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Responding to post-Second World War totalitarian crimes in Slovenia

Submitted by on 22/06/2009 – 9:39 am6 Comments

One hundred thirty thousand persons, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been summarily executed in the Slovenian territory in the months following the end of the Second World War on 9 May 1945. It is estimated that around fifteen thousands of those executed were of Slovenia nationality, whereas the others were Croats, Serbs and Germans. These crimes were committed mostly in the form of systematic summary executions at hidden locations all across Slovenia, predominantly in the unpopulated rural areas and in the forests, and were carried out by members of the Slovenian section of the Yugoslav Secret Police. They were part of retaliation after the Second World War but are alleged to be also part of a plan to eliminate part of the civilian population in Slovenia.

The Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia had catalogued 3,986 wartime graves and mass graves in Slovenia from World War Two. This data does not include the number of secret mass graves in Slovenia. Dr Mitja Ferenc notes that ‘methodical record-keeping of secret mass graves only began in 2002, accompanied by a huge response in the media triggered by discovery of 431 victims from two shafts in Zgornja Bistrica in Štajerska’. (Mitja Ferenc, Secret World War Two Mass Graves in Slovenia, in Peter Jambrek (ed.): CRIMES COMMITTED BY TOTALITARIAN REGIMES, SLOVENIAN PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, BRUXELLES, Ljubljana, 2008. At p. 158.) The Commission for Settlement of Hidden Mass Graveyards of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia, particularly Dr Mitja Ferenc, has so far catalogued almost six hundred hidden mass grave sites have so far been found on the territory of Slovenia. He continues that ‘crimes were exacerbated by forced silence and suppression of the right to a grave’ and that ‘their victims simply did not exist’. Similarly, Dr Jože Dežman has succinctly described the fundamental characteristics of the post-Second World War totalitarian crimes in the following way:

Killing civilians and prisoners of was after Second World War is the greatest massacre of unarmed people of all times in Slovenian territory. Compared to Europe, the Yugoslav communist massacres after the Second World War are probably right after the Stalinist purges and the Great Famine in the Ukraine. The number of those killed in Slovenia in spring of 1945 can now be estimated at more than 100,000, Slovenia was the biggest post- War killing site in Europe. It was a mixture of events, when in Slovenia there are retreating German units, collaborator units, units of Independent State of Croatia, Chetniks and Balkan civilians; more than 15,000 Slovenia inhabitants were murdered as well. Because of its brevity, number of casualties, way of execution and massiveness, it is an event that can be compared to the greatest crimes of communism and National Socialism. (Jože Dežman, Communist Repression and Transitional Justice in Slovenia, in Peter Jambrek (ed.): CRIMES COMMITTED BY TOTALITARIAN REGIMES, SLOVENIAN PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, BRUXELLES, Ljubljana, 2008. At p. 204.)

It can easily be argued that there must be some response to the crimes committed after the Second World War. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted in its Resolution 1481 (2006) on ‘Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’ that ‘the fall of totalitarian communist regimes in central and eastern Europe has not been followed in all cases by an international investigation of the crimes committed by them. Moreover, the authors of these crimes have not been brought to trial by the international community, as was the case with the horrible crimes committed by National Socialism (Nazism).’ It further observed that ‘public awareness of crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes is very poor’ and that ‘moral assessment and condemnation of crimes committed play an important role in the education of young generations’. Perpetrators should be subjected to some mechanism, which would at least emphasize apologies and compensation given that punishment of unknown perpetrators is hardly feasible at this stage. In this way, EctHR’s Judges Fura-Sandstrőm, Davíd Thór Bjőrgvinsson and Ziemele noted in their joint dissenting opinion in Kononov v Latvia: “Why should criminal responsibility depend on which side those guilty of war crimes were fighting on?” (Kononov v. Lativa, ECHR, Application no. 36376/04, Joint dissenting opinion of judges Fura-Sandstrőm, Davíd Thór Bjőrgvinsson and Ziemele, Para. 3.) Undoubtely, all persons have the right to a name and a grave. This right exists regardless of who won and who was defeated in a particular conflict. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted in its Resolution 1481 (2006) that ‘that those victims of crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes who are still alive or their families, deserve sympathy, understanding and recognition for their sufferings.’ In this way, another alternative would be issuing a public apology and construction of public memorial sites dedicated to the victims of the crimes against humanity everywhere mass graves from months after Second World War have so far been found. Such memorials could include a list of the names of all victims killed on the particular site, the publication of these names acknowledging that they have fallen in the name and honour of Slovenia.

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