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Address by the President of the National Assembly
of the Republic of Slovenia Mr Dejan Židan
on the occasion of Reformation Day
Ljubljana, 30 October 2019
Distinguished President of the Republic of Slovenia,
Dear Citizens, Dear Slovenes,
The history of the Slovene nation is long and rich. Although in the eyes of others we have never been the greatest or the strongest, the wealth of our nation is most clearly expressed through our linguistic and cultural identity, i.e. through the collection of value-based, material, intellectual, even spiritual characteristics that have indelibly marked our community.
The perception of a community whose foundation is the language has a long tradition in Europe. It cannot be argued that the continuity of a language is the only sign and proof of a nation's existence, yet the history of language simultaneously reveals the history of the nation that speaks it. The language reflects the power, development, advancement or regression of a nation over decades and centuries. It is the guardian of the nation’s memory.
Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, on the eve of our national holiday, we are marking a turning point in time and a societal leap in the cultural and linguistic journey of the Slovene nation. Reformation Day is always marked by a wealth of messages, but nearly all of us assign the greatest importance to the beginning of the development of the Slovene literary language.
In fact, the Reformation – as a movement – took place at a time when the complex of social dilemmas greatly polarised society. It had an inimitable impact on the religious, political, social, and cultural image of Europe, which had begun to break free from the heavy shackles of the past to achieve a new revival. Exceptional individuals such as Primož Trubar, Jurij Dalmatin, Adam Bohorič, and Sebastijan Krelj knew how to relate this revival to the needs of the nation. The creation of a literary language of its own in the period of the Reformation led the Slovene nation to further development.
In the course of the Trubar era, the Slovene language already had a rich tradition and was used as a language of public life, but had never been systematically written. Furthermore, literacy was the privilege of only a handful of the wealthiest. The proportion of the literate population in Slovenia in the 16th century ranged from three percent at the beginning to barely eight percent at the end of the century.
Trubar, albeit for deeply religious reasons, sought to promote literacy and language use among all sections of the population. Protestant belief was in fact a significant departure from the religious practice of the time. According to this new system of belief, the only true path was believed to be an individual's personal, inner faith, without any intermediaries between man and god, which also meant that man's first or mother tongue became an instrument for realising a personal understanding of the biblical tradition.
Trubar’s intention was to bring the written word closer to the majority population, the common people. This provided them with a tool for achieving more equal and just engagement in the social sphere. Trubar unlocked the potential to create and contribute to society among the lower strata of the population; whoever used such knowledge, progressed. Just like today, literacy meant having the competences that are key to the personal growth of the individual.
In order to make such a step, Trubar needed to be farsighted and to broadly consider the language and its integrated formulation, continued use, and development. He would also need to answer the question of for whom this language was intended. Affiliation with the language gradually became equated with affiliation with the community.
In that turbulent period of European history, however, this issue was not ours alone. In one way or another, it concerned all nations with whom we shared the common, yet always diverse and variegated European space.
Since we Slovenes gained our well-deserved place on the map of Europe and in the global community of nations thanks to the Reformers, at this point I would like to highlight their efforts. Through their actions, they consistently demonstrated that there is no contradiction between making a sincere effort to improve the fate of one's nation, culture, and language, and the breadth and diversity of the European spirit.
Even today, when small nations are challenged to either protect the value of their own linguistic and cultural uniqueness or accept the greatness of the diversity that surrounds us, we must be aware that one and the other can only be enhanced mutually. Concern for the preservation of our language does not mean closing or limiting the openness of our spirit. We can and should demonstrate our concern for the preservation of our language and for the development and prosperity of our nation in a different manner.
1. Love for the Slovene nation and language is reflected in our concern for culture and its creation and creators.
This requires that we take a good look at ourselves and acknowledge the mistakes made in the past, when we were not able to place culture at the centre of the public interest. Today, culture needs a new reformation, a new impetus. This means encouraging the creativity of our people, especially the young, in their ambitious and innovative projects. It also means improving the working conditions of the creators of culture.
Increasing the accessibility of cultural goods to the widest possible public and the growing perception of culture as a social value go hand in hand. And we can even prove this ourselves with greater engagement in amateur culture, by attending performances at municipal cultural centres and enjoying concerts and dance presentations staged by local music school pupils.
2. Love for the Slovene nation and language is reflected in our concern for science, development and the intellectual potential of the community.
Critical thinking in the mother tongue has its roots in the tradition of the Reformation. Strengthening the Slovene professional and scientific language is important, as holds true for all fields of public life. In doing so, we must ensure the openness of the Slovene educational and scientific space in order for our country to become or remain a global hub of innovative people, ideas, and knowledge.
Let us not forget – Slovenia's voice in the world is its people, their top-class sports achievements, and their stories of collective success. Equally important are the remarkable scientific findings and technological innovations of the numerous Slovenes who have found advanced solutions for our needs and the complex future challenges of the global society.
3. Love for the Slovene nation and language is reflected in its public use, in support for the written word and books.
The first public library was opened in the era of Protestantism. It provided the community with a place where knowledge was accessible to all. Many might say that the new digital reality does not favour libraries. But I strongly believe that they will remain the cultural centre of the nation and therefore need to be strengthened, both locally and nationally. Their traditional task remains largely relevant even today and is complemented by new user needs and expectations.
Libraries should be a place of creativity where dreams sprout up and new ideas grow. A place of meeting and collaboration, co-shaped by the users. A place of vibrant study activity and a centre of academic processes. Investment in the future development of the Slovene nation should thus focus on the creation of a new national university knowledge hub, one of the few public spaces of Slovene culture to be built in the independent state.
4. Love for the Slovene nation and language is reflected in the deliberate introduction of digitalisation and new technologies.
Language and culture are considered to be torn between tradition and innovation. Yet the pervasive digital environment will not change the fact that Slovenes are a nation of readers. In fact, we are reading and writing more than ever before. However, with the advent of digitalisation in all dimensions of our lives, the attitude towards the way we perceive the world of literature and books is changing. We are often deprived of that pleasant feeling of turning over the pages of a book or of that special smell of a stack of old books on a bookshelf. I think that books are of great symbolic importance for Slovenes, and it is our responsibility to continue to promote Slovene publishing, including supporting translators and quality book programmes.
5. Love for the Slovene nation and language is reflected in the recognition of Slovene as the language of all of us, even the most vulnerable.
The aforementioned new technologies and digital developments can bring language closer to the individual. This applies especially regarding various vulnerable groups and persons with special needs who use different channels of linguistic communication, but these must be equal to the usual means of communication. Today, we have voice dictionaries, moving picture dictionaries, speech synthesisers, and other tools that allow them to better express themselves in their mother tongue.
Perhaps we are sometimes too little aware of the importance of the fact that the Slovene language is common to all citizens of the Republic of Slovenia. I therefore wholeheartedly support the motion to include in the Constitution the right to use Slovene sign language as the mother tongue and autochthonous language of its users – the deaf, the hard of hearing, and the deaf-blind. This will entail a major step towards the equal recognition of this language, while enabling user communities to learn in and about their own language.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Slovene is a living and vital language. It is one of the most recognisable elements of our identity. Among other things, it has the highest number of dialects in the world per capita in terms of the number of people who use it as their mother tongue. Let us be proud of such wealth of words and of the peculiarities of our language community.
The Slovene language is evolving and changing, but surprisingly much more slowly than it did up to and in the 16th century. It remains the cornerstone of our nation, despite the emergence of new Slovene words that reflect in particular the consequences of the current social and technological changes.
I believe that Slovene is not endangered and that it will remain present due to its specifics, characteristics, and exceptional language structure. Let us ensure that the use of Slovene is a matter of education, that young people will be able to speak Slovene and especially that they like to use it. Let it remain a strong bond that unites us, the source of our identity, and the pillar of our country's inner strength.
My dear Slovenia, I wish you all the best!