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From ISTRA BENZ to ISTRABENZ: 1948-1996

In the introductory part, Nada Čibej, MSc, Director of the Regional Archives Koper (RAK), presents the legislative framework for the treatment of archival material pertaining to the economy, the field of personnel and spatial issues of archives in general and specifically of the Koper Regional Archives, and the reasons why no Istrabenz archive is held by the Regional Archives Koper. Dr Jedert Vodopivec Tomažič, the editor of the publication, illuminates the background of this project’s creation of and the search for archival sources. 
In the second part, three acknowledged Slovenian historians, professionally focused on economic issues, present the development of the economy in the Koper area, which heavily depended on the new demarcation between Yugoslavia and Italy after World War II. 

Dr. Deborah Rogoznica, archival consultant at the Koper Regional Archives, presents the economy in the Koper area after 1945, that is, after the end of World War II. During the period known as military occupation zones (1945-1954), Yugoslavia pursue a policy military administration aimed at protecting its political and economic interests. This was achieved by founding economic enterprises that were to take full control of the area’s financial and trading system. In 1948, the company "Istra-Benz" was set up through a total transformation of the fuel section of the Avto podjetje Adria, with the main business activity being wholesale and retail sale of fuels. Istrabenz, initially a joint stock company, was transformed into a socially owned company in 1954 under the new Yugoslav legislation. In the 1950s, the company greatly increased its business and revenues.

Dr Nadja Terčon, museum councillor at the Maritime Museum Sergej Mašera Piran, gives a general overview of maritime enterprise and vessels as well as problems, confronted with fuel supply, until Istrabenz Koper began to take care of it. This overview is based on many years of research of archival materials as well as on the publication of the book "We Anchored Ourselves to the Sea": The Establishment of Slovenian Maritime Enterprise 1945-1958. Because the Maritime Museum Sergej Mašera Piran does not hold any material about pumps for ships, boats and yachts and generally about marine fuel, the author opted for a more general contribution. The essence of the matter is the sea and vessels and their liquid fuel propulsion that Istrabenz has been involved in since its establishment. Much thought to refuelling of ships was given already by Angel Gruden, the company’s first director. Here we are talking about ships and the transformation of wind-driven sailboats into steamers and the use of their energy. As sailboats, too, have been equipped with engines at least since the beginning of the 20th century, some archival documents on the handling of petroleum in the period between the two world wars were found in the Piran unit of the Koper Regional Archives with the aid of Vinko Oblak, an amateur maritime history researcher.  Briefly presented are the period after World War II and the situation in the maritime sector, the decline of maritime traffic and eventually its revival, and the introduction of marinas and vessel pumps. Maritime and fishing companies that procured fuel from Istrabenz are listed. From the period between the end of the war and 1946 when Istrabenz was established, several interesting facts should be brought to the fore, particularly those about the theft and sale of oil from the stranded and destroyed ship Rex. 

Dr Aleksander Lorenčič, director of the Ptuj-Ormož Regional Museum, sheds light on Slovenian industry after 1945 and on the energy industry from its great development leap and modernization to deindustrialization. After 1945, the economic policy paid most attention to industry, hastening industrialization and, as a result, enabling this economic sphere to make the biggest development leap and to modernize its structure. More than twenty Slovenian industrial companies established themselves with their brands on the world market, while more than thirty of them held a monopoly on the Yugoslav market. After gaining independence in 1991, a new period in the development of Slovenian industry began. A distinct restructuring of the economy took place, with numerous companies, including the giants of Yugoslav industry, collapsing and many prestigious Slovenian brands sold. As far as oil and gas distribution companies and the necessary infrastructure for the storage and distribution of petroleum products are concerned, two companies were established immediately after World War II. Initially, the distribution of oil and gas was taken care of by Jugopetrol Ljubljana, the Slovenian branch of the federal company Jugopetrol. Under this name the company functioned till 1953, when becoming independent and changing its name to Petrol. The second Slovenian oil company, Istrabenz Koper, operated in the first few years within the boundaries of Slovenian and Croatian Istria to a considerably smaller extent than Petrol. Until 1963, the company purchased petroleum products through Petrol, but as soon as becoming independent it began to acquire petroleum products and gas directly from the Rijeka refinery. By the early 1970s, it set up or rebuilt several petrol stations. The 1980s were marked by the oil crisis, which compelled the company to enter the unified national system of supply of petroleum products. In the early 1990s, a process of ownership transformation began to take place; it ended in 1996 with the creation of the Istrabenz d.d. Eventually, Istrabenz began to transform even more intensively in the direction of a financial holding company.

In view of the fact that there are no archives of the Istrabenz company or only fragments or copies of documents have survived within the framework of other archival material, we wished to preserve, in the very last moment, what could still be preserved. As we could not fully rely upon archival sources, we decided to rely on oral sources, too.
We began to search for contacts with former employees and others in any way associated with the company, who could provide valuable information with their individual testimonies. The response was very good, particularly among older retired employees. Unfortunately, some were no longer able to participate for various health reasons, while some, especially younger former workers, did not wish to be publicly exposed. In spite of it all, we managed to obtain, in addition to personal communications and written statements, we also obtained a good deal of photographic as well as archival and museum material. 

In the third part, Ivan Simčič, curator-historian at the Regional Museum Koper, prepared and edited the testimonies of several former Istrabenz employees or their relatives: Angel Alberti (born 1942, pumpman from 1964 until his retirement in 1997), Guido Bertok (born 1938, commercialist from 1973 to 1974; from 1978 until his retirement in 1999 carried out various managerial jobs), Zorko A. Cerkvenik (born 1949, from 1990 until his retirement in 2012 director of Istrabenz plini), Franc Cvetrežnik (born in 1938, pumpman from 1973 until his retirement in 2007), Majda Fonda - wife of the late Ivan Fonda (1946–2017), pumpman from 1967 until his disability retirement in 1999), Lojze Hočevar (born 1946, head of occupational and fire safety from 1976 to his retirement in 2007), Peter Požrl (born 1940, head of commercial department from 1976 to his retirement in 2002), Dušan Starman (born 1947, pumpman from 1968 to his retirement in 2005) , Robert Vatovec, son of Fabio Vatovec (1929–2012), musician and accountant from 1957 until his retirement in 1991), Lucijan Vatovec (born 1993, long-time manager or deputy head of retail sale and chronicler of Istrabenz from 1957 until his retirement in 1993), and last but not least Fabio Ivančič (born 1933, long-time accountant of the company from 1971 until his retirement in 1995 and beyond, until his final retirement in 2001) - an invaluable source that provided us with several written and personal highly valuable facts and explanations, a person with incredible memory, broad insight and accounting accuracy. 

In the last, documentary part, we prepared a presentation of all four directors: Angel Gruden (1948–1951), Anton Vodopivec (1951–1974), Jordan Klabjan (1984–1988) and Janko Kosmina (1974–1984, 1988–1996). Owing to the lack of sources, the presentations of the company’s directors differ from each other.
This part includes the “Short Report on the Privatization of ISTRABENZ d.d. Koper ”, prepared in 1996 by Fabio Ivančič and signed by Janko Kosmina, General Manager.
It is followed by a textual overview of all TV articles referring the Istrabenz, from the beginning of TV Slovenia in 1958 till 1996, prepared by Rok Omahen, a researcher-documentalist This overview is based on TV Slovenia’s broadcasts held by the RTV Slovenia in its extensive archive.

At the end we present the Chronology of Istrabenz from its establishment in 1948 to the end of the privatization period in 1996, including changes of the company's name.

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