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THE SLOVENES

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Most of the Slovenes (1,730,000) live within the borders of the independent country of Slovenia, and there are substantial Slovene minorities in the border regions of Italy (100,000), Austria (50,000), Croatia (25,000), and Hungary (6,000). A considerable number of Slovene emigrants are also scattered across Europe and overseas (300,000). The Slovene language belongs to the Southern Slavic language group; its formation began in the period when the Slavs settled in the Eastern Alps, the western Pannonian Plain, and the karst region above the Bay of Trieste in the 6th century. Around the year 1000, the earliest manuscripts in Slovene was created, the Catholic liturgical texts known as the Friesing Monuments, but the written language only began to develop with Protestant literature. In 1550, the Protestant reformer Primoz Trubar published the first Slovene book, a catechism, and Jurij Dalmatin translated the Bible into Slovene in 1584. As the 16th century drew to a close, the Slovene language took its place among European languages with the multilingual dictionary compiled by Hieronymus Megisar.

In the beginning, Slovene ethnic territory was called “Sclavinia” and its inhabitants “Sclavi,” while after the Slovene population in Karantanija (present-day Carinthia) reached its greatest density they were also called “Karantanci.” Since the Slovene language was established by Slovene Protestant writers largely from the province of Carniola, from the 16th century on the Slovenes became increasingly identified with the Carniolans and Carniola. Slovene territory settled from the 6th century on reached its greatest extent in the 9th century, covering an area from the Bay of Trieste to the Danube River in the north and Lake Balaton in the east. Slovene ethnic territory subsequently shrank due to Germanization in the west and north and the arrival of the Hungarians on the Pannonian Plain. Slovene ethnic borders had stabilized by the 15th century and remained unchanged until the middle of the 19th century.

After the Lombards pushed into Italy in 568, Slavic tribes and the Avars began to colonize the western Pannonian Plain and the Eastern Alps. Their advance was checked at the eastern edge of the Friulian lowland by the “Lombard Limes,” and along the upper course of the Drava (Drau) River they fought for land against the Bavarians. Until the end of the 7th century, the Slavs in this region lived under Avar authority. From 623 to 658, the Slavic tribes between the upper Elbe River and the Karavanke mountains range were united in their first state under the leadership of King Samo. This state collapsed after his death, but Karantanija remained in the area of present-day Carinthia. In the middle of the 7th century, it developed into the first Slovene state under the rule of Prince Valuk with its center at Krn Castle near Maria Saal. After becoming allied with the Bavarians to fight the Avars in the middle of the 8th century, the Slovenes had to recognize Frankish rule and adopt Christianity. In 803, Church territory was divided along the Drava (Drau) River between the Salzburg archdiocese and the Patriarchate of Aquileia, a division that remained until the 18th century. The Avar kingdom collapsed at the beginning of the 9th century, and the Slovenes from the Alps settled the lower Pannonian Plain as well as Istria. After the division of the Frankish state by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, all the Karantanija Slovenes were united under the Franks. Around 840, Prince Pribina acquired the territory as a feud from the Franks and established its center at Balaton Castle at the mouth of the Zala River on Lake Balaton. Influenced by the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius, his successor Prince Kocelj (861-874) distanced himself from the Frankish bishops and established an independent principality. Following the peace between the Moravians and the Germans in 874, the last Slovene state formation lost its independence, and the worship of God in Latin and a foreign culture prevailed for the next millennium.

Toward the end of the 9th century, the so-called Kingdom of Karantanija arose as a special form of dukedom encompassing the territory from the source of the Drava River to the Danube and Kolpa rivers. During this period, the Hungarians began to advance into the Pannonian Plain, settling permanently in the region in 896 and severing contact between the western and southern Slavs. Following the defeat of the Hungarians at Lechfeld in 955, the Bavarians and Karantanija Slovenes settled eastwards to the central Raba, Sotla, Krka, and Kolpa rivers and permanently established the ethnic border between the Slovenes and the Croats and Hungarians. At the end of the 10th century, Karantanija separated from Bavaria, but Greater Karantanija soon collapsed along with the imposition of an overall feudal framework on Slovene territory. From the 12th century on, the Slovenes developed within the historical provinces of Carinthia, Styria, Carniola, and later Gorizia. Slovene settlement in Austria waned as early as the 13th century: German colonization reached the Villach Basin in Carinthia, the Graz Basin in Styria, and the Sora River flood plain in Carniola, and Italian colonization dominated the Friulian lowlands.

With a new wave of German colonization from the north, the ethnic border was entrenched running across Hermagor in the Gail Valley, Mount Dobratsch, Villach, Maria Saal, the Saualpe mountain range, Mount Kozjak, Radgona/Bad Radkersburg, and the Kucnica River by the 15th century and remained until the middle of the 19th century. From around 1500, the Hapsburgs prevailed on Slovene ethnic territory and ruled almost the entire territory until 1918. The provinces of Styria, Carniola, Carinthia, Istria, and later Gorizia were recognized together as “Inner Austria.” In the first half of the 15th century, the princes of Celje were greater than the Hapsburgs, but the Hapsburgs inherited their territory when the last of the Celje dynasty died. During the period of the ten-year war (1479-1489) between the Hapsburg Frederick I and Matthias Corvinus, the king of Hungary and Croatia, the larger part of the Slovene territory was in the hands of the Hungarians. Because of his successful defence against the Turks and for his support of the subject Slovene peasants, Matthias Corvinus became a Slovene national hero. After the fall of Bosnia in 1463, there had been numerous invasions by the Turks into Slovene territory during which they killed or abducted about one third of the Slovene population. Relations between the feudal lords and the peasants worsened during the great peasant uprisings against the feudal system (1478, 1515, 1573).

In the second half of the 16th century, the Reformation gave birth to the first Slovene book, public library, printing house, and boarding school. The Counter-Reformation began at end of the century, and Protestant preachers and scholars had to return to the Catholic faith or leave the country. All Protestant institutions were destroyed, in Ljubljana alone eleven wagonloads of Protestant books were burned, and more than 750 of the most affluent bourgeois and aristocrat families had to leave Slovene territory. The only remaining Protestants lived in the region between the Mura and Raba rivers. Following the success of the Counter-Reformation, the influence of the German countries waned, and Italian influences and Baroque art gained strength. Hapsburg territory flourished following the retreat of the Turks from the central Danube area at the end of the 17th century. Roads for commerce were built across Slovene territory from Vienna to Rijeka and Trieste, free navigation across the Adriatic was allowed in 1717, and Trieste was proclaimed a free port in 1769. After the reforms instituted by Maria Theresa, a Slovene national renaissance began. With a unified market and transport system, the Slovene regions became more closely linked. The Slovene language was used in schools, and Joseph II, who succeeded Maria Theresa, introduced compulsory education. Anton Tomaz Linhart, who scientifically established through his study of history that the peoples between the Drava River and the Adriatic comprised the Slovene nation, strove to establish schools and public libraries in Slovene territory as well as a university in Ljubljana. Finding grounds in the language of Dalmatin’s translation of the Bible, Jansenist scholars once again drew attention to the unity of the Slovene language.

In 1797, French troops under Napoleon forced the Austrian army to capitulate. Following the Treaty of Campo Formio, Austria acquired the greater part of the collapsed Venetian Republic and united the Slovenes in Istria and Venetian Slovenia. The French occupied Slovene territory for the third time in 1809 and after the Treaty of Schönbrunn incorporated a large part of Slovene territory in the Illyrian Provinces. Their capital and administrative center was Ljubljana. On one hand, the brief period of French rule (1809-1813) was a drawback to commerce, especially to the port of Trieste with the introduction of Napoleon’s “Continental system,” but on the other hand it modernized the administration of government and introduced the Slovene language in elementary and secondary schools, which later influenced education in Austria as well. After the French occupation ended, Metternich’s regime prevailed, and the greater part of the Slovene people were included in the German union (1815-1866), which influenced the revival of the German language in schools and offices. A new Slovene national concept was cultivated by a group of intellectuals gathered around Matija »op, and the poet France Preseren significantly influenced the unity of the Slovene language and the national concept in general.

The revolutionary year 1848 saw the formation of the nationalist “United Slovenia” movement. This movement first appeared in Klagenfurt (Matija Majer), then in the circles of intelligentsia and students of Vienna, and later in Graz and Ljubljana. It demanded the introduction of Slovene in schools and offices, the unification of the Slovenes within the Austrian Empire, and consideration of the principle of nationality in the historical provinces. Although absolutism was resumed in Austria under the reign of Francis Joseph I (1848-1916), Slovene was gradually reintroduced into schools in Slovene territory and was taught as a subject in secondary schools. To strengthen the northern Slovene ethnic border, it was essential to relocate the seat of the Lavantine diocese from St. Andrä to Maribor, which Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek succeeded in doing in 1859. The national concept of “United Slovenia” flourished from 1861 in literary clubs organized in all the larger towns and especially between 1868 and 1871 at “tabors,” large popular rallies held outdoors. In 1892, the conservatives established the Catholic National Party, and the liberals established the National Party in 1894. Janez Krek, who organized agricultural cooperatives and rural self-help associations, led the party of the farmers. All the Slovene political parties dealt with the issue of Slovenia and Yugoslavia within the framework of trialism in Austria-Hungary. The Yugoslav Social Democratic Party set the unification of all Southern Slavs as its ultimate goal in its Tivoli Resolution of 1909, and this aim was also supported by the free-thinking youth of the “Renaissance Movement.”

Fighting on the Austrian side in World War I claimed around three percent of the entire Slovene population as casualties of war. In 1917, Yugoslav delegates from the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy demanded in the May Declaration that the territories where Slovenes, Serbs, and Croats lived should be united under the Hapsburg dynasty in an independent democratic state. In the same year, the Slovene parties collected 200,000 signatures in support of the secession of Slovene territory from Austria on the basis of the principle of nationality and union in a common state of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. In the middle of August 1918, representatives from all the Slovene parties agreed to establish a National Council in Ljubljana under the leadership of Anton Korosec to realize self-determination and establish a Yugoslav state. On October 31st, Korosec named the national government of the Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs in Ljubljana as the supreme authority of the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs that subsequently united with the Kingdom of Serbia on December 1, 1918.

Following the postwar border demarcation, 400,000 Slovenes in Italy, 90,000 in Austria, and 7,000 in Hungary were excluded from the new Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, and Slovenia lost one third of its ethnic territory. In accordance with the secret London treaty of 1915, Italy occupied the Slovene Primorska region, including Trieste and Gorizia; following the plebiscite in Carinthia in 1920, Austria expanded its borders south to the Karavanke mountain range; and after the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary claimed the Slovene territory from the watershed of the Drava and Mura rivers to the Raba River.

With the foundation of the University of Ljubljana in 1919, the Slovene people acquired a central institution of education and science, and Radio Ljubljana, the Slovene National Theatre, the National Gallery, and the University Library became key cultural establishments. From the foundation of the joint Yugoslav state, some independent Slovene parties strove an for independent Slovenia, but this goal was thwarted by the constitution adopted in 1931. The period between the World Wars saw the relatively fast progress of Slovene business and industry, and the rural population decreased in the same period from two thirds to half of the total population.

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Canoeing on the Soca River


Following the German invasion in 1941, Yugoslavia quickly fell to pieces, and the new puppet state of Croatia separated Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. On April 12, 1941, Hitler resolved to divide Slovenia between Germany, Italy, and Hungary. A mass resistance movement of the entire Slovene population called the Liberation Front set itself the task of uniting Slovene territories and resisted the designs of the occupiers to destroy the Slovene nation by force. Due to the leading role the Communists played in the armed resistance, the Slovene people became divided, and in the Ljubljana region collaboration with the enemy and a bitter fratricidal struggle began. Toward the end of 1943, the Allies recognized the Slovene partisan army as an ally in their common struggle against Fascism. The same year, the Liberation Front organized an assembly of delegates of the Slovene people in Kocevje which adopted the resolution that a Slovenia reincorporating the Slovene coast be included in a new federal Yugoslavia. The collaborationists had not come to terms with the partisan movement by the end of the war and were later excluded from participation in national life. The British extradited the defeated collaborationist forces that had fled to Carinthia after the war to the Yugoslav army which liquidated the majority of them.

In the period from 1945 to 1990, Slovenia was part of another federal Yugoslavia as an independent socialist republic with the right of secession. After the Paris peace conference, Slovenia incorporated a part of the Slovene coastal region in 1947, and with the 1954 London Memorandum, part of the Free Territory of Trieste excluding Trieste. The western border of Slovenia and Yugoslavia marked the division of Europe into blocs, while the border with Hungary marked the true “Iron Curtain.” Although initially power in Yugoslavia was very centralized in the hands of the Communists, Slovenia strengthened its national cultural and educational institutions and later its economic independence. Voices favouring the independence of Slovenia were heard among the Slovene minorities in neighbouring countries (around 10% of the Slovene people) and among the Slovene emigrant population abroad (20%). With the goal of maintaining links with Slovenes everywhere, Slovenia continuously exercised an independent policy toward its minorities and emigrants abroad. Since 1967, Slovenia joined Austrian Carinthia and the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the Intart group, and in 1978 it joined the Alpe-Adria group of European regions. Toward the end of the 1960’s, a new Yugoslav constitution was adopted that strengthened the role of nationalities and in the 1970’s limited federal jurisdiction and increased the sovereignty of the republics.

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Stari grad (“Old Castle”) above Celje

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Ljubljana, copperplate from Janez Vajkard Valvasor’s Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (1689)

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Illyrian Column in Ljubljana dedicated to Napoleon’s Illyrian Provinces

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Statue of France Preseren, Slovenia’s greatest poet

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Ossuary from World War I in Kobarid

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The “Franja” partisan hospital in a ravine near Cerkno

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World War II monument in Drazgose

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University of Ljubljana

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Doorknob on the entrance to the National and University Library designed by Joze Plecnik

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Proclamation of the independence of Slovenia in front of the Parliament Building in Ljubljana on June 26, 1991

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Hallstatt situla from Novo mesto

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The Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra in the Cankarjev dom Congress and Cultural Center in Ljubljana

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Hikers on Mount Pokljuka


Following its ten-day conflict with the Yugoslav army In 1991 and the collapse of Yugoslavia, Slovenia became a sovereign state with a democratically-elected, multiparty parliament guaranteed by its new constitution. Due to the loss of the Yugoslav market, more than two thirds of Slovenia’s export was redirected to the countries of European Union. The large state-owned companies almost completely disintegrated, industrial production decreased, the formerly high level of employment gave way to high unemployment (14%) and economic stagnation, and there were widespread strikes. However, with the completion of the privatization process, the period of transition is gradually coming to an end and economic conditions are steadily improving. Slovenia is becoming a prosperous European country on the threshold of joining NATO and the European Union.

Character and Aspirations
Slovenia is today a typical Central European country in transition. Here where the armies of all the major European nations met, from the British and French to the Russians and Turks, Slovene history and culture were most directly influenced by the neighbouring Italians, Germans, Croats, and Hungarians. Along with archeological traces, linguistic traces of the pre-Slavic Illyrians, Celts, Romans, and Avars who lived for shorter or longer periods on present-day Slovene territory have been preserved in geographical and personal names.

The region along the Adriatic coast is a mixed ethnic region that autochthonous Italians share with the majority Slovenes, and similarly, an autochthonous Hungarian minority lives on the Pannonian plain in northwestern Slovenia. Both these minority groups have special status and representation in parliament. Small Romany communities are scattered across Slovenia, particularly in eastern Slovenia. Before the collapse of Yugoslavia, many people from other republics settled in the urban areas of Slovenia and acquired citizenship following Slovenia’s independence.

Slovenes feel a strong attachment to their land, homes, and parishes. Owning land still means survival to them, and they quarrel over it with their neighbours and relatives. Many city dwellers dream of having a garden, orchard, or a vineyard. Gardening is everywhere a popular subject of daily conversation, and gardening books are among the most sought after. If they manage to set up a tool shed on a garden allotment or build a weekend house, they spend most of their spare time there. Along with having their own homes, all Slovenes take pride in their dogs. Once serving as house guards, dogs today are companions for walks, excursions, and hunting. Car are increasingly a status symbol for Slovenes and they are therefore well maintained; dirty or damaged cars are a rare sight on Slovene roads.

A subservient attitude toward foreigners was once cited as the main trait of the Slovenes. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the former Yugoslavia, Slovenes certainly felt exploited by other nations. Slovene Nobel Prize winners, inventors, statesmen, scientists, and artists were all claimed by other countries when they achieved success. However, the success of the Slovene partisans in World War II and achieving independence in 1991 gave the Slovenes more self-confidence. Nowadays, they display greater interest in politics and the army, increasing national pride, and growing optimism. The former importance of non-political organizations, especially volunteer fire brigades, mountaineering associations, and scouting clubs, has recently decreased, but the Slovenes have preserved their tendency toward rationality, thrift, hard work, orderliness, tidiness, and their spirit of solidarity and trust. The scholar and prelate Anton Trstenjak wrote a voluminous book on Slovene integrity.

According to public opinion research, the Slovenes have little trust in political parties and the authorities. Their greatest heroes include Primoz Trubar, the Protestant reformer and founder of Slovene literature, the poet France Preseren, the writer Ivan Cankar, and Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek who established the Maribor diocese. Skiers enjoy the highest regard among their athletes, especially slalom racers and ski jumpers; basketball, soccer, and handball are particularly popular among the team sports; and top canoeists and track and field athletes are also respected. In spite of the great popularity of sports, the audiences at concerts outnumber the spectators at soccer matches in the capital Ljubljana.

Compared with world capital cities in the world, Ljubljana is relatively small (population of 300,000), but to the Slovenes it seems even too large and, according to the rural population, too wasteful of public funds. As former state-owned banks and insurance companies in the regions were denationalized, they established more branches outside Ljubljana. The majority of delegates in the Slovene parliament are from rural areas where they got more support from the voters than their counterparts in the capital. Slovenes both home and abroad prefer to settle outside the larger cities; for Slovenes, a peaceful and clean environment is a highly valued asset.

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