THOUGHTS ON THE NATION
THOUGHTS ON THE DAY OF CARINTHIA
(written in October 1925)
Greater Germany is becoming reality. Austria has been annexed to Germany. But Austria keeps too great a treasure of ours for us to look on passively at this unification. Our treasure is Slovene Carinthia.
Carinthia: scene of our disgraceful failures! Carinthia, witness to a nation, which is surrendering itself to dreams of rights! A nation which is failing to secure its own rights as it should! Carinthia: perfect mirror of our incompetence.
Scatter noble winnower, storm,
scatter us — weeds — what do I care! — —
Kralj Matjazh is sleeping. The League of Nations is a lie, just as the nation is a lie.
The English, greatest oppressors of their colonies, cannot vote for justice.
THOUGHTS TO MARK THE DAY OF CARINTHIA
11 OCTOBER 1925
The paradox is as follows: we are a small nation, numbering not even two million people, we drown! We are a small nation, numbering almost two million people! We live! This paradox concerns the question of Slovenstvo. Do we drown in Jugoslavanstvo because we are too few, or do we crystallise into Slovenstvo because there are enough of us? Who says we are too few! Number crunchers!
Our beautiful homeland!
But we have established the following: to tyrannise, to oppress, to murder, to create through violence are inhuman principles. We do not mind if they are written down in the ethics of nationalism; we support the ethics of humanity.
An injustice is an injustice whether it occurs to one person, thousands of people or millions. But we are against injustice. For even one person is a human being. Our principle is: for the person.
To rob a person of his most inalienable rights, to thwart and hinder development, to stifle a language, these are the mottos of nationalism. Their ethics is: the right of the one who is more powerful.
But now we are in a period of waning nationalism. It continues to strain and climb, to revive itself, to take over the world again but in vain: the sense of justice is too strong, too apparent. Nationalism has no more moral strength to serve the idea. So it serves those in power.
Is it strange that in this time they say we are small? We are small because we want to serve petty, selfish ideas.
The French and the English founded the League of Nations. When this year the rights of minorities were to be discussed (the Slovenes in Austria, the Sorbs, the Slovenes in Italy), the sirs at the meeting departed. But they could leave forever. For as long as this society consists of the English, French and Italians who oppress their own colonies and minorities, then the question of the minorities will remain unsolved.
The English, French and Italians would like to have the best of both worlds. But this is not possible in the case of the minorities.
Usually it is nationalism that wins out.
The world consists of just too groups: the oppressors and the oppressed. The League of Nations is a society of oppressors. That is why the oppressed will not find justice there.
Contemporary adventurous politics lacking constructive, thorough work will not solve this matter. No-one will help us if we will not help ourselves but we cannot help ourselves either. Our solution lies only in the great phalanx of all the oppressed. For only those that are oppressed can feel and create new justice, a new world made for the person.
Only then, when we will stand, not one man against another but one man for another, will the time come for the solution of the Carinthian question.
Much has been written about the Slovenes in idealistic dithyrambs of patriotism, in bitter pamphlets, full of deceit and disillusionment, but in both cases the writing was subjective, in praise or condemnation of the sad past and even sadder present without a spark which could like lightning draw a bright form on our future’s horizon. Optimistic utopias were created, full of self-satisfied patriotic hymn-singing and lies; there were also the bitter utopias of the tired Slovene dreaming before his death; the Slovene who once loved Slovenes and the Slovene nation too strongly. Step back those of you that love and hate, keep away your unjust hands. You who love and you who hate are doing wrong. Do not love, lest you hate with bitter disillusionment in the heart, without hope in the soul; do not hate, lest you write resigned, weepy dithyrambs about your own mistakes, for ultimately it does not matter if you love or hate. Love or hatred is a personal attitude to your “homeland” and also your actions. However, your actions must be pure, untainted and holy, devoid of enthusiasm and without hatred. They must have the second objective characteristic: energy. And if these lines will convince (not enthuse!) you of the truth of these deductions, then my goal will have been reached.
There are four questions which concern us if we truly want to live. 1. the matter of the political and cultural unity of Slovenstvo which must be achieved if this state is to come about. What is the relationship between...
CULTURE AND THE STATE
There is a relationship which can harmonise these two concepts which are currently opposed. This relationship depends only on the comprehension of the state. What is the state, what is its fundamental essence, its purpose and its goal? If we answer these four questions, then the answer and the relationship will become evident.
The state is a group of people who manage their material needs in such a way that they can live for their fulfilment, for the ideals of their soul as freely as possible. So the essential element of the state is a means which allows people to lead a full cultural, emotional, spiritual and intellectual life. That is why it is its intention to diminish all efforts in the person which direct them towards a solely materialistic life. Its aim is social: to enable each individual to truly live a full life.
That is why it is already clear from these deductions that the state is a means and not an end in itself, that its form is eo ipso dependent on historical development and is relative. It must, however, constantly be improved to meet the needs of modern man.
It is also logical from these deductions that the state is an important factor in the development of human culture; it is so to speak its mechanical motive power, which must, however, with ever increasing cultural activity take up as flexible and elastic a form, so that it continues to operate in the whole of life as motive power and not as an obstacle. This is obvious from the development of forms, from theocracy via absolutism to modern parliamentarianism.
But in this essay we are not concerned with this. My aim is to show that as all life forms are relative, the form of state too is relative. For a state form which is unsuitable for the times is like a suit of armour, which if it grows stiff, breaks in the spring. (Compare with adders)
But what is culture?
And what is civilisation?
As the people are a primary, the nation secondary and the state a tertiary phenomenon, it is clear that the people or nation cannot follow the state’s lead but that it must be the other way round. For the state is not the end but the means. When a group of people becomes aware of its nationality, it becomes a nation.
That is why cultural autonomy is not some kind of privilege or favour, but a duty which the state must respect if it does not want its form to oppose its development.
For forms which oppose development crumble.
It seems to me utterly essential that we begin to discuss this question without any bias, but with objective composure as befits a thinking man, walking on paths which do not mislead.
To talk about nationality means to talk about an organism which is living and is one with the body; its spiritual or material components cannot be separated. Every nation is a society and not some mechanical sum of impersonal numbers. Still more: it is a family which spreads the thinnest tendrils of its organism to the last man and member of the family. It comes about in the midst of separate but unified regions where sociability gradually becomes not a need but a characteristic of development and an integral part of the principle of universality: to create unity out of the collectivity which is metaphysical, therefore unified growth of the organism.
However, this by no means determines everything. Culture which did not at first have any influence because language may not yet have been developed, was revealed with the emergence of language, in which, as Bøezina puts it, every word is the drama of man. But culture has always existed, evidently it was expressed differently — perhaps it was even more beautiful, more holy, intimate and true than it is nowadays.
The first step on the positive discovery of this culture is the folk song. The people living in the mountains were influenced by nature (take Ukraine and its songs for example) so that impressed by the changing faces of nature their soul was formed in organic harmony with the landscape. This particularity characterises it and only on this basis can we tell a Russian folk song from an Italian one, or a Slovene folk song from a Serbian one etc.
ON THE CORNER
FROM THE BOOK: DAWN OF A NATION
The problem with all life and every true life is that there are two sides to truth. And the secret of man’s mission is to gain awareness of both sides; man must tread on the cutting edge of doubt but must then regain consciousness and step on the right-hand side.
We Slovenes are standing before our house and asking ourselves: “Is it not too small to stand on its own, too weak and too modest? Is this culture’s tree too small to provide shade for us when we grow tired, this wheat field too narrow to feed us when we grow hungry?”
But we forget that we are pilgrims. That we are pilgrims just as other nations too are pilgrims. When a pilgrim leaves his home he takes with him his dearest belongings, he puts on his favourite garments, he takes the stick his great-grandfather used, he sings the song his mother sang him. And wherever he goes, everywhere he is as he stepped out of his house, and wherever he stops, everywhere he makes his shrine: he spreads his cloak on the ground, he lays down the stick and sings a song.
And look: silent is the blue of the mountains, bright is the green of the alpine pastures, brown are the huts at the feet of the mountains; the song is not sung but flares up, like an evening star it halts above the mountain and the hut and the traveller.
A foreigner comes along and does not hear the song. For the song is not only that which is sung but also that which is loved. And if the foreigner wanted to take his stick and cloak, if he wanted to steal his song, and even if this foreigner is his closest brother, the pilgrim would get up in an instant and pull them both from his hands. What...
This letter is for those of little faith! And for those in despair and those who are neither weak in faith nor in despair but stand with bowed head and know not what to do and how. And for those too is this letter who are brave and strong, to salute their courage and strength. For them most of all because courage is like health!
In the name of Trubar I send you this letter and in the name of those who wrote our names in prayer-books and in the name of those who long, long ago spoke our language. And in the name of the latter most of all. For they were the first ones and the decisive ones. They were the soil from which sprouts the tree and grows the nation. And in the name of these I salute you the most.
For there would be no Trubar, no Bohorich, no Krelj if there had not been these; no Dalmatin, no Japelj, no Pohlin, no Vodnik, no Kopitar, no Kastelic and no greatest Preshern. And no Levstik, no Jurchich, no Stritar, no Trdina, no Mencinger, no Kersnik, no Jenko, no Tavchar, no Ashkerc and no Gregorchich of ours. All of these men sprouted like trees from the native soil. And that is why I salute these who are this soil and life.
For without them there would be no Kette, no Cankar, no Meshko no Aleksandrov, no Zhupanchich nor any of our greatest moderns.
For the tree cannot grow where there is no soil, where there is no healthy, solid ground. And the artist cannot sprout where there is no nation.
And still the forests and the landscapes are ours and still the nation lives and breathes, oh, the nation cannot be killed.
(Zbrano delo; Tretja knjiga, (Collected works; Third book) I-II; DZS, Ljubljana 1977)
Again we mark one of the most important anniversaries (the 90th this time round) in all Slovenian history – the Carinthian plebiscite, which is again marked by round numbers: 10. 10. 1920 – 10. 10. 2010. Kosovel’s essays on the subject “plebiscite-nation-culture-state”, show not only his “prophecy” (that Austria would be annexed to Germany thirteen years later), but also a pertinence “for all times”. Thoughts on the Day of Carinthia is an unpublished draft for Thoughts to Mark the Day of Carinthia which was published in the magazine Mladina, 1925/1926, 5-6. The text entitled On the Corner (the title symbolises the point at which a decision is made) is an unfinished plan for a book. (Note by the editor)
POEM ABOUT A SMALL NATION
A small nation and small people,
these are not compatible.
Everything hurts, my soul, my heart.
Small nation, great scoundrels
and full troughs,
nation, step up and further,
right to the zenith!
You be the minister, chameleon,
but you, who have ideals, work for nothing
and with me demolish!
Demolish false ideals!
Singer sewing machines.
Lectures on Strindberg
(The Poem about a Small Nation together with the preceding essays sheds additional light on Kosovel’s view on the ever pertinent question concerning the nation; it was first published in ZD 3, 1977, under the heading Dodatek II, pg. 929, with a note by the editor A. Ocvirk saying that it is signed with the pseudonym: Hum Buk. In the facsimile of the manuscript in the monograph Ikarjev sen (Icarus’ dream), 2004, pg. 123, one can also see the added notes which allow a particularly ironic understanding of the poem’s text: the “pseudonym” reflects the English word humbug – hoax, fraud, impostor, to deceive, while at the same time it can be an “abbreviation” for “humorous book”; the meaning of singer in English is obvious; regarding Strindberg it must be noted that he had a polemical attitude to the environment and the nation about which he wrote the treatises entitled the Swedish Nation and Swedish Destinies and Adventures. Interpunction is lacking in Kosovel’s manuscript of this poem so that is why it is corrected in ZD. The present version is corrected slightly differently again with a particularly precise quote of the original in the last verse. – Note by the editor I. A.)
Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich