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Book review

by Peter M. Hill

Slovenia: evolving loyalties
John K. Cox

Published by Routledge, 2005
ISBN 9780415274319

That George W. Bush could not distinguish Slovenia from Slovakia would not surprise anyone, but when senior bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels make the same mistake it is hard to deny that there is a dearth of knowledge about Slovenia, which was not only the economic powerhouse of Yugoslavia but today has a per capita GDP higher than that of Portugal and a lower percentage of its citizens living under the poverty line than Portugal, Greece, Italy or Spain (149 f.).

The book is divided up into the following chapters: ‘The Slovene lands and people to 1918’, ‘Slovenia in the two Yugoslav states’, ‘Slovenia and the breakup of Yugoslavia’, ‘Independent Slovenia: politics, culture, and society’, ‘Independent Slovenia: economics and foreign policy’. A conclusion brings the various threads together and returns to Slovenian nationalism and the ‘evolving loyalties’. Throughout the book Cox stresses both that Slovene nationalism was slow to appear and that it was of the civic rather than ethnic type. The Slovenes can boast an indigenous Enlightenment, with figures such as Žiga Zois, Marko Pohlin and Blaž Kumerdej. ‘Since modern nationalism requires widespread literacy, the standardization and spread of Slovene is of great importance’ (7), but the Slovenes, he writes (1), ‘were fairly slow to develop a national consciousness […], the Slovenes had little historical basis upon which to construct a modern people and state; thus, they moved much more slowly than, for instance, the Czechs, Italians, Hungarians, and Croats towards self-determination.’ Cox adds that Catholicism was a source of Slovene loyalty to the Habsburgs. ‘Thus, the basis for Slovene particularism had to be […] largely reconstructed during the nineteenth century’ (7). However it must be said that constructing history was common among nationalists, especially in the nineteenth century.

Cox draws attention to the typical stages of nationalism – an early history of a popular kind, Die Ehre des Herzogthums Krain by Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1689), the appearance of a Slovene bourgeoisie, which would eventually challenge German supremacy in urban areas, as well as the role of highways and railways. When Napoleon established the Illyrian Provinces, where the Slovene language was in official and educational use, it proved ‘a great shot in the arm to Slovene nationalism’ (7). And of course writers played an important part. Cox deals at some length with France Prešeren and his poem Krst pri Savici / The Baptism on the Savica which ‘stresses the importance and the long pedigree of the Slovene language and identity’ (12). The Slovene scholar Franc Miklošič (better known to Slavists in archaic Hungarian orthography as Franz von Miklosich) is also mentioned. During the nineteenth century, Slovene was increasingly used in local schools, though Slovene grammar schools (gimnazije) were not approved until 1905. The bishop of Maribor, Anton Martin Slomšek (1800–1862), played a vital role in education. The reading societies (čitalnice) and Sokol gymnastics societies were also important (16). In his poem Duma of 1908, the ‘enduringly popular poet’ Oton Župančič gave voice to the concept of the ‘homeland’ as ‘holy’ (20). Cox devotes considerable space to the history of political parties in the Slovene lands and there are also many references to Slovenes in North America.

The book is conceived as a contribution to the study of nationalism, as the subtitle suggests, and Cox writes that ‘no single idea or movement in European history is more important than nationalism’ (x). However, the question of ‘evolving loyalties’ often disappears from sight. And while I welcome Cox’s stress on cultural events – he talks about the Freising Fragments and the Reformation, for instance – there are lengthy sections on important writers and their individual works that, in this detail, would seem more relevant in a history of Slovene literature. The book is therefore somewhat disjointed and in fact one gets the impression that different parts were written on different occasions. A paragraph on page 45 is repeated word for word on page 106. On page 57 there is an apparently anaphoric reference to ‘Milošević’. He is then mentioned as ‘Slobodan Milošević’ on page 62 and finally as ‘Slobodan Milošević of Serbia’ on page 72. Obviously the book necessarily devotes a lot of attention to Yugoslavia and its disintegration and unsurprisingly there is some overlap with Cox’s earlier History of Serbia (Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations, 2002).

There are quite a lot of misspellings or misprints, surprising in the age of spell checkers. Acquis communautaire is consistently misspelt. Diacritics are often missing. There are no maps. The author uses quite a few apparently North-American colloquialisms with which readers in other countries may be unfamiliar. Occasionally one gets the impression that the book might be aimed at Homer Simpson, as when the author feels in necessary to explain at some length that socialism is not synonymous with Stalinism (197) or when he includes a lengthy section entitled ‘What is the EU?’ (172–177). But having said that, I would nevertheless recommend this handsomely bound volume as a highly readable introduction to Slovenia, its people and history.