Slovenia, at the crossroads of Slavic, Germanic, and Romance cultures, and historically part of numerous states, kingdoms, and empires, identifies culturally as part of Central Europe — and entirely Slovenian, proud of having maintained an unbroken cultural identity throughout such tumultuous history. A member-state of Yugoslavia for much of the 20th century, yet part of the Habsburg rather than Ottoman empire, it retains a distinctly Germanic atmosphere — with a strong Balkan influence.
Slovenia is officially and socially a secular state today. After centuries of Catholicism as its state religion, with periods of Protestant reform, by mid-20th century the society was reportedly 95% Catholic; today, following decades as a secular, Communist country, 73% still identify as Catholic — but the separation of church and state is strong.
Several key factors led Slovenia to join the Yugoslavia alliance with Balkan nations: the 1985 earthquake and subsequent reconstruction — and modernisation — of its capital city, Ljubjlana; two decades (1890-1910) of mass emigration, in which an estimated 300,000 Slovenes (nearly 17% of the population) left their country, primarily to US; and, devastation of WWI, particularly hard on Slovenia regarding Soviet threat. Aligning with Croatia and Serbia to resist further Habsburg control, Slovenia began to culturally identify more closely with the Balkan states. In WWII, Yugoslavia was dominated by Axis Powers — who identified Slovenes as well as Croats as ‘Aryan’ and thus acceptable — and systematically murdered Serbs, as well as Jews and Roma in the region. Post-war Yugoslavia was filled with retributive acts against Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and others thought to have aligned with Axis Powers. By 1980s, a Slovenian rise in cultural pluralism saw beginnings of an independence movement — and in 1990 the nation was the first to break away from Yugoslavia. The nation went on to join the EU in 2004, and in 2007 became the first formerly Communist nation to join the eurozone.
While Yugoslavia identified as a communist political structure, it was made up of 6 nations, including Slovenia, that individually identified as socialist republics — with Belgrade as their capital. As Slovenia was the first to break away, it was spared much of what became a particularly bloody dissolution — ultimately with 100,000 dead, 2.4 million refugees, and 2 million internally displaced. The legacy of Yugoslavia, in its communist ideals, strong hold of Serbia’s Tito falling just short of totalitarianism, and ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ philosophy which ultimately pitted ‘brother’ against ‘brother’, remains in the cultural makeup of its former nation-states — including Slovenia.
The legacy of WWII and Axis occupation of Slovenia lives on to this day, a thread woven into Slovenian culture. Slovenian partisans fought against occupation and eventually won their country’s independence; Slovenian conservatives, afraid of communism and seizing opportunity, collaborated with the occupiers to form anti-communist militias, by which atrocities were committed — remembrances of trauma, and sociopolitical distinctions in Slovene society, that remain unresolved today.
It is estimated that more murders took place in the 2 months following the war than in the 4-year period of occupation. Mass graves, from both the occupation during WWII and the period of retributive acts to follow, were kept secret by the Yugoslavian governance — and more than 500 such have now been discovered, symbolic of a deep and long-hidden wound festering in Slovenian culture.
In Slovenia today, protests and calls for independence — of a different sort — take place in the form of art. Ideologies are shifting, values have changed; legacies of communism and near-totalitarianism, old wounds, social divide and income inequality have coalesced into a growing dissatisfaction and general unrest, as in much of Europe. While the nation retains a high-income advanced status overall, Slovenes are particularly concerned with regional imbalances, poverty and social exclusion, and political instability. Other identified concerns include the transition to a free-market economy, a rapidly aging population and lack of workforce, and organised crime syndicates. Ongoing discrimination against the Roma minority group represents another social issue.
With a traditional orientation of kinship groups, and to this day a relatively traditional society, the extended family unit remains a strong value in Slovenian culture. Rights as well as duties are determined on the basis of relationships, both familial and social; marriage remains an expectation, and loyalty to one’s family is deemed essential. Another strong value of Slovenes is egalitarianism; with a history of multiple occupiers, recent near-totalitarianism, and only a short period of independence thus far, Slovenes take their freedom and an independent state of mind very seriously; retaining its socialist ideals, Slovenes deem all people to have the same basic rights and advantages. While in reality poverty and other social inequalities still exist, Slovenian culture is built around this premise.
The World Economic Forum ranks Slovenia as 7th for gender equality, among 144 nations. UNDP ranks the nation in 5th place for women in positions of leadership. European Institute of Gender Equality places it first — and Slovenia is widely considered to be above average among EU nations when it comes to gender equality. Though the country in its independence has embraced retraditionalisation and domestification, women have managed to retain the many rights and near-equal status granted them by their socialist past. Women currently hold 28% of parliamentary seats, peaking at 37% in 2017, with just one female prime minister to date (2013-2014). In the labour force, women represent 45%, primarily in cultural / social welfare, public services / administration, and hospitality sectors.
Traditional cultural symbols of Slovenia include the linden tree and the chamois, a goat / antelope creature — both of which are in abundance in the country. A particularly popular myth of Slovenian culture is that of the Goldhorn, or Goldenhorn, Zlatorog in Slovenian, which features a chamois. In the story, a mythical chamois protects mountain treasure and is ultimately hunted, in an attempt to capture the treasure and win a maiden’s heart — but the wounded creature is magically able to heal itself, and the hunter falls to his death. Slovenia, despite all odds and often temporarily overcome by stronger entities — will always, ultimately, prevail.