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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Writer Ivan Sivec: I am Slovenian; I draw from Slovene roots and write for Slovenes!

By: Lucija Kavčič

We spoke with a Slovene writer Ivan Sivec, who surpassed all Slovene writers in the number of books in his 50 years of writing. He says that he has set himself the task of exposing to readers the true Slovenian history, which we know too little about. He also confided his thoughts to us about what was happening on RTVS.

The most prolific Slovenian writer Ivan Sivec (1949) has been living and working in Mengeš since 1972. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana at the Department of Slovene Studies, and at the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology he obtained the title of Master of Ethnological Sciences. He was employed at RTV Slovenia, the longest as a journalist or editor. He has been a member of the Slovenian Writers’ Association since 1987. On May 4th, 1972, 50 years ago, his first book entitled Pesem njenih zvonov was published, and he had written and published much earlier. So far, 171 of his books have been published and he is an absolute record holder. Until a few years ago, it was France Bevk with 124 books. For 20 years, Sivec has always been one of the first most read Slovenian writers. Readers borrow more than 55,000 of Sivec’s books a year in public and school libraries, and more than 370,000 copies of his books have been printed so far.

DEMOKRACIJA: Your first book was published 50 years ago, and you wrote and published much earlier. How did you feel when the first book came out and what was it like? Can you tell me more about it?

SIVEC: I really wrote short stories and sketches a good seven years ago, but the first book was published on May 4th, 1972, fifty years ago. The title was Pesem njenih zvonov. Prior to that, it was published in Kmečki glas as a sub-leaflet, and many ethnological records, according to my father, were published mainly in Gorenjski glas. Namely, at the request of the then leading ethnologist Dr Niko Kuret, I listed customs and habits in Gorenjska. So, I became acquainted with the old days, and in the book is the story of my uncle Franc, who died when he fell from a linden tree, and his girlfriend lost her mind in the process. When there was a full moon or flood, she went to church in the middle of the night to ring the bell because she wanted to summon her groom with it. This shocked me so much that I then wrote a story about it, linking it to past customs.

DEMOKRACIJA: When did you know you were going to be a writer? What did you first start writing about? Where and what did you publish before your debut came out?

SIVEC: I never planned to be a writer. But I really enjoyed reading, listening to the village old men, and especially my father, who was a real lexicon. When the first book came out, I flew like a bird to the top of the hills and then it just carried me and carried me forward. I am now at 171. Most of the books before me were written by France Bevk – 124. I also wrote three thousand lyrics for music and at twenty, following Prešeren’s example, a sonnet wreath with the acrostic IN THE NAME OF LOVE. With soldiers in Serbia, under the forests of Šumadija.

DEMOKRACIJA: What is the response to your books? Which ones do your readers like best?

SIVEC: Of course, readers respond, and that from the first book onwards. Lately, however, there is hardly a day that no one writes to me or calls me. I have to have peace in writing, a lot of peace, but I still answer everyone. Of course, quickly, otherwise I would be only doing that. A lot of people want me to write their biography, but I do not do that in principle. There is no real book without inspiration. Otherwise, I notice that readers prefer to read my historical and biographical novels about well-known important Slovenes. I am convinced that my task is also to present the real Slovenian history to the readers. It bothers me a lot when it is emphasised that we were farmhands in the past. That is not true at all. We have been a nation for more than a thousand years, from the country of Carantania onwards. The most beautiful proof of this is the Freising manuscripts, which are otherwise displayed all over the world.

DEMOKRACIJA: You have also written a huge number of biographical novels. Which ones?

SIVEC: I have written 25 biographical novels. I am especially proud of novels about France Prešeren, Julia Primic, Simon Gregorčič, Anton Aškerc, Jože Plečnik, etc., and recently novels about Ivan Tavčar, Josip Jurčič, Josip Murn – Aleksandrov have been widely read. It also seems that the last of this series – about Janez Trdina – will also be well received by readers.

DEMOKRACIJA: Slovenia does not have and probably will not have such a prolific writer as you, who would write so many books. What is the secret – if I may say so – in your fast writing?

SIVEC: Many think I write fast, but that is not true at all. I write slowly like all other writers. You cannot hurry writing. It is true, however, that I prepare thoroughly for writing. I prepare for historical or biographical novels even for several months, I read all the available material, I visit many museums, scientists, experts. At the same time, the imagination builds the story all the time. So, I do not have to suck the narrative out of my finger, it just flies on the paper. And there is something else! I prepare a book or write it from ten to twelve hours a day. I just have work habits – from home. In this regard, we should criticise especially those lazy people who stand behind the bar and wait for state aid. I also write a lot on Saturdays and Sundays, on vacation, in general all the time. Writing is just a style of my life.

DEMOKRACIJA: How many of your works have already been transferred to the movie screen and which ones and how are you satisfied with the films and screen adaptations?

SIVEC: Following my works, a youth feature film and three television films or series were made: Pozabljeni zaklad, Vlomilci delajo poleti, Zakleta bajta, Princ na belem konju. The feature film was made by Tugo Štiglic, television films or series were written and directed by Roman Končar. Unfortunately, the door to TV Slovenia was closed to him, although he has prepared several scripts and all the series were among the most watched, if not the most watched. We are both hoping that viewers will sooner or later get tired of crime novels and that the editors will also return to successful family series. Instead of the director waiting for Končar at the receptionist and kindly asking him to continue his successful work, the opposite is true here. Completely incomprehensible! This situation is directed against viewers, who also pay a contribution for domestic production, which they could easily sell – if the series were longer – to other countries. As for the screenplays – every person sees the world a little differently, so I always give the screenwriter and director a free hand. So far, I have always been pleasantly surprised.

DEMOKRACIJA: Please tell me more about your jubilee novel Brezdomec, which was published on the 50th anniversary of the publication of your first book.

SIVEC: On the occasion of fifty years of literary creation and fifty years of living in Mengeš, the birthplace of the writer and ethnologist Janez Trdina, I have published a biographical novel about him. Trdina’s life, work and struggle for democratic principles coincide strangely with today’s moment. That is why I easily identified with Trdina. Even today, we are ruled by an unusually large number of bluffers, gossipers, generally bad and incompetent people. On the other hand, there are a lot of honest, hard-working, and enterprising people among Slovenes. Sooner or later, this will have to normalise. I am an optimist by nature, but it seems to me that the transition is taking too long.

DEMOKRACIJA: What inspires you the most now?

SIVEC: This time I am mostly dealing with the girl Pika, who visited Pippi Longstocking in Sweden last year, and this year and all the following years she will visit many other book heroes. It is a fun-educational series for young readers. Of course, it will also be necessary to write another historical and biographical novel. One is already in the design… I never lack ideas.

DEMOKRACIJA: Will you (or have you already) written a novel with a political theme? And what do you have in mind and plan for the future?

SIVEC: I have written quite a few such narratives that are partly political in nature. To understand today’s RTV house, my Radioaktivni spomini are quite suitable, in which I show behind the scenes of this one-mindedness that is still alive. As a journalist, I am very worried that the story is even repeating or deepening. I am particularly concerned from the point of view of a former journalist and editor because the National House is far from balanced democratic reporting. It does not bother me at all if the left option has its shows, but then the right should have them as well.

DEMOKRACIJA: As you mentioned, you have studied a lot of historical material for your novels – have we Slovenes always been so “tight” or complicated in the political sense?

SIVEC: A very clear answer to this is my biographical novel about Josip Jurčič entitled Prvi pomladni cvet, which was published last year. When the spring of nations came, or as we began to become more aware of ourselves, we, like all other nations, saw the world a little differently. However, Jurčič, who was a long-time editor of the Slovenski narod as a young Slovene, liked to point out that, for example, he would never dispute the circle around Bleiweis’s Kmetijskih in rokodelskih novic if something was in favour of Slovenes. And he worked like that in practice. One can see the world differently, but some basic values are always fundamental, otherwise you are a breeze in the wind. In our country, however, there is still mostly a single option, and with all the cannons it shoots at another. In fact, we are almost less mature than in Jurčič’s time. A dissenter needs to be listened to, respected, tried to believe, not that his opinion is basically trampled on. In our country, even after thirty years of democracy, there is a rather unbalanced national television, which often does not show the problem in both lights. At independence, someone on the other side of the Atlantic told me that we need thirty, forty, fifty years to establish democracy. At the time, I thought he was joking, but now I see that the state of mind here is such that we will really need half a century to do so.

DEMOKRACIJA: So how do you see the current political situation in Slovenia? What is your hope for Slovenia or what do you want for Slovenia?

SIVEC: There are many hard-working, honest, well-meaning people in Slovenia who sincerely love their homeland, work hard and sincerely want us to come into contact with other nations and countries. At the same time, they warn us at every step that they would like to work in peace and that politics should leave them alone, and not increasingly devour them with taxes, richly paid analyses and fruitless meetings and visits. In addition, we are exhausted by the rich upgrade of the system and the hundreds of organisations that are vying primarily for their privileges, but far from being the voice of the people. The poet and playwright Matej Bor wrote a very telling play about such breadwinners, entitled Ples smeti

There is, of course, hope for Slovenia. It all depends on us when we will finally overlook and dedicate at least a part of our power to our wider home – the homeland. Our generation has experienced something extremely beautiful. Our centuries-old dream has come true. Having your own country and managing your own destiny is, of course, a privilege that many nations do not have. It is true, however, that thirty years ago, when we woke up and opened our eyes, we stayed almost where we were before. Slovenia has made some progress, but it could do much more. I once heard a lawyer on the radio that regarding law – probably also in other areas – we are somewhere between Botswana and Sweden. Supposedly, truth and justice depend on the state of mind in society. That made me quite sad. Until then, I thought that truth and justice were absolute concepts and that judges judge the same all over the world. Obviously not. We really are no longer Botswana, but there is probably a long way to go to Sweden.

DEMOKRACIJA: How do you view your contemporaries or Slovenian literary creators now? Do you think that Slovenians have many writers today and what are they like? What future do you see for Slovenian culture?

SIVEC: I am firmly convinced that Slovenes as a nation would not survive if we did not have our own language, our own books, our own culture. From Trubar onwards, we confirm ourselves mainly in this. Many small nations like ours have disappeared from history, and we are still here. And we will stay. Everything we have written down cannot be erased. Each book is a document of the time and face of our stay. It is true, however, that in the literature we are too obsessed with Western and other examples in general and draw too little from our roots. I have consciously tackled history on our soil: from the Romans in our country to Carantania and the Counts of Celje and princes, and I have added more than two dozen biographical novels to highlight our past, which is as glorious, if not more glorious, than the history of many so-called great nations. We only know it too poorly. I say to myself: I am a Slovene and I will draw from Slovene roots! And I will write for Slovenes! If I have already been given the ability to write something down, I also have a duty to do so on behalf of my nation. However, some other writers also understand this.

DEMOKRACIJA: As a former journalist and editor at RTVS, how do you view the current events in this television house?

SIVEC: This is, of course, a farce worthy of Cankar’s pen. Old, fortified cadres are fighting for their strengths, which is understandable in its own way. Broadly speaking, however, this is far from understanding democracy. They want to suppress and humiliate anyone who thinks differently from them. Although we all pay for the programme, often only one option is supported. Only when there is a shift in the direction that the second option will get its own shows, or in each talk show there will be guests from both sides, viewers will be informed fairly and will receive balanced information. But they repeatedly apologise on TV that the other option did not want to participate. This is nonsense, of course. We all know that on TV, if there is not one guest, two others are immediately available. Of course, if the host is honest and wants to show both sides of the problem at all. In general, RTVS – as it was pointed out in my time – probably still has too many employees. It should also be organised according to other examples. For example, the ORF has significantly fewer full-time employees and even more subscribers. They simply let the rounded shows work for outside productions. This way they get more diversity, in principle better broadcasts and have less costs with employees. I often remember the humourist Ježek, who, when asked how many people work at Radio Ljubljana, replied: “There are hundreds of employees, and about half of them work.”

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