To understand what is happening in Slovenia today, we have to go back to the 1970s and the crucial events of that decade: the defeat of the student movement, and the purge of the so-called liberal party leaders who tried at that time to establish a market economy in Yugoslavia and liberalize somewhat political life. The emergence of a nationalist current in the context of a broad mass movement in Croatia in 1970–1 was used as a pretext not just to move against the nationalists themselves, but also to suppress political currents on the left and to purge the reforming–liberal wing of the party, first in Croatia and then in other parts of the country. The economic problems which the reform had been designed to tackle were then alleviated by recourse to massive loans from the West, which helped to maintain high living standards not warranted by the actual level of production in Yugoslavia. One should bear in mind that the purge of liberals also involved removing hundreds of managers from the country’s economic life.

Paradoxically, moreover, the removal of liberals coincided with the acceptance of many of their ideas, particularly in regard to decentralization of the economy on a republican—and hence also national—basis. As the democratic upsurge ended, the nationalisms or local interests of Yugoslavia’s six republics and two autonomous provinces became a kind of surrogate for all other political identities. You could be active within the existing political structure only on the basis of defending the interests of your republic or province. This precluded the possibility of coalitions—with a different vision of political development—being forted across republican and provincial frontiers. Thus the system which had supposedly emerged through the defeat of Croat and other nationalisms turned out to be itself most conducive to nationalism. Nationalisms is produced within the very structure of the Yugoslav system, its main root cause being the lack of institutionalized democracy.

The twin defeats of the student movement and the liberals had different effects in the various republics and provinces. In Croatia and Serbia, the activists of the sixties and the philosophers gathered around the journal Praxis did not change their ideas, but carried on their lonely struggle for political democratization, though this was difficult since Praxis was banned and its potential contributors could not publish elsewhere. In Slovenia, however, where the influence of the Praxis intellectuals had not been so strong, something different happened. Some of the intellectuals who had been involved in the student movement gave up politics, locked themselves in their rooms and started to read books. Hence, the 1970s in Slovenia present a somewhat paradoxical picture: on the one hand, a total depoliticization of society and, on the other, widespread involvement in study. Two dominant ideological currents emerged: the so-called structuralists, influenced by Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, etc., who produced the journal Problemi; and a group interested in political economy, gathered around the journal Časopis za kritiko znanosti, which was Marxist-oriented.

This purely theoretical research made three important political contributions. Firstly, a theory of Stalinism was elaborated which, in addition to a strong rejection of Stalinism itself, criticized the phenomenon of ‘dissidence’. To simplify considerably, it argued that dissidents in East European (and other socialist) societies played a state-constitutive role: that their way of thinking was essentially similar to that of the bureaucratic elite, though with an inverted meaning attached to things. The second important product was an analysis of the formation of the Slovene nation which showed that much of what people believed to be natural was in fact historical, with strong ideological mechanisms in action. The political result of this work was that it distanced a certain layer of the intelligentsia from nationalism. It could be argued that this was a historic turning-point: one could be an intellectual without being in thrall to the national idea. The third major intellectual contribution was an analysis of political economy which laid bare the ideological constructs of the Stalinist so-called socialist economy.

Three ‘imperatives’ then emerged from this work, shaping the thinking of a whole new generation. If you wanted to change socialism, you should (1) not act as a dissident, (2) not act as a nationalist, (3) critically examine the claims made about the scientific status of the socialist bureaucracy’s theory and practice. These young intellectuals, in other words, could not identify with any mainstream ideology in Slovene political life: neither with the Party, which was very rigid, nor with the traditional intellectuals associated with the journal Nova Revija, who see themselves as defenders of the Slovene nation and its cultural heritage.

What actually triggered off a new phase in Slovenia was the appearance of punk culture. In 1980 or 1981, four youngsters were arrested and accused of forming a fascist political organization. What had happened was that, like their contemporaries elsewhere in Europe, they had taken to wearing Nazi insignia. They, of course, had nothing to do with fascism. This produced a sudden politicization of the youth media, especially of Radio Student, and the intellectual current described above started to articulate its positions through defending these youngsters. At this time too, some of its most prominent members—for example, Igor Bavčar and Srečo Kirn—were elected to leading positions in the Slovene Socialist Youth Alliance, and very quickly started to transform this organization.

The Youth Alliance (and the same can be said for the Slovene Communist Party itself) did not know what to do, which language to use, because it understood that the vision of socialism offered hitherto was no longer in tune with reality and that an ideological renewal was required. It was relatively easy for those who were confident about their idea of what socialist reality should look like to become a factor of change. A new attitude of the youth organization towards the media emerged, which was that the media should become critical of society and of traditional politics. Thus in the 1980s an independent youth press was born in Slovenia. The 1986 congress of the Youth Alliance at Krško, which I attended as the then editor of the Socialist Youth Alliance journal Mladina, adopted a 22-point programme for changing Yugoslavia, most of which was already being disseminated through Mladina.