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Back to the Roots
by Manja Maksimovic

The venue of this year's emigrant Meeting in My Country held on July 4th was full of symbolism as it is in Kamniška Bistrica that this tradition has its roots. The annual event, organised by Slovenska izseljenska matica (Slovene Emigrant Association), will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. This year, below the Kamnik Alps, old and new acquaintances had an opportunity to listen to Slovene songs from France, take a look at folklore dances from Berlin, and later to sing and dance themselves. However, unlike last year, only a couple of die-hards were destined to climb Triglav.

In the remote year of 1956, American emigrants who gathered in the idyllic natural environment of Kamniška Bistrica probably had no idea that their meeting would be the origin of the annual emigrant picnic which was later renamed Meeting in My Country. After moving it around Slovenia in previous years and having settled on Bled for the last two years, Slovenska izseljenska matica organized this year’s meeting again in the original venue, in the heart of the Kamnik Alps, near Velika planina and arboretum Volcji potok. The first to greet numerous visitors from all over the world was Tone Smolnikar, mayor of the Kamnik Municipality, one of the largest Slovene municipalities which, since the proclamation of independence, has lost more than 10,000 jobs, and now survives on small-scale business and tourism: “I’m glad that we’ve all gathered here again. I hope that you have good discussions, and give each other pats on the back wishing yourselves the good luck and good health so necessary at today’s pace of life.”

What Is It That Defines Slovenes

This year’s mistress of ceremonies was Marija Ahacic Pollak, editor of The Voice of Canadian Slovenians radio programme in Toronto, who is most remembered for her rendition of the famous Avsenik song Tam, kjer murke cveto. The song was not forthcoming, but she received much applause for her addresses in French and English (“Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome to all, especially to the people from Australia and Canada.”) She proudly presented Kamniška Bistrica, “this piece of Gorenjska beauty”, and proceeded to announce the choir Quo Vadis from Razdrto and their first song “Lipa zelenela je” with the following: “Slovene song is dear to us, no matter where in the world we live. Choral singing in particular has always joined Slovenes all over the world.”

President of the Office for Slovenes in the Neighbouring Countries and Abroad, Jadranka Šturm Kocjan, in her address congratulated the organisers for having chosen a venue in such a beautiful setting, and greeted the participants in the name of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. “It is my honour and privilege to greet you in your native homeland. With your regular and numerous homecomings you have demonstrated throughout that you enjoy coming home and that getting to know each other, spending time rejoicing together, and discovering the real Slovenia is what matters to you.”

On joining the EU, President Šturm Kocjan said: “Our goal of entering the world’s most important of integrations is fulfilled. You, Slovenes living outside your native homeland, have contributed much to the successful journey of international recognition, integration and assertion. I thank you sincerely for your valued cooperation, support and solidarity.”

She was most delighted by the visiting Slovene cultural performers from abroad who “testify to the fact that, regardless of the influence of the sometimes completely different day-to-day environment, you still understand and feel Slovenia your native homeland, and even though you are far away, the cord is still undamaged.” Among the events which the Office organises for Slovenes abroad she mentioned the recent seminar for archivists, the Internet project Distance Learning of Slovene, which is in the final phase of preparation, and the summer school of Slovene which this year will greet mainly graduates from Argentina and Canada. She did not forget to mention our magazine: “I’m sure that many of you have realised that a new, changed magazine for Slovenes abroad, Slovenija.svet, has been available since May and is jointly financed by our Office and the Ministry of Culture. I do hope you find the magazine useful and interesting. Let me use this opportunity to invite you to cooperate with the magazine. Feel free to send in your experience, suggestions and requests.”

Cooperation with Slovenes abroad is also requested in the imminent establishment of the state's new identity: “From the fundamental goal to be we are proceeding to more complex questions, how to be and what to be. What shall the image and identity of tomorrow’s Slovenia be? In this regard the cooperation with you, dear fellow countrymen from all over the world, is of extreme importance, and you are kindly requested to let us know what it is that defines and determines Slovenes the most.”

Jadranka Šturm Kocjan emphasised: “Today’s event is above all an opportunity for you to interact, renew acquaintances, reminisce and make new contacts. I hope there will be plenty of those today, so that you can actually feel how large, yet controllable and interconnected is the collective Slovene cultural space.”

The President of Slovenska izseljenska matica, Sergij Pelhan, was another to mention the magazine which you are now reading in his address: “Some of you may feel sorry for the old magazine, but I assure you that Slovenija.svet is practically its continuation, and it is our wish that all of you who could or would not cooperate with it before will do so now.”

He mentioned the diverse programmes which SIM is organizing to “foster contacts between you and us so that we can actually feel that we are parts of one and the same body”. He is convinced that in the future SIM will organize other meetings to accompany Meeting in My Country, especially for the younger generations who do not have such a command of the Slovene language as those who were born in Slovenia and keep coming back.

“Slovenes join in song, dance and sports. SIM used to send Slovene records, music sheets, books and sometimes even folklore teachers all over the world,” proceeded MC Marija Ahacic Pollak, announcing the folklore group “Slovenija” from Berlin directed by Stanislava Škrabar and accompanied by Alojz Kuder on accordion. They were followed by Trio Fis from Ljubljana and vocal group Nagelj from Kocevje. One of the “Nagelj” singers Olga Zupancic observed: “Last year was beautiful, but this year it’s beautiful, too. The environment is very natural and people are very friendly. This was our first performance at such an event but we’ll be back. This is a real meeting point, the audience are happy with us, and we’re happy with them.”

The 10-year-old daughter of the Mayor of Kocevje, Janko Veber, who was also present at the meeting recited “The Poem for the Miner” written by SIM associate from Kocevje, Irena Poje, which was dedicated to the Slovene Working Society from Aumetz in France. The society was present at the meeting with its mixed choir, and the society’s President, Ivan Tolmajner, was overjoyed: “It’s so beautiful here. Today was such a surprise for me, one of the three biggest in my life as a singer. This was our first performance at Meeting in My Country, but we would like to come again if possible. There are 45 of us, we’re travelling by bus, and there are some who travel by car. Several of our singers had to stay at home to go to work though, we who are here are mainly pensioners.” Another singer, Gabriel Jamnik, says that they have also performed in Idrija which is a sister town of Aumetz: “I have lived in France for 46 years, and have sung in a choir for 35 years. It is beautiful in Slovenia, I would like to come here every year, but my wife says no.”

Guests were also entertained by singer Marjan Zgonc and the Toni Rus Band, and the dance-floor was packed. Among the dancers and the observers, a group of Slovenes from Kakanj in Bosnia Herzegovina were noticeable on account of their identical T-shirts saying “Slovene Community”. This year, many more of them came to the meeting than a year ago when four of them conquered Triglav. This time they must have been glad that the Triglav march was behind them. Or maybe not as Australian Slovene from Melbourne Martin Pajmon could be seen grinning from ear to ear, having just accomplished his year-long goal.

Triglav in Wintertime

Following the very successful first attempt last year, the un-put-downable Peter Cesnik, a returnee from Australia, has been planning, together with SIM, another emigrant Triglav march to be held just days before the meeting. First there had been 52 entrants but, on account of rumours of Triglav still being covered in snow due to the harsh winter and thus inaccessible, the number dwindled to six, Cesnik included. A group of 27 emigrants opted for Grintavec instead, which, Cesnik says, is a matter of taste.

Martin Pajmon, four representatives of the mountaineering society Bazovica from Rijeka (Croatia) neither of whom have climbed Triglav before, and Peter Cesnik with his wife Alenka nevertheless decided to go ahead, taking the same route as last year, accompanied by the same three guides. On the first day, Friday, the rain was pouring hard, turning into ice, which made SIM secretary Dominik Lavric turn back when he followed the group later that day. On Saturday the weather changed but due to 10 to 15 cm of fresh snow, the group reluctantly left Kredarica for the top. To one of the participants the top of Triglav no longer seemed inviting, so Peter Cesnik took him around Triglav to Planika and waited for the rest of the group descending from the top.

And so Martin Pajmon from Melbourne finally conquered his Triglav, but is quick to point out that next year’s march will go on without him. He says that the decision to leave Slovenia for Australia was a tough one, but this one was equally hard: “I have always wanted to climb Triglav but had neither the time nor the will for it. This time I made it, though it was not easy. I never doubted it for a minute; I was convinced I would succeed. I had absolute trust in my guide who was very determined. I thank the organisers and the sponsors. Thank you very much, that’s all I can say.” The Alpine guide Janez Mlinar has a special feeling for the elderly climbers and for the Slovenes living abroad who see conquering Triglav as their goal. Peter Cesnik adds that Tilka Lenko from Melbourne was sorely missed: “Whenever morale was low during last year’s march, Tilka burst into a Slovene folk song. Steps got quicker, morale was raised, and when Tilka reached the summit , she knelt down and kissed it.”

For next year Cesnik promises to organise an alternate route for the Triglav march in case of severe weather conditions, a more easily accessible one that will be safer in bad weather. Timely and final reservations are recommended. Let us wish the organisers a milder winter and a great number of tired, yet satisfied faces at the next, 50th Meeting in My County.

(Content abstracted from "Slovenija.svet July 2004" published by
Slovenska izseljenska matica.)