Even though everywhere else in the world, people are proud of their respective countries’ independence, and it would never even occur to them to abolish a museum celebrating the process of their country gaining independence, things are different in Slovenia. Last week, the government of Robert Golob implemented the announcement made by Asta Vrečko, Minister of Culture from the Left party (Levica), that there would no longer be a Museum of Slovenian Independence. This ideological decision was a step forward for all those for whom an independent Slovenia was never, and we mean never, the preferred option. The decision has sparked a wave of outrage in the ranks of the opposition – in the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS) and the New Slovenia party (Nova Slovenija – NSI) – and the NSi party told the media outlet N1 that their group of MPs has started preparing an interpellation against the Minister of Culture, Asta Vrečko. The Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence (Združenje za vrednote slovenske osamosvojitve – VSO) called a press conference where the main independence activists expressed their opinion on the abolition of the Museum of Slovenian Independence and what it says about the current government.
“For the state to abolish cultural institutions, and even an institution that was dedicated to the country we live in – such a thing is something we have only ever known during the period of a bloody and cruel ideological revolution,” historian Dr Stane Granda commented on the Golob government’s recent decision, adding that this was a mockery of Slovenian history. Granda also pointed out that the majority of the profession supported an independent museum celebrating our country’s independence. The Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence, which sees the government’s move as a deliberate blow to the idea of independence of our country, also does not hide its indignation.
While it is completely normal in other parts of the world to have a museum dedicated to independence, as it is, of course, the brightest moment in a country’s history, in Slovenia, it was only in March 2021, under the government of Janez Janša, that the museum in question was established. Since there are apparently some in the current government who want us to continue living under the previous regime, they did everything in their power to get rid of this institution, and the Museum of Slovenian Independence has now been merged with the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia, to form a new public institution – the Museum of Contemporary and Modern History of Slovenia.
Independence deserves a special place in history
“The abolition of the independence of the Museum of Slovenian Independence is a step in the wrong direction, which we in the NSi party strongly oppose. The NSi parliamentary group has therefore started preparing an interpellation against the Minister of Culture,” the NSi party told the media outlet N1, because, as they say, they see the country’s independence as a fundamental act of our statehood, which deserves a special place in history and in the consciousness of the nation.
However, as the NSi party has only eight MPs in the National Assembly, it will need two more signatures to submit an interpellation. Since it was the SDS party that, like the NSi, strongly opposed the abolition of the museum, it is only logical to expect that the missing signatures would be sought there. The SDS party told the press that they would make their decision on whether or not to contribute the signatures after examining the text of the interpellation.
After Minister Vrečko announced the abolition of the independent museum dedicated to Slovenian independence, the matter was discussed at an urgent meeting of the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, at the request of the SDS party. The debate showed the indignation of both the SDS and the NSi parties. Last year, the NSi party had already announced that if Vrečko did not change her mind, they would file an interpellation against her.
“The government’s argument that the museum should be merged with the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia for the purposes of “transparent and strategically outlined professional work” is completely wrong and, in fact, a politically motivated argument which, objectively speaking, is directed against the understanding of the meaning of Slovenian independence and statehood. The Museum of Slovenian Independence should not become a ping-pong ball in political reckoning and an element for another front of polarisation. Just as we worked together for our country’s independence, so we could join professional and political forces for an excellent independence museum that would strengthen awareness of the importance of our statehood and the breakaway from totalitarianism,” the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence pointed out as a sign of criticism, adding that we cannot have a different independence museum under every government. Vrečko, on the other hand, has justified her decision by claiming that she was merely following “numerous calls from the professional public and veterans’ associations.” She said that if an interpellation would follow, she would present the arguments for her decision and use them to “convince” those who disagree with her decision.
A press conference of the Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence was held on Tuesday. It was attended by the President of the Association, Alojz Peterle, the SDS party President Janez Janša, former State Secretary Jelko Kacin, and diplomat Dimitrij Rupel. Peterle was the first to present his viewpoint, saying: “The Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence connects several thousand people who fought for an independent Slovenia in one way or another, and they are outraged and deeply affected by the closure of the Museum of Slovenian Independence.” According to Peterle, he has never seen such “forceful and crude assertion of political power.” And independence is not just a matter of one political option. Peterle believes that he himself makes a clear distinction between the part of Slovenian history that still divides us and the part that unites us. But this government wants to use independence as an additional element of “Slovenian polarisation.” It believes that pride, attitude, and self-confidence in this part of history must be preserved. However, the current government, at the suggestion of the Minister of Culture, Asta Vrečko, has dealt a blow not only to Slovenian independence, but also to itself, by deciding to abolish the Museum of Slovenian Independence.
“The current government’s ‘allergy’ to the previous government is unstatesmanlike and harmful.” The accusations that the museum has not been professional and transparent are immoral and unprofessional. The Association sees this as a blow to Slovenian state-building. If the government does not stop what it is doing, an appropriate action plan will be initiated. It has several elements, the details of which are not yet known. This is a very serious matter, and the action will be launched after the 10th of February, if the government does not decide to reverse its controversial decision. Namely, this is about protecting the values of independence, Peterle said, recalling that the government had been heard talking about “the abuse of the museum and political decision-making,” which is the vocabulary of the former totalitarian regime. He also recalled the scandalous funeral of Janez Zemljarič with military honours, which shows that the government does not distinguish between the undemocratic period before and the democratic period after independence.
Rupel also commented on the government’s decision, saying: “By announcing the merger of the two museums, the Minister has done more than she is entitled and allowed to do. She has played with the Slovenian plebiscite and the fate of the Slovenian nation.” Now the two museums are to be merged, which is a political measure and has no cost implications. And the matter is being presented as a political measure against politicisation, Rupel added. “Politics has set a goal for itself of the depoliticisation of culture. The current government has taken over the country to shape it in its own image. The Prime Minister is even trying to take over history.” This raises the question of whether independence was merely a continuation of what happened after 1945, or a new historical chapter. Do Slovenians need our own country …? There is also the question of whether certain materials could be destroyed, and so on. Rupel is convinced that the Slovenian state is the most important heritage of the Slovenian nation. “Taking over history is no small thing.”
Kacin said: “I would like to remind everyone that the generation of your colleagues played an outstanding role in the process of Slovenia gaining its independence. However, without the media’s support, we would not have been able to carry out independence as an act. Independence was not the result of one act, but a process of democratic change.” He recalled that the first government was made up of people of different views and was not a one-party concept. “What the government did is called erasure, arrogance, clicking the ‘delete’ button.” He also recalled the recent scandalous words of journalist Marcel Štefančič. Kacin is convinced that the government has swallowed something that will “get stuck in its throat.” It is acting undemocratically and immaturely. The government is setting an extremely bad example with its actions. He recalled that we had remarkable unity in the plebiscite. He also brought to mind the disastrous curriculum for the subject of history, which taught the younger generation nothing about independence. Kacin is convinced that independence is an ongoing process. However, “in the current situation, the government has decided to use the ‘delete’ key.”
The next to comment on the government’s recent decision was Janša, who said: “In the history of every nation that has its own state, there is a time that represents the centre of values of the said nation, which has enabled us to achieve our goal. At the time of the plebiscite, for the first time, the Slovenian nation wrote its own judgement. Even those who lived in Slovenia but were not Slovenes by blood voted for independence.” Janša recalled that various political options had participated unanimously in the process of independence. Without this unity, independent Slovenia would not exist today. There are 57 museums in Slovenia, which are registered in the National Register of Museums. We have lots of very different museums. “I am bringing this up because the government is talking about rationalisation,” the SDS party leader explained. He also pointed out that there are several museums of recent history, as well as other museums. Janša is convinced that rationalisation is a bad excuse for the government’s recent actions. Even if the Museum of Slovenian Independence really had presented a historical period in a one-sided way, they could have set up a more professional management, but instead, they have just abolished it. “This is not just about the action of a minister who cannot rise to the challenges of her position, it is also about the government’s lack of maturity. The government, with all its powers, has pulled a traitorous move.”
This is an act that goes beyond the everyday politics, beyond the usual political differences. The fact that the government has distanced itself from the centre of values of the Slovenian nation will bring about a crisis. In Janša’s opinion, the government has “shot itself in both feet.” He also stressed that they have until the 10th of February to reverse the decision. The government can also still amend the act of the establishment of the museum, if it is really that flawed. Janša is also convinced that the Minister’s interpellation is not enough, as this is now also a government decision. More information on whether the SDS party will also decide to contribute signatures for the interpellation of the Minister of Culture will be available after the 10th of February. Janša also pointed out that the government, by diverting attention to history and the museum, was partly diverting attention from the catastrophic situation in the healthcare sector and elsewhere.