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27 Apr 2021, 10:31 AM

STA, 27 April 2021 - Slovenia observes Resistance Day (Dan upora proti okupatorju) on Tuesday, remembering the day 80 years ago when the Liberation Front, an organisation that spearheaded armed resistance against the occupying forces in WWII, was established. Several events will be held, including a national ceremony with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek delivering the key-note.

The ceremony will be held on Mala Gora, a hill near Ribnica in the south where the first armed clash on Slovenian soil took place after the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The event will be attended by senior officials, including President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Pahor will also address Slovenian citizens together with Marijan Križman, the head of the WWII Veterans' Association.

He will open the Presidential Palace to the public as was the case before the pandemic, yet in a limited scope, only for the association's representatives.

Pahor and Križman will also lay a wreath at the memorial to the Liberation Front in front of Vidmar's Villa, the house under Rožnik hill where the organisation was founded.

On the eve of the holiday, the German Embassy unveiled a memorial plaque in the villa, which Germany bought in 2016 and turned it into a residence of its ambassador.

Pahor said this symbolic gesture bore great significance for the future because it is based on the spirit of reconciliation ingrained into "our common European homeland".

The holiday was also marked by the WWII Veterans Association last evening, with Križman saying 80 years after the Liberation Front had been established, the times called for "liberating the Slovenian nation once again" as he criticised the government for curtailing fundamental rights under the pretext of containing the epidemic.

For Slovenians, World War II started on 6 April 1941, when Germany attacked Yugoslavia. The Anti-Imperialist Front, as the Liberation Front was initially known, was formed 20 days later, on 26 April 1941. The fact that its establishment is marked on 27 April is due to a minor historical error.

The Liberation Front was founded at the home of the intellectual Josip Vidmar (1895-1992) by representatives of the Communist Party of Slovenia, the Sokoli gymnastic society, the Christian Socialists and a group of intellectuals.

Photos of Slovenia near the end of WW2

27 Apr 2021, 10:15 AM

STA, 26 April - President Borut Pahor and German Ambassador to Slovenia Natalie Kauther have unveiled a memorial plaque marking the 80th anniversary of the Liberation Front and the resistance of Slovenians against Fascism. The plaque was unveiled on Monday, the eve of Resistance Day at the house where the resistance organisation was founded.

Kauther took the opportunity to apologise on behalf of Germany for the horrors committed during WWII, while Pahor stressed the significance of the gesture for the future.

The Liberation Front was founded on 26 April 1941 at Vidmar's Villa, which is named after its former owner Josip Vidmar (1895-1992), a co-founder of the Liberation Front. Germany bought it in 2016 and turned it into a residence of the German ambassador.

Kauther said the German Embassy felt "great responsibility to treat the house and its history with due care and preserve the memory of what happened here 80 years ago".

She expressed "my gratitude that we Germans were again accepted into the community of nations after all the suffering and atrocities our country caused to many people".

"To be able to cultivate deep friendship with those who used to be our worst enemies and to work together for a better, more just world, is for us a really big gift," the ambassador said in her speech in the Slovenian language.

Pahor thanked the ambassador for the gesture of setting up the memorial plaque together with the Slovenian Museum of Contemporary History.

He said this was "a symbolic act" by Germany that also bore great significance for the future. "It's about the spirit on which our common European homeland is based. Not on forgetting, but on remembering yet sometimes also forgiving to the benefit of coexistence."

Pahor would like Slovenian citizens "to be proud of the resistance" during WWII and understand this too enabled the survival of the Slovenian nation and the foundation of Slovenia.

He urged Slovenians to celebrate Resistance Day "with joy and pride and to remember the roots of the Partisan resistance, without which there would be no national liberation".

27 Apr 2021, 08:00 AM

STA, 26 April 2021 - The WWII Veterans' Association marked Resistance Day with a call to "liberate the Slovenian nation once again" as it criticised the authorities for curtailing fundamental rights under the pretext of containing the epidemic.

"Let's fight against the curtailment of basic rights enshrined in the Constitution," the association's head Marijan Križman said at its online ceremony held on the eve of Resistance Day.

Resistance Day marks the establishment of the Liberation Front (Osvobodilna fronta, OF), an organisation which mounted armed resistance against the occupying forces in WWII and was founded in Ljubljana 80 years ago.

Convinced that basic human rights are being violated under the current government, Križman noted that 80 years on, the situation was again ripe for Slovenians to stand up for their rights.

"We do not allow putting young people on trial just because they want to go to school, sanctioning people who dare to voice opposition to government measures, demolishing public RTV Slovenija and STA, intimidating journalists, blocking art and culture."

He went on to list "disgraceful acts" such as vandalising of Liberation Front monuments, hate speech, acts that humiliate Slovenia in Europe and the world, and historical revisionism.

Križman urged Slovenians to celebrate Resistance Day as well as the coming May Day by remembering their ancestors who gave their lives for freedom.

Highlighting the role the Liberation Front played in WWII and the importance of its values today, the association called for respecting basic human rights and values of resistance, freedom, solidarity and equality.

It was because of the Liberation Front that Slovenia was part of the victorious anti-Nazi alliance at the end of the war, Križman stressed.

According to him, there was no civil war in Slovenia during WWII because this is not possible under occupying forces and because opponents of the Liberation Front fought under the direct command of the Fascist and Nazi armed forces.

Križman said that the responsibility for the war that pitted brother against brother had been with church and secular officials who had prioritised their own interests over the nation's survival.

The association therefore rejects current attempts at reconciliation as its members believe that what is presented today as reconciliation is mostly based on historical revisionism which attempts to turn traitors into victims.

The only way to reconcile people is to show historical facts about WWII, Križman noted.

07 Apr 2021, 12:27 PM

STA, 7 April 2021 - Historian Mateja Ratej has published a book about the rise of Hitlerism in the broader Maribor area in the 1930s. She sees some parallels between that era and the present health crisis, in particular with regard to the erosion of people's trust in established authorities.

Entitled Swastika on a Cemetery Wall, the book was presented in an online talk from the Maribor Library on Wednesday after being recently published by Beletrina.

Ratej said that Hitlerism in the Slovenian population in the region of Štajerska had manifested primarily in sympathising with how the Nazis were delivering order, creating an illusion of a better life in a German state under Hitler.

Related: Nazis in Maribor, Celje & Bled, 1941

"When Maribor Germans in the 1930s started leaning towards Nazism, they were followed by many of their Slovenian workers and servants out of loyalty, economic dependence and in hope of greater welfare," the historian said.

The spread of pro-Hitler propaganda in that period is discernible in the files of the Maribor District Court, as Hitlerism was a prohibited political activity in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Some of these files are featured in the book, showing how simple slogans about a better life under Hitler managed to create a specific social climate in which tensions had been gradually raised in the decade preceding the Second World War.

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Wikipedia, public domain

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German soldiers on Maribor ulica

German soliders crossing from Austria into Slovenia, entering Maribor

The Maribor-based historian noted that there had not been much of a response to the book so far.

"It is possible that even 80 years later we are still not ready to accept the fact that many Slovenians, despite all the horrors that we suffered under the Nazi order, had been swearing by that same order."

The author draws many parallels with the current health crisis, including the many conspiracy theories being circulated among people that are attempting to explain reality, as there is no underlying trust in the established authorities.

Ratej added that very similar trends could be seen in newspapers from the pre-WWII period, meaning that the fight for truth and the media war is nothing new, it is merely another instance of raised tensions in society.

"People are, however, not aware of this to a sufficient extent, much like they were oblivious to it in the 1930s," the author warned.

06 Dec 2020, 12:29 PM

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.

10 Sep 2020, 19:31 PM

STA, 10 September 2020 - The government commission for concealed mass graves has begun work on a site of summary execution at Mostec near Brežice in eastern Slovenia, so far discovering the remains of at least 139 victims believed to have been executed between May and October 1945.

The Mostec anti-tank trench, one of what are believed to be over 600 locations of post-WWII summary killings in Slovenia, will be exhumed because the pending construction of a new hydro power plant will flood of a part of the area.

The head of the exhumation works Uroš Košir told the press on Thursday that the remains of at least 139 people have been discovered since 25 August.

The final figure will only be known after the exhumation and studies are completed, but the work on the up to 200 metre-long trench so far has shown three layers of victims.

The remains of soldiers have mostly been found in the first and third layers, while civilian casualties, including women, are predominant in the second layer, where the remains of at least 27 victims were found. Large numbers of cartridges suggest the victims were executed on-site.

Pavel Jamnik, the head of the police campaign dubbed Reconciliation, said the Mostec site was one of the first to grab the attention of the Slovenian public and police after independence. The State Prosecution in Krško was first informed about it in 1995.

The executions there are believed to have taken place from May to October 1945 and were organised by the People's Defence Corps of Yugoslavia or KNOJ, with Slovenians also taking part.

It was established that people were transported there from the Teharje barracks, used as a concentration camp for members of the Home Guard militia that collaborated with the Nazis, as well as soldiers, civilians and refugees from Croatia and Serbia apprehended by the Allies in May 1945 and turned over to the Partisans.

At least one bus full of women was brought from the Huda Jama execution site, which was already full by then, victims were also brought in from Šentvid prison, while some of the victims are believed to have been a group of apprehended German soldiers and Croatian Ustaše, Jamnik said.

The chair of the government commission for concealed mass graves Jože Dežman announced that the remains would be transported to the Maribor ossuary.

All our stories on mass graves in Slovenia

06 Sep 2020, 09:37 AM

STA, 5 September 2020 - President Borut Pahor and his Croatian counterpart Zoran Milanović attended on Saturday a memorial ceremony honouring the victims of the Fascist concentration camp Kampor on Rab island.

According to Pahor's office, this was the first time that the two countries' presidents attend the annual event together.

Prior to the ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Kampor, Pahor and Milanović laid a wreath to the monument of the victims of the camp, known as one of the most notorious Fascist camps in the Second World War.

Pahor wrote that the joint gesture "symbolised the importance of friendship and a shared awareness of the need to preserve memory, which should also serve as a warning".

"The decision to come to Rab and bow the the victims of the Italian concentration camp Kampor together with Croatian President and friend Zoran Milanović was urgent and simple", he said.

Pahor added that on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War he wanted to personally and on behalf of Slovenia honour the memory of the victims of the camp that saw so many people suffer and die.

He warned that "any form of intolerance and hatred begins with words and small actions, with small evil gestures that grow into serious evil before most people even realise it. This is how it came to Fascism, which showed its face here on Rab".

According to the Slovenian president, European peace is based on reconciliation between two of the biggest opponents, the German and French people. This reconciliation is also the cornerstone of today's EU, "an alliance where we want to achieve a better life, while it is still and always will be above all a project of peace".

Some 15,000 Croats, Slovenians and Jews, including about 1,200 children, experienced the horrors of the camp in the 14 months and a half of its operation. Croatian sources suggest at least a fifth of all internees died there because of abuse, famine and disease.

Pahor and Milanović also used the opportunity for bilateral talks to "continue and reaffirm the good and friendly cooperation between the two countries", the president's office said.

Milanović picked Slovenia for his first trip abroad after his appointment at the beginning of the year. He held a working meeting with Pahor in Otočec at the end of February.

The presidents also held talks in Ptuj in mid-May after Milanović laid a wreath to the victims of post-war killings in Maribor's Dobrava cemetery.

17 Jul 2020, 13:22 PM

STA, 17 July 2020 - President Borut Pahor discussed Monday's return of National Hall in Trieste to the Slovenian minority, and his and Italian President Sergio Mattarella's visit to two memorials in Basovizza in an interview he gave to Mladina weekly. He said Italy transferring the centre's ownership onto the minority should not be taken for granted.

After the law on the Slovenian minority was passed in 2001 setting down the return of the former commercial and cultural centre to the minority, Italy had been considering leasing it to the minority, according to Pahor.

The president said the final decision to claim ownership was taken in mid-May when he had a video call with the heads of the two Slovenian minority organisations in Italy and the Slovenian consul general and ambassador to Italy.

"We were discussing whether to risk going all the way to claim National Hall ownership, or to accommodate for some other solution, for instance merely leasing it from Italy."

He said they had decided at the videoconference to reject Italy's proposal to return the centre just to be used by the minority and to insist on its ownership.

Related: President Borut Pahor: Best of 2019 Instagram, Part 1

Only after this decision was made had a debate started on a ceremony accompanying the restitution event as well as on Pahor and Mattarela's visits to the memorials to the anti-Fascist victims and to the Italian victims of post-WWII killings, said the president.

Pahor thus rejected the notion of "quid pro quo" bargaining in that Italy would not have returned National Hall had he not visited the Foiba of Basovizza memorial.

He indicated that questions surrounding his and Mattarella's visit to the foiba memorial were hard issues, "but if I rely on my moral compass, I'm at peace".

"Both me and Italian President Mattarella felt all the way that we were doing something good."

Pahor is also aware that this gesture would not be necessarily interpreted in the same manner in Slovenia and Italy.

He was asked whether Italy should not have accompanied Pahor's visit to the foiba memorial with some other more substantive gesture, such as "giving more weight to" the 2000 report on Slovenian-Italian relations in 1880-1956 which, was compiled by historians from both countries.

Pahor said that Slovenia did expect Italy to "more attentively read the report and foremost to take it into account".

He said he did not think, based on what we know, that there are actually the remains of those killed after WWII in the Foiba of Basovizza, as they are mostly in other caves.

But he also noted that for Mattarella as a jurist, visiting the Slovenian anti-Fascists memorial, was a legal issue, since under Italian law they are still terrorists.

"If Mattarella went there, then this is a kind of an act which implies rehabilitation" of the four anti-Fascists, executed in 1930, according to Pahor.

He also said that his family had suffered under Fascism and that his grandfather had taught him that "we have to be proud, but that the other side also needs to be allowed its pride".

"Without this historical knowledge, I would not have gone that far," said Pahor in defence of his visit to the foiba memorial.

He also told Mladina that he had been raised in the anti-Fascist spirit and that he would not shy of saying he is an anti-Fascist.

13 Jul 2020, 13:34 PM

STA, 13 July 2020 - The presidents of Slovenia and Italy, Borut Pahor in Sergio Mattarella, laid wreaths at two memorials in the Italian town of Basovizza on Monday, one to the 1930 Slovenian victims of Fascism and the other to the Italian victims of post-WWII killings. As they stood in front of the memorials, the presidents held hands.

The Memorial to Basovizza Heroes is a memorial to three Slovenians and one Croat whom the Fascist authorities executed in Basovizza on 6 September 1930.

The men were members of an illegal organisation of Slovenian and Croatian youth set up in 1927 to organise a fight against the Fascist regime and its violent assimilation policy. Under Italian law, they are still considered terrorists.

The Foiba of Basovizza is meanwhile a Karst chasm which the Italians have chosen as their symbolic memorial site for the victims of post-war killings.

Italy believes the communists threw the executed Italians in it, whereas some historians say it has been proven empty.

Pahor's visit to the foiba memorial recently stirred controversy in Slovenia, with some fearing it would give the Italian revisionists of history a fresh impetus.

The commemoration was attended by representatives of several politicians and NGOs.

Senator Tatjana Rojc, a member of the Slovenian minority, said this was a historic day for Trieste and the area around the border between Slovenia and Italy.

She finds it key for the two presidents to have paid their respects at two symbolic sites chosen by the Slovenian and Italian communities as their memorial sites.

"I think this is the start of a new process, a new future on which we'll build our European identity," she told the press.

As for Pahor's visit to the foiba site, she said all the dead had the right to be respected and should not be abused for political agendas.

Similarly, Walter Bandelj of the SSO Slovenian minority organisation said this was a big day heralding the start of dialogue between the two states. He regretted it had not happened some ten years earlier.

He believes neither the Fascist atrocities nor what happened latter should be forgotten. What is needed is looking ahead and achieving reconciliation, he said.

The commemoration at the foiba will go down in history, because this is the first time that the president of a former Yugoslav republic has paid his respects to the Italian victims of post-war killings, according to Antonio Ballarin of an organisation representing the Italians who left Yugoslavia after WWII. They are known as "esuli" in Italian and "optanti" in Slovenian.

Before the Basovizza commemorations, an estimated 150 people gathered at the Fernetiči border crossing with Italy to protest against Pahor's laying a wreath at the foiba memorial, with one banner reading "traitor".

After the commemoration, a group of protestors gathered at the Memorial to Basoviza Heroes; head of the 13 July Not In My Name civil initiative, Mauro Dornik, said Pahor paid his respects at a chasm which historians proved was empty.

By doing so, Pahor "confirmed that we are a genocidal nation which went about killing Italians just because they were Italians" and sided with Fascists, he said.

Dornik believes this opens the door to the organisations representing the esuli to claim back the property they left behind in Istria and Dalmatia.

Mattarella has not posthumously amnestied the Slovenian anti-Fascists killed at the Memorial to Basovizza Heroes, which proves that both presidents' tribute to the Slovenian victims of Fascism was not sincere, he added.

A rally against Pahor's act and in support of the people of Primorska region, including Slovenians in Trieste, is also planned for tonight in Ljubljana.

The wreath-lying commemorations were held on the sideline of today's signing of a document which triggered the restitution of National Hall in Trieste to the Slovenian minority. The ceremony took place exactly 100 years since the Fascists burnt down National Hall.

Its restitution is seen by the Slovenian side as a symbolic act of reconciliation and of utmost importance for future ties between Slovenia and Italy.

It is meanwhile opposed by the Italian far-right movement CasaPound, which according to the Slovenian minority daily Primorski Dnevnik today mounted a protest in Trieste.

12 Jul 2020, 10:14 AM

STA, 11 July 2020 - Cavers exploring the karst caves in the Kočevski Rog woods in south-eastern Slovenia have found what appears to be another mass grave in what is an area containing the remains of several thousand people killed in summary executions after the end of World War II.

The chair of the government commission for mass graves Jože Dežman wrote on Saturday that the chasm contains the remains of at least 35 people, while dozens more are expected to be exhumed.

All but possibly one of the remains examined so far appear to be male remains, Dežman added, explaining the operation only started on Friday.

The karst chasms in Kočevski Rog contain the remains of thousands of bodies, especially those of members of the nearby Novo Mesto group of the Domobranci anti-communist home-guard who did not manage to escape abroad. They were hunted for months after the war and most were murdered, Dežman said.

 Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map 

He spoke of several more locations in the area, including the Rugarski klanci site that contains the remains of what appear to have been 22 members of the armed forces of the Ustasha-governed Croatian NDH state.

The latest research in Kočevski Rog meanwhile confirmed that the Macesnova Gorica chasm "is probably the biggest Slovenian slaughter site and mass grave". The commission hopes the exhumation of the victims will be able to begin next year.

Related: Post-War Massacres in Slovenia

As for the Kren site, which had been perceived as the largest mass grave of the Domobranci, it seems that it was mostly members of the Serb and Montenegrin Chetnik royalist and nationalist units who ended up there.

Meanwhile, Dežman added that it was today that the commemoration was held for the Muslims killed in Srebrenica in 1995. "If we condemn the crimes against POWs and civilians in Srebernica then we also condemn the crimes against POWs and civilians being discovered in Kočevski Rog and elsewhere around Slovenia," he wrote.

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