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Reformation Day
by Albert Kos

Slovenia is one of the few European countries that celebrate October 31, Reformation Day, as a national and bank holiday. This might seem surprising, as Slovenia does not belong to the group of countries with predominantly Protestant populations: indeed, there are only about 20,000 Protestants, mainly clustered in the northeast of the country and even there living alongside Catholics.

However, Protestantism is a principle that, even without its active religious and church component, is strongly present and historically as well as culturally embedded among Slovenes. The emergence and affirmation of Protestantism in the Slovenian lands in the 16th century is inextricably connected to the printing of the first two books in Slovene in 1550. These were followed in subsequent years by numerous other publications, the crowning achievement being the translation and publication of the entire Bible in 1584. The Protestant priest Primož (Primus) Trubar is the foremost name of the period and the author of the first two books in Slovene, Catechismus (1550) and Abecedarium (1550). Adam Bohoric also left an indelible mark with the first Slovenian grammar book, the Arcticae horulae (1584), as did Jurij Dalmatin, the translator of the Bible (1584).

The Protestant movement ended in what is now Slovenia towards the end of the 16th century amidst a turmoil of historical circumstances in the then Austrian countries. What followed was a long and thorough re-catholicisation: many Slovenian Protestants were forced to flee abroad and the 'blasphemous' Protestant books were burnt at stakes. Many of them disappeared, but not all - the translation of the Bible was far too precious for the Catholic Church to destroy and thereby refrain from using it.

Much later, in the period of the emperors Maria Theresa and Joseph II, the Protestant religious and cultural movement was revived thoroughly and completely by Štefan Küzmic in Prekmurje, a region that the influence of the first wave of Slovene Protestantism bypassed. Küzmic played a similar role among the people there as Primož Trubar had 200 years before: he created the formal basis for a Prekmurje variant of Slovene and reaffirmed the sense of ethnic affiliation among the population. Many in the region have stayed faithful to his religious teachings to this day.

The Protestant literary and overall cultural heritage persevered and started gaining in importance even though Protestantism had been quashed in a prelude to a literary and cultural standstill that lasted with a few rare exceptions until the end of the 18th century and the onset of the Age of Enlightment. The foundations of national and cultural awareness that the Slovenian Protestant writers had laid were simply too strong and universal. They went far beyond the declaration of religious truths: they promoted literacy and the appreciation and recognition of the people's native language. Perhaps most importantly, however, they raised awareness among Slovenes about who and what they actually were, which crucially bolstered national defence in the 19th and 20th centuries and the subsequent nation-building efforts.

A religious and national holiday, Reformation Day is a sign of respect that the country and all of its citizens pay to a religious minority living in their midst, but also a reflection of a broader willingness for openness, tolerance, the acknowledgement of differences and the overcoming of cultural and worldview dissimilitude. From a cultural and civilisational vantage point, the annual remembrance of the Protestants and their constructive contribution to the development and realisation of the Slovenian nation and State is an event meant to reach out to all people, regardless of their creed, belief or way of life. Yet this holiday is taking on a new and broader context, as Reformation and humanism may be considered as bedrocks of today's perception and vision of Europe.

This was also the message communicated by this year's central State celebration of Reformation Day at the Cankarjev Dom congress centre in Ljubljana. The cultural event was organised by the Government PR and Media Office and the lay Protestant Society Primož Trubar with keynote speaker Professor Boštjan Žekš, the President of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

(Content abstracted from "Slovenija.svet" published by Slovenska izseljenska matica.)