Who is Who in Slovenia dealing with Slovenians Abroad

Dr. Zvone Žigon

Dear colleagues, dear friends, as first allow me to greet you in the name of the Office for Slovenians Abroad and wish you a warm welcome and very successful work at this conference.

I’ve been asked to present you the organization of Slovenian institutions, dealing with Slovenians, living all around the world. To do that, I first have to resume some facts about Slovenes abroad, appearing in this connection. Slovenians emigrated in different historical moments, in different occasions and in different ways. First emigrants were missionaries, mostly in South America, but also in North America and Africa. Slovenians emigrated from their ethnic territory also as soldiers in very different armies – of course, never Slovenian one. The majority went to look for a better life as a so-called economic emigration, and another big part can be considered as a political emigration. The first wave of emigration from Slovenian ethnic territory was in the middle and the end of 19th Century, mostly to the USA, some part also to Brazil and Argentina. We speak about the “second wave” between the first and the second World War – this emigration was economical, because of a global world economic crisis, but in a way also political, because the majority of tens of thousands escaped from Primorska region, which was under a hard pressure by Italian fascist govern, which was very repressive towards Slovenes in this area.

Typical political emigration started in 1945, when thousands found their personal safety in refugee camps in Italy and Austria. About 12.000 were returned to Yugoslavia and a great part of them executed by Yugoslav partisan army, but majority soon continued towards safer life in Canada, USA, Australia and Argentina. 60’ and 70’ brought another large wave of emigration, this time mostly to West Germany, France, Sweden and other developed Western European countries.

In 80’ emigration slightly decreased and almost stopped.

Slovenians abroad organized themselves according to their number, organizational skills, contacts etc., regardless to the concern or ignorance of their motherland, which depended on the Yugoslav and Slovenian political system.

Slovenian independence brought a big change. Many descendants of Slovenian emigrants finally found their identity more clear, not mixed with Yugoslavian, and many new clubs were established, especially in the states of ex socialist Yugoslavia.

The most optimistic calculations about the number of Slovenes abroad speculate with the number of 500.000, which would be the fifth quarter of Slovenian national body.

On the address-page of Slovenska izseljenska matica now we can find over 390 addresses of Slovenian clubs, churches, media, schools etc., without counting our minority in Italy, Austria and Hungary.

Dealing with this amount of associations of all kinds and their activities is not so easy.

The 5th article of the Slovenian constitution deals with the concern of the motherland for Slovenes, living out of its political and geographic borders. Not only on the basis of this paragraph, but also in the light of the fact that almost the fifth part of Slovenians live out of the Republic of Slovenia, there are numerous institutions and associations which are trying to preserve Slovenian ethnic and cultural identity in the world.

In the beginning of 90’s we got the Ministry for Slovenians abroad, lead by dr. Janez Dular and later followed with the Office for Slovenians Abroad. This institution is still the only governmental body specialized for this matters. In the same time, new two organizations of civil society were established: Slovenian World Congress and Emigrant society Slovenija v svetu – Slovenia in the World. Of course we must not forget the society Slovenska izseljenska matica, which in this year celebrates its 50-th anniversary. The Office for Slovenians abroad cooperates with Ministry for culture, Ministry for education, science and sports, Information office of the Government and others. Financially, our Office contributes to the existence of the three organizations just mentioned, and also supports activities of Slovenian clubs and other institutions in emigration and contacts with them. Other institutions that deal with Slovenians abroad are also The Institute for Slovenian Emigration studies at the Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Institute for Ethnic Studies, Center for Slovenian as a second/foreign language, Archive of the Republic of Slovenia, financed by Ministry for culture, and some others, including individual researchers and journalists. Radio and TV Slovenia have regular broadcasts for Slovenians abroad.

Institutions in Slovenia face some new facts in this latest period. One of the most important is the change of the generations; the emigrants of the first generation are in more and more cases replaced by younger people and the majority of club leaders, school teachers, journalists etc. are already from the second generation, which has of course different views and needs. And also the image of the Slovenian in the World is, from the independence on, completely different: young people can now clearly identify themselves as Slovenians, because they know that somewhere in Europe there is a green peace of land, called Republic of Slovenia, which is no longer part of some other country like Italy, Austro-Hungary or Yugoslavia. So their identity is clear and their proud is unlimited. Many organizations in Slovenia and abroad report escalation of interest for learning Slovenian language, discover ethnic roots by the youngsters etc.

Because of all these facts, a need for different, better organization on the field of Slovenes abroad is stronger than ever, especially because of the fact that we face too much duplicating and parallel non-synchronized actions and projects.

The Office for Slovenians Abroad is trying very hard to move things. This year, for the first time we published a public contest for the projects of maintaining Slovenian identity in the world – we got 460 applications. Many clubs did not appeal, especially from America, but still, we got a picture of needs and problems, so now we know how to publish the second concourse, for the year 2002.

The representative of the Office also participated in the working group of the Parliament in order to create a resolution for Slovenians abroad. This can be legal basis for developing the strategy on this matter, which is also just about to be discussed in the Office and wider. And finally, resolution and strategy can produce so long expected law for Slovenes abroad. With this, the system should almost work properly – but let’s put some content in all this.

In the last years different institutions in Slovenia had different plans for organizing their activity. Despite the efforts to overcome the differences, just a specific part of emigrants - often still determined even with the political reasons - gathered around one or another institution in Slovenia. The activities of these institutions (or societies, associations) are most welcome, but not always synchronized and sometimes one event covers with the other event of the other institution. Distributing finances was not transparent enough until now and many times the same project appeared on the concourses of the Ministry of culture, Office for Slovenians Abroad and maybe even on the Ministry for education, science and sports. If somebody of you wants to know about his ancestors, about gaining Slovene citizenship, about denationalization, obtaining books for the school of Slovenian language, organizing a tour of Slovenian football team, etc., has no central institution to fulfill his or her wishes and questions. It happens that you are sent from door to door, wasting time, money and courage. In Slovenia we still don’t have an emigrant museum, archives of many Slovenian clubs are on the way to be lost and forgotten.

On the other hand, there are many Slovenian clubs and associations functioning by themselves, with no connection to other Slovenian clubs – because of the lack of information, or because of personal or maybe still even political disputes. The consequence is that Slovenian identity and its presence in the World looses its strength, many do not know how to represent the whole ethnic community in front of superior-majority society.

Because of all these problems and needs, the Office for Slovenians abroad, which is a governmental body for support and coordination of the activities concerning this matter, is preparing to suggest some new acts.

1. In order to maintain the level of Slovenian schools in the world, support the work of Slovenian media in emigration and to preserve the material cultural heritage of Slovenians in Diaspora, the Office itself every year organizes a seminar for teachers of Slovenian language and culture, just two days ago we finished with a seminar for journalists of Slovenian media from all around the world, and for the next years we plan to organize similar seminar for those who work in Slovenian libraries, archives, heritage centers etc. We organize these activities in cooperation with other responsible governmental ministries and other institutions.

2. We intensively strengthen our relationships with other ministries and governmental body in order to avoid parallel planning and financing.

3. The office for Slovenians abroad supports the idea of an “association of Slovenians abroad”, which would consist of representatives of larger, “cover” organizations of them in each geographic center. The idea is similar to the organization of Slovenians in neighboring countries with two representative organizations of Slovenians in Italy, two in Austria and one in Hungary. This would enable to form a council of representatives, which could meet every year or at least every second year and discuss open problems of Diaspora. This way of organization would enable the opinion of emigrants would be heard much easier in Slovenia and also in the host countries.

4. The same way of organization will be needed in Slovenia. Therefore the Ministry for education, science and sports has literally today concluded a contest for a research-organizational programs and projects to establish a “net” of Slovenian emigrant libraries, museums, archives, informative-documentary centers etc. in the world, in connection with unified system here in Slovenia.

The idea is to form a public institution in Slovenia – center with departments for all necessary fields, like cultural, economic activity, education, science, legal matters and other. This way of organization would enable maximal coordination of all activities concerning Slovenians abroad, also the finances would be better controlled and transparent, Slovenians, living abroad, would have much easier orientation in their efforts for maintaining Slovenian identity in the world and resolving their private problems, like for example citizenship, denationalization, investing or importing in Slovenia etc.

Allow me to express my highest gratitude to the Slovenian Genealogy Society and Slovensko rodoslovno društvo for your great help to so many descendants of Slovenian emigrants who already found their roots, and finally, for organizing this conference. In the context of the ideas, mentioned before, the Office for Slovenians abroad will also consider all possibilities for establishing and sponsoring an office for genealogy for Slovenian emigrants, which would be organized in cooperation with your societies.

With this thought or idea, I am concluding my paper.

In the name of the Office for Slovenians abroad and in my name I wish you successful work and a very pleasant stay in Slovenia.