Prime Minister Janez Janša attended the ceremony to mark the unveiling of the bust of Dr Jože Pučnik, which took place in front of the Brdo Congress Centre at Brdo pri Kranju. He was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. The participants at the ceremony were also addressed by the Minister of Culture, Vasko Simoniti. Prime Minister Janša, together with Dr Jože Pučnik’s son, Gorazd Pučnik, unveiled the bust.
Dr Jože Pučnik left a significant mark on Slovenian history. First with his suffering and sacrifice, when he was imprisoned during the totalitarian era and then forced into exile. Dr Jože Pučnik played a central role during Slovenia’s democratisation and independence process. In the first half of the 1990s, he made an indelible contribution to the Slovenian reconciliation process by heading the commission that established responsibility for the post-war lawless killings. When the life and work of Dr Pučnik are taken as a whole, we are presented with the true greatness of this exceptional personality, to whom Europe has paid tribute by naming a hall in the European Parliament after him and to whom a place of honour in front of the Brdo Congress Centre at Brdo pri Kranju certainly belongs.
Below is the address of Prime Minister Janez Janša. The transcript of the address has not been authorised.
Dear Slovenians, dear assembled guests, dear Gorazd and other relatives of Dr Jože Pučnik,
Today, as we gather on this sunny day to commemorate the birth of Dr Jože Pučnik, a brutal war is raging not far from us. As I was driving to Brdo, the Prime Minister of Australia called me and asked me how Europe was going to proceed in the coming days and weeks, because what happens in Ukraine will determine what happens in the South Pacific and in the world in general, in terms of peace, respect for international law and a viable world order as we have known it since the end of the Second World War.
A few days ago, I spoke to one of the last European diplomats returning from Kiev, who told me that things were moving slowly, that there were a lot of checkpoints, a lot of traffic on the road to the Polish border, but that there was also a lot of traffic from the Polish border to Kiev, as thousands of Ukrainian citizens, mainly younger men and boys who had worked in Western Europe, were returning home to defend their homeland. When I listened to this, I was reminded of Dr Jože Pučnik. He, too, returned from a comfortable life abroad to the rough seas of the beginning of the Slovenian spring. He was returning to uncertainty, to a homeland that had essentially exiled him, that had denied him hospitality, that had not even sent him his university degree, so that he had to again pursue his studies abroad. He was returning to a homeland that persecuted him, but he heard its call and returned to uncertain times and to war. He did not return to the role of someone who would help but of someone who would lead. In a way, his life path made him ideal for the time.
This attitude of his: to return from a comfortable professorship position he held in the West to help at home, to the risky circumstances of a country where the same people ruled as at the time when he had been sentenced to solitary confinement, and where there were still the same prisons and the same regime – that was courage. Dr Jože Pučnik was not burdened with various trifles of most diverse nature and different resentments that were at that time already widespread across political options in Slovenia, in this small environment where everyone knew each other and where everyone had at some time or another said something to someone else.
Demos was a very diverse coalition of different orientations, profiles, a real rainbow of democratic choice for those first elections, and to coordinate such a coalition bringing together seven parties would be difficult even in peaceful times, let alone at a time when parties were still banned and when every congress and every activity was subject to uncertainty about whether it would be implemented at all and what the sanctions in such a case might be.
Criminal proceedings against Dr Pučnik were instituted when the election campaign for the president of the presidency was already in progress. A Yugoslav prosecutor thus instituted criminal proceedings against Dr Pučnik during the election campaign itself. Also immediately before the proclamation of Slovenian independence, Dr Jože Pučnik, although he did not hold a state office, was the head of the coalition, the person who was first on the removal list in the event that the aggression of the Yugoslav Army were successful. Much of what he was doing at that time was not recorded by the cameras, or else it was but was never shown in our country.
Dr Jože Pučnik fought for the right of the Slovenian nation to self-determination in foreign television studios, especially in Austria and Germany. I remember his appearance in the Austrian ORF studio, where he had a fierce confrontation with the ideologist of the German Social Democratic Party of that time, who claimed that defending the nation’s right to self-determination was something that belonged to pre-modern times and something that did not fit Europe, and then Dr Jože Pučnik disarmed him with the question: “Why do you, Germans, think that only you have the right to self-determination, but not others? Is it because you’re bigger, or is it about values?” And that other guy stuttered something in reply, but the topic was over.
This battle took place in a multifaceted manner at several levels.
I am pleased that in the last 20 years, and especially in the last 15, we have paid respects to Dr Jože Pučnik’s memory in several places, so the main Slovenian airport bears his name and streets and squares across Slovenia are named after him. Unfortunately, there is one big exception, and that is our capital. A few days ago, I think, the commission responsible for naming the streets and squares in the capital where there are hundreds of streets, that is, this commission of Mr Janković, refused to name one square after Dr Jože Pučnik on the occasion of this anniversary. This should be mentioned because it shows the incredible pettiness of some people or political options.
There were some questions as to why we were putting up the statue at Brdo. It is true that Dr Pučnik did not often visit Brdo, but he was at Brdo at the time one of the most crucial political decisions was taken, and this took place on his initiative and thanks to his persistence at the end of April 1991. This happened when rather more than two-thirds of the allocated time had already lapsed after the plebiscite, i.e. when two-thirds of the time that the Slovenian people had given to the decision-makers to implement the plebiscite decision were well over. From the plebiscite in December 1990 to the end of April 1991, when this meeting took place here at Brdo, the Slovenian opinion multipliers of the time had sowed so many doubts about this decision, there were so many delays in the Slovenian Assembly in the adoption of key independence documents, in particular all defence acts, the budget – we submitted the defence budget for consideration in October 1990 and it was adopted sometime at the end of March 1991 – after all the holdbacks and obstructions, not to mention the Defence Act and the Military Service Act, in short, the delays were incredible, as were the obstructions, and the key decisions were adopted, not unanimously as is believed by the majority of Slovenians today, but with one or two majority votes of Demos. If there had been a few more votes missing, who knows what would have happened. However, the situation was such that every step taken had to be one hundred percent legally correct under the Yugoslav legislation, which was very difficult to adapt to the new circumstances. Many believed that the delays were too long and that the independence would fall through. There were also doubts and dilemmas within Demos because people saw the state of things.
A hundred metres from here, at the place we also marked with a celebration last year, Dr Jože Pučnik called a meeting of the Demos Government and the key ministries and the key people from the coalition, the Demos parties. At the meeting he asked each and everyone whether we should go forward, decisively until the end, without “already”, “maybe”, “maybe not” or “maybe we should postpone a bit”. If we had postponed anything, we would have no longer existed. We ran two rounds of this, because after the first round it was not yet clear what some of us thought. After the second round, it was perfectly clear that the Demos coalition came out of this meeting unified and from then on matters were dealt with decisively, even with regard to the political fight in the Assembly. By 25 June 1991, the preparations for independence were concluded, albeit with great difficulties, to such extent that we succeeded.
This was one of the moments when Dr Jože Pučnik played a key role. Just as he was a key person in bringing together the Demos coalition, when he was internally and externally expressing his faith in our success. When it seemed that, after the sudden changing events in Romania when the Romanian dictator was executed, the will to carry out multi-party elections had also been quickly growing in Slovenia and when, as this became clear at the end of December 1989, Dr Jože Pučnik said at the press conference held at the Slovenian Writers’ Association: “It is evident that there will be elections and Demos will win these elections.” We can still see the laughing faces of some journalists, because it was not clear, no legislation had even been adopted, that there would be elections, let alone that Demos would win. But Dr Jože Pučnik repeated this whenever he spoke at events across Slovenia and it was obvious that he believed it. Because he believed it, many others believed it. At the beginning this was not the majority; however, by the end it became a sufficient majority to enable all the key political measures necessary for independence to finally be adopted.
The words that Dr Jože Pučnik said at Cankarjev dom after we had learned about the astonishing result of the plebiscite are eternal. It is right that we set them in stone many times, I believe they are also on this monument, and we must repeat them every day, particularly in these times, when many things are being weighed again. It’s about Slovenia!