Chernobyl and the first ecological movements in Yugoslavia: a report from Ljubljana’s Marxist Center

Ecological movements in Yugoslavia are an almost entirely unexplored topic. I wanted to make a small contribution to this less discussed question with a chronological outline of such movements, prepared in 1987 by the Marxist Center of the Slovenian Central Committee in Ljubljana (my own research concerns the history of these Marxist centers, whose outline can be found here. One of the Aspects I am now researching are their contributions to environmental issues in Yugoslavia). Based on the present report, the Chernobyl disaster appears to have broader societal implications than isolated environmental issues and, according to the report, has helped raise public awareness of environmental issues in general [1].

This 15-page document was found in archives of Ljubljana’s Marxist center in the State Archive of Slovenia, signature AS 1592 Marksistični center CK ZKS, Tehnična enota 156, file No. 25/1987, entitled “Medsekcijske razprave” or “Intersectional discussions” (note that here “intersectional discussions” denotes the discussions in which different sections of the Marxist Center had participated in. It does not refer to intersectional theories and the like).

Judging by the other contents of the folder, it seems as this was material handed out to all of the participants of the discussions in advance. I am saying this since, within the file, I also found another document inviting the participants to join them for a “Discussion on social movements”, taking place on February 9th 1987. The aim of the discussion was described as follows: “On this intersectional discussion we wish to shed light on some open theoretical and ideological questions of (new) domestic social movements and valorize their social roles and meaning. The introduction into the discussion will be made by comrade Borut Suklje.” The document was signed by the supervisor of the Center, Peter Bekeš, and was followed by a list of all 66 attendants of the discussion, including Slavoj Žižek, the economist Vojin Rus, Sonja Lokar, Rastko Močnik, Andrej Kirn and many others. The discussion of ecological movements was preceeded by discussions regarding the movements for the “socialization of homosexuality” and the “women’s movement”. The section regarding ecological movements, translated here for the first time into English, runs from page 11 until page 14:

“The beginnings of the ecological movement date back to November 1983, when a working group on environmental protection was formed at the Republican Conference of the ZSM of Slovenia [Zveza socialistične mladine or ZSM means “The League of Socialist Youth”. Sometimes it can be found in the form of ZSMS, with the added “S” denoting Slovenia]. It should be noted that individual newspaper articles warned of increasing environmental pollution as early as the 1970s, but one cannot yet speak of an awakened ecological awareness. Ecological movements also include pre-existing environmental protection associations (although they lack the element of immediacy and are therefore unable to animate the general public), but in this text we will deal with the new ecological movement.

The ecological movement is the most widespread on Slovenian soil, and ecological issues are just as widespread. In this short note we cannot cover all the ecological projects of recent years, but we will try to show at least the most typical ones.

In the spring of 1984, the Working Group on Environmental Protection at RK ZSM [Republiška konferenca or RK ZSM means “The Republic Conference” of the ZSM] of Slovenia set up an information stand for the first time on Plečnikov Square in Ljubljana. The Group set up the next stand in October of the same year, where it presented its first project —  small hydroelectric power plants —  and at the same time warned against pollution of our waters.

As environmental awareness among the general public developed rapidly (public information media contributed greatly to this) and more and more environmental groups formed across Slovenia, the Working Group on Environmental Protection at RK ZSM of Slovenia was transformed into an Ecological Coordination [group]. Ecologists who worked in the [previous] group founded a new group at the ZSMS Ljubljana City Conference.

In February 1985, the Ljubljana environmental group organized a march with gas masks, which was attended by about 200 people. Through a campaign with ecologists, they warned about air pollution in the Ljubljana Basin.

In early 1985, information about an ecological catastrophe in Bela Krajina — the Krup case — became public. At the same time, an ecological movement also developed in Bela Krajina, demanding responsibility of the Iskra Semič capacitor factory for insufficient disposal of hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls and at the same time local authorities. The campaign was also supported by 629 members of the Bela krajina Society and the New Ecological Movement. Almost at the same time, the ecological movement awoke in Prekmurje. A proposal for the construction of a system of eight hydroelectric power plants on the Mura was published.

In March 1985, a Slovenian ecological seminar was organized in Murska Sobota, attended by ecologists from Ljubljana, Postojna, Kočevje, Semič, Tržič and Maribor.

In April 1985 an ecological group was also established in Koper. Direct incentive for establishment – thermal power plant Milje and thermal power plant Plomin II. In June 1985, together with Italian ecologists, they prepared the Round Table Ecology Without Borders. They focused their activities mainly on the announced construction of the Milje thermal power plant, and they were also able to withdraw the location of the construction right on the border. In the summer of 1985 an ecological group was established at the municipal conference of ZSMS Maribor Tezno — one of the reasons for this was the planned construction of a swimming pool on the island of Maribor.

That same summer, ecologists met at a camp in Ptuj.

Ecologists also gathered around individual ecological projects in other parts of Slovenia. Eg: Škofja Loka — the problem of the Žirovski vrh uranium mine, Kranj — sewage, Celje — Cinkarna, Slovenj Gradec — radioactive waste, landfill, Šentjur pri Celje — gypsum landfill, Trbovlje —  power plant on the Sava … We will skip many actions of ecologists in the first half of 1986 and stop at the event that left the largest mark in the field of ecology that year. It concerns the Chernobyl disaster, which showed that nuclear energy is the least tameable of all energies and therefore the most dangerous. The consequences of the accident were felt practically all over Europe, and especially in Slovenia this event helped to raise the ecological awareness of the residents on a completely different level.

On May 10, 1986 in Ljubljana we saw the first big demonstrations after 1972. About 3,000 people took part in the demonstrations organized by the Ecological Group Ljubljana together with peacekeepers and the City and Republic Conference of ZSM Slovenia. The demands of the participants in the ecological demonstration related not only to distant Chernobyl, but above all to the nuclear program in Yugoslavia. They called for a referendum to be held on the construction of nuclear power plants in Yugoslavia, in which residents could say whether they wanted such energy or not. Referendum motions are still relevant.

They also called for the responsibility of those who failed to warn the Slovenian public about radioactive fallout in a timely manner. The Slovenian Ecological Coordination has joined the international action EYFA (European Youth Forest Action). It’s an ecological caravan through European forests already damaged by acid rain, and ecologists have used it to warn governments and demanded that they take action to reduce levels of SO2 in the air to prevent further forest degradation. The ecologists also crossed part of the Slovenian forests, and the caravan ended up in Maribor at the end of July 1986. We consider it necessary to mention one more ecological campaign, the campaign on the occasion of the 4th self-contribution in Ljubljana, called ecological. The environmental group Ljubljana spoke out against self-contribution, which was communicated to the public through public information and leaflets. The first confrontation between the interests of politics and the disagreement of ecologists with these interests took place. Ecologists are credited with exploiting democracy, suggesting that interpretations of “democratic dialogue” vary widely.


– Regular bulletin of the environmental group Ljubljana;

– Regular newsletter of the Koper Ecogroup “Zimzelen”;

– Bulletin of the environmental group Ptuj “Rainbow Warrior”;

– Bulletin of the environmental group in formation at UK ZSMS Ljubljana “Green Direction”;

– Hubert Požarnik — Alternatives, KRT Publishing House;

– Dušan Plut — for an ecologically better future – ZOTKS;

– youth newspaper “Razmerje”, Metlika;

– Thematic additions in Mladina: Forests, Energy, Biofood, Mura…”

Transcribed and translated from the Slovenian language: Aleksandar Matković

Photo of original document, taken in the Slovenian State Archive in Ljubljana: Aleksandar Matković


Zametki ekološkega gibanja segajo v november 1983, ko se je pri Republiški konferenci ZSM Slovenije formirala delovna skupina za varstvo okolja. Omeniti je treba, da so se že v 70-ih letih v časopisju pojavljali posamezni članki, ki so opozarjali na vse večjo onasnaženost okolja, vendar o prebujeni ekološki zavesti še ne moremo govoriti. K ekološkim gibanjem prištevamo tudi že obstoječa društva za varstvo okolja (čeprav jim manjka moment neposrednosti in s tem tudi niso sposobna animirati širše javnosti) vendar se bomo v tem tekstu ukvarjali z novim ekološkim gibanjem.

Ekološko gibanje je med vsemi najbolj razprostranjeno na slovenskih tleh, tako razprostranjena pa je tudi ekološka problematika. V tem kratkem zapisu nam ne bo uspelo zaobjeti vseh ekoloških projektov zadnjih let, poskušali pa bomo prikazati vsaj tiste najbolj tipične.

Spomladi leta 1984 je delovna skupina za varstvo okolja pri RK ZSM Slovenije za informativno stojnico prvič pojavila na Plečnikovem trgu v Ljubljani. Nasledno stojnico je postavila oktobra istega leta, na njej pa je že predstavila svoj prvi projekt — majhne vodne elektrarne in hkrati opozarjala na onesnaženost naših voda.

Ker se je javnost hitro ekološko osveščivala (k temu so v velikimi meri pripomogla sredstva javnega obveščanja) in ker je po Sloveniji nastajalo vse več ekoloških skupin, se je delovna skupina za varstvo okolja pri RK ZSM Slovenije preoblikovala v ekološko koordinacijo, ekologi, ki so v skupini delovali, pa so ustanovili novo skupino pri Mestni konferenci ZSMS Ljubljana.

Februarja leta 1985, je Ljubljanska ekološka skupina organizirala pohod s plinskimi maskami, ki se ga je udeležilo oko 200 ljudi. Z akcijo s ekologi opozorili na onesnaženost zraka v Ljubljanski kotlini.

V začetku leta 1985 je prodrla v javnost informacija o ekološki katastrofi v Beli krajini — gre za primer Krupa. Hkrati se je v Beli krajini razvilo tudi ekološko gibanje, ki je zahtevalo odgovornost Tovarne kondenzatorjev Iskra Semič, zaradi neustreznega odlaganja nevarnih polikloriranih bifenilov in hkrati odgovornost lokalnih oblasti. Akcijo je podprilo tudi 629 članov Društva Bela krajina in Novo ekološko gibanje. Skoraj istočasno se je prebudilo ekološko gibanje v Prekmurju. Objavljen je bil namreč predlog o gradnji sistema osmih hidroelektrarn na Muri.

Tako se marca 1985 organizirali v Murski Soboti ekološki seminar Slovenije, na katerem so sodelovali ekologi iz Ljubljane, Postojne, Kočevja, Semiča, Tržiča in Maribora.

Aprila 1985 se je ustanovila tudi ekološka skupina v Kopru. Neposredna vzpodbuda za ustanovitev — termoelektrarna Milje in termoelektrarna Plomin II. Skupaj z italijanskimi ekologi so junija 1985 pripravili okroglo mizo Ekologija brez meja. Svojo aktivnost so osredotočili predvsem na napovedano gradnjo termoelektrarne Milje in tudi dosegli, da so lokacijo gradnje neposredno ob meji, tudi umaknili. Poleti 1985 se je ustanovila ekološka skupina tudi pri Občinski konferenci ZSMS Maribor Tezno — eden od povodov nameravana gradnja kopališča na Mariborskem otoku.

Isto poletje so se ekologi srečali na taboru v Ptuju.

Okrog posamičnih ekoloških projektov so se zbrali ekologi tudi v drugih krajih Slovenije. Npr.: Škofja Loka — vprašanje rudnika urana Žirovski vrh, Kranj — otpadne vode, Celje — Cinkarna, Slovenj Gradec — radioaktivni odpatki, odlagališče, Šentjur pri Celju — odlagališče sadre, Trbovlje — elektrarna na Savi… Preskočili bomo mnoge akcije ekologov v prvi polovici leta 1986 in se zaustavili pri dogotku, ki je na ekološkem področju to leto najbolj zaznamoval. Gre za Černobiljsko katastrofo, ki je pokazala, da je jedrska energija med vsemi energijami najmanj ukrotljiva in s tem tudi najbolj nevarna. Posledice nesreče smo čutili praktično po vsej Evropi, konkretno v Sloveniji pa je ta dogodek pomagal izoblikovati med prebivalci ekološko zavest na povsem drugačni ravni.

10. maja 1986 smo bili v Ljubljani priča prvih množičnejših demonstracij po letu 1972. Na demonstracijah, ki jih je pripravila Ljubljanska ekološka skupina skupaj z mirovniki ter Mestno in Republiško konferenco ZSM Slovenije je sodelovalo okrog 3.000 ljudi. Zahteve udeležencev ekološke demonstracije se niso nanašale  le na oddaljeni Černobil, ampak predvsem na jedrski program v Jugoslaviji. Zahtevali so izvedbo referendum o gradnji jedrskih elektrarn v Jugoslaviji, na katerem bi se perbivalci lahko izrekli ali hočejo takšno energijo ali ne. Zahteve po razpisu referendum so še vedno aktualne.

Zahtevali so tudi odgovornost tistih, ki slovenske javnosti niso pravočasno opozorili na radioaktivne padavine.

Slovenska ekološka koordinacija se je vključila v mednarodno akcijo EYFA (European Youth Forest Action). Gre za ekološko karavno skozi evropske gozdove, ki jih je kisel dež že dodobra načel, z njo pa so ekologi opozorili vlade in od njih zahtevali, da z ukrepi, ki bodo zmanjšali koncentracijo SO2 v zraku, preprečijo nadaljnje propadanje gozdov. Ekologi so prehodili tudi del slovenskih gozdov, karavana pa se je konec julija 1986 končala v Mariboru.

Še eno ekološko akcijo se nam zdi potrebno omeniti, akcijo ob 4. samoprispevku v Ljubljani, imenovanem ekološki. Ljubljanska ekološka skupina se je zavzemala proti samoprispevku, kar je prek sredstev javnega obveščanja in s pomočjo letakov tudi sporočila javnosti. Prišlo je prvega soočenja interesa politike in nestrinjanja ekologov s temi interesi. Ekologom so pripisali izrabo demokracije, kar kaže na to, da so interpretacije “demokratičnega dialoga” zelo različne.


– Redni bilten ljubljanske ekološke skupine;

– Redni bilten koprske ekološke skupine “Zimzelen”;

– Bilten ptujske ekološke skupine “Mavrični bojevnik”;

– Bilten ekološke skupine v ustanvaljanju pri UK ZSMS Ljubljana “Zelena smer”;

– Hubert Požarnik — Alternative, Založba KRT;

– Dušan Plut — Za ekološko svetlejši jutri – ZOTKS;

– Mladinski časopis “Razmerja”, Metlika;

– Tematske priloge v Mladini: Gozdovi, Energetika, Biohrana, Mura…

[1] It should be noted, however, that this is an analysis of what the social movements perceived as a problem and a threat. Their solutions regarding the prohibition of nuclear energy were implemented with the Law on the Prohibition of Nuclear Energy in Yugoslavia in 1989. In retrospect, this may have led to further environmental problems in the Balkans, as today’s Balkan states now have coal-based thermal power plants as their main source of energy. The state itself did take measurements that showed a slight increase in radioactivity after the rains during this period, but the scientific community was divided on whether this was actually a cause for concern given the insufficiently high doses that were detected (while journalists and medical personnel urged stricter measures, most who measured fallout did not find enough evidence to suggest them). The new ecological movements may have perceived this as a threat. A discussion with those who took the measurements and their differing opinions can be found here.


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