European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

25 posts categorized "Slovenia"

17 May 2024

Continental cookbooks

From 17 May to 3 June 2024, the British Library celebrates its sixth Food Season, with a range of events that highlight the stories, the politics, and the people behind how and why we eat. While practical in their intent, cookbooks offer fascinating insights into the time and place of their production. The British Library’s rich collection of cookbooks provides an engaging way to trace evolving attitudes and tastes that have shaped cuisines and cultures. To mark this year's food season, today’s blog features a selection of some of our favorite cookbooks within the European Collections at the British Library. Bon appetit!


Kuharske Bukve

The first cookbook in Slovene was printed in 1799 as “the beginning of the Slovene cuisine”. It was compiled and edited by Valentin Vodnik, a Slovene poet and journalist. He translated recipes mainly from a variety of German cookery writers and titled his book Kuharske Βukve (Cook Books).

The title page of Kuharske bukve with an illustration of a nude figure stirring a pot.

Facsimile reprint of Valentin Vodnik’s 1799 work, Kuharske Βukve (Lublin, 1999) YF.2012.a.5. The original can be seen in the Slovene Digital Library.

The book comprises Vodnik’s introduction on healthy food and translations of 300 recipes arranged in 22 sections: soups; vegetable, meat and poultry dishes; sauces; egg and dairy dishes, fish and seafood dishes; cakes, drinks, etc. Each recipe has a title in Slovene culinary terminology.

This cookbook was printed at a time of important activities to further advance the Slovene language and was also significant for Slovene culinary practice. In his introduction Vodnik posed the questions: “Why would we steal words? Isn't the Slovenian language quite capable?” He stated the basic rules of healthy eating and asserted that “everything from which dishes are cooked must be healthy, and the cooking method must also be healthy”.

Frontispiece showing an image of a two cooks in a kitchen

Frontispiece of Vodnik’s cookbook with the inscription “Good food for hungry people”

Selected by Milan Grba, Lead Curator of South-East European Collections

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History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks

In History on Our Plate, Peter G. Rose describes how some of today’s favourite American staples, such as coleslaw and cookies were introduced by Dutch settlers.

Image showing the cover of 'History on Our Plate'. Cover design features Etende Vrouw (1647), an oil painting by Hendrick Martenszoon Sough that depicts a woman tasting something from a jug with a spoon

Cover of Peter G. Rose, History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks (Syracuse, 2019). YK.2021.a.586.

Rose takes inspiration from the earliest (anonymously) published cooking book in the Dutch language: De Verstandige Kock (‘The Sensible Cook’), which also includes De Hollandtse slacht-tydt (‘The Dutch Butchering time’) as well as De verstandige confituurmaker, (‘The Sensible Confectioner’). This highly rated book was often sent to Dutch settlers by their relatives back in the Netherlands.

Title page of De Verstandige Kock showing image of a two cooks working in a period kitchen

The title page of De Verstandige Kock (Amsterdam: Marcus Doornick, 1669) 441.b.21.(7.)

Other sources he uses are manuscript (so unpublished) cooking books, written by American / Dutch women. Around 2011 a database was set up to digitise some of these handwritten recipe books, the ‘Manuscript Cookbooks Survey’. Now we can all try out centuries old Dutch /American recipes!

Selected by Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections

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Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs, aka Tselementes

Authored by chef Nikolaos Tselementes, the 1926 Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs was Greece’s first complete cookery book that triggered the modernisation of Greek cuisine with the introduction of European components such as béchamel sauce. The book was so influential that the surname Tselementes is used as a synonym for a cookbook to the present day.

The cover of Nikolaos Tselemetes' cookbook, bearing only his surname and an illustration of the head of a chef in blue on a black background

The cover of the 1976 edition Nikolaos Tselementes, Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs (Athens, 1976) X.622/2509.

Despite its revolutionising elements, the book reflected the reality of what was still a male-dominated Greek society. In its first few pages, it featured the ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’, an outdated and anti-feminist text written by Carmen Sylva (real name Elisabeth of Wied, first Queen of Romania), which urges the woman - housewife to serve only as queen in the kitchen, act as servant to her husband, and be obliged always to agree with, obey, flatter him and, above all, respect his mother whom he had loved first!

A page with instructions to women from the 'Decalogue to the Ladies' in Greek. On the left there is an illustration of an attractive woman in a red strapless dress standing behind a man sat on a chair with her arms on his shoulders

The ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’ at the start of Tselementes’s cookbook from the 1976 edition.

Selected by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections

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La cucina futurista

Here is a cookbook you can’t live without. Marinetti’s 1932 Futurist Cookbook challenges the perception of Italian cuisine: everything is subverted, from the order of the courses to the scandalous rejection of pasta. The recipes suggested were actually prepared during ‘futurist’ banquets, gatherings resembling performance art where everything, from the crockery to the sound, was created on purpose. Despite being a satirical work, the application of modern science and technology to gastronomy suggested in the book (ozone generators, UV lamps, nutrient-dense powders) is an innovative element that anticipates today’s molecular cuisine. What never changes is the pleasure of hosting and sitting at the table, sharing a meal and enjoying conviviality.

Tan cover of La cucina futurista with red print for the author, title and publishing info.

The cover of F.T. Marinetti and Fillìa, La cucina futurista (Italy, 1932) Cup.408.ww.45.

Selected by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

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Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food

Lapitsiĭ is a pen name of Andrey Sannikov, a Belarusian oppositionist and a champion of human rights, who stepped into the arena of the 2010 presidential elections, challenging the entrenched power of Alexander Lukashenko. The aftermath of that fateful election was nothing short of a whirlwind: Sannikov found himself imprisoned, a captive of his convictions, after taking part in a demonstration organised by the opposition. The walls closed in, and for 16 months, his voice was silenced, but his spirit remained unbroken.

Cover of 'Zapreshchennaia kukhnia' with a photograph of a bowl of food and the view through a prison cell door

Cover of Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (Warsaw, 2023) YF.2023.a.24545

In the depths of captivity, Sannikov grappled with the stark reality of losing more than just his physical freedom. The very act of choosing what to eat — a simple, everyday privilege — was dictated by others. Hunger became a harsh reminder of his constrained existence, a tool used to bend the will of the incarcerated. Food, often bland and scarce, became a canvas for creativity. In the face of deprivation, inmates concocted imaginative variations of borscht, herring beneath a fur coat salad, and layered birthday cakes. For them, ‘cooking is a territory of freedom,’ a small triumph of choice and creativity amid confinement.

Photograph of a a prison cell with a table set for a meal

A prison cell with a table set for a meal, illustration from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia

And so emerged Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (‘Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food’) —a symbol of resilience and defiance. Beyond a mere meal, food became an act of rebellion, an assertion of their humanity. In these culinary creations, born out of necessity and ingenuity, lay the embodiment of the most imaginative and delicious declaration of independence.

Photograph of potatoes and potato soup with a recipe

Potato soup from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia.

Selected by Olga Topol, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections

13 September 2023

The Slovenian Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment in Slovenian lands was initiated by a group of like-minded people who advocated the change of the linguistic and cultural practices of the time, which relied exclusively on the use of the Latin and German languages. The Slovenian educators believed that the national language could be used equally for religious and secular purposes. Guided by this idea, they produced a critical body of literature that not only preserved the Slovenian language but also paved the way for the development of a modern literary language.

Grammars, dictionaries, histories, textbooks, translations of religious and secular texts from Latin and German, the first newspapers, original plays and modern literary adaptations were the main means to save the Slovenian language and raise national awareness.

In 1768, the priest, grammarian and lexicographer Marko Pohlin (1735-1801) published Kraynska grammatika (‘Carniolan Grammar’), which started off this cultural movement.

Title page of the 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov

The 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov = Das ist: das kleine Wörterbuch in dreyen Sprachen = Quod est: parvum dictionarium trilingue (Ljubljana, 1781). X.950/9786. The original can be seen in the Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs

Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs (Nuremberg, 1796). BL 1437.e.11. This is the second edition of Linhart’s History of Carniola and Other South Slavs of Austria, which was originally published in two volumes in Ljubljana in 1788-1791.

Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795) was the author of the first authoritative history of the Slovene nation. He was also the first Slovene playwright and theatre producer, author of Şhupanova Mizka (‘Micka, the Mayor’s Daughter’) and Ta veşsęli dan, ali: Matizhek şe shęni (‘This Merry Day or Matiček is Getting Married’), an adaptation from Beaumarchais’s The Marrige of Figaro

Title page of Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino

Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino (‘Trial Poems’) (Ljubljana, 1806.) Cup.401.a.15. 

Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819) a poet, journalist and linguist was the editor, writer, translator and technical designer of the first Slovene newspaper, Lublanske novize (‘The Ljubljana News’). Modelled on the Wiener Zeitung and used for promoting Slovenian language, culture and identity, it was printed by Janez Friderik Eger in Ljubljana between 1797-1800. Vodnik translated European news from German and he also published local news from Ljubljana and Carniola. Lublanske novize was first published as a semi-weekly and later as a weekly.

First page of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino

'A Song About My Countrymen', the title of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino. From Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark

Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark. (Ljubljana, 1808) 829.e.12.

Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) a Slavist and national revivalist was the author of a scholarly and influential Grammar of the Slavonic Language in Carniola, Carinthia and Styria printed by Wilhelm Heinrich Korn in Ljubljana in 1808.

Pohlin, Linhart, Vodnik and Kopitar, among other Slovenian writers and scientists, were part of the cultural group named after their patron, Baron Sigismund (Žiga) Zois (1747-1819), a large landowner, naturalist and enlightened person. The group was united by their shared values of education and the promotion of Slovenian language, literature and culture.

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Ljubljana, 1811) 1488.bb.8.

Vodnik’s Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (‘Literacy or Grammar for the Elementary Schools’) contains an introductory part, and on eight unnumbered pages, a hymn entitled ‘Iliria oshivlena’ (‘Illyria resurrected’) in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte and the formation of the Illyrian Provinces as part of his French Empire from 1809 to 1814. During this period the Illyrian Provinces made economic and cultural advances felt long after the Austrians retook the territory in 1814. Vodnik’s Slovene language textbook also endured with the exception of its pro-French introductory parts.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Slovenian Enlightenment literature from Slovenian Digital Library:

Geschichte des Herzogthums Krain, des Gebiethes von Triest und der Grafschaft Görz (Valentin Vodnik, 1809) 

Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Valentin Vodnik, 1811)

Dictionarium slavo-carniolicum. III partis a 1787/1798 manuscript by Blaž Kumerdej (1738-1805) a school teacher, philologist and educator 

Svetu pismu noviga testamenta, id est: Biblia sacra novi testamenti ... ( A 1784-1786 translation of the New Testament) 

Svetu pismu stariga testamenta id est: Biblia sacra veteris testamenti ... (A 1791-1802 translation of the Old Testament) 

Glossarium Slavicum in supplementum ad primam partem Dictionarii Carniolici (Marko Pohlin, 1792) 

Vadenje sa brati v' usse sorte pissanji sa sholarje teh deshelskeh shol v' zessarskih krajlevih deshelah (Reading textbook for schoolchildren, translation by Blaž Kumerdej, 1796) 

Navúk k' osdravlenju te pluzhníze s' shelesnato solno kislostjo (Treatment of lung disease, 1804) 

Mustertafel zur Aufsuchung krain : Wörter (Blaž Kumerdej, 1750-1800) 

08 March 2023

Traders, spies, suffragettes? Women in cultural anthropology

‘… she was a foolish young woman who never realised the nature of her error,’ said Derek Freeman of Margaret Mead. Mead, an advocate of abortion rights and no-fault divorce, was one of many early women anthropologists who suffered from androcentric bias. While Ruth Benedict claimed that the purpose of anthropology is ‘to make the world safe for human difference,’ women faced various obstacles and discrimination and yet still played a crucial part in the formative years of cultural anthropology.

Even if some scholars such as Edward B. Tylor advocated for women to be included in the discipline, a woman, particularly professionally educated, was a rare breed in early ethnology and anthropology studies. We have heard of Mead or Benedict, both well-established figures in Western scientific circles. However, anthropologists and ethnologists from Eastern Europe whose work is important for humanities barely register in public consciousness.

Photograph of Julia Averkieva

Photograph of Julia Averkieva from Julia Averkieva and Mark A. Sherman’s Kwakiutl String Figures (Vancouver, 1992) YA.1993.b.7126. 

Outside of specialist circles, it is unusual to hear about Julia Averkieva, a Soviet student of Franz Boas, or Branislava Sušnik, a Slovenian-Paraguayan anthropologist who has a street named after her in Asunción and a stamp issued by the Paraguayan Post with her portrait on it.

Photograph of Branislava Sušnik

Photograph of Branislava Sušnik from Branislava Sušnik’s Artesanía indígena: ensayo analítico (Asunción, 1986) YA.1992.a.22026. 

Equally, women ethnographers, such as the Czech Teréza Nováková, who had to publish her findings in a journal called Housewife (Czech: Domací hospodyně), are rarely celebrated. Nováková was not only a collector of patterns, embroidery, and ceramics, but also a passionate feminist fighting for women’s rights.

Illustration from Teréza Nováková’s, Kroj lidový národní vyšivání na Litomyšlsku

Illustration from Teréza Nováková’s, Kroj lidový národní vyšivání na Litomyšlsku (Olomouci, 1890) 7705.h.28. 

One of the rare exceptions who managed to establish herself in the Western-oriented discipline was Maria Czaplicka. This Polish-born, British-educated anthropologist registered on the Western-centered academic radar and, to a lesser extent, in the British public awareness.

Portrait of Maria Czaplicka

Portrait of Maria Czaplicka from her book My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2. 

Czaplicka passed her A-levels in partitioned Poland at a male school, as matura (A-levels) from a girls’ school would not allow her to continue to higher education. When, as the first woman in the history of the programme, she was awarded the Mianowski Scholarship, she could finally afford to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science and later at Oxford. After her very successful Yenisei expedition, described in detail in the diary My Siberian Year, she became the first female lecturer in anthropology at Oxford University. Unfortunately, she had to give up this position when an academic whom she was replacing came back from the First World War. Czaplicka actively supported suffrage and combated anti-Polish propaganda present in the British press. After assisting Franz Boas in the United States, she moved to a new position at Bristol University. However, her career in a male-dominated academic field started to decline, and in 1921, after failing to secure funding that would allow her to pay her debts, the anthropologist committed suicide.

Czaplicka was one of the trailblazing female academics. Unfortunately, as in the case of many of her female colleagues, her gender and marital status played a role in the way she and her work were perceived. She had to deal with issues her male colleagues in the same discipline never encountered – gender was a stumbling block to a successful future in the field of academia. Even the fact that Czaplicka travelled during her expedition in the company of a man was frowned upon. Women doing fieldwork were perceived with a certain suspicion. In My Siberian Year, Maria recalls: ‘This reminds me…of ingenious conjectures put forward by certain Sibiriaks to account for the appearance of three foreign women in the remote region of their country. One thought we were traders; another said "Spies!"; a third added fresh terrors to the disagreeable possibilities suggested by the first two explanations – we were suffragettes, banished to Siberia by the British Government, through a special arrangement with the Tsar.’

Czaplicka, who herself could proudly wear a ‘suffragette’ badge, is one of the heroines of an exhibition currently on show at The National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. "Women Ethnographers, Anthropologists, and Professors" aims to change the focus from history to herstory. The curator's talk is available here.

Photograph of Maria Czaplicka and two unnamed women

Illustration from Maria Czaplicka’s My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2. The original caption states ‘The author riding Dolgan fashion with a riding stick’. The presence of two, probably Dolgan, women who are in the picture is not mentioned. Except for her closest European travel companions and a ‘man-servant’, the subjects of Czaplicka’s photo remain nameless, identifiable only by their ethnicity. Such an approach, symptomatic of the early anthropology era, clearly demonstrates the imbalanced scientist-native power dynamic. 

Despite facing many obstacles, in due course, women managed to put their stamp on ethnography, ethnology, cultural anthropology, and various fields in science. Czaplicka, Sušnik, Nováková, and their numerous counterparts in Western anthropology took a stand, firmly believing in their own abilities, and forwarded women’s cause. It is indisputable that we should re-evaluate their body of work, taking into consideration today's system of values. Pioneering women in anthropology were a part of the same system as their male colleagues, the system that enabled colonial attitudes that allowed empires to persist and thrive. However, this does not mean that we should not give credit where it is overdue. In the words of French anthropologist Françoise Héritier, ‘indeed, you must never take things as established; you must ask about their basis.’

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

21 January 2022

“Only your work will be remembered”: the 150th anniversary of Jože Plečnik’s birth

On 21 July 2021, UNESCO added four new cultural sites to its World Heritage List. One of these four was the work of the architect Jože Plečnik on Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana in the years between the world wars, transforming it from a provincial town into a celebrated example of modern, “human centred design” that nevertheless maintained a “dialogue” with the older elements of the city centre.

Portrait of Jože Plečnik

Portrait of Jože Plečnik by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist. 

A few months later, the Slovenian government declared that 2022 would be considered “the year of Plečnik”, emphasising this honour and the 150th anniversary of his birth. There will be exhibitions, tours and new publications focusing on his oeuvre, which extends far beyond Ljubljana and can be found in every corner of the country. It will kick off with a series of events in the historic yet industrious town of Kamnik, where among other things he designed a memorial chapel to soldiers of both world wars, renovated the station, and – in the forest nearby – erected a hunting lodge for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander.

Hunting lodge in Kamnik designed by Jože Plečnik

Hunting lodge in Kamnik designed by Jože Plečnik for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander. Photo: Janet Ashton 

Slovenia is justly proud of Plečnik as the architect of a very recognisable national style, but he was also a true son of Central Europe, born in 1872 as a subject of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and educated also in Graz and Vienna, where he studied under Otto Wagner. To Vienna he contributed the immediately noticeable Zacherlhaus in the city centre, and enjoyed a certain measure of favour in highest quarters, working on a fountain in honour of the mayor Karl Lueger, and collaborating with Lueger and the ill-fated Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg on building a church in the district of Ottakring, whose working class inhabitants they hoped to inspire with religious feelings that would immure them against radical activities. Plečnik had instinctive sympathy for the Christian Social movement Lueger represented, and throughout his life was interested in popular expressions of Catholicism and their links with national identity.

Given his success and his position in the political mainstream, he even hoped to succeed Wagner as professor of Architecture at the School of Fine Arts, but the style of the Holy Ghost Church fell foul of the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, whose tastes were far more conservative and who likened the church to a stable crossed with a sauna. Plečnik found his appointment blocked.

Obelisk designed by Plečnik on the Moravian Bastion of Prague Castle

Obelisk designed by Plečnik on the Moravian Bastion of Prague Castle. Photo: Janet Ashton

Convinced that his career in Vienna was over, he moved to Prague at the invitation of Jan Kotěra, another of Wagner’s pupils, and took up a post at the college of arts and crafts. He was teaching in Prague when the Habsburg empire split apart and the cities in which he had made his life and career found themselves in three separate countries. On a personal level, this was a traumatic experience for many people, never again sure to which nation they belonged, but for Plečnik it also afforded new opportunities in developing national styles with specific political overtones. His first major project for the successor states was to renovate Prague Castle, transforming the dilapidated and forbidding Habsburg fortress into a “democratic” residence for the new President of the Czechoslovak Republic, a seat and symbol of the liberal, middle class nation its leaders aspired to create. Whereas his contact with hereditary royalty was always awkward, he developed a great rapport with both the President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and with Masaryk’s daughter Dr. Alice Masaryková, who shared a profound involvement in the project. Symbolic of their complex national history, he and Alice corresponded in German, the language of the vanished empire, because despite his years in Prague Plečnik lacked confidence in his own Czech-speaking abilities.

Interior of the Sacred Heart Church in Vinohrady

Interior of the Sacred Heart Church in Vinohrady designed by Jože Plečnik. Photo: Janet Ashton

In 1921 he was invited to return to Ljubljana and take up a post at the School of Architecture at the new University. He was reluctant at first, fearing that he was moving to a backwater, but he also felt a patriotic obligation to the Slovenian people, and in the end he accepted. This post would lead to his celebrated impact on the whole of the Slovenian capital, where he remodelled bridges, built churches, and designed the national library, city stadium and cemetery. But at the same time, he also worked on projects in far more modest locations, renovating a church in the tiny north-eastern town of Bogojina, for example, simply in the hope of inspiring its townsfolk. He had limited impact on the wider Yugoslavia of which Slovenia was a component part, but did undertake two projects for the Yugoslav royal family for their visits to Slovenia. His relationship with the military-minded King Alexander was as awkward as that with Franz Ferdinand had been, however, and nothing ever came close to the rapport he had enjoyed with Masaryk and Alice.

Drawing of the National/University Library and Napoleon memorial in Ljubljana

Drawing of the National/University Library and Napoleon memorial in Ljubljana by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist. 

Jože Plečnik lived an ascetic and fairly reclusive life according to his own motto, “Minljiv si, le tvoja dela so tvoj spomin” (“only your work will be remembered”) at his home in Ljubljana (which is now a museum). He survived the occupation of the city by first Fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany, and continued to teach until the last days of his life. Alenka KhamPičman, now an artist who often paints her tutor’s buildings, recalls that he came on foot to the University every day and sat all morning marking projects and sketching out ideas for his students to take up. She admired him for his “imagination, knowledge, perseverance and discipline” and for his strict commentary on his pupils’ work.

Plečnik died aged 85 in 1957. Under Communism his architecture was unfashionable and often ignored (“he was pushed away by the modern world” says Alenka KhamPičman sadly), but from 1991 the independence of Slovenia brought a new focus on his work and the national spirit he had tried to embody, elevating him to the status of a national hero and symbol of his country.

Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager

With particular thanks to Alenka KhamPičman for her memories and permission to use her paintings

References/further reading:

The British Library holds a very large number of books and journals in various languages that throw light on Plečnik’s life and work. They range from beautifully illustrated city guidebooks and exhibition catalogues to critical academic studies to facsimiles, memoir by associates, and biographies. A mere sample is as follows:

Maja Avguštin, Saša Lavrinc. Plečnik na Domžalskem in Kamniškem, [fotografije Drago Bac]. (Ljubljana, 2010). YF.2012.a.19139

Noah Charney. Eternal architect: the life and art of Jože Plečnik, modernist mystic. (Ljubljana, 2017). LD.31.b.4492

Great immortality: studies on European cultural sainthood, edited by Marijan Dović, Jón Karl Helgason [includes studies on the cultural and Catholic admiration for both Gaudi and Plečnik]. (Leiden, 2019). YD.2019.a.5108

Andrej Hrausky. Plečnik’s architecture in Ljubljana (Ljubljana, 2017). YF.2019.a.8928

Andrej Hrausky. Jože Plečnik: Dunaj, Praga, Ljubljana. (Ljubljana, 2007). LF.31.b.8502

Ivan Margolius. Church of the Sacred Heart. (London, 1995). LB.31.b.24563

Josip Plečnik: an architect of Prague Castle. [compiled by] Zdeněk Lukeš, Damjan Prelovšek, Tomáš Valen. (Prague, 1997). LB.31.b.17345.

O plečniku: prispevki k preučevanju, interpretaciji in popularizaciji njegovega dela. Tomáš Valena ; prevod iz nemščine Marjana Karer, Špela Urbas ; prevod iz češčine Nives Vidrih. (Celje, 2013). LF.31.b.10948

Plečnik na Loškem: Galerija Loškega muzeja Škofja Loka, 8. 6.-31. 10. 2007. besedila Damjan Prelovšek et al.; uvod Jana Mlakar; fotografija Damjan Prelovšek ... et al.. (Skofja Loka, 2007). YF.2011.a.12830.

Jože Plečnik, Jan Kotěra. Jože Plečnik--Jan Kotěra: dopisovanje 1897-1921, uredil, komentiral in prevedel Damjan Prelovšek. (Ljubljana, 2004). YF.2010.b.2359.

Jože Plečnik, Dunajske risbe =The Vienna drawings. text by Peter Krečič. (Ljubljana, 1994). HS.74/1194

Damjan Prelovšek. Josef Plečnik, 1872-1957: architectura perennis, aus dem Slowenischen von Dorothea Apovnik. (Salzburg, 1992). LB.31.b.17818

Lukeš Zdeněk. Jože Plečnik: průvodce po stavbách v České republice; současné fotografie Jiří Podrazil. (Prague, 2012). YF.2013.a.1546

30 September 2020

“Contested commemoration”: Trieste’s memorials of Fascism, Nazism and World War Two

On 13 July 2020 the city of Trieste marked the centenary of the arson attack on the Slovene National Hall by returning it to the use of the Slovenian-speaking community there. During a day of commemorations for victims of the fascist and war periods attended by the current President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, the Italian President Sergio Mattarella handed ownership to two Slovenian-speaking associations.

In these troubled times, when stories of the rise of the far right abound in many countries, Trieste seems to be trying to take the opposite route, confronting and coming to terms with its own complicated history. The fate of and attitudes to the Slovenian community there act as a mirror to this history.

Photograph of the Slovene National Hall

Photograph of the Slovene National Hall prior to the arson attack in 1920. Image from the National Library of Slovenia 

The National Hall was a symbol of worldly success in late Habsburg Trieste. It contained a theatre, a library, and a hotel, and was built to the highest modern standards based on plans by the local architect Max Fabiani. Its existence sent the clear message that people need no longer abandon the Slovenian language to attain success: it was the language of some of the most successful citizens, as vital to Trieste as German and Italian, the languages of administration.

When a group of Blackshirts burnt the Hall down, to the apparent passivity of local police, it marked the beginning of a very dark period – and not just for the Slovenes. Trieste, a symbolically crucial site for Italian nationalism, became a laboratory and showcase for fascism, with new buildings erected on a massive scale and fascist agitators shipped in from other parts of the country to encourage the movement’s development there. Fabiani himself joined, just one year after the destruction of his own work on the National Hall. From its university to its lighthouse, the graceful Habsburg port acquired a nationalist and then totalitarian overlay.

Yet, ironically, it took the collapse of the fascist government for things to reach their nadir. In 1943, the successful Allied invasion of southern Italy led to Mussolini’s dismissal and disavowal by the King, and the occupation of the northern half of the country by its Nazi “allies.” Trieste and the province of Fruili became part of the Reich, forcibly tugged back into their pre-1918 alignment with central Europe. It was the Nazis who converted an urban rice processing plant, the Risiera di San Sabba, into a transit camp, with indications that it was also intended from the start as a death camp, the only one actually inside an Italian city, within earshot of the population. Ovens designed for drying rice provided a ready-made infrastructure for a new, grimmer, purpose.

Prisoners held at San Sabba – some to die there, some on their way to other camps across occupied Europe – ranged from local Jews to people with learning disabilities to other members of the area’s resistance to fascism, including the writers Boris Pahor and Giani Stuparich. In charge of the camp was one of Austria’s most notorious Nazis: Odilo Globočnik, the man responsible for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Poland, among numerous other appalling crimes.

Globočnik was born in Trieste himself: his name suggests that he was an ethnic Slovene, though his ancestors were from Tržič on the modern border with Austria rather than the Trieste area as such. After returning to his birthplace in 1943, Globočnik oversaw the deaths of up to 5,000 people at the Risiera before fleeing to Carinthia where he committed suicide when captured by Allied troops. Many of his associates, however, escaped without trial or retribution into post-war civilian life.

As Tito’s and other Partisans arrived in the Trieste area, a huge range of reprisals began against locals perceived as collaborators with the Fascist or Nazi regimes. On the Karst above the city, they followed Fascist examples in using natural cracks and chasms in the rock to conceal the bodies of thousands, a grim exercise echoed in many parts of Yugoslavia as the incoming regime rounded on those who had prospered during the war years. Trieste’s own fate was not settled for almost a decade: occupied by Allied troops and argued over by Italy and Yugoslavia, the city was ultimately assigned to Italy again, but lost its Slovene-speaking hinterland, which had been Italian between the wars, to the reconstituted Yugoslavia. Sections of population fled in both directions.

At Basovizza/Basovica, a karst village that is now effectively a suburb of Trieste, the mass grave at the Foiba, the chasm, and the nearby memorial to four young Slovene resistance fighters of the anti-Fascist TIGR movement stood as sad reminders of recent history, and a particular focus for aggrieved locals.

Photograph of the Foiba

The Foiba. Photography by Janet Ashton

For domestic and other reasons, much of Italy’s war history went unexamined in the country more widely. It suited the strong Italian Communist Party not to say much about the various Foibe (some of their own members might, after all, have been perpetrators) and it suited many more to look on Fascist war crimes as somehow “less bad” than those committed by the Nazis, the perennial Teutonic invader of nationalist historiography. In the exhibition at the Risiera, for example, the perpetrators were presented as foreigners who had come in from Poland with the Nazi occupier, ignoring Globočnik’s local roots, the assistance of locals from all ethnic groups, and the racial policies of Mussolini’s government.

After the break-up of Yugoslavia things began to change, and investigations of mass graves from the 1940s took place in both Italy and Slovenia. The Foiba di Bassovizza suddenly became a new focus for Italian national identity and the memory politics of the emergent right, a symbol of “Slavic barbarity” and the dangers that lurked in Communist states. The annual commemoration ceremonies can acquire unpleasant overtones, with nationalists and even neo-fascists taking over what could be a simple remembrance for the dead and underlining it with territorial claims to the Istrian and Dalmatian coasts.

The official text on the walls at the memorial is more conciliatory, setting the massacres into the context of the repressive fascist years and pointing out that the killings were driven as much by politics as ethnicity, some of the victims being Slovenes or Croatians themselves.

Photograph of the TIGR memorial

The TIGR memorial. Photography by Janet Ashton

During the ceremonies to mark the handover of the National Hall, Borut Pahor and Sergio Matterella held hands before both the Foiba and the TIGR memorial, acknowledging and trying to put behind them the political and ethnic complexities of local history. There were decorations from both states for Boris Pahor, the Triestine Slovene who has never seemed fully at home in either country, and who is now, at the age of 106, finally emerging from a relative obscurity that stands in such contrast to the renown of that other Italian holocaust writer, Primo Levi.

Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager

Further reading on the Foibe and San Sabba and their place in Italian memorialisation of World War Two and the Holocaust:

Claudia Cernigoi, Operazione foibe a Trieste: come si crea una mistificazione storica : dalla propaganda nazifascista attraverso la guerra fredda fino al neoirredentismo. (Udine, 1997). YA.2001.a.24080

Dante Fangaresi, Dieci settimano a San Sabba. (Florence, 2003). YF.2007.a.10020

Ferruccio Fölkel, La Risiera di San Sabba: Trieste e il Litorale Adriatico durante l'occupazione nazista (Milan, 1979). X.809/48579

Susanne C. Knittel, The historical uncanny: disability, ethnicity, and the politics of holocaust memory. New York, 2015). m15/.10563

Paolino Nappi, ‘Between memory, didacticism and the Jewish revival: the Holocaust in Italian comic books’, Journal of modern Jewish studies, Vol. 17 No. 1 (2018). 5020.681700

Katia Pizzi, ‘Storia e memoria ai confini nordorientali di Italia'. Italian studies, Vol. 68 No. 3 (2013). P.P.5044.am.

M. Purvis, D. Atkinson, ‘Performing wartime memories: ceremony as contest at the Risiera di San Sabba death camp, Trieste’, Social & cultural geography Vol. 10 No. 3 (2009). 8318.042550

Louise Zamparutti, ‘Foibe literature: documentation or victimhood narrative?’, Human remains and violence, Vol.1 No. 1 (2015). ELD Digital store

Louise Zamparutti, ‘Brava Gente and the Counter (Re)public of Italy: Constructing the Foibe as a National Symbol,’ Romance studies, Vol. 35 No. 1 (2017). ELD Digital store

10 July 2020

Coronavirus (Covid-19) ephemera material from Southeast Europe

The British Library has joined forces with the Central and Eastern European Online Library to connect to open access electronic resources and preserve ephemeral material about society and health in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020.

Since 2006 the Central and Eastern European Online Library has provided access for our users to a growing collection of 2,300 humanities and social science journals from Central, East and Southeast Europe. This collection also includes more than 5,500 grey literature items and over 4,200 ebook titles.

Photograph of a group of people in a city square c. early 1900s. Features the CEEOL logo and words 'CEEOL - Broadening Horizons'

A resource ‘Covid-19 in Southeast Europe’ has been created for information and research into the activities of the public health professionals and organisations in the fight against the infection. The resource provides useful data on the provision of public health infrastructure and Covid-19 hospitals, and details of the measures employed in combating the pandemic by country and region within Southeast Europe.

This online resource documents how the appearance of yet another virus from nature, SARS Cov-2, has affected the social, cultural, private and religious life and the health of the peoples of Southeast Europe. The material gathered in one place demonstrates the relativity of any current data comparison, such the one published by Forbes, ‘100 Safest Countries in the World for COVID-19’ , based on the Deep Knowledge Group report, and highlights the importance of locally available data. Some ambiguities and contradictions in publicly available reports demonstrate the lack of world leadership in the pandemic. On the other hand at the local level the data show various attitudes and differences in opinions between experts in advisory roles. These new experiences only serve to show the gravity and uniqueness, scale and complexity of the crisis the world is facing at the moment.

As far as Southeast Europe is concerned, one conclusion that can be drawn is that so far major casualties and the collapse of the healthcare systems have been avoided, and all countries have managed to preserve the functioning of the vital systems of state and society.

A poster in Serbian showing how to protect yourself from Covid-19

“How to protect yourself from a new coronavirus infection” A poster published regularly in the Belgrade daily Politika.

We are grateful to the Serbian public health institute for giving us permission to reuse their open access material, and to the Central and Eastern European Online Library for harvesting and arranging this material for our users.

A poster showing the symptoms of Covid-19

The symptoms of a new coronavirus. Let us be responsible to ourselves and others.

A poster aimed at showing how to protect children against Covid-19

The new coronavirus - recommendations for children. How to protect yourself against infection

A poster showing 3 ways to protect against Covid-19

“One - two - three. You too protect yourself".

A poster showing how to use a mask correctly

How to use a mask properly.

Certificate of a building disinfection in Belgrade

Disinfection of the City of Belgrade’s Stari grad borough. Certificate of a building disinfection.

A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety

A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety put in a shop window reads: “Everything will be fine. Follow the prescribed measures and be careful. The coronavirus will pass.”

Other open access content related to research into Covid-19, including scholarly journals, can be located via our Find Electronic Resources pages.

The colleagues and partners in the Central and Eastern European Online Library and the British Library believe that access to e-resources is important, necessary and useful. However, ‘e-only’ – especially in connection with social distancing – cannot and should not replace the real human relations, interactions and encounters, which hopefully will return to our everyday life in the near future.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections 

Bea Klotz and Iulian Tanea, Central and Eastern European Online Library

27 May 2020

Libraries and librarians from Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020

The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.

Covers of two volumes of Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik

Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik (‘The Dictionary of Church Slavonic language’) (Sofia, 2002-2012) ZF.9.b.748.

Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.

The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.

Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library

 

Two drawings of ships by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia

Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414

The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.

The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.

The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.

While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.

Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”

 

Cover of Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore

Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.

The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.

Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.

Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!

Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro

 

Cover of Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung...

Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.

The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.

The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (Herald).

After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.

As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.

Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

 

Cover of Javne biblioteke i demokratija

Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.

The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.

The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.

In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.

Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.

Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian

 

Cover of a facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik

Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.

The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.

For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.

In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!

Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian

 

1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.

We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.

We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.

The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.

A 1974 letter from Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975, to Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia

A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.

We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.

Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana

22 May 2020

“City of exiles”: Trieste and its authors

Trieste is a city of writers, and it celebrates them loudly. It was writers who developed the current mythology and image of the city, and it is profoundly grateful to them for creating an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy and regret that draws a certain kind of visitor to the place and fuels an endless series of newspaper articles about an Italian city that is not quite Italian, but which would be much less noticed if it were.

Photograph of the James Joyce statue in Trieste

James Joyce statue in Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton 

At first glance, it seems to be foreign writers who define Trieste. James Joyce is perhaps the most physically obvious, his statue overlooking the Grand Canal and his name emblazoned on the cafes he drank in. But it may be Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, who has contributed most to perceptions of Trieste itself in the Anglophone world. It is Morris for whom the city’s name evokes the word “tristesse” and whose travelogue fuses impressions of the gentle backwater that is modern Trieste with the angry, beleaguered city she first visited in the immediate post-war period, and with the grand, cosmopolitan port of the Habsburgs.

View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste, at night.

Habsburg Trieste. View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton

That foreign writers loom large tallies well with Trieste’s cosmopolitan demeanour: it is, after all, a port, a “city of exiles”, as Morris calls it, and one famously situated at the crossing point between Germanic, Slavic and Romance cultures as well.

Yet when it comes to its own native authors, Trieste long seemed to be under the sway of Italian nationalism. Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba – Italophone writers like these were the most noted literary offspring of the city. It was as if the city’s multiculturalism was more a boast than an integrated element of its own identity, and as it drew exiles from other nations it simultaneously exiled many of its own offspring in either a spiritual or a physical sense.

Trieste – along with Trento – was one of the Austrian cities symbolically most coveted by Italy in the years before the first world war. After its annexation in 1918, it became a living memorial to this fact, complete with museums of irredentism and the inevitable array of squares and street names commemorating dates or individuals important to the Italian state. A policy of suppression was adopted towards the German and Slovene languages.

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015. © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

The best known of the writers who grew up in those years may currently be Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old Triestine Slovene, who is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a concentration camp. Pahor is also undoubtedly the only person alive who can recall the burning of the Slovene National Hall in Trieste in 1920, an event which now seems to mark the beginning of the Fascist period. For his own resistance to fascism, he was sent to internal exile in the city’s grim Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp, and from there to the several death camps he managed to survive. In 1946, Pahor returned to his native city and has remained there for most of his life since, but it is only in the last few years that it has begun to celebrate him as it does its Italian-speaking writers, holding public ceremonies in his honour and flagging his works in bookshops as those of a local author. Pahor is even beginning to be better known in the English-speaking world since appearing in a BBC documentary, though few of his works beside his renowned concentration camp memoir, Nekropola, known in English as Necropolis or Pilgrim among shadows, have yet been translated.

Photograph of Trieste from the karst

Trieste from the karst. Photograph: Janet Ashton

Jan Morris ruminates on the city’s relationship with the karst that surrounds it, characterising that harsh and stony territory where Slovene is the dominant language as a symbol of the “Slavic” wildness threatening the orderly Habsburg city. Even in the later visits she explores in her book, a border lay between town and countryside – not as impermeable as the Iron Curtain borders further east, but a border with troops and a different ideology on the far side nevertheless. But the image she evokes seems to me almost a reverse of the genuine relationship, in which the neat little farm houses and wineries of the karst provide a calm and safe retreat from the traffic noise and the mildly grubby streets below.

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926. From the Digital Library of Slovenia 

Be this as it may, the city and countryside, with their topographical and linguistic contrasts, have always had an intense relationship that lends itself to literary metaphor. Srečko Kosovel, one of Slovenia’s most treasured national poets, was born in nearby Sežana in 1904 and received his cultural education at the doomed Slovene National Hall in Trieste. During the First World War trenches surrounded his home village Tomaj, marking his mental landscape as indelibly as did the natural features of the karst. After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo assigned the whole area to Italy. Kosovel moved to Ljubljana, now part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he could at least speak his own language without repression, yet he soon felt alienated from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia as well. His poetry used the harsh scenery of the karst as a metaphor for his own loneliness and disorientation. His celebrated poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) is often read as a rumination on his need for a specifically Slovenian identity. He was actively associated with the earliest expressions of resistance of fascism, and this too appears in his work.

Kosovel died in 1926 from meningitis at the age of only 22. He has long been honoured in Slovenia, but it took until events marking the 90th anniversary of his death for him to gain much attention in Trieste. In 2019, there was much excitement and pleasure in the Slovene-speaking press when Patti Smith quoted him during her concert there, evoking him alongside Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies are one of the most famous works created there, as an emblem and child of the city.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager 

Further reading:

Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (London, 2010). YC.2001.a.15891

Srečko Kosovel, Stano Kosovel, Boris Pahor, Milko Bambič, Srečko Kosovel v Trstu ([Trieste], 1970) YF.2011.a.3347

Boris Pahor, Nekropola (Ljubljana, 2009) YD.2012.a.4385

Necropolis (Edinburgh, 2020) ELD.DS.496000

Tržaški mozaik: izbor občasnih zapiskov (Ljubljana, 1983) YA.1987.a.2951

Trg Oberdan (Ljubljana, 2006) YF.2007.a.34744

Srečko Kosovel, The golden boat: selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated by Bert Pribac & David Brooks with the assistance of Teja Brooks Pribac (Cambridge, 2008) YC.2010.a.8821

Srečko Kosovel, Pesmi (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2005.a.15513

Ana Jelnikar, Universalist hopes in India and Europe: the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Srečko Kosovel (New Delhi, 2006) YC.2017.a.6504

17 April 2020

Slovenian gay poetry in translation: Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj

Recently while cataloguing, amongst donations I came across a Slovenian gay poetry book Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj (2019). I found it so intriguing that I was compelled to read it right through to the end without a break.

This is the first English language translation of the Slovenian original Slediti neizgovorjenemu (2018), translated by Harvey Vincent, a New York director, actor and teacher based in Paris, and a founding member of the American Theater Group of Paris. It is published by the American-based A Midsummer Night’s Press in their Body Language imprint devoted to LGBT voices. 

Cover of Tracing the Unspoken with a portrait by Stefano Cipollari

Cover of Milan Šelj, Tracing the Unspoken, (New York, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark

Šelj is an award-winning Slovenian poet and translator. He was born in 1960 and has lived and worked in London since 1992. He is the author of four poetry collections of which the first, Darilo (Gift), published by ŠKUC-Lambda in 2006, was described as ‘one of the most explicitly homoerotic poetry books in Slovenia thus far’. The essence of the book Tracing the Unspoken, as Gregory Woods describes it, is about ‘the individual who tries to make sense of desire’. It is not surprising that it is the unspoken that lures the reader; the emotional and sexual tension created by the universal language of desire, obsession and love. The writing is explicit and virile. Page after page, the compact stream of thoughts captures and guides through fragments of narrative that give meaning to words we would not be able to voice ourselves.

Page from Tracing the Unspoken

Excerpt from Tracing the Unspoken, p. 45. Awaiting shelfmark

An excerpt that caught my attention and resonates with the current times of lockdown will hopefully offer some comfort or escape in bridging distances with loved ones.

You have no idea how small this town is. Desperation is stifling and centuries old. Why don’t you cut off your shirtsleeves and send them to me? I’ll embrace myself with them when I’m not able to shorten your absence. To save myself, I’ll search for consolation between the scraps of fabric and let your scent linger on the cuffs.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References/Further reading:

Milan Šelj, Slediti neizgovorjenemu (Ljubljana, 2018) YF.2019.a.11088

Milan Šelj, Gradim gradove (Ljubljana, 2015) YF.2016.a.15174




 

05 February 2019

Against Totalitarianism: the Serbian émigré review ‘Naša reč’, 1948-1990

The review Naša reč (‘Our word’) was published in Paris from 1948 to 1958, then in London until 1990. Naša reč was printed in Serbian, initially every six weeks and from 1951 ten times a year. Democratically-oriented Yugoslav emigrants produced this journal for like-minded fellow emigrants in Western Europe and North America who opposed communism at home.

Although Naša reč advocated strongly against the communist political system imposed in 1945, it did not argue for a return to the pre-1941 regime in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Instead, it pleaded for a new democratic country as a community of free nations willing to live together in a federal state which would guarantee human rights and civil, social and religious freedoms to all citizens. Naša reč strongly believed in a western model of parliamentarian multi-party political system with a free press and free vote at its core. Its editors thought that the one-party system could be replaced by compromise and reform in a peaceful democratic transition. Naša reč provided a platform for political debate not only for Serbs but also for all Yugoslavs, and welcomed contributions from outside émigré communities.

As an open, independent, democratic and liberal, often unapologetically Serbian and yet genuinely Yugoslav phenomenon, Naša reč was unique among other South Slavonic emigrant publications published in Britain and in the west in this period.

Front cover of Naša reč for 1 September 1949Issue of Naša reč for 1 September 1949. (P.P.3554.nzs) with title header in Cyrillic.

Permanent columns in Naša reč besides the editorial were Yugoslav and international politics, history and current affairs, topics from emigré life, book reviews, opinions and polemics, and letters to the editorial board as well as useful information about the review and its contributors over time. The review was open to political and cultural contributions in general.

Front cover by Budimir D. Tošić from Dvadeset godina stave i rada Saveza OslobođenjeFront cover by Budimir D. Tošić from Dvadeset godina stave i rada Saveza Oslobođenje (London, 1970)  X.709/10307, a special edition of Naša reč

Naša reč was published by an alliance of Serbian political, social and cultural emigrant organisations in Western Europe called cooperatives. The membership of these cooperatives included the Young Democrats, the youth section of the Democratic Party, a major party in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Union Oslobođenje (‘Liberation’) was founded in 1949 as an umbrella organisation for the Western European and North American cooperatives. Naša reč was its official newspaper, funded mainly by the membership, but also by subscriptions, sales and donations.

Cover of Božidar Vlajić, Svodjenje računa i preispitivanje  Cover of Božidar Vlajić, Svodjenje računa i preispitivanje (London, 1960) W.P.7433/7. No. 7 of the series Naše delo published by Oslobođenje 

The majority of Oslobođenje’s members were young people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They belonged to the generation traumatised by enemy occupation and the ensuing civil war in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Oslobođenje organised biannual conferences and published political programmes abroad, but its ideas, ideology and plans were designed for the country it intended to change. Oslobođenje wholeheartedly supported Yugoslav dissidents and gave them a voice in Naša reč, and over time collaboration was extended to democratically-minded people in Yugoslavia. After the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito in 1980, Naša reč began receiving contributions from that country, and by the late 1980s it was being discreetly distributed in Belgrade.

Ethnographic map of Yugoslavia according to the 1921 and 1931 censuses and 1946 administrative divisionEthnographic map of Yugoslavia according to the 1921 and 1931 censuses and 1946 administrative division. From Desimir Tošić, Srpski nacionalni problemi (Paris, 1952) W.P.7433/1-4.

By creating a political model for a future multi-party system in the country, contributors to Naša reč were drawing on free thought, independent information, experience of public debate and critical media reporting in Britain. Between 1952 and 1988 the Union Oslobođenje published 17 books on Yugoslav political, historical, cultural and literary topics in the series Naše delo (Our work). While the review Naša reč was published solely in Roman script, giving the newspaper a Yugoslav character, the series Naše delo enabled authors to publish in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.

Cover of Kosta Stevan Pavlović, Ženidba Kralja Petra Drugog: prema Britanskim dokumentima Cover of Kosta Stevan Pavlović, Ženidba Kralja Petra Drugog: prema Britanskim dokumentima (London, 1975.) Series Naše delo no. 11. X.909/40358

In addition to the review and the series, Naša reč printed 15 special editions as offprints or separate publications between 1964 and 1990. These were mainly works and pamphlets by Yugoslav dissidents and writers such as Milovan Đilas, Mihajlo Mihajlov, Miodrag Ilić, Gojko Đogo and others.

Leading figures of the Union Oslobođenje were behind all its publishing activities. Desimir Tošić was the sole editor of Naša reč and the chief writer of editorials together with Božidar Vlajić, a pre-war politician and prominent member of the Democratic Party.

A major permanent subject of political debate in Naša reč was the national question in Yugoslavia. Naša reč advocated a compromise and sought a solution that would command the support of the majority in each of the Yugoslav nations. The preferred option for Naša reč was a federal multi-party parliamentary state such as Switzerland, but it was also open to a Yugoslav confederation, self-rule or independence for the Yugoslav nations. The standpoint of Naša reč and the Union Oslobođenje in this matter was that the nations of Yugoslavia, not its constituent republics, should decide on the future form of government and state.

In the end Naša reč didn’t find an answer to the key question of the first and the second Yugoslavia, but believed in the future of the ‘Third Yugoslavia’, a democratic country of free and equal nations and citizens. With the renewal of the multi-party system in Yugoslavia in 1990 Naša reč ceased publication, and the Union Oslobođenje was able to transfer its ideas and experiences into the newly-founded Democratic Party in Serbia. In his last editorial Tošić declared that the journal had completed its mission but the struggle for democracy continued at home.

Front page of Naša reč. (No. 420, December 1990) The last issue of Naša reč. (No. 420, December 1990) with a header in Roman type against a stylized Cyrillic backdrop

Naša reč is an indispensable source for studying the questions of liberal and totalitarian ideologies during the Cold War, the problems of interwar and post-war politics in Yugoslavia, and the topic of nationalism in general. In 43 years, Naša reč had over 300 hundred contributors and published a total of over 6,000 pages. The British Library holds an almost complete set of Naša reč in 420 issues; the missing issues are 1-3 (1948) and 137 (1963).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Dejan Đokić (editor), Nesentimentalni idealisti. Desimir Tošić, Božidar Vlajić i uvodnici časopisa Naša reč (Belgrade, 2013) YF.2014.a.25606.

 

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