Yugoslavia Table of Contents
The Slovenes were among the most westernized but least numerous of the Slavs. About two million strong, they lived almost exclusively in the mountainous Republic of Slovenia and in enclaves in Austria and Italy bordering Slovenia. The Slovenes never possessed an independent state, but lived within German-dominated empires from Charlemagne's day to the end of World War I. From the thirteenth to the twentieth century, they were ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. Centuries of exposure to a strong Germanic, Roman Catholic culture fostered qualities that distinguish the Slovenes from the Croats, who lived under the Hungarians, and the Serbs, who lived under the Turks, during the same period. The tenacity of the Slovenian drive for ethnic and cultural survival was evident under German cultural hegemony and surfaced again when the Slovenes spearheaded the drive for democratic reforms in communist Yugoslavia in the late 1980s.
Slovenian cultural self-awareness dates from the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation. Propagandists for both sides made use of the Slovenian language, which at the time was exclusively a peasant idiom. This bolstering of the Slovenes' linguistic identity laid the foundation for the later growth of a Slovenian sense of national identity, which began in earnest after Napoleon's armies occupied Slovene-populated regions in the early nineteenth century and promoted the idea of a Slovene nation. One of the few monuments to Napoleon outside France remains in Ljubljana, as evidence of Napeloneonic influence on the Slovenes. Intellectuals trained by the Catholic clergy led the Slovenian national movement through the nineteenth century. Led by the Romantic poet France Preseren, they established Slovenian as a literary language and produced a rich national literature. Slovenian leaders sought political and cultural autonomy under the Habsburgs rather than territorial independence. Although they sympathized with their coreligionist Croats, the Slovenes had no interest in uniting with the Orthodox Serbs until World War I.
The Slovenes were by far the most economically advanced of the South Slavs at the close of the nineteenth century, and Slovenia maintained that position in the interwar years. Widespread primogeniture (land inheritance by the oldest son) in Slovenia limited the land fragmentation that plagued the Balkans. Credit and marketing cooperatives saved rural Slovene families from the chronic indebtedness that afflicted other regions in the 1920s and 1930s. The Slovenes' readiness to negotiate and compromise also served them well in the interwar era. Their most important contribution to interwar Yugoslavia's parade of coalition governments was Monsignor Antun Korosec, leader of the conservative Populist Party. Korosec, an effective spokesman for Slovene interests, headed several Yugoslav ministries in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Slovenes' linguistic distinctiveness and distance from Belgrade kept their republic free of the Serbian bureaucrats who gained strong influence over other republics during the interwar years.
Slovenia's level of prosperity remained higher than that of the other Yugoslav republics throughout the socialist era. Because its per capita income was highest, the republic contributed a higher per capita share to Yugoslavia's federal funds than any other republic. The Slovenes complained that the less-developed republics exploited them and that as a result their standard of living slipped precipitously relative to that in the neighboring regions of Austria and Italy. Nevertheless, among the Yugoslav republics, Slovenia had the highest proportion of its population employed in industry, the lowest rate of unemployment, and the highest value of exports per capita. Slovenia also boasted Europe's second-highest literacy rate in the 1980s. Throughout the turbulent late 1980s, the Slovenes maintained a strong sense of cultural continuity and a devout belief in Roman Catholicism.
Data as of December 1990
Yugoslavia Table of Contents