Today, at the Presidential Palace, the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor offered a formal apology to the 25,671 people who were erased from the Register of Permanent Residents of the Republic of Slovenia 30 years ago.
The President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor and the President of the Civil Initiative of Erased Activists Irfan Beširović spoke at the event.
President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor apologized to the Erased on his own behalf and on behalf of the state, the for the illegal act of erasing 25,671 citizens from the Register of Permanent Residents of the Republic of Slovenia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last year Slovenia celebrated thirty years of independence, and this year it celebrates thirty years of international acknowledgment and recognition.
In these thirty years, Slovenia has seen achievements and accomplishments of which we can be justly proud and which inspire our future aspirations.
It was in this very hall of the Presidential Palace, at fifteen ceremonies, that we remembered with jubilation the landmark events that made Slovenia’s independence, defence and international recognition possible – from the establishment of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, the May Declaration and the first democratic multi-party elections to the adoption of Constitutional amendments and the signing of the Brioni Declaration.
All this made it possible to establish our own State, to make it more free, more democratic and more just. On the anniversaries of all these magnificent events, we were overwhelmed with pride.
Thirty years on, the Republic of Slovenia should be politically and morally mature enough to publicly and openly acknowledge, express regret and apologise for its infamous and unacceptable actions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thirty years ago tomorrow, the Slovenian authorities illegally erased 25,671 citizens of other republics of the former SFRJ with a permanent residence in Slovenia from the Register of Permanent Residents of the Republic of Slovenia.
After years of hardship, agony and shame, the silence of the erasure was first broken by the Erased themselves. After many years, it was also broken by the courts. Today, the time has come for the silence of the erasure to be broken by the State and by me as its highest representative on its behalf.
Acknowledging unacceptable behaviour is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength, maturity and responsibility.
The erasure of citizens from the register, including 5,360 children, was an arbitrary and unjust act, it was illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory, and it constituted a violation of human rights.
There is no doubt about this today – two decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights made this clear, due to the unacceptably long proceedings and the conduct of state authorities in rectifying the injustice, even after the adoption of these decisions.
The erasure denied people, who should have remained permanent residents in the country where they lived, the legal basis for many rights: the right to work, the right to healthcare and social protection, the right to higher education and the right to buy a home.
Many were expelled from the country, and many families were separated. Many fell ill, and some even died prematurely without access to healthcare services.
Because the erasure was carried out quietly, without informing those affected, in the first years following the erasure they could not understand why they were suddenly, without explanation, no longer able to support their families, go to their parents’ funeral, or return to Slovenia, to their homes, after visiting relatives.
Overnight, they were robbed of their human dignity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Among us here today, in this hall, in this country, are you who were erased, who were left without a home, without a doctor, without income. You were forced to work illegally because there was no legal basis for your employment – or worse: you were left without a job and without the right to work.
Many among us here today are children of the Erased, now adults, who were deprived of a carefree childhood, of friends, of contact with your parents, of acceptance at a time when you should have felt most safe. This caused you shame, loneliness, pain.
And among us here today are the Erased who, even after thirty years, still live in Slovenia without a permanent residence. We have lived with you for thirty years, but many of your stories remain untold, unknown.
Please accept my sincere apologies on my behalf and on behalf of the State for the unconstitutional act of ereasing you from the register of permanent residents, for the violation of your human rights and for all the injustice and suffering that this act caused you and your families.
I deeply regret the losses you suffered as a result of the erasure, in your relationships with your loved ones, in your property and in the opportunities that could have turned your life around for the better.
I regret that you had to wait far too long for action to be taken to redress the wrongs done to you, even after decisions were adopted by the courts.
I am aware that the measures only went to so far to address the issues and that many of you are still suffering the consequences of the erasure.
I realise that an apology will not make up for what you lost by being erased. By no means.
However, today we are also taking moral responsibility for the unconstitutional act of erasure, and we are committing it to our collective historical memory.
The symbolic act of apology can never replace the actual righting of wrongs, and the righting of wrongs can never replace the symbolic act of apology. That is why an apology is necessary. For what happened in the past and as a commitment for the future.
Today, we are putting an end once and for all to an era of denial and a failure to acknowledge all the suffering and all the grave, tragic consequences of the erasure that are still ongoing.
I want the apology to also signify our firm commitment to our shared values of mutual respect, fairness, respect for the rule of law and human rights.
I wish I could conclude my apology with an assurance that this will never happen again. The erasure, as well as other events in our vicinity, show us that the rule of law and human rights cannot be taken for granted, that they must be constantly watched over and constantly fought for.
That is why, as President of the Republic of Slovenia, I call on you,
first, to keep the memory alive. I call on all national and local authorities, as well as civil society institutions that are able to do so within the scope of their tasks and powers, to keep the memory of the erasure and the Erased alive,
and second, to protect the rule of law and human rights. I call on all future governments of our country and all relevant institutions to protect and enable the independence of the judiciary, independent institutions, guardians of democracy, to respect the independence of the media, and to provide space and mechanisms for civil society to function.
Our constant and shared concern that such a thing should never happen again is the only fitting tribute to those who were erased and to your struggle.
Finally, I would like to thank you all, the erased people who not only survived all these years, but also joined together, into associations, with allies, and fought together for your rights.
Thank you also to all of you who have helped the Erased – in making them visible, in court battles and judicial reviews, in appealing to our consciousness and conscience:
non-governmental organisations – Amnesty International Slovenia,
the Peace Institute,
Rog Social Centre,
Mr Matevž Krivic,
the then President of the Constitutional Court, Dr Dragica Wedam Lukić, and other constitutional and European judges
and especially to the many individuals you have not only helped navigate complex procedures, but above all helped with their daily survival – with accommodation, food – and with your trust, solidarity and humanity.
Many could not have done it without you.
May the values of solidarity and justice continue to strengthen our society.
This speech was was originally published on predsednik.si