A BRIEF HISTORY OF SLOVENIA
by Stane Granda
Ladies and gentlemen, respected colleagues,
Welcome to the country which until 1918 was not on maps, was not an administrative entity, and was not in history. Terminologically Slovenia means the “Land of Slavs,” and it borders the non-Slavic world. Slovenes are the most western Slavs in Europe – they border Roman, German and Hungarian neighbors. Slovenia is a state of Slovenes along with two minorities, Italian and Hungarian; while Slovenes also live as indigenous inhabitants of Italy, Austria, and Hungary. Many Slovenes live as immigrants in foreign countries, and Cleveland Ohio, USA, was until recently known as one of the cities with the largest number of Slovenian inhabitants. The most cohesive and nationally conscious group lives in Argentina. This group of Slovenes are those who fled their homes out of fear of communism after the Second World War.
Slovenia came into being with the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, as Yugoslavia was a multinational entity from its birth in 1918. A Yugoslavian nationality never existed, and there was never a Yugoslavian language, nor a Yugoslavian culture. The fact that Slovenia became an independent state is not the result of an egotistical splitting off of the economically more developed part of the former Yugoslavia, but rather a result of the political development of an autonomous nation with its own language and culture, which through hundreds of years of exceptionally persistent aspiration for its own cultural development arrived at its own statehood. Slovenes have had their own language for centuries and their own literature in the Slovene language since 1550. A command of our language does not mean an automatic understanding of other Slavic languages, neither neighboring Croatian nor other languages of the former multinational Yugoslavia. Regarding their culture, Slovenes were always connected to the west and the Catholic Church. We have never had an indigenous Orthodox religion nor Cyrillic alphabet. As to protestants, they have lived in Prekmurje from the reformation on, the area on the other side of the Mura river which was under the control of the Hungarian part of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy until 1918.
For an understanding of the cultural development of the Slovenian territory it is important to keep in mind the fact that it belongs to two basic cultures: the Mediterranean as to a land of rock and an interior where there is an preponderance of timber. Their durability is different and for an understanding of cultural development this is exceptionally important.
Because of its exceptionally important strategic position, and regarding the fact the main roads for commerce from middle and southeastern Europe and from the Italian area to the Balkans and the Pannonian lowland coursed across the Slovenian territory, it is understandable that this region was populated very early. Regarding material traces the most precious find up to now from the pre-metal age is a neanderthal tibia; this find completely shook previous beliefs about the intellectual capacity of neanderthals. As to written sources the earliest mention of our territory is connected with the tale of Argonauts searching for links to the northern Adriatic through rivers which are in present-day Slovenia.
The material basis of culture in the current Slovenian territory was an exceptionally obliging natural environment, a wealth of rivers, the possibility of harvesting twice a year, and iron - the most important mineral up until the second half of the 19th century. There were also important deposits of lead at the edge of the ethnically Slovenian territory. Up until the end of the Vietnam war the most important European mine of modern times was a mercury mine in Idria.
In regard to the deposits of iron in this area, which we stressed as important, the point is that there are so many, albeit small, surface mines of “bobovec” (iron) here that it is completely clear that this area reached its first cultural climax in the early iron age. According to archeologists one of the main roads by which western Europe would have become acquainted with the iron producing and cultivating culture would have coursed across the Slovenian territory as it is today. This ancient iron age experienced its highest artistic expression in the so-called vessel art, an artistic working of bronze sheets in the shape of a vessel, pot or other utensil, in particular belt buckles. These beaten metal images show exceptionally wide cultural contacts, even as far as Africa. Beside working in metals, their glazier’s trade was also of exceptional significance, and there was also enough domestic raw materials for it.
In antiquity there were permanently important cities along the Adriatic, while life in the interior was dependent on Roman political and strategic goals. At first the main roads toward the Balkans were of importance, and later above all those toward the Pannonian lowland. On one of such roads Ptuj developed, the most important ancient city in the present-day Slovenian territory and which in its heyday had about 30,000 inhabitants. Christianity, undoubtedly the most important cultural legacy of antiquity, spread to us mainly from Aquileia. Initially it competed with Mithraism, and later also Arianism, but it overcame both of them. The Christianity of later antiquity was so strong in this region that it also influenced a period of migration, including that of Slavs who settled in this area after 568 AD.
The earliest wave of Slavic settlers in this area came from the north. Later, Slavs from the West joined the migration. They rarely settled the land and at first spread over an area many times larger than the later established territory, especially in the territory of present-day Austria. Their own needs, foreign models by which to pattern themselves, and their neighbors awakened the seeds of their own nationhood very early. The cradle of Slovenian nationhood is Carinthia, on the other side of the Karavanken Mountains. Here around a constituted Slavic nucleus ethnic roots were generated from indigenous, Germanic, and other splinter groups. Even before 700 AD they had their own identity, and they had their own dukes at least by the year 623. The enthronement of their dukes was something special, and it was celebrated exclusively in the Slovene language until 1414 when the Hapsburg Ernest the “Iron” was enthroned in the last ceremony to use it. Besides princes there was also a class of “freemen” known as “kosezi” – a type of lower nobleman. Because of the threat from the Avars there was a strong alliance with the Bavarians and through them, even with the Franks around the year 743. With the help of the Salzburg diocese, some German dioceses (Freising), and Aquileia, a new church organization began to be established. The achievements of St. Ciril and St. Methodius after 863 must be evaluated more in the political and diplomatic context of events in lower Pannonia. The Hungarian invasions of the 9th century, which proceeded across the main roads of the present-day Slovenian territory, put a halt to a promising development. It is from that period, around the year 1000, that the Freising (Brižinski) monuments originated – a manuscript book with Slovenian religious texts now in the Munich Archives. Christian missionary activity demanded appropriate terminology and thus helped Slovenes create a cultural language which because of the missionary activity achieved a significance that transcended tribal boundaries.
After the defeat of the Magyars in 955 and their settling in the territory of today’s Hungary, an new national and church organization was established with the Slovenes on the settled land. In creating this, the German emperors as well as the Aquileia, Salzburg, and some German dioceses, particularly Freising, had decisive roles. Political and cultural development moved in a direction that is above all characteristic of today’s Austria and Germany. All of this began to distinguish Slovenes from the other Slavic nationalities, although it may be said that the Czechs still remain the closest to them. Political development did not move further in the direction of the formation of an ethnic Slovene group, but rather in the formation of distinct provinces with more or fewer provincial Slovenian inhabitants. These provinces were Styria (Štajerska), Carinthia (Koroška), Carniola (Kranj), and Gorizia (Goriška), with Istria (Istra) and Trieste (Trst) as an independent city with the character of a province joining later. Of these provinces, only Carniola and Gorizia (Goriška) were almost entirely Slovenian. Instead of an ethnic consciousness, a provincial consciousness developed which was also strongly supported by the nobility and was the basis of their autonomy. These provinces existed until 1918 and the surmounting of them, that is the abolition of the provincial boundaries and the merging of Slovenes into one administerial-political territory, has been the fundamental political problem for Slovenes up to the founding of their own country, and actually still is today.
The including of provinces populated with Slovenes into the framework of a medieval state not only meant the adoption of a social order, but also a culture. Sadly, the diocesan centers were merely on the margins of the Slovenian ethnic region, and university towns were not developed. Here some very important feudal families of Frankish and Bavarian descent had their own landed property, but unfortunately they did not have their own centers. In addition, the hub of politics for the counts of Celje and Gorica lay outside their own region, and both of the countships fell into ruin in the 15th century. The most well known aristocratic family from our territory were the Windischgraetz’s and the Auersperg’s. At the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries the Hapsburgs began to dominate. Because there were no diocesan, university, and aristocratic residences of respectable and wealthy families, monasteries became the fundamental carriers of medieval culture in Slovenia, especially the Cistercians and Carthusians. They were later joined by “beggar” orders. These later orders settled mostly in the cities and through their sermons in the Slovene language played a huge role in its standardization.
An event in the 15th century of exceptional importance was the establishment of the Ljubljana diocese in 1461. However, it could not establish its own authority because of its very scattered and for many years disjointed territory. The last word was still retained by the archdiocese of Salzburg with the dioceses of Gurk, Lavant, and Seckau as well as Aquileia, which in the executing of its functions was greatly interfered with by the Hapsburgs.
Besides the usual medieval difficulties such as infectious diseases, two terrible and destructive earthquakes hit our territory, one in 13 48 and the other in 1511. Then to these natural disasters were also added the farmers’ uprisings which lasted to the end of feudalism in 1848, with some of these also extending beyond the provincial borders. The Turkish invasions, which thoroughly devastated our land and drove into flight or destroyed much of the indigenous population, then joined these terrible adversities. The inner Austrian lands, including almost all of the Slovenian ethnic territory, carried the heavy burden of the expense of the defense. Amid these extraordinarily turbulent times emerged the protestant movement, which originated in Germany. The aristocracy as well as a part of the middle class embraced it, whereas the peasant community remained largely cold to it. Although in the majority of the territory protestantism was merely an episode of some decades, it provided an important basis for further Slovenian cultural development through the printing of the first Slovenian book in 1550 and in addition through the translation of the Holy Bible.
In accord with the religious determination of the Provincial Lords, there was a suppression of protestantism in the 17th century, but protestantism persisted in Prekmurje, which was under Hungarian control. Hence still today there are indigenous protestants there. Related to the reformation and counter-reformation it should also be mentioned that Jesuit colleges were established in the main provinces and some other cities, elevating much of the local culture. In contrast to the previously closed higher educational system that was bound only to the monastic communities, higher education became public. Hence it is precisely the Jesuit college in Ljubljana that is associated with the beginning of the higher educational system in the ethnic Slovenian territory.
Although people here made some money through their mercantile activity, particularly as middle men between the Italian region and the Pannonian lowlands, their own mercantile goods being primarily iron and wax, their profit was almost totally taken for the defense against the Turks. Nevertheless it is difficult to come across any large complexes of Roman or Gothic culture in today’s Slovenian territory, because the majority of churches, the best evidence of an earlier culture in our territory, have been reconstructed in the Baroque. This also happened to the smallest churches on the hills, which are so characteristic of and peculiar to Slovenia.
The reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II in the 18th century caused numerous economic, cultural, and religious changes. A carefully planned building of roads began, and Trieste became the central port in the northern Adriatic, a fact that actually had significant consequences for Slovenes. Regarding the number of Slovene inhabitants, Trieste became the largest Slovenian city, which increasingly absorbed the surplus of the agrarian population from the hinterlands, near and far. The criteria of the success of our trades people was their possession of houses or warehouses in Trieste. The inhabitants in the interior had numerous possibilities of supplementary income with a transportation system which, however, had a negative effect on farming in some places.
The time of Maria Theresa also means the beginning of the organization of elementary and secondary schools, since the state bureaucracy always needed an educated population from which to draw new officials. The centralization of state administration caused the introduction of German as the official language. This brought up the question with some of the educated, mostly priests of course, as to whether or not their mother language was somehow less worthy. Thus, began the Slovenian national revival. At first it put forth above all a demand for a consideration of the Slovene language and an ever increasingly loud demands for a consideration of the rights of the people who spoke this language. The church reforms of Joseph II between 1780 and 1790 brought up, on the one hand, an improvement of church organization: the Aquileian patriarchate was abolished, an archdiocese was established in Gorizia, the boundaries of the dioceses were reorganized, and the parish organization was improved. However, on the other hand were the negative consequence of their endeavors to reform church matters, namely the abolition of a number of monasteries, especially those not involved in pastoral activities, schools, or organized charitable work. The fact that their property was gathered into a special religious fund administered by the state and that the cultural treasures of the churches and monasteries, including libraries and archives, were dispersed caused severe cultural damage.
Many social reforms were also foreseen, referring especially to the loosening up of feudalism, which was, however, obstructed by the French revolution. In the sphere of internal political affairs, the state was forced to appease the aristocracy and strengthen the army. The French, that is Napoleon, given their own European wars frequently advanced onto our territory. In 1809 with the establishment of the Ilirian province they remained on a large part of the Slovene ethnic territory for 4 years, they enforced French legislation, and had still many other plans, but not the means to realize all of them. Because of the extremely high taxes, especially in 1809, the inhabitants resisted en masse. Wars against the French convinced many Austrian citizens that their state was not invincible. This realization had the consequence of a strengthening of national movements that received strong support from Italian and German movements for their own national unification. The word "Slovenia" first appeared in 1816 in an unpublished poem, and in 1844 it first appeared in print. Among Slovenes at that time arose the strong cultural and political Iliric movement which advocated stronger cultural and even linguistic ties with the Southern Slavs. However, among some Slovene intellectuals there arose a strong resistance against such opinions with so little prospect of success; the still unsurpassed Slovenian poet France Prešeren being their main support in the area of language. National movements reached their peak in the revolutionary year of 1848, when not only feudalism was abolished, but also the basic political principles were established upon which the independent Slovene state was born in 1991. That national movement experienced variation in intensity over the next few decades. Essentially Slovenes who were from countries which are not part of Slovenia today also participated in it. Efforts swung in the direction of the development of the more demanding as also traditional culture. The Slovene candidate for sainthood, Blessed Anton Martin Slomšek, the first Bishop of Maribor, has special merit in this regard. He transferred the seat of his diocese from the German part of Carinthia to the ethnically Slovene territory. From the cultural perspective, he is important because of the special attention he devoted to education, and especially because of the establishment of the St. Hermagoras Society, which disseminated books among Slovenes and taught Slovenes to read. Precisely through his merits an exceptional reading culture developed and became a Slovene characteristic. At the end of the 19th century, political parties which were not differentiated regarding national goals also emerged among Slovenes. In any case, although it did not have any central national agency, the Slovene nation lived to see the end Austro-Hungary, as a nation with an exceptionally developed culture, especially regarding the area of language.
In the middle of the 19th century, many economic changes occurred in the ethnically Slovene territory. The old iron works fell into ruin because of a deficiency in coal mining. The construction of the Vienna – Trieste railroad suppressed the old rural transport system, while industrial development, especially competition of the more developed parts of Austria destroyed domestic industry. There was not enough of their own capital for their enterprises. The increasingly terrible crisis due to capitalism was resolved through an exceptionally heavy emigration to Western European countries and especially the USA, which took half of the growing population. The crisis in the agrarian sector was resolved by the Christian Socialists with the unbelievable development of the “cooperative” movement. The Slovenian “cooperative” was so successful that by example and by people it also helped Croatians and Friulians.
The First World War severely affected Slovenes; their western ethnic border became a battle front which drove 10,000 people from their homes. A disproportionate number of Slovenes also fell on other battlefields. At the end of the war, a peace movement was strengthened that demanded a reform of the monarchy. Because there was no honest consideration of this, there came to be among Slovenes a movement toward Yugoslavia. At the end of the war this movement prevailed. A state of Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs, as nations of the former monarchy, came into existence on October 29, 1918 and December 1 of that year it united with Serbia to form the kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes, that is Yugoslavia.
The birth of Yugoslavia was a terrible tragedy for Slovenes –in accord with the decision of the London Pact a good third of their territory fell to Italy, the majority of Slovenian Corinthian did not want to join Yugoslavia, and some Slovenes remained in Hungary, while some Hungarians joined Yugoslavia. The expectation of an equitable social and especially international disposition of the new country's community was too high and too naive. In the industrial sphere Slovenia profited some, but it absolutely lost in the agrarian and financial areas. The greatest achievement of Slovenes in Yugoslavia was undoubtedly the establishment of the Slovenian University in Ljubljana. The key issue is that the Slovenian national question regarding Yugoslavia was not resolved. The persecution of the Slovenian population under Italian Fascism and the rapid worsening of the situation of Carinthian Slovenes particularly affected Slovenes.
The Second World War began with the encroachment of German, Italian, and Hungarian might. The worst was expected for the Slovenes who were under Hitler's Germany, since the Germans deported them - first the intellectuals and priests, and later also the peasants. There began a general resistance over almost the entire Slovenian territory. Because the communists, despite their modest numbers, but with outstanding organization, took the resistance movement exclusively into their own hands, seeing it as a possibility to simultaneously bring about a communist revolution, there arose a civil war on a greater part of the Slovenian territory, but not on all. The anti-communist camp was, because of its weakness, forced to lean on the occupiers. All this developed into a horrible fratricidal battle so that Slovenes fought two wars simultaneously, internal and external. After the end of the Second World War, the communists immediately took power for which they had already been preparing during the same war. The former political and military opposition were secretly killed because of the danger of counterrevolution, that is a potential threat to the communist regime. Their number is estimated to have been around 15,000, and many thousands of Slovenes escaped to Austria and Italy. A great many of these people, around 6,000, found a new home in Argentina, where they developed an exceptionally rich cultural life.
The greatest benefit of the Second World War for Slovenes was undoubtedly the union of a large part of their coastal countrymen, sadly not all - a part of them still remained in Italy. In the coastal cities there remained a relatively strong ethnic Italian minority, a big part of which authorities forcibly deported to Italy. After about 10 years into its existence, the new Yugoslavia slowly began to relax in the internal political sphere, and after 1960 it also opened more externally. Throughout the entire time of its existence their main adversary was the Catholic Church, which undoubtedly suffered the most under communism. Arson was even committed against the bishop of Ljubljana, from which he suffered terrible burns. Major social projects such as »workers self-management« did not have a good result because of the singular nature of the communist party system as well as the neglect of economic laws. As is clear today, Yugoslavia's decline began as early as the middle of the seventies. However, it did not fall asunder because of a bad economy, but rather because it was no longer needed by its nations. Slovenian intellectuals, especially those involved with culture, can be given the honor for the birth of the independent Slovenian state, which nearly 100% of the people supported in a special plebiscite. The development of the independent Slovene state has been till now very disappointing – it coincided with an economic crisis that had already begun during the former regime. Likewise, one can still very much feel the authority of the previous ruling circles, which dispersed into various, above all, leftist parties and which actually still govern Slovenian society. It is also very disappointing that the economic, political consequences, and above all consequential ways of thought of the Yugoslavian state, as of the previous regime, have been very much more persistent than Slovenes have been prepared to acknowledge to themselves.