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Ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of Primož Trubar's birth. The speech by the Minister of Culture, Dr. Vasko Simoniti

Raščica, June 8 2008


Mr President of the Republic of Slovenia, (Dr Türk,)
Mr President of the National Assembly, (Mr Cukjati,)
Distinguished Ministers and Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps,
Your Excellency, (Archbishop Alojz Uran,)
Bishop Erniša.


It is perfectly natural that the 500th anniversary of the birth of Primož Trubar, surely one of the most important personalities in Slovenian history, deserves to be celebrated at the national level and with a range of events. As a native of the village of Raščica and of the region of Carniolia, as an educated and creative Slovenian and as a self-confident European proficient in foreign languages, Trubar did everything in his power to establish the Slovenian language. Language – the essential foundation for the action and the justification of each individual and each nation.


Of course, the 500th anniversary of Primož Trubar’s birth may oblige us to discover the potential new views that the many symposia and events will certainly bring, but for most of us it is more of an opportunity to bring Trubar’s image, and the age he lived in, to mind and to wonder what he was like, what was his attitude towards his time and environment, what he did and what makes his image still so alive after all these centuries.


Historians regard the start of the century of Trubar’s birth as the beginning of the ‘early modern’ period – the beginning of the period in which European culture started to move towards the modern, towards the present-day situation.


In the political field, the new age in Europe was marked by the German emperor Maximilian I, the ‘Last Knight’ and first Landsknecht (mercenary soldier) commander, a visionary and a realist, who dreamt of the establishment of a universal monarchy, which raised the question of who would rule it. Later, however, the division of the German empire already shaped the outline of the future Austrian monarchy. At the same time, the administration, the judiciary, the army and more precisely-defined state borders established the early modern age forms of the territorial lands which were the precursors of the nation states.


The discovery of new worlds across the oceans brought – to use a modern term – globalisation. Mighty Russia, pressing towards Europe and also subjugating the East, was starting to take shape, while the Ottoman Empire would, at its height, rap on the gates of Vienna. The sixteenth century also brought great economic progress, the expansion in the number of universities – centres of humanism – opened the way for a flowering of the intellectual and spiritual domain. It also, of course, opened the way for the Reformation and the Catholic Renewal – two major systems of thought in European history, both able to skilfully use the increasingly established technique of printing to spread their ideas. In the relations between the political players engaged in resolving essential religious issues related to the Reformation movements, conflicts ensued. They led to prolonged religious wars that were more murderous than the usual armed conflicts. (The sixteenth century did not offer the slightest intercultural dialogue, or even the germ of the idea.) After the religious map had been redrawn, however, the operating principles of the different denominations, both the Reformed church and the renewed Catholic church, were very similar. All religions tried to improve the education and discipline of their clergy and likewise increased the strictness of moral standards. In this turbulent political, military, economic and cultural tumult, the geographical region of Slovenia was spared major wars but still experienced all the particular features brought by the new era. So many changes, so much dynamism in the one century in which Trubar was destined to live for 78 years.


As the first Slovenian book writer, Primož Trubar endured all the torments that befall many an author of great fame: working and writing in extremely harsh, sometimes mortally dangerous circumstances, he was spared only the brutal wave of Counter-Reformation, which brought the destruction of almost all Protestant books. Throughout all this, he zealously and persistently worked towards his great goal during his lifetime – and presumably died in the conviction that his mission had been completed. He had achieved his goal. After his death, it seemed for more than two centuries that he had been wrong, that his work had been in vain; but later, just in the last two centuries, there was scarcely a single prominent Slovenian writer who did not pay attention to Trubar’s life, his language, translations and the content of his work and, in general, to Trubar’s significance for Slovenians. His essays, published as a selection, as well as texts about Trubar himself are still being published today. Recent events celebrating the 500th anniversary of his birth testify to the fact that his books and his response to the times in which he lived have proven to be extremely valuable even for the present time; the events already or still to be held this year, only confirm this fact. Through his work, Trubar laid the foundations upon which, over the centuries, a Slovenian cultural identity developed, which today is one of the constituent elements of Slovenian nationhood. This was not, however, his initial intention: as a reformer, he had only wanted people to learn to read the Bible in their own language, in Slovenian, so they could be in direct touch with the word of God, as revealed in holy writ, for themselves, freely and without mediators. But this freedom and this right, already realised in many ways in his time, had far-reaching consequences for the future history of Trubar’s people. In the historical development of the Slovenians, they played a role in the formation of the nation and its culture. As has already been mentioned, Trubar lived in a turbulent and brutal age characterised by a historic break with centuries-old mindsets and new pointers towards different ways of living in Europe. All this was mirrored in his actions because Trubar was a personality capable of capturing the zeitgeist but who was also forced to experience the nightmare of history and its demands. In that respect, in personal terms, he was not spared at all; this is revealed, on the one hand, in his conception of ‘nowhere home’ (nikdir dom) when he had not been able to find a real home even in Derendingen, after his second exile from our country, and had faced emigration, deeply marked by the persecution suffered thus far, the confiscation of property and other hardships. All this suffering did not break him, however, as he refused to be disarmed and silenced.


His perseverance paid off, and he also had some luck. Here I refer to the fact that he had several excellent teachers, and also some protectors, who assisted him in realising his ideas. The Bishop of Trieste, Bonomo, was one of them. He was a tolerant humanist with a great breadth of knowledge and, by his side, Trubar become a well-educated cosmopolitan and a patriot who loved the language of his fellow countrymen, largely owing to Bonomo, who was kindly disposed towards the Slovenian language. Such benevolence on the part of a prominent person towards a language spoken only by subjects was quite exceptional. If we add Trubar’s schooling in Vienna and Salzburg, good-natured men of rank at Würtemberg, and his links with senior personalities of the Reformation, we may say that Trubar was in touch with intellectual and clerical elites inspired by the ‘spirit of the era’, which thus also inspired Trubar, the Slovenian religious reformer. Only in these circumstances could he succeed in an extraordinary project: starting to give a language a written form and using it for writing books, in other words, using a language of which there were only scarce and random records of any previously written form. This could only be done by a very intelligent and diligent man essentially characterised by his love for his country – a love which Ivan Prijatelj reports overcame even a very firm Catholic, Jernej Kopitar, who said, “Trubar’s deep love for the country renders me completely powerless against his Protestant teaching.”


We are, nonetheless, somewhat disturbed by Trubar’s disapproval of the backwardness and lack of culture among the Slovenians of his time; criticism which only reveals the other side of this same love, which was also described by Mirko Rupel. A letter, written to Bohorič by Trubar and Krelj, says, “We do not doubt that you are well acquainted, and often disappointed, with the unfortunate cultural backwardness of our homeland: it is shameful how contempt for the fine arts and neglect of spiritual education strut everywhere. If only all those who genuinely sensed this miserable backwardness would join us with their wishes and zeal, their thoughts and work, and together we would do our utmost to bring it to an end!” Trubar believed that such a situation could be improved through education and, therefore, strived to make education accessible to people from the lower levels of society. In his ‘Cerkovna ordninga’, he says, in a particular paragraph, “ …. And every preacher and parish priest should also have and keep in his parish a teacher or a sexton, who will teach these young farmhands and maids, town and farm children to read and write in the Slovenian language, and learn the catechism, together with this short explanation, by heart.” On the other hand, however, we should admit that this critical thought has not, even after 500 years, lost its validity, because many a present phenomenon could be labelled as “miserable backwardness”, only that now it sometimes seems to be more characteristic of some parvenu magnate than a member of a socially-disadvantaged social group. Nor does it very often happen that all prominent and wealthy people are willing to combine their desires and zeal with the aim of ending this miserable backwardness.


Trubar, the rebel and non-conformist, the religious reformer and author of books, is also the author of the venture containing the seeds which later gave rise to our national existence: he was the first to make our language available to us in the form of a book. He was fully aware that the printing of the first Slovenian book was an epoch-making event, because he described its publication in the following words: “Since the world began, this has never happened before.” He initiated and laid the foundations for Slovenian popular schools, he was ‘co-responsible’ for the first printing house in Ljubljana, and least but not last, he was the individual who, in his public statements, did not refrain from criticising unbearable conditions in a way that nobody had ever done before (although he was no revolutionary): he was a man of the new age whose onset in Slovenia also began with a re-evaluation of the past and criticism of the present. With his actions, he became – perhaps unintentionally – the embodiment of the expression ‘taking historic destiny into one’s own hands’.


The love he had for his people, it seems, is not found so frequently in Slovenian history. It is often met with in individuals, but is lacking in movements and groups. However, it would probably be found 200 years later within Prešeren’s circle, which fought against philistines with a similar persistence and achieved elevated artistic expression in the work of Prešeren, and then later, about 200 years after Prešeren, when it was found in the Slovenian patriots who fought unselfishly for their nation and their own country.


Individuals undoubtedly display a similarly ardent love for their nation today, too. However, in a certain stratum of the Slovenian population, it has disappeared as if it had drained away. Of course, I am also referring to the language; what consistent care and love Trubar and his reformers put into the Slovenian that they wrote! Today it seems that many people are not ready to make such efforts and do not consider it worthwhile to get to know and develop the richness of Trubar’s and Prešeren’s language heritage as a value in this new century.


It should be re-emphasised that Trubar’s work lit a spark in the Slovenian world, a spark that has flared up into an undying sense of the homeland, into an identity formed through the language in space and time. In the long process of the emergence of nation states in Europe, this Slovenian sense of the homeland reached its historical fulfilment with the formation of the independent state. We became a natural integral part of the European Community, the space of cultural diversity founded on common values, and the Slovenian language became one of the official European languages.


Even a quick glimpse at Trubar’s work and life can tell that us that, in many ways, he was a man of our times: a creative person, deeply affected by his destiny as a migrant, faced with the unbearable cruelty of his times, with a persistently critical attitude to his milieu, highly cultivated at the European level and therefore in a position to be uncompromising in defending his world view and objectives, but also, as Ivan Prijatelj once wrote, tolerant and understanding. His great patriotism is not in conflict with all this, but is logically complemented by his chosen mission. This can stand as a living incentive to contemporary generations, whose profile and conditions Trubar was the first to outline, all those years ago, in many ways, which is why genuine creativity can never truly cease. Primož Trubar, through his life story full of dramatic dangers and risks and, of course, also with his work and creativity, tells us that creativity is genuine only when it is creativity that also serves other people. Creativity of this kind survives through the ages despite the occasional breaks in its vital flow. Let us follow in the steps of Trubar!