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The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights

The Founding Document of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights


Ljubljana, June 3, 1988

Copy, 4 pages.


Reference code: SI AS 1289, Odbor za varstvo človekovih pravic – Bavčarjev odbor, box 1 (founding document), box 12 (statement), boxes 6 and 12 (letters of support).



June 3rd marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. The Committee was set up at the initiative of Igor Bavčar three days after the arrest of Janez Janša. This month’s archivalia is the founding document of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights titled “We founded the Committee for the Defence of Janez Janša’s Rights”. Kept among our records are 4 versions of this document: the one introduced here is the document that was published in the magazine Mladina (June 10, 1988) and in other printed media. Due to new arrests the Committee for the Defence of Janez Janša’s Rights changed its name into the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights on June 6. Archival documents of the Committee were donated to the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia by the Slovenian Democratic Party in 1991, some of the documents were also donated by Marjan Kranjc from Ljubljana in 1996. The documents cover the period between June 1988 and 1990 and consist of 19 archival boxes (2.2 running metres).


Events that led to the founding of the Committee date back to the final years of the former Yugoslavia. After the death of Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia experienced a deep political and economic crisis and despite numerous economic measures, there was still inflation rate of 130 % expected for the year 1988. Throughout the entire state labour strikes took place in factories that employed as many as several thousand workers. Among the biggest strikes were those at the Maribor Vehicle Factory, at the factory Borovo in Vukovar in Croatia, and at the Serbian factory Zmaj. The crisis in Kosovo re-erupted violently and there was a noticeable strengthening of nationalisms in Serbia, Croatia and also in Slovenia. Historians will only be able to provide an accurate assessment of this period once they have a chance to fully analyse archival documents and other related sources that for the time being are still partly closed for the purposes of scientific research. Archives in Belgrade are undoubtedly a treasury of such documents.


In the spring of 1988, political situation in Slovenia became extremely strained. People were puzzled by the 72nd session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia where situation in Slovenia was being discussed and which was held in Belgrade and was classified as “confidential”. There was only a copy of shorthand note of Milan Kučan’s speech in Belgrade, one copy was also made for Jože Smole, the president of the SZDL (Socialistična zveza delovnega ljudstva/Socialist Association the of Working People). Igor Bavčar, who at the time was the head of the cabinet of the vice president of SZDL, intercepted the document and submitted a copy of it to Janez Janša who then forwarded it to Franci Zavrl, the chief editor of Mladina magazine. Based on this document, Vlado Miheljak, using a pseudonym Majda Vrhovnik, wrote an article for Mladina and titled it Night of the Long Knives. This issue of Mladina was censored by the State Security Agency and was withdrawn from sale. All this gave rise to rumours about the possible military attack in Slovenia and about the list of people that were considered danger to society and needed to be moved out of the way. At the top of this list were primarily those who dared to criticize the Yugoslav army in their articles and public statements.


On May 31, 1988 Janez Janša was arrested. He was a journalist for Mladina and a candidate for the president of the ZSMS (Zveza socialistične mladine Slovenije/Allience of Socialist Youth of Slovenia). Also taken to prison that same day was Ivan Borštner, officer of the Yugoslav army, who took the confidential military document 5044-3 of Januar 8, 1988. The document was a secret command issued by the general Svetozar Višnjić, commander of the 9th army district, about the priorities of military troops in the Slovenian territory in 1988. Borštner handed the document over to one of the editors of Mladina magazine David Tasič, who was arrested on June 4. Arrests of the civilian defendants and their interrogation were carried out by Slovenian state security agents, and the defendants were then turned over to investigation and court authorities of the Yugoslav People’s Army. Franci Zavrl, chief editor of Mladina magazine, was allowed to defend himself while outside prison. The general public was ill informed of the arrests; people did not even know based on which point of criminal procedure act Janša was arrested and what exactly were charges against him.


At the special session on June 3, Igor Bavčar presented the initiative for the founding of the Committee for the protection of Janez Janša’s Rights. The founders of the Committee were the signatories of the Statement for Janez Janša of June 1, 1988 and others who joined the statement later on. Their signatures show that the initiative for the founding of the Committee managed to unite almost entire Slovenian cultural, scientific, professional, society, youth and most of all democratic public, regardless of their differences in political views, religious beliefs and other convictions. Members of the work presidium were Igor Bavčar, Pavle Gantar, Bojan Korsika, Rastko Močnik and Mile Šetinc. Also preserved are three documents with names of the members of the collegium which consisted of 35 people. More than 100,000 individual members and about 1000 different institutions joined the Committee as well. Individuals and institutions wrote hundreds of letters of support. The Committee regularly kept Slovenian and foreign public informed about the events of the trial. The day after the founding, members of the presidium wrote an open letter to all the highest representatives of the Slovenian power and to Raif Dizdarević, the president of the Presidium of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, stating clearly that “Janša case is the start of the process that could have disastrous political consequences”. The Committee demanded the release of the defendants, the possibility of a civil trial and the choosing of a civil defence attorney, they called for the trial to be held in the Slovenian language, pluralisation of society, multi-party political system ... Crowds of people gathered daily in front of the Military Court in Roška Street in Ljubljana where the trial against Janša, Borštner, Tasič and Zavrl took place. Different forms of protests were being organized, the most massive demonstration was held on June 21 and was attended by 40,000 to 50,000 people. The Committee became the most important and numerous civil society of the “Slovenian Spring” and contributed greatly to democratization of Slovenia. Soon after the dissolving of the Committee Slovenia witnessed its first multi-party elections and in December 1990 the plebiscite for the independent Slovenia was held.



- Balažic, Milan: Slovenska demokratična revolucija 1986–1988. Ljubljana: Liberalna akademija, 2004.

- Janša, Janez: Premiki. Nastajanje in obramba slovenske države. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 1992.

- Jenuš, Gregor: Proces proti četverici. Studia Historica Slovenica, Letn. 7, št. 1/2 (2007), str. 61–91.

- Miheljak, Vlado: Slovenci padajo v nebo. Ljubljana: Znanstveno in publicistično središče, 1995.

- Repe, Božo: Aretacija Janeza Janše in proces proti četverici. Slovenska kronika XX. stoletja. 2. knj., 1941–1995. Ljubljana: Nova revija,1997, str. 411–412.

- Repe, Božo: Odbor za varstvo človekovih pravic. Slovenska kronika XX. stoletja. 2. knj., 1941–1995. Ljubljana: Nova revija,1997, str. 413.



Vesna Gotovina