Photo by Jean-Guy Nakars on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish:

El nacionalismo de Torra y Milosevic, lo único que une a Cataluña y Eslovenia”. Ana Alonso. El Independiente.

10th December 2018

“The only thing that binds Catalonia and Slovenia together is the essentialist nationalism of Torra and of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic”, says Ruth Ferrero-Turrión, professor of Political Sciences in the University Carlos III. With this scholar on the Balkans we explore the differences between Catalonia and Slovenia:

1.- History. Slovenia was one of the federal republics of Yugoslavia. With barely 2 million of residents, its size is equivalent to two thirds of Catalonia, with 7,5 million of residents. It was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and borders with Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It belonged to the Kingdom of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians in the beginning of the 20th century. It endured the Nazi occupation and Italian Fascists in World War II. After the Axis was defeated, Slovenia became part of the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Catalonia is an autonomous region, regarded as “historical nationality” within the Spanish state. An established democracy, whose Constitution has just turned 40 years old, Spain is member of the European Union since June of 1985.

2.- International context. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 changes the Europe shaped after World War II. As the Soviet Union collapses, the new map of Europe starts to set up itself. The united Germany is born in 1990. However, Tito’s Yugoslavia can not resist the nationalist tensions and begins to split itself.   

The European Union is currently undergoing the rise of populist nationalism. First, they succeeded at getting the British to vote for Brexit, lacking of tools to enforce this decision; then they began to take positions in the governments of Austria, Hungary, Italy, Belgium (where they have just left the Cabinet because of the migration issue), among others. In Spain, Catalan nationalism, according many experts, has fuelled the success of a far-right party, Vox.

3.- Right to self-determination. The Yugoslavian Constitution of 1974 recognized the right to self-determination for the Federal Republics, that is, Slovenia could hold a legal referendum. Catalonia can not. It was the Serbian ultranationalist Slobodan Milosevic who opposed to Slovenians holding a vote in December of 1990.

4.- Yugoslavia was not a democratic state. Yugoslavia was a one-party non-democratic republic of republics. It had nothing to do with current Spain. “The Yugoslavian state was not democratic —it was a one-party people’s republic. The leadership role has a large influence. Until Tito’s death, he kept all republics satisfied. But when the nationalist leaders rose to power and the Wall falls, the most industrialized republics, such as Croatia and Slovenia, wanted to have access to European Union”, says Ruth Ferrero-Turrión.

5.- Legal referendum, with massive turnout and approval. The first democratic election in the former Yugoslavian republic of Slovenia is won by the opponents to the Communists, Demos. They hold a referendum on 23 December 1990. The voter turnout was 93.2%. The 88.5% of votes supported independence. It would be considered as valid with a minimum turnout of 50%, so it met the requisites.  

Independence was not declared right away because the Slovenian laws stipulated a period of 6 months to implement the state sovereignty. On 25 June 1991 Slovenia declared the independence while Croatia did it unilaterally.

The unlawful consultation in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 got a voter turnout of 43%. The “yes” vote won by 90%. Not a single country recognized neither the consultation in Catalonia nor its result.

6.- International recognition. Slovenia had international support. Germany recognized Slovenia, and so they did Austria and Vatican. Still today there are doubts that this fast recognition was in the best interest for the process, since it short-circuited any negotiation.  

Ruth Ferrero-Turrión highlights the Spanish position in support of the European way. “All the EU’s leverage vanished because of such recognition. The Spanish minister Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, supported a fast track to its integration in the European Union, but it was not possible”, says the expert.

Slovenia is a member of the EU since 1 May 2004. It is also part of the Eurozone. However, Catalonia has tried by all means to gain the international support with no success. The European Union has backed the territorial integrity of Spain and has called the secessionists to respect the rule of law.

Torra, who has visited Slovenia this week, did not get support either. The president, Borut Pahor, greeted him, but he emphasized: “On the pro-sovereignty process, it is a matter for the Catalan people and the Kingdom of Spain, in which Slovenia do not wish to intervene”.

7.- The Ten-Day War. The People’s Army of Yugoslavia responded militarily immediately and invaded Slovenia. “That the Yugoslav Federal Army consisted of Slovenians, Serbians, Croatians, Montenegrins, Macedonians was key, with the Air Force being largely Slovenian. They did not want to bomb Slovenia”, points out the professor of Political Sciences.

The conflict continued for ten days and most of victims were soldiers and lost their lives in the Italian and Austrian borders. The war was ended with the Brioni Agreement, signed by Belgrade and Ljubljana. Milosevic was most interested in another flank, Croatia, with a significant Serbian minority.

The Federal Army acceded to the withdrawal and Slovenia would wait for three months until it could put its independence into effect. “If we have waited for a hundred years, we can wait for three months more”, said Lojze Peterle, the then president of Slovenian government. Without the help from Germany, and the confrontation between Croatia and Serbia, the death toll would have been higher.

Violence is not a path in Spain. No matter if it is called Slovenian or Yugoslavian.