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Parliament House - an enduring symbol of political power

Ljubljana, 26 May - The building housing the Slovenian parliament may not be quite in the same category as that of the US Congress or Westminster Palace, but it nevertheless marks the centre of power in the country, whose symbolic importance to the nation in many ways exceeds that of the seat of executive power, the Government Palace.

Ljubljana
Parliament building.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Ljubljana
Parliament House.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Ljubljana
Statuettes depicting scenes from everyday life adorning the entrance to Parliament House.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Designed by architect Vinko Glanz and completed in 1959, the building in the centre of Ljubljana initially served as the seat of the People's Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia before becoming the home of both chambers of the Slovenian national parliament.

The design was chosen over proposals by Jože Plečnik (1872-1957), Slovenia's most famous architect, who put forward two radical concepts: the Slovenian Acropolis, which involved demolishing Ljubljana Castle and building a massive octagonal complex, and the Cathedral of Freedom, a monumental cylindrical building in Tivoli Park with a tall conical cupola.

His ideas were rejected in favour of a more conventional design - though the Cathedral of Freedom has been immortalised on the Slovenian 10-cent coin.

The modernist building that ended up being constructed is minimalist and unassuming save for the richly decorated portal with statues by Karel Putrih and Zdenko Kalin symbolically depicting scenes from everyday life. Adding to its symbolism is the use of several kinds of Slovenian marble throughout the building.

The interior mosaics and frescoes were made by some of the most renowned Slovenian artists, including Jože Ciuha, Ivo Šubic and Marij Pregelj, while the artistic centrepiece of the building is a mural in the lobby of the Great Hall by Slavko Pengov depicting the nation's history and made in the style of social realism, popular during Yugoslav times.

Some of the most important decisions in Slovenia's recent history were taken in the Great Hall. It was there that deputies called the first multi-party elections in 1990 and the independence referendum the same year, and declared Slovenia's independence in June 1991.

But the symbolic space that is parliament - the National Assembly and the upper chamber, the National Council - stretches beyond the confines of Parliament House. Indeed, the Parliament House is arguably as relevant a backdrop as it is in its role as the seat of the legislative power.

The building acted as the scenic background for mass rallies held in Republic Square in the run-up to the declaration of independence and later, when anniversaries of the landmark event were being celebrated.

It is also where rallies are organised to this day by those opposing structures of power.

Famously, in the mass anti-establishment protests of 2012, protesters did not set their sights on the Government Palace, they rallied in the square in front of Parliament House.

While extraordinary, and rare, such rallies merely highlight the Parliament House's enduring image as a symbol of political power in the collective psyche, even if many key decisions are nowadays first made, and later implemented, in the building housing the government just a stone's throw away.

sm/eho
© STA, 2016