The sign of OF, usually painted grafitti-style on the walls in occupied Ljubljana
Hej Tovariši – another partisan song
Sorry for the late post, everyone… It took longer than expected
Liberation Front (full name: Liberation Front of Slovene Nation – Osvobodilna fronta slovenskega naroda, short: OF) was a heterogenus association of people and groups of various backgrounds with its main aim to organize armed rebellion against German and Italian occupator.
The borders of pre-WWII Yugoslavia were created in 1915 in London, where Western powers granted Italy expansion into Austo-Hungarian empire as a reward for switching sides in WWI. The fact that most of today’s Slovenia territory was a part of the defeated empire did not help, either. And last, but certainly not least, the fact that Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia) was run by a bunch of reactionaries and proto-fascists did have a lot to do with the fact that Liberation Front (OF) was a succesful endeavour.
In today’s politically-correct history the last sentence would read: “The fact that pre-war politicians in power failed to recognize the gravity of the situation leading up to WWII and were ofter immersed in internal bickering rather than tending to an increasingly obvious question of Slovene nationhood, in large part percipetated the fact that creation of the OF found fertile ground to thrive on”
OF consisted of both the established and forbidden pre-war political options and movements. The fact that Communist party was banned in pre-war Yugoslavia meant that it (the Party) had an underground network of operatives already in place and functioning when the war started, making the communists the only force (albeit a tiny one) which could even contemplate offering some sort of resistance. The fact that some (but not all) established political (mainly christian socialist) and cultural groups joined forces with the communists provided credibility for the latter, as people in general frowned upon the communists at the time
It is generally accepted that OF was officially created on april 27 1941 (three weeks after Germany invaded Yugoslavia). It is also generally accepted that the actual meeting of the group took place a day earlier in the villa of Slovene author and moral authority Josip Vidmar in Rožna dolina in Ljubljana. The house still stands today.
THE NAME, THE MISSION
Initially, OF was named “Anti-imperialist Front”, which echoed the fact that communists were much more organised both “in the field” and withint the Front than any other group. It is generally accepted that Slovene communists at the time looked up to Moscov and Stalin for leadership if not direct orders. But German invasion of Soviet Union was a month away and Stalin was doing everything possible to avoid a war.
And so Slovene communists (and with them the entire OF) were trapped between a rock and a hard place. Their ideologocal brothers in Moscow were trying to placate the same force that was already occupying Slovenia, dividing it between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and collaborationist Hungary. To the best of my knowledge they decided to fight only against Italian occupator at the time and there were a number of reasons to do so.
Firstly, the above dilemma: Stalin had dealings with Hitler but not Mussolini. Secondly: Italians opted for a slightly softer approach than Germans, trying to establish a cultural superiority over the subjugated nation in addition to occupying it. This meant that some sort of movement of civilian population was allowed which also allowed for operation of the underground network and which made Italians a much easier target. And thirdly (perhaps most importantly): OF was created in Ljubljana, which was under Italian occupation. The border between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy ran along the nothern outskisrts of Ljubljana, a part which today is known as Zgornja (Upper) Šiška.
But as of June 22 1941, when Germany invaded Soviet Union, all such misgivings faded away, making it possible for Anti-imperialist Front to rename itself to Liberation Front and having only one mission, encompassed in these seven points:
1. Relentless armed actions must be executed against the occupators.
2. These actions provide grounds for liberation and unification of all Slovenes.
3. As it recongizes the natural association of Yugoslav nations, the OF does not recognize the carving of Yugoslavia and will use all its powers to ensure unity of its nations. With this in mind it also seeks to unite all Slavic nations under the leadership of the great Russian nation, based every nation’s right to self-declaration.
4. With actions of liberation and activation of Slovene masses, the OF will redefine Slovene national character. Slovene people who fight for their national and human rights represent a new form of active Slovene-hood.
5. All groups, active in the OF, commit themselves to remain loyal to one another.
6. After liberation is achieved, the OF as a whole will take power in entire Slovene territory.
7. After liberation is achieved, OF will institute a system of popular democracy. All questions beyond the scope of national liberation will be resolved by a method of popular democracy.
BECOMING A PART OF THE ALLIED FORCE
After Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Atlantic Declaration and later formed the basis of the United Nations (in accord with Stalin), the OF added two more items to its declaration
8. In accordance with solemn statements by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, Slovene nation will take it upon itself to decide on its internal and external reltions. The OF will enforce and defend this elementary right of Slovene nation by any means necesary.
9. Slovene army in Slovene territory stems from Slovene national-liberation (NOB) partisan units and National defense. All patriotic Slovenes are urged to join these formations.
As you can see, there is much of “Brave New World” riff-raff in there. In today’s “Cinycal New World” one word comes to mind. Bullshit. But few of us know what it is like to be occupied. Few of us know what it is like to be a member of a nation which was to be destroyed. I know I don’t. I can only imagine what went through these people’s minds when they heard of Hitler coming to Maribor and saying “Machen sie mir dieses Land wieder Deutsch!”
When you’re faced with an out-out option you don’t exactly dwell on details. When you’re faced with eradication you probably shoot first and ask questions later. Which provides fertile grounds for dire military and political actions when none are necesary. Better yet, it provides fertile grounds for eliminating any and all opposition – which is what the communists attempted (and in a large part managed) to do.
Many of you know of post-war mass murders of collaborationists and people who just happened not to share the belief in the Brave New World. It is a sad chapter in Slovene history. But it only proves that no war is good and/or clean.
Today it is easy for us to judge actions of 66 years ago. Today we’re full of “what if” scenarios. What if the pre-war administration hadn’t gone to see the invading German force asking it to occupy entire Slovenia (it actually happened and the Germans refused). What if the Communist party hadn’t forced other groups within the OF to recognize its superiority (which it did in 1943), what if…. what if…
To tell you the truth – I don’t give a shit… The fact remains that OF provided for creation of Slovene Partisan Forces which liberated Slovenia completely on their own and returned Primorska region (remember London 1915 from the begining of this post?) to Slovenia, for the first time…well… ever. The only time Slovenes of that region were a part of a single state was under Austro-Humgarian empire, which wasn’t much to start with anyway.
Overall, the OF is and should remain a generally positive phenomenon in Slovene history, for it provided – despite its many failures – a wiff of independent Slovenia, which was to become 45 years later, with much less bloodshed than anyone thought possible.
And yes – the OF showed to the world there are times when size doesn’t matter.
As I said – there are things we can’t even begin to contemplate. But every sentence, no matter how long, requires a full stop. And this is something President Drnovšek tried to do at Teharje in 2005, when he gave a speech commemoration the victims of post-war murders.
I’d like you to read that speech. It was probably the speech of his lifetime, and hopefully a starting point for Slovenes of all sides to come to terms with our common history
But in the end, there is one irefutable fact. During the war, the OF was on the winning side of the history and on the right side of history. To put it in two words: We won!
Smrt fašizmu, svobodo narodu!