Ethnic cleansing in Slovenia

More than 18,000 Slovenians suddenly found there was no record they even existed.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 30, 2007 12:22AM (EST)

Broadsheet pal Chris Colin has a weighty feature story -- equally relevant to both genders -- in this month's Mother Jones about how more than 18,000 nonethnic Slovenians were "erased" as citizens. Some call it "administrative genocide," others "ethnic cleansing."

Colin offers a proportional comparison: Imagine 2.6 million people in the U.S. having all records of their existence expunged from the national database of permanent residents. Most of the "erased" experienced something similar to Zoran Ilič, who moved to Slovenia in 1969. In 1992, filling out civic paperwork, Ilič was essentially told that he did not exist. "There was no record of his existence whatsoever," writes Colin. This was more than a frustrating bureaucratic bumble; it meant "Ilič's pension, health insurance, driver's license, and right to legal employment" had been very intentionally rubbed out.

The reason? In 1991, when Slovenia became independent of Yugoslavia, 200,000 nonethnic Slovenians were asked to reapply for citizenship. The 18,305 -- many of them residents of Slovenia for all or most of their lives -- who failed to reapply or whose applications were denied were simply "erased." The government said it was their own fault -- their failure to reapply reflected "their hostility toward Slovene independence, their allegiance to Yugoslavia, and so on." But, as Aleksandar "Aco" Todorović, the founder of the Association of the Erased, said, "I don't think we can talk about 3,000 kids being 'opposed to Slovenia.'"

The result of the erasure is that "families have been forced into poverty, pensions cancelled, children denied schooling or informed their parents don't exist. It's unknown how many Erased have died from lack of medical care, though human rights groups have documented many instances." Others left the country or were deported; some committed suicide.

Ilič was eventually able to restore his son's citizenship. But, as Colin writes, "roughly 12,000 of the Erased have been 'regularized' as new permanent residents, thereby keeping pensions and reparations out of reach." Ilič was forced to divorce his Slovenian wife -- "on paper anyway," he says -- so that she wouldn't share his last name.

Slovenia's constitutional court has twice deemed the erasure illegal, but there have yet to be any repercussions. Of course, the ultimate question is: How did this happen considering Slovenia's reputation as a relatively enlightened member of the European Union? "Compare them to their neighbors," said John Dalhuisen of the Council of Europe's Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. "Anyone who hasn't fired too many bullets in the area in the last 15 years looks pretty good."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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