By: Nina Žoher / Nova24tv
In the show Beremo, retired Archbishop of Ljubljana, theologian and philosopher Anton Stres, spoke about the communist revolution during and after the Second World War, the post-war massacres and efforts for reconciliation and freedom of religion in Slovenia. Among other things, he pointed out that things have not been easing in our country in recent years, but have become worse. “We are not moving towards reconciliation, but we are moving further and further away. Political exclusion is also a continuation of the war. Exclusion means you want to destroy someone. This is a matter of war. This is by no means so insignificant as to simply ignore it.”
On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the reconciliation ceremony in Kočevski Rog and on the centenary of the birth of Archbishop Dr Alojzij Šuštar, a symposium entitled “Slovenian Reconciliation” was held on June 24th, 2020 at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana. Based on this, a collection entitled Slovene Reconciliation was published at the end of June. Stres prepared a paper for this conference with the same title, which was also published in this collection. When asked how the symposium came about, Stres explained that it was a matter for the Slovenian Academy, which felt the need to speed up this reconciliation a bit and move it from a dead end.
According to Stres, we find that the reconciliation process encounters very great obstacles over and over again. The participants in this discussion were very different. “Everyone seemed to be trying to be the most reconcilable, you cannot really show your muscles at a reconciliation symposium.” He is convinced that the effort alone is certainly progress and is commendable. However, there are still some major obstacles that he believes have not yet been overcome in order for this reconciliation to be achieved. “We must take into account reconciliation between Poles and Germans, or after every civil war, when the time comes and it is necessary to work and live together.” He recalled that the EU was also created with the aim of making Europeans live in harmony. “It takes a lot of good will, unfortunately that is not always enough,” he emphasised.
Years ago, the theologian and philosopher Stres introduced a comprehensive, thousand-page Lexicon of Philosophy that is practically useful. In the show, he spoke about how it was received in professional circles and how among the wider readership. “There were not many or almost no echoes in the professional circles, especially in the philosophical ones. In other rounds, however, it was generally well received. Just because it is quite extensive and because it is the first such attempt in Slovenia,” explained Stres. There used to be lexicons or similar dictionaries, but this one is much more extensive, headwords are processed in such a way that when someone hears the headword for the first time or becomes interested in it and wants to know what all this means in philosophy, one can become thoroughly acquainted with this. Thus, some headwords are quite long. “The most grateful users are mainly students or those who enter the world of philosophy. They were usually happy with it,” he added.
If one account of what happened in a given period is not true and does not stand up to truthfulness, it needs to be changed
Stres began his contribution entitled “Slovenian Reconciliation” by recalling the constitutive session of the first democratically elected Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, which was held in early May 1991 and at which the newly elected President of the Assembly, Dr France Bučar uttered the famous words: “With the constitution of this assembly, we can believe that the civil war, which has broken and crippled us for almost half a century, is over.” According to Stres, this was a beautiful wish, a hope that has not yet been fully realised. “There, I then emphasise at least three things that need to be solved as a condition for continuing. The first is that we do not accept that history must not change. So this ideological presentation.” According to Stres, this is necessary if we want history to be a science. Namely, everything changes in science. Science is a graveyard of scientific theories. “If one account of what happened over a period of time is not true and does not stand up to truthfulness, it needs to be changed.” According to Stres, this oath that we will not change history and that it must always remain as we have shown so far is not appropriate, but it is necessary to be aware that history is written by winners. This needs to stop.
The church is not a party to the proceedings, but it can, of course, make reconciliation easier
Another thing, according to Stres, is the determination of the parties in the process of national reconciliation. “This is the most urgent for me and at the same time probably the most difficult. So who should get along with whom. In reconciliation, there are always two who reconcile, or there are more.” Stress says that the view has generally been adopted here that the Communists and the Church must come to terms. “No, the Church is not a party to the proceedings, it is much broader than the people who stood against each other with weapons in their hands during the 2nd World War, because they were members of the Church among them.” For this reason, it is necessary to agree on who has to reconcile with whom or which part of the nation has to reconcile with another part of the nation. “Those who were under the influence or leadership of the Communist Party, which also led partisanship on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who were victims of all this interwar terror and, of course, those who did things on this side as well, which they should not have.” As Stres says, the matter is, of course, very complex, but it will have to be agreed that here the Church is not a party to the proceedings, but it can, of course, make reconciliation easier.
As a third set, he points out the unresolved ambiguity concerning the moral assessment of violence in general and of the proletarian or communist revolution in particular. “We lived in the belief and even today it is in the air that the revolution was perfectly fine and that it is morally indisputable and that those who opposed the revolutionary violence were enemies who were wrong. The proletarian revolution in the name of which the OF and the Communist Party acted also carried out its crimes in the name of higher goals, the historical rule. They said that a proletarian revolution must take place in order to establish a new humanity. This is a Communist-Marxist ideology, an ideological conception of history, that one day there will necessarily be a proletarian revolution, that this is the law of history with iron necessity, says Karl Marx.” According to Stres, those who disagreed said that their rebellion was unjustified and unfounded, in fact it was already a crime. “You still have that today,” he added.
“All these political cyclists who walk around Ljubljana and do a lot of heartburn, which harms us all and because of which quite a few are sick and dead, come from the same position. Those who oppose communism or socialism are guilty and do not have the same right to be, to act, to rule (have power) as those who are appointed to do so in the name of history with a capital letter, a new deity.” This is still in the air and it is fundamentally unjustified, because violence must not happen, he stressed. No violence has a moral right. “If we reach for it, it is in very limited cases. So, if we ourselves are victims of other violence and if there is no other way we can defend ourselves against violence under certain conditions.” Stres emphasised that violence, war do not represent the normal way of resolving our conflicts. Every violence, even war, is always evil.
We are not moving towards reconciliation, but farther and farther away
Not long ago, strangers desecrated the monument next to the Church of All Saints in Ljubljana’s Žare with parish memorial plaques bearing the names of silenced victims of interwar and post-war violence. Namely, the scoundrel (or several of them) sprayed the plate with the markings of the Liberation Front – the inscriptions “OF” and five-pointed stars. Stres emphasised that this is one of these symptoms, which we have noticed in recent years, that things are not easing in our country, but getting worse. “We are not moving towards reconciliation, but we are moving further and further away. Political exclusion is also a continuation of the war. Exclusion means you want to destroy someone. This is a matter of war. This is by no means so insignificant as to simply ignore it. All this cultivation of hatred.” For this, according to Stress, can very quickly turn into a very unexpected and cruel fact, a reality. As we are in the run-up to the elections, he points out that we need to understand this in this context as well.
On the other hand, the Slovenian Army Guard, on behalf of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, laid numerous memorial wreaths on various graves and monuments, including this monument in Žale, which upset the left wing opposition, which had a completely ideological party response as was expected, saying that laying a wreath to the Home Guard is scandalous. And they started repeating old communist swear words about collaboration again. At the same time, the Ljubljana Castle Public Institution revoked the consent for Sunday’s Holy Mass for the deceased home guards in the chapel of St. Jurij at Ljubljana Castle. “These are the same symptoms that indicate an exacerbation. So, things are not moving in the direction of increasing reassurance and acceptance of each other, but in the direction of some new tightening, which was not the case in previous years.”
Stres pointed out that the laying of wreaths did not take place for the first time. The wreath was also laid in Kočevski Rog, but no one objected. “It is simply a pre-election manoeuvre. The matter, however, is not so negligible, as it is a matter of inciting hatred among people and deepening old divisions. Instead of fewer and fewer of them and more and more accepting each other and also accepting the different views we have on the interwar events, the opposite is true.” Expressing new intolerance is, according to Stres, worrying and reprehensible.
Stres wrote an article for the collection 30 Years of the Slovenian State entitled “Effortful Efforts for Freedom of Religion”. He first wrote about the Catholic Church, which found itself in the company of equal religious communities. And the fact is that Slovenia, after all, is still a Catholic country. “Slovenians have been Catholics by their cultural and spiritual origins for 1,200 years and more. Since Christianisation, the Catholic mindset has shaped our values, way of life, mindset. It gradually contributed to the establishment of Slovene, the mother tongue, as an equivalent language in the European Community. I am not saying that all Slovenes are Catholics according to their personal beliefs, but that Christianity in our country has a place in the Catholic implementation that is unique.”
The public element was trampled under communism
The position of religious communities in Slovenia was in principle determined by the new democratic Slovenian constitution, which was adopted on December 23rd, 1991!? In connection with this, he pointed out Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which deals with the separation of the Church from the state. The continuation of Article 7 is usually forgotten, said Stres, adding that religious communities that are otherwise separate from the state operate freely and are equal to each other. This means that religious communities (the Catholic Church) have the right to act as they feel they must act, their members have the right to live freely, and to profess their religion in 4 dimensions of religious freedom. “Religious freedom has 4 dimensions: Religious freedom is that one can personally believe in one’s personal (private) life and together with others as a community (including my community, to which I belong). Religion is always something collective. Thirdly, in my private life I shape my life as I know and feel that it is right and that I show it publicly.” Stres pointed out that the public element was trampled under communism. “It was explicitly said there that religion is a private matter, it should not be shown in public. There was no Christmas, no mass on television.”
The separation of the Church from the state is a separation of competencies
The separation of the Church from the state is about the separation of competencies, not about excluding religious life from the public, Stres emphasised in the conversation. That is the point of the saying separation, not exclusion, he says. The state has certain powers that are not exercised by the church. “The church does not have an army, police, does not issue official documents, and the state does not interfere with the rights that belong to the church to organise religious life. The state cannot determine for whom it is allowed and not to mass, as the municipality of Ljubljana is now trying to do.” He says that he was pleasantly surprised that no one actually objected when the Archbishop of Ljubljana blessed the linden tree on its 30th anniversary. The tree was supposed to be blessed at the time, but it was not because it was not supposed to be public. “Now, however, no one has mentioned the separation of church and state. By doing so, the archbishop did not curtail the powers of the state. The principle of separation of church and state is not important at all; it is not decisive. Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression, is crucial. That is a fundamental provision.”
Considering that in the conclusion of the article entitled “Efforts to Freedom of Religion”, Stres drew attention to the ideological burden that is still present in Slovenian society and the fact that the Slovenian Catholic Church still has the honour of “internal ideological enemy no. 1”, he emphasised at the end of the conversation that he looks to the future with optimism. “The main danger is the idealisation of our society. Ideology is to blame for everything – a Marxist, atheist ideology that has risen to the role of a semi-official state ideology. When this is over, when the state, government, legislation will behave according to the principle of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, human rights and freedom, then there is no obstacle for the church not to live a normal life, as it does in most democratic European countries,” he is convinced.