227. Slovenia since 1990

By
Sabrina P. Ramet

Of all of the Yugoslav successor states, Slovenia has recorded the smoothest and least problematic transition toward liberal democracy and has maintained the highest level of system stability, as measured by several conventional indicators. What accounts for this relative success? It is fashionable in some quarters to attribute Slovenia's smoother transition to the country's high degree of ethnic homogeneity or to its greater prosperity. While it may be that these factors are not entirely irrelevant, I would prefer to place the stress on two rather different factors, viz., the fact that the League of Communists of Slovenia already embarked on the transition to a pluralist system in the mid-1980s, building bridges with the Slovenian opposition, and, in the process, beginning the transition to legitimate government; and the fact that liberal political culture was planting its seeds in Slovenia already in the 1980s, if not before. Indeed, the activities of pacifist, environmentalist, punk, and lesbian and gay associations at that time helped to lay the foundations for a tolerant liberal culture in Slovenia, at a time when Serbia was sinking ever deeper into a thoroughly nationalist culture.

The first free elections were held in April 1990. In these elections, the two biggest vote-getters were the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS), which had developed out of the former youth organization, and the Party of Democratic Renewal, the former League of Communists of Slovenia. These parties did not come to power, however, because seven non-communist parties had formed a coalition called "Demos" which, collectively, outpolled any of their rivals. But Demos was riddled with internal controversies and by the beginning of 1992, the coalition had been formally dissolved. Subsequently, Lojze Peterle, the Christian Democratic Prime Minister whose tenure in office had been rocked by controversies over privatization, abortion, religious instruction in public schools, and supervision of the media, was ousted by a coalition of parties in mid-April 1992. Janez Drnovsek, the former member of the Yugoslav collective presidency and the new head of the LDS, was now entrusted with the Prime Minister post. Except for a few months in 2000, Drnovsek has served as Prime Minister ever since.

Democratization.

Post-communist Slovenia's one serious internal disagreement concerning the rules of the game had to do with a dispute between those favoring the adoption of a majority-vote system, led by Social Democratic Party (SDS) president Janez Jansa, and those favoring the retention in some form of a system of proportional representation, led by Janez Drnovsek and vociferously seconded by the Slovene National Party (SNS) president Zmago Jelincic. The dispute began in early 1996, months before the elections scheduled for later that year, when Jansa's Social Democratic Party proposed that the system of proportional representation being used be replaced with a two-round majority system modeled on the French example. It was generally understood that the majority system would wipe out the smaller parties, leaving only two, clearly-defined blocs: a progressive, center-left bloc and a traditionalist, center-right bloc. Since there was insufficient support for this change within the Assembly (by now, a 90-seat body), Jansa pressed for a popular referendum on the question.

After various skirmishes and delays, a referendum on amending the electoral law was put before voters on December 8, 1996, a month after the elections had been held. What followed was confusing to all concerned. Voters had been offered three alternatives, and only 44 percent favored the two-round majority system proposed by Jansa's SDS; 26 percent supported an amended proportional system as proposed by a group of 35 Assembly deputies; and 14 per cent voted for a mixed electoral system, an alternative drafted by the State Council (Slovenia's largely advisory upper house). Since none of the three alternatives had garnered more than 50 per cent of the vote, it was generally understood that all three alternatives had failed and that the system should remain as it was.

Nearly two years later, however - on October 8, 1998 - the Constitutional Court reviewed the vote and concluded that since the SDS proposal had attracted more "yes" votes than "no" votes, while the other two proposals had attracted a greater number of rejections than approvals, the majority system had won.

With the Assembly still deeply divided on this issue, however, the cause of election reform quickly became bogged down, and by Spring 2000, opponents of the majority system were talking of amending the constitution in order to provide a constitutional anchor for the proportional representation system. Ironically, the issue came to a head during the brief government of Andrej Bajuk (April-November 2000), when the SLS-SKD Slovene People's Party (formed in Spring 2000 through the merger of Marjan Podobnik's SLS and Lojze Peterle's Slovenian Christian Democrats (SKD)) abandoned its center-right coalition partners and voted with the left to reject the majority model and amend the constitution to provide for the election of the National Assembly by a system of proportional representation, with a 4 percent threshold. As stormy as the fight over the majority model versus proportional representation had been, its conclusion brought new clarity to the system and potentially settled the issue with sufficient finality to enable the system to move forward.

Rule of law.

Slovenia has been ranked among the least corrupt countries in the world. Despite this positive outlook, the country has had its share of problems. In the first decade of independence, one of the two "noisiest" scandals related to the participation of certain high-ranking Slovenian officials in arms smuggling to Bosnian Muslim forces during the Serbian Insurrectionary War. The other major scandal related to the inappropriate allocation of certain funds by SLS chairman Marjan Podobnik, as revealed in September 1999. The smuggling scandal led to Jansa's dismissal from the post of Minister of Defense in April 1994, while a series of scandals touching Marjan Podobnik led to his eventual ouster as leader of the SLS.

These and other cases and accusations aside, according to the U.S. Department of State's 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Slovenia's record in terms of rule of law has been exemplary. Noting that the government has respected the independence of the judiciary, the report goes on to say that " the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and the judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse."

Tolerance / intolerance.

Without tolerance, the liberal project withers and dies. Without tolerance, there is no such thing as civilized society. And yet, intolerance continues to reassert itself in societies which profess to be civilized. An opinion poll conducted among Slovenian secondary school students in 1993 found that almost half of the respondents thought that an ethnically homogeneous Slovenia would be "ideal," 60.8 percent felt that the Slovenian state was too lax in extending Slovenian citizenship to aliens, and 39.3 percent felt that if the state did not protect Slovenes adequately from non-Slovenes, Slovenes should take matters into their own hands. Asked to identify which categories of people they would want to avoid any and all contact, two thirds of young Slovenes polled mentioned gays and lesbians a larger figure than for Serbs (62 percent) or Roma (60.1 percent).

Education and values.

In the educational sphere, battle lines have been drawn between the Roman Catholic Church and its political advocates, who favor Catholic influence in education and in state policies (the Christian Democrats, the People's Party, and the Social Democrats) and those who champion a secular state (above all, the LDS and the former Communist Associated List or ZLDS). At the center of the battle has been the insistence on the part of Archbishop Franc Rode, who assumed the archepiscopal office on April 6, 1997, that Catholic religious instruction be incorporated into the curriculum of state elementary schools as an optional subject. In order to secure this prize, the Church pressed for an agreement to be negotiated between the Holy See and the Republic of Slovenia. Eventually, the Slovenian government agreed to negotiations, and the two sides appointed their negotiating teams. On November 11, 1999, the Slovenian government accepted the text of the agreement drawn up by the negotiating teams as the basis for discussion, and presumably ratification, in the State Assembly (Drzavni Zbor). In Article 2 the government recognized the "legal character" of the Roman Catholic Church, while Article 10 guaranteed the Church's right to establish and operate educational facilities, and declared that other questions pertaining to education would be handled via mutual consultation between authorized representatives of Church and state.

It did not take long for controversy to flare. In the forefront was Mateuz Krivic, a former justice of the Constitutional Court, who protested that Article 10 opened the door for the Church to meddle in the Slovenian educational system. Under pressure from various quarters, the Holy See agreed to a revision of Article 10, but a disputed section of Article 2, which stipulated, as Dnevnik (10 March 2000) reported, that the Republic of Slovenia and the Holy See " are obligated to endeavor to resolve open questions which are not included in the agreement," remained intact.

Addressing an audience in Maribor, Archbishop Rode stated that, quite apart from the exclusion of religious instruction from the schools, the textbooks currently in use for other subjects were "atheistic" and needed to be replaced. Shortly thereafter, Rode declared that his Church would never accept secular education. In response, Tomaz Mastnak, the noted Slovenian sociologist, observed that the destruction of secular schooling would be tantamount to the destruction of the secular state, which is to say, of the liberal project itself.

Controversies over the past.

Andrej Bajuk came to the prime ministership not as a result of an election, but as a result of coalition shifts within the parliament. The center-right coalition which put him in power left office seven months later as a result of an electoral defeat. One of the factors which contributed to the resounding defeat of the center-right coalition was the participation of several leading members of the coalition in a ceremony in June 2000, honoring those who had collaborated with the Nazis during WW II and rejecting as "absurd" the Partisan resistance against Axis occupation. Among those attending the ceremony, where the anthems of the collaborationist Home Guards was sung, were (reportedly) Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk, Assembly Speaker Janez Podobnik, Defense Minister Janez Jansa, Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle, and Archbishop Franc Rode. The event sent shock waves through Slovenian society. President Milan Kucan sent a letter to Prime Minister Bajuk subsequently, asking him to explain his views on the importance of AVNOJ and its decisions regarding Slovene statehood, and indicating that he was undertaking unspecified international initiatives presumably to undo the damage done to Slovenia's reputation in European circles. Yet the mere fact that the prime minister and other notables could consider it appropriate to honor fascist collaborators calls into question the ability of the right wing of the Slovenian political spectrum to comprehend even the minimal preconditions of liberal democracy.

The future of Slovenian politics.

On October 15, 2000, Slovenes went to the polls for the third time since independence and handed the left-of-center Liberal Democrats their largest victory ever. Capturing 36.2 percent of the vote, the LDS won 34 seats in the Assembly; its most natural ally, the ZLDS, took 12.2 percent of the vote, or 11 seats. Together with their frequent partner, the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), which won 5.1 percent of the vote, or four seats, the left could control 49 of the 90 seats in the Assembly. However, Drnovsek wanted to put together a "grand coalition." Drnovsek and Jansa had ruled out any coalitions with each other in advance, and speculation centered on the SLS+SKD Party, which had been straddling the barricades. Finally, on November 10, after nearly a month of negotiations, the LDS reached an agreement with the ZLDS, DeSUS, and Franc Zagozen's SLS-SKD and announced a four-party center-left coalition. The coalition controls 58 of the Assembly's 90 seats.

Sabrina Ramet is Professor of International Studies at the University of Washington, WA and a Wilson Center Fellow. Meeting Report #227.

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