This week we’re taking a journey into the history and culture of Slovenia! Read on to discover what makes this former Yugoslav nation tick.
- Capital (and Largest City): Ljubljana
- Population (2016): 2,070,620 (142nd)
- Total Area: 20,273 km² (154th)
- Official Language: Slovene
- Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
History of Slovenia
Like much of the region, what is now Slovenia was once inhabited by proto-Illyrian tribes for thousands of years – that is until the Romans conquered it. The Romans brought trade, built forts, and constructed settlements. However, like the rest of the Empire, the 5th and 6th centuries brought barbarian invasions and the eventual end of Roman rule. Following the fracturing of Rome, Slavic tribes moved into the region where they competed with the Avars and neighbouring Germanic peoples.
Like most of the land to the West, Slovenia soon found itself a part of the vast Carolingian Empire. During this time, the Christian faith spread and Slovenia was under the rule of many nearby powers and regional forces – including the Holy Roman Empire, and the later Hapsburg dynasty. While under the jurisdiction of foreign rulers, a Slovene ethnic group emerged, adding to the idea of distinct Slovene Lands. During the late Middle Ages, Turkish invasions and domestic discord played havoc with the region.
Early Modern Slovenia
After the Middle Ages, Slovenia became part of the larger Austro-Hungarian Empire. While the region wasn’t very urbanized, the empire did oversee widespread industrialization and improvements to transportation. While many Slovenes immigrated to far off countries (including the United States and Canada), the population continued to grow. With this, the 18th century saw an increasing national identity and consciousness. This grew in tandem with a cohesive ‘Yugoslav’ identity that also began to feature in the Balkans during this time.
War and Yugoslavia
Fighting on the side of the Central Powers (as part of Austria-Hungary), Slovenia suffered many casualties during the First World War. Following the conflict, movements within the country set about working towards independence. With Austria-Hungary dissolved, Slovenia joined with neighbour Croatia to form the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. Soon, this union merged with Serbia to form a larger kingdom. Shortly after, the kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia. Slovenia was the most westernized, prosperous, and industrialized of the member nations – and as such became an important lynchpin of the kingdom, though the entire region suffered during the 1929 depression.
World War II in Slovenia
During the Second World War, Slovenia (and the rest of Yugoslavia) was invaded and seized by the Axis Powers. The north was given to the Nazi’s while the Italians took control of the south and the capital Ljubljana. Ethnic Slovenes suffered greatly at the hands of Nazi policies – with many killed or deported to nearby puppet states. Resistance grew, but it wasn’t until 1945 when the Yugoslav partisans were able to liberate the country. This soon led to a communist government, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was born – led by one Josip Broz Tito (the son of a Croat and a Slovene, though he identified as the former).
Despite being a communist state, Tito and Stalin had differing views on many policies and Yugoslavia became a non-aligned country in the ensuing ‘Cold War’. Throughout the decades of Tito’s Yugoslavia, Slovenia remained a hugely important economic centre, producing significantly more wealth (relatively speaking) than any other part of Yugoslavia. While there was some opposition to Tito, he was mostly regarded as a benevolent dictator who managed to keep Yugoslavia together while also maintaining international neutrality. Following his death in 1980, Slovenia’s economy suffered and the political situation throughout Yugoslavia started to fracture.
An Independent Slovenia
The first real calls for independence were voiced in 1987, and soon set off a mass wave of protest and democratic movements. The first election took place in 1990, and on June 25, 1991 independence was made official. Wanting to avoid the fracturing of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav army (mostly backed by and made up of Serbs – who had the most interest in seeing the republic remain) attacked Slovenia and started the Ten-Day War. The result was a decisive victory for Slovenian forces, and a truce was soon reached that saw Slovenia maintain its newly proclaimed independence. As the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats began a devastating struggle that remains infamous for brutal war crimes, Slovenia was able to avoid the conflict.
Having always been the most westernized of the Yugoslav countries, Slovenia immediately began looking to the future by way of the rest of Europe. After achieving recognition from the EU and the UN in 1992, Slovenia eventually joined both NATO and the EU in 2004. Three years later, the country adopted the euro (the first former-communist country to do so). While there have been recent scandals and protests with regards to corruption, Slovenia is considered one of the most successful countries in the region – both for its relative economic prosperity and for avoiding the conflict that rocked the rest of the former Yugoslavia.
Culture of Slovenia
Slovenia has a rich culture, which includes elements unique to the Slovene people, as well as shared traditions and heritage with other Balkan and Slavic nations. This manifests itself in cultural festivals, folk stories, dance, music, and more. Slovenia is also known for an impressive array of historic sites and architecture – spanning centuries of styles.
Food in Slovenia takes its influence from Central Europe (Austria and Hungary), Mediterranean countries, and the rest of the Balkans. Historically, the type of cuisine and presentation would depend on the lifestyle or location of the person eating it, (i.e. towns, farms, cottages, castles, monasteries, or a parsonage). One-pot dishes were the norm, while foods such as the potica (nut roll) have become synonymous with the country. Slovenia is also well known for its locally produced wine.
Sports in Slovenia
A wide array of sports are popular throughout Slovenia. These include soccer, handball, basketball, ice hockey, and individual sports including skiing, ski jumping, tennis, and mountaineering. The national soccer team has qualified for two World Cups and one European Championship. In 2010, the team just missed out on the knockout stages – a run which included a 2-2 draw against group toppers America.
Some of the most famous Slovenians are athletes including hockey player Anže Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, basketball player Goran Dragić of the Miami Heat, soccer keepers Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid) and Samir Handanović (Inter Milan), mountaineer Tomaž Humar, and skier Davo Karničar, who successfully descended all of the Seven Summits (including Everest). Other well known Slovenes include actress Katarina Čas (featured in The Wolf of Wall Street), actor Željko Ivanek (many movies and TV shows), Melania Trump (yep), and philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Geography of Slovenia
Slovenia is located in Central/Southeastern Europe and includes a sizable portion of the Alps as well as a 43-kilometre coastline on the Adriatic Sea. The Alps dominate much of the north, while the Dinarides (large mountain range) and the Pannonian Plain also stretch into the country – which itself resides in the Black Sea drainage basin. The end result is a largely hilly or mountainous country, with large forests, diverse geology, and, generally speaking, a wide variety in natural environments.
The largest city in Slovenia is the capital, Ljubljana, which numbers slightly shy of 300,000 people. It is, unsurprisingly, the cultural and economic centre of the country – and has been for a long time. The second largest city is Maribor, which is home to about 95,000 people.
Facts about Slovenia
- There is a vineyard or winery for every 70 people in the country
- Slovenia is known for its many caves – over 10,000 in fact
- There are more religious buildings per capita here than in any other European country
- There is an abundance of brown bears in Slovenia
- The country is home to the world’s largest ski jump
- Parts of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian were filmed in Slovenia
- The famous church on Bled Island hosts weddings, though the groom has to carry the bride up 99 steps
- Slovenians are generally considered very good looking (don’t ask what metric we used for this)
- Ljubljana translates as ‘The Loved One’, and its sigil is a dragon killed by the mythical Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame)
That’s it for our Slovene journey for the time being! Check out our Currency Spotlight for more on the euro and stay tuned this week for our Travel Guide!
Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE). Be sure to check out our Currency Spotlight for more information on the euro.
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