About Slovenia's past - not essential to your holiday, but nice to know

History of Slovenia

Although only a nation state since 1992, Slovenia has a long and complicated history. As this is a travel website, we won't go into detail here, but suffice to say that a little country like this doesn't survive and prosper for fifteen centuries without a story to tell.

748 And All That

Although only a nation state since 1991, Slovenia has a long and complicated history, which mostly serves to illustrate just how tenacious the Slovenes are as a people.

Having arrived in the valleys of the Danube basin and the eastern Alps in the 6th century, the Slovenes eventually found themselves under the rule of the Frankish Carolingians in 748. A century later the Holy Roman Empire took over, until the 14th century, when it was the turn of the Austro-German monarchy (the Habsburg empire from 1804), which ruled until 1918. Of course, Napoleon had to have his say during this period, and established the so-called Illyrian Provinces between 1809 and 1814. This was a Good Thing, as the French set in place reforms in local government, education and law.

A Very Bad Thing was the First World War, when hundreds of thousands died during the fighting between the Italians and the Austrian-German axis - the Soča front being the scene of some of the bitterest fighting under truly awful conditions.

Kobarid Museum

If you are going to take a trip to the Soča valley, be sure to visit the excellent museum in Kobarid, which will give you some insight into the awfulness of it all.

An excellent insight into why the Italians and Austrians were fighting at all can be found by reading The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett .

Following WW1, Slovenia was included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. As any Slovene will tell you, this was always an uneasy alliance, as although they are Slavic, Slovenes have always thought of themselves as a part of central or western Europe. Don't ever tell a Slovene they are Balkan.

During World War Two, much of Slovenia was annexed by Germany, while two smaller areas fell under Italy and Hungary. Now, this is the bit that most of us Englishers don't understand. During the war (and earlier conflicts), those Slovenes who took up arms did so on a local basis. There was no central government which defined whether the people should be with the Good Guys or the Bad Guys: you just picked up your gun and fought alongside your neighbours. Consequently, many families were rent assunder, causing conflicts between fathers, sons, brothers and mothers. For a western European to say that the partisans were all OK because they fought the Germans, would be to miss the point entirely. Rather than making judgements from history books, taking the time to have a chat with a Slovene about their family history is much more revealing - and a lot more fun.

The Kluže Fortress, Soča Valley

The end of the war saw Slovenia join the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under Josip Broz Tito. Many people mistakenly refer to Yugoslavia having been behind the Iron Curtain and a member of the Warsaw Pact. Neither is true: more accurately, it was a socialist federation under a dictatorship and was a non-aligned state. It was though, an essentially benign dictatorship and people were free to travel and get on with their lives much as we did. Whatever, following Tito's death in 1980 and the subsequent rise to power of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia, the federation started to pull apart (for the best possible insight into all of this, watch Emir Kusturica's Underground - a fabulous movie)… so the Slovenes did what was natural: they turned to the west. I don't know what "Sod this for a game of soldiers" is in Slovene, but I'm sure that's what they said.

You probably know as much as I do about what happened next. Still, Slovenia has now been welcomed into the EU fold and the future is bright for this unique bunch of wonderful people.

A bullet-point version...

  • The earliest Slovenes arrived in the sixth century
  • Since then, occupied by: Franks, Austro-Germans, Romans, French and Germans
  • Scene of terrible battles on the Soča front during WW1
  • Became part of Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes after WW1
  • Occupied by Germans and Italians during WW2
  • Joined Tito's Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following WW2
  • Declared full independence in 1991
  • Joined EU in 2004