Monday, April 20, 2015

Happy 95th Birthday to Ljubo Sirc

Well, actually it was yesterday but a day here or there matters little when one reaches the grand old age of 95. Of course, people live longer these days and many more reach their nineties but, somehow, one expects them to be people whose lives have been more or less peaceful and only moderately difficult. When we come to Ljubo Sirc one has to say that it was not so but far from it.

Dr Sirc, who, I am proud to say, is a friend, has spent his whole life fighting tyranny and often undergoing serious privations. His Wiki entry sums things up but they bear repeating. Born into a well known and well off liberal family in Slovenia in 1920 (it was then part of Yugoslavia for readers who might justifiably be rather confused by Balkan history) Ljubo joined the anti-Nazi resistance, first in Switzerland then back home. He fought in what became the Yugoslav army in Dalmatia, Croatia and Slovenia until 1945.

Then the Communists took over (with a little bit of help from Western allies and Ljubo has many stories to tell about what happened to people who had also fought the Nazis but were not Communists and were handed over to Tito's mob by those allies). At first Tito announced that the new Yugoslavia would be a democracy, not a "people's democracy" and the idealistic young Sirc believed him. With liberal and social-democrat friends he set up a legal opposition.

In 1947 he and his colleagues as well as friends and family, including his elderly father, were arrested and interrogated with some asperity. I once wrote about the man who "interrogated" Ljubo, Mitja Ribicic, who from being torturer-in-chief went on to great things and was in the late sixties welcomed in Britain as an ally and a friend. (And just to demonstrate that I come from a family of troublemakers, here is a link to the article my father wrote in the Spectator in February 1970 about the fulsome welcome extended to Mitja the Murderer, which caused a certain amount of fluttering in the dovecots.)

Ljubo and the other misguided liberals and social-democrats who had imagined that Tito could even by accident speak the truth were tried in a show trial. He was sentenced to death but this was commuted to twenty years in prison of which he served seven, mostly in solitary confinement, reading and studying. Ironically, it was his gaolers at the highest level who empowered him: his knowledge of English was utilized and he was put to translate British and American economic literature for internal party use.

After his release Ljubo escaped to Italy and after various adventures ended up in Glasgow where he taught at the university for many years while also helping to organize resistance to Communism through political groups that professed liberal ideas. He was one of the people who collected and disseminated information about Communism, especially in Yugoslavia, which was viewed for rather murky reasons as being rather more liberal and pro-Western than the actual Soviet Empire.

In 1983 Dr Sirc, together with Ralph Harris (Lord Harris of High Cross) and Sir Anthony Fisher, founded the Centre for Research into Communist Economies (now Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies) of which he is still the President. A small think-tank with a tiny staff (well, one with a few helpers here and there) it has contributed more than bigger and better funded institutions to changes in Eastern Europe and, in the first place, Russia. Its influence is seen in the developments in many of the post-
Communist countries.

Ljubo also became involved in post-Communist and post-Yugoslav Slovenian politics and his activity was of great importance but he did not manage to revive his political career in the country though, again, his influence has been felt. The truth is that East European countries emerging from Communism did not welcome readily emigres who wanted to come back and take part in their politics. Donald Tusk in Poland is a notable exception.

I am happy to say that Ljubo Sirc continues to be active though these days the activity is less physical but as cerebral as before and has not given up his fight against tyranny and injustice, which involves telling the truth about some unpleasant aspects of the post-Communist regime in his native Slovenia and other countries around it. He also continues to enjoy the support, admiration and affection of his many friends and colleagues.

Happy Birthday, dear Ljubo. Many happy returns.


  1. A splendid tribute! One can hope that the University of Glasgow has joined, or will join, in the congratulations on having lived an honest, difficult life, full of achievements.

  2. Thank you, Martin. I share your hope about the University of Glasgow. Ljubo (like you) gave it a great deal.