People who were made stateless in the Balkan republic of Slovenia during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s are to be offered compensation by the Slovenian government, according to a news report published by the Albanian-language division of the Balkan Transitional Justice organisation.
During the ethnic clashes and civil war that marked the collapse of the former republic of Yugoslavia, once part of the Soviet bloc, thousands of people in the newly independent Slovenia were denied citizenship on the basis that they belonged to “other nationalities”. This was despite many of them having lived in the area for several generations. In a wave of ethnocentric nationalism that spread through the rapidly disbanding state after the fall of its Communist allies behind the Iron Curtain, Slovenes sought to build a new cultural and political identity for themselves, to the extent of excluding the ‘others’ who could not be trusted to be faithful supporters of the new dream of a free and liberated Slovenia. Non-Slovenes soon found themselves without proper documentation or a country to call home.
Ljubljana’s Presidential Palace. In 1991, Slovenia’s fledgling post-independence government denied citizenship rights to around 26,000 residents hailing from other parts of the Yugoslav Socialist Republic.
About 26,000 stateless people, known as the ‘deleted’, are now eligible to claim compensation for their loss of livelihoods, businesses and homes but have only two weeks to apply for compensatory measures. Courts in both Ljubljana and abroad are bracing for a flurry of claims as people aim to beat the deadline.
In an interview with the BTN network and multilingual news service Balkan Insight, Igor Mekina, director of Slovenian NGO Civic Link said “These people lost their permanent residence in Slovenia. Police documented at the time that they took them off the streets and entered their homes (to seize them for arrest). They lost the right to work, (to receive) social welfare and everything else. Simply, they stopped existing in Slovenia “
“Their status at the time was worse than that of the refugees who had arrived in Slovenia because of the war. Refugees had at least some documents, while the ‘deleted’ (didn’t have) anything,” he added.
Slovenia was one of the first of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia to split away. Its independence came on the 25th of June 1991, at the start of a bloody civil war along ethnic and religious lines, leading to thousands of deaths, with Croats and Bosnians suffering particularly. The new Slovenian government at that time only offered citizenship to native Slovenians and those who had been citizens of the country for a considerable amount of time.
People who had migrated to Slovenia from other parts of the ex-Yugoslavia between 1945-1991 soon found themselves being refused citizenship documentation and found their very existence illegal. They were arrested and detained, and many had their properties confiscated.
One of the so-called deleted, an ethnic Serb named Aleksandar Todorovic, was barely able to survive and feed his family when the Slovenian government took away his citizenship rights in 1991. Speaking to BTS, Todorovic recollected “I could not do anything. Even to buy a cake for my child. I was afraid to go out, all the while I (was constantly) fleeing from police,“
“Even my children were denied any right (of citizenship). A few years later I managed to prove that I was their father, because I simply did not exist in the Slovene state“
Milan Culibrik, another deleted ex-Yugoslav, complained of the lack of willingness of the other former Yugoslavian countries to help or repatriate their nationals and expatriates caught up in the Slovenian residency debacle.
“(The) countries in the region are very passive, they behave as if this was only a problem for Slovenia. Our states have forgotten us. (They) do not have information about what is happening in Slovenia, or how we should get our rights,” said Culibrik.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ruled that in the cases of six men who were made stateless in 1992, Slovenia had contravened their human rights and ordered Ljubljana to pay each of the men€20,000 (GBP £17,205) each as compensation for their undue suffering and loss of income.
The ECHR in Strasbourg, where the compensation claims of the ‘deleted’ ex-Yugoslavs are being processed.
Since then the Court has received an extra 648 indictments and expects this number to rise significantly as the cutoff date for compensation nears.
Natasa Kandic, the regional co-coordinator of a fact-finding mission, RECOM, which is collecting information on the atrocities of the Yugoslav breakup, said that the issue of the Slovenian ‘deleted’ is the most serious issue of human rights violation in the Balkan state, which has been a member of the European Union since early 2007.
“It is clear that these people were deleted because of their ethnicity,” said Kandic.
Ms. Kandic advised affected individuals to first submit their application for compensation to the relevant authorities in Ljubljana before the July 24th, and then submit a claim to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
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