In mass media, there will be many reflections on the twentieth anniversary of Slovenia as a country, on the path we have travelled, transition, social justice and our international situation. The Fathers of the Nation will remember hard times and each of them will have his own story on the key lessons of the period. It is appropriate to take a look at the ritual side of the newly formed country, which distinctively unifies all the key social changes.
First celebrations of statehood devoted to great historical subjects
Slovenian celebrations of statehood can be divided into four to five periods. The first period lasted from 1991 to 1994, and was a time when painful consequences of the economic embargo showed, the time of mighty political disputes, of a search for sense, a pathway and merits in the new state of Slovenia. Due to the general nationalist atmosphere in the country and because of the official fight for power, celebrations directed by Drago Pečko, Igor Šmit and Roman Končar were devoted to great historical subjects. The chosen directors were looking for common foundations, thus, scenes based on Freising manuscripts, the Prince's stone, Primož Trubar and patriotic poetry from the 19th century were staged.
Most artistic celebrations in the period 1995 to 1990
In the second period, from 1995 to 1999, the celebrations moved from Trg republike (Republic Square) to Cankarjev dom. The chosen directors (Janez Pipan, Barbara Hieng Samobor, Aleš Jan and Klavdija Zupan) were primarily focused on personal dilemmas and the search for protagonists, and the stage of Gallus Hall spontaneously emphasised classical theatrical approaches, not performance and spectacle approaches characteristic of outdoor celebrations. The scenarios addressed differences and common points between individuals and the community, between the collective and the subconscious, between the left and right political option, between the new and old art. Because of the fight for economic and ideological domination, these celebrations also had a political echo, although they were the most artistic of all celebrations before and afterwards. There was not a lot of protocol. The jubilee celebration “Kons 5” in Republic Square in 1996 was particularly solemn and military-oriented, and director Matjaž Berger attracted a lot of attention and criticism.
Jubilee years 2000 and 2001
In 2000, the tenth anniversary of the first multi-party elections was celebrated, and in 2001, the tenth anniversary of the declaration of independence. Direction was again entrusted to Matjaž Berger, who produced a “civilisation spectacle” entitled “The Sower”. Some were disappointed because he moved away from the established addresses that were patriotic in subject, but only such cultural context was suitable for the speech held by the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. In his address, he apologised to the present audience and television spectators for many bad things the German nation had done to the Slovenian nation. The appearance of President Milan Kučan and the German Chancellor as well as the cultural programme that followed announced the European future of Slovenia. They announced political consciousness, which they thought should exceed national interests and rivalry of the modern era.
For ten years, Slovenian elites strove to become part of the European Union, at the economic and business levels, at the level of administrative barriers for individuals, and with regard to development money that was expected to pour into the country at a greater extent. The pathway to the EU lead through Germany, the most important trade partner of Slovenia. The entire Republic Square was a stage and the audience was pushed to the edge.
After 2002, we were able to view more relaxed and joyous, less tragic and moral performances in the cultural part of the celebrations. Subjects and performers from popular culture were more and more frequent, and the stage itself was becoming an artistic achievement. Modern dancers, rock bands, big choirs and orchestras performed; everything was colourful and accompanied by national flags waved by audience members. The most distinct representative of this direction is director Katja Pegan, who prepared the 2006 and 2007 celebrations. Today, this is a norm.
Celebration and statehood cannot be imagined without culture
As a rule, people from Ljubljana participated in the preparations and execution of the Slovenian Statehood Day celebrations: educated at the Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television, the Faculty of Arts or the Faculty of Social Studies, and employed in one of the theatres, media houses or governmental institutions in the capital. Even the diplomatic corps, which is always present at celebrations, had its domicile in Ljubljana. These celebrations are therefore a medium of centralisation, of symbolic marking of the national territory (images and dances from different regions), of nationalisation of culture (particular turns into national) and of usurpation of the cultural heritage or history. All of the above served to reinforce the power of the governing political structures. Over an extended period of time, constants can be observed and meaning can be given to them, considering political rituals in other countries. The Slovenian celebration of statehood gets truly interesting when compared to others of its kind. Existential persistence in culture as its distinguishing element is demonstrated in all its glitter. Celebration and statehood cannot be imagined without culture. In the rest of the world, celebrations can be divided into monarchist and republican, military and civil, obscuring and uncovering.
Slovenian political ritual has always been organised in a republican and state-oriented way – through specific committees controlled by the Government, which is reminiscent of France and the Soviet Union. It glorified the magnificence of the nation and its ethnic and cultural connection (the Slovenian word for nation can be read as "for race"). It was tolerant and at the same time arrogant towards other political, religious and ethnic identities within the community of citizens. It reached the stars with fireworks, and the heart with words and music.
Last year's celebration, directed by Jure Zrnec, with its parodies in writing a script and the political negotiation around it, surprised us and made us laugh. It was a farce of everything that seemed self-evident and untouchable at the level of symbols and approaches to the scene. In 2010, the dominating theatre somehow revealed itself. Such aversion of statehood will probably not last, and can only be a short pause before the new construction of reality.
Text by: Peter Simonič
Photos: Alenka Žaubi, Andrej Križ, Igor Modic