Obituary: Ljubo Sirc (1920 – 2016)

The Bible says :

And he (Jesus) said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.King James Bible

This is not completely true now of Ljubo but for many years it was true for Yugoslavia and Slovenia, and indeed it was partly true in his second homeland, Great Britain.

I first came to know Ljubo Sirc personally in 1988 when I worked at The Institute of Economic Affairs in London. I, of course, knew of his work from books and friends but had never met him personally. I remember how pleased he was that I knew a few words of Slovene when we first met.

The recent Ljubo Sirc lecture in the House of Lords in United Kingdom Parliament opened the eyes of many to the distinctive qualities of Ljubo Sirc.

Ljubo was a believer primarily in a Yugoslav democracy rather than independence for Slovenia, however he came to see the impossibility of that and came fully behind an independent state.

His greatest contribution to economics was to expose the intellectual and practical flaws and the contradictions in the Yugoslav communist system of self-management.  Left wing economists in the United Kingdom denigrated his research because they were wanting to find an alternative to the failed Soviet system. Ljubo was proved right in the end.

Ljubo worked closely with Russian reformers in the early nineties to ensure a rapid transformation of the Soviet system, particularly in collaboration with Lord (Ralph) Harris, then the Honorary Life President of the IEA. His and their belief was the need for a rapid transition to ensure that there could be no going back. Despite the Communist Party in Russia staying strong for a few years after the changes the freer system is now set in. Although we can see many problems there, the lives of most Russians are dramatically better than those they had before 1990.

Ljubo was always a positive person and in many ways could be called the ‘Slovene Havel’.

Having supported the liberation struggle against the occupiers of World War Two, he soon realised that the communist aim was to gain totalitarian control of the country. He spoke out and was arrested and condemned to death. He was tortured in prison and following western pressure on Tito when he needed western help, many death sentences were commuted to long prison sentences. Ljubo was one of the lucky ones and served a number of years before being released. He was forced to sign a document saying he would work for the secret police when he left prison. He had to do this but more or less immediately left the country because he could not act in such a despicable way.

He eventually came to the United Kingdom and became a successful academic at Glasgow University, and later, following difficulties with extreme leftists and communist apologists in academia, founded his own Think Tank, first called the Centre of Research into Communist Economies, now The Centre for Research into Post Communist Economies. This was based for many years in the same building as the IEA. I recall one amazing meeting held at the IEA in 1988 when experts considered the future of the Soviet Union and other communist block countries. Everyone agreed that the system must fail at some time because of its own economic inconsistencies and its inhuman regimes. Little did we all realise it would go so quickly after that meeting

I asked him recently if he felt any feeling of revenge for his torturers in Yugoslavia. His answer was typical of a very humane man – ‘I want them to live a long time with their bad consciences’ he said. I did not dare to say that I wondered if they had consciences.

His was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in recognition of his services to democracy in Eastern Europe.

Yes, a prophet whom I hope is now completely accepted in his own country as a great democrat, economist, patriot and humanitarian.