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Capital: Ljubljana, 264,269 inhabitants (2002)
Population: 1,964,000 (2002)
Ethnic composition: 87.6 percent Slovenes, 2.8 percent Croats, 2.4 percent Serbs and
other minorities such as Hungarians, Macedonians, Albanians, and Italians
Area: 20,253 square kilometers
GDP per Capita: 13,710 US dollars (2003)


Away from the Balkans and toward Europe

Slovenia has clearly been the driving force against Belgrade centralism since the 1980s. At first the motives behind the efforts to secede were primarily economic. In the face of a serious economic crisis, the regional conflicts over increasingly scarce resources intensified. Slovenia, which had the highest per capita income in Yugoslavia, became increasingly unwilling to fulfill its financial obligations to the federation. In 1987 Slovenian intellectuals made the first public call for the republic’s national independence and the protection of human rights. Repressive state measures against the dissidents unleashed a broad wave of protest among the populace that ultimately threatened to explode the system. Under these risky circumstances Slovenia’s Communist Party leadership, headed by Milan Kučan, met the movement’s demands. In September 1989 the republic altered its constitution, granting itself the right to secede and rejecting any right of the federation to intervene.

Once this step had been taken, the conflicts between Slovenia and Serbia escalated. An intra-Yugoslavian economic war began, ranging from the boycott of goods by way of mutual import prohibitions to stopping payments into the federal fund. The power relationships within the Slovenian republic also began to shift. Already by 1989 a multiparty system was permitted. On December 7, 1989, all of the noncommunist parties joined an alliance called the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia, and in April 1990 it received an absolute majority in the first free elections. On December 6, 1990, the overwhelming majority of eligible voters voted for the country’s independence in a plebiscite.

When Slovenia formally declared independence on June 25, 1991, military conflicts with the People’s Army of Yugoslavia followed. Under pressure from the European Community hostilities ceased after ten days. In the early days of the conflict over secession the majority of the EC states were still trying to prevent the collapse of the Yugoslavian federation so that the civil war would not spread. Once Germany recognized the Republic of Slovenia in December 1991, however, the European Community and the United Nations soon followed.

"Return to Europe" was a famous slogan for the Slovenian independence movement. That path was quickly taken. In 1994 Slovenia joined the NATO program Partnership for Peace and early 1996 became a member of the Central European Free Trade Association.1  In 1997 it signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union. In March 2003 the majority of voters in a referendum voted to joint the EU and NATO. Membership in the two alliances followed in spring 2004. There were occasional foreign policy dissensions on the part of the Italian and Austrian governments with regard to the question of possible compensation payments for expulsions and expropriations in 1945. Once again, there was a conflict over the drawing of borders on the open sea off the narrow Slovenian coastline. The primary issue was direct access to international waters from the Slovenian harbor at Koper. Under present maritime law this right is not explicitly ensured. The problem would have to be solved together with Croatia, but the relationship between the two neighboring countries is rather tense after several border incidents.

In writing its new constitution Slovenia opted for a strong position for the parliament and a president with rather limited political powers. The president can be elected to no more than two sequential terms of five years each. The former communist and now independent Milan Kučan was elected the first president of the state in 1992, and he was reelected in 1997.

The political dynamics of the new state are marked by a series of peculiarities: in contrast to many other postsocialist countries, the old elites were able to maintain their leading position in politics, the media, and the economy despite the changed circumstances. The parliamentary factions frequently do not vote for a coalition according to their party membership, so programs and party discipline play a relatively minor role. In the political culture of Slovenia the social agreements between the relevant interest groups are considered much more important than factional battles between political parties. Moreover, the electoral system favors smaller groups: the number of parties represented in parliament has thus far ranged between seven and nine. Even the Catholic Church has tried since the change of system to regain lost political terrain, and not without success.

The country’s political culture is strongly marked by a corporatist ideology. Historically, the subsidiary tradition of the Catholic milieu and the longstanding practice of self-managed socialism supported this. Consequently, social interests tend to be articulated above all in associations and professional organizations whose representatives are integrated into the political system.

For a long time the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) was the country’s strongest political force. This center-left party, which emerged from the former Union of Socialist Youth, came to power in 1992 for the first time and governed until the end of 2004, apart from a brief interruption, with a variety of coalition partners from both the left-wing and conservative and right-wing camps. The chairman of the LDS, Janez Drnovšek, a former president of the Yugoslavian state presidium, held the office of prime minister for several years and in 2002 he was elected the new president of the state. In October 2002 Janez Janša, the head of the right-wing liberal Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), won in a landslide. As new prime minister of a center-right coalition, he ended the LDS’s period in power. In the war against the People’s Army of Yugoslavia in 1991, Janša, who had already emerged as a dissident in the 1980s, had been in charge of defending Slovenia’s territory. After independence he was appointed minister of defense but he had to resign his post in 1994 because of illegal weapons exports to countries of the former Yugoslavia. As an opposition politician he had primarily pilloried the old networks of former communists. Janša’s deep aversion to the old system has biograph ical reasons as well. He is a member of a so-called Domobranci2  family that had fought against communist partisans during World War Two. This issue still divides Slovenian society.

Although the new government announced it would break the dominance of the left in the economy and politics, the dominant model of consensus, which depends on both corporatism and the free-market economy, will probably change little.

National Capitalism

The country’s high degree of industrialization and the limited potential of its domestic markets, with just under two million inhabitants, have necessitated a strategy to expand exports. Until it became independent, the constituent republic of Slovenia was primarily responsible for the final industrial production of goods. The lesser developed southern parts of the Yugoslavian Federation provided raw materials and semifinished products, while also serving as markets. The decline of the Yugoslavian economic region, the nearly simultaneous breakdown of the "socialist camp," and the subsequent opening to market economies were decisive events. Between 1989 and 1993 there was a serious recession during which gross domestic product and industrial production fell by about a third.

In response to this crisis, Slovenia not only tried to keep its former markets through various agreements with Yugoslavia’s successor states but also to develop its trade relationships with the European Union. Even prior to independence Slovenia had represented the largest share of Yugoslavia’s trade with the "West," and hence it had the necessary connections and experience, which clearly made it easier to reorient its economy.

Today, more than 70 percent of Slovenia’s trade is with the enlarged European Union (EU-25), with Germany its most important trading partner at 23 percent. The Federal Republic of Germany also accounts for 19 percent of Slovenian imports, though this amounts to only 0.37 percent of Germany’s exports. When it joined the EU, however, Slovenia had to abandon its free trade agreement with the southern European countries, to which it exported more than 17 percent of its goods in 2003. Its most important partner in the region by far is Croatia.

Between 1993 and 2002 the economy grew at an average annual rate of 4 percent. Slovenia now has a highly developed service sector that produces 61 percent of national added value, followed by 36 percent for the industrial sector and 4 percent for the agricultural sector. Annual income per capita is 13,710 US dollars (2003), or 75 percent of the EU average, which is much higher than, for example, the Czech Republic or Hungary. The budget is nearly balanced, and national debt is just 30 percent of the gross domestic product. In 2003 the inflation rate of 5.6 was lower than in previous years. In sum, the country fulfills most of the Maastricht criteria and will presumably be able to adopt the euro as its currency in 2007. Interestingly, Slovenia’s path to development calls into question the prevailing neoliberal logic that claims that only rapid privatization and comprehensive deregulation can rehabilitate postsocialist states. The transformation,3  that is to say, the capitalist restructuring of the Slovenian economy, took place slowly and gradually. During the 1990s the state attempted to shield its domestic market through protectionist measures as it gradually prepared for EU membership. Rather than reduce itself to being a subcontractor of the "West," Slovenia sought to place its own products on the European market. Strategically important areas like the banking and financial sectors long remained under state control. Only recently has it become possible for foreign consortia to participate in the two most important credit institutions: the Nova Ljubljanska Banka and the Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor, in which the state owns a 35 and a 90 percent share, respectively. The share of private companies in value added is also rather low: just 50 percent of the gross domestic product.

Privatizations were frequently organized through state-controlled developmental funds, and as a rule the old management and personnel structures were retained. Takeover attempts by international investors repeatedly triggered heated public debates about the risk of selling off domestic industry. Consequently, in the 1990s Slovenia had the least direct foreign investment of the more developed postsocialist countries in Europe. The existing commitments of international companies were frequently initiated during the Yugoslavian period.

For the first time since 1991 the number of unemployed dropped below 100,000 in 2003. Based on the calculation methods generally used internationally, the unemployment rate was only 6.7 percent. There are, however, substantial problems with the reorganization of the pension system. A comprehensive pension reform was one of the preconditions for Slovenia’s membership in the EU. Despite years of resistance from the small but influential DeSUS, the "pensioners’ party," the existing system was finally converted to a three-column model (social security contributions, company pensions, private pensions). The retirement age was also increased to 63 for men and 61 for women. Ultimately the retirement age is intended to be raised to 65 and 63, respectively. Benefits were also reduced.

The Postponed Internationalization of the Media Landscape

Even after the change of system, the public authorities have played an important role in the Slovenian media, as there was a fear of heteronomy given the small market.

There was no foreign involvement in the print media until recently, and the state was involved everywhere, directly or indirectly. Today there are six national daily newspapers, most of which are owned by partially stateowned investment companies that are close to particular political parties. The right-leaning publishing house Delo, which publishes a daily newspaper of that name, among other things, dominates the market. The company reaches more than a million people daily with its various publications. Delo is owned in part by the Slovenian brewery Lasko, the state investment funds SOD and KAD, and various domestic banks and insurance companies. In recent years, however, there have been hints of upheaval. In late 2003, for example, the Austrian-Catholic media concern Styria moved into the market with the daily newspaper Dnevnik, published in Ljubljana; and the printing and newspaper company Leykamp, also from Austria, became involved in the third-largest newspaper, Večer. The German publisher Burda is also present on the market with Slovenian editions of its products.

In the broadcasting industry the Slovenian broadcasting company RTV Slovenija, which evolved from Yugoslavia’s Studio Ljubljana, was transformed into a state-owned institution. The ultimate controlling committee is a board whose members represent the full spectrum of social interest groups, which is supposed to demonstrate the independence of its broadcasting. Nevertheless, the political influence of the large parties is unmistakable. Equally noteworthy in this context are the efforts of the Catholic Church, whose Radio Ognjišče reaches a quarter million regular listeners.

On television, however, the American company Central European Media Enterprises (CME) and its POP TV has established itself since the mid-1990s as the most important competitor of the state-owned broadcasting companies. Today CME controls the three most important private television stations in the country. The Catholic Church is active in this field too, with its TV3. More than a third of Slovenian households can receive German-language programming, and RTL is the most frequently watched station. The public stations SLO 1 and SLO 2 have moved much closer to the private stations in terms of programming. Under the new conservative government these stations may face restructuring, because the right-liberal SDS accuses them of left-wing bias.


1On December 21, 1992, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary signed a treaty to create a free-trade zone: the Central European Free Trade Association. Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia jointed it later. [zurück]

2 After the German armed forces invaded Yugoslavia in World War Two, Slovenia was divided up among Italy, Germany, and Hungary. Much as they did in Croatia, the Catholic clergy collaborated with the occupiers. Ultimately the so-called Home Army—troops of the puppet government loyal to the Church—fought against the communist partisans. As the war was ending, the revenge taken was decidedly bloody. These massacres perpetrated against the Domobranci, or White Guard, remained a taboo subject even long after 1991. [zurück]

3 The term transformation stands, as a rule, for a "pluralization" and "democratization" in former socialist states. At the same time it refers to the introduction of a capitalist market economy. The mainstream in the media and the social sciences use the term in a prejudicial sense that obscures the lack of simultaneity and the autonomy of social processes in the affected societies. [zurück]