A conversation that every Slovenian should listen to: Why we are a traumatized society and how to bring the Slovenian nation from division to unity!

Historian and journalist Jože Možina, Ph.D.

“Knowing about history, especially the most traumatic parts of it is one of the tools, perhaps even one of the essential tools, for dealing with the present and the future, not the past.” According to the historian Jože Možina, civilization begins by burying the dead, as the civilization itself began when man first buried the dead. And the systems that trampled this value were only the Nazism and Communism. “And this is not a matter in which you can just say “let the past be the past,” because the energy of the unburied corpses remains. We know that man also has a spiritual side to himself. And this is not such a difficult matter; we just have to be open and smart enough.”

In a conversation entitled »Slovenian division and how to achieve Slovenian unity,« a moderator, known as »the back mechanic,« or the teacher of stretching exercises, Jure Gubanc, asked the renowned historian and journalist Jože Možina a few questions. In their conversation, they talked a bit about Možina’s book, called The Slovenian Divide (Slovenski razkol), and most importantly, they both wanted to draw a conclusion on how to unite the divided Slovenian nation again. Možina initially presented his personal story and how he became interested in history, saying that not everything was planned. He studied history and sociology of culture. He has been interested in history since childhood, especially the more recent history, as many people suffered and experienced severe hardships and were persecuted during this time. At the end of primary school already, he had read some of the forbidden books that came to Slovenia from abroad. This was a completely different interpretation of what he was being taught in school, even though their teachers and professors were not some extremists. He later became active in student politics. On one occasion, he and his colleague happened to attend a press audition, and that is how it all started.

In addition to history, he was also interested in the processing of stone and wood, as well as was archaeology, and in the field of history, he has always been interested in antiquity. He found it important to know how people once lived. Gradually, however, his focus shifted on recent history, as space opened up in this area for research that was not being conducted. “And then, some young people tackled these things, in a more or less successful way. For me, it began on television.” According to him, it spontaneously happened that in 2001 and 2004, he made some documentaries about this topic. At the same time, nowadays, he is following what he thinks is right. He finds it paradoxical that sometimes we know more about the events from antiquity than we do about what happened much closer in time, about the history that our grandparents survived. Možina says: “If we talk about World War II in Slovenia, the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia hold around 6 million documents. This is not to say that they are all interesting and relevant, but it is a big number. We must be aware of the fact that the partisan movement operated illegally in the forests, but from the very beginning, they produced documents and reports.”

In certain points, we have even made progress in the investigating of the post-war crimes
“And this is still preserved. Sometimes it is just the fragments. These are very important resources, because the structure, following the Soviet regime, was very bureaucratic.” Prominent officials destroyed these documents in the post-war period, as the documents would significantly damage the reputation of individual members of the movement, or its entirety. “In short, everything related to the violence, the post-war massacres, was basically cleared up.” This is also what some workers employed in the UDBA archives said. However, something remained. According to Gubanc, Slovenians consider themselves a kind of cultural phenomenon, as our situation is somewhat unique, and only in our country is there such hatred between the left and the right, and above all, so much fighting about the recent history, to which Možina replies: »Of course they are fighting, but it is not so bad, even in America, they fight because of the American Civil War. Even the French Revolution caused some deep wounds, and the same goes for the events of the Spanish Civil War, closer to our time, in the 1930s. In certain points, we have even made progress in investigating the post-war crimes, both in terms of interpretation and in terms of exhumation and burial of the victims,” Možina believes.

However, according to Možina, we still have a really big problem, as, according to some estimates, around 100,000 members of various foreign nationalities have been killed in Slovenia, who, together with about 18,000 Slovenian victims, are buried in more than 770 locations, which is a big problem. The problem is that some people only talk about the “war” in which crimes happen, but it is not that simple. He mentioned the French example of communist guerrillas or the resistance carrying out 10,000 murders and killing people out of court. This had happened during an era of anarchy when the new French state had not yet been established, but immediately after its establishment, trials were carried out against those who killed out of court. There were no major massacres in Yugoslavia and Slovenia during this period of anarchy, but when the regime was established at the end of May 1945, the state organized post-war massacres of both actual and potential opponents, “for which it even fought with The British, got them back from Koroška, and killed most of them.”

All these regimes – Nazism, fascism, and communism, played the card of a certain opponent
Možina goes on to say that after that, the regimes relied on trying to divide the living and the dead until 1990 and, in a sense, even to this day. “Because it’s profitable, because all these regimes – Nazism, fascism and communism – have been playing the card of an opponent.” That is why in Yugoslavia, this internal and external enemy was constantly being presented, to “connect” the people with each other. The enemy was being generated even when it was not there at all, thus creating a state of constant tension. The majority, the tormented part of the population, suffered the most, but even the leadership was like a “pack of wolves.” Even among the leaders, both during and after the war, there was a fear of who would get whom. When Gubanc asked Možina if now that certain things have come to light, this divide is growing even bigger, Možina answers that this is a very complex question. He wants to know how we, Slovenians, had slipped into such a big internal conflict. The division was visible in the Slovenian society even before the war, but not in such a militant way of killing and violence.

After the era of unity, during which the Slovenian national element was being established against the German element, separation to the clerical and the liberal camp happened at the end of the 19th century, when there were serious ideological conflicts, but still, these people had a similar attitude towards being Slovenian, and the differences remained somewhere at the level of academic debate. In the 1030s, there was another division in spirit. “Some would like to say that, for example, Mahnič was to blame for the post-war massacres, which is nonsense,” said Možina, who says that these things are concretely proven in his book. In the nine months since the book has first been published, it has not received any argumentative criticism, and no errors have been found. In the 1930s, the people talked down to each other and called each other names, and it was pretty severe. “The Communists were, of course, illegal, as they were the party that wanted to kill the king and assassinated the minister. But all of this remained at the level of some serious propaganda. After the occupation, when the traditional party, which had more members, was stronger, and which had power and then lost that power, had organized itself and fought against the occupier, came into contact with the Yugoslav refugee government in London, the latter being part of the anti-Hitler coalition and advocated a waiting tactic.”

Through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Slovenian communists collaborated with the Nazis and even celebrated May 1st with them
“This was The Czech Republic’s experience – they knew that it makes no sense to resist the occupier in a way which would result in the occupier shooting hostages and burning villages, because there are very few of us, Slovenians, and we have to make sure enough of us are “left,” because the war will not be decided in our yard, but on the world fronts.” Because of such thinking, they organized themselves, the Slovenian Legion was formed, and so on. In the Legion, the members also received military training and were willing to wait. “And at that moment, the Communist Party was passive,” says Možina. According to him, from August 1939 onwards, when Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin reached an agreement (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and divided Poland, the “Soviets were the direct culprits for giving Hitler a basis for his war on Poland that led to World War II.” The Russians then occupied the Baltic states. So, in a sense, both Hitler and Stalin started World War II. Thus, in our country, the Communists were the allies of Nazi Germany. Some Slovenian communists were not pleased with this position, while others even celebrated May 1st together with the Nazis. Angela Vode, who was a recognized communist at first, still remembers how she was thrown out of the party because she was against Hitler.

“At that time, the Communist Party was not interested in the liberation of the nation after April 6th. Everything changed on June 21st, 1941, when another country, the Soviet Union, was attacked, and then on the same day, they declared a revolt against the occupying forces, because the Comintern had ordered it.” Therefore, this happened not when the homeland was attacked, but when the ideological homeland was attacked. Možina believes that the Communists were very cunning and accustomed to illegal work, and they first established the Anti-Imperialist Front. “We can forget about April 26th, 1941, because nothing significant happened on that day. There was a meeting of the Society of Friends of the Soviet Union, and according to the historical sources, it bore no consequence,” Možina also believes. The aforementioned front was also directed against the Western Allies, and this was discussed. After the attack on the Soviet Union, however, the initiative was renamed – it became the Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation, and it attracted some other apostate groups from other political poles. “And they attracted them with this patriotic gesture of liberation.” According to Možina, at that time, people were much more patriotic. “When Yugoslavia was invaded, thousands of volunteers came forward,” explains the renowned historian.

The State Security Service (VOS) was a terrorist organization that fought against domestic, both real and imaginary enemies
Immediately after the establishment of the Anti-Imperialist Front, however, the Communists established the State Security Service (Varnostno-obveščevalna služba – VOS), without the knowledge of the Christian Socialists and the left-wing Falcons. The VOS was essentially an executive, terrorist organization, made up of young people who were trained in killing, and it did not target the occupier, but mostly the local civilians. “And the first victims were the immigrants of the Primorska (coastal) region, my compatriots. To this day, it is still not clear to us why.” They also killed families with small children. The name of the partisan Frante also appears. At the same time, VOS tried to kill all the commanders of the Slovenian Legion, who could compete with them. “It was not in their interest to unite in the fight against the occupier, rather, in September 1941, they declared themselves as the only ones who could resist the occupier and labeled everyone else national traitors. And here, the division is perfectly clear. They were a minority group, they did not represent the majority of the Slovenian nation, but they still decided on such a drastic measure. Why was it successful? General historical conditions have been set at the European level. However, to a large extent, they succeeded, at least partially, because they were extremely aggressive.”

However, the then-government took a more passive approach, as it had no experience with such situations. And when the then-dominant Catholic and liberal politics, which at least before the war, and also later, had considerable support, clashed with this communist minority, great problems arose because the former were not used to killing, while the members of the communist minority were. “And herein lies the key to understanding the situation,” the renowned journalist said. Gubanc wanted to know how this came to be, as Slovenians were a nation, mostly made up of farmers and a handful of intellectuals, unaccustomed to military systems, and where did the people who managed to take power in such cold blood, and even with such small numbers, come from, to which Možina replied: “I found an archive which has been buried for 45 years, where documents from all three sides are collected: traditional, communist and liberal, including a correspondence between Zdenka Kidrič and Edvard Kardelj, in which he gives orders on who should be killed and how. These are really fascinating matters which help us understand the situation at the time. Yes, you were right, they were Spanish fighters. Because if a person is not used to violence and killing, it is not so easy to move from a position of normalcy, even casualness.”

 Members of VOS were young people, under the age of 30, who were indoctrinated to the extreme
Možina also spoke about the case of a member of VOS, who said that it was necessary to prepare for the killing, but if someone was convinced that the other person was the traitor, the problem became smaller. “And the people who did it were basically wrecks.” Regarding the members of VOS, even Kidrič said that they should not send these gangsters to them, because they were only causing them harm. What they were doing was also disturbing for the partisan movement, which had a somewhat more normal structure. The members of VOS were young people under the age of 30, who were indoctrinated to the extreme; there were even some former falcons among them. In retaliation for those killed by VOS, the occupier began shooting the hostages. “Something else is obvious here – the occupier then started shooting hostages for those killed, and the communists had their own people inside the Italian military structure, that decided who the hostages would be, they usually decided to sacrifice the women, so the hostages who were very important to them, were spared. Except in cases where this was not in their best interest. Thus, one of the leading Christian Socialists, who was less naive than Edvard Kocbek, more principled, a lawyer, Aleš Stanovnik, was sacrificed in this way – he was captured and then killed as the leader of the traditional side. And Aleš Stanovnik then elegantly fell as the hostage. There are many such cases.”

Možina also said that the Slovenian communists were blind followers of the Comintern; what the Comintern said was sacred to them. “The relationship was more disciplined than that of the Slovenian Church to the Vatican.” He also mentioned the case of the head of The Department for People’s Protection (Oddelek za zaščito naroda – OZNA) and the organizer of the post-war massacres – Ivan Maček Matija, who once said on television that a friend asked him why he did not tell everyone what the situation was really like in the Soviet Union, where he was studying in the thirties and was shocked by poverty, terror, fear and deprivation, and everything was different from what he was taught about the ideal of the Soviet Union, to which he replied that “if I told you and the others, then you would be on the opposite side, you would not have been a communist, you would have been against me.” This whole ideal of the Soviet Union and Bolshevism was based on a lie, on an absolute lie, Možina is convinced. Those who were not in the Soviet Union, however, blindly believed their leaders. When France was Beaten, and Great Britain was being attacked, the Communists even said that it was the British and the French who provoked the war in order to destroy the Soviet Union. The communists actually succeeded in our country, but only because of the perverse fact that Hitler betrayed Stalin.

The communists’ goal was a bloody transformation of the Slovenian nation
Gubanc also wanted to know whether the circumstances in pre-war Yugoslavia really led people to believe the extremist revolutionary views that it is good to kill, in order to achieve a false ideal, to which the journalist replied: “In a sense, this is a mystery, but here is something diabolical here, the ultimate goal was not a democratic Yugoslavia, but a Bolshevik republic, the kind they saw and experienced in the Soviet Union: dictatorship, violence, destruction of the peasant, destruction of the bourgeoisie, destruction of tradition and the building of a new man. Their goal was the transformation of the Slovenian nation.” Možina also says that the communists hated the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and forged a plan to break up Yugoslavia as such for years, especially with the help of assassinations of the minister and the king, which is why the party was banned. “Of course, Yugoslavia was not an ideal country, but it is important to know that Slovenians experienced a very severe cataclysm after the First World War. The war was fierce, but then the dismemberment took place. Prior to that, except for Venice, which was lost in the eighteen-sixties, after the plebiscite, Slovenian territory, together with Porabje, Koroška and Primorska, was essentially in one country. At the time, that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”

After World War I, Slovenia lost Primorje and Koroška, leaving only the central part of Kranjska with Dolenjska and Bela krajina, Štajerska and Prekmurje. “We have lost more than a third of the population.” It was such a gruelling thing that they hardly recovered. In the second half of the thirties, however, a period of economic prosperity began. At that time, according to Možina, Slovenians came very close to a Western European standard. He took the years 1938 and 1939 as an example, when the Drava banovina reached a good 80 percent of the Austrian standard. “After experiencing this communist experiment, which some still celebrate today, we fell to 20 percent, even though Austria and Germany were destroyed during World War II. This regime hurt the nation so badly, not only during and after the war, when it killed, but also when it destroyed economic substances.” The knowledge that has been accumulated over the centuries, including crafts, entrepreneurship, factory knowledge and agriculture, has been destroyed. Factories were nationalized, crafts were suppressed, farmers were destroyed, and the state fell into complete deprivation. By the early 1950s, bread was being bought with cards, not in free sale. Poverty was everywhere, but the members of the regime had special shops where products from the West could be bought. And because Soviet cars were not of interest to the elite, UDBA stole them in the Goriška region and in Trieste and smuggled them across the border.

To Slovenians, inhabitants of the Central European space, the bloodthirsty communist guerrillas were a severe civilization shock
Slovenian communists even forced the Sisters of Mercy to leave the hospitals where they worked for free, but luckily, other Yugoslav republics gladly accepted them. However, Lidija Šentjurc, who participated in the expropriations as part of the post-war government, asked if one of them could take care of her sick mother. At the time, we had a kind of Central-European, Christian civilization system, where life was important, even though there were many problems and deviations. But all of that changed when the communist guerrilla came in the interwar period, which was a severe civilization shock for the people. At the same time, people realized that the communist regime was killing people for no reason. At this point, Možina and Gubanc returned to the Czech regime, which chose the “peaceful path” during the war, and where people got through it quite well because they did not sacrifice civilians, as oppose to what Josip Broz Tito was willing to do, who was connected with the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and demanded a post-war takeover in exchange for help. The Czechs also did not have similar guerrilla movements to those in our country, which would have provoked the occupying forces. In our country, however, there were many cases where the partisans killed a soldier of the occupying forces, and then the occupier set fire to the nearest village as revenge. They even deliberately caused these provocations in order to destroy the villages that were anti-partisan or did not want to supply the partisans.

There is also the anti-communist and Italian violence. The Italian government was by no means less cruel than the German government. They began shooting hostages as early as April 1942, but the Communists did not detain a single high-ranking Italian general for a trial, when the Italian army began to withdraw to Italy in 1943, even though they were ruthless to the Slovenian men who stood up against the partisan violence. Matija Maček also wrote about this. After the war, due to serious crimes, the Yugoslav authorities demanded the extradition of some high-ranking Italian military officials, who prepared defence speeches on how they saw the situation in the former Yugoslavia and Slovenia, in which they apologized and spoke out against communist violence. In the end, no extraditions actually happened, because the communist authorities, both Yugoslav and Slovenian, staged purges and crimes after the occupation of Trieste and Gorizia, in the same way as in our country, for example, in Kočevski Rog, Huda jama, and elsewhere. At the time, Kardelj issued an order for “cleansing,” but this did not take place at the national level, but at the class level. “Certainly, there were some policemen, some soldiers who harmed the Slovenians, but they were not tried. They were simply captured and killed, as well as the Slovenians for whom they thought were on the opposite side. The principle was classist or ideological, not national. The victims were not only Italians, but also Slovenians, or those who think differently,” Možina believes.

We also lost Trieste and Gorizia because of the revolutionary violence in that area
A total of around 1,600 people were allegedly killed in the Goriška region and in Trieste by the then-Yugoslav authorities, before the Allies expelled the partisans for partisan crimes, among other things. Možina also touched on the cruel German crimes against the Slovenian population, as well as the Croatian nation, which has largely fallen under the vicious Ustasha ideology that was hostile towards the Serbs, Roma, Jews, and Slovenians. Around 800 Slovenians were killed by the Independent State of Croatia (Neodvisna država Hrvaška – NDH), among them, even 12 priests and nuns. “At that time, we were being attacked by three armies: Hungarian, German, and Italian, and four countries occupied us. The belt near Mokrice, six villages, was also occupied by Croats, who carried out denationalisation there, which is not known.” Možina also spoke about the fact that he does not know about the Home Guard being anti-Semitic and persecuting Jews, but it is well-known that the church structures, including Bishop Rožman, were saving many Jews from Croatia. Further, Možina also spoke about the Rupnik trial, about the false convictions of Bishop Rožman, about the Home Guard oath, about the fact that the village guards had connections with the refugee government in London and were waiting for a favourable moment to revolt against the occupier, which is why the occupier did not trust them. “The basic intention of the Home Guard boys was not for Germany to win, but for a free Slovenian state to be here.”

“They even dreamt of an independent Slovenian state, including Lambert Erlich, who was later convicted of collaborating.” That is also the reason why the German idea to link these people to themselves with an oath came to life. According to some explanations, this was an oath to Hitler, while according to others, it was not, but in legal language, it is an “oath under duress.” And because it wasn’t voluntary, its validity is certainly smaller, and the whole story is symbolic anyway. “I don’t know of any Slovenians who would have been killed because of the oath itself, but it has greatly compromised the Home Guard movement, especially in the eyes of the Allies. The latter could not understand this, they could not forgive, and it was very harmful, and the Germans achieved their purpose, and at the same time, the communist leadership had a very strong argument.” Some of the Home Guards were specially trained to fight against the Germans. However, this was a tragic story of boys who found themselves on the side, through no fault of their own, which was considered to be the wrong side after the war. The situation was completely different than it is today when the information is in the palm of your hand. Simplification and condemnation of one side or the other is often also the result of ignorance, which was already present even then, when someone was making a decision. People were caught between the violence of the occupying forces, on the one hand, and partisan violence on the other.

There was no economic miracle in Yugoslavia: they lived at the expense of the West, which gave more aid to Yugoslavia than to the whole of Africa
The interlocutors also touched on the controversy regarding Tito and the naming of streets after him or attempts to rename them, the most recent one happening in Radenci, to which Možina says: “I look at Tito as a historical figure, and as a historian, I do not want to comment on him in this way, so radically. But according to his formation and the totalitarian stance he practiced during and after the war, he belongs to this series which was started by Lenin, followed by Mussolini, Stalin, then Hitler, then there are the Chinese “artists,” and those from Cambodia, and somewhere among them was Tito. Look, this was not the usual power struggle, it was a systematic, bloody revolution, the killing political opponents, even after the war. In Slovenia alone, one hundred thousand; one hundred and twenty thousand people were killed. And to then talk about him having a nice funeral or a nice boat… Hitler did not have a nice funeral, but he did build good highways. Mussolini, on the other hand, economically raised the nation that had previously plunged into an economic crisis and turned them into fanatics with a superiority complex.”

Možina also destroys the story of Tito’s success, who found himself in a slightly better situation precisely because of his proximity to the West, which was not to his credit. He was quite arbitrary, and he intervened in the war in Greece, but Stalin reached an agreement with the Western Allies and they divided the world and Europe, and because Tito continued to meddle, Stalin expelled him. “Tito did not resist Stalin; Stalin simply ignored him.” Tito, on the other hand, reacted to Stalin’s gesture by trying to win him over, and Yugoslavia, following the Soviet model, aggravated the situation, as the Soviets accused it of moving away from communism. At that time, the police terror began, and Goli Otok was also established. Tito was especially fortunate that Yugoslavia had its position near the west. Then the NATO pact saw a great opportunity in separating Yugoslavia from the Soviet bloc. At that time, Yugoslavia received a huge amount of modern military weapons from the West and a large financial injection. The Russians did not dare to carry out the invasion because Yugoslavia had already begun to collaborate with the West, but this surely forced certain democratization, and Allied aid alleviated the famine. “There was no economic miracle in Yugoslavia. They lived at the expense of the West. During this time, the West gave more aid to Yugoslavia than to the whole of Africa. And we lived at their expense.” Towards the end of Yugoslavia, everything that had been swept under the rug came to light, and astronomical inflation was accompanied by a moral collapse.

Kardelj and Kidrič are responsible for the Slovenian nation being so thoroughly divided, and they are also responsible for not primarily attacking the occupying forces within the occupation, but rather, the opposing camp
“The story of the Yugoslav miracle makes no sense, and dictators must be recognized as being dictators.” Možina agrees that an influential person, because of his power alone, also makes mistakes that affect many, but it is necessary to distinguish, for example, between Churchill, who was democratically elected, and those who were not. We have two large monuments in Ljubljana, dedicated to Kidrič and Kardelj. “These are the people who are responsible for the fact that the Slovenian nation was so thoroughly divided, and that within the occupation, they did not primarily attack the occupier, but the opposing camp, which did not expect an attack, because it was passive and was trying to think of ways to resist the occupying forces.” According to Možina, it is completely absurd to have a statue of Kardelj on the current Republic Square. Kardelj also wrote to Zdenka Kidrič: “In my opinion, the kind of war that is already semi-civil and in which prisoners exist neither as a concept nor as a fact, is now beginning, that is, when everything that comes under the knife is slaughtered.” Fourteen days later, he told her: “Liquidate in rounds, this is a series of liquidations one after the other.

Then take a longer break and wait for the most favourable political moment. Always keep the latter in mind. Panic and fear, demoralization, must be sown among them.” “Look, such people do not deserve monuments anywhere, be they right or left,” the historian said. In conclusion, Možina adds: “I see that our nation is traumatized precisely because of the situation in World War II, which was never discussed and treated. It is not just that this happened, but that it was disguised, silenced, suppressed, and that the regime generated this divide because it continued to feed and sustain itself in this way. Epigenetics tells us that the traumas of our ancestors are absorbed into the gene, not only into behavioural patterns, they also come into the DNA. You inherit the trauma of your grandfather, your great-grandfather from World War I. These things are already being observed and researched in Holocaust victims. And this is an essential explanation for the damage to the Slovene nation, which explains why we fight with each other so quickly over small things, and why militant language is used very quickly, which is extremely dangerous.” Even in the case of the divide, it began with language and ended with violence, and this book, according to Možina, is protection, proving that this should absolutely no longer be allowed.

»Knowing about history, especially the most traumatic parts of it is one of the tools, perhaps even one of the essential tools, for dealing with the present and the future, not the past.« According to Možina, civilization begins by burying the dead, as the civilization itself began when man first buried the dead. And the systems that trampled this value were only the Nazism and Communism. “And this is not a matter in which you can just say “let the past be the past,” because the energy of the unburied corpses remains. We know that man also has a spiritual side to himself. And this is not such a difficult matter; we just have to be open and smart enough.” He also remembered the conciliatory speeches of Janez Janša and Borut Pahor in Kočevski Rog, which in the final phase led to the importance of Slovenian independence. Slovenians are also the only or one of the few nations that, with a large majority, confirmed their desire for independence in a referendum and carried it out six months later. “We have a serious drive for a national consciousness right at this point. We do not deal with the past in a way where it would be a predominant theme. However, it is a parallel topic that would not burden us if we dealt with it in a professional and also empathetic way.” Gubanc also expressed his wish for Možina to be able to write a book entitled “Slovenian Reconciliation” one day.

Domen Mezeg