Slovenian War of Independence

The Ten-Day War, sometimes called the Slovenian War, was a brief military conflict between Slovenia and Yugoslavia that took place in 1991 following Slovenia's declaration of independence.

When Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, underlying ethnic, religious, and economic tensions within Yugoslavia were quick to rise to the surface.

In 1989 Slobodan Miloevic, Chairman of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia since 1986, became president of Serbia, the largest and most populous of the six Yugoslav republics. In April of the next year, Slovenia held its first democratic multi-party elections, won by the DEMOS coalition.

On 23 December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum on independence which passed with 88% of the vote. The Slovenian government expected the federal government in Belgrade to use military force to rein in Slovenia's moves towards independence, and they were right. Immediately after the Slovenian elections, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) announced that a new defence doctrine would apply across the country. The Tito-era doctrine of "General People's Defence", in which each republic maintained a territorial defence force (teritorialna obramba or T.O.), would be replaced by a centrally-directed system of defence with immediate effect. All of the Yugoslav republics would lose their role in defence matters and their T.Os would be disarmed and subordinated to JNA headquarters in Belgrade.

The Slovenian government resisted these moves, successfully ensuring that the majority of Slovenian T.O. equipment was kept out of the hands of the JNA. It also declared in a constitutional amendment passed on 28 September 1990 that its T.O. would be under the sole command of the Slovenian government. While all of this was going on, the Slovenian government were also in the process of setting up a secret alternative command structure, known as the Manoeuvre Structures of National Protection (Manevrska struktura narodne zaite, or MSNZ). This was an existing but antiquated institution, unique to Slovenia, which was intended to enable the republic to form an ad hoc defence structure, pretty much the same as a Home Guard. It was of negligible importance prior to 1990, with practically obsolete weapons and few members. However, the DEMOS-led government realised that the MSNZ could be adapted to provide a parallel organisation to the T.O. that would be entirely in the hands of the Slovenian government.

When the JNA tried to take control of the Slovenian T.O., the TO's command structure was simply replaced by that of the parallel MSNZ. Between May and October 1990, some 21,000 T.O. and police personnel were secretly mobilised into the MSNZ command structure, of which the federal government had no idea. The Slovenian government also made detailed plans for a military campaign against the JNA, resulting in the production of an operational and tactical plan by November 1990 -- More than seven months before the conflict actually began.

The Slovenes weren't foolish enough to believe that they would be able to resist the JNA for a very long time. Under Defence Minister Janez Jana, they adopted a strategy based on an asymmetric warfare approach. T.O. units would carry out a guerrilla campaign, using anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles to ambush JNA units. Tank columns could be trapped by destroying the lead and rear vehicles in favourable terrain -- on a narrow mountain road where room for manoeuvre was limited, for example - enabling the rest to be tackled more easily. In preparation for this, the Slovenian government covertly bought lightweight missile systems from foreign suppliers, notably the SA-7 Grail (Strela) anti-aircraft missile and the German-designed Armbrust anti-tank system. Hit-and-run and delaying tactics were to be preferred, with frontal clashes to be avoided; For the reason that the JNA's superior firepower would have been very difficult to overcome in these situations.

On the diplomatic front, neither the European Community nor the United States were willing to recognise the independence of Slovenia and strongly advocated the continuation of a unified Yugoslavia. The Slovenian government asked for international assistance in negotiating a peaceful breakup of Yugoslavia but was repeatedly turned away by Western countries who preferred to deal with a single federation rather than numerous small states. However, the Slovenes argued that they had no choice in pushing for independence, due to the blatant lack of commitment to democratic values on the part of the Belgrade authorities.

Slovenia unexpectedly declared independence on 25 June 1991, even though it had previously announced that it would declare independence on 26 June. This "advance" on the date of independence was a vital element of the Slovenian plan to gain an early advantage in the expected conflict. The Slovenian government fully expected the Yugoslav military to respond with force on the day of the declaration of independence or shortly afterwards. By secretly advancing the date by 24 hours, the Slovenians wrongfooted the Yugoslav government, which had planned 26th of June as the date for its move.

Although the Yugoslav army was strongly against Slovenian independence, it was divided about what to do. The JNA Chief of Staff, Colonel-General Blagoje Adi, advocated a large-scale military operation to remove the Slovenian government and bring "healthy forces" to power in the republic. His political superior, the Yugoslav Defence Minister Colonel-General Veljko Kadijevi, preferred a more cautious approach - basically a show of force that would convince the Slovenian government to back down on its declaration of independence. After some debate, Kadijevi got his way.

It is not known how much the civilian members of the Yugoslav government were involved in the decision to resort to force in Slovenia. Ante Markovi, the President of the Federal Executive Council (equivalent to Prime Minister) is quoted as saying that the federal government had not been informed of the Army's actions.

On the morning of 26 June, the first day of the war, units of the Yugoslav People's Army's 13th Corps left their barracks in Rijeka, Croatia to move towards Slovenia's borders with Italy. The move prompted a strong reaction from local Slovenes, who organised spontaneous barricades and demonstrations against the JNA's actions. No fighting took place though, as both sides seemed set on not being the first to open fire.

By this time, the Slovenian government had already put into action its plan to seize control of the republic's border posts and the international airport at Brnik. The guards manning the border posts were, in most cases, already Slovene, so the Slovene take-over was pretty much a matter of changing uniforms and insignia, without any fighting. This was undertaken, in the words of Janez Jana, to "establish our sovereignty in the key triangle, border-customs-air control." It also had important practical effects. By taking control of the borders, the Slovenians were able to establish defensive positions against an expected JNA attack. This meant that the JNA would have to fire the first shots, which would enable the Slovenians to portray the Yugoslav military as aggressors.

On the 2nd day of the war, further JNA troop movements took place in the early hours, including a column of tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the JNA 1st Armoured Brigade leaving their barracks at Vrhnika near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, and heading for the airport at Brnik. They arrived a few hours later and took control of the facilities. To the east, JNA units left Maribor heading for the nearby border crossing at entilj and the border town of Dravograd further west. The Yugoslav Air Force dropped leaflets over various parts of Slovenia bearing the somewhat contradictory messages "We invite you to peace and cooperation!" and "All resistance will be crushed."

In the early hours of 27 June the Slovenian leadership was told of the movements of the JNA. The military leadership of the Fifth Military District, which included Slovenia, was in telephone contact with Slovenian president Milan Kuan, telling him that the troops' mission was limited to taking over the border crossings and airport. A meeting of the Slovene presidency was hastily convened at which Kuan and the rest of the members decided on armed resistance.

The Slovenian government had received warnings that the JNA would use helicopters to ferry special forces troops to strategic locations. It issued a warning to the JNA's 5th Military Command District in Zagreb that if helicopters continued to be used they would be shot down. The warning was disregarded by the JNA leadership, which still believed that the Slovenians would back down rather than fight. This was, however, a disastrous miscalculation. That afternoon, the Slovenian T.O. shot down two JNA helicopters over Ljubljana, killing the occupants. The ironic part of this story is that one of the pilots was a Slovene. The first casualty of the war, a Slovene shot down by the Slovene forces!

At Brnik, a T.O. unit attacked the JNA troops, and in Trzin a firefight developed in which four JNA soldiers and one T.O. soldier were killed and the remainder of the JNA unit was forced to surrender. Despite the confusion and fighting, the JNA nonetheless successfully accomplished much of its military mission. By midnight on 27 June it had taken control of all of the crossings along the Italian border, all but three crossings on the Austrian border and several of the new crossing points established along Slovenia's border with Croatia. However, many of its units were still stuck in vulnerable positions across Slovenia.

On the third day of the war, the Slovenian defence ministry ordered:
At all locations where RS [Republic of Slovenia] armed forces have the tactical advantage, offensive actions against enemy units and facilities will be carried out. The enemy will be summoned to surrender, the shortest deadline possible for surrender given and action taken using all available weapons. While in action, the necessary arrangements will be made to evacuate and protect the civilians.

At Medvedjek in central Slovenia, another JNA tank column came under attack at a truck barricade, where air raids killed six truck drivers. Heavy fighting broke out at Nova Gorica on the border with Italy, where the Slovenian Special Forces destroyed three JNA T-55 tanks and captured three more. Four JNA soldiers were killed and nearly 100 more surrendered.

The border crossing at Holmec was captured by Slovenian forces, with two fatalities on the Slovenian side and three on the JNA side; 91 JNA soldiers were captured. The Yugoslav Air Force carried out attacks at a number of locations across the country, most notably at Brnik Airport, where two Austrian journalists were killed and four Adria Airways airliners were seriously damaged. The Air Force also attacked the Slovenian military headquarters at Koevska Reka and flew sorties against radio and television transmitters at Krim, Kum, Trdinov vrh and Nanos in an attempt to silence the Slovenian government's broadcasts.

By the end of the day, the JNA still held many of its positions but was rapidly losing ground. It was already beginning to suffer problems with desertions -- many Slovenian members of the JNA quit their units or simply changed sides - and both the troops on the ground and the leadership in Belgrade appeared to have little idea of what to do next.

On the fourth day of the war three EC foreign ministers met with Slovenian and Yugoslav government representatives in Zagreb during the night and agreed on a ceasefire plan. The plan was not put into practice. In the morning, the Slovenes achieved several significant military successes. The JNA troops at Brnik Airport surrendered to Slovenian forces, who had surrounded the facility overnight. In the north, several JNA tanks were captured near Strihovec and later reorganised into a T.O. tank company. JNA special forces attempted a maritime landing at Hrvatini but were ambushed and repulsed by the Slovenians. The JNA-held border crossings at Vrtojba and entilj also fell to the Slovenians, who seized the federal troops' weapons and tanks, providing a much-needed boost to their arsenal.

The JNA issued an ultimatum to Slovenia, demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities by 0900 on 30 June. In response, the Slovenian Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis that did not jeopardise Slovenian independence, and rejected the JNA ultimatum.

The fifth day of the war saw continued skirmishing in several places. Slovenian forces captured the strategic Karavanke Tunnel under the Alps on the border with Austria and captured nine JNA tanks near Nova Gorica.

On the sixth day of the war the JNA's ammunition dump at rni Vrh caught fire and was destroyed in a massive explosion, damaging much of the town. In the meantime, the JNA's leadership sought permission to change the tempo of its operations. Defence Minister Veljko Kadijevi informed the Yugoslav cabinet that the JNA's first plan - a limited operation to secure Slovenia's border crossings had failed, and that it was time to put into operation the backup plan of a full-scale invasion and imposition of military rule in Slovenia. However, the cabinet -- headed at the time by Serbia's Borislav Jovic -- refused to authorise such an operation.

The seventh day of the war saw the heaviest fighting so far, and it was a day of disasters for the JNA. The JNA tank column in the Krakovski forest came under sustained attack from TO units, forcing it to surrender. Units from the JNA's Fourth Armoured Corps attempted to move up from Jastrebarsko in Croatia but were beaten back near the border town of Bregana. The Slovenian T.O. mounted successful attacks on border crossings at entilj, Gornja Radgona, Fernetii and Gorjansko, capturing them and taking a number of JNA troops prisoner. A lengthy engagement between JNA and Slovenian forces took place during the afternoon and evening at Dravograd, and a number of JNA facilities around the country fell to Slovenian forces.

At 9pm, the Slovenian Presidency announced a unilateral ceasefire. However, this was rejected by the JNA leadership, which vowed to "take control" and crush Slovenian resistance.

On the eight day of the war a large JNA armoured convoy set off from Belgrade for Slovenia. It never arrived; according to the official account, this was due to mechanical breakdowns. However, observers have suggested that the real reason for the troop movement was to position the JNA for its imminent attack on the Croatian region of eastern Slavonia.

On the ninth day of the war and with a ceasefire now in force, the two sides disengaged. Slovenian forces took control of all of the country's border crossings, and JNA units were allowed to withdraw peacefully to barracks and to cross the border to Croatia.

The Ten-Day War was formally ended the next day with the agreement of the Brioni Accord, signed on the Croatian Brioni Islands. The terms were distinctly favourable to Slovenia; a three-month moratorium on Slovenian independence was agreed -- which in practical terms had little real impact -- and the Slovenian police and armed forces were recognised as sovereign on their territory.

It was agreed that all Yugoslav military units would leave Slovenia, with the Yugoslav Government setting a deadline of the end of October to complete the process. The Slovenian government insisted that the withdrawal should proceed on its terms; the JNA was not allowed to take much of its heavy weaponry and equipment, which was later either deployed locally or sold to other Yugoslav republics. The withdrawal began about ten days later and was completed by 26 October.

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Rozman from Canada Reply Oct 24th, 2012

Thank you for the informative article, makes me proud of my Slovenian heritage. Looking forward to visiting the country soon !!

Zivaziva from Slovenia Reply Oct 16th, 2012

"On 23 December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum on independence which passed with 88% of the vote" is not quite correct. It's 88,5 % of the whole electoral body and 95 % of the vote.

Charles Poljanec from United States Reply Mar 1st, 2012

Well-written. My grandparents were born in Slovenia so learning how the conflict unfolded made me proud of the peoples' courage and determination to be free.

James from Australia Reply Oct 3rd, 2011

Very good, but who called that final ceasefire?

Mouse from Russia Reply Sep 24th, 2010

Wat too long!!!! Come on, I mean the first 5 paragraphs had nothing to do with the actual war! That was background.

Yair from Israel Reply Aug 21st, 2010

Very informative. Thank you.

dude from United States Reply Aug 18th, 2010

wayyyy to frecken long!!!! come on, i mean the first 5 paragraphs had nothing to do with the actual war! that was background.

Darla from United States Reply Aug 18th, 2010

Great article, very informative!

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