Slovenia (Yugoslavia)

Slovenia is the only European country that suffered from three totalitarian regimes of the XX century: Fascism, Nazism and Communism. All three had similar policies towards Slovenia and inflicted heavy losses on its population. The Communists exploited Italian and German occupation to present themselves as true freedom fighters, while attempting to destroy any political competition. Communist terror incited a popular anti-Communist movement. In all, at least 4000 civilians were murdered by the Communists after WWII.

After liberating Slovenia from Nazis and establishing the new state of Yugoslavia, Communists went after the anti-Communist Slovene Home Guard militia who had retreated to Austria and surrendered to British troops. Britain, however, turned them over to Yugoslav authorities who murdered up to 14.000 militiamen and refugees. Terror continued after the Communists had secured power and some 25.000 people, or 2% of Slovenia’s pre-war population, suffered from repressions. Although repressions later subdued, Slovenia had at least 6500 political prisoners during 1948–88. Slovenia is still searching for the graves of many victims of Communism.

Historical overview

The Communist Party of Slovenia was a branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia from 1937. On 26 April 1941, a group of pre-war communists founded the Anti-Imperialist Front, renamed the Liberation Front on 22 June 1941. The organisation was initially led by Josip Rus (1941-1943) and later by the writer Josip Vidmar (1943-1945). The most prominent activists during the war were Boris Kidrič and Edvard Kardelj, who also had an enormous impact on post-war life in Yugoslavia. The Slovene National Liberation Committee acted as a governing organ until it transformed into the Slovene National Liberation Council (SNOS) in 1944. SNOS upheld the supremacy of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ).

 

As a result of the Allied Forces’ offensive in Northern Italy, anti-Communist politicians - the main party being Jože Basaj’s Slovene People’s Party - also established the National Committee of Slovenia as an alternative government. In February 1945, however, one of the provisions agreed upon at the Yalta Conference confirmed the AVNOJ as the official representative of the resistance movement and included an agreement between the government-in-exile and the partisans; this put an end to the aforementioned alternative Slovenian government.

On 5 May 1945, the Slovene National Liberation Council appointed the National Government of Slovenia in Ajdovščina with Boris Kidrič as its President. After its liberation, the city of Ljubljana became the seat of government on 10 May 1945. At the first congress in July 1945, the Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation expressed its support for the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and soon joined the People’s Front of Yugoslavia, the creation of which was inspired by the Slovenian Communist Edvard Kardelj, who was the most influential theoretician of Communist ideology after the war.

During the 1945 elections on 11 November, the highest rate of secret ballot votes was recorded in Slovenia. Sixty-three percent of voters voted for the National Front of Yugoslavia. Poor election results compared to other parts of Yugoslavia led to a change of party authorities.

The constitution of the republic was adopted on 16 January 1947.

According to Piotr Żurek, one of the major goals for Slovenia was not only to rebuild the country, but also to form borders.  The Communists’ aim was to unite all the lands inhabited by Slovenes. The border with Croatia had, for the most part, remained unchanged since 1941 (running along the frontier of the Drava Banovina and the Sava Banovina), while the border in the territory of Istria, ceded to Yugoslavia, was established in 1944. Slovenian communists sought to occupy Carinthia and the Venezia Giulia region. Trieste was taken by the Yugoslav army between 31 April and 1 May 1945. Troops of the Allied Forces under the leadership of General Bernard Freyberg reached Trieste a few days later, which triggered a border dispute over the wider region.

Joseph Stalin ultimately avoided conflict by ceding the area to Italy, fearing that resistance would have sparked a greater conflict. As a result of pressures from the Soviets, a temporary agreement was signed on 9 June 1945 in Belgrade between Arso Jovanović - Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav People’s Army - and General Morgan regarding the division of Trieste and its surrounding area. This was later confirmed in 1954 at the London conference, which gave Zone A with Trieste to Italy and Zone B with the Southern part of Zone A (part of Istria) to Yugoslavia. The formal agreement regarding the Yugoslav-Italian border was settled in the treaty between Rome and Belgrade in 1975.

A change of path in society and politics which took the form of workers’ self-management and constitutional law in 1953 resulted from an ascent in prominence and importance of Slovenian politicians, especially Edvard Kardelj and Boris Kidrič.

The constitution of 1963 amply fulfilled Slovenian and Croatian aspirations to autonomy. Even though the position of the republics vis-à-vis the federation was not strengthened, enterprises, labour unions and local authorities gained more independence.

Growing tendencies towards autonomy among the Slovenian communists became particularly evident during a dispute which erupted in the press at the turn of 1962 (in the Belgrade-based journal Delo and Naša spodobnost from Ljubljana). A Serbian and a Slovenian writer, both connected to the Communist Party, Dobrica Ćosić and Dušan Pirjevec polemicised over centralism and increased autonomy of the republics. Ćosić believed that the pursuit for sovereignty by political entities within the federation - which his adversary

The removal of Aleksandar Ranković at the SKJ’s fourth plenary meeting in 1966 was met with enthusiasm by the Slovenes. The most ardent supporter of reform was Stane Kavčić, who would soon become the most popular politician and Slovenia’s prime minister in 1967. An economist by training, the Slovenian prime minister spoke in favour of strengthening market mechanisms in the economy, bigger investments within the republics, and expanding the republics’ self-reliance. He opposed the mandatory financing of the poor republics by the more developed ones. His administration’s decision to rehabilitate the victims of the Dachau trials could serve to be yet another piece of evidence of the changing political climate.

A matter which drastically undermined Kavčić’s administration was the so-called Road Scandal, which broke out in 1969 when the funds for building motorways in Slovenia were redistributed by the federal leadership.  Societal disappointment with that situation was intensified by the fact that the funding was used to support the Novi-Sad to Belgrade motorway project, even though it was in Slovenia where the traffic was significantly increasing.

Kavčić engaged in a public feud with the more conservative party members, foremost Edvard Kardelj, France Popit, and Stane Dolanc. Josip Broz Tito himself openly criticised Kavčić’s position. After the liberals had been removed from power in Croatia at the turn of 1972, Slovenian reform-seekers became the next target. In October 1972, Kavčić was forced to resign as prime minister. According to historian Mitja Velikonja, dismissing the Slovenian “liberals” led by Stane Kavčić stopped the process which could have improved Slovenia’s economic situation. The Slovenes also expressed their discontent with the lack of appropriate representation of their nation in federal institutions and in the army.

In the 1970s, Stane Dolanc became a major figure on the political scene in not only Slovenia, but the entirety of Yugoslavia. From 1972, he was the head of SKJ’s Executive Bureau and voiced his opposition against reforms. Edvard Kardelj died in 1979.

Josip Broz Tito, the unquestionable leader of the country, died on 4 May 1980 in Ljubljana. The coffin containing his body was transported to Belgrade, where many Yugoslav citizens came to bid farewell to their leader. After his death, the country was hit by an economic crisis and gradually began falling into decline. As a result of Belgrade’s growing pressure to return to centralisation, Slovenia adopted constitutional amendments granting the republic more sovereignty on 27 September 1989. Political parties had already been legalised a year before.

At the end of 1989, plans to organise a “meeting of truth” in Ljubljana were announced in order to inform the public about the events in Kosovo which were meant to help Slobodan Milošević’s policies in Serbia. However, the event was banned due to its nationalistic nature. At the fourteenth SKJ congress in 1990, Slovenian politicians left the proceedings to manifest their disagreement with Milošević’s policies and called for the creation of a confederation.

In May 1990, Slovenia organised a general election and on 23 December 1990 a referendum in which 90% of voters voted to leave Yugoslavia. In June 1991, Slovenia declared independence. Despite Belgrade’s objections and Yugoslav attempts to prevent it through the use of military force, Slovenia succeeded in its endeavour to become an independent state. The Slovenian war of independence, called the Ten-Day War, resulted in several dozen fatalities, following which the Yugoslav People’s Army withdrew from the republic.

Politics

Common

Repressions

The victims of the first repressions in the post-war period were 8,200 Slovene collaborators, members of the Home Guard, who fled to Austria following the withdrawal of the German troops together with the Chetniks (5,500 Serbians and 400 Montenegrins) and 12,000 Ustasha. Between 12-13 May, they surrendered to the British who then handed them over to Tito’s troops on 14 May 1945. The biggest number of Slovenian troops surrendered in the town of Vitkrieg – they were then executed there soon after. Slovenian security services (OZN) used brutal methods to fight against collaborators. Kočevski Rog was the main location for mass executions; 13,500 people were killed in that area alone.

On 5 June 1945, SNOS passed a law on the punishment of crimes against the Slovene nation. As the law stood, repressions affected people who were actively involved in collaborationist activities (such as the so-called Christmas trial during which high-ranking soldiers from collaborationist troops were tried), as well as politicians who posed a threat to the communist regime, even if they had never actually collaborated. One of the targets was Miha Krek who fled to Italy and attempted to create an alternative Slovenian government in Trieste which was under Allied control at the time; he was also the leader of the People’s Party.  He was tried in absentia together with Leon Rupnik, the president of Ljubljana during the Italian and German occupation, and other close collaborators.

In the summer of 1947, two other politicians were tried; Črtomir Nagode, a member of the liberal party Stara Pravda, was sentenced alongside the Slovenian minister of transportation, Franc Snoja. Out of 15 people who were put on trial at that time, three received capital punishment.

Show trials known as the Dachau trials were held between 1947 and 1949. Based on forged evidence, 37 people were tried for collaboration, most of whom were former prisoners of the German concentration camp.

As pointed out by Piotr Żurek who quoted the historian Aleš Gabrič, around 1,000 Slovenians actively resisted Tito’s policy of opposing Stalin – around half of them were subject to repressions. Three-hundred and forty-eight people were put in a prison camp on the island of Goli Otok. According to Piotr Żurek, the support for Stalin was not as great as in Serbia or Montenegro, probably because of the Soviets’ disapproval of ceding Trieste to Slovenia, as well as a more general lack of pro-Russian sympathies.

Among the most prominent figures in Slovenia who suffered from repressions was the Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Ljubljana and Spanish war veteran, Dragotin Guštinčič, who was arrested in April 1948 and imprisoned in Goli Otok until 1951. In 1949, students and employees of the University of Ljubljana, including professor Cene Logar, were arrested.

The question of nationality was first explicitly raised when 5,000 miners from Trbovlje went on strike in January 1958. They spoke of the inequality and exploitation of Slovenia. The existence of conflicts of interest between the nations was acknowledged at a secret meeting of the federal authorities on 6 February 1958.

Student strikes, which were spreading across the biggest cities of Yugoslavia in 1968, broke out in Ljubljana between 3-6 June 1968. The demands ranged from student issues to national matters. The demonstrators ended their protest after a rally held on 6 June, where Deputy Prime Minister Franc Hočevar promised to satisfy their demands.

Economy

According to Irena Stawowa-Kawka, Slovenia owned 1,094 factories and 1,222 manufacturing companies in 1945. War damages in the country were not as severe as in other regions of Yugoslavia.

The Laws on Agrarian Reform and Colonisation, adopted on a federal level on 23 August 1945, were more widely implemented in Slovenia in 1946.  Slovenian authorities took land away from collaborationists, the Church and the German minority. The approval of the policy resulted partly from the fact that many clergymen, including the Slovenian archbishop Gregorij Rožman, were enthusiastic supporters of the Italian occupation and, after Italy’s capitulation, called for the establishment a puppet government in Ljubljana controlled by Nazi Germany. Almost half of the land acquired through confiscation was given to farmers without any land of their own, while the remaining land was taken over by agricultural cooperatives and state-owned companies.

Collectivisation gained speed as a result of the conflict between Yugoslavia and the USSR, but of all the regions it was still the least widespread in Slovenia. According to Piotr Żurek, the lands which were turned into kolkhoz consisted of less than 5% of Slovenia’s farmlands.

Slovenian politician Boris Kidrič was, along with Andrij Hebrang, the main architect of the five-year plan adopted by the Slovenian parliament in April 1947. Since then, many big industrial facilities were built, such as hydroelectric power plants in Moste and Dravograd or a cement factory in Nove Mesto. 

Slovenian economists - Kidrič (deceased in 1953) and later Boris Kraigher - actively shaped the reforms of the system between 1950 and 1952, as well as the economic reform of 1965 which was designed by Kraigher, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time. The measures taken by Kidrič were a response to the ineffective collectivisation of farms and were also inspired by his desire to prove the validity of his ideals in the feud with the USSR. As a result of those reforms, worker cooperatives were established and by 1950 there were already over 120 workers’ councils.

The five-year plan of 1957-1961 demonstrated that the wealthier republics, including Slovenia, were developing faster than other regions. An economic crisis at the beginning of the 1960s caused Slovenian politicians - Miha Marinko, President of the League of Communists of Slovenia, and Slovene Prime Minister, Boris Kraigher, - to seek economic autonomy for the republics with even greater urgency.

Slovenia’s economic and political sovereignty increased in the second part of the 1960s. This becomes evident when considering the high level of exports to Western European countries, capital concentration due to the creation of a single Ljubljana Bank, the subsequent investment boom and expansion of its road network, as well as the investments by companies like Gorenje or Citroën that were made in Slovenia.

Despite Yugoslavia’s economic stagnation, the 1970s were a time of prosperity in Slovenia. The GDP growth rate reached 37% in the first half of the decade, whereas industrial production grew by 50%. Motorways were built and transport infrastructure developed swiftly. Slovenia offered the highest living standards among all Yugoslav republics. At the end of the 1970s, the republic contributed as much as 16.5% of Yugoslavia’s GDP, even though its population amounted to a mere 8.3% of the federated nations. Slovenia had successfully transitioned from an agrarian society into an industrial powerhouse.

Society and culture

Yugoslav culture in the post-war period was strongly marked by propaganda spread through the outlets of Agitprop. Boris Ziherl was the head of this institution in Slovenia.

Crucially, many Slovenian pre-war institutions such as the National Theatres in Ljubljana and Maribor, as well as the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, were re-established.

In the 1950s, artists gained more artistic freedom and started challenging the myths around the war of national liberation, the result of which was a collection of novellas by Edvard Kocbek entitled Strah in pogum (Fear and Courage). The writer explored the theme of mass executions and collective responsibility due to which he fell out of the authorities’ favour. Kocbek made even more enemies when he gave an interview to Zaliv magazine published in Trieste in 1975, in which he criticised the 1940s repressions against the opponents of the communist regime.

The journalists who interviewed him, Boris Paholj and Alojz Rebula, were barred from entering Slovenia. The article sparked a storm among intellectuals. Franc Miklavčič, a judge from Ljubljana, former Christian socialist activist and member of the Liberation Front publicly called for the retrieval of the mass graves of the victims of the communist regime, for which he was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison. This sentence was later reduced to 19 months following pressure from Amnesty International.

Since the 1950s Slovenian academic journals about philosophy, literary criticism or sociology frequently addressed sensitive issues and engaged in a dispute with the authorities. Among those journals was Revija 57, which was shut down just a year after it was launched. One of its writers, Jože Pučnik, was convicted for anti-national activities, released in 1962 only to be sentenced again for his articles published in Perspektive, in which he attacked the monopoly of the Communist Party.

A four-year-old Pespektive magazine was also shut down in 1964, as well as Oder 57 - a theatre founded by the intellectuals connected with Revija 57, putting on performances inspired by the most vibrant trends in world theatre. Mladina and Nova revija were the most influential magazines published in the 1980s, which, by the end of the decade, openly spoke about the interests of the nation which, in their view, could not be fulfilled in Communist Yugoslavia. The notion that the regime severely lacked legitimacy in Slovenia is best supported by the fact that Mladina’s journalists were never imprisoned despite receiving prison sentences in 1988.

Slovenia was also one of the music centres of Yugoslavia with the growth of major world trends such as punk or new wave - it was the home of bands like Pankrti or Lačni Franz, which criticised life in Yugoslavia. Leibach was a separate phenomenon which relied on provocation and showiness. From its very beginning in 1980, it explored the connections between culture, ideology, arts and politics.

After bishop Gregorij Rožman fled the country, Antonin Vovk became vicar general in the Diocese of Ljubljana in May 1945. A law on the Legal Position of Religious Communities in Yugoslavia was passed in 1952, in the middle of the country’s fiercest battles against the Church which reached its apogee in the attempted assassination of bishop Vovk. In light of the newly introduced law, all priests were directed to pledge loyalty to the authorities. Surprisingly, as much as 87% of all Slovenian clergymen did so. In that very year, religion was removed from schools and the Faculty of Theology was removed from the jurisdiction of Ljubljana University.

Bishop Rožman died in exile in 1959, which contributed significantly to the relaxation of the government’s policy against the Church. Bishop Vovk was proclaimed the archbishop of Ljubljana in 1960. Slovenian bishops participated in the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In 1964, Pope Paul VI established the Apostolic Administration of the Slovenian Littoral, which ended the feud with the Italian Church over the control of those territories.

 

Militarism

The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) had 800,000 soldiers at the end of World War II. Its Commander-in-Chief was Josip Broz Tito. Between 1941 and 1945, the structure of the army consisted of two commanding officers on every level: the political commissar and the military commissar. The army was restructured in 1945 when the number of soldiers was reduced by half and the army changed its name to the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). It was one of the main factors guaranteeing legitimacy to the Yugoslav regime.

Josip Broz Tito acted as the army’s Commander-In-Chief between 1941 and 1980. Between 1941-1945, he was the head of the General Staff of the Partisan Detachments for National Liberation, which was later renamed the Supreme Staff of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. At the second AVNOJ proceedings in 1943, he was elected president of the provisional executive authority called the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which secured him the position of NOVJ Commander-in-Chief.

The constitution of 1946 gave the parliament the authority and power to elect the Commander-in-Chief, but given the Politbureau’s omnipotence under the aegis of Tito, the choice was obvious. Constitutional laws in 1953 ensured that the President of the Republic would also automatically be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Similar provisions were included in the subsequent Yugoslav constitutions with the only difference being that new constitutions from the 1970s granted authority to the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was also led by Tito.

After 1953, the Presidium received help from federal Secretaries of Defence (since 1971 federal Secretaries of Defence were equivalent to the Ministry of Defence): Ivan Gošnjak (1953-1967), Nikola Ljubičić (1967-1982), Branko Mamula (1982-1988) and Veljko Kadijević (1988-1992). They answered to Parliament, to federal authorities (federal SIV) and to the Commander-in-Chief. Conflict with the Eastern Bloc in the late 1940s and early 1950s generated the highest spending on armed forces for the federal budget - in 1952, the country spent 22-24% of its national budget on defence – these numbers fell again shortly after, going down to 10.8% in 1956.

In the mid-1950s, after the situation between Belgrade and Moscow was settled, the country’s military doctrine changed and was refocused on defending the country from NATO. The approach changed yet again after the attack on Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. This military incursion into Czechoslovakia inspired the initiative for a territorial defence system organised by the republics themselves, should there be an invasion by external aggressors.

According to tactics planned by General Gošnjak, the aim of territorial defence was to form partisan units. The formation of the People’s Defence forces of the republics began at the end of 1968 and the Law on All People’s Defence that was adopted by the federal parliament on 11 February 1969 started this particular form of militarisation of the country. The Army was restructured in such a way that the capital of each republic was supposed to take responsibility for establishing its Army’s leadership, as it was the republican authorities who oversaw territorial defence.

Serbian and Montenegrin dominance in the YPA’s ranks was manifest. In 1953, Serbians constituted 53% of the Army’s high-ranking officers (but 41.7% of the whole Yugoslav population), whereas Montenegrins made up 10.8% of the Army’s elders (compared to 2.8% of the population) and 20.3% of the higher cadre were from Croatia (with 23.5% of the population).

There was also a big disproportion in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serbs overwhelmingly dominated the party, military and security service structures; this was one of the many remnants of domestic disputes during World War II. This disproportion was at its most visible in the 1980s when Serbs and Montenegrins made up almost 70% of all high-ranking military officials.

The constitution of 1974 emphasised the crucial role of the YPA as the protector of the country’s unity. These changes, which led to an increased level of autonomy for the Territorial Defence forces and the fragmentation of the country, were not enthusiastically welcomed by top-ranking military officers.

Branko Mamula, a Serb from Croatia, became the Minister of Defence in the 1980s and later sought to subordinate territorial defence to the YPA in his quest to centralise the armed forces, and to invest further in armaments. He managed to achieve his goal when a law in 1987 transferred the control over territorial defence from the republics to the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces.

By virtue of constitutional amendments adopted in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990, control over territorial defence was returned to republican authorities, which resulted in conflict with the YPA. In Slovenia, this did not raise any problems due to the homogenous nature of the country, whereas in Croatia, the territorial defence involved different nationalities - the Serbs and the Croatians - serving side by side.

As the consequent republics declared independence, from October 1991 the YPA answered to the Serbian authorities. Serbia along with its autonomous provinces (despite abolishing autonomies in 1989) and Montenegro still had their representatives in the Presidium. In April 1992, the YPA officially became the Yugoslav Army consisting only of Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers.

Noticing tendencies moving towards the dissolution of the country, JNA Generals, Veljko Kadijević and Branko Mamula, spoke strongly in favour of keeping Yugoslavia a single entity.

As soon as the reserve of the Macedonian Army reported its first casualties in the war against Croatia in the spring and summer of 1991, Macedonians demanded the right to only serve in their own republic. Their request was denied by the federal ministry to little effect; Macedonia broke all ties with the Yugoslav army when the country declared its independence in September 1991 and adopted its first constitution in November 1991. In February 1992, laws were passed in Skopje regarding military service and an agreement was signed that very same month announcing the JNA’s withdrawal from the republic.

With the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, Alija Izetbegović, the president of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided in September 1991 to stop drafting new recruits into the YPA.  In November 1991, Izetbegović still claimed that the ongoing war in Croatia in 1991 did not concern Bosnia. However, there were units based in Bosnia which were carrying out military operations in Croatia.

In December 1991, Slobodan Milošević demanded that YPA units be transferred to Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led to a gradual concentration of troops in Serbian strongholds. In June 1992, Izetbegović demanded the YPA’s withdrawal from Bosnia. Talks concerning the YPA’s status in Bosnia and Hercegovina were held in Skopje between Branko Kostić, a member of the federal Presidium, Izetbegović, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidium and Blagoje Adzić, the acting Minister of National Defence. Initially, the talks were postponed, but later the YPA joined them taking the Serbs’ side.

 

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Interviews:

Danijel Ivin- historian, former dissident

Petar Janjatović- journalist, musician critique

Gordan Jovanović- social activist, former dissident

Dagomir Olujić-journalist, former dissident

Predrag Ristić- architect, former dissident