The nineteenth century was a critical era for the nation of Slovenia. The people of this small nation found themselves in conflict with two great powers. Pulling from one direction, the German-speaking Austrians of the Habsburg Empire had succeeded in dominating most aspects of Slovene society, including language. On the other hand, many Slavic nations were promoting the unification of all Slavic nations into one large mother country, pulling Slovenia into conformity. The Slovene version of the Enlightenment, particularly influenced by France Preseren through his works and persistence in cultivating the traditional language, developed pride and nationalism that would allow the nation to stand alone as a free, singular entity.
The Habsburg Empire was not, however, completely successful in dominating the people. In fact, through its philosophy, it essentially facilitated the change that was about to occur. The rulers believed that the key determinant of power was the strength of the military and, in order to finance this military, "a prosperous, tax-paying peasantry" (Benderly and Kraft, p. 5) was necessary. Thus, the Empire promoted education and this encouraged favorable conditions for change.
But the Slovene people did not revolt. Conflicting views arose within the culture and with the nearby South Slav nations, particularly on the subject of the language and alphabet. Around 1831, the intellectual elite, who were highly influential in the affairs of the government because of the Empire's philosophy, were at war with each other over the composition of the Slovene alphabet. This war was called the Ljubljana ABC War. One of the prominent scholars and critics, Jernej Kopitar, led a movement favoring the introduction of a new alphabet that had Cyrillic influences. The Cyrillic alphabet was a characteristic of the language of the South Slav nations. Thus, the implementation of the new alphabet, called "metelcica", would indicate a move toward the unification of all South Slav nations (Cooper, p. 29). Preseren and his supporters were passionately opposed to this movement and its implications. They chose to support the traditional Slovene alphabet, called "bohoricica" and to call for the unification, not of the South Slavs, but of all Slovene-speakers. Preseren succeeded in eliminating the new alphabet from common usage and school system because he had public support. In retaliation, Kopitar had the fourth volume of THE CARNIOLAN BEE delayed and censored (Cooper, p. 29).
Another movement brought Preseren to the defense of Slovenia's culture in 1837. This time three important scholars threatened the Slovene language. Jan Kollar was the first. He advocated a unification of all South Slavs into one indivisible nation. He coined the term "Illyrian" for this nation (Cooper, p. 54). Ljudevit Gaj and Stanko Vraz supported Kollar's views. Vraz believed that Slovenia's predicament was "hopeless... it would be better for them to survive as Slavs, even if that meant abandoning Slovene, than to be swallowed up as Slovenes by the Austro-Germans" (Cooper, p. 55-56). Thus, Gaj started a campaign, supported by Vraz, to eliminate Slovene and replace it with Serbo-Croat. Preseren asserted that Gaj's Illyrian movement put Slovene culture in great danger of ultimate disintegration. He believed that Slovene-speaking people thrived on their language for purposes of identity. In reply to Gaj's efforts, he wrote: "The tendency of our songs and other literary activities is none other than to cultivate our mother tongue; if you people have another goal, then you will achieve it with difficulty" (Cooper, p. 55). Once again, Preseren and his supporters managed to maintain the traditional language and, thus, culture of Slovene-speakers.
It was around this time that a group of Slovenes gathered together, united by one common goal, to honor their Preseren and his contributions to their culture. These people formed a cult with the intentions of giving due respect to the first great Slovene poet. The leaders of this movement, Fran Levstik, Jozef Jurcic, and Josip Stritar, republished a collection of his works. Stritar wrote in the books introduction, the following:
Today, Slovenes freely remember the life and contributions of France Preseren. Preseren's poem The Toast remains as independent Slovenia's national anthem. "Each of the eight stanzas glorifies one of the nation's attributes: wine, the land, the freedom to come, the future independence of all Slavs, Slovene women, good friends and fellow drinkers." (Cooper, p. 65)
Benderly, Jill and Kraft, Evan. INDEPENDENT SLOVENIA. Copyright 1994 by
St. Martin's Press, NY, NY.
Cooper, Jr., Henry Ronald. FRANCE PRESEREN. Copyright 1981 by G. K. Hall
& Co., Boston, MA.
Singleton, Fred. A SHORT HISTORY OF THE YUGOSLAV PEOPLES. Copyright 1985
by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Great Brittain.
Singleton, Fred and Carter, Bernard. THE ECONOMY OF YUGOSLAVIA.
Copyright 1982 by St. Martin's Press, NY, NY.