Lives Journal 6

Drago Pahor

 

THE RABA SLOVENIANS

 

A LOOK INTO THE HISTORY OF THE SLOVENIAN MARCH 

 

It would not be appropriate to talk about the ancient history of the Raba Slovenians. Even the name Porabski Slovenci (Raba Slovenians) does not appear until after the First World War when the peace treaty ruled that Porabje be separated from the rest of Prekmurje and the Slovenian March it had once been a part of. When we talk about the history of the Slovenians on the left bank of the River Mura, we include the entire Slovenian national territory.

The ancestors of the present-day Slovenians settled between the rivers Mura and Raba in the second half of the 6th century. After the Avar state disintegrated at the end of the 8th century, the territory of the Slovenian lands was incorporated into the Frankish state and this brought about intense settling of Germanic peoples. But this region, which was predominantly Slovenian and reached far to the east, was ruled by the Slovenian Prince Pribina. Pribina built a capital for himself in Blatograd near Lake Balaton. When Ss. Cyril and Methodius came to Great Moravia, they also befriended the Pannonian prince Kocel who followed in the footsteps of his father Pribina. It was then that the Slovenian principality in Pannonia rid itself of ecclesial and political dependence from the Germans and connected with Great Moravia. Between the years 869 and 874, Kocel ruled Pannonia as an independent prince. Discord between the Slavs, and renewed German pressure thwarted plans for a Slavic force on the Danube. In the last years of the ninth century, the nomadic Hungarians came rushing in from the east and spread across Pannonia and even into Germany and Italy. Their attacking force did not diminish until after the year 955. That is when the borders of the new Hungarian state stabilised. They took in the Slovenians on the left bank of the River Mura and cut them off for many centuries from the heart of Slovenian territory, which remained under German rule. During this long period, the Hungarians succeeded in colonising nine tenths of Slovenian territory, which reached as far as Lake Balaton. King Stephen I divided the country up administratively according to the Slav system of counties (zhupanije). He handed over all power to rich noble families and thereby introduced a feudal system, which was widespread at the time.

The region of Porabje, which we are above all interested in here, became a fief of the Cistercian monastery in Monoshter (Szentgotthárd), which was just as much an instrument of colonisation as the feudal lords. However, the Slovenian peasants/serfs did not suffer only at the hands of the cruel nobility and the church, but were also tormented by the Turks. In 1641, Hasan Pasha demanded that the villages by the River Raba and around Radgona become subject to the sultan and pay him taxes. It was on the very territory of Porabje, near Monoshter, that the regular Turkish army was defeated in 1664.

At the end of the 18th century, Hungarian nationalism began rousing itself and making conscious efforts to make the subordinate peoples into Hungarians. However, the Slovenians of Prekmurje already had a defence mechanism – the Slovenian book. In the middle of the 16th century, Lutheranism spread to Hungary. The Slovenians welcomed it to a large extent. The parish in Gornji Senik, for example, was Lutheran. At that time, Trubar’s and Dalmatin’s books were already making it through to Prekmurje. In the history of the people of Prekmurje we read: »Local peddlers went from house to house selling cheap Slovenian books by Trubar and Dalmatin. But they were of no use to our Catholic Slovenians for they could not read.«

Later, the Lutherans of Prekmurje made sure they had Church literature in their own language. In 1715, Franc Temlin published a ‘Mali katechismus’, which was written in the dialect of Prekmurje. The work of Stefan Küzmich was lengthier. In 1771, his translation of the New Testament was published. Catholic priests also followed the example of Lutheran literature in the language of the dialect. Miklosh Küzmich adapted the grammar book Slovenski silibikár, which was published in 1780 and is proof of efforts at that time to develop Slovenian education. Küzmich’s prayer book – Kniga molitna – was so successful that it was published twenty times in total.

The course of history took Hungary past the revolutionary year of 1848 to an agreement with Austria in 1876 in which the Austrian and Hungarian feudal lords and mega capitalists shared power in the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy (dualism). The Hungarian kingdom was an accumulation of nations in which the Hungarians were actually a minority. The official census in 1910 showed that Hungary was populated by only 48.1% Hungarians and 51.9% were members of other nations. In Prekmurje, the ratio was even less favourable for the Hungarians according to the findings of their own census. Here they made up only 22.8% of the population. All the others, with the exception of 2,000 Germans, were Slovenians. In Porabje, the nationality ratio in 1910 showed a very similar percentage of Hungarians (22.6%) living with 13.4% Germans and 63.9% Slovenians.

This national makeup in the Kingdom of Hungary forced Hungarian nationalism, which strengthened particularly after the introduction of dualism, into an extremely chauvinistic campaign of Magyarisation. Between the years 1870 and 1890, all education was made Hungarian. This took place gradually. When in 1883, the Slovenian cultural worker and author Anton Trstenjak visited Porabje, he discovered that the teacher in Gornji Senik was Hungarian (he had in fact been Magyarised). Also in Shtevanovci there was already a Hungarian school while in Slovenska Ves and Sakalovci the schools were still Slovenian. The grammar school in Monoshter was founded in 1893 for the purpose of Magyarisation, just as the foundation of an institute for the formation of teachers in Shpeter Slovenov in 1878 was to serve the Italianisation of Venetian Slovenia.

Alongside the schools, all other manifestations of Slovenian cultural uniqueness were suppressed. Slovenian priests in Prekmurje began spreading the books of the Druzhba Sv. Mohorja. The instigator of this action, Dr. Ivanocy, was declared a »panslavist«. In a comprehensive report on the books of Mohorjeva Druzhba and their presence all over Prekmurje which was sent by the district governor in Murska Sobota on 14 March 1902 to the county authorities in Sombathely, we can read that »these literary publications of a Slav orientation generally exert a very dangerous influence on the Hungarian sentiment of the Slovenian population and powerfully hinder the spreading of the Hungarian language«. The great prefect wrote on 11 July 1903 to the ministry in Budapest which was very interested in the Mohorjeva books, that these books »arouse Slav awareness amongst the population, which otherwise still feels that they are Hungarian citizens. These books are awakening a sense of solidarity between our Slovenian population and the south Slav population in neighbouring Austria and warming our patriotic Slovenians for the idea of founding a great state of the southern Slavs.« In short: the Mohorjeva books were against the state.

In the years of the offensive against the Mohorjeva books (1899-1903), Prekmurje had around 350 subscribers. There were not so many in Porabje, though; the deanery of Monoshter had no more than 11 subscribers in 1901. It is interesting to compare the number of subscribers in Venetian Slovenia. Their number was roughly the same as in Prekmurje. The largest figure achieved was 337 in 1910. In Venetian Slovenia, a sharp campaign against the Mohorjeva books also developed and it was even heard of in parliament in Rome.

The Mohorjeva books in Prekmurje excited the curiosity of the prime minister in Budapest and a front uniting the government and the church hierarchy was formed. The archbishop in Sombathely transferred Slovenian priests – those who spread the Mohorjeva books – to Hungarian parishes and in opposition to the Mohorjeva yearbooks, in 1903 the Diocese of Sombathely began publishing a yearbook of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was written in the dialect of Prekmurje with Hungarian spelling. They wanted to awaken in the people of Prekmurje the idea that they are »Wendish speaking Hungarians«. This theory was nothing new for our border regions. Just as the Italians claimed that the Venetian Slovenians did not speak a Slovenian dialect and the Germans developed a theory about the Windisch, so too the Hungarians stuck to a theory about the Wends. Earlier they had referred to all Slavs as »Tot«. The nickname Tot can even be found in the Hungarian name for Slovenska Ves (Rabatotfal – the Slovenian village of the Raba).

The theory of the Wends, which was sometimes based on the idea that the Wends were descendants of the Vandals, was for political reasons very popular with the ruling Hungarian feudal class, so the name Wend became commonplace not only in official language but also in the language of the Hungarian people who referred to their Slovenian neighbours as Wends. The Slovenians never accepted this name for themselves but simply called themselves Slovenians and their land as the Slovenian March at a time when other Slovenians still referred to themselves as Carniolans, Primorci etc. (Nowadays in Hungary, efforts are being made to refer to their Slovenian co-citizens with the proper name. But as old habits die hard, this reparation process will take some time.)

In Murska Sobota at the beginning of the century, a general educational society was founded with the purpose of Magyarising the Slovenian March (Slovenske krajine vogrshchino shireche drushtvo). As its name suggests, the society had the same goals as the Lega nazionale in Italy and the Schulverein in Carinthia.

The large social difference between the ordinary people and the ruling elite was undoubtedly an element, which prevented Magyarisation from enjoying greater success. This dual oppression – both social and national– contributed to the fact that at the end of the First World War, the population of the Slovenian March voted to join Yugoslavia. This did not mean only national liberation but also liberation from their poor social circumstances. The months immediately after the end of the war were very eventful in Hungary. On 21 March 1919, the Soviet Republic of Hungary was declared. It lasted only 133 days because it was only really successful in Budapest and some larger industrial towns. However, it is worth mentioning the events, which unfolded in the Slovenian March at the time. On 29 March 1919, the Worker’s Council (Tanacz Szlovenszke krajine – Sovjet Slovenske krajine) in Murska Sobota declared Slovenian autonomy and on the basis of this decision, called on 14 villages from the district of Monoshter and the Slovenian villages in the district of Lendava to unite territorially with the district of Murska Sobota. But the district council in Monoshter did not pay much attention to the call for an autonomous Slovenian region and avoided confirming and executing the decision of the council in Murska Sobota.

The district workers’ council in Murska Sobota had 48 members. Judging by their names, 34 members were of Slovenian nationality. The local education council began introducing Slovenian lessons in school. The new editorship of Novine replaced Hungarian orthography with gajica as from the issue of 4 May. It was the victorious entente, which was to decide on the fate of the defeated central countries. The peace conference that took place in Paris gave the Slovenian March to Yugoslavia on 9 July 1919 but decided that the frontier would run along the watershed between the Raba and the Mura. The Yugoslav delegation at the peace conference made keen efforts to join Slovenian Porabje to Yugoslavia but in the end it was US delegate Johnson’s proposal, which prevailed. In this way the Slovenian March was cut up and Porabje began its history as a separate entity. Yugoslav troops arrived in the Slovenian March on 12 August of the same year.

 

 

THE HISTORY OF PORABJE

 

Slovenians yet again felt what it is like when the diplomats of powerful countries sitting at the green table draw »natural« borders on maps and cut into the living body of our national territory. In this way, in 1919 in Paris, a »natural« border was found between the people of the Slovenian March and a watershed was found with the »explanation« that the Hungarian town of Monoshter is the economic centre of Slovenian villages of Porabje which must therefore be included within the frontiers of post-war Hungary. The result of the Hungarian official census in 1910 which showed that Porabje (including Monoshter) had only 22.6% Hungarians compared with 63.9% Slovenians (13.4 % were Germans), was not a valid argument. The »natural« border runs across hilly ground, the highest point of which is the 404 m high (absolute height!) Srebrni Breg. As one has to go a long way in the direction of Monoshter before the altitude drops to 250 m near Dolnji Senik, it is clear that there is no particular »natural« frontier on these gentle hills. This is also proven by the former connections between villages on either side of the present border. The church parish to which the village belonged also denies the existence of any border worthy of consideration. Until the year 1919, the village of Ritkarovci belonged to the parish of Veliki Dolenci on the Yugoslav side, while the Yugoslav villages of Chepinci, Martinje and Trdkova belonged to the Porabje parish of Gorenji Senik. Admittedly, as Monoshter was the main town in the district, it was the administrative centre for the Slovenian villages, but otherwise it was not an economic hub. The Slovenians did not have particularly strong economic ties with the Hungarian surroundings because the railway through Monoshter was not built until after the war. In terms of its economic structure, Porabje formed a whole within the Slovenian March, which was at that time very rural and agricultural. The economic ties of Porabje developed southwards and westwards, and by no means northwards or westwards towards the Hungarians. The people of Porabje drove their livestock to fairs in Sobota, Beltinci and other places in Prekmurje. From there the animals were exported to Radgona and Ljutomer. The potters of Porabje also made use of merchant routes going in this direction for the sale of their products. Meanwhile, potters from villages further south came to Porabje for the fine white clay.

The fate of Porabje was finally sealed with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon between the Allies and Hungary on 4 June 1920. The international border commission, which had the task of determining on the ground the frontier decided in Trianon, visited Gornji Senik in September 1920. Local representatives demanded that it be specified that in their church the Slovenian language must be used.

Between the two world wars there was in Hungary no chance of any protection for national minorities. They carried on with Magyarisation and between the years 1920 and 1922 a Wendish journal called Domovina was published whose clear purpose was to destroy Slovenian identity. The testimony of Anton Vratush who in 1939 (i.e. immediately before the outbreak of World War Two), studied the linguistic situation in Porabje as a student of Slavic languages, clearly shows that the efforts for Magyarisation were not particularly successful. He wrote:

»The state border has not yet shown any marked effect: the dialect of northern Gorichko can be heard also across the border: only a foreigner is addressed and greeted in Hungarian, and this must be understood as a reflection of the circumstances. Only in Slovenska Ves and nearby Sakalovci do we come across phenomena that do not exist by the Raba. This is entirely understandable: these two villages are geographically separated from the others and are most open to influence from the valley of the Raba«.

 

 

THE LANGUAGE OF THE RABA SLOVENIANS

 

Here are a few details to make you acquainted with our people from Porabje from a linguistic point of view. Anton Vratusha describes their speech as a dialect, which is also spoken across the border in Gorichko, i.e. in the northern part of Yugoslav Prekmurje. Therefore the people of Porabje speak using one of the Prekmurje dialects.

I will list some special features. There is an interesting example, which one may come across in some parts of Gorenjska, whereby women refer to themselves using the masculine form. For example they say: san iso or üso, san jemo, instead of sem shla, sem imela (I went, I had). Another particularity which is, however, widespread throughout Prekmurje, is negation which follows an affirmative, e.g. Jes sem nej prisho instead of jaz nisem prishel (I did not come). Also characteristic is the interchanging of vowels. Here are some examples: nozhich – nauzhich, roka – rauka, sem – sam or san, eden – adan, dober – dobar, ledina – ladina, nesem nasem, zajec – zavac.

In their dialect, the people of Porabje have many nice Slovenian words, which would not be at all out of place in literary language. Early in the morning, ‘zarana’ they say ‘zarankoma’ so their version of good morning is Dobar zranak! For cemetery they use the word groubishche, umbrella is dezhevnik and a plant sprout is ras. A dog kennel they call a pasjica, and when they are cold they don rokajce (gloves). Even if some Hungarian and German words have strayed into the dialect – especially those denoting objects that have been brought by civilisation, the tenacity of the Raba Slovenians is shown also by the fact that they have invented their own words for such objects. In this way they »zbrodili« [thought up] (think of the phrase »nekaj mi brodi po glavi« – »something is going through my head«) the word vuzhgica (vzhgati luch! – to put the light on) for an electric switch, and they call a braided electric wire a kitica (small plait). When they must urgently send someone a message they send them a silnica (telegram).

It would take us too long if we were to begin describing their customs. I will end this chapter with a verse from one of their folk songs, which are still alive among them.

 

Moja luba je zhe mrlá,

ütro'ji vö zgonio.

Tok sem mislô, kaj dezh ide,

pak mi skuze (solze) techejo.

My beloved girl has died,

in the morning she's carried out.

So I thought it was rain,

but my tears flow.

 

(English transl. by I. A.)

 

 

A NEW AGE FOR PORABJE

 

After the victorious end of the Second World War, units of the Yugoslav Armada entered Porabje alongside the Red Army. The Raba Slovenians hoped that with the fall of fascism they would at last be united with the rest of their homeland. On 29 April 1945, at a large meeting in Bogojina, the representative of the Raba Slovenians demanded annexation. Telegrams were sent from the meeting to AVNOJ, SNOS and the Executive Committee of the Liberation Front in which they referred to the principle of the self-determination of nations.

A second meeting was called by the Raba Slovenians themselves in Martini on 3 June 1945. From this meeting they sent the Slovenian national government a resolution in which they »solemnly declared that on the basis of the right to self-determination and secession they wish to live in a democratic and federative Yugoslavia«. The same meeting was attended also by representatives of democratic Hungarians from Monoshter who emphasised the right of the Raba Slovenians to be joined to Yugoslavia even though this would mean that Monoshter too is joined to Yugoslavia.

However, things turned out differently. Upon the demand of the Soviet armed forces the Yugoslav units had to retreat to the former state border. The representative of the Red Army explained that on the basis of the agreement between the Allies and the temporary Hungarian government, Hungary was promised it would keep the old Trianon frontiers. Just like the Slovenians of Carinthia, the Raba Slovenians also paid the price of haggling between the great powers.

In the period following the fall of fascism, for the first time in the history of Porabje, the Slovenians founded their own political organisation as part of the Anti-fascist front of the southern Slavs in Hungary. On 17 December 1947, this organisation was renamed the Democratic Union of Southern Slavs. The Raba Slovenians hoped their situation in democratic Hungary would change for the better. On 24 October 1945, despite opposition from Hungarian teachers, the competent authorities issued an order that Slovenian pupils should be taught in their mother tongue. Six Raba Slovenians passed the relevant teaching course in Pecs and Slovenian lessons were introduced in schools in Gorenji Senik, Shtevanovci, Slovenska Ves, Verica and Dolnji Senik.

However, the notorious resolution of the Cominform immediately destroyed the promising beginnings of a national life for the Raba Slovenians. Slovenian lessons were immediately abolished and the teachers were fired and later hounded. The Raba Slovenians again lost their rights. Only slowly, as international tensions eased off and especially as relations between Hungary and Yugoslavia developed, did the circumstances change for the better.

Tangible changes in minority policies were not seen until after 1968. The tenth congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party found that »also the German, Yugoslav, Slovak and Romanian workers are building our socialist homeland together with the Hungarian nation as equal members of our society.«

In 1972, Hungary changed its constitution and introduced a clear provision governing national rights. The previous constitution gave citizens of non-Hungarian nationality the possibility of learning their mother tongue and nurturing their folk culture. The changes to the new constitution more expressly and more precisely determined the rights of national groups and they are concretised in the following provision:

»The People’s Republic of Hungary ensures equality of all nationalities living on its territory: the use of the mother tongue, schools in the mother tongue and the preservation and nurturing of one’s own culture«. The implementation of the constitutional provisions is carried out by government organs including the national advisory committee for nationalities, the department for nationalities at the Ministry for Education and other institutions on a national, county, district and municipal level. In fact, the first county committee for nationalities was founded within the Executive Council of Vas County to which Porabje belongs. This committee deals with economic, educational, cultural and political questions concerning three nationalities present in this county: Slovenian, Croatian and German.

The new life, which is developing amongst the Raba Slovenians as a result of the changes that have already been described, is of course still far from perfect which is not surprising if you consider the past oppression. However, these first steps for Slovenian cultural activity are encouraging and show that future developments will be successful. As recently as 1972, a special department was founded to deal with Slovenian cultural matters within the administrative apparatus of the Democratic Union of Southern Slavs which cooperates closely with government organs. A Slovenian lady from Porabje was appointed to this position. The need is becoming apparent for the Raba Slovenians to look for opportunities for more independent work. Their small number must be taken into account while the current palpable lack of competent personnel can be done away with in future.

The Raba Slovenians share an annual Yearbook (National Yearbook) with other South Slav groups, but of the total of over 220 pages, the Slovenian section covers only 32 pages. That is why the Raba Slovenians wish to have their own yearbook, which would undoubtedly become more widespread amongst the people. The question of the periodical press is more difficult. The Democratic Union of Southern Slavs issues a weekly newsletter called Narodne Novine. Since 1970 it has had a permanent column called »For Our Slovenians«. This column only takes up a small part of the newsletter and shows that the Raba Slovenians do not yet have enough writers who would bring the journal closer to the people. In Porabje, the Narodne Novine are not very broadly read. The Slovenian section of the Novine publishes the programme of Radio Ljubljana, among other things.

Future developments can only be foreseen in the light of the present day; that is why it interests us.                                                 

 

Jadranski koledar 1976 (Trieste)

 

 

 

DRAGO PAHOR (1905, Shkedenj / Servola near Trieste – 1980, Trieste), teacher, political and cultural worker, publicist. He completed the teaching college in Tolmin (1924), was a teacher in Barkovlje (Barcola) and in Sv. Jakob (San Giovanni) in Trieste; in 1928 he illegally left for Ljubljana and was a teacher in Trbovlje 1931-1941. During the National Liberation War, he organised Partisan schools and courses for teachers, also in Primorska. After the war he was a rapporteur for Slovenian schools in Trieste, secretary of the Slovenian-Croatian Educational Union (1948), head of the department for history and ethnology in the National and Study Library in Trieste, director of the Slovenian halls of residence (for pupils) in Trieste (1953-1965). In 1953, he founded the organisation of Slovenian scouts [taborniki] in Italy. He studied the history of Primorska, especially the history of Slovenian schools, and wrote many articles on the subject and some books. He was also editor of the Trieste Adriatic Yearbook (one interesting article he published in it was a thematic-poetological discussion entitled Simon Gregorchich and the sea, 1967).

Drago Pahor was particularly interested in the Raba Slovenians because coming from Primorska they interested him as an example of an ethnic group in danger at the opposite end of Slovenia (parallels between the Venetian and the Raba Slovenians). The above excerpt from a longer essay by Pahor on the Raba Slovenians is included in the Lives Journal as part of its critical reflection on the fate of the Slovenian peripheral regions (Carinthia, Primorska, Istria), which in this issue is extended also to the region of Prekmurje. (Ed. I. A.)

 

 

Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich

 

 

 

Slovenian (bohorichica)

Slovenian (gajica)