What Role Did Slovenia Play in Yugoslavia’s Collapse?

Yugoslavia was a big prosperous country that collapsed in the 90s. At that time, all Eastern Europe experienced the fall of communistic regimes. Despite the fact that Yugoslavia was a socialistic country at that time and adhered to the non-alignment policy neither to the Western Bloc nor to the Warsaw Pact.

Slovenia played an important role in this process, however not the decisive role. In general, Slovenia and Croatia were the first two countries that proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia. This started a chain of other events that influenced directly on the collapse.

Yugoslavia was the biggest country in the Balkans. It was created as a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, but after World War II, they switched from a monarchy into a federation. At first, the country took a communistic ideology as their main one, but after Tito-Stalin split in 1948, the country changed it into a socialistic direction, with a semi-opened market and more freedom in political organization.

The country existed until the 1990s, when Macedonia, Slovenia, and Croatia decided to leave the federation.  

How Did Yugoslavia Collapse?

The leader of Yugoslavia in the period from 1943 until his death in 1980, Josip Broz Tito, once said, “I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbors, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities.” This diversity played a uniting role when Slovenes, Croats, Serbians, Bosnians, Montenegrins, and Macedonians opposed the Nazi threat.

On the other part, it became the disuniting factor in the 90s when Yugoslavia experienced the crisis. Everything started from the death of Josip Broz Tito, after that, the leader of Yugoslavia became Slobodan Milošević. He highly suppressed the national identity movements in the autonomous regions of Vojvodina, Kosovo, as well as in the Socialist Republic of Montenegro. He forcefully put his own allies on the governments in those units. Thus, this was cheating in order to get the voting majority in the Yugoslav government.

Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia didn’t favor this move, so they left the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and started to form democratic governments. Since Slovenians and Macedonians consisted of mainly only their national groups, Croatia still had a great minority (12.2%) of Serbs. They were afraid that Croatia could be governed by ultranationalist leaders and do genocide of Serbs, as it had happened during World War II. Therefore, ethnic Serbs there raised a rebellion and wanted to join Serbia.

On 25 June 1991, Slovenia, together with Croatia, proclaimed independence. This happened after making a referendum, where 94.8% of Slovenians favored the answer “yes” about their future to live in an independent country. This created a great resonance in Yugoslavia, so the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) entered those countries. Slovenia started the Ten-Day War that ended with the Brioni Agreement or Brioni Declaration, under the guidance of the European Community.

After some period, Macedonia also holds a referendum, on which 95% of the population voted for its exit from Yugoslavia. This was the only country that left the big country peacefully.

On the other hand, the wars in Croatia continued. Milošević wanted only to protect the Serbian community in Croatia but still tended to save Yugoslavia with aggression. Moreover, there was also one more republic with an even more complicated ethnic situation. This was Bosnia and Herzegovina, where there were living 43,5% of Bosnians (who are Muslims), 31% of Serbs, and 17% of Croats. Each of those groups wanted their independence and started to fight inside Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnian Serbs had committed several massacres of Bosnian Muslims, and after that, NATO had to make an air attack on them. Furthermore, even Serbia stopped to support Bosnian Serbians after those events. Meanwhile in Croatia, the Croatian army attacked heavily Serbian troops and burned their villages.

Peace treaties were signed between all the nations. Croatia finally got its independence, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were divided into two regions with their own governments inside one country: Federation of Bosnian and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

Therefore, almost all the post-Yugoslav republics got their independence. The last two, Serbia and Montenegro, still were functioning under the name Yugoslavia. It seemed that everything went peacefully. However, after three years, the autonomous region of Kosovo (a part of Serbia with the majority of Albanians) proclaimed independence. The new war started, which technically ended in 1999 with the help of NATO units. However, Kosovo is recognized still by 108 of 193 members of the United Nations.

In the 2000s, Serbia and Montenegro had to rename themselves into the Union State of Serbia and Montenegro. In May of 2006, Montenegro declared its independence after the referendum, and the confederation peacefully dissolved.

Slovenian War for Independence

After the referendum happened on 23 December 1990 in Slovenia, the government had to wait 6 months for results to be authorized. Straight after this period, on 25 June 1991, Slovenia, together with Croatia, proclaimed independence.

The 6 months period was enough for the Yugoslav government to change the military doctrine. This means that the Tito-era doctrine of “General People’s Defence”, when each republic has its own Territorial Defence Force (Teritorialna obramba), was replaced by the centrally directed system of defense. Generally speaking, Yugoslavia prepared with the creation of a centralized army.

Of course, Slovenians understood that the Yugoslav government would not let them go so easily. Therefore, Defence Minister Janez Janša proposed a strategy based on an asymmetric warfare approach. Thus, Slovenian Territorial Defense had to provide a guerrilla campaign, using anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles, catching tank columns, destroying the lead and rear vehicles in favorable terrain, and implementing some other strategies as well. On the other hand, the Yugoslav Army was much bigger in size.

Yugoslav People’s Army entered Slovenia and Croatia on 26 June, right after the event of independence proclamation. The fight was between the Slovenian Territorial Defence (Teritorialna obramba Republike Slovenije) and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA).

The conflict lasted only 10 days, from 27 June 1991 until 7 July 1991. On that day, the Brioni Accords were signed. Also, it is considered the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Technically, this was a win for Slovenia.

The conflict was short and not intense, therefore casualties were not high. The Slovenian Army lost 19 persons and got 182 wounded. On the other side, the YPA suffered 44 fatalities and 146 wounded. Plus, 12 foreign nationals were killed, principally journalists and Bulgarian truck drivers. In general, the Yugoslav Army lost 31 tanks, 22 armored personnel carriers, 6 helicopters, 6,787 infantry weapons, 87 artillery pieces, and got 124 air defense weapons damaged.

Slovenian Role in Yugoslavia Breakup

As we mentioned above, Slovenia played an important role in this process, however not the decisive role. First of all, Slovenia and Croatia were the wealthiest republics in Yugoslavia. The average citizen of Slovenian earned eight times more than a citizen of Kosovo. Thereby, Slovenia and Croatia wanted independence more, while Serbs and Montenegrins wanted to unify the country in order to share and make every republic equal.

However, Yugoslavia experienced a great change after Tito’s death. Instead of one president, they created a union of presidents of each republic. Moreover, they let a socialistic market economy that featured economy and ownerships ruled not by politicians or businessmen, but by employees themselves. Thus, even workers somehow had a part of entrepreneurship. The socialistic market economy even allowed small businesses such as restaurants, crafts shops, cafes, etc.

In this way, Slovenia and Croatia, which had more liberal governments, created more successful economies. While other republics still remained unregulated economies. That’s why Slovenia and Croatia decided to leave Yugoslavia. Furthermore, they didn’t want to be a part of a country ruled by the majority of Serbs (taking into consideration that Slobodan Milošević was controlling Montenegro and two autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina).

Hence, particularly Slovenia played only a starting role in the collapse. The government wanted only prosperity for its own citizens. Moreover, they were highly supported by their Western neighbors. The less influence on the Yugoslav collapse was done only by Macedonia.

On the other hand, ethnic disputes were the factor that directly influenced the breakup of the federation. Each nation wanted to have their own territory and live in their own country. As we mentioned above, they united in confronting the common enemy during the Second World War. However, in the 90s, the situation changed, and everybody wanted independence.

Moreover, the 90s were the time when every country of the Warsaw Pact raised democratic governments, and the Soviet Union collapsed as well. This created a common tendency in the international political arena. Whereas the European Union didn’t want new conflicts closely to its borders.

To sum up, the world was changing radically at that time. The breakup of such countries as Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union was a matter of time. Therefore, every country tried to experience that change as less painful as it was possible. Slovenia just did its duty, protected its land with pride, and now is enjoying consequences as a part of the EU, NATO, and Schengen area as well as the most successful country among the other Slavic states. 

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