The reason why culture features prominently in the national identity of Slovenes (after all, Slovenia declared its National Culture Day a public holiday and selected a poem of its greatest poet, Dr. France Prešeren, as its national anthem) is mainly due to the fact that Slovenes may quite possibly perceive culture in a broader sense than other nations: culture helped pave the way toward Slovenia’s independence and resistance within foreign economic and political systems, and at the same time served as a firm basis for the spiritual and material progress of the country’s inhabitants.
The position of Slovenian culture is specific, to say the least. In larger European nations, culture developed together with the nation’s political and economic power, and partially fed off this power. However, with Slovenes it has been the focus from the very beginning – the nation originated from its culture. More importantly, the Slovenian national identity has also manifested itself through culture after their independence, when the country built real political power − which it had been unable to develop previously due to historical limitations.
Slovenian national identity has also manifested itself through culture after the independence
Twenty years ago, when Slovenia left the federation of multi-national republics, it seemed that the loss of the broad Yugoslav frame of reference would drive the nation into isolation, or force it to adapt to the globalisation trends and matrices of the European Community to which it had just been admitted. However, the “cut” never came, for a variety of reasons: the idea and process of independence grew and developed, ripened and matured with strong backing from intellectuals, creative minds, writers, and alternative movements, all of whom promoted a different social reality before the formal separation began. Besides this, culture found a sound basis in being a dynamic, provocative, and unrelenting spiritual force, as well as in its close connections to the language and words. This basis saved Slovenia from becoming an inert, introvert, and lethargic society.
Slovenian language equal to other EU languages
Accession to the EU did not only change Slovenia's horizons, but also the foundations for principal discussion on the development of institutionalised and non-institutionalised forms of cultural activities. It is true that these foundations were not new to us, since Slovenia has been – thanks also to its geographic location – a constituent part of the Central European and Mediterranean cultural space. Still, after accession Slovenia started paying more attention to its language, partly because it has become a public language equal to other EU languages, and partly because we saw that it was potentially endangered due to the low number of its native speakers. We have become even more determined to protect it.. Small nations are always more vulnerable than their larger counterparts, or nations with a long tradition of democracy. On the other hand, Slovenia boasts an enviable tradition of social cohesion and liberal values. After all, the Yugoslav Constitution was among the first to recognize the right to free choice with regard to the birth of children and the right to equal treatment of marriage and common-law marriage, and has placed culture high among its priorities.
Striving to maintain a stable culture budget
Slovenia's small size – seen from the point of limited critical mass and economic potential – is definitely an important factor in determining the cultural beat of the country, but it is also an opportunity. On the one hand, it is harder to market cultural goods in a small country, but on the other, it forces us to look to foreign markets with more determination and strive to maintain a stable culture budget. Although Slovenia’s culture funding is below the European recommendation of 3 per cent of the state’s budget, artistic practices are engaged in, or accepted, by a huge percentage of Slovenia’s population, which is not limited to the elite but rather includes amateur art lovers and alternative (non-institutionalised) groups. Interestingly, during the recession years Slovenia’s culture budget has been at its highest; the country did not close any of its cultural institutions – on the contrary, it has expanded them – and, most importantly, the ties between the country’s creative resources and other sectors (e.g. economy, science, foreign affairs) have intensified and strengthened.
More than 4,000 book titles every year
Anyone who has visited Slovenia will tell you, without doubt, that the country has everything the big ones do. Even more, a closer look at Slovenia's libraries, which are not only abundant in the capital but have spread across the entire country in a network of daring architectural solutions, shows that Slovenes are indeed an outstanding, book-loving nation. Further proof of this was provided last year when Ljubljana was proclaimed the World Book Capital of 2010. Slovenia’s capital was the 10th city to hold the title. More importantly, it was awarded the title by the UNESCO General Conference in the year when Slovenia celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Primož Trubar, the author of the first book published in Slovene and the founder of Slovenian literary language. Slovenia prides itself on the fact that it publishes more than 4,000 book titles every year and ranks near the top in the number of published books per number of inhabitants, second only to Finland and Iceland. With over 1,800 publishers and 18 book festivals, two of them – Vilenica and Medana – international, there is no need to fear the future.
Numerous museums all around the country
These days, a new Museum of Contemporary Art is opening its door in Ljubljana. The Museum will expand the range of possibilities to present contemporary visual arts practices in the so-called “museum quarter,” in particular through the Arteast 2000+ exhibition. Practically every region in Slovenia has its own museums, archives, and galleries. Naturally, the concentration of these is highest in Ljubljana, which boasts the world-known Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Architecture and Design, National Gallery, and a strong graphics tradition (International Biennial of Graphic Arts). However, the new Museum of Contemporary Art is of particular interest because it completes a multi-year, post-independence project of building cultural institutions in the place of former Yugoslav Army barracks. The project sends a symbolic message that after the retreat of the Yugoslav Army, the army complexes have passed into the hands of culture.
After independence, Slovenia was left with one of the smallest and youngest cinema archives
In November, Slovenia’s capital is again hosting the Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFE), which has earned immense popularity, selling out practically all screenings. We wish the festival could feature more Slovenian films, since the scope of Slovenia’s film production is lagging way behind the foreign film industry. Neverthless, in 2010 Slovenian films received more than 300 awards abroad, and the Slovenian public has grown quite fond of the country's domestic film production (Miha Hočevar’s teen film Going Our Way (“Gremo mi po svoje”) was seen by 200,000 people, which is a considerable number for a nation whose population totals only two million.). The domination of commercial films in movie theatres is shifting the taste of the public towards “colossal spectacles”, making it immensely important for Slovenia to maintain its art cinema network and carry out the digitalization of its film history. After independence, Slovenia was left with one of the smallest, and youngest, cinema archives, since practically all film material created in the former common state was left in Belgrade. We had to start from scratch, but today Slovenia has a beautiful Museum of Film Actors in Divača, named after Slovenia's first internationally acclaimed film star, Ita Rina, who achieved fame with her ethereal and erotic role in Gustav Machaty’s Erotikon. The Kinoteka Cinema has established itself in the European and Slovenian area as a treasure trove of films, with particular emphasis placed to raising awareness of the young and creative people.
Rich cultural heritage
Slovenia, this safe, green, and vigorous country attracts more visitors by the day. Not only people who are fascinated by the diversity of Slovenia’s nature and the fact that within a couple of hours one can come from snow to warmth, from the mountains to the sea, from fresh air to open horizons. Visitors to Slovenia now include people who wish to come to this highly-diverse area, rich in cultural heritage to see the outstanding creations of architect Jože Plečnik. He does not stand alone − the contemporary Slovenian architecture walks hand in hand with European trends. Although not backed by vast capital − the shortage of it is most evident in the (slow) renovation of many castles − Slovenian architecture features a delicate, environmentally-friendly, and daring creativity.
Before the space available forces me to stop, let me point out all the artistic practices which I have failed to mention – the theatre, music, new intermedia practices, and creative industries. You will soon have an opportunity to learn more about them: the Slovenian city of Maribor and its partner municipalities are preparing to open the European Culture Capital, which will definitely show all the good and exciting art practices in Slovenia. And you can take it from me: they are plentiful!
Text by: Majda Širca Ravnikar, former MP and former Minister of Culture; Sinfo, November 2011
Photos: Government Communication Office archive