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Prime Minister Janez Janša: At a time of fear and threats, the decision taken in Poljče was a courageous one

  • Former Prime Minister Janez Janša (2020 - 2022)

Today, in the Grand Hall of the Presidential Palace in Ljubljana, Prime Minister Janez Janša attended the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the decision taken by Demos to call for a plebiscite on the independence of the Republic of Slovenia. On 9 and 10 November 1990, a meeting was held in Poljče, where members of the Demos coalition adopted a decision to call for a plebiscite on the independence of the Republic of Slovenia. Based on the decision taken at the meeting in Poljče, the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia adopted the Plebiscite on the Sovereignty and Independence of the Republic of Slovenia Act on 6 December 1990, which determined that the plebiscite would be held on Sunday, 23 December 1990.

On this occasion, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, addressed the public.

The following address is unauthorised.

Esteemed President of the Republic of Slovenia, thank you very much for organising this event; I would also like to thank the president of the Association for the Values of Slovenia's Independence for commemorating this event for so many years.

Given that Slovenians only have a single undisputed fundamental milestone in their history, on which the Slovenian nation wrote its own judgment – the plebiscite for Slovenia's independence – it is very important to also commemorate all the events leading up to that fundamental step.

Today, we commemorate one of those events, the key political decision that led to the plebiscite.

On this occasion, it is my duty to begin by remembering all those people who were present in Poljče thirty years ago and are no longer with us today, and all those who were there and made this important political decision, but have been forgotten for the past thirty years.  There are many. The deputies from parties of very different views, which composed Demos, the governing coalition at that time, gathered in Poljče to represent the interests of their constituents; but, above all, they were there due to the fundamental binding element, which later largely contributed to the majority of the people supporting the Demos parties in the April elections, i.e. the first elections in the independent Slovenia.

Before Poljče, the Demos deputy group several meetings; for the first few months, I was the president of that group myself, and regardless of what the theme of the meeting was, Slovenia's independence was always in the air.

In November thirty years ago, there was a certain nervousness in the ranks of the Demos deputies, since, following the elections, many people expected Slovenia to immediately take steps towards gaining its independence; the state was expected to draw up or adopt a new constitution by the summer, or at least to adopt a draft constitution, and to hold a referendum in the autumn to confirm the constitution and legally and formally establish the independent country of Slovenia.

This nervousness first became apparent in July, when it was obvious that there was no such constitution; the Declaration on the Independence of Slovenia was proposed and adopted instead, which demonstrated a certain degree of political support within the Assembly through the Demos votes.  However, the concrete steps to finalise the constitutional materials, in particular, weighing the options for a two-thirds majority in support of the constitution, came to a standstill. That is why the proposal, which did not come directly from the government or the deputy group, but from the wider Demos circle, a circle, represented here by Dr Peter Jambrek, was also a solution to this psychological atmosphere within the majority deputy group. Therefore, when the majority in the hall realised what was happening, when the proposal was submitted, the spontaneous applause would not cease, thus expressing the very essence of the Demos deputy group's political existence.

It was a key moment and for that reason the venue for the meeting was not selected randomly – at the time Poljče was a defence training centre. We were still in Yugoslavia then, with tens of thousands of YPA soldiers on our territory, 500 tanks and other armoured vehicles, the JPA secret service, as well as the federal government, which controlled a number of elements that posed a threat. For that reason, there is no video or audio recordings and no transcription of that meeting, since the leadership of the deputy group was particularly strict about recording and photographing due to the circumstances, which today are difficult to understand for those who were born after that time and did not experience them.

It was a time of great expectations, but also a time of great threats. It was a time when messages came from Belgrade that any independence aspirations would be suppressed by force; it was a time when messages came from influential international circles and, in fact, from everywhere: "We will never recognise you if you become independent." It was a time when the international community was deeply afraid of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fate of the nuclear weapons there, and all that might occur after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Warsaw Pact. In these circumstances, the decision made in Poljče was a brave decision. It was a time of fear and courage, and it was also a time of brave people.

That is why no one who was in Poljče at that time deserves to be forgotten. Especially because this group of people, who met thirty years ago in Poljče, did not just make key decisions there. Dozens of decisions of lesser importance were also made, decisions without which Slovenia would not have gained independence, because it would not have been able to make this happen and defend itself. In the subsequent six months, the period set out by the plebiscite law for the Slovene state, specifically the Slovene authorities, to implement the nation's historic decision, the same group of people who gathered in Poljče passed a series of laws in the Assembly, based on which Slovenia was able to implement the plebiscite decision.

The defence law, military service and the defence budget proved to be the most difficult to coordinate; however, decisions thereon were made with exactly the same majority of people who gathered in Poljče thirty years ago.

The opposition at that time backed the decisions that required a two-thirds majority vote, at least in part, otherwise they could not have been passed, and this has to be openly acknowledged; nevertheless, there was much to consider, even the possibility that we could declare independence, but if there had been no defence force to defend our decision, then that would have only been an operetta.

Those who made or helped make the decisions in Poljče thirty years ago have our gratitude, because this is not only about those actions, but also about all the votes that enabled the plebiscite decision de facto; thank you for the fact that in the thirty days following Poljče this political majority was able to—with a wealth of common sense and willingness to compromise—reach a formal political agreement with the other parties in the then-Assembly, for the plebiscite law to be passed by a much larger majority, even though not by a unanimous vote, but with great consensus, which to a large extent also enabled the result we call the plebiscite.

Immediately after Dr Jože Pučnik announced this political decision, polls showed that the nation, the people, the citizens, the residents of the Republic of Slovenia supported the plebiscite on independent Slovenia and that they would vote in favour. No one knew how difficult and convincing that result would be; polls produced very different results, but the political unity, manifested outwardly, contributed to a 90% vote in favour of independence. The result was our key weapon and tool in convincing the international community that we were right, that there was no going back, that we would make that decision a reality. That was our key argument against the millions of second thoughts, coming even from the most important cities of the most powerful countries until the very declaration of independence.

We pay tribute to the memory of all those who were in Poljče thirty years ago and are no longer with us today, as well as to the memory of those who were in Poljče at that time and were forgotten over the last thirty years, while many of those who actively opposed Slovenia's independence at that time later basked in glory and honour.

The lesson that can be drawn from this historic decision in Poljče thirty years ago today and at all times is that those who have the responsibility, majority and power in their hands are, first of all, always required to offer cooperation beyond the limits of their powers, and, secondly, they have to look ahead when making decisions, even unto keeping the seventh generation hence in mind, not just what public opinion or opinion polls show as the most opportunistic path.

The decision in Poljče was made without any opinion polls. First, a decision was made, and then public opinion was measured in relation to that decision, which showed that the decision on the plebiscite in December 1990 would be made by a plebiscite majority – as it is known today, meaning that it would be convincing, it would be the cornerstone of the future Slovenian state; today we can be proud of the fact that Slovenia has been an independent state for thirty years as a result of the strongest possible democratic decision in history. Thank you.