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Slovenia's anthem - a poem invoked in decisive moments

Ljubljana, 25 May - An ode to wine, endeared by Slovenians ever since it was first published in the 1840s, was chosen as Slovenia's national anthem shortly before the country declared independence in 1991. Given that Slovenia prides itself as a wine country, this should come as no surprise.

Members of the Slovenian Association of Theatre Actors read poems by poet France Prešeren (1800-1849) at his monument every year on Culture Day, the anniversary of Slovenia's most celebrated poet's death.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA
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Helsinki, Finland
The image of France Prešeren and the first line of Zdravljica's seventh stanza "Žive naj vsi narodi". While the English translation is "God's blessing on all nations", the line literally says "Long live all nations".
Photo: mint of Finland
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The monument to poet France Prešeren (1800-1849) in the city of Kranj in front of the Prešeren Theatre.
Photo: Tinkara Zupan/STA
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Zdravljica (A Toast) was actually written so that each of the eight stanzas mimicked the shape of a wine glass. However, its message goes far beyond the celebration of wine.

The poem, written in 1844 by the most influential Slovenian poet of all time, France Prešeren (1800-1849), is in fact an ode to peace, freedom and fraternity.

At the time, nations within the Austrian Empire were becoming aware of their rights and starting to seek more autonomy.

The poem is a call to Slovenians and, more generally, to Slavs to pursue "unity, happiness and reconciliation" with a view to "regain dignity and power".

But promoting pan-Slavic ideas was at the time considered anti-Austrian, historian Igor Grdina told the STA.

This caused a part of the poem to be censored. As a result, Prešeren decided to omit it altogether from his only collection of poems, published in 1846.

Following its publication in April 1848 after the Austrian Empire was shaken by the March Revolution, Zdravljica was embraced as a poem of liberation and unification.

It has inspired Slovenians, of different beliefs and walks of life, ever since, especially in pivotal moments of the nation's history.

Decades before it officially became the national anthem in the spring of 1990, the seventh stanza was used as a motto to the manifesto of the Slovenian Communist Party at its founding congress in 1937.

It went on to become one of the most widely recited Partisan poems in Slovenia during the WWII resistance movement. After WWII children would learn it at school.

At the time of democratisation in the 1980s, Slovenian punk rock band Lačni Franz made a cover version, but were banned from performing it; the authorities thought it was encouraging Slovenia's breakaway from Yugoslavia.

Another sign of Zdravljica's vitality and power to inspire is that it has been set to music by several composers. But it is Stanko Premrl's music written for a choir that is sung as the national anthem.

Premrl, a priest and one of the most prolific Slovenian composers, wrote the music in 1905, the year in which Ljubljana honoured Prešeren with a monument.

Slovenians, considering themselves a peaceful and peace-loving nation, and having lived under different rulers for a great part of their existence, find it natural to identify with Zdravljica's ideas even 172 years after it was written.

It took a genius, as historian Grdina described Prešeren, to produce such a vibrant patriotic poem which transcends the limits of the Slovenian nation and puts humanity at the centre of the world.

Click to listen to the anthem:

Lyrics in English:

"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."

© STA, 2016