The citizenship regime in Slovenia can seem to have two faces. For those who focus on its numerous malfunctions, the citizenship regime seems xenophobic, even apartheid-like. By contrast, those who focus on the initial determination characterise the system as progressive and civic. In this essay I will argue that there is truth in both perceptions: the citizenship regime in independent Slovenia reflects all these conflicting elements.
In the name of the nation
Determining the criteria for membership of the political community was an integral part of the state-building process. The demise of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and Belgrade’s contestation of Slovenia’s right to self-determination pressured Ljubljana to create a coherent citizenship regime for the secession period and after it. The foundations for the post-independence citizenship regime demonstrated a clear link between the new citizenship laws and the concept of an ethnically-defined nation. Though certain ‘civic’ elements of the transitional provisions were present in the citizenship legislation, several clear references to the ethno-national concept attest to the main concerns behind the act. Slovenian citizenship has been significantly shaped by the events leading to the proclamation of independence in June 1991.
The Slovenian language was a persistent issue during the nation-building process, particularly during the pre-secession clashes between Ljubljana and Belgrade. Also, Slovenian national continuity could only be traced through language, in a cultural sense, which in turn reinforced the dominant ethno-cultural conception of the nation. The concept of the ‘core nation’, which is clearly distinguished from non-Slovene permanent residents in Slovenia (composed mostly of people coming from other former Yugoslav republics), had a huge impact on the determination of membership criteria. Despite this, Slovenia eventually adopted a ‘milder’ ethnic model, in order to prevent the discontent of non-Slovene residents but also to gain crucial approval from the international community for respecting democratic standards.
The incipient citizenship legislation was in line with SFRY legislation that established a bifurcated citizenship regime consisting of republican and federal citizenship. Though more or less symbolic during the Yugoslav times, the republican citizenship proved to be of vital importance in the secession process. The new citizenship regime in Slovenia did not directly lead to widespread discrimination, but nonetheless contributed to a situation where there were severe human rights violations, the most grave of which was the erasure of citizens of other former Yugoslav republics. In February 1992, around 25,000 people were erased from the register of permanent residents without notification (a figure which includes those who decided not to acquire Slovenian citizenship and those who did but were denied it). The legislature’s decision to avoid resolving the issue of permanent residents in the Citizenship Act as well as in the aliens act in order to regulate it within the succession agreements, signed only a decade later, opened the doors to this kind of administrative discrimination against non-Slovene residents.
Entire discussion available on Citsee.eu.