Present-day Slovenia has a long history peppered with displacement, invasion, war and migration. It is now part of #refugeeroad, a path to Europe for refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and lack of resources. The current migrant crisis echoes Slovenia’s own history.
Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and during the Middle Ages the territory was caught in the midst of skirmishes between the ruling Hapsburg dynasty and the Ottoman Empire. Slovenia experienced a massive wave of emigration at the end of the 19th century, coupled with renewed interest in the Slovenian language political autonomy.
Tens of thousands of Slovenes died during World War I, and hundreds of thousands more were resettled as refugees in Austria and Italy. During this time, thousands of refugees in Italy died of malnutrition and disease. Slovenes who remained in Italy were subject to fascist Italianization, the forced cultural domination of emerging fascist Italy. In response, Slovenes and Croats in Italy are thought to have formed one of Europe’s first militant anti-fascist organizations.
Turn of the 20th Century
Though the Slovenian people had demanded independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it wasn’t made reality until October 29, 1918, when the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs took power in Ljubljana. On December 1, 1918, the State merged with the Kingdom of Serbia to become the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, it was renamed to the more familiar Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It’s worth noting that Slovenia’s industrial development historically outstripped that of its neighboring Balkan nations, which would go on to affect territorial relationships during the Balkan War.
World War II
During World War II, Slovenia was invaded by both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Nazis resettled approximately 18,000 Slovenes to a puppet region and expelled tens of thousands more to Germany. Many children were separated from their parents and given to German families while thousands of Slovenian men were conscripted into the Germany military. Slovene resistance in the area annexed by Italy was spearheaded by the communist Yugoslav and Slovene Partisan units, led by Josip Bros Tito. In the Italian-controlled areas of Slovenia, approximately 25,000 people were deported to concentration camps.
The anti-fascist and anti-Nazi resistance formed the basis of socialist Yugoslavia, and in 1945 the partisan military liberated the region and formed The People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Slovenia joined with its own pro-communist leadership. Yugoslavia generally enjoyed more cultural freedom than neighboring nations, along with a gradually liberalized economy. Slovenia’s industrial economy remained the strongest in Yugoslavia, and eventually popular opinion expressed frustration over the expensive communist bureaucracy of Yugoslavia, which Slovenes felt was unfairly dependent on their economy.
In the late 1980s, protests pushed for democracy and Slovenian independence from Yugoslavia. By 1989 the Slovenian government introduced parliamentary democracy through constitutional amendments. The nation changed its name to the Republic of Slovenia but didn’t become fully independent until 1991, precipitating the 10 Day War between the Slovenian Territorial Defense and the Yugoslav People’s Army. At that time the YPA was undermined and fractured, transitioning into a puppet institution so that Serbian ultra-nationalist Slobodan Milošević could gain control over the Yugoslav military. Slovenia has since become a full member of the European Union and OECD, a neoliberal, international trade organization.
Current Migrant Crisis
In 2015 and 2016, Europe experienced what has been dubbed “the migrant crisis.” Fueled partially by the ongoing war in Syria, along with generations of conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa, these migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers undertook extremely dangerous crossings over land and sea to arrive in Turkey and Europe. According to the European Union’s border force, the main pathways of migration were through Turkey and Macedonia to Greece, and into the Balkans, the route that CWB – USA traveled in 2017 and 2018. It’s important to note that in 2015, while Germany experienced the highest rate of asylum applications, Hungary was in fact the most impacted, proportionally. Hungary received 1,800 asylum applications per 100,000 local residents. Slovenia and Croatia, two countries currently building a border fence to suppress the “wave” of asylum seekers, received 13 and five applications per 100,000 local residents, respectively.
In March, 2016, Slovenia tightened its border restrictions, and other European countries swiftly followed suit. Slovenia claimed that only refugees with “clear humanitarian needs” would be allowed to enter the country—in other words, economic migrants would be denied entry. Macedonia, emulating Slovenia, prevented migrants from exiting Greece, creating a bottleneck along the border and stranding thousands in makeshift camps. Rather than working together to find a way to safely house and support people fleeing war and destruction, European nations instead tried to one-up each other and keep people out. In 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that Slovenia and Austria could, in fact, legally deport asylum-seekers back to their country of arrival (in this case, Croatia) as both nations did in 2015–2016. This ruling has created a huge problem for Italy, the country of arrival for thousands of migrants.
Ultimately, Turkey and the EU struck a deal resulting in third-party resettlement of refugees, mostly Syrians, essentially forcing people fleeing the dissolution of their own nation to stay in Turkey, an increasingly unstable country. Now, the UNHCR estimates that between 40,000–50,000 people are stuck along the Balkan Route, with Spain seeing a 114% increase in migrants attempting the far more perilous Mediterranean crossing between 2016–2017.