ALTERNATE NAMES: Slovenci; Slovenians [both forms, Slovene and Slovenian, are used as noun and adjective]
LOCATION: Slovenia and regions of Austria, Italy, and Hungary along their Slovenian borders
POPULATION: 1.7 million
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
The Slovenes originally lived in the area northeast of the Carpathian Mountains. They settled in the eastern Alpine region of Central Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries AD . They formed a short-lived country called Karantania in the eighth century. They didn't have their own independent state in modern times until 1991.
For over a thousand years, Slovenes lived under mostly German rule as part of the Holy Roman (962–1806), Austrian (1804–1867), and Austro-Hungarian (1867–1918) empires. The region where the Slovenes live became part of Yugoslavia after World War I ended in 1918.
During centuries of foreign rule, the Slovenes preserved their language. Over the last 200 years, they formed a modern nation with a rich culture and aspirations for political independence, which they achieved when Yugoslavia fell apart in June 1991, after two of its republics, Croatia and Slovenia, proclaimed their independence.
The Republic of Slovenia borders Italy in the west, Austria in the north, Hungary in the northeast, and Croatia in the east and south. It is about the size of the state of New Jersey. Slovenia's climate varies with its geographical makeup.
About 50 percent of Slovenes live in cities. Ljubljana, the capital, has approximately 330,000 inhabitants. Before World War II (1939–45), over 50 percent of Slovenes made their living from farming. In the 1990s, the number of peasant farmers had dwindled to 7 percent. After World War II, Yugoslavia industrialized quickly but did not become urbanized. In independent Slovenia, many Slovenes still live in the country and commute to work in the cities.
Most of Slovenia's population of 2 million are Slovene—1.7 million, or 88 percent.
The language of Slovenes is Slovenian, which is the official language of the Republic of Slovenia. Slovenian is a South Slavic language, closely related to Croatian and similar to other Slavic languages, such as Czech. It is spoken by approximately two million people in the Slovene ethnic territory, and by emigrants around the world.
At present, slang, especially of youth, and technical language of professional groups are heavily influenced by English. In teenagers' talk, the English words "full" and "cool" are common expressions of emphasis. For examples, To je ful dober! (This is very good!) is often heard. Another often-used English expression is "OK."
People are most often named after Catholic saints such as Ann, Andrew, Joseph, Maria, and Matthew ( Ana, Andrej, Jože, Marija, Matevž ). Also popular are old Slavic personal names, such as Iztok or Vesna . Family names are derived from people's occupations. Examples include Kmet (farmer), or Kovač (blacksmith). Locations also become family or given names. For examples, Dolinar (one who lives in a valley), or Hribar (one who lives on a mountain). Names derived from animals are also popular: Medved (bear), Petelin (rooster), or Volk (wolf).
Many Slovene folk traditions are associated with seasonal celebrations. Adults and children enjoy the spring Carnival season, called pust (Mardi Gras). Celebrations include parades, carnivals, and masquerade balls. Kurentovanje in the city of Ptuj (in northeastern Slovenia) is the most famous tourist attraction. The central figure in the event is the kurent, who has fur clothing and unusual masks with horns. These represent human and animals traits. They are meant to evoke images of another planet. Always happy, the kurent is considered to forecast spring, fertility, and new life. Accompanied by a ceremonial plowman, he visits farms and wishes their owners a prosperous year.
Also for Carnival season, the traditional pastries krofi and flancati (similar to doughnuts) are prepared. Costumed children, wearing masks, go from house to house, asking: "Do you have anything for Pusta, Hrusta?" People give them sweets and fruits. Adults attend masquerade balls.
Slovene heroes are usually optimistic, wise, and cheerful. The story about Kralj Matjaž (King Mathias) dates to difficult times in Slovene history. People imagined a good king, who would protect them from danger and never die. Instead, he and his army are said to be sleeping under Mount Peca. When needed, the king and his soldiers will awaken and protect their people.
Although 90 percent of Slovenes claim to be Catholic, many fewer practice their religion by attending mass regularly or receiving the sacraments. But Slovene culture is inseparable from Catholicism. Small numbers of people belong to other religious groups. Besides the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Protestant Church (Lutheran) is the oldest.
Religious holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, Assumption Day (August 15), and All Saints' Day (November 1) are recognized as national holidays. A few nonreligious holidays are also observed. Since gaining independence in 1991, Slovenes celebrate Statehood Day (June 25), and Independence Day (December 26).
Although the majority of Slovenes are Catholic, Reformation Day is also observed as a national holiday on October 31 to recognize the important role the Protestants played in establishing the identity of the Slovene nation. In 1550, is was the Protestants who published the first book in the Slovene language.
Major life transitions are marked with religious ceremonies and celebrations appropriate to the Roman Catholic tradition followed by the majority of Slovenes. Such events as baptism, first communion, and confirmation are considered important rites of passage in a child's life.
When meeting, Slovenes exchange various greetings, depending on the time of day. Until 10 AM , they say dobro jutro (good morning). During the day it is dober dan (good day). After dark one says dober vecer (good evening). The reply to all of the above is Bogdaj (May God grant you).
Slovenes, especially the young, often say zivijo (long life) when meeting friends and acquaintances. At parting, various phrases are used. The most common are nasvidenje (so long), adijo (goodbye) and, in the evening, lahko noc (good night). When Slovenes meet or part, they often shake hands.
Slovenes are courteous visitors and when invited to dinner will always bring small gifts. Hvala (thanks) is the word used to express gratitude, to which prosim (please) is the polite response. Prosim is also used when a request is put forward, or when a listener did not hear or understand what was said.
Statistics show that the quality of life in Slovenia is good. Life expectancy for men is seventy years and for women seventy-six years. Mothers are entitled to one year's maternity leave so that they can stay with their babies and nurse them. Maternity leave is actually "parental" leave, as half of it can be used by fathers.
There is a shortage of housing. Apartments are small and modest. Very few children have their own rooms. Most share them with other siblings, sometimes even with parents. However, many people living in cities have small cottages, called vikendi, in the country, in the mountains, along rivers, or in spas where they spend their weekends.
Every family has at least one radio and television, while telephones and computers are somewhat less common.
The majority of young people get married in their twenties and establish a family with one or two children. Families with three or more children are rare.
Slovenes maintain close relations with their parents, siblings, and extended families. In recent decades, younger husbands have begun to share responsibility for housework and the education of children. About half of all marriages end in divorce, and most children are left with their mothers. In general, divorce is easily obtained.
Slovenes wear modern, Western-style clothing. Young people love blue jeans and T-shirts. Women are mostly elegantly dressed and like Italian fashions, while men dress informally, even at the office.
Slovenes love breads and potatoes. Potatoes are served boiled, sautéed, deep-fried, or roasted, and are used in various dishes. Breakfast consists of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, and rolls with butter and jam. Zemlja, a special kind of hard roll, is especially popular. Some people skip breakfast and drink only strong coffee.
For lunch, the main meal of the day, people eat soup, meat, a main-course starch, vegetables, and a salad. Lunch is prepared by working mothers after returning from work and is eaten in the midafternoon. Supper is a light meal with salads, yogurt, and leftovers from lunch.
Slovenes have many traditional dishes, often prepared for celebrations. One of the most genuine festive Slovene foods is a rolled yeast cake, called potica, with sweet (walnuts, tarragon, raisins) or salty (cracklings or crisp pork fat) fillings. Potica is served at Christmas and Easter. Among traditional meat dishes, kranjske klobase (sau-sages, similar to Polish kielbasa) are well known, as are pork dishes (koline) in winter.
The Slovene literacy rate (ability to read and write) is almost 100 percent. Compulsory eight-year elementary education has been a legal requirement since 1869. About 90 percent of students who finish elementary school continue their education at the secondary level. Some go to four-year schools to prepare for higher studies, but many enter two-and three-year vocational schools. A school year lasts 190 days. Not all students graduate.
Those who finish take the upper-level comprehensive exam (velika matura), which enables them to enroll in university. There is no tuition in the public school system at any level for full-time students, but parents have to pay for the students' textbooks and other supplies. Since 1991, the law allows home-schooling and private schools, though there are few private schools.
Music has always been an important part of the Slovene culture. Vocal and instrumental music has ritual and entertainment functions. Folk songs are simple in form, lyrics, and music, and deal with love, patriotism, war, work traditions, changes of season, and religious and family holidays. In the past, folk singing was part of everyday life.
Slovenes have built hundreds of churches and numerous art galleries, which are testimony to a rich cultural heritage. Although influenced by particularly Slovene cultural characteristics, the literature, music, visual arts, architecture, and theater in Slovenia have been part of larger art movements in Central Europe. Slovene artists worked in the European art centers, and European masters came to Slovenia. The same is true today.
Most employed people work a forty-hour week. Some industrious Slovenes work much longer. Besides holding jobs in factories and offices, many work second jobs, run their own businesses, or work on small, family-owned farms. Switching from a communist to a capitalist economy has been difficult.
Slovenes like hiking, mountain climbing, biking, swimming, rafting and rowing, tennis, horseback riding, fishing, and many other sports. In winter, they ski and skate. Almost every child and adult owns a bike, and many ride bikes to school or the office every day. Skiing has a long history in this part of the world and is probably the most popular sport in Slovenia. Skis were invented in Slovenia at the same time as in Scandinavia. They were once a major means of transportation. Today, there are a few hundred thousand recreational skiers, from whose ranks competitive skiers are recruited. They compete internationally.
Many schools organize dances for their students on weekends. Proms (maturitetni plesi) are traditional in elementary and secondary schools and are organized for graduates every year in the spring. Adults dance on various occasions. The polka and waltz are very popular, but Slovenes dance all major dances from the tango to the macarena.
Slovenes enjoy strolling, often in attractive old town centers, meeting people, chatting, and having a drink in small coffee shops, or kavarnas . Weekend trips to the mountains are also very popular. Slovenes enjoy walking in the woods and picking mushrooms to prepare them as culinary specialties.
Movies, concerts, and theater performances are enjoyed by many people. In Slovenia, concerts have greater attendance than soccer games. Young people enjoy listening to various jazz, rock, and pop groups. Although there are several local rock groups, young people listen mostly to popular American, English, and German groups. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Marley are known to every Slovene teenager. Television viewing has increased in the last decade. Besides Slovene television programs, Slovenes can also watch Italian, Austrian, English, and American television shows, including news on CNN.
Folk arts were mostly associated with crafts and decorating peasants' or, later, workers' homes. Painters often decorated furniture (for example chests, bed headboards, and cribs). Painting on glass was popular in the nineteenth century. Talented but unschooled folk artists often portrayed religious images and geometric patterns. Traditional Slovene crafts include pottery, woodenware, embroidery, lace making, candle making, gingerbread pastries, glass making, wrought iron, and clock making. Potters produce many useful objects such as pots, baking and roasting dishes, jars, pitchers, and goblets.
Woodenware (spoons, various kitchen utensils, toothpicks, and sieves) was produced in several centers. The best known of these, Ribnica Valley, is still active.
Alcoholism is an old, persistent, and serious problem among Slovenes of all ages and both sexes. Consumption of alcohol has increased by about 25 percent during the last decade. Drug use has also increased, especially among young people.
Unemployment has always been a problem for Slovenes. At most times, it was solved by emigration. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of Slovenes emigrated to industrialized Europe and the United States. Economic emigration continued after World War II. Many emigrants returned home in the 1980s. Today, about 14 percent of Slovenes are out of work.
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