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Sunday, May 19, 2024

(INTERVIEW) Aleš Maver: The trauma of the civil war must be faced sooner or later. Reassurance is not possible without looking into the eyes of the victims

By: Domen Mezeg (Nova24TV.si)

“Persistently accusing Janez Janša of being the main cause of national division follows a pattern in which post-war authorities labelled anyone they perceived as a threat to their complete dominance in Slovenia to be an inciter,” pointed out Aleš Maver, university professor, political analyst, and columnist. Maver also calls on the government to return the memorial day to the victims of communist violence.

Former president of the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, France Bučar, declared the period of independence as the end of the civil war. In his inaugural speech in parliament in May 1990, he stated, among other things, that “with the establishment of this assembly, we can assume that the civil war, which had been breaking and crippling us for almost half a century, has ended”. Janez Janša recently reminded us that Bučar’s words were accompanied by the establishment of a multi-party assembly and the removal of the statue of Josip Broz from the lobby of the building. However, after three decades, Bučar’s words remain unrealised. The remnants of totalitarianism, which oppressed the Slovenian people for decades, were supposed to be left behind, but they remain more as hopeful wishes than reality. Golob’s government is, in fact, “eliminating” everything good that Janša’s government had achieved.

It is about revanchism, which was finally shown by the abolition of the Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism. It represents a restoration of undemocratic values, as evidenced by the return of Tito’s statue to Brdo. It is about revanchism, which is manifested by the abolition of the Museum of Slovenian Independence, etc. The government is leading us back to the dark era of the second half of the 20th century. We discussed this topic with political analyst, publicist, and university professor Aleš Maver. Maver was born in 1978 in Maribor and is employed as an associate professor at the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor. His field of expertise is ancient history. In his writings and columns, he often addresses social and political developments in Eastern Europe, including in Russia and Ukraine.

Following Bučar’s findings, who began reigniting the national divide, and why does history repeat itself?

When France Bučar spoke about the end of the civil war, I was in front of the TV. Many people, including me, were surprised at the time because Slovenes were not accustomed to thinking about the events during the Second World War as a civil war. This perception has partly changed in the following years, but there is still significant resistance among advocated of the partisan side to the use of this term, which is also present among those who are more sympathetic to the traditional camp that was defeated in the civil war. The biggest challenge in this regard is recognising that it was a conflict among members of the same community, that the divide, as is typical in civil wars, often ran through the same households. As a community, we are likely to still come to terms with the fact that during the Second World War (also), there was a severe civil conflict with varying degrees of intensity in different regions, which would not have happened without the occupation. It cannot be claimed that the civil war lasted all the way until 1990, but it did end in 1945, at least in military terms. However, for the situation in Slovenia, Charles de Gaulle’s definition was particularly applicable. He stated that civil war is unforgivable because, when the conflict (among brothers) ends, peace is not born. The Slovenian space has continuously felt the consequences of the civil war and the complete victory of one side, as it fully controlled society. Another characteristic of civil conflicts became evident, namely that the victorious side maintained and even intensified a demonised image of their opponents, as they needed it to build their own identity. This was particularly pronounced in our case, as the communist side had to constantly justify the excessive violence it employed during and even more so after the war. Therefore, they had to persist in portraying their opponents as inhumane, which still resonates today and is evident in the difficulties of recognising the suffering of communist victims.

It is otherwise almost impossible to determine what exactly Bučar meant by his statement. Perhaps it was simply a moment of euphoria. However, if we look for a deeper, the then president of the assembly was likely referring to the fact that representatives of three traditional political camps, the conservative /Catholic, liberal, and social democratic, along with a faction of the ruling communist party that was nationally oriented and sought to strengthen Slovenian sovereignty at the expense of Yugoslavia, united in their efforts for greater Slovenian sovereignty and democratisation. All these groups formed a coalition called Demos.

Dr. Aleš Maver (Foto: STA)

How has this manifested itself since independence?

The initial challenge in Slovenia after independence was the relatively weak desire to break away from the communist regime that had been established through the seizure of power as a result of the civil war among the Slovenes during the Second World War. I can see this weak will in the results of the elections in 1990. The broad Demos coalition gathered only 54 percent of the votes, and the post-communists retained the majority in the presidency. Milan Kučan defeated the gigantic figure of Jože Pučnik. The decisive turning point was the premature disintegration of Demos at the end of 1991, even before international recognition. Unfortunately, at that time, the liberal wing of the coalition did not fully grasp the significance of the legacy of the pre- and post-war events for modern Slovenia. Personal disagreements among individual Demos actors and perhaps fear of the conservative faction’s dominance within Demos, which had the highest numerical support (about half of all coalition votes), played an important role. However, it is a fact that even before independence, individuals from Demos supported demands for the replacement of the Chief State Prosecutor Anton Drobnič, using arguments that resemble the rhetoric of collaboration that is still commonly used today. After the disintegration of Demos, instead of calling for preliminary elections, the liberal wing opted to form a coalition with the post-communists, which resulted in the collapse of Peterle’s government in April 1992. This was a clear sign for the post-communist bloc, which never completely lost its power, neither in the political sphere nor in the social subsystems, that the position to the restoration of its comprehensive influence was weak.

As demonstrated in the past thirty years, the ruling communist structures after the Second World War were only willing to make concessions under the influence of fear. This fear was significant between 1988 and 1992, and then perhaps on two more occasions: during the only true change of power after independence in 2004 and during the crisis at the end of the first decade of the 21st century when it seemed that they system of comradeship capitalism had collapsed during Pahor’s government. The feeling of fear was most intense in the initial period because at that time the demand for cutting ties with Yugoslavia and dismantling the communist monopolies captured the most people in Slovenia. The fear was further fuelled by the rapid downfall of communist power in former Soviet satellites and the execution of the Ceausescu couple in Romania. However, after the disintegration of Demos and the fall of Peterle’s government, the fear subsided. Unfortunately, I have to say today that the ruling party structures clearly did not genuinely intend to follow through with any concession they gave to the democratic side. They struggled to accept the end of Yugoslavia and Yugoslav socialism but nevertheless recognised the benefits of an independent Slovenia as their fiefdom. The problem is that they find it difficult to find common ground with the foundations of Slovenian community identity, which is marked by Christian heritage in Catholic form and a long-standing affiliation with entities centred in the northwest. Particularly since the Second World War, the ruling entities have difficulty tolerating three things: party pluralism (which is why what we refer to as the left in Slovenia practically does not have independent parties but rather a continuation of the Socialist Alliance of the Working People), any public presence of the Catholic Church, and any public commemoration of victims of revolutionary violence or people affected by the ban on remembrance imposed after Second World War. As an illustrative example, I will mention the prevention of the installation of a memorial to the murdered ban Marko Natlačen in his hometown of Manče in 2005 or the attempt revoke the naming of the Kanik Library after France Balantič in 2015. One of the recent cases is the unsuccessful attempt to erect a monument to the writer and deputy ban Stanko Majcen in Maribor. Although the Slovenian memorial landscape is significantly unbalanced, and unlike in Croatia, we have not even had a symbolic break with the communist period regarding the naming of streets and institutions, it seems that representatives of the post-war authorities consider even the little that exists to be too much. Therefore, since 1992, we have witnessed an exploration of the limits of how far they can go in restoring conditions similar to those during their era of single-mindedness.

The first steps in this direction were taken with the “invention” of Dražgoše as the central place for cultivating the memory of the revolution. Before that, it was just one of the partisan events, but it gained a more prominent profile in 1992. The fact that the keynote speaker at that time was France Bučar, who had announced the end of the civil war just two years earlier, speaks for the paradoxical nature of the Slovenian situation. Choosing Dražgoše for such a role was risky in its own way, but, as with some other decisions, it testifies to the joy of post-war Slovenian communists in taking risks. Their logic probably went in the direction of, if we manage to sell the indescribable tragedy of Gorenja vas as a great success of the partisan resistance, many things are possible. And after thirty years, it must be said that they succeeded.

Dr Maver’s latest book on the history of Ukraine. (Foto: STA)

When did the sowing of discord reach its peak?

In my opinion, the decisive years were between 2009 and 2011. In 2009, the discovery of Huda jama shook a large part of the Slovenian public with a direct confrontation with the consequences of ruthless revolutionary violence. The advocates of the pre-war revolutionary camp found themselves in such a defensive and fearful position that the public outrage threatened to undermine their monopolies. In one of his first appearances after the discovery of Huda jama, Janez Stanovnik, even went so far as to attribute all the blame for the killings to Tito, who had been an untouchable icon for the fighters before (and after) that. On the other hand, the demonstrative rehabilitation of representatives of the post-war regime began soon after. The then President of the Republic, Danilo Türk, started this awkward process when he declared Huda jama a second-rate topic. In the following months, initiatives followed to rename a street in Ljubljana after Tito, which was ultimately unanimously stopped by the Constitutional Court, the decoration of the former chief of UDBA and the last interior minister of socialist Slovenia, Tomaž Ertl (which was again carried out by President Türk), and the demonstrative public appearance of “old guards” led by Janez Zemljarič at the solemn opening of the Stožice stadium. The philosopher Tine Hribar was already pointing out the cause-and-effect relationship between the discovery of Huda jama and the decoration of Ertl. All these experiments showed the post-communist bloc that Huda jama did not threaten their supremacy, as the public could not force them to compromise. Therefore, they decided on one last, most risky experiment. In the light of the severe economic crisis and the unsuccessful government of Borut Pahor, they sent a “new face”, Zoran Janković, the mayor of Ljubljana, into the arena in full glory the first time. The leading representatives of socialist Slovenia (among others) “politely” asked him to run for office. The last mayor of Ljubljana from the communist era, Nuša Kerševan, gave the persuasive speech. The post-communists were so afraid of losing power that they risked everything. They positioned a problematic– to put it mildly – Janković, who literally embodied the ideals of socialist and Yugoslav Slovenia, against Janez Janša. However, Janković was also an ideological hard-liner in his understanding of the interwar and post-war events. But even this gamble succeeded for them, and the Slovenes gave Janković a relative majority. At that time, it became clear to me that Slovenia is a particularly difficult case in the Central and Eastern European region. Janša managed to form a government, but with a weak mandate of an electoral loser, which, in the conditions of ongoing economic crisis, led to severe poisoning of the atmosphere, fuelled by the so-called “people’s uprisings” that, except in Maribor, lacked real social basis. Protesters even booed President Pahor, who was elected with a large majority, during the elections. When the “uprisings” failed to overthrow Janša’s government, a report of the CPC was released, which ultimately led to the multi-year marginalisation of the SDS, and the consequences partly persist to this day. In any case, the post-communist bloc now feels strong enough that it has begun to undo the already few symbolic concessions from the early 1990s, when it is not even afraid of the cancellation of the museum dedicated to Slovenian independence or the cancellation of the memorial day for the victims of communist violence.

We read in the media that Janez Janša is the main cause of national discord. Is he the perpetrator simply because he warned that a civil war is already underway?

I do not personally agree with the assessment that a civil war is already taking place. Based on the above statement, I also believe that caution should be exercised when using this phrase. However, I do agree, and it is obvious that we are experiencing the consequences of the outcome of the civil war during the Second World War. The victorious communist side completely monopolised almost all social subsystems and public space, resulting in a deep imbalance that is detrimental to Slovenian society even today. The developments of the past thirty years proves this. Persistently attributing the main cause of national division to Janez Janša follows a pattern in which post-war authorities labelled anyone they perceived as a threat to their complete dominance in Slovenia as an instigator of division. I would like to remind you that in the early years of Slovenian democracy, Jože Pučnik, who was consistently portrayed as a “revanchist”, found himself in a similar role, as did Lojze Peterle, when Christian democracy seemed to be the most serious competitor of the post-communists, and even Andrej Capuder, when he was the Minister of Culture. The idea that those who question the post-war ruling monopolies cause division or “divide” people is fuelled by something else as well. The official representation of the post-war communists was (and still is) that after the civil war, in which they won, some kind of internal “reconciliation” among Slovenes took place, which supposedly appeared as if the defeated simply accepted the (eternal?) supremacy of the communists and that their victims did not officially exist.

Such reassurance could only have been a “post-burial peace”, which could not last because the trauma of the civil war must be confronted sooner or later. Experiences from other contexts even show that seventy years is not particularly long for such confrontation. But those who still believe that reconciliation is possible without facing the victims perceive the highlighting of victims as “inciting division”.

Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan even reported him to the prosecutor’s office. How does such accusation affect the social climate?

The minister did publicly state that her action was related to Tomaž Štih. But in any case, it is a diversion of attention from the catastrophic symbolic failure that the government allowed by cancelling the Memorial Day for the Victims of Communist Violence. Instead of discussing this mistake, the focus should be on alleged hate speech by others.

How to end this rekindling of the civil war we witnessed before 1991?

As mentioned, I believe that the consequences of the outcome of the civil war continue to this day. In the short term, it would be best for the government to withdraw its decision and return the Memorial Day to the Victims of Communist Violence. If it fails to acknowledge the mistake and correct it, it is essential for the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, together with the extended national leadership, to publicly honour the victims of communist violence with an appropriate symbolic act in a very short time. This would unequivocally and once and for all express that the democratic state of Slovenia does not deny the suffering of these victims, recognises it, and condemns the violence inflicted upon them.

I admit that, based on the experiences of the past thirty years, I do not expect such actions. However, I believe that someday broader consensus on the necessity of such remembrance and dismantling of the monopolies that emerged as a result of the communist side’s victory in the civil war will prevail in Slovenia as well. But I no longer dare to predict when that will happen. Certainly, a sufficient critical mass of Slovenes must decide on it, which unfortunately, I do not currently see.


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