Ljubljana related

21 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

STA, 20 March 2019 - NATO member states consider the alliance "the best answer to the question of ensuring national security," President Borut Pahor said in his keynote to the ceremony marking Slovenia's 15th anniversary in NATO at the Brdo pri Kranju conference centre on Wednesday.

Slovenia is marking the anniversary "with a well-founded feeling that fifteen years ago it made the right decision and that [NATO] will do its utmost to ensure that our high expectations for ensuring national and collective security are also met in the future."

For nearly three quarters of a century, the alliance has been preserved and strengthened, an impressive feat for the modern international community. This means that the alliance's fundamental values exceed "the mere provision of a high level of national security".

In his speech, the president also talked about global politics and the dwindling trust in multilateralism, pointing to the "poorer relationship" between Europe and the US.

"The result is a consideration of stronger European security and military cooperation," said Pahor, underlining, however, that "it is necessary to strive for close cooperation with the US".

He moreover expressed his "appreciation to NATO for its understanding of the needs of its enlargement to the Western Balkans countries. The membership of Montenegro and the imminent accession of North Macedonia are good prospects for a greater geopolitical stability of this highly sensitive and vulnerable part of the European continent."

He moreover said he would like to see "some of this pragmatism and broader political judgement in the enlargement of the EU to this part of Europe."

"I understand that the standards and conditions are different and more demanding in this respect, but history will prove that the EU will help ensure the peace, security and prosperity of this part of Europe only if it also understands the expansion to this part as an eminently political, even geopolitical project rather than a narrowly procedural or bureaucratic project that depends only on the meticulous fulfilment of the membership criteria."

Pahor also touched on defence spending, with NATO members obligated to contribute 2% of their GDP. "The world is changing, becoming less secure and more unpredictable. It is necessary to invest in security, also financially."

"Slovenia is aware of this fact. By 2024, it will allocate 1.5% of GDP for defence, which means a significant increase."

The ceremony was also addressed by foreign and defence ministers Miro Cerar and Karl Erjavec, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the event via video link.

The ceremony was followed by a round table debate moderated by former Chief of the General Staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces Dobran Božič, who is currently serving as state secretary at the Foreign Ministry. The debate also featured former NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event, Lord Robertson said that US President Donald Trump had done a great favour to the European countries by demanding an increase in defence spending, because he "shattered the complacency that previously existed".

Saying that many European countries had imagined the US would always be available, Robertson said that Trump put that into question and that European allies would have to do much more, not only to satisfy Trump, but for their own self-interest.

Robertson, who served as NATO secretary general between 1999 and 2004, expressed the hope that Slovenia, which trails NATO members in terms of defence spending, too would listen to this reasoning and continue to play its role in the alliance. But he did commend Slovenia on its contribution to NATO missions and operations.

The significance of the member states' commitment to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP was also noted by Camille Grand, NATO assistant secretary general for defence investment, in his address to the panel at Brdo estate.

He labelled Slovenia as a firm ally which shouldered its part of the burden, noting its role in the NATO force in Kosovo.

18 Mar 2019, 12:30 PM

STA, 17 March 2019 - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec has said NATO is a bulwark of security in the Euro-Atlantic area and a cornerstone of Slovenian security, as he spoke to the STA ahead of Slovenia's 15th anniversary of NATO membership. "With limited funds we earmark for defence, it enables us to achieve more and do better."

"On its 70th anniversary, NATO is still a key common mechanism of guaranteeing security, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and development in the Euro-Atlantic area.

"It's primarily a bulwark of common values which are the basis of the social systems of its allies. All this is supported by a system of collective security," he says.

For Slovenia, it represents one of the basic elements of national security, believes Erjavec, who held the office of foreign minister before moving to defence.

"The alliance offers us the most suitable framework to pursue our national security interests, and a possibility of joint response to contemporary security challenges."

However, Slovenia must also assume a fair share of responsibilities, notes Erjavec, adding that if it was not a NATO member, it would have to invest much more in defence.

He says Slovenia has committed to spend more on defence not only because of NATO but foremost to have adequate capabilities for its own national security.

He notes the government has come up with an ambitious plan to raise defence spending in the coming years "aiming to meet this goal which was adopted jointly".

Looking back at the 15 years in NATO, Erjavec sees NATO's 2014 summit in Wales as one of the key events, bringing a "leap in understanding changes in security" and the related need to adjust to contemporary security challenges.

Noting NATO is working on a new military strategy, he says that "just like other allies, Slovenia will strengthen its defence capabilities and pursue the commitments to raise defence spending".

"We too will join the implementation of a boosted presence in the East, where we take part in a battlegroup in Latvia. Special efforts will also have to be made to boost the country's cybersecurity."

Over the past decade and a half, the main events in Slovenia have been the integration of the Slovenian army in NATO's military structure, which was completed in 2009.

This showed according to the minister that the army was capable of working together with other allies.

Another important event was two of its units (a nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological battalion and the Role-2 medical unit) becoming NATO-certified units, showing Slovenia can contribute its capabilities into the system of collective defence.

Erjavec also highlights the deployment of troops to Kosovo. "This has been the biggest contribution so far in the history of cooperation in international operations, and it puts us on a par with the most advanced armies."

The minister believes that in its 70-year history, NATO has proved "an incredibly strong alliance able to adjust and react to various threats and challenges despite sometimes different interests and stances of its sovereign members".

Commenting on tensions between European allies and the US under President Donald Trump, and on the EU's boosting its security and defence component, Erjavec says this does not "double efforts by NATO, which remains the basis of collective defence, but strengthens the European pillar within NATO".

The EU's efforts should not been seen as competition to NATO or the US. "The European security and defence efforts present a positive contribution to providing Euro-Atlantic security." says Erjavec, noting NATO and the EU are "natural partners" which share their common values and strategic interests in facing common challenges.

As for NATO's focus on Russia since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the minister says "the alliance does not want a confrontation with Russia".

However, "it clearly and resolutely protects NATO's principles and democratic values, as well as peace, security and stability of all of its members", according to Erjavec.

All our stories on the military and Slovenia are here

17 Mar 2019, 13:29 PM

STA, 17 March 2019 - Slovenia became a full member of NATO on 29 March 2004, accomplishing one of its strategic foreign policy goals. Fifteen years later, the alliance is considered the keystone of Slovenian and European security, although it is also a source of demands for a fairer distribution of obligations, especially in terms of defence funding.

 

Slovenia had been a part of the Non-Aligned movement in the era of former Yugoslavia, but when it became independent the country set out to become a member of all significant global as well as Euro-Atlantic organisations, in particular the EU and NATO.

It had had aspirations of being one of the first countries from the former Eastern bloc to be invited to join NATO, but to its chagrin, the alliance invited only Czechia, Hungary and Poland in 1999.

The invitation to begin accession talks was issued three years later at the Prague summit. According to the then foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, the US decided to open the doors wider in part due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Popular support for NATO membership was weaker than support for the EU, as demonstrated during both accession referendums on 23 March 2003. While the EU membership was backed by almost 90% of voters, only 66% of them voted in favour of joining NATO.

Slovenia became a full member on 29 March 2004 along with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.

Despite expanding significantly since its inception, the alliance is still predicated on the principle of collective defence set down in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all of them.

The Defence Ministry also points out that NATO established itself as a bastion of liberal democracy, human rights and shared Euro-Atlantic values. Being a member, Slovenia has thus solidified its position among stable democracies in Europe and in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, NATO transformed into a major player securing global peace and security, in particular through peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

But it has also engaged in combat, most notably in Afghanistan, which involved NATO participating in state-building and combat operations against the Taliban for 13 years until it was formally ended in 2014.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described Slovenia as a valued ally that contributes to collective security and defence in many ways. The other allies acknowledge an important role of Slovenia in operations, especially in the Kfor mission in Kosovo, with Slovenian soldiers receiving high praise for their achievement.

But being at the bottom of the defence spending rankings, Slovenia has been warned about its low contributions. Stoltenberg personally pointed that out during his visit to Ljubljana in October last year.

NATO leaders agreed at the Wales summit in 2014 to increase the share of defence expenditure to 2% of GDP in ten years, after it had shrunk due to the financial crisis. Slovenia is one of the seven allies that do not plan to meet this target by 2024; it expects to allocate only 1.5% of GDP for defence budget that year.

The structure of the Slovenian defence budget is an issue as well. All allies are supposed to dedicate at least 20% of the financing to defence modernisation, but in Slovenia this share is only 8.2%. This is largely because Slovenia allocates the highest share of defence budget to soldiers' pay - almost 72.5%.

When it comes to increasing defence spending, the minority government is in a bind since the opposition Left opposes higher spending. However, a "fairer distribution of obligations" does not only concern Slovenia but the whole Europe, since only seven members of the 29 members allocate 2% of GDP to defence.

Slovenia plans to celebrate its 15th anniversary with a ceremony in Brdo pri Kranju on 20 March, with former NATO Secretary General George Robertson as the guest of honour.

22 Feb 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 21 February 2019 - The government has decided against sealing a EUR 306m deal to acquire 48 eight-wheeled Boxer armoured personnel carriers from the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR), Slovenia's biggest defence purchase in a decade.

The army does not have a comprehensive tactical study showing exactly what capabilities Slovenia needs and the procurement documentation is based on a tactical study made in 2005 that does not represent an appropriate basis for the purchase, Defence Minister Karl Erjavec said after the government session on Thursday.

The minister ordered the army to carry out a new tactical study that will determine whether it needs new eight-wheeled personnel carriers, which vehicles would be best, how they will be maintained, and how staff will be trained.

Erjavec said this did not mean that the purchase has been terminated. "We will have to buy eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers sooner rather than later, but first we need to define exactly what we need."

The decision was expected given weeks of rumours about there being something wrong with the proposed deal, most recently expressed by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec in an interview with Večer last weekend. He said his government "did not want to embark on an adventure, we had certain indications things are not acceptable."

But it casts doubt on the country's ability to meet the pledge given to NATO that it will have one battlegroup ready by 2022 and a second one by 2025.

Erjavec was sanguine about that, noting that it was already clear the first battlegroup will not be ready by 2022. "Even if we signed the purchase agreement today, we would not be able to do everything," he said. The effort would be hampered not just by long delivery times but also by staff shortages and lack of investments.

The planned purchase is being closely watched in Slovenia given the parallels to the previous mega defence deal, the 2006 contract with Patria on the purchase of 135 infantry vehicles at that time worth EUR 278m.

The Patria deal, signed the first time Erjavec was defence minister, devolved into years of court drama involving senior politicians.

Erjavec repeated today that the mid-term defence programme and the white paper on defence would be revised. Pointing to Slovenia's commitments to NATO about increasing defence spending, he said the 2020/21 budget would be "the moment of truth."

"I expect that in 2019, 1.1% of GDP will be allocated to defence, 1.2% in 2020, 1.3% in 2021, 1.4% in 2023 and 1.5% in 2024. These are the commitments that were made orally for now when NATO secretary general visited the country last year," Erjavec said.

Today's government decision on cancelling the EUR 306m deal was welcomed by the opposition Left. "After two years of opposition (to the purchase) we have finally managed to persuade the government that the purchase of the eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers did not make sense," said MP Miha Kordiš.

All our stories on defence and Slovenia can be found here

21 Feb 2019, 12:53 PM

STA, 20 February 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor underscored the need to invest in security as he visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg repeated his call for an increase in defence spending.

"Slovenia is increasing defence spending not because it would face a direct military threat, but because the world is less safe a place today, and also because [Slovenia] is part of the western world. Like fifteen years ago, I continue to believe today it's important we understand this," said Pahor.

Slovenia joined NATO and the EU in 2004 and Pahor said his latest visit to NATO was also important symbolically considering the 15th anniversary of the country's membership of the two organisations.

Pahor argued that in compliance with the alliance's defence targets was not about meeting the country's obligations to NATO but rather about its own security; Slovenia must invest in security, he said.

The president said it was understandable for NATO to expect of Slovenia to meet the target of increasing defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024.

He told Stoltenberg that Slovenia was planning to increase defence budget to 1.5% of GDP by 2024, which he said was a substantial increase considering the strong economic growth.

Stoltenberg lauded Slovenia as a valuable ally which he said contributed to common security and defence in many ways and played an important role in the Western Balkans, in particular in the KFOR mission in Kosovo and in the efforts to bring the countries in the region closer to the EU and NATO.

He also noted Slovenia's participation in the Afghanistan mission, in the battalion in Latvia and in the Trident Juncture exercise.

He again welcomed the fact that after years of decline Slovenia started increasing defence spending, which was substantial in absolute terms considering the economic growth, but he also repeated that he would want the country to make more effort.

Asked for comment about the Slovenian Armed Forces' poor readiness assessments, Stoltenberg repeated that NATO appreciated Slovenia's contribution in the allied missions and operations.

He said that he had met Slovenian soldiers and was able to see their commitment and professionalism, in particular in their key role in Kosovo.

He acknowledged that there had been some readiness issues in the past, but said the very reason of NATO testing the forces to be deployed in its missions and operations was to recognise the problems so they could be dealt with.

This is what Slovenia has done, the readiness problem was addressed, Slovenian troops took part in Trident Juncture, which is a very demanding exercise, and did excellently, said Stoltenberg.

The Western Balkans ranked high on the agenda with Pahor noting the significance of NATO's and the EU's enlargement to countries in the region. He said NATO was doing much better in that respect than the EU having admitted Montenegro with enlargement to North Macedonia due soon.

Pahor, the supreme commender of the Slovenian Armed Forces, noted that he was the first president to visit NATO headquarters last year, which he would want to become a tradition.

19 Feb 2019, 13:00 PM

STA, 17 February 2019 - Seven Slovenian companies and two institutions are featured at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX), a biennial arms and defence technology sales exhibition, which is opening in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sunday.

The Slovenian defence industry is being showcased at what is the main defence and security exhibition and conference in the Middle East and North Africa under the sponsorship of the SPIRIT investment promotion agency.

The fair, which will run until 21 February, has been held biennially since 1993 to present the latest products in the field of arms and military technology for land forces, air forces, anti-aircraft warfare and naval forces.

In 2017, it saw 1,235 exhibitors from 172 countries, and featured 39 national pavilions. It was visited by more than 100,000 people from 142 countries, SPIRIT said.

The joint Slovenian exhibition area is featuring ammunition and soldier equipment maker Arex, armoured vehicle producer Armas, unmanned aerial vehicle maker C - Astral, measuring equipment producer Dat - Con, protective equipment maker Prevent & Deloza, weapon systems maker Valhalla Turrets and Timtec.

They will be joined by the Slovenian Defence Industry Cluster and the Defence Ministry.

IDEX is one of the twelve international fairs at which the agency provides support for selected Slovenian exhibitors this year.

17 Feb 2019, 09:24 AM

STA, 14 February 2019 - The Postojna city council has decided to demand full closure of the Slovenian Armed Forces' main training area known as Poček, a vast area of forests and meadows in the south-west of the country. The municipality's official stance is now expected to be the basis for the Defence Ministry to decide on further steps.

Given the long-standing opposition to the army's training in the Poček area, the decision was largely expected. It came after Defence Minister Karl Erjavec asked the mayor in January to lay down the parameters acceptable for Poček to continue operations.

Erjavec said at the time that if the demands were such as to prevent Poček from remaining the main training area, the ministry would try to find other solutions.

The Poček military ground features an almost 2,000-hectare unpopulated area owned by the government and managed by the ministry since independence in 1991.

The wider area subject to restrictions when war games are under way comprises some 8,200 hectares, enabling the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) to train there and occasionally have international exercises and training with NATO parter countries.

It is no coincidence that Poček is the SAF's main training area as it was a military training ground before, used from the mid-1970s until 1991 by the Yugoslav army.

While Poček had been used as pastures for horses of the Vienna royal court from the early 18th century until 1915, Postojna, being a border area, was heavily militarised between 1915 when Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian empire and occupied the area, and WWII.

Since the area was in state ownership, it was relatively easy for the Yugoslav army to turn it into its training area, having purchased some more land from private owners in the 1970s.

But in 2000 the municipality held a consultative referendum at which Postojna locals decided on Poček's gradual closure.

Despite the people's will, Postojna and the ministry reached in 2004 an agreement on the military infrastructure in the area setting down their interests.

The accord, from which Postojna withdrew last December, set some limits on military activity, for instance a ban on shooting at weekends and on holidays, or limiting night shooting to ten days a month and until 11 PM from the beginning of June to the end of September.

But Mayor Igor Marentič says the army does not always stick to this. "Shooting is being carried out all months and at all times, regardless of tourism, and it is annoying even if it is announced in advance."

Water safety among major concerns

There are four things that bother locals: the noise coming from shooting and low flyovers, closure of air space (which affects the local airport), closure of the Poček area during exercises, and most notably water pollution.

Although locals could perhaps put up with occasional air space closures, pollution of the Malenščica water source for Postojna and Pivka would be a risk to public health.

While Marentič says the municipality has not commissioned any water monitoring or tests, the Karst Research Institute says its research has proved that waters from the Poček area travel underground towards the source of the Malenščica.

It adds that rain water in sensitive karst areas seeps underground very fast without having the opportunity to be cleaned, so it urges preventive measures.

Meanwhile, soil tests carried out by the ERICO institute in 2006 and 2009 showed "a strongly increased content of some heavy metals, primarily lead and copper", but its monitoring since 2016 has shown the heavy metals have not increased compared to previous measurements.

Also, Malenščica water monitoring by the Environment Agency, the ministry and the local water suppler have proved the concentrations were in line with drinking water standards.

The ministry has told the STA it is preparing a risk analysis to establish if certain military activity could have negative consequences for water quality in the area, while the municipality is drafting a bill to protect the water source.

Is a different solution still possible?

Erjavec indicated at his meeting with the mayor the army could go abroad for major war games and transfer some of its activity to other parts of Slovenia.

But pundits believe the attitude to Poček might be different if the SAF strictly respected the agreed rules and if the locals felt they benefited from it in some way.

Some foreign partners cannot understand the locals' opposition, but a well-placed source says "not a single job in this area is connected with Poček and the SAF does not get its supplies locally".

"If Poček is of national importance then the government could finance that, it would be only fair if the burden was shared by the local community and the state."

The ministry says it does not pay the municipality any compensation. However, on the basis of the 2004 accord, it co-funded local public infrastructure to the tune of EUR 3.1m and transferred property worth EUR 1.5m onto it in 2004-2018.

At the moment, the two sides are at odds over EUR 300,000 the ministry should pay for the new fire and rescue centre in Postojna, while it is also contesting the payment of EUR 1.3m in the duty for the use of land in Poček for 2013-2015.

Asked whether Postojna is opposed to Poček because it wants to develop into a green tourist destination, the mayor says this is not entirely so and stresses they have absolutely noting against the Slovenian army as such.

He notes, however, that while it is practically impossible to get an environmental permit for anything, "there are planes coming from other countries, shooting above this small tourist town".

"It's no longer appropriate to carry out such large-scale shooting with such heavy weapons only a kilometre in air line from the first settlements," he told the STA before the city council opted for closure.

Just yesterday, Defence Ministry State Secretary Klemen Grošelj told the parliamentary Defence Committee "intensive dialogue" was under way with the local community.

15 Feb 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 14 February 2019 - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec expects Slovenia to increase defence spending in 2020 and 2021. "A step forward has been made, but I have high expectations when it comes to the budget for 2020 and 2021. That one will define how serious we are about modernising the Slovenian Armed Forces," he said in Brussels on Thursday.

Erjavec made the comments after a two-day NATO ministerial discussing the implementation of three key goals: for the allies to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, to allocate 20% of their defence budgets for capability development, and to increase their contributions to missions and operations.

The plan submitted by Slovenia to NATO does not project defence expenditure increase to 2% of GDP by 2024. Unofficial information has it that the target will also not be met by Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain.

Slovenia's defence expenditure for this year is planned at 1.1% of GDP; the figure is currently at 1.05%. It is to increase to 1.5% by 2024, Erjavec noted, adding that this was the promise made to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he visited Ljubljana last year.

Erjavec is satisfied to have achieved a step forward in raising defence spending in a minority government whose partner in the opposition doe not favour such an increase, but he is aware the increase is not ideal. So he expects much from the budget for 2020 and 2021.

When it comes to the defence budget's structure, Slovenia currently allocates 4.5% of its defence budget for investment, a far cry from the 20% target.

Erjaves said it was important to increase the spending, but even more important to boost defence capabilities in order to be more resilient to new security challenges, and to buy dual-use equipment. He mentioned the planned purchase of helicopters that would also be used for emergency aid.

He said that the pay rise deal agreed with public sector trade unions also affected the defence budget "slowing down our desire to earmark more defence expenditure for investment".

He expects the mid-term defence plan to provide more detailed answers, but he did mention plans for procurement of troop equipment and for enhancing investment in military infrastructure, outdated army barracks and training grounds, as well as investing in making the army profession more attractive.

Commenting on delays in the procurement of eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers, the minister said that the case had been put off and that he would like for a tactical study to be conducted to respond to questions as to how build a battalion-size battlegroup.

Erjavec also commented on Chief of the General Staff Alenka Ermenc's comment yesterday that the increase in funding in the supplementary budget for the year would not allow for the army's development breakthrough or for marked improvement in its readiness.

Erjavec said the army's readiness assessment for wartime action for 2018 would likely be negative again, because it could not be otherwise as things did not change overnight.

The supplementary budget itself was not any major step in modernising the force but without the extra EUR 40m for salaries this would have undermined the budget funds for material costs, which should not happened, he said.

When it comes to the implementation of NATO's mission and operations contribution target, Slovenia ranks among the top seven allied countries.

23 Nov 2018, 16:00 PM

STA, 23 November 2018 - One hundred years after General Rudolf Maister established the first Slovenian army in modern history, Alenka Ermenc was promoted to become the country's first woman army general.

Slovenia celebrates Rudolf Maister Day on Friday in memory of the day in 1918 when the general (1874-1934) took control of Maribor and in effect secured what later became Slovenia's northern border.

The ceremony at which President Borut Pahor formally elevated Brigadier Ermenc to major general and decorated the association dedicated to the preservation of memory of General Maister was only one in several events marking the anniversary.

Pahor noted that a century ago Maister, "with his bravery and patriotic heart, preserved Maribor and the Lower Styria as Slovenian".

"One hundred years later, Slovenia is one of the world's safest countries. It is the merit not only of our defence force, but of society and country as a whole."

Pahor noted that Slovenia had to defend its independence with an armed force in 1991 and that Ermenc, who was made the first woman general today, was a member of the emerging Slovenian army then.

"This is a momentous moment for her, for the Slovenian Armed Forces, for our national and civic confidence, for our homeland and country," he said.

Putting on her new uniform of major general and accepting the Slovenian flag from the president, Ermenc said it was "the love for homeland" that guided her on her path, which was not always easy.

"I'm aware that the army is victorious only through joint effort and that the average never win," she said, underscoring the importance of knowledge and hard work.

Major General Ermenc studied in London, was in the independence war

Ermenc graduated from the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences and from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and got her master's degree in 2009 at the King's College University of London.

She was actively involved in the 1991 independence war as a member of the Territorial Defence, the army's precursor. She has been employed in the SAF for 27 years.

She was promoted to the rank of brigadier in May 2011 and in March this year she was named deputy chief of the general staff, the highest rank for a woman in the army.

Roughly one out of six members of the active component of Slovenia's Armed Forces are women (1,097 out of 6,658), including 188 civilians. As many as 301 are officers or non-commissioned officers.

Pahor also presented an Order of Merit to the General Maister Association and its founder Milan Lovrenčič for their efforts in the preservation of memory of the general and his contribution to Slovenia.

It was thanks to the association that 23 November has been observed as a public holiday since 2005, although not as a bank holiday. At the association's initiative the Maister Library of the University of Maribor, which keeps his books, has recently been declared a monument of national importance.

Why Maister is the biggest name in Slovenian military history

Judging by his popularity, Maister is likely the most prominent military personality in Slovenian history. It is largely owing to him that Maribor, Slovenia's second city, and the north-east of Slovenia became part of the new Yugoslav state rather than Austria after the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed.

Maister was in command of the regional headquarters at the end of World War I and in 1918 assumed command of Maribor and the Slovenian part of Carinthia. He set up a Slovenian army of 4,000 soldiers, disarmed the German Schutzwehr security service, and disbanded the militia of the German city council.

The general then occupied Slovenian ethnic territory, establishing the northern border between Austria and Yugoslavia that was later ratified by the Saint Germain Peace Treaty. The same border still runs between Slovenia and Austria today.

The main ceremony marking the holiday was held in Maribor last night. In his keynote, Speaker Dejan Židan described Maister, a general and a poet, as a resolute, confident, courageous, selfless and honest patriot with the soul of an artist. He said people of his calibre were needed today.

"At the time it was about life and death. The situation called for quick decisions and actions, not just on Maister's part but on the part of everyone involved ... It wasn't until after Slovenia's independence that his historic merit was acknowledged by official politics." Židan said.

The ceremony was also attended by President Pahor and members of the government, including Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who praised Maister as the epitome of bravery, determination and resolve.

An exhibition showcasing Maister as general and poet was launched at the National Assembly today. While wreaths will be laid at his grave in Maribor, Slovenian air force aircraft will fly over the city.

In keeping with a tradition launched by him, Pahor is holding an open door at the Presidential Palace today.

Related: All our stories on Slovenian history are here

22 Nov 2018, 11:50 AM

STA, 21 November 2018 - Luka Mesec, the leader of the Left, pinpointed some of the issues for the party in the draft supplementary budget for 2019 on Wednesday by saying that the government faced the dilemma between "guns and butter".

Mesec said the Left, a partner to the Marjan Šarec minority government, was happy that the draft budget implementation bill envisaged an increase in the annual allowance for pensioners, an extra adjustment of pensions, and 10 new jobs at the Labour Inspectorate.

The draft, which the party received today, also contains a provision saying that public sector staff would as a rule have salaried jobs instead of being hired by agencies, which means they will also have appertaining worker rights.

However, Mesec said that there was a major flaw in the draft, which was that social transfers such as child benefit, baby bonus, unemployment benefit, disability benefits and scholarships would not be adjusted to inflation next year, measures valued at EUR 16m.

Mesec juxtaposed that to the EUR 15.5m deal to procure 38 Oshkosh armoured personnel vehicles for the Slovenian Armed Forces to form a battalion-sized battlegroup, the signing of which had been confirmed by Defence Minister Karl Erjavec.

The Left has been opposing the deal for months on the grounds that Slovenia is not facing any such threat to national security. Mesec said that even in case of aggression against Slovenia, the four-wheelers would not come useful because they were meant for offensive rather than defensive action, while they were also useless for civilian purposes.

The party thus called on the government to reconsider the contract. It will also call a session of the parliamentary Defence Committee to propose rescinding the deal and a legislative amendment under which any defence procurement in excess of EUR 1m would require parliament's consent.

The Slovenian military has had no casualties for more than two decades

In response the Defence Ministry said that the Oshkosh light combat all-terrain vehicles to be supplied to the army between 2021 and 2023, would replace the worn out Hummer vehicles and would provide troops with a high-level of protection, which was one of the main reasons for the purchase.

The ministry said that a well-protected armoured vehicle had proven to be essential for the survival of teams in combat and non-combat incidents as the one in Afghanistan a few years ago as Slovenian troops on a routine mission run onto an explosive device and "the vehicle's armour prevented fatalities and major injury".

The ministry said that Slovenia was one of few countries without casualties during more than two decades it had been participating in various international missions, and that high security and protection standards would remain a key requirement in army equipment in the future.

The ministry initiated procurement of 38 Oshkosh light combat vehicles in the previous term and completed it last week by signing an agreement with the US administration.

All our stories about the Slovenian military are here

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