The Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies

The murderers have disappeared without a trace.

Translation of an article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30 July 2007

By Karl-Peter Schwarz

The crimes of Slovene communists in the year after 1945 remain unpunished.

Kranj, July 2007: "Yugoslav communism," says Ljubo Sirc, "was no less communist than Soviet communism or any other communism for that matter." In 1947, Sirc, now 87, was sentenced to death at a show trial in Ljubljana. According to Left-wing myths Tito's partisans "liberated" Yugoslavia from the German occupation, but in reality one dictatorship was replaced with another. Today, Tito's socialism is still considered as being benign and moderate although the reign of terror in Yugoslavia, relative to its population, hardly differs from Stalin's Great Terror: according to various assessments, between 200,000 and 300,000 Yugoslavs were murdered in 1945/46. Ljubo Sirc calculated that at least one million people were caught up in the wheels of the communist judiciary and the secret police between 1945 and 1950, every tenth inhabitant of Yugoslavia. The West rewarded Tito's break with Stalin at the beginning of the Cold War by overlooking his crimes.

While Ljubo Sirc was in prison in Slovenia in the 1950s, Eleanor Roosevelt, in her regular newspaper column 'My Day', praised "the dictatorship of the proletariat interwoven with humanism", saying communism was Yugoslavia's only hope and explained Tito's successes by him "telling the people the truth from the beginning". When the Yugoslav "workers self-management" ended in economic chaos, the Western governments knew no way out but continued supporting Tito regardless, and pumped enormous sums of money into Yugoslavia. Ljubo Sirc managed to escape and became established as lecturer in economics at Glasgow University. It was there, at the end of the 1960s, he was told after an exchange with leftist intellectuals that he deserved the death sentence as he clearly did not believe in communism. Today, Sirc's native Slovenia is considered a fledgling democracy in post-communist Europe. In that small country in the European Union, little more than 20,000 square kilometres with some 2 million inhabitants, 512 mass graves have been discovered with the remains of thousands of victims of communist terror.

Time and again skeletons are unearthed during construction work, or simply when the land is ploughed. Not a single person has ever been held accountable for these murders.

The Slovene communists, renamed Liberal Democrats and Social Democrats, have remained in power since the separation from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991 and until the electoral victory of the conservative parties, in 2004. Accordingly, the communists are still particularly strong in economic and financial affairs, in the media, universities and, above all, in the judiciary. All nine judges in Slovenia's Constitutional Court were appointed by the former President, Milan Kucan, who had also been leader of the Communist Party of Slovenia. Of the nine, eight are known communists, including Ciril Ribicic whose first name is his father's partisan name. In 2006 a court in Ljubljana blocked the State prosecutor's request for criminal proceedings against Mitja Ribicic that had been requested. After the war, Ribicic was acting chief of Section 2 of the communist secret service OZNA, responsible for persecution of the "internal enemy" and which directed summary executions of actual and potential enemies of the regime. Part of the public prosecutor's evidence shows that a "Colonel Mitja" issued written orders for the execution of 270 alleged "Nazi collaborators". The Court did not consider this sufficient justification to open a criminal investigation against a prominent Slovene politician. Ribicic, who loves dogs and writes poetry, had, under Tito at the end of the 1960s, become Yugoslav Prime Minister and later President of the Central Committee of the League of Yugoslav Communists. Ljubo Sirc and Mitja Ribicic have known each other for sixty years. Shortly before midnight on the eve of Tito's birthday on 24 May 1947, Sirc was arrested on his way home by OZNA. In the former psychiatric department of Ljubljana's hospital - also used by the Gestapo as a prison - he was interrogated by Ribicic and his men into the early hours of the morning. For four weeks, he was dragged from his cell each night for interrogation and was not allowed to sleep during the day. The secret service officer and his victim are approximately the same age - Ribicic was born in Trieste in 1919, Sirc in Kranj in 1920. Both enrolled in the Law Faculty at the University of Ljubljana in 1938. When Germany invaded Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, Sirc joined the left-wing national resistance group Stara Pravda (Ancient Right). The Yugoslav communists discovered their patriotism only two months later, when Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June rendered the Hitler-Stalin pact obsolete.

Ribicic, a political commissar with the rank of Colonel, supervised the party reliability of the partisan detachments in German occupied Northern Slovenia. Sirc says "his most important task was ensuring that no non-communists would join the armed resistance".

The commissars subjected the volunteers to a strenuous interrogation, including torture. Forestry workers found the corpses of partisans clubbed to death by the commissars. The so-called Protective Order of the Slovene People's Liberation Front of September 1941 provided for the liquidation of those resistance fighters who did not submit to the communist-controlled Liberation Front (OF). The anti-fascists of Stara Pravda were expelled from the OF. Sirc escaped to Switzerland in the futile hope that he would be able to warn the allies of the communist plans. As Tito, under pressure from the Allies, appeared to reach an agreement with the Royal Yugoslav Government, Sirc returned and joined the liberation army in the expectation that the British and Americans would support Subasic, obliging Tito to fulfil his obligations. He was to be bitterly disappointed. Contacts with foreigners which Sirc maintained as translator for the Yugoslav government decided his fate in the Show Trials of 1947. Of fourteen defendants three were sentenced to death. Ljubo Sirc's father Franjo, who had no connection with the democratic opposition, was also sentenced to ten years imprisonment with hard labour. Franjo Sirc died after four years in prison. He was sentenced because his son was an "enemy of the people" and he himself a "Class enemy". Franjo Sirc was a successful entrepreneur until the Nazis confiscated his property, dismantled his textile factory machines and destroyed the buildings. What was left by the Nazis was confiscated by the communists.

Ljubo Sirc remained in prison for seven and a half years. In 1955 he succeeded in escaping over the snow-capped mountains to Italy. He taught economics in Dacca, in Dundee and in Glasgow and founded the renowned Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies in London (CRCE). He has written several books on the failure of central planning and a biography Between Hitler and Tito, which is amongst the best and most vivid descriptions of life in Yugoslavia in those times. Sirc has been endeavouring to recover his property for over twenty years. This, he says, he owes to his father. The Show Trial sentence was rescinded in 1991. He immediately applied for restitution of his property and compensation for unjust imprisonment. He did recover a few scattered pieces of his family's property, consisting of a house in Kranj, except the business premises on the ground floor, part of the garden and 600 out of 15,000 square metres of land belonging to his father's textile factory. In 1990, the Slovene Parliament decided to return all confiscated properties, and if this were not possible compensation based on present valuation instead. The property restitution was dragged out and came to a complete halt. Sirc had to appeal adverse decisions three times. Eventually, Slovenia was fined a mere 18,000 Euros by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for dilatory handling of the claim where the value of property involved amounts to almost ten million Euros.

In 1998, the Slovenian leftist parties, that regained power after a brief interlude, retroactively modified the property restitution law of 1991 to the detriment of the claimants. The rationale given was that fiscal exigencies of the social state were more important than the right to property. In rejecting the complaint made by Sirc of discrimination as a result of the new law, the Constitutional Court of Slovenia argued that public interest justified the retrospective application of the law. Over forty percent of property in Slovenia is still owned by the government. Sirc's case was supposed to be a test case, but the ECHR took eight years to reach a judgement. Bostjan Zupancic, the Slovene judge in Strasbourg, in the Ljubljana left-wing daily Delo, criticised "the chasm between Western and Eastern thinking by which the ECHR is characterised where bourgeois mentality still prevails and ranted against "yuppi legislation". Instead of feeling themselves bound by "legal formalism", the judges should, according to Zupancic, exercise their legal power. Ljubo Sirc reports that he had drawn the attention of Luzius Wildhaber, ECHR President until 2007, to the peculiar understanding of law by the Slovene judge. Yet Wildhaber could not detect in the Slovene judge's views any infringement of the unité de doctrine at the Strasbourg court. Sirc accuses the Slovene Constitutional Court and the Section of ECHR, chaired by Zupancic, of bias. What is involved, says Sirc, is the disregard of his rights to a fair and public hearing by an impartial and independent court and, therefore, of the disregard of his human rights, in particular of his right to own property. The Slovene communists are now organised in to two successor parties which have joined the Liberal International and the Socialist International. Neither the Liberals nor the Social Democrats have asked questions about their past, their understanding of law and concept of property. In the West, says Sirc, there are still many people who are willing to serve the communists as "useful idiots".