Will Borut Pahor tear down statue of General Maister?

Foto: STA

The decision of the supreme commander of the Slovenian army, Borut Pahor, to be the main speaker (but not an honorary patron) at the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the territorial defence in former socialist Yugoslavia is improper. Pahor is renowned for his breadth – he is capable of paying tribute to those slain in the Huda Jama cave and on the same day, if necessary, attending a commemoration of slain partisans. This is not bad for the country. But as the supreme commander of the army, he is acting wrongly in this case.

 It is less wrong than the action of Danilo Türk when he decorated the former leader of the secret political police Tomaž Ertl for supposedly helping the socialist government prevent Serbs from holding a rally in Ljubljana. But Pahor’s symbolic gesture is similar to Türk’s. It glorifies the former totalitarian socialist state. And the problem is that this disparages Slovenia, the state he leads as president of the republic. The explanation that the president is trying to connect all citizens and to unite, and that he is aware of all pitfalls, does not convince me in this case.

The experience of Slovenians with the army and warfare did not begin with the territorial defence fifty years ago, though they are trying to convince people here and there that this is the case. There is a statue of Rudolf Maister in front of the Slovenian Ministry of Defence. At the end of the first world war, Major Maister, as an officer of the Habsburg army, proclaimed Maribor part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and took command over Styria. He urged Slovenian soldiers and officers to join him. And they did. Later he defeated the emerging German guard with the men that he mostly mobilised from the Slovene Hills and took over the entire region. This was the first Slovenian army. Of course, it had emerged from the Austro-Hungarian army. There had been nothing that resembled a Slovenian state until then.

The fact that Maister had previously been an officer of the Austro-Hungarian army, and that his soldiers had also belonged to this army, has so far not been a reason for Slovenia to honour the Habsburg monarchy and its army for enabling the military training of Slovenian men and officers, which enabled Maister to resist and gave Slovenia its first army. Pahor has not attended any ceremony of this monarchic army and its territorial divisions.

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That is exactly what the president of the republic, Pahor, has done – as a commander of the Slovenian army, he was a keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary of the territorial defence of former Yugoslavia. I myself had been a soldier in the Yugoslav army and later the territorial defence. The territorial defence was a reserve force of the Yugoslav army. It was territorially organised, while the Yugoslav army was completely unitary. In the regular Yugoslav army, we were not even allowed to use our own language for commanding. Things had regressed dramatically since Maister’s times. The complete subordination of the territorial defence manifested itself when, after Demos and Lojze Peterle’s government had seized power, members of the territorial guard simply surrendered their weapons to the Yugoslav army because the leaders in Belgrade had ordered it to ensure that the democratically elected government, which was led by Lojze Peterle, would have less power than the unelected heads of the League of Communists, who led the federal state and had until then led the republics.

Ordinary soldiers were not to blame for this surrendering of weapons. Officers were obedient to the authorities in Belgrade and this was the arrangement. Few resisted. The Slovenian army grew out of those who did. Like Maister had done. They at least partially prevented the surrendering of weapons, and later, with the help of Peterle’s government, purchased new ones, which became crucial for Slovenian independence when the Yugoslav army triggered a military conflict and tanks arrived at border crossings and in streets, when there was shooting all over the country and planes rushed across the sky.

Why does the Slovenian president proclaim the importance of Austria-Hungary and devalue Maister’s service?
The Slovenian state did not emerge from the tradition of the Yugoslav army and its territorial defence. Just as Maister did not resist because he was a trained member of the Austrian home guard. I can understand that various veterans gather and that the government funds their diverse gatherings and celebrations. I also understand Dejan Židan attending them as president of the Social Democrats. That is the type of party he is in. We would not see Matej Tonin there if he was still the president of the national assembly. “No, you wouldn’t,” said Tonin when I inquired about this.

What I do not understand is why the president of the republic would symbolically proclaim the importance of the Austro-Hungarian army and denigrate the statue and service of General Maister. It is not proper to those who – like Maister once – dared to do more and thus contributed to the emergence of the country whose president is Borut Pahor.

Peter Jančič, Spletni časopis