On the 31st anniversary of the order for the (self)disarmament of the Territorial Defence of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (Teritorialna obramba Socialistične Republike Slovenije – referred to as the TO SRS), we will publish a series of articles on the turbulent times of the year 1990, when a handful of brave men managed to implement the referendum decision for the independent and sovereign Slovenia. This is an opportunity to shed light on what was happening on the ground, as it was not just the ten days – which is an underestimation that has been persistently propagated by those for whom Slovenia’s independence was never the preferred option – but a much longer time of a combination of a latent and present, spectacularly victorious war for Slovenian independence against the absolutely superior Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). The (self)disarmament marked the beginning of the war and the first combat operation after World War II.
Since the formation of the Territorial Defence of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (TO SRS) in 1968, the Communist Party had made sure to carefully create the impression that the TO SRS is almost a kind of Slovenian army and that only a Slovenian has the opportunity to lead it, as, after all, the candidates for the position of chief of the TO SRS were chosen by the political leadership of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, which proposed it to Belgrade for confirmation. These commanders were, indeed, of Slovenian descend, but like all generals, they were by no means conscious Slovenians but rather conscious Yugoslav communists. They were only loyal to the Communist Party. Namely, the League of Communists of Slovenia was aware that the generals of the Yugoslav People’s Army were verified party cadre.
The first multi-party elections
On the 27th of December 1989, the Slovenian Parliament passed electoral legislation that enabled the first post-war multi-party elections. On the 8th of January 1990, the President of the Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, Miran Potrč, called the elections for the 8th of April 1990. These were the first and last multi-party elections in communist Yugoslavia. There may have been a fresh wind of democracy felt among the people, but the top of the Yugoslav People’s Party had its own plans.
While the newly formed political parties were engaged in the pre-election race, the YPA began with intensive preparations, “just in case” the outcome of the election would turn out to be unfavourable for their own campaign against Slovenia. This was also confirmed by the order of the Commander of the Territorial Defence of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, Lieutenant General of the Yugoslav People’s Army, Ivan Hočevar, dated the 24th of January, 1990. Namely, Hočevar issued order no. 16/4-90 for the “inspection of storage facilities and storage materials of the weapons and military equipment outside the YPA complex.”
Under the pretext that it was a matter of data collection “in order to plan the development of the TO in the next period and the construction of the necessary facilities for the storage of weapons and military equipment for the TO SR Slovenia,” Hočevar ordered an inspection of storage facilities, as well as the stored weapons and military equipment, which were located outside the YPA complex.
The Commander of the TO SRS, Hočevar, ordered his subordinates to deliver the reports on the required inspections to the Republic Headquarters of the Territorial Defence of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia no later than the 20th of February 1990. This meant that the leadership of the TO SRS, in collaboration with the YPA had at least three months for field preparation, logistics and the planning of the action, which began on the 15th of May 1990 – which was just one day before the swearing-in of the new government, led by Lojze Peterle.
On the 8th of April 1990, the voters in the SRS decided on the delegates of the socio-political assembly of the Republic, the delegates in the assembly of the municipalities, the members of the presidency, and also chose among the candidates for president of the presidency. On the 12th of April 1990, elections were held for delegates to the United Labour Assembly. On the 22nd of April, the elections were also held for the delegates to the local community assemblies, municipal socio-political assemblies, the second round of elections of delegates to municipal assemblies, and the second round of elections for the presidency.
On the 9th of April 1990, the Republic Electoral Commission announced the official results, which were devastating for the then-Yugoslav communist political garrison. DEMOS won the election with 54 percent of the vote, while in the second round of elections, Milan Kučan became President of the presidency, who was described by the Delo newspaper as a member of the reformist faction within the League of Communists of Slovenia.
On the 10th of April 1990, the YPA General Hočevar issued order no. 556/1-90, by which the provincial and municipal headquarters of the TO SRS were banned from writing secret documents on the computers. Furthermore, on the 17th of April 1990, the Federal Secretariat of People’s Defence of the SFRY issued a general decree on the disarmament of the TO SRS. Even before the (self)disarmament, which began to be implemented de facto on the 15th of May, the YPA removed a large number of weapons from several warehouses of the TO SRS, including some pieces of artillery from World War II. The communist leadership was aware of both the transports and the planned disarmament of the TO SRS but did not react to it or inform the public.
On the 27th of April 1990, a meeting of the Military Council was convened, at which the Federal Secretary of the People’s Defence, Janko Kušar, set tasks related to the reliable guarding of the weapons and ammunition of the Territorial Defence of the SRS.
“In politics, nothing happens by chance. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way,” General of the Slovenian Army, Krkovič, recalled the quote from the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And that also applies to the unfortunate 27th of April. On that date in 1941, the Anti-Imperialist Front or the fight against England, France and America, was established in Ljubljana. This happened at a time when the alliance pact between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, which the Yugoslav communists practically worshipped. Later, the holiday was renamed the Day of the Liberation Front (which did not even exist on the 27th of April 1941) and is nowadays known as the Resistance Day, which makes even less sense, given that Slovenian territory was occupied by Germans, Italians and Hungarians, with whom the Communists were still cooperating at the time, and not the English, French, or Americans, whom the Anti-Imperialist Front was fighting.
The (self)disarmament of the Territorial Defence happened because the DEMOS coalition won the first multi-party elections
It is clear from Hočevar’s order no. 652/1-90 of the 15th of May 1990, marked “top secret” on the “storage of weapons and ammunition of the TO,” which was signed by a Slovenian, Lieutenant General of the Yugoslav People’s Army, Dragutin Ožbolt, that the disputed order on disarmament was written in accordance with the set tasks, “set by the Federal Secretary for the people’s defence at the Military Council on the 27th of April 1990 for the purpose of reliably guarding the armaments and ammunition of the TO.”
Supposedly, it was only an order to store the weapons and ammunition of the TO SRS at the Yugoslav People’s Army, but in reality, this was the (self)disarmament of the TO SRS, which was actually the betrayal of Slovenia and the actual declaration of war. With this, an ominously strategically important military operation was carried out, with which the Yugoslav People’s Army prepared its way for the further implementation of the aggression against Slovenia. From a military point of view, the (self)disarmament of the TO SRS by the Yugoslav People’s Army was, in military terms, a top-level strategic combat operation of the Yugoslav People’s Army. While the new DEMOS government was striving for Slovenia’s independence, the TO SRS handed over its weapons to the Yugoslav People’s Army and thus failed miserably as a military organisation.
Because of this betrayal of the Slovenian nation, the newly formed DEMOS government was practically sworn in in wartime, so to speak, and in terms of military defence, Slovenia was placed in an unenviable position. It was suddenly pushed into a strategic position, defined by the then-doctrine of the armed forces of the SFRY, the so-called “temporarily occupied territory,” namely in the position of the defender and not the attacker. The so-called Yugoslav People’s Army became the attacker, and with this act, it also showed its true face – it was not the people’s, but the party’s army.
This is further confirmed by the fact that the elite unit of the TO SRS, which was in charge of protecting the political leadership of the SRS, including the leadership of the League of Slovenian Communists; which had the official title of the 27th Protective Partisan Brigade of the TO SRS “Edvard Kardelj – Krištof” and was a kind of Slovenian Securitate, was denied access to the majority of the weapons, which were mostly stored in the YPA warehouses before that. We would be lying to ourselves if we said that the (self)disarmament of the TO SRS would also have happened in the case of victory of the parties of continuity and the defeat of DEMOS in the election.
Written under the mentorship of the Lieutenant General of the Slovenian Army, Tone Krkovič.
(self)disarmament – this is a term used by Lieutenant General Tone Krkovič for the action of the TO SRS, which handed over its weapons to the “care” of the YPA. To disarm means that the weapon was confiscated; however, the actions of the TO SRS were voluntary. The order was issued on behalf of the Commander of the TO SRS, Ivan Hočevar, and signed by Lieutenant General Dragutin Ožbolt. It was a self-initiated hand-over of weapons to the enemy, so we cannot talk about disarmament as such, but only about self-disarmament.