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Thousands of memories remind us that here every mountain, river and valley is a sacred grave

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, today attended a commemoration at the pit under Macesnova gorica in Kočevski Rog. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the reconciliation ceremony, Prime Minister Janez Janša and the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, laid a wreath.

The Prime Minister delivered a speech after a holy mass – marking the 75th anniversary of the revolution and mass executions – that was led by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Ljubljana and President of the Slovenian Bishops' Conference, Monsignor  Stanislav Zore, accompanied by priests.  

Following the reconciliation ceremony in Kočevski Rog, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, and the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, laid a wreath at the Memorial to the Victims of the National Liberation War at Smrečje near Turjak.

Please find below the entire speech of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, delivered at the commemoration next to the pit under Macesnova gorica in Kočevski Rog.

Dear family members of martyrs not laid to rest,

Dear President of the Republic,

Dear Archbishop,

Dear Priests,

Brothers and Sisters, 

On 25 June 1945, 75 years ago, from Belgrade Edvard Kardelj sent a personal dispatch to Boris Kidrič in Ljubljana requesting faster cleansing and executions. The killings were expedited and my father was transported to Kočevje. 

Not yet 14 years of age when the war began, my father only a year later dug his own grave during a round-up by the Italian occupiers, then hid across the new German-Italian border, was on guard at the post of the Home Guard in Polhov Gradec, escaped from the prison at Ljubljana Castle, was sentenced to 20 months of forced labour and sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, joined other members of the Home Guard retreating to Viktring, was sent back to Yugoslavia and to the Partisan camp at Šentvid near Ljubljana.  

In this very spot under Macesnova gorica, he and hundreds of his young or minor peers were ordered to stand facing machine guns without being tried, let alone being guilty.  

Having left his Home Guard post during the occupation to help his family on the farm and having escaped from the German prison, he was found guilty of desertion by a court and sent to Dachau. The liberators, however, sent him to death in the pit at Kočevski rog without a trial and without being guilty. The sheer hell of this site of execution and the time spent surrounded by dying victims have scarred him for life.

What the executioner’s bullets missed, the regime replaced by spreading fear and killing the memory thereof and the truth. 

During that time of unimaginable horror and death threats, people forged a new phrase: “It is better that you don’t know.”

The truth was so horrific that we, young people, at first could not believe even fragments of it. It is obviously so horrific that in the past 75 years no one in Slovenia has been able to make a film about this tragedy, which has so fatefully divided us. Nevertheless, the truth survived in small groups, in some churches, in neighbouring countries and around the world, among those that survived and those spared. And among the killers, who in sleepless nights awaited their end.

In Europe, the 20th century produced two great evils. National Socialism and Communism. Hundreds of millions of people suffered because of the two.  Especially Slovenians, and before us, our fellow countrymen in Primorska under Fascist rule. The two great evils learned from each other and competed in the commission of atrocities. They were both genocidal.

Evil is evil by nature and owing to the consequences of its acts, and not because of its ideological cloak.  Evil that fights its own double in the name of various interests does not thereby make itself good. Evil also cannot be permanently erased either by revenge or oblivion, but solely by the rule of law. 

It is in human nature to resist injustice. It is in human nature to aspire to freedom and a decent life. Individuals sucked into the whirlwind of the occupation and civil war and who wanted to stay true to themselves were often left with no good choice.

But resistance to any form of evil was legitimate. We therefore respect everyone, all the individuals who for this reason decided to fight against Fascism, National Socialism or Communism.  All those who died during the time of resistance or because of it have the right to be named and remembered; they deserve to rest in decent graves and they deserve our respect.  Only this can constitute a lasting foundation for the national reconciliation of Slovenians.

This is something that the families of those killed and all good-hearted people sincerely wished for 30 years ago at the first mourning ceremony here in Rog, but they were mostly deceived. That is why, for the first time after 75 years, we are here at the place of execution of Slovenians.

We will achieve reconciliation. Someday in the future. Unfortunately not today, since the words "not enough people were killed" and death cries and threats to second-class citizens have once again become a part of our everyday life, some kind of a distorted new normal. Many people are more bothered by the fact that a certain concert has not been prohibited than by the eerie echo of the rumour that justified the mass killing and crime against humanity that happened here.

Therefore, instead of living with each other, we should at least strive not to live against each other, but side by side with one another. So far, we have only just scratched the surface.

However, standing at this sacred place of horror, we need to very clearly tell those who have again been chanting death threats in the streets and squares of Ljubljana: we will not allow you to plunge Slovenia into fratricidal savagery once again. This blind hatred has already caused too much suffering. We will do everything in our power to prevent it.

Despite being buried in everyday issues and challenges, we should not miss the point.

What can we say to our young compatriots who lost their lives at the bottom of this chasm under Macesnova gorica or to those who were killed in Smrečje near Turjak by the shots of the anti-communists just before the war ended?

Reunited and finally reconciled in death, both silently stare at us, the living, quietly asking us for the past 75 years: "Have our deaths and sacrifice taught you anything?"

The answer is nevertheless: yes. The truth about your fate and, for me directly, my father's fate that struck us with such weight just before independence is a violent testimony to the consequences that can be caused by a national schism at a critical time, and has encouraged us to do our best not to stray onto this familiar, gruesome path half a century later. And we succeeded.

The second, post-war generation, in a way represented here by myself and President Borut Pahor, achieved an independent Slovenia in 1991 despite all the bad forecasts and predictions, without spilling brotherly blood in this incredible, miraculous national effort.

This is another reason why we have the right to bury everyone, without exception, in their designated graves.

To once again become a civilised nation. To welcome all the deceased into our community and make it whole. To dispel hatred from our homeland and focus on the fundamental message of our constitutional anthem: Let peace, glad conciliation, return to us throughout the land!

Despite everything, Slovenians achieved an independent country on the exact same day of the year, 25 June 1991, exactly 46 years after the terrible command to perpetrate the cleansing and executions. The idea, dreamt of at Svete Višarje and put into words with the May Declaration, became a reality.

In spite of the fatal schism, there is an indisputable period in the modern history of Slovenia when Slovenians became united and unified in the pursuit of a noble goal. Our nation is bound by a core of values. We have a holy day, when, the only time in its history, the Slovenian nation wrote its own judgement.

It was a majestic judgement and, were we to repeat it today, the result of the plebiscite would be the same. In trying times, the nation's decision was defended together by the sons of partisans and home guards. The sons of prosecuted and deported emigrants volunteered to join the Slovenian Territorial Defence. 

Therefore: let us strive for reconciliation, heal the wounds, and protect the memories and the truth. Let us place that time of unison on the pedestal of Slovenian statehood. 

Thus we will be doing good for all the coming generations of our descendants. We have a Constitution and constitutional values that are common to and equal for everyone. We have independence. We have common national and state symbols. We have a wonderful country, a garden of the world beyond compare. At the time of the toughest trials we show our ability.  The ability to recall, albeit belatedly, the names and the memory of all the unburied. All our deceased. Stay healthy, homeland. God bless you!

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