At Pristava nad Stično, Prime Minister Janez Janša emphasises importance of cooperation and trust, and the awareness that at critical moments we have to be able to help ourselves
Prime Minister Janez Janša and his wife, Urška Bačovnik Janša, attended a ceremony today at Pristava nad Stično in honour of the 30th anniversary of an event at which the key players in the formation of the defence and security system adopted and formalised the strategic documents that served as the basis for the final phase of the organisation of a joint military and police organisation (the National Defence Manoeuvring Structures, or MSNZ), on which the barely independent Slovenia based its effective and successful armed resistance against the aggression of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JLA). In those documents, the JLA was for the first time clearly defined as a potential aggressor, or a clear and present danger to Slovenian independence.
Prime Minister Janša gave the keynote address at the ceremony, in which he highlighted some of the significant experiences from those times which are also important today. He emphasised the importance of cooperation and trust among people of different political beliefs, and the awareness that at critical moments we also have to be able to help ourselves. “Despite the fact that we knew that we were alone at that time, and that if Slovenia gained independence it was unlikely we would receive any help from outside or also within Yugoslavia, and notwithstanding the fact that various other Yugoslavian republics were making preparations for independence, we knew at the same time that this step had to be taken,” said the prime minister, and drew a parallel with events during the time of the coronavirus in the spring. This was also a time when countries all had to fend for themselves. He said that it was at that point that the illusion that anyone would help us at a critical moment was shattered. “It’s very important to build friendships in a favourable environment around you, and to work on that, so that conflicts within that environment are resolved in the friendliest and most peaceful possible way, and to be aware of what we are, where we are, and what our weight is, but also to know that when things get serious, when something truly critical occurs, you first have to know how to help yourself and you also have to be capable of doing it,” said Mr Janša.
He also stated that if you want to solve problems you have to call them by their real names, and noted that the JLA was first described as a potential aggressor in an official document of the nascent country of Slovenia on 7 September 1990, and that their units in Slovenia were marked on the maps as a potential threat source.
The entire speech is presented below. Not an authorised version.
Ladies and gentlemen, greetings to everyone at the top of one of these wonderful Dolenjska hills!
I attended gymnasium here in Stična and that was probably one of the reasons we met in this building 30 years ago. The weather then wasn’t as nice as today, it was foggy and raining, and that was perfectly alright with us, because we were looking for places and days when the meetings could be held in secret.
First, before I say a few words about those days, perhaps a bit about the present, in particular a warm welcome to the president of the country, the president of the National Council, all those who 30 years ago were either members of the independence assembly or the government, all members of the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence, and especially to his honour the mayor of the Municipality of Ivančna Gorica and to everyone who made it possible for this memorial to even be erected here years ago. But I am most happy to see those who have been coming here even in the last few years, when there were sometimes just a few more of us than there were 30 years ago. Without you, as president of the Association Mr Hojs said, we would probably not be celebrating this event.
Thirty years is a long time, a good part of a human life. A lot of things happen in 30 years, and a lot of the things that happened at that time are already starting to fade from our memories, while some things are more firmly set, since people remember things that are momentous, and carry them with them their whole lives, and, if they wish themselves well, also remember their community, nation, country and so on, so that future generations can learn something from this.
The meeting here 30 years ago was the continuation of the dynamics that began after the first multiparty elections in Slovenia in 1990, after it had become clear that the Demos plan to draft and adopt a new constitution and, as Dr Dimitrij Rupel says, declare independence quietly, was not going to go through. The parliamentary majority was too weak, and we had a lot of problems just adopting documents, which required an ordinary majority, and at the time the situation in the still federal former Yugoslavia had become complicated to the point where sometimes it simply was not possible to determine the best course forward.
But one thing was clear. As soon as Slovenia had its first democratically elected government and we were disarmed, we all knew that the future of the Slovenian dream of living an independent life in an independent country would be decided on the point where we could do anything, proclaim anything, and say we are anything, but if we were not able to internalise it, identify ourselves with it and be capable of defending it, then nothing would come from it. History is full of dramatic declarations of independence and statehood that came to nothing.
This fact weighed heavily on us, and thanks to the brave men and boys who resisted the disarming of the Slovenian Territorial Defence, by which I mean that in 14 municipalities they held on to some infantry weapons and on that basis and on the basis of the idea brought in by Tone Krkovič and the exceptionally good cooperation with the former Slovenian milica, which would later become the police, as early as May 1990 we began to put at least a provisional structure back into place that would be capable of protecting Slovenia’s independence activities with actual force.
I will not speak about numbers and comparisons, since if I were to list them you would be too bored and second of all it’s not even important, but everything we did together to create the germination of an army or Slovenian Armed Forces at that time was so small in comparison with what the JLA had just on Slovenian territory that they simply didn’t take us seriously, not in Belgrade, not the regiments stationed here and not those abroad who were even interested in what was happening here. But despite this we knew what our advantages were. Practically the entire summer, throughout July and August, numerous activities were carried out, in practice mainly by Brigadier General Tone Krkovič, to connect the strings that needed to be connected in order for Slovenia to have an army that could defend it in the event that we gained independence. In August, the first framework for the application of the National Defence Manoeuvring Structures was created, that is, the first realistic assessment of what could actually happen. On my way here this morning I read this again and I have to say that we had a pretty accurate picture of what the possible scenarios were. The worst of them had not occurred at that time, but there was still the problem that we resolved in the lodge behind us on 7 September 1990. In addition to the fact that hundreds of minor details were hammered out in relation to plans, final organisational structure at the regional and municipal level, ways of cooperating with the municipalities and local governments, what was crucial within that plan was that for the first time we named our adversary. Up to that point, even though we all knew who it was, nobody had dared record in any official documents that what was threatening us was the JLA.
We were still part of Yugoslavia, there was a federal constitution, secret police, and a very fragile formal framework that nevertheless allowed Slovenia to take a few steps. But in life, if you don’t call things by their real names, you won’t get near a solution. The JLA was first described as a potential aggressor in an official document of the nascent country of Slovenia on 7 September 1990, and that their units in Slovenia were marked on the charts and maps as a potential threat source.
If this had been revealed at the time, this would have been a big problem. Those of you who lived through that time probably know what I’m talking about. The independence assembly adopted certain key documents with a two-thirds majority, which means the cooperation of those who were not part of the Demos coalition, but everything related to defence and independence from the military and security viewpoint was passed in 95% of the cases only with Demos’s close majority. The debates about the Slovenian armed forces and Slovenian defence forces in the Slovenian parliament were very similar to those we hear today. Although the present is a less fateful time, and we look at it differently now, at the time it was extremely serious.
Without tiring you with numbers and military details, the two main characteristics of the plan that was approved in September 1990 can be distilled from the numerous details. The first is that we were aware of the power relations, and therefore we in the MSNZ, later the Territorial Defence, the Slovenian Armed Forces – this is all one and the same, the same people, the same programme, the same objective, we chose different names depending on the tactics – in short we knew that if we were going to be attacked, we would not be able to put up a frontal resistance, so these units were planned to protect vital points and structures in the majority of cases, and only for the offensive at one point, which involved plans for attacking or defending stockpiles of military weapons and equipment, that is, something that we didn’t have but the JLA had in abundance on our territory, and that plan, which was approved for the case of the protection of Slovenia upon taking the initial steps towards independence, was realised in practice in these two key points in June of 1991, when we were actually attacked.
We also put these two points of the plan into action when, to tell the truth, we didn’t have much larger forces in June 1991 until we took the JLA storage facilities, where the main breakthrough came when a reconnaissance team from Tone’s brigade took the storage facility at Strmec pri Borovnici, where the majority of arms that they had stolen from us the previous May were stored, arranged by Territorial Defence unit and by the registry lists, and those of you in the profession know that this made it a lot easier for us to mobilise additional forces, which we managed to do in the middle of the war. At the beginning of the resistance against the aggression we had just over 15,000 men in the Territorial Defence and just over 8,000 men in the Slovenian police, but after the capture of those storage facilities we were able to practically triple our forces, on the basis of the plan that had been roughed out here in Pristava.
Exactly a week after the meeting in Pristava, we held a meeting at the defence training centre in Poljče with the mayors of all of the Slovenian municipalities, as well as the presidents of the municipal assemblies, who under the law at the time were also the presidents of the defence councils and held the formal competences, and we were able to coordinate everything that we had agreed here in these key points with the key people in the Slovenian municipalities, and a week after that also with the presidents of the executive councils, which were the municipal governments at the time with broad competences, particularly regarding supply, and the Slovenian Territorial Defence was entirely dependent on local supply, which functioned extremely well during the war and whose contribution is often overlooked when I speak of credit for the fact that we were able to defend ourselves for a relatively low price at the time, and on 28 September the Slovenian parliament, on the basis of an assessment that was provided to all of the parliamentary delegates, adopted two amendments to the Slovenian constitution with a two-thirds majority, through which the Slovenian Territorial Defence was subordinated to the Slovenian authorities.
The decision to take that step was taken on the basis of the fact that we could tell the delegates, “look, this could be a conflict, but we can withstand that conflict, and we do not believe that there will be an invasion and a state of emergency, because that would require an invasion by the entire JLA, which that army simply is not prepared for, because they would need some time, particularly the JLA such as it was, and if some police action were to occur, we are capable of preventing it and defending against it”, and that was crucial, that the delegates who voted for the fact that we were taking very important competences out of federal hands in a legal manner – a change to our constitution – knew that we were not jumping into an empty pool. If they had thought we were jumping into an empty pool, those two-thirds majorities would never have existed. There wouldn’t even have been an ordinary majority, since unlike what was often portrayed in the media at the time, the parliament at that time was made up of people – I mean it was by far the best of all Slovenian parliaments to date, not only because of the seriousness of the decisions that were adopted at the time, but also in general – who were not professional politicians, that was not their professional function; people came from factories, municipal governments, their environments, and they knew exactly what was going on there. They were dependent on those environments, and the debates and voting was a great deal more real and down to earth than what you sometimes hear nowadays from the parliamentary benches.
The next step that was taken about which we will speak in Kočevska reka in December, was the lineup, that is, the actual demonstration to the Slovenian public of our actual ability to secure Slovenian independence, that is the lineup of the special Krkovič Brigade. That was the next step.
As in September 1990, when it had been necessary to prove to the delegates that we were not jumping into an empty pool, before the plebiscite it was necessary to prove to the Slovenian public that we were not jumping into an empty pool and that if it provoked a reaction and violent interference with our decision-making we would be capable of defending it. At the time this was, I won’t say a more difficult operation than it was here, because it was necessary to convince a significantly larger number of people than those who knew about what had happened here in Pristava.
Perhaps two things from those times, which I think are very important as a kind of lesson for all of us, even in the present day. The first I have already talked about. If you have a problem and you walk around it like a cat around a boiling pot and you don’t dare even call it by name, and you look for various other things, it will be very difficult for you to solve it. You can only change things in life when you not only see things as they really are, but are also capable of publicly recognising them as such.
Despite the fact that we knew that we were alone at that time, and that if Slovenia gained independence it was unlikely we would receive any help from outside or also within Yugoslavia, and notwithstanding the fact that various other Yugoslavian republics were making preparations for independence – in short, we knew we were on our own – we knew at the same time that this step had to be taken. Carefully. And we took it carefully. So first of all for the so-called enlightened public, for those who decided and who had to take risks, and later for the decision makers who voted for the formal adoption of the constitutional amendments and after that for the entire people, who in December of 1990 actually decided our own fate for the first time in our history.
The second such lesson from that event or from that period of time was already partially referred to earlier, when I said that we knew we were alone, but we took the risk anyway.
Our overall development, with its many digressions and disappointments in the last 30 years, has nevertheless brought us to the environment in which we live today, when we are not surrounded by enemies, when we are a member of the EU and NATO, when the world around us, despite all of the difficulties, has never in our history and the history of our nation been as favourable to our development as in the last few decades, but despite this the events of the past spring in relation to the coronavirus pandemic are sobering.
The belief that we are safe, that nothing can happen, that even if something does happen everyone will come and help us, I think these illusions all disappeared in March and April of this year. Because as was the case in 1990, we were completely alone. Something occurred that appears in numerous plans and textbooks, but in practice no one was prepared for it. For a few weeks, Europe looked like Europe during the Middle Ages, with borders, queues at the borders, walls, and barriers. Wherever you called, nobody could help you, because they were having the same problems.
We have to be aware that it’s very important to build friendships in a favourable environment around you, and to work on that, so that conflicts within that environment are resolved in the friendliest and most peaceful possible way, and to be aware of what we are, where we are, and what our weight is, but also to know that when things get serious, when something truly critical occurs, things that you don’t expect – when we gathered here last year there was definitely nobody among us who could have imagined that half a year later we would be in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic – whenever something like that happens, and from that perspective you have to be aware and to work in the direction that you first have to know how to help yourself and you also have to be capable of doing it. That is why we have a government, that is why we have numerous institutions, and the lesson of that time is in fact timeless.
This is one of the solid foundations on which rest all communities and all nations, all countries that seek permanence. I am also talking about it because there are a lot of debates now about whether we need the Slovenian Armed Forces, or whether we need some minimal defence force, since we do not have any large forces, and the objective circumstances are such, do we need this… On one side they say, well, we’re in NATO, others will defend us, and on the other side is the illusion that nothing will ever happen anyway. There are a lot of debates about whether we should spend a few euros to modernise the Slovenian Armed Forces, while people forget that practically the entire time we were part of Yugoslavia, including 30 years ago in 1990, at the time we are speaking about today, we contributed more to the JLA than we do to the Slovenian Armed Forces today, and not just in relative terms but in absolute terms. Many people who are vocal today against the reinforcement or normalisation of the situation of the Slovenian Armed Forces or defence didn’t make a sound at that time, but they were already active with regard to the situation. It seems to me that it is important to remember those events, so that we are able to learn some lessons from those times.
The last thing I would like to share with you is the fact that the five of us who met here in this lodge behind me 30 years ago were not even close to having similar political beliefs. We knew that going in, and later it became clear that our political beliefs were different. But despite that and despite the things that were happening at the time in the parliament, we not only worked together towards these goals, but we trusted each other. I believe that this is one of the elements and one of the facts due to which Slovenia succeeded in gaining its independence. The politics here was divided, but there is no reason to speak of that, it was united at various strategically important key moments, while otherwise it was fragmented, particularly in matters of defence.
Even within Demos there were parties that were not all in favour of having a Slovenian army. Thank you Franci Feltrin, since with a few votes from the Greens with you at the head we were able to pass a defence act, a compulsory military service act and a series of other decisions without which there never would have been any sort of Slovenian army.
However, in matters of the defence and police structures, these differences were mainly non-existent. There was no dividing line of whether you were for Demos or the SDP, the dividing line was are you for Slovenia, are you for defending the decision of the people in the plebiscite, or are you for the JLA. The scales came down decisively on one side. The great majority were for defence, and that is why we succeeded. The beginnings of this unity were partially created in this building behind me.
Thank you all for your patience these last 20 minutes. I had intended to give a shorter speech, but the sun has gone down a bit and that makes it a bit easier, and I see that most of you are in the shade.
Thank you for coming here at this time, which is slightly unique due to the epidemic, and perhaps we will have to get used to working in these new conditions for a longer period of time, but if we could handle those challenges of 30 years ago, we can handle this too. Thank you and have a wonderful Sunday.