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Slovenian National Symbols
by Marko Pogacnik

Marko Pogacnik is the author of the Slovenian coat of arms. This article was originally published in 1995 by the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia.

The lower part of the coat of arms symbolizes the Slovenian landscape, which encompasses Alpine peaks in the northwest, the maritime expanse of the Adriatic in the south and the plain of the ancient Pannonian Sea in the east. The verticality of the Alps is represented by the highest mountain, Triglav, while the level expansiveness of the maritime and lowland areas is expressed in the two horizontal waves.

The mountain and the water at its foot can equally be understood as a universal symbol which does not refer uniquely to the Slovenian landscape. It symbolizes the fundamental inner balance of the human individual, the balance between the masculine and feminine principles. The vertical extension of the mountain denotes will and masculine power within the human being, while the horizontality and suppleness of the water symbolizes attributes of femininity, all-encompassing and entire. The balance between the feminine and masculine principles touches the very essence of humanity, and can at the same time be construed on the global level as a symbol of the balance between nature and civilization. In this way the coat of arms addresses an age which once more observes and cherishes balance in all things.

The balance between the mountain and the water-levels is a token of Slovenian identity in terms of the landscape. Slovenian identity on the spiritual and ethical level is symbolized by the three six-pointed gold stars placed above in the form of a triangle pointing from the sky to the earth. The stars are aligned with the triangle formed by the three peaks of Triglav (whose name means "three-headed"), symbolizing the terrestrial world. The coat of arms thus symbolically conjures the realm of the spiritual and ethereal principle and the world of earth and landscape, whereby the two are coextensive, interdependent and complementary.

This constellation of six-pointed gold stars derives from the coat of arms of the indigenous noble family of the Counts of Celje, under whom a large portion of present-day Slovenian territory was united in the High Middle Ages. The stars therefore symbolize the cultural and administrative tradition of the Slovenian regions in the context of their involvement in the currents of European history.

The idea for the Slovenian coat of arms was born of a conception of Slovenia as a macro-regional whole. In this regard its author drew on the work of two creative figures who loom large in the Slovenian identity, France Prešeren and Jože Plecnik.

In the first half of the 19th century the poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), regarded as one of the creators of modern Slovenian nationhood, wrote his capital work Baptism on the Savica, in which he addresses issues of Slovenian identity in the context of the conversion to Christianity. The poem opens with a verbal depiction of Triglav, the waters of the lake below and golden light above. These motifs are configured in the same way as the corresponding symbols on the present-day Slovenian coat of arms.

In 1934 the architect Jože Plecnik designed the pillar of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stands in front of the parish church of Bled. On the rear of Mary's mantle is a carved coat of arms of Slovenia which does not conform to the (Yugoslav) state coat of arms of its time, but instead shows Triglav with a six-pointed star above it.

The Slovenian coat of arms is composed according to a precise geometric design based on the two equilateral triangles, "celestial" and "terrestrial", whose tips meet at the lower of the three stars. The "terrestrial" part of the shield has two internal poles. One is the meandering of the two waves, the other Triglav, which is made up of three equilateral triangles. Together, they form the "terrestrial" triangle.

The shield has a red border at the sides and so features all three colors of the Slovenian tricolor: white, blue and red (the mountain is in white, the waves in blue). The gold stars recall one of the colors of the historical flag of the Duchy of Carniola, regarded as the forerunner of the tricolor.