STA, 6 December 2020 - As Slovenia is about to mark the 30th anniversary of a referendum in which people nearly unanimously voted for independence, Lojze Peterle, the then prime minister, says the nation should focus on what unites it, while it will have to put WWII and post-war history behind if it ever wants to achieve understanding and progress.
Looking back on independence and the plebiscite, Peterle finds it crucial that DEMOS, the coalition of parties forming the first democratic opposition, won the first multi-party election in April 1990. "Had DEMOS not won at the time, there would have been no plebiscite," he told the STA in an interview.
Another key move was that his government started forming Slovenia's own armed forces as soon as it assumed office. "With the first line-up a week ahead of the plebiscite, we showed people that we have a real force to protect our determination for a free Slovenian state."
While the decision for the independence referendum was taken by the DEMOS leadership in the night between 9 and 10 November 1990, DEMOS invited the opposition to join in the effort and an agreement to that effect was signed 30 years ago, to the day.
"The result was that the law that formed the basis for the plebiscite was passed with no one voting against. The agreement sent out a strong message to the people of unity in Slovenian politics."
While he never doubted the result of the plebiscite, Peterle had not expected such a convincing outcome, with 88.5% of all eligible voters or 95% of those who cast their ballots voting in favour.
Such an outcome was important both "internally, because it prevented greater divisions, and externally because it gave the government the needed legitimacy in talks with Belgrade. The world had to acknowledge that too."
Peterle does not think a similar cross-party agreement is needed now as Slovenia is battling the coronavirus epidemic: "We have a democratically elected government that has the mandate, responsibility and the needed majority in parliament to implement its policies. There's no need for national consensus for every thing."
However, he says it is against national interests that "the opposition should be pressuring for one thing only at these difficult times - for change of power at all cost - especially given the fact that the previous government resigned".
"And now, for 30 years really, keeping all of Slovenia busy with allergy against Janez Janša, which has come as far as violent riots, it cannot be a statesman-like response to this government's work."
Still, he does believe politics should try to near positions on some points, such as overcoming divisions stemming from the past, which should be done with truthfulness and justice.
"There's not a single political meeting that wouldn't end with a debate on World War II and revolution, even though hardly anyone from that time is still alive.
"This is because we haven't processed and overcome it. Once we'll have to let bygones be bygones and head on. As long as we keep watching each other through the WWII and revolution gun pointers, there'll be no peace or progress."
He believes one of Slovenia's problems is a lack of structural change similar to other former Communist countries. "We formally introduced democracy, but in fact many things go on the old way (...)
"It's not just the right which finds that the rule of law doesn't work the best way. I'm even more worried about a lack of respect for the dignity of others and those who are different."
Touching on electoral reform, Peterle says the best way would be to redraw electoral districts: "If we abolish them, big urban centres and established faces from TV screens get most benefit.
"The existing system with electoral districts has made it possible for people to enter politics whom we didn't know as big politicians but whom people trusted to represent them. This quality of the electoral system should be preserved."
Peterle would also like to see more consensus in politics on foreign policy "rather than having the situation when one government goes to Washington, and the other to Moscow".
He does not think there is any major dilemma as to whether Slovenia should look to the Visegrad Group or to the core Europe.
"We're part of the core Europe as part of Central Europe with specific political, historical and cultural experiences and thus a different sensitivity, which means we see some things, including values, a little bit differently than they see them in Brussels.
"This is why I believe Brussels should work more on understanding why Central Europe is a little bit different. More dialogue is what's needed."
Slovenia can support that dialogue with creative proposals, which is why he welcomes PM Janša's letter to European leaders in reference to the rule of law and recovery aid.
"The letter doesn't boost the blockade but is aspiring to removing the blockade with a sensitivity for realpolitik. This is also how Angela Merkel understood it."
He believes tensions in Slovenia are largely a matter of money "when you hit a monopoly, a formal or informal structure that has roots in undemocratic times, everything is wrong.
"We introduced democracy to make change possible, so that corruption doesn't become entrenched. You don't solve things by calling them ideological, untouchable," he says.