In early September 2018, a video portraying around 70 Slovenian men wearing black balaclavas and green t-shirts was published online. Some of them were carrying flags, axes and assault rifles, while marching in military formation through the woods. The masked men, lined up in a clearing in the forest of Pohorje, near Maribor, were then shown taking a solemn oath. The video was uploaded on the Facebook page “Štajerska varda” (Styrian Guard), which has more than 2,300 followers.
Their leader, Andrej Šiško, claimed that the “Guard” was established more than one year earlier and consists of several hundred members. Šiško stated the aim of the group is to “maintain order and peace, and control the borders”, adding that they would counter “direct threats to our region, our homeland, our nation”. This sort of paramilitary training is quite unusual in Slovenia and it sparked concern in the public debate. The government and the President condemned the initiative.
In the aftermath of the gathering, Slovenian police announced an investigation and carried out five house searches. Šiško claimed he had sources within the police, and that a large part of the police and intelligence services were on his side, but he was arrested in his home in Maribor on September 6. Another man was also arrested. They faced charges of inciting violent change to the constitutional order and illicit possession of firearms.
The investigating judge subsequently ruled that there were no grounds for detention and ordered Šiško‘s release, but the decision was overturned by both the district court and the higher court, which confirmed his detention on the grounds of the reasonable suspicion that he could continue his conduct.
Andrej Šiško’s biography says a lot about this story. He was an anti-communist activist under the old Yugoslav regime and took part in the Slovenian war of independence with a militia in the Territorial Defense units. He was also sentenced to 24 months in prison for the attempted murder of Milan Klement on 11 August 1992, when he threw an explosive device into Klement’s car.
Šiško was also the leader of the football ultras group Viole, the supporters of NK Maribor, considered by some experts as an environment just as conducive for far-right hooligans as the Green Dragons of Olimpija Lubiana. Both clubs were sanctioned in
2016 for displaying the Kolovrat (Slavic swastika) and a Celtic cross.
In 2017, Šiško ran for president and obtained 2.2% of the vote with his far-right party, Zedinjena Slovenija, founded in 2014. The party was intentionally named after the Slovenian national movement of 1848. At that time, the geographer Peter Kozler designed a map of the Slovene Lands which included the Istra and Rijeka regions in current Croatia, Trieste and Friuli in current Italy, Carinthia in Austria, and Raba valley in Hungary. Šiško therefore wanted to stress a direct link with the nationalist idea of a “Greater Slovenia”.
Unlike Croatia, where the ideological connection between modern fascists and the Ustasha of World War II is very strong, far-right extremists in Slovenia do not often refer to the Slovene Home Guard (Domobranci). Both the collaborationist militias ruled with Fascist and Nazi occupation forces, supporting antisemitic propaganda (see e.g. Leon Rupnik). After the Bleiburg repatriations from Austria, both the Croatian and Slovenian militiamen and their families faced brutal mass executions by Yugoslav partisans. Their graves are located in Slovenia, but the annual ceremony to commemorate the victims is mostly attended by Croats, including those nostalgic for the Ustasha regime.
Slovenian far-right extremism is more closely connected with the new nationalism and neo-Nazi trends. Since 2005, the group Blood and Honor (BH) has been spreading through the central region of the country, especially among young people and football hooligans.
The group used to organize concerts in private properties in order to avoid an indictment for promoting hatred and intolerance. Two of the main venues for these events were Domžale and Ljubljana. The events were also attended by German neo-Nazis.
Only those who have received a special SMS on their mobile phones can access the venues, by showing it to the gatekeepers. This secretive procedure strengthens the bonds of the members, makes them feel part of a special community, and satisfies the need for belonging, all key factors in radicalization.
The National Election Commission was concerned about these private events. In 2014 it issued a report warning that “due to the fact that such rallies have not been banned, Slovenia has become a real Mecca for international participation of extremists”. Yet lawmakers have been reluctant to reform the criminal legislation in this regard.
Private neo-Nazi concerts were not Blood and Honor’s only activities. In 2011, the director of the civilian intelligence agency (SOVA) briefed Prime Minister Pahor about the threats to national security posed by extremists . The report contained alarming information about Slovenian servicemen training members of Blood and Honor in the military facility of Škrilj while off duty. The Slovenian special forces use this facility and the training included the use of anti-tank weapons. In total, the intelligence service monitored 21 soldiers in this network, including some on active duty and some in the reserves. Even Dejan Padovac, employed in the security detail of the Prime Minister under the Janša and Pahor governments, was found to be a member of Blood and Honor.
These allegations might sound shocking to outsiders, but close observers know it is not the first controversial story involving the Škrilj facility. It was also the headquarters of the Moris brigade under the command of Ladislav Troha, who admitted he participated in the 1993 assassination attempt against the chairman of the parliamentary defense board, Zmago Jelincic, a political opponent.
Troha was also involved in the 1994 “Depala vas” scandal, when soldiers from the Moris brigade based in Škrilj were ordered by Troha to stage an ambush against the informer Smolnikar, who ended up in hospital. The Defense Minister (and future Prime Minister) Janez Janša was forced to resign and the Moris brigade was disbanded.
The 2011 report has not been confirmed by the military intelligence service (OVS), led by Damir Črnčec, a long-standing supporter of Janez Janša. In fact, Janša appointed Črnčec as the new chief of the civilian intelligence service in 2012, when he became Prime Minister. Črnčec denied the allegations and the involvement of any soldier in illegal activities. He also delayed a new report on far-right extremism to the Parliament for half a year, adding that it was difficult to draw a line between “patriotism, right-wing extremism and violent extremism”.
Note that the 2011 report also confirmed that some Blood and Honor members were involved in direct correspondence with the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik and received his manifesto before the carnage of Utøya.
In another episode, a serious violent extremist event in Slovenia occurred on 27 November 2012. Several BH members disrupted a peaceful protest in front of the Parliament and triggered heavy riots with the police. The police responded with arrests among the rioters and those taken into custody included two members of the armed forces .
Some members of the Parliament and Generation Identity Slovenia are another concern in the country. Generacija Identitete has members from Lubiana, Maribor and Velenje, including hooligans from the Green Dragons and Viole. In late August, Slovenian identitarians published the “Manifesto for the Homeland” (Manifest za Domovino) with the help of Nova Obzorja, the in-house publishing company of the SDS party led by Janez Janša. A young MP from SDS, Žan Mahnič, who is also the deputy chair of the parliamentary committee for the control of intelligence services, used his social media account to publish a picture of the Manifesto from his seat in the Parliament, praising the initiative.
In conclusion, the main development in Slovenian far right extremism is militarization and the tendency to turn to violence. The choice to pursue not only a political dimension but also a paramilitary one aims to establish strict discipline and a clear hierarchy among the members. Militarization is the prelude to operational and violent actions, following the example of other groups who patrol borders and towns and attack immigrants.
In fact, Šiško admitted his plan is to form four other paramilitary branches in Carniola, Carinthia, Prekmurje and Primorska. He justified the use of weapons because at the time of France Prešeren, when the program of Zedinjena Slovenija was drafted, they were an integral part of the Slovenian national costume. Šiško also confirmed that his Styrian Guard was trained by some former Slovenian Armed Forces officers as well as people with war experience in Afghanistan, Ukraine and elsewhere.
So far, public opinion tends to minimize the role of the group as a bunch of harmless fanatics. Nevertheless the phenomenon should not be underestimated by Slovenia’s institutions and civil society.