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June 1991

An excerpt from the diary of Ambassador Dr Božo Cerar:


Diplomacija za kulisami (Dnevniški zapisi Slovenca v jugoslovanski diplomaciji od avgusta 1990 do avgusta 1991), 2000 (Diplomacy behind the Scenes: Memoirs of a Slovenian Working in Yugoslav Diplomacy from August 1990 until August 1991).


On my way to work on Wednesday 26 June 1991, I was wondering if I should take any luggage with me to Ljubljana at noon. Jelko Kacin, the Republic Information Secretary, had invited me – and other Slovenians working at the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs in Belgrade – to attend a celebration of the proclamation of Slovenia’s independence. As agreed with the Slovenian leadership, I was to return to Belgrade as early as the next morning – after the celebration in the square in front of the Slovenian assembly building and a reception in the Cankarjev dom Cultural and Congress Centre – to report to the Republic Committee for International Cooperation on the responses to Slovenia’s independence in the Belgrade diplomatic corps. I finally decided to pack a half-empty bag with me, taking only a suit that needed to be cleaned and leaving my other clothes and necessities in my temporary apartment in New Belgrade. I had transferred all my valuables weeks ago to my house in Trzin in Slovenia. I had a transistor radio in my office, and in those turbulent times, I listened to the news every hour in order to be constantly well-informed.


At work, I had been clear with my superiors and subordinates about where I was going. Before leaving for the airport, I found myself in an unpleasant situation in the Administration for Western Europe, which I headed; I experienced opposition from my subordinate Djurović, a desk officer responsible for Scandinavian countries. When I called a meeting to assign duties, the desk officer interrupted me at the very beginning, saying he refused to undertake any assignments. He demanded that I publicly state whose side I was on, Peterle’s or Yugoslavia’s. I was a little surprised by such a rude gesture, but nevertheless reacted calmly. While I was in charge, I said, he would carry out all the duties I assigned to him. If not, a third person, that is my and his superior, would have to intervene, as I had no intention of entering into a dispute with him. My work would not be judged by him, but by those responsible for it. That said, I ended our discussion, and Djurović left the meeting in heavy silence.


For the previous few weeks, the atmosphere at the Ministry and in Belgrade in general had been increasingly tense, with the first disputes flaring up, and the consequences had also been suffered by Slovenians working at the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs. In the Secretariat’s parking lot, unknown persons had damaged Vojislav Šuc’s car and Ivo Vajgl’s yellow beetle with Ljubljana number plates, and Zvone Dragan’s temporary apartment had also been the target of an attack; mine was attacked later. Robert Krmelj had suffered the most; he had been thrown out of a tram. Luckily, he had only injured his knee slightly, but his suit had been ruined. We had requested protection from the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs, but had been mockingly rejected and told not to exaggerate.


Several of my colleagues were on my Adria flight to Ljubljana, planning to attend the evening celebration. The atmosphere during the flight was also tense, as the Yugoslav Army was closing the air space above Slovenia. In fact, Ljubljana Airport was closed after our landing. My return journey to Belgrade was looking increasingly less likely.


At home, I dressed in my Sunday best and set off for the city and the villa of the Republic Information Secretariat. From there, we continued to the assembly building. Two Yugoslav Army MiGs flying low above the city were not a good sign. The celebration was glorious and we felt wonderful: Slovenians finally had their own state. I was proud to have been able to contribute to that to the best of my ability. I returned home from the reception in Cankarjev dom at around 1.30 a.m. on Thursday 27 June.


I woke up around 5.30 to check again my flight with Adria to Belgrade at 6.45. I turned on the radio. When I heard that tanks of the Yugoslav Army in Slovenia had left barracks, I was immediately wide awake. I rushed to the window and saw my neighbours agitatedly talking in the street. They must have already heard the news.


Some moments later, I learnt that they were upset because some of the YA armoured troops who were trying to reach Brnik and take over the airport were stuck before the bridge across the River Pšata. Some of the armoured vehicles had successfully broken through the barricades erected before the bridge by Slovenian territorials and police officers, and were heading for the town of Mengeš. One of the vehicles in the middle of the column, however, was stuck in the barricades due to a broken track and had partly slid off the road, making it impossible for the rest of the column to continue. So they were stuck practically at our doors. My neighbours could not believe I had missed everything. No shooting was heard at that time, but the tanks breaking down the barricades of cars and trucks made a deafening noise. I could not believe it until I went to see it for myself.


On my way home from the bridge, a YA helicopter flew low and audaciously right over us. I was furious about what was happening in my country, and clearly, it was for real. I decided at once to join our armed resistance. Further from the surrounding houses and not far from the stuck Yugoslav column, I noticed members of the Slovenian Territorial Defence. I thought frantically about where I could make myself useful. The decision was not difficult. Barricades had been set up in the streets, but I managed to get to Ljubljana on an overcrowded train coming from the town of Kamnik. At 7.30, I informed Minister Rupel and the Republic Committee for International Cooperation of my presence. Zvone Dragan, Ivo Vajgl, Mitja Štrukelj, Andrej Logar, my other colleagues from Belgrade and I gathered in the office of Secretary General Matjaž Kovačič. That morning, we became officially involved in the work of the Republic Committee for International Cooperation.


Dragan, Vajgl and I were ordered by the Slovenian presidency to try to get through to Belgrade by car that same morning, and – on behalf of Slovenia – establish contact there with foreign embassies. The situation worsened during the day and our mission was thought too dangerous. Consequently, our trip to Belgrade was postponed. I stayed at the Republic Committee for International Cooperation and tried to be as useful as possible: I phoned numerous foreign officials and journalists, and prepared information on the situation in Slovenia for the rest of the world.


At 18.30, I set off for home in Trzin. I joined a colleague who was going by car to the Štajerska region via Trzin. A pass that I had been issued by the Republic Committee for International Cooperation enabled us to get through the barricades to Stožice. There I noticed angry plumes of smoke coming from the direction of Trzin. At the barricades in Črnuče, at the intersection of the northern route to Ljubljana and Zasavska Road, we were stopped by some anxious members of the Territorial Defence and told the road ahead was impassable. There was fighting with YA troops in Trzin, but they did not know the reason for all the smoke. It seemed the whole town of Trzin was on fire. I was deeply worried about my family, so I wanted to get home as soon as possible at any cost. The territorials would not let us continue on the road, even with the pass. Only when I noticed among the territorials an acquaintance from Trzin, did they let us pass the barricades. After a few hundred metres, in the settlement of Dobrava, we noticed people waving wildly at us from behind the houses. I wanted to continue my journey home on foot by the road and through the forest which stretched all the way to our garden. In the end, we made a somewhat crazy decision to slowly continue on the road by car with the doors open; we managed to reach the new part of Trzin. At the crossroads ahead and further down towards the bridge across the Pšata, we saw troops engaged in wild shooting. Members of the Territorial Defence were fighting with the armoured troops who had been stuck since the morning and YA reinforcements which had arrived by helicopter. A fuel tanker had been set on fire at the barricades. I thought then that the surrounding houses were burning. In the middle of the battle, my neighbours and family were shocked to see us drive up to the house – I know now it was a reckless move, but I did not realise it then.


There are certain events in one’s life that one remembers well, and for me, it is the fighting between the Slovenian Territorial Defence and the Yugoslav Army a few metres from my house. I will not forget the deathly silence that followed the YA troops’ surrender. People could not believe we had fought against the army that not long ago had been the people’s army, our army – but now it was sowing death in our streets and gardens. That evening, the news of the dead and wounded made me realise that Yugoslavia, even in its widest sense, no longer existed. It became clear that there was no way back.


The next day, Minister Rupel sent a letter to Federal Secretary for Foreign Affairs Budimir Lončar, informing him that Slovenia had withdrawn its people from the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs.