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Friday, June 9, 2023

Janko Kos’s book ‘Culture and Politics’ is a breathtaking work

By: Dimitrij Rupel

Janko Kos’s book was recently published by Nova obzorja, the title of which (‘Culture and Politics’) does not attract special attention at first glance. Such an impression is incorrect. Although it consists of short writings published in Democracy between 2003 and 2019, it is a work that the English would describe as “ground-breaking” or “breathtaking”. Each article is a masterpiece of precision and erudition, and all together represent a transparent and exhaustive list of the main European and Slovenian mental and political embarrassments. Kos is frugal regarding the selection of figures who have faced these major embarrassments. In addition to Plato, Marx and Nietzsche, he chose Trubar, Prešeren and Cankar as figures from the more distant past, while Jože Pučnik, Dušan Pirjevec and Edvard Kocbek are among the most recent. To simplify a bit, Kos rejects both Marx and Nietzsche, while he is lenient with Slovenian authors. He dedicated the most space and shocking lines to Jože Pučnik.

In ‘Culture and Politics’, Janko Kos repeatedly returns to thinking about concepts such as liberalism, democracy and social democracy; to clericalism, communism, Titoism, capitalism and totalitarianism, to Sloveneness and the state. The author’s first responses to the slandering of independence and the independent state, which occurred mainly in the so-called transitional left are from 2003. According to Kos, the Slovene state was created “to ensure the existence of the Slovene nation, language, and culture”. “Without a nation-state,” says our author, “the Slovene nation and the Slovene community of equal citizens will hardly survive.”

Some serious concerns about Slovenia’s attitude towards the state can also be found in the 2013 record:

(Slovenes) seem to dislike the state authorities, the police and the army, its regulations and restrictions, and at the same time demand from the state everything they think it owes them. They do not take public holidays serious, they do not hang flags, they hardly know national education in schools… And yet they expect the state to take care of salaries and pensions, health care and education, cultural and sports parties.[1]

It is about the “duality of Slovene understanding of the state”, about the “traditional relationship” that Slovenes are supposed to have inherited from the times when we did not have our own state or when such a mindset was promoted by valid Marxist doctrine. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Slovene state, Kos wrote: Slovenia is fatally faced with the question of when and how this middle-class society will get rid of political, social and cultural vices acquired during the socialist era, which hinder it from being a sufficient basis for Sloveneness at a time when it is threatened not only by internal conflicts, but even more by the ever-stronger shocks of chaotically dangerous globalisation.[2]

In more recent writings, Kos also deals with the Slovene tension between the left and the right, i.e. of the half-past “with NOB, revolution, half-century of socialism and independence”. The left – simply put – wants to preserve as much of the heritage of Yugoslav socialism as possible in a democratic state. We read about “Tito’s non-alignment”, about the connection of socialism with the national liberation struggles of the Third World, about the “third way”, which is characterised by the desire to obtain substantial financial resources from the West, EU and America, while cultivating ideological sympathy for the East, Russia or Islam. On the other hand, the right is characterised by “national thought”, national, linguistic and cultural identity, and above all the rejection of interwar and post-war violence of the revolution, sometimes rejection of NOB, but the right is for national reconciliation, while the left rejects it. In the end, Kos says:

The question remains how such different forces of Slovene spiritual, national and political life should coexist, communicate or even cooperate.[3]

Our author wrote about the problems of Slovenian national reconciliation in 2008, but according to him it is not possible to answer this question at all. If the Church and the Communist Party are to be the bearers of reconciliation, reconciliation is not possible:

There are no more communists who would like to declare themselves communists, and if they were, they would not want to take part in reconciliation with the other side, as this would deny the fundamental principle of communism, which is an unconditional struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and this struggle allows everything.[4]

Kos’ latest book is a systematic overview of cultural and political events in Slovenia between 2003 and 2019, but not only events (and polemical escalation) during this time. It contains a whole series of lucid hits at the expense of earlier and wider Slovenian phenomena. Kos sees these phenomena – as befits a comparativist – in the context of thought bases and shifts in Christian Europe, even in the Islamic world. ‘Culture and Politics’ is a great guide for rejecting current rampant – domestic or home-produced – reports of a lack of freedom, democracy and the rule of law; on the alleged dictatorship and censorship in Central Europe and especially in Slovenia.

Dr Dimitrij Rupel is a sociologist, politician, diplomat, writer, playwright, editor, publicist and former foreign minister.

[1] Janko Kos, ‘Culture and Politics’, Ljubljana 2021, p. 214.

[2] Cited work, p. 275.

[3] Cited work, p. 306-307.

[4] Cited work, p. 145.


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