Article by AMLA Lodge 9 Member, Joe Valencic
Twenty-five years ago, Slovenia’s declaration of independence from was met with violence by Yugoslav armed forces. America's Slovenian communities reacted quickly and rallied to assist the homeland. Representatives of leading Slovenian-American fraternal societies, including the American Mutual Association, parishes, lodges and cultural groups created United Americans for Slovenia (UAS) to appeal to then-President George Bush and government leaders to recognize Slovenia as an independent, democratic nation. Organized on July 1, 1991, during the height of the aggression, the UAS grew to represent 659 organizations across the country to help Slovenia – the first time since World War II.
For the next nine months, meetings and work sessions were held at the headquarters of the American Mutual Life Association, the Slovenian-American fraternal society based in Cleveland. Under the direction of President Edmund Turk, past chairman of Cleveland City Council, and Vice President Stanley Ziherl, AMLA President, representatives planned and implemented communications and events to call attention to Slovenia's independence and the importance of United States recognition. Other AMLA members who were active with the group included AMLA Secretary Joe Petric, Betty Rotar, Jim Debevec, and Joe Valencic, chief of communications.
The UAS printed petitions and 50,000 postcards addressed to President Bush to request his recognition of Slovenia. Two of the most effective UAS strategies were phone-ins with radio marathons hosted by Tony Petkovsek. On October 7, 1991, and February 12, 1992, thousands called the White House to demand recognition of Slovenia. The UAS also placed an open letter to President Bush in the Washington Post.
Government leaders, such as Ohio Senator John Glenn and Ohio Congressman Dennis Eckart, met with the UAS to discuss U. S. recognition. Visiting officials from the new government of Slovenia, including Ernest Petrič, Dimitrij Rupel, Janez Dular and Zoran Thaler acknowledged the efforts of the UAS and thanked the representatives of the group's member organizations.
On April 7, 1992, President Bush recognized Slovenia as an independent nation. The United Americans for Slovenia called a press conference to raise the flags of the United States and Slovenia. Jim Debevec, publisher of the American Home newspaper, printed a special commemorative edition. A gala celebration was held at the Slovenian National Home with a choir made up of Slovenian chorus members, the United Slovenian Society Band, and an invocation by Fr. Boznar.
The UAS began a new campaign for U. S. acceptance of Slovenia as a member-nation of NATO. Thousands of postcards were sent to President Bill Clinton and a call-in marathon tied up White House phone lines. Governor George Voinovich attended the UAS’s celebration of Slovenia’s fifth anniversary and Senator Bob Dole, a presidential candidate, made international headlines with his impromptu polka with Cilka Dolgan to the music of Joey Tomsick. UAS representatives were invited to the White House to discuss the U. S. stand on Slovenia in NATO – a first for a Slovenian-American group.
Each time the homeland was threatened by war in the 20th century, Slovenians and their organizations in America united to offer support, including the American Mutual Life Association. With Slovenia secure in its independence and international recognition, the United Americans for Slovenia declared their mission accomplished in 2006.
In 2011, an exhibition on United Americans for Slovenia was sponsored by the Slovenian Migration Institute of the Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The traveling exhibition was curated by UAS board member Joseph Valencic and the Institute’s Dr. Mirjam Milharčič Hladnik and opened in Ljubljana. Several cultural centers and libraries across Slovenia hosted the exhibition and plans are under way to bring it to the United States.