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torek, 7 decembra, 2021


By: Dr. Stane Granda

The cultural value of different territories in Europe has been determined by its antique heritage for centuries. Because of its rich and diverse nature, our territory has been attractive to the people filled with the love of life from the prehistoric times onwards, as can be determined by the 50,000 old Neanderthal whistle found here.

The first important European cultural achievement of our territory can be dated back to the early Iron Age from 800 to 300 years B.C. The Situla art, and glass and amber jewellery indicate the vast economic and spiritual connections of this territory. Later, there was the famous Noric steel. The local iron industry tried to keep its tradition alive up to the second half of the 19th century. It was dependent on surface mines and forest iron. If we connect the dots between mineral wealth and the geographic position, the transitory position of the Slovenian ethnic space between Central Europe and Middle East, and between the Apennine Peninsula and the Pannonian Plain, we can find the answers to the two crucial questions regarding the Slovenian history. The Slovenian space was strategically too important for bigger nations to let the smaller Slovenian nation, which was never a threat to anyone, to form its own state. They had to have the access to that territory that demanded constant control. Today we live on one third of our original territory.

Carantania and the coming of the foreign rulers

It is a fact that the Slovenian language is Slovenian. Slovenians are the western part of those peoples who lived on the greater area of today´s Slovakia, Slavonia (Hungary), Austria and Slovenia. Allegedly, the genetic potential of the native inhabitants is still more than half present. Their oldest “state” was the Duchy of Carantania, which was a part of Samo´s Empire in the 7th century.

After Samo died, Carantania became the first independent Slavic state. Until 743, it was a sovereign state in foreign relations, and it remained internally independent until 828. The land was scarcely populated, and it attracted the Germanic colonialists. The Carantanians could not develop a long-term sovereign state, but they were able to preserve their name and language. The religious texts from around the year 1000, known as the Freising manuscripts, the oldest Slavic texts written in Latin letters, are undoubtedly Slovenian. The reputation of the language in society was most clearly manifested in the well-known enthronement, which was always in Slovenian, until its abandonment in 1414.

The end of the Hungarian incursions in 955 meant the beginning of the feudal society, which lasted until 1848. Sometime around the year 1000 the space populated with Slovenians became known as Slovenia (Sclavonia) in Latin, and Windischland in the German language, meaning the land of Slovenians. In the 11th century, Prekmurje came under the rule of the crown of Saint Stephen. For almost a 1000 years, its society developed differently, but its inhabitants preserved its Slovenianess in their self-identification and in their language.

The coming of Christianity and the feudal order, which also included the historical lands of Styria, Carinthia, Carnolia, Goriška, Istria and Trieste, a city which had a unique position after it came under the rule of the Habsburgs in 1382, was one of the biggest and lasting changes. Its first spiritual and cultural centre was Oglej. The second became Salzburg after the year 811 when the border line was set at the river Drava.

The work of the brothers from Thessaloniki, Ciril and Metod, was very important for the Slovenian self-consciousness, but it would be interesting to see what would have been the cultural and political fate of Slovenians if their actions would have had lasting political and cultural results.

With the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire (the German nationality) in 862, a state was created in which most of the Slovenians lived until 1806. The German rulers gave vast territories to the dioceses of Salzburg, Oglej, Brixen, Bamberg, Freising, and to the noble families Askvins, Andechs, Babenbergers, Goriški, Ortenburgs, Spanheims and Traungaus. These families then fought for the land and created their dynasty’s territories. Some of them died out, and other gained or inherited their lands. New dynasties were also formed in the process, such as the Counts of Celje. But the main victors were the Habsburgs that became the German Emperors in 1273. The big feudal lords dispersed land to their subjects, who built many castles, mostly by the border with Hungary and present day Croatia. Since they took the best land for themselves, there was not much left for the farmers, who received small pockets of land by the big forests, in the form of farms. This situation became the norm because of the growth of the population. The farm estates dominated the land for centuries. Although members of the high nobility were from the German space, they connected with our people in everyday life. They had to know the Slovenian language as it also represented a part of the land´s identity. One of the most known cases was the greeting of the Bernard Spainhaim to the poet and a knight Ulrich of Liechtenstein. When Ulrich came to Carinthia, Bernard greeted him with “Buge was primi…” which meant God bless you in archaic Slovenian language.

The main issue of the cultural and political transformation of the vast area next to the ethnic territory from Štivan, Innichen and St. Paul to Monošter was taken care of by the Benedictine monks. Later, their role was taken over by the monasteries of Stična, Vetrinj Kostanjevica, Rein above Gradec, and Monošter. The Carthusians were also very important with the monk community in Žice. They were also in Jurkloštr, Bistra and Pleterje, where they remained to this day. They were joined by the Teutonian knights and by the Maltese knights. The mendicant orders such as the Franciscans were the heralds of the first establishments of the city communities. Some of them, such as those by the Adriatic Sea, or such as in Ptuj and Ljubljana, had antique foundations. While others grew in accordance with the economic, political and cultural needs of the Habsburgs.

Although the official language of the Church was Latin, it had to also use Slovenian because of the pastorale. This contributed to the development of the language and culture as can be learned from the medieval manuscripts.

Divided between provinces and different countries

The partition of the Slovenian land to provinces became the main problem of the Slovenian cultural and political history. Only in Carnolia and in Goriško did the Slovenians represent the majority, while elsewhere they only represented one third of the population. There was no authority, neither political nor religious, that would bind them as a whole. They lived in three different countries: The German Empire, The Hungarian Empire and the Republic of Venice. And those countries had hostile relations.

After the catastrophic year of 1348 which brought the plague, locusts and an earthquake, came another bad year in 1511, and the new age came with the Turkish incursions and the peasant rebellions. The year of 1511 left a lasting cultural mark with the first printed Slovenian words. Then came the reformation that was embraced by the nobility and the bourgeoise. The first book in Slovenian was printed in 1550. And in 1583 the first complete Slovenian translation of the Bible was published. The defence against the Turkish incursions, the peasants’ rebellions, and the reformation show us the incredible unity of the Slovenians based on their language and their perception of the common destiny, which surpasses the country’s borders.

The Slovenian national rebirth in the era of Maria Theresa and later, was the part of the European Enlightenment and Romantic era, combined with some specific local developments. The great achievements of that era were the first complete Catholic publication of the Bible in the Slovenian language, the unfinished attempts of official history, the first Slovenian newspaper in 1797, and the first official Slovenian grammar written by the genius linguist Jernej Kopitar in 1811. But the Austro-French wars slowed down the cultural progress. With the establishment of the French Illyrian provinces that stretched from East Tyrol to Dubrovnik, designating Ljubljana as its centre in 1809, the future of the Slovenians was endangered, since they found themselves divided between two hostile countries. The anti-French sentiments of the Slovenians were supported by the Viennese authorities through Archduke John by establishing the first university department for the Slovenian language in Graz in 1811.

The end of the Illyrian provinces (1809-1813), that were considered by some to be the origins of Yugoslavia, resulted in a half century period in which all of the Slovenians lived under one ruler. Before the breaking point of 1848, the Slovenian cultural enthusiasts, headed by the greatest Slovenian poet France Prešeren, had already discarded the ideas of illyrism and the idea of uniting the Slovenian and Croatian languages. Only the new writing of gajica that introduced the one-letter sibilants remained from it. The weekly newspaper Novice (News) was started in 1843, and remained the most important Slovenian paper for decades. But the main achievement of that era was that of the Bishops (Trieste, Gorica, Ljubljana, Graz…) who were the closest representatives of the people to the Emperor, and were Slovenians by nationality. They convinced the Emperor that they cannot be Germanised, which was evident especially in the area of lower education. Nevertheless, the issue of language remained the main cultural and political problem until the end of the Habsburg Monarchy.

The forming of the Slovenian national programme

The Slovenian national programme was formed in its entirety at the time of the March revolution in 1848. It adopted all of the endeavours for democratization and added some specifically Slovenian demands. It called for the establishment of Slovenia with its own provincial parliament. The Slovenian language was to have all of the rights in public life. Slovenians rejected their inclusion in the German Empire and demanded the preservation of the Austrian Empire under the Habsburgs. The typical Austro-Slavic concept was one of the most radical in all of the Monarchy. The population accepted it with the collection of signatures for the petition, and expected that it would be adopted in the parliament, into which they voted in the most capable Slovenian representatives, headed by the well-known Slovenian philologist, Dr. Fran Miklošič.

Just like other nations in Austria, the Slovenians never achieved their national goal. The abolishment of feudalism and the short-lived democracy, alongside the blooming of political newspapers and diverse political ideas, were the achievements of the democratic endeavours of all the citizens of Monarchy. Even the provinces that exist in Austria today have come to a halt. From then on, the Slovenians were recognised as one nation by the court, which reflected in the unified textbooks, the introduction of the Slovenian language in general high schools, in the official documents and on some administrative borders. The demands for an independent self-governing unit were even more frequent in the forms of the mass gatherings of the scout movement in the years 1868-1871. The biggest gathering took place on the edge of Ljubljana, with almost 30,000 people attending. The consequences of the cultural self-organizing, ignited by the St. Mohor Society which was formed in 1851 on the ethnic territory of Slovenians which turned Slovenians into one of the most avid readers among the nations of Europe by filling the state buildings with cheap books, were felt. With the readers movement the usage of the Slovenian language was asserted within the bourgeoise society. In 1864, Slovenska matica was formed in Ljubljana, which developed the Slovenian literature and introduced European literature to the population. Slovenians were becoming a modern social and, in regard to ideas, diverse society, which can be seen in the newspapers and the social life of that time. Until the end of the century, the Slovenians developed their language to the level of the highest sciences and culture.

The second half of the 19th century also marked the overwhelming victory of the industrial revolution, which started after the fall of the Illyrian provinces and reached its peak with the Vienna-Trieste railroad in 1857. Later, the railroad was expanded to Croatia and Carinthia. It was a big economic breaking point, as it caused the fall in farmers transportations, and the local workmanship was being abandoned because of foreign competition. Irruption of the capitalism to the countryside was lessened by the cooperative movement. But it did not prevent the emigration to other European countries and to the USA, which became massive after the year 1880. Around a quarter of a million of the population emigrated. Cleveland, USA became the city with the biggest amount of Slovenian diaspora population besides Trieste.

Unlike most other such programs in Europe, the Slovenian national programme was based on natural and not historical law. That is why Slovenians did not get any political support in the Vienna Parliament from other Slavic nations living in the Monarchy. Not even from the Czechs. That is why they turned to the South Slavic nations within the Monarchy in their wish toward a realization of a Unified Slovenia. After the division of 1867 when Austro-Hungary was formed, a third political unit Yugoslavia was contemplated. This political option became more popular during the WW1, and gained an overwhelming support with the 350,000 signatures of the May Declaration in 1917. Because of the European consensus that the Austro-Hungary must vanish from history, the South Slavs of the Habsburg monarchy fell into the arms of the victorious Serbia, which later Became Yugoslavia under the leadership of the Karađorđević family.

A school map of the Slovenian territory was created in 1939. The majority of the Slovenians at that time lived in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Dravska banovina), while some lived in Italy, Hungary and Germany. (Photo: Demokracija archive)

Loss of territory and submission in Yugoslavia

Slovenian losses caused by WW1 and the break-up of the Monarchy were tremendous. On the basis of the London treaty, Italy gained almost a third of Slovenian territory, including Gorizia and Trieste, which was an important market for meat products. On 10 October 1920, Carinthian Slovenians decided at a plebiscite to stay in Austria, because of the insecurity and fear of the majority Orthodox Monarchy and due to the fear of the Yugoslavian farming competition and the economic consequences. On the other hand, there was a big territorial gain with the inclusion of Prekmurje. However, in the economic sense, life did not improve for the Hungarian-Slovenian population. Only non-agrarian production saw benefits in Yugoslavia. Slovenian banking, concentrated in Trieste, did not do well in the Yugoslavian state.

The biggest political achievement of the Slovenians in Yugoslavia was the founding of the Slovenian University in Ljubljana. But soon, Slovenians had less rights than in former Austria. This fact gave strength to the Slovenian Autonomy Movement, which had its permanent doubts towards Yugoslavia. The political life was shaped by the opponents of the political centralism, the advocates of the continuous existence of the different nations within Yugoslavia and by the supporters of the Yugoslavian national unitarism. There were also Communists who were organized on a state level, united and ready for self-sacrifices. They were supported by Moscow, and 500 of them from Slovenia alone went to fight in the Spanish civil war, which gave them a big military advantage upon their return to Yugoslavia, especially in the fields of guerrilla warfare. Some of them were even trained in Moscow.

Occupation, Revolution and Counter-Revolution

On 6 April 1941, the Germans attacked Yugoslavia. They were joined by Italians and Hungarians, while the Croats also participated in the butchering of the Slovenian territory.

Anton Korošec, the leading politician of the biggest party, The Slovenian Peoples Party, died in 1940. His successor was killed during the bombardment of Belgrade. Just like at the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, a National Committee for Slovenia was established. Its task was to represent the Slovenian people before the occupational powers, and to prepare for the end of occupation, which everyone was sure would come.

One of its supporters, Dr. Lambert Ehrlich, a Carinthian Slovene, who already concluded during the peace talks in Paris after WW1 that a nation without a country has no future since it is never the subject of international politics, demanded organised endeavours for a Slovenian state within the frames of a Unified Slovenia.

He was also worried that Slovenians could face ethnocide under Austria and Italy. Because of his anti-Yugoslavian views, and because he was the only one capable of establishing an alternative to Communism, they killed him in the spring of 1942. With him, the plans for the Independent Slovenian state were buried.

A unified resistance against the occupier was not possible, because the democratic parties wanted to protect human lives. On the other hand, the Communists who did not hide the fact that their main goal was the takeover of the country, demanded immediate massive resistance, which in turn demanded heavy human losses. They labelled all other forms and attempts of the resistance against the occupier as treason and killed its organizers. To counter the National Committee, the Communists formed the Liberation Front and drew in the unsatisfied members of the legitimate parties. By pandering to the feeling of the Slovenian national endangerment very skilfully, they claimed that their aim was national liberation and a unified Slovenia. They had around 1,000 fighters in 1941, but because of the violence of the occupiers and the mobilization in the German army, this number rose to 35,000 at the end of the war.

The partisans had to survive with the help of their current environment. But because of the thoughtless violence and because of the general lack of food, a spontaneous rebellion rose among the peasant population. That meant that a civil war was needed for a successful revolution. Its main victim was the Catholic Church. This oppression of the Church lasted until the independence in 1991 and reached its peak when Ljubljana’s Bishop Anton Vovk was burned in Novo mesto in 1952. The most responsible were the lounge Communists, the descendants of the most prosperous liberal families that prevailed in the ranks of the Communists. In addition to anticlericalism, they were also under the influence of the fashionable Communism which was often seen among the European intellectuals, prior to WW2.

The Italians formed a voluntary anti-Communist militia which reorganized under the German supervision into the Slovenian Homeguard after the capitulation of Italy in 1943. The leaders speculated about turning their back to the Germans if the American-English Allies invaded Slovenian territory. But after the Tito – Šubašić agreement, which was backed by London, this was no longer possible. The end of the war on 15 May 1945 brought systematic and carefully planned post-war massacres. The main victims were the Homeguard troops that had gone to Carinthia but were returned by the English. From the 100,000 victims of WW2, at least 15,000 people were killed after the war, mostly the ones that were returned. Around 25,000 civilians perished in the cruel civil war, 4,000 of them were killed during the war. More than half of them were women. 615 minors were also killed, among them 129 girls. Several concentration camps were also established and many Germans, Italians and Hungarians that were born here were deported or even secretly killed.

In the Yugoslavian Socialist cauldron

In the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Slovenia became one of the federative republics with some seeming attributes of statehood. It kept Prekmurje, but did not gain any part of Koroška. On the other hand, it gained a lot of the Primorska (Littoral) territory which used to be on the Italian side of the border. But it did not get its entire ethnic space. The issue of Trieste was not resolved until 1954, when the city with its surroundings was given to Italy. Because of its intensive involvement in the Cold War, is did not get Gorica (Gorizia) and a big part of the ethnic Slovenian space. A part of the Istrian coastline that had never been Slovenian was some sort of a consolatory prize for the lost ethnic space.

The economic and social progress cannot be denied. People were enthusiastic about the health and social insurance, but the private artisans and the farmers were not entitled to it for a long time. The number of all kinds of schools multiplied, but the comparisons with the neighbouring Italy and Austria showed a growing distance as Yugoslavia was lagging behind. One of the solutions for the constant political and economic crises was the opening of the state borders to the West after 1960. Only from Slovenia, 100,000 people went to work abroad. They helped their relatives and the country by sending back remittances. That is why the modernization of some fields, namely of the countryside which the Communist always despised, was fatally lagging behind.

With its model of social and economic self-management, Yugoslavia gained some attention in the world. They were not aware that, because of the extremely centralised party, it could not truly come to life, let alone function. There were many attempts to save the federal state with constitutional reforms that would strengthen the role of the republics, but they all crashed in the monolith of the party, especially the army, which was in the end the only saviour of the state. Unable to conform to democracy, it started to clash with the basic structures of the federation.

The Yugoslavia that was established in 1918 did not have any historical background. It was only connected by some sort of idealistic Slavic dreams, but divided by history, language, writings, religion and other factors that define a member of the individual nation. As such it has dispersed into history.

About the author:

The historian Dr. Stane Granda worked at the Historical Institute of Milko Kos in the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art, until his retirement.


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