 30th anniversary, the Communications Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia decided, among other things, to publish articles describing the days from December 23rd, 1990, to January 15th, 1991, from the plebiscite to international recognition. 21 authors from the ranks of historians, political analysts, publicists, and other experts participated in the successful project. As a historian with a doctorate from the period of Slovenian democratisation and independence, in connection with the editor Danilo Golob and later Jani Drnovšek from UKOM, I reviewed and coordinated the texts and communicated with the authors so that the extensive material that was created on a daily basis would pass the test of credibility as successfully as possible. In our work, we relied on various historical sources: domestic and foreign newspapers, Slovenian newspapers from abroad, literature, online sources, acts of independence of the Republic of Slovenia and more. The description and analysis of events by individual days, which you can find on the website gov.si/slovenija30, thus brings very concrete facts about individuals, processes, and phenomena, in general about the wider happenings in politics and society, indirectly also about media reporting. At least until June 25th, 1991, and even later, unfortunately, this was directed many times against the Demos government and its efforts for actual, not just operetta, independence.
DEMOKRACIJA: On the basis of this, a wonderful book entitled “The Triumphal Year 1991” was created, of which you were the main editor. Can you tell us a bit more about the book, how it was created, what dilemmas did its creators face, and what was the purpose of its publication?
Valič Zver: It would be a shame if such rich material remained published only on government websites. Therefore, in the middle of last summer, a public call for publishers was published, and we quickly found a common language with the chosen Družina publishing agency. Months of painstaking drafting of contributions and many coordinations followed. In addition to myself, Tone Rode, Uroš Urbanija, Tanja Glogovčan Belančić, Danila Golob, Jani Drnovšek and Franci Donko also participated in the wider editorial board of the book The Triumphal year 1991. Statements and photographs of famous Slovenians, verses of patriotic songs, photographs of people and nature were also included. Each article in the book has an introduction highlighting the events of that day. The main points from the introduction are described in more detail in the text of the paper. Less important dates have been abbreviated, but more important ones have kept most of the text from the website. All daily contributions are equipped with a QR code that leads to its publication on the website gov.si/slovenija30. The opening speeches of the independence winners, the text Stali smo in obstali, an explanation of selected abbreviations and concepts, a presentation of editors and authors, and selected literature and sources are also published. We presented the book in April this year in Brdo pri Kranju, followed by a seminar for teachers and presentations around Slovenia. The creators of the book want it to reach as many people as possible…
DEMOKRACIJA: The book The Triumphant Year 1991 undoubtedly belongs on the shelves of every Slovenian educational institution, as it is widely known that Slovenian youth do not know enough about the period of Slovenian democratisation and independence. You already dealt with this problem as the president of the Association of History Teachers of Slovenia from 2004 to 2008…
Valič Zver: During the first government of Janša and the Minister of Education, Milan Zver, decisive shifts took place in the discussing of the issue of independence. Until then, the prevailing belief of “established” historiography was that the subject was not yet “sufficiently distant in time and sufficiently scientifically processed”, which of course does not stand up to serious assessment. After all, it is about the creation of the Slovenian national state! That is why my colleagues and I from the Association of Slovenian History Teachers persisted and were successful. Unfortunately, the subject of independence is included in the curriculum towards the end of the school year, when teachers and students are overloaded. But a resourceful teacher always finds a way… It is known that the task of school policy is to equip teachers with suitable tools for teaching, especially the most important period of Slovenian history. A lot was done during Zver’s ministry, and this year, in addition to documentaries, electronic materials on the Independence of Slovenia and materials prepared by the Institute of Education of the Republic of Slovenia, the Encyclopaedia of Slovenian Independence and the book The Triumphant Year 1991 were added. There were 1,500 copies divided between public libraries and libraries in primary and secondary schools, as well as by faculties, national museums, and state institutions.
DEMOKRACIJA: When preparing and publishing the book The Triumphant Year 1991, were you also guided by the thought of the international public and editions in foreign languages?
Valič Zver: Together with Družina publishing agency, we are aware that the period of the Slovenian political spring and independence is too poorly known abroad. In some circles, the prevailing opinion is that Slovenia is “to blame” for the breakup of the Yugoslav state, that we Slovenians “separated” and that a kind of “pact” was concluded between the old nomenclature and the new Demos government. None of this stands up to serious professional judgment. That is why I hope that the plan to translate the book into foreign languages and even to appear at the Frankfurt Book Fair will come true.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, you also published the publications Stali smo in obstali and Memorials from the time of Slovenian independence…
Valič Zver: It is true that quite a few publications from the time of the third Janša’s government will remain for future generations, and not only favourable economic indicators and international successes during the second presidency of the Council of the EU. The publication Stali smo in obstali arrived in all Slovenian households on the 30th anniversary of the independent Slovenian state, and Memorials from the time of Slovenian independence provides an overview of monuments by Slovenian municipality. Unfortunately, not all of them responded, but there is always room for additions… for the next editions.
DEMOKRACIJA: Last year, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the independent Slovenian state, several documentaries were also filmed… Can you say something about that too!? We know that these are very important…
Valič Zver: Today’s people are more and more “people of moving pictures”. Therefore, it is not surprising that several quality documentaries were filmed in 2021: Zdravljica directed by Mitja Okorn, Hrepenenje naroda, a film about Dr Jože Pučnik, the testimonies of the independence fighters, and the film 30 peaks for 30 years. Together with the books, it was received by all Slovenian educational institutions. I would like to see films made in the future about the beginnings of Slovenian national formation, as well as about the kingdom of Nori. Film images have a significant impact on healthy national self-confidence, which is often lacking among Slovenians. In this sense too, we should be inspired by the Scandinavians!
DEMOKRACIJA: How are you experiencing the Statehood Day this year, when the godfathers who signed the “Foundational Charter of Slovenia 1989” in 1989, which still saw Slovenia within the framework of socialist Yugoslavia, are back in power…
Valič Zver: This year’s Statehood Day was marked by the march of the VSO from Gorenjska to Ljubelj, which has been traditional since 2014. We remember the events from the time of the war for Slovenia in 1991 and the Slovenian exodus from 1945, which passed through Ljubelj. We also have in mind the year 1895, when Jakob Aljaž marked Slovenianness also on Triglav. Slovenians from Argentina were also with us. We, who have Slovenia in our hearts, celebrate the birthday of our country with more experience. There is no point in discussing others who had a different intimate option.
DEMOKRACIJA: From 2008 to 2020, you headed the Study Centre for National Reconciliation, which went through turbulent times, many attempts were made to kill it, but it managed to survive and establish itself indelibly in the domestic and international space. A miscellany was even published about this period of the Study Centre…
Valič Zver: I look back with pride on the twelve-year period of my leadership of the Study Centre for National Reconciliation. It was a real miracle that we survived at all in an unfortunately predominantly hostile environment. Right after we were born, the then Minister of Justice Zalar intended for us to be sentenced to death, but he did not succeed… A lot of work was done in Slovenia and internationally. It is at least partially recorded in the miscellany you mention. Many professional, but also cordial and unforgettable human ties were forged. Unfortunately, many of these people have already passed away, but unwavering supporters of my work for reconciliation in the Slovenian nation remain indelibly in memory: Dr Lovro Šturm, Dr Ljubo Sirc, Justin Stanovnik, Lidija Drobnič, Jelka Mrak Dolinar and many others. I continue my mission in the European Platform of Remembrance and Conscience, which I helped establish and have been active in since 2008. Then, during the period of the first Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU, the process of European confrontation with all totalitarianisms began. Communism in particular, which left behind a huge number of victims, must be evaluated and condemned as a criminal regime that systematically violated human rights and fundamental freedoms. Many, especially Westerners, still have considerable difficulty with this today.
DEMOKRACIJA: Undoubtedly, Slovenes as a nation were strongly marked by this totalitarian period, which in some way began to be established already in 1941, with the occupation and then with the communist revolution and which lasted almost five decades!?
Valič Zver: The Slovenian nation survived three totalitarian regimes: fascism, national socialism, and communism. Our power to survive is an indisputable fact, but on the other hand, our mentality is strongly marked and “damaged”, as recognised experts note. Among other things, Jože Pučnik wrote about this and predicted that it would take at least three generations before a democratic core structure would grow in people. Considering the current events in Slovenia and the rapid deterioration of the international environment, I am afraid that we will need much more time to get rid of totalitarian reflexes and subservient nods to those in power. I will remember Pučnik again, who wished that Slovenians would finally straighten their bent spines. I want that myself.
DEMOKRACIJA: Despite your in-depth work on the subject of democratisation and independence, you remain visible also in the field of dealing with totalitarian regimes. You were one of the founders of the European Platform of Remembrance and Conscience, you are a member of its executive board. In our country, part of the left-wing political public is very nostalgic for the former totalitarian socialist Yugoslavia. Behind the former system… How is it in other European countries?
Valič Zver: Most of the countries that were behind the Iron Curtain have dealt with communism. Bright examples are Poland, as well as the former East Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states… The Red Star is prohibited in some places, let alone the chanting of the former regime. It is not even possible to imagine rewarding the heads of the secret political police, a euro coin with the image of a partisan butcher, a monument to a murderer in front of the presidential palace, a monument to the communist revolution in front of the parliament and other totalitarian excesses. A few days ago, the European Parliament’s resolution condemning all totalitarianism was again rejected in the Slovenian Parliament. Inconceivable. This is also why I believe that we, Slovenians, lack basic compassion for the victims and that our path to true democracy will be long and thorny.
In other post-communist countries, as I have already mentioned, lustration was carried out, albeit with varying intensity, but enough so that the old structures did not threaten the freedom and democracy gained. In all countries, people and political leaders who were responsible for drastic violations of human rights and freedoms were condemned. In Slovenia, we did neither the first nor the second. Let us remind you that when Mitja Ribičič was brought before Pučnik’s parliamentary investigative commission, he literally made fun of it. With the more or less undisguised support of the mainstream media… Immediately after the change of regime, a climate was created in our country, as I already mentioned, that communists and non-communists are equally deserving of democracy and independence, saying that this was even the first condition for everyone, what we have achieved. The truth is different. I try to eliminate doubts with my professional work. Especially when I was the director of the Study Centre, I did this successfully.
Going back to your question; it is true, Slovenia remains a kind of isolated “red island”, where there is great nostalgia for Yugoslavia and socialism. The bad news for us is that no one in the EU is interested in the democratic transition of former socialist countries. Slovenians must therefore – as usual in our past – rely primarily on ourselves: we must find our sources of strength to say a firm no to totalitarian concepts that are still alive, no to the culture of violence and death, and no to the bluff that accompanies us every day and that we taxpayers fund it. We have proven many times that we can establish normality, I would say structural normality, institutionally.
Sometimes we idealise Western Europe as a place of normalcy. But we have to face reality and realise that “core Europe” has changed a lot, that it is no longer the same as it was 40 or 60 years ago, when the values on which it was based were much more pronounced. Today there is a lot of abnormal there too, but it is still a place like no other on the planet. Today, Western Europe needs some Central and Eastern European freshness. But that is another topic.
DEMOKRACIJA: In your scientific and professional work, you especially devote yourself to the role of Dr Jože Pučnik. You have presented Pučnik internationally with numerous contributions, you are the author of the bilingual book Jože Pučnik – Father of the Slovenian Country. On March 9th, 2022, Dr Pučnik celebrated 90 years. Did the Slovenian state properly pay tribute to his memory on this anniversary?
Valič Zver: I believe that, despite the efforts of the third Janša’s government – I have in mind the statue of Pučnik on Brdo pri Kranju and the documentary film about him – still have not properly paid tribute to his memory. With the work you mention, we partially filled the gaps, as well as with the hall that the President of the Republic named after Pučnik. Some local communities also contributed a lot to this by naming squares, streets, and schools. An important achievement was the naming of one of the halls in the European Parliament after him, etc. More attention is paid to Pučnik by the party he once led. The building where SDS works is called “Jože Pučnik’s House”. For this purpose, the Institute of Dr Jože Pučnik, which works in extremely difficult conditions, was established. We are without premises, without adequate and systematic financing. Every year we try to hold the otherwise high-profile Pučnik’s Symposium and other events. We have established constructive international cooperation. But the Pučnik’s Institute needs a systemic solution, otherwise it will not be long…
DEMOKRACIJA: Let’s slowly conclude our conversation. Before that, let’s touch a little on current political events. How do you comment on the fact that the Slovenian voters of the previous centre-right government, i.e., the third Janša’s government, which was very successful according to all macroeconomic indicators, did not adequately reward them in the parliamentary elections?
Valič Zver: It is a phenomenon that has already been seen elsewhere, but only one time. In our country, this scam with comets, to use a milder term, happens three times in a row. With us, it is no longer a one-off reflex, a mistake. The Slovenians step on the ice three times and fall. This can be a challenge for a good scientific research study. How to explain this success, so to speak, of a two-month-old political premature baby, and where did the number of participants suddenly rise from 50 percent to 70 percent after more than 30 years of declining turnout? These are truly phenomena, serious questions to which we must get an answer before the next election. Until then, we need to get rid of the doubt as to whether it was a cyber-attack, irregularities at the polling stations, e.g., when counting or when transferring data to the central office, or what! In short, a fact has occurred that is worth investigating from a scientific and political point of view. This is not about creating a conspiracy theory, it is about a simple desire to come to an explanation and, last but not least, to the truth, which is, among other things, the purpose of science.
DEMOKRACIJA: How do you assess the new government’s coalition agreement and its first moves? It is obvious that its priority is staffing…
Valič Zver: For now, the citizens do not see liberating content in this government, but above all a personnel tsunami, which reaches not only the top of the power structures, but also the social subsystems. The government has long gone beyond the limits of normal personnel refresh. You should know that the personnel revolution is not only carried out by the so-called new faces around the new president, but mainly old networks. There will not be many compromises here. Of course, there are limits to this as well; they realise that they will have to answer for their consequences as well. Let me also add the restriction of the right to speak in the Slovenian parliament, the farcical slip-ups on the Slovenian and European political floor… The image of “freedom” is slowly emerging as its opposite. Among other things, the current political landing on RTV would have been difficult to justify even in the 1980s, when the Slovenian political spring was awakening.
DEMOKRACIJA: And finally. How do you view the political situation in Europe, in the European Union, which has been heavily burdened by Russian aggression against Ukraine in recent months? In other words, the bloody war in Ukraine… And the role of Slovenia in this?
Valič Zver: It is an unimaginable act of aggression that the American intelligence services predicted, but most other Western countries did not follow. This aggression is beyond the normal, rational, so common sense has a hard time grasping it. But it is true that Putin indicated the possibility of what is happening in his analyses. The EU reacted too late, perhaps also not enough decisively, which is the result of the difficult situation, especially in the German government. Many leftist politicians are influenced by the Russian regime and they influence the slow decisions of the German government. It is similar in France, where Putin has under his control a part of the left and a stronger part of the right. It is only today that we see how we are missing Great Britain in such difficult decisions in the EU. What role does Slovenia play in this, you ask? With Janša we could have one – and at one point we did, you know what I mean – but the new government will not be able to be a more prominent interlocutor. I share the opinion that this government will be more pro-Kremlin or will try to take a kind of neutral position, as was the case with previous left-wing governments. Both positions are in conflict with the Slovenian constitution and the Euro-Atlantic commitments. Slovenia has positioned itself in the geopolitical space a long time ago, and Slovenian politics just has to follow this.
Dr Andreja Valič Zver is a historian, English scholar, and president of the Institute of Dr Jože Pučnik. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana, and her doctorate at the University of Maribor. Her doctoral dissertation was devoted to the role of Demos during democratisation and Slovenian independence. In addition to teaching history, Valič Zver participated in numerous national and international projects related to national formation, social science, history lessons, and the study of totalitarian regimes. She is the author and editor of scientific and professional articles, monographs and educational materials, as well as a participant and referee at many international conferences. She was one of the founders of the Association of History Teachers of Slovenia and was its president from 2004 to 2008. She headed the school section of the Association of Historical Societies of Slovenia, the Archive Commission of the Republic of Slovenia, the board of the Museum of Recent History of Slovenia and the board of the Gorenjska’s Museum in Kranj. She was on the board of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. She is a member of the executive board of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience and the Assembly for the Republic.