Culture has a special historical and social significance in Slovenia. It was primarily thanks to their culture and their common language of Slovene that the people of Slovenia were able to forge themselves into a nation and survive. Language and culture have for centuries compensated Slovenes for the lack of their own state and political institutions. Slovenia is one of those rare countries, if not the only country in the world, where a day of culture is a national holiday.
In honour of the poet
Slovenia’s national day of culture is 8 February, the anniversary of the death of its greatest poet, France Prešeren, whose wonderful works from the first half of the 19th century are a supreme example of European romanticism. One such work is A Toast, now Slovenia’s national anthem. The relevance of Prešeren’s poetry played a role in the creation of the first real national political programme, which helped to forge the Slovenian national identity. The annual Prešeren Prizes are the highest awards for the most important and momentous achievements in culture.
Credit to the protestant
One of the most important foundations of Slovenian culture was established by another literary figure, the protestant pastor Primož Trubar, who published the first book in Slovene in 1550. It was then that Slovene officially joined the family of European literary languages.
The power of verse and the written word
Literature also held a special place in Slovenian culture in the 20th century, when the playwright Ivan Cankar, the poet Srečko Kosovel, contemporary poets like Ciril Zlobec, Kajetan Kovič, Tomaž Šalamun and Dane Zajc and the writers Vitomil Zupan, Drago Jančar, Boris Pahor and Lojze Kovačič all left their mark. Many of their works have been translated into multiple European languages.
Further evidence of the importance of books in Slovenian culture is that Slovenia is ranked at the top of European countries in terms of the number of books published per head. Ljubljana has been chosen by Unesco to be the 2010 World Book Capital, while Maribor will be theEuropean Capital of Culture in 2012.
Pillars of culture
Slovenia has a very well-developed network of cultural institutions, organisations and associations, comparable with the wealthiest and most progressive countries in Europe. The Slovenian Philharmonic is one of the oldest orchestras in Europe, with a history of more than 300 years.
There are professional opera and ballet companies in Ljubljana and Maribor, and numerous professional theatre groups, includingDrama (Slovenia’s national theatre), the Youth Theatre and the Puppet Theatre in Ljubljana.
Cultural life is rich and varied at the museums, galleries and cultural centres, pride of place among which is taken by Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana.
There are a host of top festivals in Slovenia, particularly in the summer: the Ljubljana Festival at Križanke, the festival of early music inBrežice, the Primorska Cultural Festival and a series of cultural events under the aegis of Imago Sloveniae. Maribor’s Lent Festival is also a favourite.
There are 45 permanent galleries in Slovenia, and over 800 spaces where works of fine art are exhibited permanently or occasionally. The most important in Ljubljana are the Museum of Modern Art, which focuses on modern works, and the National Gallery, whose collection consists of older works. Impressionism made Slovenian painting known throughout Europe in the first half of the 20th century, while theLjubljana graphic school was renowned after the Second World War.
There are five professional orchestras in Slovenia, and a host of musicians who are famed outside the country. The largest concert halls are at the Cankarjev Dom cultural and conference centre, which holds close to a thousand events each year. Slovenia’s own brand of polka music reached its peak in the accordion and ensemble of Slavko Avsenik, while the annual festival in Stična is a feast of choral singing, and the France Marolt folk group have performed their singing and dancing all over the world. The contemporary thrill of classical music is the territory of the Slovenian Philharmonic, particularly its top musicians, flautist Irena Grafenauer, pianist Dubravka Tomšič and soprano Marjana Lipovšek. Laibach have been a highly influential band in the last few decades in modern alternative music. The ethno-pop ofMagnifico has gained a rising international profile. The giants of Slovenian pop music are Vlado Kreslin and Siddharta, while Slovenian DJs are welcome on global dancefloors, most notably DJ Umek.
Architecture is also a vital part of Slovenian culture. The most famous native architect, Jože Plečnik, was a pioneer of modern Slovenian and European architecture of the 20th century. Ljubljana is famed for his work. Many of Plečnik’s students continued his legacy in the second half of the 20th century.
International cultural events
Each year Slovenia hosts a number of other events that are renowned further afield. To mention a few: the Exodos dance festival in Ljubljana, the Ana Desetnica festival of street theatre, the PEN meeting in Bled and the Vilenica literary festival near Sežana. In short, the range of cultural events, festivals, concerts and exhibitions in Slovenia is enough to satisfy the most demanding of guests.
The small size of the market means that many artistic and cultural activities in Slovenia enjoy significant support and subsidies from the government (approximately two-thirds of the requisite funding), and funding from local authorities. It is remarkable that less than 10% of cultural activities’ earnings come from the consumer, i.e. visitors to cultural events. The exception of course is the entertainment industry, notably pop and jazz, where the performers have to rely on their own ingenuity to earn their dues.