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The Slovenes

The Slovenes, a Slavic people, migrated southwestward across present-day Romania in about the sixth century A.D., and settled in the Julian Alps. They apparently enjoyed broad autonomy in the seventh century, after escaping Avar domination. The Franks overran the Slovenes in the late eighth century; during the rule of the Frankish king Charlemagne, German nobles began enserfing the Slovenes and German missionaries baptized them in the Latin rite. Emperor Otto I incorporated most of the Slovenian lands into the duchy of Carantania in 952; later rulers split the duchy into Carinthia, Carniola, and Styria (see fig. 2). In 1278 the Slovenian lands fell to the Austrian Habsburgs, who controlled them until 1918.

Turkish marauders plagued Carinthia, Carniola, and Styria in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Slovenes abandoned lands vulnerable to attack and raised bulwarks around churches to protect themselves. The Turkish conquest of the Balkans and Hungary also disrupted the Slovenian economy; to compensate, the nobles stiffened feudal obligations and crushed peasant revolts between 1478 and 1573.

In the tumult of the sixteenth century, German nobles in the three Slovenian provinces clamored for greater autonomy, embraced the Protestant Reformation, and drew many Slovenes away from the Catholic Church. The Reformation sparked the Slovenes' first cultural awakening. In 1550 Primoz Trubar published the first Slovenian-language book, a catechism. He later produced a translation of the New Testament and printed other Slovenian religious books in the Latin and Cyrillic (see Glossary) scripts. Ljubljana had a printing press by 1575, but the authorities closed it when Jurij Dalmatin tried to publish a translation of the Bible. Slovenian publishing activity then shifted to Germany, where Dalmatin published his Bible with a glossary enabling Croats to read it. The Counterreformation accelerated in Austria in the early seventeenth century, and in 1628 the emperor forced Protestants to choose between Catholicism and exile. Jesuit counterreformers burned Slovenian Protestant literature and took other measures that retarded diversification of Slovenian culture but failed to stifle it completely. Some Jesuits preached and composed hymns in Slovenian, opened schools, taught from an expurgated edition of Dalmatin's Bible, and sent Slovenian students to Austrian universities. Nonetheless Slovenian remained a peasant idiom and the higher social classes spoke German or Italian.

The Slovenian economic links with Germany and Italy strengthened in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and living conditions improved. The Vienna-Trieste trade route crossed through the Slovenian cities of Maribor and Ljubljana. Agricultural products and raw materials were exported over this trade route, and exotic goods were imported from the East. Despite his campaign to Germanize the Austrian Empire, Emperor Joseph II (1780-90) encouraged translation of educational materials into Slovenian. He also distributed monastic lands, workshops, and fisheries to Slovenian entrepreneurs.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Slovenian prosperity had yielded a self-reliant middle class that sent its sons to study in Vienna and Paris. They returned steeped in the views of the Enlightenment and bent on rational examination of their own culture. Slovenian intellectuals began writing in Slovenian rather than German, and they introduced the idea of a Slovenian nation. Between 1788 and 1791, Anton Linhart wrote an antifeudal, anticlerical history of the Slovenes that depicted them for the first time as a single people. In 1797 Father Valentin Vodnik composed Slovenian poetry and founded the first Slovenian newspaper.

After several victories over Austria, Napoleon incorporated the Slovenian regions and other Austrian lands into the French Empire as the Illyrian Provinces, with the capital at Ljubljana. Despite unpopular new tax and conscription laws, Slovenian intellectuals welcomed the French, who issued proclamations in Slovenian as well as in German and French, built roads, reformed the government, appointed Slovenes to official posts, and opened Slovenian-language schools for both sexes. France strengthened the national self-awareness of the Slovenes and other South Slavs in the Illyrian Provinces by promoting the concept of Illyria as a common link among Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. This concept later evolved into the idea of uniting the South Slavs in an independent state.

Austria reasserted its dominance of the Slovenes in 1813 and rescinded the French reforms. Slovenian intellectuals, however, continued refining the Slovenian language and national identity, while Austria strove to confine their activities to the cultural sphere. The pro-Austrian philologist and linguist Jernej Kopitar pioneered comparative Slavic linguistics and created a Slovenian literary language from numerous local dialects, hoping to strengthen the monarchy and Catholicism. France Preseren, perhaps the greatest Slovenian poet, worked to transform the Slovenian peasant idiom into a language as refined as German. In the 1840s, Slovenian audiences heard the first official public speech delivered in Slovenian and the first Slovenian songs sung in a theater. In 1843 Janez Blajvajs founded a practical journal for peasants and craftsmen that carried the cultural movement beyond the upper class to the masses.

Revolution convulsed Europe in 1848, and demonstrators in cities throughout the Austrian Empire called for constitutional monarchy. Crowds in Ljubljana cheered the apparent downfall of the old order. Intellectual groups drafted the Slovenes' first political platforms. Some programs called for an autonomous "Unified Slovenia" within the empire; others supported unification of the South Slavs into an Illyrian state linked with Austria or Germany. The 1848 revolution swept away serfdom, but the political movement of the Slovenes made little headway before the Austrian government regained control and imposed absolutist rule. In the 1850s and early 1860s, the campaigns of Slovenian leaders were again restricted to the cultural sphere.

Military defeats in 1859 and 1866 exposed the internal weakness of the Austrian Empire, and in 1867 Austria attempted to revitalize itself by joining with Hungary to form the Dual Monarchy (see Glossary). In the late 1860s, Slovenian leaders, convinced of the empire's imminent collapse, resurrected the dream of a United Slovenia. They staged mass rallies, agitated for use of the Slovenian language in schools and local government, and sought support from the Croats and other South Slavs. When the threat to the survival of Austria-Hungary waned after 1871, the Slovenes withdrew their support for a South Slav union and adapted themselves to political life within the Dual Monarchy. The conservative coalition that ruled Austria from 1879 to 1893 made minor cultural concessions to the Slovenes, including use of Slovenian in schools and local administration in some areas. Slovenes controlled the local assembly of Carniola after 1883, and Ljubljana had a Slovenian mayor after 1888.

In 1907 Austria instituted universal male suffrage, which encouraged Slovenian politicians that the empire would eventually fulfill the Slovenes' national aspirations. In October 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia and Hercegovina. The annexation sharpened the national self-awareness of the South Slavs and generated rumors of impending war with Serbia. Troop mobilization began. However, the main Slovenian parties welcomed the annexation as a step toward a union of the empire's South Slavs. Tensions eased after six months, but Austria-Hungary, fearing Pan-Slavism (see Glossary), conducted witch hunts for disloyal Slavs. In 1909 Slovenian party leaders criticized Vienna for mistreating the Slavs, but the possibilities of a South Slav union within the empire declined. Demands rose for creation of an independent South Slav nation, and a socialist conference in Ljubljana even called for the cultural unification of all South Slavs. Such appeals began a heated debate on the implications of unification for Slovenian culture.

Data as of December 1990

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