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Slovenia, History

Janez Drnovsek, Milan Kucan, Lake Balaton, Noricum, Frankish Empire

Under the Roman Empire (27 bc-ad 476), Slovenia was part of the provinces of Pannonia and Noricum. During the 6th century ad, the region was invaded by the Mongolian Avars and later by Slavs who threw off Avar domination. A period of Bavarian rule ensued, during which most of the people converted to Roman Catholicism. In ad 623, chieftain Franko Samo created the first independent Slovene state, which stretched from Lake Balaton (now located within Hungary) to the Mediterranean. It lasted until late in the 8th century, when the region became part of the Frankish Empire. In the 10th century it was reorganized as the duchy of Carantania by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. From 1335 until 1918, except for a brief interlude from 1809 to 1814, Slovenes were governed by the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Austrian crown lands of Karnten (Carinthia), Carniola, and Steiermark (Styria), except for a minority in the republic of Venice. During the Napoleonic Wars, the region was taken from Austria by France and reorganized as part of the Illyrian Provinces from 1809 to 1814. This brief period of liberal rule fostered Slovene and South Slav nationalism that triumphed at the close of World War I in 1918, with the formation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929). In 1941, during World War II, Germany, Hungary, and Italy divided the territory among themselves. In spite of forced transfers of populations during the war, since 1945 most Slovenes have lived in the Slovenian republic, which in 1947 also acquired Slovenian-speaking districts on the Adriatic Sea (in Istria) from Italy.

Slovenia’s dissatisfaction with the Yugoslav federation grew during the 1980s, with increased sentiment first for greater autonomy and then for independence. As Communist power crumbled throughout Eastern Europe, Slovenia held the first multiparty elections in Yugoslavia since World War II in April 1990. The winning coalition called for independence, and nearly 90 percent of Slovenia’s population voted for independence in a referendum in December 1990. In June 1991, following various political upsets, including Serbian refusal to transfer the country’s rotating presidency to the Croatian representative, Slovenia and Croatia each declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) sent forces to both republics in an attempt to secure Yugoslavia’s borders. In Slovenia, a ten-day war ensued, in which Slovene forces defeated the JNA. The JNA’s defeat, perhaps coupled with fighting in Serbia’s closer neighbor, Croatia, allowed Slovenia quickly to secure true independence as well as international recognition as a separate republic. In January 1992 the European Community (now the European Union, or EU), led by Germany, acknowledged the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States acknowledged their independence in April.

Independent Slovenia’s first presidential and parliamentary elections were held in December 1992. Milan Kucan, president of the republic since 1990, was reelected to the office by 64 percent of the vote. The center-left Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), headed by Janez Drnovsek, won a plurality of seats in parliament, and Drnovsek became the country’s prime minister. The Christian Democratic Party won the second largest number of parliamentary seats.

In 1992 Slovenia began instituting economic reforms and joined various international organizations. It also become a haven for refugees of the surrounding war-torn republics, and by mid-1993 about 60,000 people had sought refuge in Slovenia. In 1994 and early 1995 Slovenia made progress in resolving its disputes with Italy and Croatia—the only lingering complications from the republic’s quest for sovereignty. In January 1994 Slovenia and Croatia reached an agreement on decommissioning the shared nuclear power facility at Krsko, near the Slovenia-Croatia border. Slovenia and Italy worked successfully to negotiate their dispute over the property rights of ethnic Italians who fled Slovenia after World War II and whose property was confiscated by the Yugoslav government. Italy had threatened to block Slovenia’s entry into the EU until the issue was resolved, but the Italian government backed off from this stance in early 1995. In June 1996 Slovenia signed an association agreement with the EU; in December 1997 it was invited to begin the process of becoming a full member.

In November 1996 Slovenia held elections to the State Assembly. The LDS, which campaigned to integrate Slovenia into both the EU and NATO, remained the country’s strongest party, winning 25 of 90 seats; however, it did not receive an overall majority. The LDS formed an alliance with several smaller parties, bringing its total number of seats to 45; however, the center-right opposition—an alliance comprising three parties—also controlled 45 seats. The deadlock was broken in January 1997, when a deputy defected from the opposition, and the LDS and its partners formed a coalition government. That month the State Assembly reelected Drnovsek as prime minister by a narrow margin. In November 1997 President Kucan won election to a third term. He drew 56 percent the vote, easily defeating the nearest challenger, Janez Podobnik of the Slovenian People’s Party.

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