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Alojz Peterle “We were prepared in a critical moment, and we won in the war for Slovenia”

On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of our independence, we talked with the President of the first democratically elected Slovenian government (at that time the official title was still the President of the Executive Council of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia) Alojz Peterle. We talked about the forming of the independent government, the disarmament of the Territorial Defence, the endeavours of the government towards independence, about the issue of lustration and the aggression of the communist Yugoslav People’s Army on Slovenia.  After the victory of Demos in April 1990, Peterle became the president of the first democratically elected government after WW2. After a no confidence vote in May 1992, he was the vice-president and the foreign minister in the first Drnovšek government, until he resigned at the beginning of 1994. He was a member of the opposition and the President of the SKD, until it merged with the SLS in the spring of 2000. He was a foreign minister again in the short-lived Bajuk´s government in 2000. Because he disagreed with the politics of the united SKD and SLS, he resigned and formed Nova Slovenija (New Slovenia) with Bajuk and some other MPs. Within this party, he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament, where he served three mandates, until 2019. He is married and has three children.  

DEMOKRACIJA: After the first multiparty elections you became the mandatary. How did that feel?  

Peterle: The election result of the Slovene Christian Democrats was not surprising for me. It was a well-deserved reward after a year of political hard work among the “second-class”. We were also thrilled that Demos won.  

My personal feelings were priceless as we stepped onto the main stage out from the catacombs. We saluted victory, well aware of our historical responsibility. Independence and democratization, the two main points that ensured the victory for Demos, had to be achieved. I was aware that for the first time in history all of the political conditions needed for the achievement of the independent statehood that we had dreamed and written declarations about, had been fulfilled. I knew that the government would take over the operational tasks.  

Alojz Peterle / archive photo (Photo: Tone Stojko)

DEMOKRACIJA: How did the process of choosing ministers and giving the departments in the independence government go?  

Peterle: Relatively fast and easy, despite the fact that the government numbered 27 members. I was tasked with choosing the team that could carry out this historical task. Even before the parties from Demos suggested some names to me, I had already written down the names of Bavčar and Janša in my notebook. I knew both of them well from the JBTZ affair and from the Committee for Human Rights, whose member I was. We all agreed that Dr. Jože Menciger should be vice-president of the government for economic issues. And since he enjoyed great confidence, I agreed with his term that Dr. Marko Kranjec should take over finances. There was not a lot of competition for the position of the vice-president for social activities, and I was glad when it was accepted by the experienced Matija Malešič from Maribor. The third vice-president was Dr. Leo Šešerko, in charge of the coordination of environmental issues. From the ones that I knew quite well personally from before, Dr. Andrej Capuder took over culture, Dr. Janez Dular was in charge of the issues of the Slovenian diaspora, Lojze Janko was in charge of legislation, Miha Jazbinšek was tasked with the environment, Izidor Rejc oversaw industry and Igor Umek was allocated planning. I also came to an agreement with Dr. Jože Osterc who took over farming. I made similar agreements with Dr. Kaja Boh for health, Ingo Paš for tourism, Marjan Kranjec for traffic, Dr. Rajko Pirnat for judicature, Dr. Miha Tomšič for energy, Dr. Peter Tancig for science and Dr. Peter Vencelj for education and sport. I did not know Viktor Brezar, who took over the small economy.  

The stories about a few departments are a bit more interesting. I first tried to persuade Janez Stanič to accept the position of the minister of information. But since he declined, I decided on Marjan Stanič (and later Jelko Kacin).  

There was no real competition for the department of work in Demos. I asked Professor Dr. Ivan Svetlik for advice, so Jožica Puhar became the minister. The situation was similar with the department of fighters. Demos showed no real interest for it. I even called the Association of Fighters (“National Liberation Fighters” – Partisans from WW2) and asked their President Ivan Dolničar for advice. The minister then became Franc Godeša. In regard to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, there were several names in the hat and several concepts, but I went with Dr. Dimitrij Rupel in the end.

Alojz Peterle (Photo: Veronika Savnik)

I formed a very colourful team which also included a few members of the opposition, from the former communist ZKS, but they were all committed to the same programme. I do not remember any real conflicts. I still believe that until the independence, the government was the most unified body of the then authorities. Almost a third of its members held PhDs.   

DEMOKRACIJA: Quite a few people believe that some ministers tried to slow down the independence, and even resigned (Mencinger, Kranjec) in order to sabotage the process. Would you agree?  

Peterle: I believe that both of them had a good start, and I did not have problems with Mencinger´s stubbornness at the beginning. But he strongly disagreed with the privatization arrangement of Jeffery Sachs and he resigned. I do not believe either of them had bad intentions.  

DEMOKRACIJAThe then minister Vencelj told me that the officials were sabotaging his war all the time. Did you have any similar experiences?  Why did not you just got rid of the Communist party cadre among the staff?  

Peterle: Many experienced such sabotages. I distinguish between ideologues and the officials, the performers. I fired the head of the protocol because he crossed the line. We wanted to give those who were already employed there a chance to conduct loyal and professional work. Most of them worked in that manner. I kept the secretary of my predecessor, and she was a great asset. Later, she worked for Bavčar and Drnovšek. Of course, many were surprised that we kept the then general secretary Aleš Čerin. But I could not find a man suitable for that highly important position right away. And he was willing to help until I found “my guy”. He supported the basic programme of Demos, of course. A significant transformation of staff only happened in the Department of Internal Affairs. I would say that, regardless of later divisions, at that time we moved away from the revolutionary paradigm according to which you can only improve the world by liquidating and removing those who are different.  

DEMOKRACIJAFrom day one, the media accused your government that it was leading Slovenia to its doom, that it was fascist and revanchist…It seems that the modus operandi of the leftist media has not changed much in the last 30 years.  

Peterle: It seems that the concept of the enemy really has not changed. And it is not only the media, we can partly see it in politics as well. It was the same back then. We are being smothered by myths and etiquettes. In our country the “left” and “right” does not work, it is only “ours” and the others in the spirit of the already mentioned excluding paradigm. It is hard to find a way to others in such an atmosphere, and to coexistence. It has become normal in our country that someone labels you “fascist”. It is just one of the reflections of the unfinished democratic transformation. We cannot have transformation without culture.  

DEMOKRACIJA: The disarmament of the Territorial Defence was quite a shock for the public. What was your reaction to this treason? 

Peterle: Firstly, it was a shock for the government. I remember that Janša took over the department and briefed us about the disarmament. This way of Belgrade´s YPA “congratulating us” with a Slovenian component, meant that we had started our path towards independence empty handed and worried. It was a war declaration and the beginning of the war for Slovenia. The first defence preparations began during the next few days. None of those who knew told me, as the President of the Government, about that order. But since we had the right diagnosis, we ensured the right therapy. We were prepared at the critical moment, and we won in the war for Slovenia. 

DEMOKRACIJAFederal Prime Minister Ante Marković opposed the independence of Slovenia. Is it true that behind the back of the Slovenian government, he was making plans with the opponents of the independence?  

Peterle: I went to Belgrade a few times alone, and a few times in the company of ministers. We wanted to persuade Marković for a unanimous dissolution, based on the Yugoslav constitution which included an article about the right to self-determination and separation. Unfortunately, he stubbornly kept refusing, and signed the order for attack instead. I don’t know with which opponents of the independence he was talking, but it is known that on his last visit to Slovenia, he addressed the opposition but they did not follow him. It was crucial that at the time of the attack of the YLA there wasn’t a political division or a fifth column in Slovenia.  

It may sound paradoxical, but I believe that part of our success was our own underestimation of our defence abilities and of our determination, which in the end eclipsed such sentences as: “Let’s just wait a little until it starts to rumble, and then we will see.” And we saw.  

DEMOKRACIJA: Did you expect that the YPA would try to stop the independence with arms, or were you surprised by war?  

Peterle: The privileged YPA was the strong centre of the Party and of the entire Yugoslav power structure. The Slovenian independence project was unbearable for them. They did not show that only on the day my government was elected. I hoped that there would not be an attack, but I was not surprised by it, since there were many signs.  

DEMOKRACIJA: Part of the leadership of the LDS party said that we should surrender without a fight when the conflict broke out. Is it true that some members of the government held similar opinions? And if so, can you tell us which ones?  

Peterle: I never heard of any such opinions within the government.  

DEMOKRACIJAToday some leftists claim that the “YPA could have won if it wanted” and that it was only an “operational war”. How do you comment such statements?  

Peterle: I would rather avoid the “ifs” and the lounge talks. The important thing in the war for Slovenia is that there were not many victims. Our goal was victory, not victims. If we had acted differently, we could have had thousands of victims in the first days of the war when we had thousands of captured soldiers and surrounded barracks without water and electricity. I remember listening to the deep voice of the general Adžić threatening that they would use all forces. If they had, I am sure the YPA would have been finished sooner.   

Alojz Peterle (Photo: Veronika Savnik)

DEMOKRACIJA: Some believe that the agreement in Brioni was a mistake and that we should have completely destroyed the YPA units, forced them to unconditionally surrender and cut our ties with Yugoslavia once and for all. Would you agree with them?  

Peterle: No. We made the right decision. In Brioni, we first presented ourselves as an entity and paved the way to the international recognition.  

DEMOKRACIJAA lot of people believe that we missed the opportunity for a complete lustration. Do you agree with that? How come your government did not carry it out?  

Peterle: I have explained this several times. How could we carry out the lustration “during the war or right after it”? Like the communists did during and after the war? We would have needed a law for lustration. And I am sure that such a law would have been blocked, just like the law of privatisation was blocked in the Assembly of Unified Labour. That’s the formal part of my answer. The other is of a political nature. Under the presidency of Demos, the majority, headed by Pučnik and Bučar, was against lustration. Pučnik said: “We will have new rules, and they will have to change”. Should the government singlehandedly carry out the lustration in such a situation? Then, there was also the strategic aspect that was strongly present in the government. The start of the inner front could seriously jeopardize the independence. Later, when Janez Janša and I proposed the law about lustration under the well-known models and in line with the principles of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council, it did not get the needed majority.   

DEMOKRACIJACan you tell us which countries supported our independence the most and which countries opposed it?  

 Peterle: There were no strong supporters until June 1991, but there were quite a few of those who were against it, especially among the biggest countries of the European community and the USA.  

Without counting a mutual recognition with Croatia, the Baltic States clearly supported us. Among the countries that recognised us earlier than the European community were the following, besides the already mentioned ones: Georgia, Ukraine, Iceland, Germany, Sweden, Vatican and San Marino.  

Before the war for Slovenia, on the day when we proclaimed independence, 26 June1991, we stood alone with a few friends from Austria and Italy, while the planes of the YPA flew above our heads. When we proclaimed our country and made it a reality by winning a war in front of the whole world, then the positions were taken.  

I would also like to mention those people who supported us even before the proclamation of independence. I remember as such, the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Pope John Paul II, and the Foreign Minister of Austria Alois Mock.  

DEMOKRACIJALooking back on those days, would you do anything differently?  

Peterle: I would ensure an atmosphere and a team that would give results in any case. I am proud that we managed to paint this great painting, but there are always details that could be discussed.  [] 



Alojz Peterle was born on July 5 1948 in Čužnja vas near Trebelno. He went to the General High-School in Novo mesto, where he also practiced sport, chess and passed an exam for a sports pilot. He graduated in history and geography at the Faculty of Arts, University in Ljubljana, and he also studied and graduated in Economics in Ljubljana. After his studies, he worked at the Urban Institute and later at the Institute for Social Planning. At that time, he also sang in a choir and was engaged in beekeeping. He wrote for the Revija 2000 journal and was the chief editor of the journal for 15 years. He was also the editor of the Catholic journal Third Day. In the 80s he was an active member of the Committee for Human Rights, and in March 1989 he was a co-founder and the chief secretary of the Slovenian Christian Social movement, and the president of the Slovenian Christian Democrats from 1989. In 1990, he was the vice-president of Demos. After Demos won the elections in April elections of 1990, he became the President of the Independence Government.  

By: Bogdan Sajovic

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