Which is (and what does it say) the Slovenian National Anthem?

Slovenia’s national hymn is a curiosity amongst the World’s other anthems. Written in the 1840s and legally adopted at the beginning of 1990, this anthem is indicative of the Slovenian past and praises high values that should inspire those who listen to it. 

The Slovenian National anthem is the seventh stanza of the poem “Zdravljica,” written by Slovenia’s most famous writer, France Prešeren. First written in 1844, it was published in 1848 during the Spring of Nations. Adopted in 1990, before the Independence, it praises values such as internationalism and peace. 

Let’s dive into history to discover the origins, meaning, and legacy of this powerful national anthem.

A Young But Old Anthem

Zdravljica was adopted by Slovenia as its official national anthem quite recently, on March 29th, 1990. It was proclaimed the new national anthem when the Slovenian Assembly finally approved the Slovene Constitution’s latest amendments on September 27th of 1989. This interveined just before the December plebiscite on Independence, which led to the Republic of Slovenia’s official creation on June 25th of 1991. 

After the winning of Independence was achieved, Prešeren’s seventh stanza was officially adopted as the Republic of Slovenia’s anthem in 1994. The National Assembly validated it at the same time as the national flag and the official crest with the Act on the national symbols of Slovenia.  

This part of the Zdravljica poem then replaced the former regional hymn of the (Socialist) Republic of Slovenia used under the Republic of Yugoslavia between March 8th, 1990, and June 25th, 1991. Before that, the traditional national anthem was “Naprej, zastava slave” (Forward, Flag of Glory), adopted in 1860: it was the first Slovene literature’s piece to be ever traduced in English. 

The choice of a new anthem then might have seemed odd, but the poem written by Prešeren was an essential choice. It played a significant part in the conception of the Slovenian nation and was already sung by Slovenians in the 80s at the occasion of major public events. It also dates back to 1844-48, revealing a great part of the Slovene history. 

It was first censored from the collection of poems Poezije in 1847. The poem then appeared in the newspaper Novice on April 26th of 1848, when Metternich and its absolutism collapsed and of the end of censorship. 

The poem was then set to music in 1905 by the Slovene composer Stanko Premrl, a priest that was also one of the most talented and prolific Slovenian composers. The version of Stanko Premrl allowed the hymn to become a popular patriotic song during the XXth century. It is the variant that was adopted by the Assembly in 1994.

A Unique Internationalist Message

Zdravljica was published by Prešeren in the context of the European Spring of Nations, representing a crucial moment for Slovenia and the whole continent. This poem’s choice reveals pride for Slovenian literature because this is a poem of an author that contributed to the creation of the Slovene nation through language and literature. However, it also shows a desire to promote internationalism and peaceful cohabitation. 

Lyrics and Meaning of the “Zdravljica”

The title of the full poem, Zdravljica, can be translated by “I raise my glass” or again “A Toast”. More than a simple hymn, this stanza set up in music has become a very popular drinking song in Slovenia. It was even written to make the shape of the lyrics look like a glass of wine, as you can tell:

Žive naj vsi narodi

Ki hrepene dočakat’ dan

Da koder sonce hodi

Prepir iz sveta bo pregnan

Da rojak

Prost bo vsak

Ne vrag, le sosed bo mejak! 

In literal English, they can be translated as follows: 

May all peoples thrive

That yearn (desiderium) to see the day

When wheresoever the Sun walks,

strife shall be banished from the World.

When every kinsman

shall be free

And not a devil but a neighbor shall the adjoining land’s dweller be!

But to have a better understanding of the anthem, you may want to refer to the official translation validated in 1954:

God’s blessing on all nations

Who long and work for that bright day

When o’er earth’s habitations

No war, no strife shall hold its sway

Who long to see

That all men free

No more shall foes, but neighbours be! 

The meaning of this stanza is then praising values of tolerance, peace, and internationalism that particularly stand out at the end: “God’s blessing on all nations”.

A Non-Bellicose Anthem

Through this poem, the most famous Slovenian poet tried to combine several significant ideas. It is at the same time a call for greater awareness of the Slovene identity to promote a united Slovenia, and a tribute to the ideals of freedom, equality, and brotherhood distilled by the French Revolution.

However, if Prešeren’s Slovene “Marseillaise” is inspired by the French values, it also adds a superior aspect. This anthem is one of the few non-bellicose national hymns in the World, according to the historian Božo Repe, which means that it is a toast by essence, showing a genuine desire for the friendly coexistence of all nations and delivering a humanist vision of equality.

Slovenia’s Supranational Past

This choice of National anthem is very significant, as it calls to look back at the Slovenian history. For a lot of fine connoisseurs, as the World’s international anthem because it evokes both a peaceful message and a positive vision of supranationalism. It transcends nationalism and emphasizes strong and friendly ties between nations.

It also echoes to Slovenia’s rich supranational past. It was also adopted to celebrate this history and legacy. Slovenia was part of several and different types of transnational formations since the beginning of its history until today. Supranationalism is then a part of Slovenia’s past, present, AND future. 

First, Slovenia lived under the German Empire (also known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), and under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The “country” was most recently part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and is now integrated into a lighter version of supranational organization, the European Union. 

An Awarded Heritage

This non-militant and internationalist anthem nearly has no equal in the World, and especially in the European Union: it stands out in a very positive way. This uniqueness explains why the European Commission chose to honor Slovenia with the European Heritage Label on March 31st of 2020. 

This label awarded ten new sites this year, recompensing their significant role and play in Europe’s culture and history and in the building of the European Union. The jury motivated their decision as follows : 

Zdravljica” is representative of 1848 – the Spring of Nations or Year of Revolution, an important movement in European history. The role of literature, written in national or minority languages, in kindling nationalist feelings, and shaping demands for the removal of censorship and the right of freedom of expression, was reflected across Europe. Whilst the literary achievements of the poem’s author, France Prešeren, are of central importance to the creation of a Slovenian nation via language and literature, the poem simultaneously promoted the message of peaceful coexistence of nations.

The positive reception of the poem and its transmission across Europe through German and Scandinavian translations since the 1860s/ 1880s, and English and other languages since the mid-20th century, made the poem widely known. In addition, it promotes an international inclusive spirit rarely found in a national anthem.”

The Concurrence of Another Anthem

However, this model of internationalism and peace amongst other bellicose anthems is rivaled by another song. In most countries, two hymns usually pretend to the national anthem position; but this seems to hide an ideological gulf in Slovenia. 

The other competitor for the title is the previous Slovenian national anthem, “Naprej zastava slave”. Simon Jenko wrote it, and we owe the music to the composer Davorin Jenko, his cousin. 

Naprej zastava slave is a patriotic recruiting poem that tells the story of a boy who was willing to defend his homeland, which means more to him than his girlfriend or mother. This hymn played an important part during WWII, as it was emitted by the radio station of the Slovene Liberation Front and a part of the Slovene Partisans’ salutations to the flag. 

This anthem has remained the Slovenian army’s anthem for now on. This situation can be explained by the need to offset the supranational aspirations of the Zdravljica with a typical bellicose army song to continue to assert Slovenian national ambitions and content the Slovenian Army Force. 

An Anthem of Peace

To conclude, the current Slovene national anthem seems to be the only one of its kind in the World. It succeeds to proudly display the Slovenian culture and literature, but also to assert strong positive values such as peace and tolerance. 

The best way to appreciate this anthem at its full is to realize its significance by assisting to one of the many public events, where it will be sung along by all Slovenians. 

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