The Hon. Janez Janša (Former Prime Minister of Slovenia)

09.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Florence Collins

Janez Janša is a Slovenian politician with a very interesting life story, which has encompassed imprisonment in 1988 for his dissident journalism, assisting Slovenia in its struggle for independence, and later, in 2004, being elected Prime Minister. At the “A World Without Walls” conference, the topic of the Soviet Union's decline was addressed by Janez Janša with a presentation on Slovenia's experience entitled “The Emergence of the Slovenian State: The Importance of Soft Power.” Afterwards I asked him some more questions about Slovenia's experience, EU membership, and what is in store for other countries of former Yugoslavia.

Can any diplomatic lessons be learnt from Slovenia's independence struggle?

I think there are definitely lessons, which can be taken from what was, in essence, a peaceful movement, and the Slovene state emerged through the use of soft power. From 1945 until 1991 Slovenia was part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). When it began its bid for independence, there was a lack of understanding as to why it wanted independence, and little faith in its ability to succeed. The US and UE thought a united Yugoslavia was better, and the US said it would never recognise an independent Slovenia. The declaration of independence on June 25th 1991 caused the Yugoslavian People's Army (YPA) to arrive with tanks, beginning the Ten Day War. Despite being at a disadvantage, the Slovenia's Territorial Defence (the TO) managed to overcome the asymmetry, and Slovenia persevered. After ten days a ceasefire was accepted and finally the international community accepted Slovenia’s declaration of independence. We gained UN membership in 1992 and, in 2004, we entered both the EU and NATO. Now, at the time, people could not see why Slovenia wanted to be independent but the benefits of an independent Slovenia are now clearly evident. A lot can be learned from the peaceful means used to achieve independence in Slovenia, from the way it came about by avoiding conflict, carrying out a public referendum and democratic elections.

Is it true that there was a 90% turnout to vote and that 90% voted yes?

This is true indeed. There was a lot of popular support for the independence movement. There was little support from outside so everything came from the willpower of civil society within Slovenia, and, after difficult times in the 80's, people were losing trust in Belgrade's leadership. There was a huge economic crisis in 1987 and great scarcities, inflation over 700% and a lot of police repression of dissidents, journalists etc. Leaders within the Soviet states were not getting on with each other, and this was particularly notable in the SFRY. Independence was a last resort in the will for freedom and democracy and seen as the only hope as there was growing discontent with the socialist regime.

Do you think the fact that people were so actively involved has something to do with Slovene culture, or was it completely situational?

I think it was definitely the situation that encouraged such political participation because there was a lot of oppression and it was difficult not to become involved. It is not necessarily an aspect of our culture that made people politically active or fuelled the desire for independence. I think this is evident in the fact that nowadays the political apathy in Slovenia is the same as in many places. The turn-out at the ballot boxes is nowhere near as high as it was for the referendum on independence.

Can Slovenia act as an example to other former Yugoslav countries hoping to join the EU?

I think in terms of its diplomatic relations Slovenia has been a good example, in that it avoided conflict and now it has grown to be a strong member of the EU. Considering the state that the economy was in before its independence, when we became very dependent on IMF and EU help, it is impressive now that the GDP of our country is very near to the EU average. Slovenia certainly supports the accession bids of its neighbours, both with our official standpoint, and the popular consensus indicates the same.

Would the creation of a free trade block in the Balkans be troublesome because of past conflicts?

Well, I think the creation of such a trading area will be unnecessary when all the Balkan countries have EU membership as any trading barriers will naturally be broken down. I think we should look towards European integration rather than creating smaller trading blocks, which would not be as competitive, and, in any case, would become irrelevant. It is more logical to wait and eventually the EU will result in a free-trade area among all the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Prime Minister Janša, thank you very much.