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From the memoirs of political dissidents Žarko Petan and Rudi Šeligo: Lawyer Peter Čeferin cooperated with the former regime and helped with the ban of the socially critical theatre group Oder 57

By: Luka Perš / Nova24tv.si

We present to you the story of the dissidents of the former totalitarian regime, Rudi Šeligo and Žarko Petan, in which Peter Čeferin, the father of Aleksandar and Rok Čeferin, and the founder of the Čeferin Law Firm, found himself. Despite his rich legal career, the book Poznal sem jih (I knew them) by Žarko Petan describes an event in which Čeferin, as an employee of Agrokombinat KZ Grosuplje, destroyed a critical and alternative theatre group Oder 57. According to the writer Rudi Šeligo, Čeferin reported him to the State Security Service under “pressure”. Peter Čeferin even sued Žarko Petan for his words, but the lawsuit became obsolete.

The Čeferin family is considered one of the most eminent Slovenian legal families. Father Peter Čeferin is considered the founder of the most famous law firm in Slovenia and an advocate of the once most infamous defendants and convicts. His sons also followed in his footsteps and became lawyers and partners of the family law firm. Aleksander Čeferin went into football, and Rok Čeferin became a constitutional judge. Somehow all three enjoy a reputation and are untouchable even when they gave us a cause for alarm, however, the story reveals why the rise of Peter Čeferin’s career and the social status of the whole family.

This time we will focus on the head of the Čeferin’s family dynasty. In 2018, a biography of Peter Čeferin was published by the writer Tadej Golob, entitled Nespodobni odvetnik (Indecent Lawyer). “A decent lawyer should not get his client acquitted if s/he knows s/he is guilty, and an indecent lawyer, no matter what anyone thinks, defends his/her client with passion and fervour,” is just one of the promotional quotes from Peter Čeferin’s biography. On the page of the publishing house that promotes Čeferin’s biography, his period in Agrokombinat is described with the phrase “stormy years”.

The theatre group Oder 57 critically presented the situation in Yugoslavia

This time we present the records of the well-known Slovene dissident Žarko Petan, who had to spend eighteen months in military prison due to his critical thoughts and opposition to the communist regime, of which he was in solitary confinement for one year. In the staged trial, he was accused of espionage, hostile propaganda, insulting the president and the commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav People’s Army. He was sentenced to seven years in prison at the first hearing, but with his later appeal the sentence was reduced to eighteen months.

Petan was, among other things, one of the founders of the experimental theatre group Oder 57. On July 1st, 1957, Oder 57, founded by a group of students from AGRFT and the Faculty of Arts, presented itself to the public for the first time by interpreting works of contemporary Slovenian poets. Peter Božič describes the basic motivations for the new theatre as the dissatisfaction of young actors and directors who entered the Slovenian theatre institutional space at the time. They began to change outdated theatrical means of expression. In this sense, Slovenes avoided cultural backwardness, as we developed these forms ourselves, without belatedly borrowing them from others.

In 1964, Petan’s experimental theatre Oder 57 in Križanke staged a play by Marjan Rožanec, Topla greda (Greenhouse). The play criticised the situation in agricultural cooperatives. Peter Čeferin, today known as a successful lawyer, and sometimes as a member of Bavcon’s Council for the Protection of Human Rights at Socialist Alliance of Working People of Yugoslavia, then worked in the agricultural cooperative Agrokombinat Grosuplje. According to Petan, Perovšek (then director) and Peter Čeferin brought a bus of drunken workers of the cooperative to Ljubljana for the show. They caused an incident there, and consequently achieved an interruption of the show. On the basis of this event, the authorities officially banned the further operation of Oder 57. The final end of the group was caused by an article published in the Ljubljana Dnevnik on June 4th, 1964, entitled Končana predstava (Finished Performance) (instead of the answer). The authorship was signed by Delovni kolektiv, Agrokombinat, Agricultural Cooperative (KZ) Grosuplje. Petan points out that the only aspiring intellectual and promising writer of the two staged plays in the collective was a law student Peter Čeferin. The article stated the following: “Workers (named by Vasja Predan in his “Interrupted show” – screamers) came and said clearly enough that they are not objects, least of all objects of some perspective doctrinaires or doctrinaires of some non-living and fabricated stage… We wonder where people live, who in 1964 considered the “leadership position” and the need “to start taking the leadership of the cooperative into their own hands.” … We agree that our direct democracy is very broad, but that does not mean that some people can play with this democracy and exploit it for purposes that need to be known to us.”

In court, Lenča Ferenčak and Peter Božič confirmed that the head of the Čeferin family played a central role in the destruction of Oder 57

The testimonies of Peter Božič and Lenča Ferenčak about the said event should also be mentioned. According to Božič, he saw Čeferin in Križanke at the time. He says he had acted like an organiser. He walked around and negotiated with other workers who would, on Čeferin’s orders, destroy the performance of Oder 57. Božič remembers exactly that Čeferin was accompanied by three or four workers of the Grosuplje agricultural cooperative. “Čeferin was not exactly sober and he said to me loudly enough: “Whoever is not with us is against us”.”

Ferenčak said under oath that as an eyewitness she could confirm Petan’s statements about the affair around the play Topla greda by playwright Marjan Rožanec. “He really brought a bus full of drunken cooperative workers from Grosuplje to the show in Križanke.”

Ferenčak remembers very well that she was sitting on a bench in Lenin Park and was talking to a group of boys. Young Peter Čeferin came past them. “We talked about how things were, a conversation started and he himself mentioned that he was the secretary and as an intern had the task of bringing these workers to this show. It was organised.” It would be interesting to read Golob’s biography about the stormy years in the Grosuplje agricultural cooperative, because Peter Čeferin did not lie about the “stormy” years. The persecuted culturist in the former totalitarian regime, writer Rudi Šeligo, had bad memories of him.

He was informing the authorities

In 1961, Peter Čeferin and the late writer Rudi Šeligo performed military service together in Kučevo. After the abolition of Revija 57 and the imprisonment of dr. Jože Pučnik in Ljubljana he had a lot of problems with the authorities and the police. That is why he was confused that Peter Čeferin found himself next to him as a soldier. Namely, he was already part of the Slovene communist elite at that time. His father was already a member of the Constitutional Court in the leaden times, as Šeligo described in a letter to his friend Petan.

“There was a lot going on. I noticed more and more that what we “pulled” together with Čeferin never remained hidden and without consequences… About half a year after our release, we met again in Ljubljana. We drank and fumed at the regime in the military. At that time, Čeferin confirmed to me that he was doing dishonest business in relation with me in Kučevo, that he was deliberately provoking me and informing on me. From then on I have not wanted to have any contact with him anymore,” Šeligo wrote in a letter to Žarko Petan.

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