Settled in four distinct areas (Styria, Carniola, Carinthia and Gorizia) since the fifth century, Slovenia was later variously dominated by the Bavarians, the Frankish Empire of the Carolingians, and the largely Germanic Holy Roman Empire, which lasted in one form or another from the ninth to the 19th century. The Slovenes themselves were a Slavic people, converted to Roman Catholicism. In the 14th century, the Slovene territories became hereditary possessions of the House of Habsburg. After 1867, when the Habsburg realm became the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary, the Slovenes fell under the jurisdiction of the Austrian Crown. Despite considerable socio-economic progress locally thereafter, the ancient threat posed to Slovene survival and cultural identity by Germanization pushed local political sentiment towards supporting the growing south Slav movement of the Croats and Serbs. Thus, following the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, Slovenia became a part of the new ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ in 1918 (renamed ‘Yugoslavia’ in 1929). In 1941, when the Axis powers dismembered Yugoslavia, Slovenia was carved up between Germany, Italy and Hungary.
Local resistance, initially from non-communist nationalists, was hijacked by the Yugoslav Communist Party led by Josip Broz Tito, himself partly of Slovene origin. In 1945, after the communists emerged as victors, Slovenia became a constituent republic of the new Yugoslav federation. The ruling League of Communists of Slovenia (LCS) supported the Croats in the demand for an effectively confederal Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s, although never to the point of provoking Tito into repression, as took place in Croatia in 1971. Among other things, this caution made a relatively liberal political atmosphere in Slovenia possible, culminating in a pluralist ‘Slovene Spring’ after Milan Kucan became LCS leader in 1986. The nationalist Kucan steered Slovenia towards independence following multi-party National Assembly elections in April 1990 which brought to power a six-party center-right coalition, calling itself DEMOS, led by Premier Lozle Peterle.
After 14 months, during which both Slovenia and Croatia became increasingly alienated from Belgrade, Slovenia declared independence. The central Government immediately sent in armoured convoys to take control of federal border posts and key installations in the capital Ljubljana. The army was clearly not expecting the resistance put up by well-prepared Slovene irregulars and after a few weeks of sporadic and largely inconclusive fighting, a ceasefire was reached. By October 1991, all federal military forces had left the republic, and Slovenia proclaimed its independence on 8 October. Full international recognition followed in January 1992, after which the DEMOS Government collapsed, having achieved its sole objective of securing international recognition.
Slovenia was admitted to the United Nations in May 1992. A non-party government of technocrats took over pending new elections. Slovenia is the only one of the ex-Yugoslav republics to have a substantial, as opposed to a merely nominal, multi-party democracy, although it is on the road to permanent coalition politics with three parties (the customary European mix of center-right, center-left and liberal) as the main contestants.
The present government, which took office in October 2000, is typical of this pattern, consisting of a four-party coalition led by the Slovenian Liberal Democratic party, the centrist grouping which has consistently been the largest party in the national assembly. The result was similar to those of 1992 and January 1996. One constant presence, until his recent retirement, was Milan Kucan, who completed his second and final presidential term in 2002. Another has been Janes Drnovsek, who first took over as premier in 1992 and remained at the helm for the next 10 years. In 2002, following the most recent presidential poll, Drnovsek replaced Kucan as president. Anton Rop took over as Prime Minister in 2002. However, Janez Jansa is due to replace him imminently, after 2004 party elections bore witness to him pledge to persevere with widespread privatization in anticipation of joining the Euro currency zone.
Slovenian foreign policy focused on improving links with Western Europe, with the eventual aim of joining both the EU and NATO. The EU began membership negotiations with Slovenia in early 1998. By and large, these proceeded smoothly: the only real obstacle was a series of interrelated disputes with Italy over territory and property acquired by Yugoslavia after the 1947 post-war settlement in the region. With these settled, Slovenia joined the EU, along with nine other countries, in May 2004; it was the first of the former Yugoslav republics to attain membership. Slovenia was also formally invited to join NATO at the organization’s Prague summit in November 2002. Slovenia’s only major outstanding problem in its foreign relations is a long-standing border dispute with Croatia, an aspirant to EU and NATO membership (which Slovenia has tried to veto), which has so far defied solution.
The constitution promulgated in December 1991 allows for the election of a new bicameral legislature. The first chamber is the 90-seat Drzavni Zbor (National Assembly) in which 50 seats are indirectly elected, 38 directly elected and two reserved for Slovenia’s Italian and Hungarian ethnic minorities. The upper house, known as the Drzavni Svet (National Council) has 22 directly elected members and 18 members chosen by an electoral college. The upper house has a mainly advisory role but retains powers of veto over decisions of the Drzavni Zbor. All those elected serve a four-year term. The State President, a largely ceremonial figure, is also elected, but for a five-year term.
Before the disintegration of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) that began in 1991, Slovenia was its richest and most industrialized republic. With few natural resources, Slovenia was initially seriously affected by the civil war and the collapse of the Yugoslav federal market. However, careful economic management enabled a solid recovery. The agricultural sector is fairly small, growing cereals, sugar beet and potatoes, but the large areas of forest, covering about half the country, are an important natural resource. The mining industry is mostly concentrated on coal, but zinc and lead are also extracted along with small quantities of oil, gas and uranium. The manufacturing industry, which accounts for about 30 per cent of GDP, produces electrical equipment, textiles, wood-based products (including paper), chemicals and processed foods. The service sector is dominated by tourism and financial services. The tourism industry was almost annihilated during the early stages of the Yugoslav civil war when Slovenia was most heavily involved; it has since re-emerged, and in 2002 was worth about US$1.5 billion annually.
Financial services are well developed, especially banking and insurance. Successive governments have moved cautiously to reform the economy, introducing market-oriented reforms gradually and -for the most part - successfully. Inflation and unemployment in 2003 were both around 6 per cent, while the economy is growing moderately at 3 per cent annually. Slovenia has joined the IMF, World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and became a full member of the World Trade Organization in July 1995. Germany, Italy, France and Austria are particularly important trade partners; outside the EU, Croatia is most valuable to Slovenian trade. Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav republic to have been accepted for membership of the EU, which it joined in May 2004.