Ljubljana related

27 Apr 2021, 10:31 AM

STA, 27 April 2021 - Slovenia observes Resistance Day (Dan upora proti okupatorju) on Tuesday, remembering the day 80 years ago when the Liberation Front, an organisation that spearheaded armed resistance against the occupying forces in WWII, was established. Several events will be held, including a national ceremony with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek delivering the key-note.

The ceremony will be held on Mala Gora, a hill near Ribnica in the south where the first armed clash on Slovenian soil took place after the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The event will be attended by senior officials, including President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Pahor will also address Slovenian citizens together with Marijan Križman, the head of the WWII Veterans' Association.

He will open the Presidential Palace to the public as was the case before the pandemic, yet in a limited scope, only for the association's representatives.

Pahor and Križman will also lay a wreath at the memorial to the Liberation Front in front of Vidmar's Villa, the house under Rožnik hill where the organisation was founded.

On the eve of the holiday, the German Embassy unveiled a memorial plaque in the villa, which Germany bought in 2016 and turned it into a residence of its ambassador.

Pahor said this symbolic gesture bore great significance for the future because it is based on the spirit of reconciliation ingrained into "our common European homeland".

The holiday was also marked by the WWII Veterans Association last evening, with Križman saying 80 years after the Liberation Front had been established, the times called for "liberating the Slovenian nation once again" as he criticised the government for curtailing fundamental rights under the pretext of containing the epidemic.

For Slovenians, World War II started on 6 April 1941, when Germany attacked Yugoslavia. The Anti-Imperialist Front, as the Liberation Front was initially known, was formed 20 days later, on 26 April 1941. The fact that its establishment is marked on 27 April is due to a minor historical error.

The Liberation Front was founded at the home of the intellectual Josip Vidmar (1895-1992) by representatives of the Communist Party of Slovenia, the Sokoli gymnastic society, the Christian Socialists and a group of intellectuals.

Photos of Slovenia near the end of WW2

27 Apr 2021, 10:15 AM

STA, 26 April - President Borut Pahor and German Ambassador to Slovenia Natalie Kauther have unveiled a memorial plaque marking the 80th anniversary of the Liberation Front and the resistance of Slovenians against Fascism. The plaque was unveiled on Monday, the eve of Resistance Day at the house where the resistance organisation was founded.

Kauther took the opportunity to apologise on behalf of Germany for the horrors committed during WWII, while Pahor stressed the significance of the gesture for the future.

The Liberation Front was founded on 26 April 1941 at Vidmar's Villa, which is named after its former owner Josip Vidmar (1895-1992), a co-founder of the Liberation Front. Germany bought it in 2016 and turned it into a residence of the German ambassador.

Kauther said the German Embassy felt "great responsibility to treat the house and its history with due care and preserve the memory of what happened here 80 years ago".

She expressed "my gratitude that we Germans were again accepted into the community of nations after all the suffering and atrocities our country caused to many people".

"To be able to cultivate deep friendship with those who used to be our worst enemies and to work together for a better, more just world, is for us a really big gift," the ambassador said in her speech in the Slovenian language.

Pahor thanked the ambassador for the gesture of setting up the memorial plaque together with the Slovenian Museum of Contemporary History.

He said this was "a symbolic act" by Germany that also bore great significance for the future. "It's about the spirit on which our common European homeland is based. Not on forgetting, but on remembering yet sometimes also forgiving to the benefit of coexistence."

Pahor would like Slovenian citizens "to be proud of the resistance" during WWII and understand this too enabled the survival of the Slovenian nation and the foundation of Slovenia.

He urged Slovenians to celebrate Resistance Day "with joy and pride and to remember the roots of the Partisan resistance, without which there would be no national liberation".

06 Dec 2020, 12:44 PM

STA, 6 December 2020 - Three decades after Slovenia's parties reached a joint agreement on an independence referendum in which an overwhelming majority opted for independence, the country's first president Milan Kučan says unity cannot be taken be taken for granted, explaining why it is elusive now.

 "Independence was a clear, understandable project. If there's no such project, appeals for unity are but a political cliche and an excuse for political impotence," Kučan told the STA in an interview.

What made unity over independence and its success possible were in his view four elements, which he believes could also be useful to politicians today.

"The most important one is that it could have never been a project of one part the citizenry against the other. If it were, the project, the plebiscite including, would never have succeed," he says.

"Nor was independence a romantic realisation of the nation's millennium dream, but the result of a series of thorough rethinks and decisions in the given historical circumstances, culminating in the political and economic crisis in Yugoslavia and the spread of nationalism."

Another key aspect was the legitimacy and lawfulness of independence through the passage of constitutional laws and the plebiscite law, and the "painful" debate on what quorum should be sought in the plebiscite helped overcome distrust.

At the time, the opposition parties, largely represented by groups that evolved from the former Communist party and other associations that existed under the former regime, believed a majority of all eligible voters should vote in favour in order for the referendum to succeed. This solution was adopted.

The fourth major aspect, according to Kučan, is that independence was a project of a country rather than a party.

"This is not to say that I underestimate the fact that the project matured within the DEMOS coalition, based on the concept of the Slovenian national programme that was more or less set down in volume 57 of Nova Revija," he said in a reference to the January 1987 issue of the literary journal.

Kučan never doubted the referendum on 23 December 1990 would succeed (on a turnout of 93%, 95% voted in favour of independence). "People were willing to accept the independence concept as long as politicians told them plain truth."

However, unity began to unravel soon after the country declared independence on 25 June 1991, which Kučan believes is because the awareness of the need for shared responsibility for the country was lost and the interests of a party, group and bloc have prevailed.

"The moment citizens realise we are being treated like fools, when the epidemic is being used as a cover for the pursuit of ideological and political interests and resorting to repressive apparatuses, trust in politics is gone. (...)"

"What has the government's dealing with the statistics office, media, museums and police got to do with the epidemic," he wondered.

Considering the suspension of financing of the STA "it may appear as if the government was running out of time and was in a hurry to subjugate all subsystems and institutions, while in fact it is how the largest ruling party has always operated and how it has understood democracy".

He finds it less understanding that the Democratic Party (SDS) is being uncritically supported by other coalition parties in "its ambitions and its dismantling of the principles of democracy and its institutions".

Apart from the coronavirus epidemic, other projects too call for unity, including electoral reform, the course of Slovenia's foreign policy, and the need to form a comprehensive concept of a green country.

Despite much effort that has been invested in the electoral reform, decreed by the Constitutional Court, including by President Borut Pahor, Kučan believes parties have embarked on the project in ill faith.

"Each party has calculated what would suit it best, even though the most suitable solution would be to abolish electoral districts and adopt a system that we have for elections to the European Parliament," involving a preferential vote.

Kučan is of the opinion that Slovenia's foreign policy is moving away from the guidelines passed by parliament with writings by Prime Minister Janez Janša and Foreign Minister Anže Logar, which were not the positions of the government.

He believes it will take quite a while for Slovenia to restore the "trust of the external world". "The uncertainty about Slovenia's international position and interests and its tarnished reputation in the world will also tarnish the authority of the Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU."

"We're aspiring for friendship with those we shouldn't be friends with and have nothing in common with. Hearing arguments that us who used to live in the East have a different understanding of democracy and the rule of law than long-established democracies, it feels as if we are making fools out of ourselves," he said.

He believes Slovenia should have a balanced relationship with the superpowers - the US, Russia and China, and in the future he would like to see the country at the core of a successful EU as a major world player.

06 Dec 2020, 12:29 PM

STA, 6 December 2020 - As Slovenia is about to mark the 30th anniversary of a referendum in which people nearly unanimously voted for independence, Lojze Peterle, the then prime minister, says the nation should focus on what unites it, while it will have to put WWII and post-war history behind if it ever wants to achieve understanding and progress.

Looking back on independence and the plebiscite, Peterle finds it crucial that DEMOS, the coalition of parties forming the first democratic opposition, won the first multi-party election in April 1990. "Had DEMOS not won at the time, there would have been no plebiscite," he told the STA in an interview.

Another key move was that his government started forming Slovenia's own armed forces as soon as it assumed office. "With the first line-up a week ahead of the plebiscite, we showed people that we have a real force to protect our determination for a free Slovenian state."

While the decision for the independence referendum was taken by the DEMOS leadership in the night between 9 and 10 November 1990, DEMOS invited the opposition to join in the effort and an agreement to that effect was signed 30 years ago, to the day.

"The result was that the law that formed the basis for the plebiscite was passed with no one voting against. The agreement sent out a strong message to the people of unity in Slovenian politics."

While he never doubted the result of the plebiscite, Peterle had not expected such a convincing outcome, with 88.5% of all eligible voters or 95% of those who cast their ballots voting in favour.

Such an outcome was important both "internally, because it prevented greater divisions, and externally because it gave the government the needed legitimacy in talks with Belgrade. The world had to acknowledge that too."

Peterle does not think a similar cross-party agreement is needed now as Slovenia is battling the coronavirus epidemic: "We have a democratically elected government that has the mandate, responsibility and the needed majority in parliament to implement its policies. There's no need for national consensus for every thing."

However, he says it is against national interests that "the opposition should be pressuring for one thing only at these difficult times - for change of power at all cost - especially given the fact that the previous government resigned".

"And now, for 30 years really, keeping all of Slovenia busy with allergy against Janez Janša, which has come as far as violent riots, it cannot be a statesman-like response to this government's work."

Still, he does believe politics should try to near positions on some points, such as overcoming divisions stemming from the past, which should be done with truthfulness and justice.

"There's not a single political meeting that wouldn't end with a debate on World War II and revolution, even though hardly anyone from that time is still alive.

"This is because we haven't processed and overcome it. Once we'll have to let bygones be bygones and head on. As long as we keep watching each other through the WWII and revolution gun pointers, there'll be no peace or progress."

He believes one of Slovenia's problems is a lack of structural change similar to other former Communist countries. "We formally introduced democracy, but in fact many things go on the old way (...)

"It's not just the right which finds that the rule of law doesn't work the best way. I'm even more worried about a lack of respect for the dignity of others and those who are different."

Touching on electoral reform, Peterle says the best way would be to redraw electoral districts: "If we abolish them, big urban centres and established faces from TV screens get most benefit.

"The existing system with electoral districts has made it possible for people to enter politics whom we didn't know as big politicians but whom people trusted to represent them. This quality of the electoral system should be preserved."

Peterle would also like to see more consensus in politics on foreign policy "rather than having the situation when one government goes to Washington, and the other to Moscow".

He does not think there is any major dilemma as to whether Slovenia should look to the Visegrad Group or to the core Europe.

"We're part of the core Europe as part of Central Europe with specific political, historical and cultural experiences and thus a different sensitivity, which means we see some things, including values, a little bit differently than they see them in Brussels.

"This is why I believe Brussels should work more on understanding why Central Europe is a little bit different. More dialogue is what's needed."

Slovenia can support that dialogue with creative proposals, which is why he welcomes PM Janša's letter to European leaders in reference to the rule of law and recovery aid.

"The letter doesn't boost the blockade but is aspiring to removing the blockade with a sensitivity for realpolitik. This is also how Angela Merkel understood it."

He believes tensions in Slovenia are largely a matter of money "when you hit a monopoly, a formal or informal structure that has roots in undemocratic times, everything is wrong.

"We introduced democracy to make change possible, so that corruption doesn't become entrenched. You don't solve things by calling them ideological, untouchable," he says.

17 Nov 2020, 13:09 PM

STA, 17 November 2020 - Log pod Mangartom, an alpine community in the north-west of the country, was hit by a devastating landslide that claimed seven lives twenty years ago, to the day. The village has been rebuilt but the locals say it will never be the same again.

It was during the night between 16 and 17 November 2000, following a prolonged spell of heavy rain, that a huge landslide and a debris flow swept away the upper part of the village in a matter of moments.

The entire upper section of the village had to be rebuilt; twelve new houses have been built anew but on safer locations with the help of the funding provided by the state.

"The state responded like never before. The locals are happy with what they got and how the village was rebuilt," Igor Černuta, the head of the 133-strong local community, has told the STA.

The villagers do not feel threatened by potential new landslides but they are aware of the risk. "The question is whether such an event could ever be repeated at all," Černuta says.

"In all those 20 years since the landslide, the alarm system hasn't gone on a single time. There was an unfortunate sequence of events at the time; the prolonged rains and the wet terrain unleashed a flow of debris and caused a tragedy," Černuta remembers.

Log pod Mangartom, a village in the Bovec municipality, not far from the Italian border, does not look the same today as it did before the landslide. Bovec Mayor Valter Mlekuž says much has changed for the better, hopefully in a way such a tragedy can never happen again.

Data from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning show EUR 26.4 million in state budget funds has been spent on repairing the damage after the landslide with EUR 5 million more needed to complete the work set out by the zoning plan.

The amount of rainfall in the area in October and November 2000 had not been seen in a century. Two days ahead of the disaster, a smaller landslide destroyed more than 100 metres of the road leading to the Predel mountain pass.

Based on the telling signs, the civil rescue headquarters in Bovec recommended the population at risk to leave their homes, but some of them refused to do so.

Just after midnight on that fateful night, the mass of mud and debris above the village was such that it came thundering down the bed of the Predelca stream with a devastating flow of debris.

The locals remember the disaster every year with mass, but this year the service has been postponed because of the Covid-19 situation.

25 Oct 2020, 13:16 PM

STA, 25 October 2020 - Slovenia celebrates Sovereignty Day, a national holiday commemorating the day when the last Yugoslav People's Army soldiers left the country's soil in 1991 in one of the key events in the process of Slovenia's independence. In their messages on the occasion, the country's top officials evoked the nation's courage, resolve and unity of the time.

Prime Minister Janez Janša, who served as the defence minister at the time of historic events, recalled the spirit of the time, the courage and unity. "History teaches us that nothing is impossible if we stand united as a nation."

"The courage, wise decisions and the Slovenian nation's unity and connectedness through a shared idea allowed us, despite political differences and adversity by some, to win an independent country that generations before us had but dreamed about," said Janša in his written message.

Today's holiday should be a reminder of how unity on a common goal can keep Slovenians strong as a nation, Janša wrote, calling for fostering an awareness that together the nation can defeat what appears to be invincible and achieve what seemed unimaginable only a day ago.

He said that Slovenia's sovereignty and the momentous events almost 30 years ago should not be taken for granted.

"Slovenia did not have allies to lean on in the War of Independence (...) We could only rely on ourselves - our knowledge, abilities, and our resolve to have our homeland. At the same time we also hoped for a little bit of God's blessing," said Janša.

Praising the emerging Slovenian Armed Forces, the Slovenian police and patriots, for defeating the Communist Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), and lauded the courage and bravery displayed at the time.

"It is with deep respect that we watch the footage of hour compatriots from the Vipava Valley and elsewhere taking on JNA tanks with naked fists," he said, adding that it took not just civic courage but also wisdom to defeat what at the time was considered the world's tenth most powerful army.

What made the effort even more noble and honourable was that the Slovenians attended to the wounded JNA soldiers on a non-discriminatory basis and did not take revenge on the aggressor soldiers "not even when they were departing with bowed heads", nor did the war result in a massive flight of refugees.

"This made our goal, the realisation of the Slovenian nation's plebiscite decision in favour of an independent and sovereign country even brighter and nobler. It will remain written down in history for ever as proof of the maturity of the Slovenian nation and the courage of its soldiers," said Janša.

Similarly, Parliamentary Speaker Zorčič remembered the courage and the commitment to the same goals and values displayed at the time, but he also called on the nation to demonstrate the same resolve, confidence, understanding, solidarity and unity in taking on the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the Slovenians were being weakened in their fight against the unprecedented pandemic "not just by its underrating, but also by our disunity over the measures against it" and the creation of false impression by some that those measures were aimed at suppressing democracy.

"Today, we are fighting a new, invisible enemy that we will not surrender to. The uneasiness of masks will not move into our hearts. It is time that like 29 years ago we proved again our ability to be strong, confident, understanding and sympathetic," the speaker said in his message.

The public holiday, which is not a work-free day, was declared by the National Assembly in 2015 in remembrance of the day in 1991 when the last remaining Yugoslav Army soldiers departed from the port of Koper aboard a ship.

The withdrawal is considered one of the final steps in the independence efforts, coming after Slovenia declared independence on 26 June, whereupon the Ten-Day War broke out when the Yugoslav Army launched attacks from its barracks on 27 June.

The armed conflict was followed by talks which resulted in Slovenia agreeing to a three-month moratorium on independence implementation as part of what is known as the Brijuni Declaration.

As the moratorium was about to expire, Yugoslavia's authorities realised it would be impossible to keep Slovenia in the federation. Preparations thus started for the army's withdrawal from Slovenian territory.

The stated purpose of the holiday is to stress and emphasise the importance of Slovenia's sovereignty and to strengthen the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There was no formal ceremony this year but President Borut Pahor address the people alongside the military commander of the Territorial Defence during the independence war, Janez Slapar, and the Chief of the General Staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces, Brigadier General Robert Glavaš.

19 Oct 2020, 16:08 PM

STA, 19 October 2020 - Below is a timeline of major events since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Slovenia in March 2020.

4 March - The first case of coronavirus infection is confirmed in Slovenia.

6 March - The government bans all visits to hospitals and nursing homes.

7 March - Public events in indoor spaces for more than 500 people are banned. A total of 12 infections confirmed in the country.

10 March - The government bans public gatherings indoors for more than 100 people and arrivals of flights from risky areas.

11 March - Slovenia introduces controls on the border with Italy; entry is allowed only at six checkpoints under certain conditions. Healthcare institutions suspend non-urgent preventive services.

12 March - Slovenia declares an epidemic of the novel coronavirus as almost 100 cases are confirmed. Kindergartens and schools close and primary and secondary school students switch to remote learning. Shops with non-essential goods, restaurants and bars are closed, as well as cultural institutions and libraries. Air passenger transport is suspended and public passenger transport is banned, except with taxis. Non-urgent medical services are suspended. All sporting events are cancelled. The border with Italy is closed for cargo transport and for international railway and bus passenger transport, with some exceptions.

18 March - Slovenia closes 27 local border crossings with Croatia, and only four checkpoints remain on the border with Italy. Many production companies temporarily suspend their work.

20 March - A general ban on gatherings and movement in public spaces, with some exceptions, enters into force.

20 March - The National Assembly passes the first package of measures to help the economy.

30 March - A decree limiting the movement of people to within the municipality of one's residence, with certain exceptions, enters into force.

2 April - The National Assembly passes the first anti-corona legislative package designed to help the affected companies and individuals. The measures were estimated at EUR 3 billion.

11 April - With the first signs of the epidemic waning, suspension of non-essential specialist medical services is lifted.

18 April - Maintenance and seasonal work on private land outside one's municipality of residence is allowed under certain conditions. Some sport and recreational activities are allowed within one's municipality of residence. A few days later, certain shops and service workshops are reopened.

28 April - The National Assembly passes the second anti-corona stimulus package, which includes state guarantees for liquidity loans to companies.

30 April - Exactly one month after being introduced, the ban on leaving one's municipality of residence is lifted. Visits to nursing homes are allowed, and a day earlier, cultural institutions and libraries re-open.

4 May - After several weeks, service is allowed in outdoor areas of restaurants and bars. Churches and some non-food shops, as well as hairdressers and beauty parlours reopen.

9 May - All healthcare and dental services are allowed again.

11 May - Public transport is re-launched after eight weeks, while international passenger transport continues to stand still. International air passenger transport is relaunched a day later.

15 May - The mandatory quarantine for Slovenian citizens and citizens of other EU member states upon entry in Slovenia is lifted. It remains in force for citizens of third countries.

18 May - Preschools reopen and children in the first three grades of primary schools and of the final grade of secondary school return to school. All shops and accommodation facilities with up to 30 rooms are allowed to reopen, and restaurants and bars are able to serve guests indoors as well.

18 May - The government creates lists of red, yellow and green countries relative to their epidemiological situation.

23 May - A majority of sports activities are relaunched, except in fitness centres and similar facilities.

25 May - Students of the final grade of primary school are allowed to attend school in person, while nursing homes and other social security institutions start accepting new residents.

26 May - A decree mandating a 14-day quarantine for citizens of EU member states and third countries enters into force, except for the green-listed countries.

29 May - The National Assembly passes the third anti-corona stimulus package, worth EUR 1 billion. The main measures are subsidies for shortened working time and tourism vouchers for facilities in Slovenia for all citizens. Subsidies for furloughed workers are extended.

31 May - After 80 days, the Covid-19 epidemic is officially declared over, as the daily number of infections drops below ten.

1 June - Students of the 4th and 5th grades of primary school return to school, and the number of children in units in primary schools and kindergartens no longer needs to be limited. Public events for up to 200 persons are allowed and all hotels, fitness centres and swimming pools are allowed to re-open. Night clubs remain closed.

3 June - Students of grades 6-8 of primary school return to school, while students of grades 1-3 of secondary school finish their school year remotely.

5 June - Austria is put on the list of countries from where entry is possible without limitations.

15 June - Public gatherings of up to 500 people are allowed. The restrictions on the border with Italy, introduced on 12 March, are lifted. International road and railway passenger transport is relaunched two days earlier.

19 June - The tourism voucher scheme enters into force, with the Financial Administration (FURS) transferring credit to all residents - EUR 200 per adults and EUR 50 per minor.

22 June - After two months of single-digit number of new daily cases, a double-digit daily number is recorded for the first time, mainly involving cases imported from abroad.

4 July - The government removes Croatia, France and the Czech Republic from the green list. Slovenia records a total of around 200 active infections.

9 July - The National Assembly confirms a new anti-coronavirus stimulus package with an emphasis on job preservation, mostly by extending subsidies for furloughed workers. A mobile contact tracing app is introduced. Gatherings of up to 10 people are banned, and gatherings of up to 50 persons are allowed only if the attendees are registered. Religious ceremonies and sporting events for up to 500 participants are still allowed.

18 July - A Covid-19 death is recorded for the first time after 31 May to increase the overall death toll in Slovenia to 112.

21 July - EU leaders agree on a pandemic recovery package, under which Slovenia may count on EUR 10.5 billion, including EUR 6.6 billion in grants.

23 July - The government adopts a new national plan for protection and rescue of people in the case of pandemic based on the experience with Covid-19. Restrictions on working time of food shops are lifted and stores are allowed to open Sundays.

25 August - Due to a deteriorating epidemiological situation in Croatia and the fact that many infections are imported from there, the government introduces quarantine for travellers returning from that country.

1 September - The new school year starts normally at all levels, albeit with number of precautionary measures in place.

2 September - A jump in new daily cases is recorded (55), and the number of active cases increases to around 500. Two days later, the government orders mandatory use of face masks and hand sanitation in public indoor spaces.

10 September - The daily number of new infections exceeds 100 for the first time, and the trend of a fast increase in the number of new cases starts. Infections start spreading in nursing homes and educational institutions.

13 September - The government reduces the mandatory quarantine upon entry from red-listed countries from 14 to 10 days.

19 September - Face masks are again mandatory in open public spaces where a large number of people gather, for example, at food markets. Employers are recommended to measure body temperature of employees, and opening hours of restaurants and bars are restricted to 6am-10pm.

29 September - The government adopts a new anti-coronavirus legislative package introducing new and extending the existing measures focusing on job preservation, care for the elderly and prevention of the spread of infections.

9 October - New restrictive measures enter into force. Gatherings are restricted to up to 10 people, and events with up to 500 people are allowed only with a permit from the health authorities, and held without food and drink served. Service in restaurants and bars and the number of shoppers in shops is limited.

12 October - A decree enters into force under which no country in the EU or the Schengen Area is on the green list.

15 October - The total number of confirmed cases in Slovenia exceeds 10,000, and a day later a record daily number of new cases (almost 900) is recorded.

16 October - Almost all statistical regions are classified as red zones based on epidemiological parameters, meaning that movement from and between them is banned. Face masks become mandatory in the open and gatherings of more than 10 persons are prohibited. Restaurants and bars are closed and certain sport activities are suspended in these regions.

19 October - An epidemic is declared once again, and the national protection and rescue plan is activated. Primary school students up from and including the 6th grade and secondary school students switch back to remote learning.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia

09 Oct 2020, 14:13 PM

STA, 8 October 2020 - Two years after the end of World War I, a Slovenian minority would end up on the other side of the Karawanks following a plebiscite in Carinthia that determined the border between Austria and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. While the outcome of the vote was the product of several factors, what followed was a period of revanchism.

The plebiscite was held on 10 October 1920 under the provisions of the Treaty of Saint-Germain, signed a year earlier by the allied powers that won World War I on the one hand and the Republic of German-Austria on the other.

While parts of Carinthia now in Slovenia (Meža Valley and Jezersko) were to be incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the fate of southern Carinthia down to the Klagenfurt basin was to be determined by a plebiscite, under the principle of self-determination championed by US President Woodrow Wilson.

Before the vote, the Klagenfurt basin was divided into two zones; Zone A in the south with a predominately Slovenian speaking population and the smaller Zone B, which comprised Klagenfurt and its surroundings. Zone B was to hold a referendum only if a majority of voters in Zone A would have opted for what had already at the time been known as Yugoslavia.

However, with the turnout at almost 96%, 22,025 ballots or 59.04% of the vote cast was in favour of Austria, against 15,279 or 40.96%, who opted for Yugoslavia.

In their 2003 textbook, historians Dušan Nećak and Božo Repe estimate that at least 10,000 Carinthian Slovenes voted in favour of Austria, while some historians estimate a majority of the Slovens eligible to vote opted for Austria.

Despite having posted military victories ahead of the plebiscite, the Slovene side suffered a diplomatic defeat at the Paris peace conference and another one at the ballot box.

Wikipedia austria plebescite 761px-Plakat_ob_plebiscitu_Pojdimo_vsi_k_glasovanju_1920.jpg

Poster in Slovene ("Let us go and vote! It is our sacred duty, our homeland is calling us. You are Carinthians, and you should remain Carinthians!"), featuring zones A and B. (Wikipedia)

A mix of factors and interests decided the outcome

Historian Andrej Rahten, a former Slovenian ambassador to Austria, says that several factors were at play in the outcome of the plebiscite, however the battle for Carinthia had already been lost during the Habsburg monarchy.

"Even before World War I, Slovenians in Carinthia saw an adverse demographic trend, going from one quarter of Carinthia's population in the 1900 census by speaking language, which was biased methodologically, to a good fifth in 1910, and then, in the first post-plebiscite census in 1923, to one tenth."

Rahten, talking with the Slovenian and Austrian press agencies, STA and APA, in a joint interview, says the key role in the decision for the plebiscite was played by US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

If it had not been for France's support of Yugoslavia, the demarcation would have been even more harmful for Slovenians, he says; if you asked the Americans, they would have assigned Carinthia north of the Karawanks to Austria even without a plebiscite.

This was because of the belief that Austria, which had to accept secessions of some other border territories with practically no referendum rights, should be given some territorial concession lest it should become part of some great Germany.

Rahten believes the plebiscite result would have been very different had it not been for the Karawanks mountain range, which represented not only a physical but also a psychological barrier.

"The decisive element was economic reasons"; for centuries Klagenfurt and Villach had been traditional markets for Carinthian farmers, while now they were supposed to be replaced by Ljubljana.

Similarly, British historian Robert Knight offers economic interests as one possible explanation why Slovenians opted for Austria, along with the appeal, or lack thereof, of Yugoslavia with respect to Catholicism or the monarchy.

The Austrian propaganda played an important role; it emphasised economic benefits of the undivided Klagenfurt basin, regional identity, links between Slovenian- and German-speaking inhabitants and the cultural differences between Catholic Austria and Orthodox Serbia as the leading nation in Yugoslavia.

Historian Tamara Griesser-Pečar, in one of her articles, also notes the significance of the Carinthian Slovenians' attachment to their land, as well as social, economic, religious and political reasons and their bad experiences with the Yugoslav authorities.


The results by municipality. Paasikivi CC-by-SA-4.0

After plebiscite, broken promises and revanchism

A vital factor why Slovens opted for Austria would have been Austria's pledge to protect the minority's rights, passed by the provincial assembly in Klagenfurt in September 1920.

However, as early as 25 November 1920, Arthur Lemisch, the head of the province's provisional government, publicly advocated in the provincial assembly for Carinthian Slovenians to be Germanised within a generation.

The nationalist sentiment in Austria only grew between both world wars, resulting in further assimilation of Carinthian Slovenians. It was not until 1955 that they had their rights guaranteed in the Austrian State Treaty but they are yet to fully enjoy them.

Rahten and Knight, a historian from University College London who has studied the fate of Carinthian Slovenians, have talked to the STA and APA about the dark period in the wake of the plebiscite, about revanchism, persecution and scaremongering.

The Slovenians who voted for Austria were expected to assimilate, become German, while the others had to be induced to move south through a mixture of "pressure, persuasion and structural coercion", says Knight.

There were also opposing forces as for example in Social Democracy, "but by and large, Carinthian politics was also aimed at intolerance, exclusion and ethnic homogenization", although Knight does not see that as something distinctly Carintihan.

"The plebiscite definitely made the tensions only worse and it took decades, through change of generations, for those first months of revanchism to be gradually and slowly put behind," Rahten says.

He notes physical assaults on people accused to have voted for Yugoslavia, even if they may have not, arson attacks on the homes of Slovenian patriots, and the perpetrators going punished.

Before the plebiscite, Carinthian officials had been promising that no one would be hurt, that everyone would enjoy equal rights, that Slovenians would be better off than in the old Austria, but just the opposite happened.

"The promises were soon broken. What followed soon after can simply be called revanchism (...) which led to the Slovene elite being driven out of Carinthia," says Rahten, noting that an estimated 3,000 refugees fled Carinthia after the plebiscite.

At the same time, "the political impotence when it came to protection of the Slovene minority's rights in Carinthia was offset by very harsh measures taken against the Germans who were left in Yugoslav Slovenia", such as forced Slovenisation of German schools.

Centenary celebrations in a buoyant mood

The relationship between the majority and minority in Austrian Carinthia had begun to mend only after Slovenia declared independence in 1991 where Austria played a key role in the country's international recognition.

Like in the case of the Slovenian minority in Italy, the atmosphere for the minority in Carinthia improved further after Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and the Schengen area three years later.

Knight, noting that the centenary celebrations appear to have taken a different course after neglect of the Slovenian minority and its language in the past, believes the main emphasis of commemoration of 1920 should be on honouring the promise made publicly on the eve of the vote, that is to preserve the minority's unique identity.

23 Aug 2020, 11:04 AM

Here's a video for those interested in Slovenian history and the Slovenian language. It's a documentary produced by the Ministry of Defence (Ministrstvo za obrambo) in 2014, which makes use of photos and film from the years in question to bring the story alive. Anyone learning the language will be pleased to know that it's presented in clear Slovenian, with reliable subtitles.

More posts on Slovenian history, and more dual texts in Slovene and English.

18 Jul 2020, 22:15 PM

Last week saw the return the National Hall (Narodni dom) in Trieste (Trst) to Slovenian hands a century after it was burned down in an act of anti-Slovene violence that’s seen as the start of Fascism. By coincidence, the same day I learned of a new novel about that era, and life in the city that was once home to the largest Slovenian population outside of Ljubljana, His Most Italian City, by Margaret Walker. I sent her some questions, and she was kind of enough to answer…

What’s your connection to Slovenian Trieste?

I was adopted as a baby and my birth mother Silvana (1920 – 2020) was Istrian. It has taken me my whole life to discover her history. She was born in Tar and her father was born in Trieste in 1886. Her grandmother (her mother’s mother) was a Slovenian from a village near the Austrian border. Silvana worked as an interpreter for the Allied Military Government in Trieste after the war. In 1950, she emigrated to Australia.

old pic 1.jpg

Silvana in 1927...

 Trieste trim.jpg

...and in 1947

Of Istria, my mother said, ‘We were Austrian, then Austria lost the war. Then we were Italian and Italy lost the war.’ I believe that she just thought of herself as Istrian. She became Yugoslavian after the war and her parents became Italian. Am I confused? Yes.

What can you tell us about the novel?

It’s a work of historical fiction, and I chose that genre so that the history might be more easily accessible to a wide audience.

The story begins in 1928, because that was when Mussolini’s government changed my birth mother’s family name from Micatovich [Micatovič, Micatovik] to Di Micheli. My original intention was to record what she had told us about her childhood in Istria. Because I love sea stories and submarines, I also wanted to incorporate elements of the Austro-Hungarian navy into the narrative, and I began to read about the modern history of Italy and Trieste. My website contains a selected bibliography.


TIGR logo - Wikipedia

The more I researched, the more evident it became that any story about Trieste in the 1920’s had to include the conflict between Fascist Italy and the Slovenians. I read about the anti-Fascist group TIGR (Trst, Istria, Gorica, Rijeka) and the Fascist attack on the Narodni dom in 1920 and I wondered how I could incorporate these into the novel. This was when I came up with the idea of a group of men working for TIGR led by Stefan Pirjevec, a former submarine captain in the Austro-Hungarian navy whose wife had died in the fire in the Narodni dom.  The character is based on my neighbour who was a captain in the Australian Merchant Navy. Sydney Harbour, where I live, is a busy passenger port so, whenever I wrote about the port of Trieste in the 1920’s when it was much busier than it was during my recent visits, I had to imagine that it was Sydney.

What other research did you do?

As well as history textbooks and websites, I read several rare books written in the 1800’s about boat journeys from Trieste. The best was Rambles in Istria (RHR, London 1875). I read Necropolis by Boris Pahor in English and Piazza Oberdan in German. Unfortunately, my German’s not very good, but I did my best.

And what else did you learn in writing the book?

I originally trained in mathematics and science and, as my research continued, I noticed that Italy had a huge population compared to the population of Slovenia: 40 million to 1.3 million. I asked myself why such a large country should have felt so threatened by a Slovenian minority in Trieste.

The answer came from the historian Gianfranco Cresciani. Dr Cresciani was born in Trieste and lives in Sydney. He explained the perils that nationalism could hold for some individuals. I am Australian and Australians are not nationalistic. I found the Italian ultra-nationalism (or Fascism) of one hundred years ago very hard to comprehend, particularly its racism and violence, and its vitriolic anti-Slav propaganda. However, both Boris Pahor and Jan Morris (Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere) noted that the majority of Trieste’s population were conservative, and didn’t want such radical politics.


Trst je naš (Trieste is ours) remains popular in Slovenian memes

Finally, what’s the blurb for His Most Italian City, and where can people find it?

First, you can get a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or direct from the publisher, Penmore Press. You can also see a review from the American Historical Novel Society, and if you’re curious about me I have a website, too, plus a blog that mainly focuses on submarines.

Now the blurb:

Fascist Italy 1928. Trieste, once the port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has become Italian. As fascism strives violently to create a pure Italy along its streets, Matteo Brazzi is forced to choose his loyalties with care. When his office is bombed, the police are baffled, but Brazzi knows who committed the crime, and he knows why. Though he is no seaman, he can easily identify the dark shape that disappeared into the Gulf of Trieste that dramatic night and, as he escapes to Cittanova in Istria, the mysterious vessel follows him down the coast. Brazzi has successfully exploited fascism to protect himself - many people would call him a traitor - but he’s only ever had one real love. Now Nataša is dead and Brazzi owes his share of the blame. Too soon he discovers that not even Mussolini can save him from an enemy who is bent on revenge. 

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