Slovenia (Slovenija in Slovenian), country in south central Europe, bounded on the north by Austria, on the northeast by Hungary, on the southeast and south by Croatia, and on the west by Italy and the Adriatic Sea. Formerly a constituent republic of Yugoslavia, Slovenia proclaimed its independence in June 1991. It joined the United Nations (UN) in May 1992 and became a full member of the European Union (EU) in 2004. Slovenia has an area of 20,253 sq km (7,820 sq mi). Ljubljana is the capital and largest city.
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Slovenia is mountainous, much like Austria to the north and northern Italy to the west, and has heavily forested regions. The western third of the country lies within the Karst, a barren limestone plateau broken by depressions and ridges. The highest point, Mount Triglav, rises 2,863 m (9,393 ft) and forms part of the Julian Alps in the northwest. The Mura, Drava, and Sava rivers flow through the forested northeastern part of the country. In the southwest there is a small stretch of coastline, extending 47 km (29 mi) along the Gulf of Venice (an arm of the Adriatic Sea).
Towns along the coastline enjoy a warm Mediterranean climate, while those in the mountains to the north often have harsh winters and rainy summers. The plateaus to the east, where Ljubljana is situated, have a more moderate continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold winters.
Two national symbols, the linden tree and the chamois (a shy, antelope-like animal), thrive throughout the country. Coal is the most abundant natural resource in Slovenia; other resources include lead, zinc, mercury, uranium, and silver, as well as natural gas and petroleum.
The population of Slovenia at the 1991 census was 1,962,606. In 2008 the country had an estimated population of 2,007,711, giving it an overall population density of 100 persons per sq km (258 per sq mi). Slovenes, a Slavic ethnic group, constitute about 88 percent of the country’s population. Slovenes speak Slovenian, the country’s official language (see Slovenian Language). Unlike other Slavic cultures, Slovenes have been heavily influenced by German and Austrian cultures for nearly a millennium. Despite more than 70 years of affiliation with Yugoslavia, Slovene culture exhibits many similarities to Germanic cultures. Slovenian is written in the Latin alphabet—unlike Serbian and many other Slavic languages, which are written in the Cyrillic alphabet—and has many dialects. In addition, most people in Slovenia are Roman Catholic. Ethnic Serbs (about 2 percent), Croats (about 3 percent), and various other ethnic groups (about 7 percent) constitute the remainder of Slovenia’s population. In addition, in the mid-1990s Slovenia was home to some 20,000 refugees from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (see Yugoslav Succession, Wars of).
Some 51 percent of all Slovenes live in urban areas, particularly in Ljubljana (population, 2005 estimate, 266,845) and Maribor (111,673), the country’s two largest cities. Many of the remainder live in rural areas throughout the country, particularly in alpine villages, where skiing is one of the most popular forms of recreation. In the cities Slovenes enjoy concerts, operas, and art galleries.
The Slovene government requires that all children attend school between the ages of 6 and 14. Almost all Slovenes over the age of ten can read and write, and 68 percent of students receive postsecondary or higher levels of education. There are 30 institutions of higher education in Slovenia; among them is the University of Ljubljana, which was founded in 1595.
Prior to independence Slovenia was the most prosperous of the six Yugoslav republics. However, the wars that took place in the region during the early and mid-1990s seriously affected Slovenia’s economy. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was $6,052 in 1992, a sharp decline from the pre-independence figure of $8,658 in 1990. Trade with other countries and tourism were also limited by the war, and the large population of war refugees was a further drain on the economy. In recent years, economic leaders have made efforts to turn the economy around, implementing market and bank reforms and promoting privatization. The presence of a non-Communist government since 1990, along with the country’s sound infrastructure and skilled workforce, helped reverse the downward trend. The GDP began to grow in 1993, and by 1995 was increasing at 5 percent a year. Inflation slowed, and unemployment decreased to a rate lower than many countries of Western Europe. In 2006 the GDP had increased to $37.3 billion, or $18,588.50 per person.
Industry constituted 35 percent of GDP in Slovenia in 2006. The country’s chief industries produce electrical equipment, processed food, textiles, paper and paper products, chemicals, and wood products. Agriculture accounts for 2 percent of GDP, with dairy farming and livestock dominating this sector. Major crops include cereals such as corn and wheat, potatoes, sugar beets, and fruits (particularly grapes). Germany is by far Slovenia’s most important trading partner in both exports and imports. The other leading countries buying Slovenian goods are Croatia, Italy, France, and Austria. Exports include electrical machinery, road vehicles, chemicals and chemical products, footwear, and furniture. Tourism is also a major source of revenue, with popular resorts at Lake Bled and in the mountains. Revenues from tourism rebounded in 1994 to increase by 8 percent over prewar levels. The largest number of visitors are from Italy, Germany, and Austria.
Slovenia has an excellent transportation network. It contained 38,451 km (23,892 mi) of roads in 2004, and its largest cities are connected by railroads. There are also three major airports and a port at Koper on the Adriatic Sea. In October 1991 Slovenia released its own currency, the tolar, to replace the Yugoslav dinar. On the first day of 2007 the euro, the monetary unit of the European Union (EU), became the official currency of Slovenia.
In early 1993 Slovenia joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (since renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE). In June 1996 Slovenia became an associate member of the EU, and in May 2004 it formally joined the organization as a full member.
An emerging democracy, Slovenia has adopted many elements of democratic government. In December 1991 the Slovenian government adopted a constitution that guarantees a number of civil rights, including universal suffrage for all Slovenes age 18 and older (Slovenes age 16 and older may vote if they are employed), freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Slovenia’s parliament consists of a 90-member State Assembly, which makes the country’s laws, and a 40-member State Council, which can only propose laws or request reconsideration of a vote in the assembly. Assembly members serve four-year terms, and council members serve five-year terms. The parliament is headed by the prime minister, Slovenia’s true head of government, who is elected to a four-year term by the assembly. The country also has a president, who is elected to a five-year term by popular vote.
Slovenia has a multiparty system of government. The country’s leading parties include the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), the Slovenian People’s Party, the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia, the Christian Democratic Party, United List, the Slovenian National Party, the Democratic Party of Slovenia, and Greens of Slovenia.
Slovenia has eight trial courts, four appellate courts, and a Supreme Court. The Assembly appoints all judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court. Slovenia has an extensive network of social service programs sponsored by the government, including low-cost medical coverage and retirement pensions.
Slovenia had an army of 6,550 active-duty soldiers in 2004, with a large reserve force. Conscription begins at age 18 and lasts seven months. Slovenia is a member of the Council of Europe(CE), the Central European Initiative (CEI), and the United Nations (UN). In 2002 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) offered membership to Slovenia, which formally joined NATO in 2004. Slovenia also has signed defense accords with Austria and Hungary.
Under the Roman Empire (27 bc-ad 476), Slovenia was part of the provinces of Pannonia and Noricum. During the 6th century ad, the region was invaded by the Mongolian Avars and later by Slavs who threw off Avar domination. A period of Bavarian rule ensued, during which most of the people converted to Roman Catholicism. In ad 623, chieftain Franko Samo created the first independent Slovene state, which stretched from Lake Balaton (now located within Hungary) to the Mediterranean. It lasted until late in the 8th century, when the region became part of the Frankish Empire. In the 10th century it was reorganized as the duchy of Carantania by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. From 1335 until 1918, except for a brief interlude from 1809 to 1814, Slovenes were governed by the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Austrian crown lands of Kärnten (Carinthia), Carniola, and Steiermark (Styria), except for a minority in the republic of Venice.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the region was taken from Austria by France and reorganized as part of the Illyrian Provinces from 1809 to 1814. This brief period of liberal rule fostered Slovene and South Slav nationalism that triumphed at the close of World War I in 1918, with the formation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929). In 1941, during World War II, Germany, Hungary, and Italy divided the territory among themselves. In spite of forced transfers of populations during the war, since 1945 most Slovenes have lived in the Slovenian republic, which in 1947 also acquired Slovenian-speaking districts on the Adriatic Sea (in Istria) from Italy.
Slovenia’s dissatisfaction with the Yugoslav federation grew during the 1980s, with increased sentiment first for greater autonomy and then for independence. As Communist power crumbled throughout Eastern Europe, Slovenia held the first multiparty elections in Yugoslavia since World War II in April 1990. The winning coalition called for independence, and nearly 90 percent of Slovenia’s population voted for independence in a referendum in December 1990.
In June 1991, following various political upsets, including Serbian refusal to transfer the country’s rotating presidency to the Croatian representative, Slovenia and Croatia each declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) sent forces to both republics in an attempt to secure Yugoslavia’s borders. In Slovenia a ten-day war ensued, in which Slovene forces defeated the JNA. The JNA’s defeat, perhaps coupled with fighting in Serbia’s closer neighbor, Croatia, allowed Slovenia quickly to secure true independence as well as international recognition as a separate republic. In January 1992 the European Community (now the European Union, or EU), led by Germany, acknowledged the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States acknowledged the countries’ independence in April.
Independent Slovenia’s first presidential and parliamentary elections were held in December 1992. Milan Kučan, president of the republic since 1990, was reelected to the office by 64 percent of the vote. The center-left Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), headed by Janez Drnovšek, won a plurality of seats in parliament, and Drnovšek became the country’s prime minister. The Christian Democratic Party won the second largest number of parliamentary seats.
In 1992 Slovenia began instituting economic reforms and joined various international organizations. It also become a haven for refugees of the surrounding war-torn republics, and by mid-1993 about 60,000 people had sought refuge in Slovenia. In 1994 and early 1995 Slovenia made progress in resolving its disputes with Italy and Croatia—the only lingering complications from the republic’s quest for sovereignty. In January 1994 Slovenia and Croatia reached an agreement on decommissioning the shared nuclear power facility at Krško, near the Slovenia-Croatia border.
Slovenia and Italy worked successfully to negotiate their dispute over the property rights of ethnic Italians who fled Slovenia after World War II and whose property was confiscated by the Yugoslav government. Italy had threatened to block Slovenia’s entry into the EU until the issue was resolved, but the Italian government backed off from this stance in early 1995. In June 1996 Slovenia signed an association agreement with the EU; in December 1997 it was invited to begin the process of becoming a full member. It finally joined the EU as a full member in 2004.
In November 1996 Slovenia held elections to the State Assembly. The LDS, which campaigned to integrate Slovenia into both the EU and NATO, remained the country’s strongest party, winning 25 of 90 seats. However, it did not receive an overall majority, leading to a period of political deadlock. In January 1997 the LDS and its partners succeeded in forming a coalition government. That month the State Assembly reelected Drnovšek as prime minister by a narrow margin. In November 1997 President Kučan won election to a third and final term.
Drnovšek’s government collapsed in April 2000 after the State Assembly refused to support his attempt to assemble a new cabinet. The collapse touched off a month-long political crisis as deputies divided over calling early elections or installing an interim government. The crisis subsided in May when the parliament voted to replace Drnovšek with Andrej Bajuk, an economist and candidate of a newly formed coalition of conservative parties. Bajuk led an interim government until October, when the LDS swept national elections, and Drnovšek reclaimed the post of prime minister.
In December 2002 Drnovšek was elected president of Slovenia. Drnovšek resigned as prime minister and leader of the LDS to assume the presidency. The parliament elected Anton Rop, a finance minister in the previous government, to succeed Drnovšek as prime minister.
After 13 years of LDS dominance in Slovenia, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) captured the most votes in the 2004 parliamentary elections. The party formed a center-right coalition government and SDS leader Janez Janša became prime minister.