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Speech by President Borut Pahor at the official celebrations for Independence and Unity Day

Ljubljana, 23. 12. 2019 | press release, speech

President Borut Pahor and Tanja Pečar tonight took part in the official celebrations for Independence and Unity Day. The president was the honorary speaker at the celebrations.

Speech by President Borut Pahor at the official celebrations for
Independence and Unity Day
Photo: Nik Jevšnik/STA

The text of the ceremonial address by President Pahor is given below. Check against delivery!

“My fellow Slovenes,
here and all over the world,
fellow citizens,
esteemed guests,
ladies and gentlemen.

Tonight I’ll tell you a story. About the miracle on the sunny side of the Alps. But this is no fairy tale.
This is a true story about the creation of a democratic consensus to set up our own state.
It is one of our most beautiful and inspiring stories.

I therefore invite us all to gather ourselves together, and think deeply about our current and future actions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The referendum was held on 23 December 1990. Turnout was almost 90%.
Some 95% of us voted in favour of an independent Slovenia. Almost all of us.
Half a century after our tragic national rift we were united again.

This unity did not fall from the sky; it was the product of our actions. We created it ourselves, out of necessity, as it was absolutely vital to us.

Let’s look a little closer.
The years of 1990 and 1991 were the two most momentous and eventful years for Slovenia.

During those two years almost everything changed. We changed almost everything in the course of two years.
But at the beginning of 1990 we were not yet in unison about Slovenia’s independence and sovereignty.
It is therefore so much more amazing that we succeeded in uniting by the end of the same year.
Why and how did we succeed?

There were four magic ingredients in the marvellous story of creating unity.

First, a clear vision of an independent state.
Second, decisive leadership.
Third, honest dialogue.
And fourth, constructive partnership.

First came the vision of an independent state.

It evolved in intellectual anti-regime circles. It bloomed during Slovenia’s political awakening. But at the beginning of 1990, it was far from the prevailing opinion.

Then came leadership.

That the vision of an independent state came to dominate is largely attributable to leadership. The lead role was played by Pučnik’s Demos.

When the first democratically elected Peterle government set the independence of Slovenia as its principal objective, it subordinated everything to this task.

It was vital to avoid any attempts at political revanchism. Everything was subordinated to independence, and the creation of unity behind this unique objective.

Then there was dialogue.

The dialogue was stormy, toxic in places, there were fights and quarrels, but the dialogue was always passionate. But it was never exclusive. It was never exclusive.
Had this happened, it would have been the end of any building of unity, perhaps the end of our dreams of our own state, the end of the story.

Then there was partnership.

This partnership was multilateral. It was a partnership between democratic institutions, parliamentary parties, civil society and the general public. Kučan’s presidency, Bučar’s parliament and Peterle’s government worked together fruitfully, despite their differences.

Nothing came too easily. But the risk of a renewed national rift was too great for anyone to want to take it as their own moral burden. The story moved on to a happy conclusion.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It was the case that everyone had his or her own views, but also tried to understand the views of others.
We built on whatever brought us together. Whatever divided us was not given oxygen.
It was a matter of mutual respect, and a search for reasonable compromises.

The most important of these was the agreement between political parties and parliamentary groupings in the Slovenian parliament on a joint approach to the referendum for an independent, sovereign Slovenian state.

The agreement of 6 December 1990 was signed by all parties represented in the parliament, and by both deputies representing the ethnic minority communities.

This was a monumental political achievement.

We convinced one another, and let ourselves be convinced. Finally all Slovenian politicians were of one mind, united.

Neither before nor since have I ever had the opportunity to see something so beautiful up close.
Politics at that time was an art, in the best sense of that word.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Unity in the referendum was decisive in the establishment of the state and its armed forces.

In my opinion, the historical events would have developed differently had the decision to establish our own state been won by a hair, instead of total unity in the referendum. I also think there wouldn’t have been many differences had we lost by a hair.

We would simply have had a new experience of national division, which later could have developed once again into a tragic national rift.

You only have to look at recent experiences with similar referendums in the UK, Scotland or Catalonia.
We can see that winning by a hair is not enough when it comes to fateful national decisions. It is too little for the sovereign enforcement of momentous decisions without the risk of serious internal divisions.

In this sense, now at a historical remove, we can underline the importance of the political and national unity of our people in the referendum for an independent and sovereign Slovenia.

It was nation-building in the most elementary meaning of this sacred word.
Despite my emphasis on the unity of that time, I can’t commit to striving for that every day and for every political issue.

Never: for the vast majority of issues affecting our present and our future, a majority of one, victory by a hair, will suffice.

But even in ordinary times it is highly beneficial if matters of state and society can be addressed with as clear an idea as possible, if we have decisive leadership, a feeling for honest dialogue, and a commitment to partnership.

These were and remain the watchwords of consensus politics. I know that recently it has been in serious crisis at home and across the western world. It has also revealed its weaknesses and deficiencies.

Too often rotten compromise has come in place of reasonable compromise. This has undermined its credibility. People noticed, and began to reject it, together with excessive political correctness.

And so we see the rise of the politics of division. A type of politics that makes no effort to overcome differences. On the contrary: it exploits these differences.

This has created a situation where it is no longer worthwhile trying to convince political opponents, or even trying to work with them. On the contrary, it seems more and more as if it’s enough to convince your own supporters, while stigmatising or even excluding your opponents.

Whether in ordinary times, or in remarkable periods of our evolution, exclusion of any kind must be a red line that can never be crossed. This is a threat to us, a threat to all of us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For almost three decades now Slovenia has been in a position where unity of this kind is not necessary. But it does need more dialogue and partnership. There is too little of these.

There is not enough honest dialogue, not enough listening to others, not enough working together to set common objectives and the pathway to them. There is too much intolerant, hateful and even exclusive speech. There is too much refusal to work together.

It might seem that none of this is a threat to our society or our country. Perhaps not yet. But the situation in our environment is changing.
If it were to worsen against our will, we would not be able to afford any overbearing or even excluding differences among ourselves.

Not for anything in the world can we be allowed to find ourselves in the position of a deeply divided society and country. We therefore need to make more use of dialogue and partnership right now.

And moreover: aren’t there plenty of things we could be focusing on together at the moment?

After the end of the financial and economic crisis, the economy was restructured, but the state was not. Putting off its modernisation, including structural changes, will make the problem bigger and bigger.

Next: in the coming year we need to formulate our climate policy, an extremely challenging balance of environmental and energy policies.

Next: February sees the opening of a conference on the future of Europe. Will we merely be observers, or will we play an active part?

And finally, by the end of next December we need to have found, by whatever means, a common language for amending our electoral legislation in line with the constitutional court decision.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Perhaps today is not such a momentous period that demands national unity, as was the case almost 30 years ago. But we do have a host of pressing tasks, large, difficult and complex tasks that can only be done well and effectively by working together.

And finally, I would like to turn to all of our people. The referendum for an independent and sovereign Slovenia was a success because this is what you, or your parents or your grandparents decided.

We have our own state, and this is priceless. But we also have our wonderful story of how it came about.

Whenever anyone doubts that we can march together in unity when necessary, let’s tell them the story of the miracle beneath the Alps from 1990, a true story that was the work of our mature actions.

Please accept my very best wishes on our national day. Have a wonderful Christmas holiday, and tread bravely into a happy new year.

Good luck, Slovenia.”