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Plebiscitary heritage of a united nation

  • Former Prime Minister Janez Janša (2020 - 2022)

Below is a transcript of the address by Prime Minister Janez Janša at the state ceremony on Independence and Unity Day; due to the epidemiological situation, it was only broadcast on television.

Prime minister Janez Janša

Prime minister Janez Janša | Author Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia

My fellow Slovenians, dear fellow citizens!

Yugoslavia is gone, now it’s about Slovenia...

Dr. Jože Pučnik, the father of the independent Slovenia, used these words to mark the moment of the most important decision in the history of the Slovenian nation. The time, the only time when people truly and literally wrote their own judgment. And the judgment was majestic, resounding across the world as well as in the soul and heart of each Slovenian. Everyone who circled the option for an independent Slovenia, regardless of their origin, became part of the Slovenian community, part of the nation in the modern sense of the word. As a poet wrote in those days: our souls were captured by ceremonious splendour and our hearts were filled with warmth. We knew what we were, and this was what we wanted to be. We rose, stood tall in the face of everything and, half a year later, after resisting the Yugoslav People’s Army and winning the war for Slovenia, withstood as well.

Despite the digressions of part of politics, the Slovenian nation was united. So united, indeed, that the weight of this fact pressed down also on those decision-makers for whom an independent Slovenia, in their own words, was not an intimate option. After the historic November decision of the Demos coalition in Poljče to propose a plebiscite, we reached a political agreement, unanimously adopted the Plebiscite Act and enabled the nation to decide freely.

Thirty years is a time long enough for an evaluation of what the plebiscite decision has brought Slovenia and Slovenians. A time long enough to not allow for any excuses to avoid such an evaluation.

Especially those of us who were part of the plebiscite Christmas story, its arduous overture and sequel, the drama upon its realisation and its happy ending, are left without this excuse. We have to ask ourselves some self-evident questions.

Was it the right decision at the time?

Yes, it was the right one. Correct and timely. Especially after all we know today about the infernal horrors and the wars in a large part of the territory of the country we chose to leave on time, this positive response is unequivocal.

Was the decision economically justified?

Yes. Compared to other countries that emerged in the territory of the former SFRY, Slovenia developed significantly faster in the three decades of its independent life. Our annual per capita income is now 4 to 5 times higher than that in Serbia, North Macedonia, or Bosnia and Herzegovina and almost twice as high as that in Croatia.

Our independence enabled us to achieve greater prosperity and a higher level of security; it made us more open to the outside world and strengthened our bonds with the most developed countries; it accelerated our accession to the European Union, NATO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and increased our international influence.

After all these positive answers, we are, however, also obliged to ask ourselves after 30 years whether we have also taken advantage of all the strategic development opportunities created with our independence.

This time the answer is unfortunately more difficult to find, and less unequivocal. Many opportunities have, in other words, been missed for various reasons. At this point and at this time, it is worth focusing on one that is essential. To make the answer to this dilemma more understandable, let us ask ourselves a sub-question:

Can we imagine where we would be today if we could have breathed with the full capacity of our lungs and used all our strengths and potentials throughout our independence?

The opportunity, which Demos recognised as auspicious and historical 30 years ago, could be taken and realised mainly because we saw it as such as a nation, because we had had enough of divisions and because this unity before the plebiscite was followed by the then opposition politics.

Afterwards, such a level of maturity was demonstrated only once, when acceding to the EU, although it was in fact necessary all the time. Not always because of the grave import of the situation, but certainly because of its benefits.

Instead of a policy of cooperation and inclusion, almost two-thirds of the time after independence were marked by exclusion. Most of the things that now bother people of various convictions in Slovenia are the result of the exclusion of the different-minded. As a rule, different-minded people are excluded for ideological reasons. If they defend themselves, they are criticised for bringing up ideological issues. Half of the nation is therefore frequently denied the basic democratic right to think and speak differently.

At a time when we are struggling with the insidious COVID-19, everybody understands how damaged lungs affect our body. The virus of exclusion, however, has the same consequences for the body of the nation and state. How can we be healthy, quick and successful if we cannot breathe with our full lungs?

The policy of exclusion is also the result of a public emphasis on what separates us instead of what unites us. And there is no greater symbol of common ground than the plebiscite and independence. No time in our long and tempestuous history is as sacred as the time of gaining independence. No other moment brought us closer to reconciliation. Throughout our history, there is no hour in which we were more united and connected than at the time of the common plebiscite decision. This decision, in other words, consisted of a fully personal, intimate, inner decision on the part of each individual. Of an honest decision on the part of each individual. Of a sincere decision.

Many other nations have not only their own state, but territories with rich natural resources, or they are important simply because of their size or large number of inhabitants. We, on the other hand, have our paradise under Triglav and ourselves. The richness of our land lies in its people. We will never be the biggest, but we can be the best, just as many of our entrepreneurs, athletes, artists and scientists are. But we can also be the best as a community and a country. We only need to invest our treasure of plebiscite unity, which has been unfortunately buried dozens of feet deep for most of the three decades, in our common future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The past year has been named as annus horribilis due to the consequences of the pandemic.  A truly horrible year. Rather than take from the treasure trove of unity in these testing times, some have rolled a hundred additional rocks on top of it. This is why we are paying a higher price than necessary in the fight against the pandemic.

But let us take this opportunity to talk about the steps that fill us with hope, which were still plentiful in the passing year.

75 years after dreadful mass killings scarred and cut our nation in half at the end of the Second World War, both sides paid homage together to the victims this year. With nobody’s hands in their pockets.

The return of the National Hall in Trieste and paying homage to victims of both nations are historical steps of reconciliation with our Western neighbour. A joint celebration, with the presidents of both countries in attendance, to mark 100 years since the Carinthian plebiscite is a similar reconciliation step with our Northern neighbour. The wounds inflicted upon us by the tragic 20th century in Europe are finally slowly healing.

By far the biggest step this year, inspired by the unity of the plebiscite and the cooperation of the different-minded, was the forming of a mixed coalition of parliamentary parties, which prevented even more tragic consequences of the pandemic at home in a time of looming political crash after the resignation of the government in March this year. The Modern Centre Party, the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia, New Slovenia and the Slovenian Democratic Party proved at the start of this year that regardless of the past, they are capable of cooperating for the good of the present and the future. Especially the leaders of the Party of Modern Centre and the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia and the MPs of both parties demonstrated similar courage, broad mindedness and reason as our predecessors when they signed the agreement to unanimously support the plebiscite 30 years ago.

Today, unfortunately, individuals are being excluded from certain groups because they are in favour of cooperation among different-minded people. This will never change the fact, however, that the politics of cooperation always comes up with good solutions for the majority. And vice versa.

By far the biggest shift in the direction of the plebiscite heritage was demonstrated, even if unnoticed by most, by a letter by a young member of the Social Democrats who wrote a month ago that in their municipal council, two parties coming from different sides at the national level were working together. He wrote that while they may attend different events at weekends, this does not prevent them from cooperating well in the municipal council and working for the common good of the municipality and its residents.

The author of this letter probably hadn’t even been born at the time of the plebiscite decision and its display of unity, but he still understands the message of the plebiscite to the nation. This understanding can fill us with hope that, from the well of unity, happiness and reconciliation, we will all, -  in the words of the biggest Slovenian poet, take from the holy heritage of Slovenians - in the future, since this treasure belongs to all of us.

Especially in the weeks and months before us, when we will very much need the courage and reason of 30 years ago. The hardest part of the pandemic is before us. According to the estimations of European experts, January and February will be the hardest months of this fight on our continent. But this doesn’t need to be the case in Slovenia. In any case, we will pull through because, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, we can be sure we will win. The Slovenian government has so far prepared seven extensive packages of measures to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. We saved jobs and helped people and companies. We preserved and improved the credit ratings of our country and maintained the condition of our economy. Joint efforts on the part of the European and world scientific community yielded results in the form of an effective vaccine. The first jabs will come exactly 30 years after the announcement of our historic plebiscite decision. The most vulnerable will be the first to receive them. However, for the next couple of months, it is we who can do the most to contain the pandemic and mitigate its tragic consequences by limiting our contacts as much as possible. For ourselves and for others. Despite the fact that it is hard. None of us is an island. That is why we need to show solidarity. We can make up for everything that we may have missed during this time of restrictions, but we cannot make up for lost lives. Let me express my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one in the pandemic.

Let us take lessons for the future from the experience of this crisis. We need to repair the mistakes of the past, since in the past 15 years, no new homes for the elderly or modern hospitals were built and the conditions in our health-care system were not improved. Adopting the legal bases for the long-term care of the elderly was been dragging on for years. But this time can be different. We have ensured enough resources from European Union funds to make up for many delays. We will also regulate the wage system in health care and adopt an act on the long-term care of the elderly. We will make sure that young people get opportunities at home. With our demographic fund, we will limit the burden on living labour and ensure the stability of the pension system.

My fellow Slovenians, dear fellow citizens.

The days before us are special in every other year. Festive. Ceremonial. While we remember our unity from 30 years ago, we look forward to a new birth and the countless opportunities that every new year brings.

This year is not an ordinary one, and we are all tired from the long fight against the pandemic. Nobody has it easy. But we cannot let all of our festive spirit be taken away.  We will celebrate separated, but connected. We will keep in mind those fighting in the front line for our health and lives. Connected in our common awareness, we will prevail this time as well, and we will win. With a wish to be able to breathe with both full lungs in the new year! We are a nation that came together in the most crucial moments and hence, stood and withstood. Even after this winter, spring will come. And next year at Christmas and on New Year’s Eve, we will once again fill churches and squares to celebrate together in joy.

My sincere congratulations to you all on Independence and Unity Day. I wish you a merry and blessed Christmas and a successful New Year.

Stay healthy and stay brave!