The Ten Day War for Slovenian Independence

Slovenia is a new independent country, since 1991, and was previously the northernmost country of the Former Yugoslav Federation. It occupies a valuable strategic position between the Southern Alps, the Northern

Adriatic and the edge of the Central European Pannonian Plain. Slovenia shares a border with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Traffic from South-Western Europe crosses Slovenian territory on its way towards the landlocked countries of Central Europe, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the former Soviet republics. Traditionally the port of Koper has served as a route to the Adriatic for Austria and Germany.

Slovenia has the image of a country ‘That is between Russia and Prussia’ (FW Carter & HT Norris. ‘The Changing Face of the Balkans’ P26). This is descriptive of the fact that Slovenia’s borders lie between the Germanic and Slavonic territories and has been heavily influenced by Latin traditions. Slovenes initially lost their independence more than a thousand years ago, when Prince Kocelj established the first state of Slovenes. This state was subsequently ruled by successive Bavarian, Frankish, Czech and Habsburg masters. In 1355 it became wholly part of the hereditary possessions of the Habsburg monarchy, and remained as such until the end of the First World War in 1918, when Slovenia became a constituent of the Kingdome of Serbs Croats and Slovenes, known from 1929 onwards as Yugoslavia.

The history of Slovenia shows that for centuries the institutional government of the country was identical to that of Austria, and this Germanic influence had an important effect on Slovenian culture. Christianity had a strong influence, and yet, despite these powerful influences, the Slovenian people retained a strong Slavic identity, including the retention of their own language. Slovenia also remains ethnically homogenous, with about 90% of the population Slovenes, and the remainder mostly Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian and Italian, along with a small Muslim population.
This ethnic homogeneity, and also the retention of a distinctly Slovenian culture is due in large part, according to historians such as James Gow and Cathie Carmichael, to the fact that, throughout history Slovenia acted more as a bridge between nations, rather than a crossroads or area of co-operation between different nations and cultures.

In modern times, as part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), post World War 2, Slovenia enjoyed a high level of industrialisation and a limited market economy, along with open borders with Italy and Austria. The rapid post war economic growth in Slovenia led to an influx of ‘guest workers’ from the less developed parts of SFRY, and by the time of secession from the federation in 1991, with 8.2% of the total Yugoslavian population, Slovenia accounted for 20% of the GDP of SFRY, with productivity twice as high as in Yugoslavia as a whole. (FW Carter & HT Norris. ‘The Changing Face of the Balkans’ P112 table 31).

This boom in Slovenia was set against the backdrop of the post-Tito disintegration of Communist Ideology in SFRY. Since the death of Josep Boris Tito, leader of Yugoslavia for 37 years, voices of dissent had become louder among the multicultural republics of the federation. Throughout the 1980’s it became clear that a worsening economic crisis and the political inertia brought about by the inflexible institutions put in place by Tito, specifically to resist change, were causing a disaster in Yugoslavia. Rising ethnic friction in Kosovo and Bosnia, and the perceived failure of the federal model, was increasingly leading to (mostly Serbian) support for a return to centralisation. A condition that never really existed in Yugoslavia, where the six republics that made it up enjoyed much autonomy, and operated to a certain extent as ‘mini states’. The system was put in place to account for the different desires of the distinct nationalities that made up SFRY, and delivered limited political self determination. This system required two main prerequisites to succeed however. In disputes between the republics, a main arbiter was to have the final say. Tito was the arbiter, but after his death there was no effective replacement. Secondly there was a requirement for relative prosperity, and in the majority of Yugoslavia, this was failing. Indeed, in Montenegro ’30,000 desperate citizens took to the streets in August 1989 to protest against hunger and poverty and to demand effective action’ (Sabrina Petra Ramet ‘Balkan Babel’ P223).

The consensus in SFRY, by 1989, was that ‘ A new economic system requires a new political system, a new economic system cannot be built in the framework of the old system.’ (Ciril Ribcic ‘Mladina’ September 1989). The ‘Old System’ was being held together from Belgrade by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY), led since 1987 by Slobodan Milosevic. His leadership had stifled any consensus between the federal nations, and had essentially split the country into four emerging states, while annexing the provinces of Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, to Serbia. According to some observers including Sabrina Ramet, Milosevic’s’ intention was to re-centralise the system, at the expense of the autonomy of the other republics, who, to all intents and purposes were already autonomous, and by now most cultural links between the states were largely superficial.

This climate allowed ideas to be voiced, that would not have been heard just few years before. For example Antonje Isakovic, a Serbian writer argued for the confederation of the system and the redrawing of the republic boundaries. The open discussion of such subjects in Slovenia led to the highly controversial move by the Slovenian assembly, their first uni-lateral manoeuvre, that granted the republic the right of secession, and the right to approve or disapprove the actions of federal authorities in the republic. These amendments were attacked in Serbia, where the popular support was for consolidation around a strong centre (Belgrade). The warning from Serbia to Slovenia was the same as the warning from the Soviet Union in the 1960’s. That any break-up that took place without a federal consensus would result in a disastrous fratricidal conflict.

The Slovenian public were mobilised for a confrontation with Belgrade by numerous publications, including ‘Inter Alia’ a protest at the status of the Slovenian language in SFRY. The first mass demonstrations, however, came with the trial of ‘The Four’. (Janez Jansa, Ivan Borstner, David Tusic, and Franzi Zavrl), who had published material in the magazine ‘Mladina’ that revealed a military plan to stop liberalism in Slovenia. The trial was carried out in Serbo-Croat, in Slovenia, and this inflamed the public further, leading to repeated demonstrations. The Slovene leadership, by now, were still hoping, publicly at least, that a quasi-confederal character would be preserved in SFRY, but with several important distinctions. Slovenia demanded, as the richest and most efficient republic, a special Slovenian Military Zone, with all the Slovenian recruits serving in Slovenian regiments and with Slovenian as the language of command. The other republics especially Serbia, were dismayed at the anti-federal stance of Slovenia, and declared the amendments illegal. Slovenia was undaunted though, and they went ahead and made their amendments.

The events from now on will be the real focus of the dissertation. From the referendum in Slovenia in 1990 that passed with 88% in favour of independence, to the end of the fighting brought about by the Brioni Accord on 7th July 1991 there is much to be studied. The military campaign to resist the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) is an interesting one, with the Slovenes using a system that had been in place for years, but that was resurrected for this purpose. It proposed the use of an alternative command structure, known as ‘The Manoeuvre Structure of National Protection’ (Manervska Struktura Narodne Zascite MSNZ). This was a command structure unique to Slovenia, which allowed the government to form an emergency defence, similar to Britain’s Home Guard. The republic had previously had to resist efforts by Belgrade to disarm its federal territorial defence force (Territorialna Obrambra TO) after its free elections in 1990., and so the MSNZ served as a vital command structure. Of which the federal government was completely unaware. A superb account of this period is provided by the defence minister of the time, and current Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Jansa, in his book ‘Premiki’ (Movements). He has published another book concerning the transitional period called ‘Okopi’ (The Barricades), and both offer a wonderful, factual, account of the conflict form a Slovenian perspective.

There are a number of other notable figures who have already published their memoirs, particularly, Paule Celik, who published his thoughts in a series of interviews with Svetlana Vasovic-Mekina. This man was the head of the federal police force in Slovenia. Himself Slovenian, he has an interesting insight into the ‘cloak and dagger’ style strategy of MSNZ. As well as this Celik points out that the Ten Day War was ‘Fought on a much higher military and cultural level’ (S Vasovic-Mekina ‘A Summer Intervention’ Vienna Digest 1994), than the subsequent conflicts. Celik had his police training and most of his career in Belgrade, so it is clear his recollections are even handed as to the causes and outcome of the war. Aside from the published primary accounts of the conflict, there also exists a publicly accessible archive, Arkiv Republike Slovenje, which provides information from the 9th century onwards, and resides in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The archive also carries a lot of material concerning the transition from federal to independent republic.
A further interesting source will be the court papers from the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, which contain interesting and controversial comments concerning the Ten Day War. The actions of this man, and the events in Yugoslavia leading up to the war are of crucial importance in understanding and answering the dissertations question. There are many books covering this period, including ‘Yugoslavia and After’ by Ivana Vejvoda, which presents contributions by leading authorities on the origins of the Balkan crisis and the decay of Yugoslavia, from a retrospective viewpoint. This is part of a series of books including ‘Eye of the Storm’, which identifies Slovenia as a focal point for unrest in SFRY.

Another excellent book is ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ by Peter Maas, which analyses what the author describes as the ‘overlooked’ subject of Slovene secession, and points out that the conflict is usually ignored in most analysis on what went on later in Bosnia and Croatia. He insists that it is the relative bloodlessness that accounts for this. He also makes the reader aware of the tacit, but perhaps symbiotic relationship between Slovene secessionists and Slobodan Milosevic. With Slovenia out of SFRY, Milosevic had a 4 to 3 majority in the Yugoslav presidency. The book also explores the fact that after Slovenia, the JNA became a more pro-Serbian force, as opposed the impartial force it had represented in SFRY. This book has particular value in its description of the military forces fielded in the war.

A further important source is of course the personal recollections of Slovenian people who were present. The relatively recent events means that peoples memory of them is quite fresh, and this will be particularly useful with the issue of mobilisation of the people, which involved a carefully managed media campaign, in Slovenia and internationally. It is fortunate that many Slovenians speak English, so it will not be necessary to learn a new language to gather primary information, and much of the literature is also translated.

The dissertation is intended to explore the question as to whether or not the Ten Day War resulted in a political victory or a military triumph, and in essence, what forces enabled the country to avoid the bloodshed that characterised the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. Official Slovenian sources, such as the Office of the Prime Minister, insist that this was a ‘David and Goliath’ style encounter, with the Slovenian TO waging a meticulously planned guerrilla campaign against the aggressive JNA, a military behemoth, then the fourth largest army in Europe. Other observers, such as Dyer, contend that the JNA had limited objectives in Slovenia. These objectives (Border crossings, airport) were predicted by the TO, and their limited forces were able to hold them long enough for diplomacy to take over. The year leading up to the conflict will also be studied. The activities of the popular magazine ‘Mladina’ and the pluralisation of politics in this period serves as a good barometer of the tensions that were rising at this time. By 1989 certain groups had sprung up in response to the uproar at the trial of the four Mladina journalists. The Independent Centre of Human Rights received thousands of petitions from individuals and organisations, including trade unions and religious groups. These actions were to encourage the public at large to join and start new political parties.

There seems to have been a consensus reached in Slovenia, and the dissertation will explore this, as part of the argument that a political victory was won. The relative bloodlessness will also serve to illustrate this point, along with racial homogeneity, relative affluence and long standing economic and cultural ties with Central and Western Europe. Possible collusion between Ljubljana and Belgrade will be addressed, but this hypothesis is extremely controversial and would be tough to research. The influence of the EC will also be researched, with Germany already identified as at least one country interested in Slovenian independence.

The military argument, that Slovenian forces repelled, or at the very least held on against the odds is to be explored by studying the many military analyses made of the war. The tactic of blocking the mountain roads in order to halt the armoured advance of the JNA is well documented, as is the subsequent limited guerrilla campaign and the method of replacing the federal military with the MSNZ. The smooth application of this tactic led to the world at large to see the JNA as aggressors, since Slovene troops at border crossings simply switched uniforms, forcing the JNA to use force to capture them.

In order to better complete this task, the help of a dissertation supervisor will be utilised, in the case of this dissertation, the advice of Dr Christina Chiva. The summer would be spent visiting Slovenia, identifying further sources, perhaps carrying out interviews with relevant individuals, in order to bring as much information to the beginning of the year as possible. The writing process will begin once my proposal subject has been refined, since there is little doubt the scope of the dissertation will likely change, at least slightly, between proposal and submission of the final work. So, with an eye on the history of the final years of Yugoslavia, it is hoped that the question set out in this proposal can either be proved or disproved one way or another, in agreement with the military or political hypothesis, a mix of the two, or perhaps some third source of influence, as yet unconsidered.