In 1572 one of the most important advanced peasant revolts occurred in the lands of today’s Slovenia and Croatia. Most probably it began on today’s date, April 24.
Peasant rebellions, which spanned over a period of 250 years in Slovenia, had five notable events, starting with the Rebellion of Carinthia in 1478 and concluding with the 1713 Rebellion of Tolmin.
Among the main causes of peasant revolts were the reintroduction of duty in kind, increase in feudal tax and serjeanty, violence against serfs by feudal lords, Turkish incursions and wars, on top of agricultural disease and weather-related disasters.
For these reasons serfs began organizing themselves into farmers’ associations, or “punti” as they were called in Slovenian. Between the 15th and 17th centuries “punti” were targeting feudal lords, while at the beginning of the 18th century they were directed against the state institutions and Emperor.
The biggest rebellion in Slovenia occurred in 1515 with about 80,000 participants, most probably depicted by Albrecht Dürer in his 1515 sketch for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.
However, one of the most important peasant revolts occurred in 1572 adn 1573 across today’s Slovenia and Croatia, and was particularly advanced in terms of organization and political program of the peasants.
The rebels’ political agenda was to replace the nobility with peasant officials who were directly responsible to the Emperor, and to eliminate all feudal possessions of and obligations to the Roman Catholic Church. The peasant government was composed of the main leader Matija Gubec, (Cro: Gubac), and Ivan Pasanec and Ivan Mogaić as its main members. Their plans also included the removal of provincial borders, the opening of freeways for trade and self-management by farmers.
Although historians mainly agree that the main cause behind the Slovene-Croatian rebellion was economic in nature, the rebellion is often associated with Baron Ferenc Tahy and his cruel treatment of the serfs. In 1567 the Imperial commission agreed to investigate Tahy’s competence in run the estates by hearing 508 testimonies against him. Unfortunately, no measures other than the writing of the minutes of the hearings were taken – although these ran for at least six metres – which is why Tahy and his misrule remain the main reason for the rebellion in popular belief.
The rebellion started in 1572 and was initially limited to three Tahy estates. Eventually the revolt spilt over across Croatian Zagorje, lower Styria and parts of Lower and Upper Carniola, with an estimated 12,000 rebels, some 4,000 of whom were killed in clashes with feudal armies.
The rebellion concluded on February 9th, 1573 with the capitulation of the serf army and the following punishments of the leaders: Matija Gubec was crowned with a red-hot heated iron crown and quartered, while the other leaders were decapitated.
A feature film directed by Vatroslav Mimica was made about the events in 1975. The movie is spoken in the dialect of Zagorje, which sounds like a mixture of Slovenian and Croatian or perhaps the proto-language of the two. The film is also available on YouTube:
STA, 21 April 2020 - Slovenia's leading telecommunication providers are all opening shop again this week to join a number of retailers and other services providers that reopened on Monday after five weeks of coronavirus lockdown.
Telemach already started reopening its shops on Monday, AI Slovenija opened all of them today, T-2 plans a gradual reopening starting Wednesday, while Telekom Slovenije is to start welcoming customers at its major centres on Thursday after it has already opened some of its smaller branch offices.
All the providers stressed they would implement protective measures, including by reserving the first and final business hours for vulnerable groups.
In a major sign of the easing of the coronavirus epidemic and the lockdown restrictions associated with it, DIY stores, car showrooms, stores selling bicycles, technical goods and furniture, dry cleaners and some repair shops, including tyre replacement shops, are resuming their operations this week.
As a growing number of businesses reopen, passenger transport organised by business subjects or local communities to bring employees to work and back has been allowed too.
However, protective measures remain in force for all stores, including the obligatory wearing of masks or some other face coverings, hand sanitising, airing of premises and allowing 20 square metres per customer.
The government imposed a temporary ban on most retail establishments in mid March to contain the coronavirus epidemic.
Only grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, petrol stations, news stands and stores selling agricultural products remained open until pet food shops were added to the exemptions from 21 March and florist shops and nurseries from 3 April, along with construction works not involving contacts with customers.
Yet more services will be available from 4 May, with the reopening of hair salons, beauty parlours, dog and cat grooming salons and shops of up to 400 m2 sales space, except for those in shopping centres.
STA, 21 April 2020 - The senate of the University of Ljubljana has called on its members to adjust the conditions required for students to advance to their next year of studies given that the teaching process has been disrupted despite a successful switch to remote learning. While the plan is to continue with remote classes, an exit strategy is in the making.
University of Ljubljana Chancellor Igor Papič told the STA on Tuesday that along with enabling students to advance normally by lowering the credit points threshold, it was equally important that students do not lose the chance to enrol again in the same year, as the loss of student status would affect their social situation.
He explained that the plan was to continue with remote classes also after 3 May where only possible, so that students are not exposed to risk unnecessarily.
Laboratory classes present an issue that will be hard to solve until restrictions are lifted, while another pending problem are the approaching summer exams that are taken by over 100 students simultaneously.
The faculties that are part of Slovenia's largest and oldest university have however been urged to prepare for a gradual lifting of restrictions, and Papič announced an exit strategy would be drawn up.
He meanwhile assessed the remote learning system that has been set up as successful, allowing around 85% of the programme to be covered. Also running successfully are oral defences of dissertations, with over 130 conducted remotely so far.
I finished my last article about three weeks ago with a relatively upbeat message, ‘We’re all in this together’, meaning we are all in the same boat. However, as the weeks progress into an increasingly unknown future, I realise that we are in very, very different boats indeed.
I started by reassuring myself with this Churchillian mantra, but now that the initial fog has cleared, I am observing first hand that we are all in very different boats on a scale ranging from a blissful, relaxed euphoria through to a lonely pinnacle of rising fear and angst, and the curve is the inverse of the traditional Gaussian Distribution curve.
Here in Slovenia, many people are employed and from what I hear, rather enjoying working from home, or they are bumbling along on their pension, living above or below their extended families, and whiling away quality time in the garden, or allotment with family. As my landlady said when it all started, ‘It’s not going to affect us.’ - and it hasn’t.
However, I know several families living the dream life – the successful, but workaholic husbands now garrisoned at home; the wives, gleefully swapping their crowded waiting rooms or tedious working days for woodland walks with the dog, finally having the time to show off innate cooking skills to an appreciative family; children, home from university are studying in domestic and gastronomic comfort, and working out in the garden to counteract the excesses of the kitchen. Bliss.
So in this most glorious Corona spring, when the sun always shines, the more fortunate can relax in their flower- filled gardens with the added comfort of knowing that there is a regular salary coming in.
Another fortunate Slovenian friend lives in a similar abode complete with all the external accoutrements of above, in the congenial company of her two twenty-something children and her buck-toothed, boss-eyed, but exceedingly friendly Jack Russell. All three humans are working from home, with ample space to carouse in the garden or work peacefully in the spacious confines of their five-bedroom home.
Fast-forward to the other end of the curve, where many are most definitely not living in such familial bliss. They inhabit cramped flats with no balconies, and worse still, some have no option but to co-habit with an obnoxious other half, vying for TV channels, and generally messing things up - or worse! This situation can also be exacerbated by having hyperactive children around to monitor . The attention seeking child doesn’t take kindly to being educated by a face on a screen with no audience other than the family cat. Whether working from home or with no work, in small confines the tensions are building. The only saving grace, in Slovenia, is the relative proximity of the parks, the river and the abundance of glorious greenery. Compare all this lush nature to the average Londoner’s concrete jungle, living in similar flat, with the added worry of a zero-hour contract.
They struggle miles on foot to get some rays on Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath, before being brusquely moved on by overzealous police wearing masks. Gardens are a rarity in Inner London and parks and woodland scarce. The main reason I chose my London flat was for its long ample garden, and the unimpeded view of nearby Highgate Woods.
In fact, this article was prompted by an email from a semi-retired journalist friend, who wrote unabashedly ‘life has never been better’. She can scribble her weekly column in her gazebo in their vast flower-strewn garden, while her retired husband refines his already excellent culinary skills. She didn’t mention her newly-wed daughter and her husband who are in the ranks of the self-employed, a yoga instructor and a chef respectively, both now living with future dreams on fragile hold for the very uncertain future. Very different boats indeed.
Having lived overseas for the last 13 years, I am still in touch with friends in Asia and Central America, and they are in even less comfortable boats. In an ironical twist, as Europe and the UK once stigmatised innocent Asians in the run-up to the crisis, Viet friends, encouraged by their government propaganda, wholeheartedly blame the virus on the travelling Westerners, and in China, my very petite blonde Australian friend currently working as a School Principal tells me that despite her ’COVID free badge’, mask, gloves and her 21-day quarantine pass, she is treated like a white devil. Chinese mothers pick up their children and literally flee when they see her blonde locks, restaurants refuse her entry – and people in shops, look at her over their compulsory issue masks with cold, untrusting eyes and give her a very wide berth.
Masks are compulsory at all times – and in Vietnam, as in many other Asian countries, they have a natural affinity for masks. Reports from Vietnamese friends say they that although they are working from home, masks are worn at all times – I didn’t ask about bedtime. There are no motorbike taxis or car taxis, and large hotels and markets are shut. Many have lost their jobs.
Meanwhile in Spain, my old schoolfriend is entrapped in her mountain village and is currently dogless, therefore her exercise is limited to the 200-metre walk from her home in the centre to the nearest food and wine shops – a 600 Euro fine awaits anyone who is found exploiting the rule. Her 85-year-old Scottish mother died two weeks ago, alone in a hospital in Scotland of an unrelated infection, possibly exacerbated by fear. For the last four days of her life, she relied on an iPad and daily 15 minute visits from her other daughter,clad from head to foot in a hazard suit, forbidden to touch. My friend in Spain at least has the small solace of a garden, where she is grieving alone, without any sense of closure, and trying to plan a memorial service in the unforeseen future.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, a hyperactive party- going Australian couple, aged 63 and 65 respectively, working as teachers and energetically living a second, but childfree youth, are forbidden to leave their homes,full stop. Despite a small balcony and a 40-year marriage, they are becoming increasingly unamused and after two weeks, are already showing severe symptoms of Cabin Fever manifesting in 3 kg weight increases and an unhealthy addiction to Quiz Planet, as the lady of the house tries to elevate her starting score of zero to 21,000 before the lockdown is over. Turkey is in flux, and the once crowded streets are spookily empty, Erdogan from his 1000 roomed palace in Ankara, has sent one of his national emergency texts ( to everyone) asking the population to contribute 10 TL ( 3 Euros) to a Corona fund.
Looking further afield to Nicaragua, the situation is even more grim – with practically no direction from their government, other than some ‘Peace and Love ‘ rally in the capital, and the divine message that along with Americans, Nicaraguans will not get affected.
My Yorkshire Oxford-educated friend, the founder of a language school and a charity that provides hands-on work for 80% of the impoverished village where she lives, located in the shadow of the virulent Massaya volcano. She tells me that news is being passed from door to door by groups of five or six police together with a handful of civil servants, all standing in perilous clusters. They are distributing COVID pamphlets on the importance of washing your hands thoroughly and often. The same pamphlet also explains the need to reduce their weekly water ration from 2 barrels of water to one and a half barrels. This ration is per household, and that usually equates to at least six people. The water is used to wash, cook, wash their clothes and to drink. Toilets are usually outdoor latrines, so flushing is not a problem for most. Very few people are on the streets, and most pulperia (small shops) have had to close. And to date, there has been no word of government assistance or even guidance, as the village limps to a gloom laden standstill.
Then there is another boat where you sail these uncharted waters alone, and for many elderly without the ‘company’ of social media, and the physical security of a family this is very scary – alone and listening to the spurious daily statistics spewed willy nilly all over the global media; meaningless to those who understand statistics and positively terrifying for those who don’t – and with no one close by to share their fears.
Even for the less elderly, this enforced social distancing is difficult – mentally and emotionally, and I, for one have wearied of the endless ‘jokes’ on WhatsApp and unsubstantiated rants by the uninitiated on social media.I yearn for the close physical comfort of old friends, even a distanced bike ride or a glass of wine would be good, but then again, I fear my self, all my suppressed fears and emotions may come belching out in an unstoppable tirade......
Daily, I have to remind myself that I am not living in fear of snipers, bombs or starvation, I have a roof over my head and at present, I am healthy – plus, I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world close to the river and nature. I am very lucky.
In response to the copiously asked daily question from well-meaning friends of ‘How are you?’ I answer robotically ‘Up and down, how are you?’ Maybe I should answer truthfully. ‘I don’t know!’
STA, 20 April 2020 - As a string of retail and services establishments reopened on Monday the demand for the services was not excessive. It was quite busy at tyre replacement shops but not as busy as expected, the Slovenian Automobile Association (AMZS) said. The Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) would like bars and restaurants to reopen on 15 May.
Today DIY stores, car showrooms, stores selling bicycles, technical goods and furniture, dry cleaners and some repair shops, including tyre replacement shops resumed their operations after being shut down for five weeks.
Jurij Kočar of the AMZS said that because of high demand for such services working hours would be extended somewhat in the next few days.
Vehicle inspection stations were full of customers this morning but then the situation calmed down. Bogdan Poljanšek, who is in charge of insurance, vehicle inspection and registration at the AMZS, said drivers seem to have considered the fact that registration documents will not expire until 16 June.
Avtotehna Vis said its car salons opened their door today but were not crowded.
In contrast, DIY store Bauhaus saw an exceptional turnout, but CEO Samo Kupljen said this had been expected. "That's why we increased our sales teams," he said.
The government closed all shops bar grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, petrol stations, newsstands and stores selling agricultural products on 16 March. Pet food shops reopened on 21 March and florist shops and nurseries on 3 April.
Yet more services will be available from 4 May, with the reopening of hair salons, beauty parlours, dog and cat grooming salons and shops of up to 400 m2 sales space, except for those in shopping centres.
Further easing of measures is expected after the results are in of a comprehensive random testing of the population for coronavirus starting today.
The OZS is pushing for the reopening of bars and restaurants as of 15 May, following Austria's example. All activities would have to be conducted in line with health recommendations, it added.
"Since the season allows this, we would provide for additional safety of guests and staff by serving guests outdoors, on terraces," Blaž Cvar of the OZS said in a press release.
The hospitality sector will be particularly affected by the epidemic and the recovery will be lengthy, the OZS said, proposing extension of state measures for the sector for the next six months and cutting the VAT rate on beverages.
Do foreigners in Slovenia feel more or less safe sitting out covid-19 here than in their home country, and what are their experiences? All the stories in this series are here. If you' like to contribute, see here or at the end of the story
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am from Manchester in England and have lived in Slovenia now for 25 years. With my husband, we came in search of a different, in our view better, quality of life, which we definitely found. I love the pace of life, that there’s always time for a coffee, the fresh food on Ljubljana Market, the beautiful countryside that’s constantly around us and the generosity and friendliness of people.
For 20 years now I have been running my own Learning and Consultancy business, Fast Forward International d.o.o. My passion is bringing humanity to the heart of organisations by empowering individuals to be their best selves, teams to think and act as one and leaders to inspire and empower.
To achieve this we provide soft skills workshops, individual coaching, long term change programmes along with tools and programmes for Emotional and Relationship Intelligence. You can see more on our web site or connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.
I am home with my husband since 14th March, we live in a large old house near Velike Lašče in which we have our own apartment, a learning centre where we run some of our workshops and coachings and an office where four of us are usually based. This means right now, we have plenty of space, including a balcony that gets lots of sun, so I would say we’re doing really quite well.
I have embraced the change and am making good use of this time to help and support others with the tools and knowledge we have from our work, which gives me a sense of purpose and meaning that I enjoy. This has included developing a series of short videos, that help people to ‘Thrive, not just survive’ in this time, that are freely available on You Tube. The aim is to help as many people as possible, so share as you wish.
We’re in regular touch with our families in the UK, chatting with friends online and enjoying more time for cooking, reading and relaxing. With the lovely weather we’re having and time to sit on the balcony, its actually quite a pleasant time :)
What do you think about the economic measures the government is taking, are they helping your business?
We looked into these, but as we are continuing to work, although differently, we decided to simply reduce our costs as much as possible for a while and develop new services that work well and support people at the moment. As our coaching and one-to-one services are the most suitable for this, it has meant us learning new Apps and tools to work with which is also good for the longer-term future.
When did you realise that coronavirus was going to be a big issue?
I think seeing what was happening in Italy and how close this was to us, as well as people we knew who were quarantined in various other countries. At this time, I started to follow more ‘scientific reports’ as well as the coronavirus regular updates on Total Slovenia News, which were practical and informative and great to have in English. I also began to know people who had the virus and this helped in understanding how important the isolation measures were.
What is your impression of the way Slovenia is dealing with the crisis?
I am impressed with what I see as decisive and necessary actions, quickly implemented and enforced, in a step-by-step way as appropriate. More importantly I’m also impressed with how people are mostly following the precautions, and local communities are also helping their neighbours while keeping their distance. So yes, I feel safe, I am only exposed for shopping once a week, and this is also managed well in our local supermarkets with only a few people in the shop, everyone wearing masks and staying well apart.
Now compare that to the UK and how they’re handling it there.
The UK seems a little behind us and not as disciplined as here in Slovenia. I hope this will change soon. Of course, there’s a lot more people which makes it more difficult. I think the UK does not want to ‘impose’ rules, rather expects people to be responsible and play their part, which many people are doing. Unfortunately, some not, and with such a big population, even a small percentage could be a big problem. making containment of the virus more difficult and therefore longer lasting with more possible deaths, which is very sad.
What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?
I’m not following any official channels in the UK, just the news, but our families there are well informed and know what to do. Here friends update us and Total Slovenia News is our main source of official updates in English, which works really well
What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation.
Honestly, I cannot think of anything I miss at home, except people. Seeing and chatting with friends and family online is great, but I’ll also be glad when we can see each other face-to-face again. Otherwise we’re looking forward to being able to shop on Ljubljana market again, having a coffee by the river after shopping and meeting friends for a drink and a chat.
One thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis.
For myself I am learning how much I love and appreciate my life, how important family and friends are and that I am actually quite happy at home, just spending time with my husband.
For others I observe that the situation brings out more of who we are, so our true colours show themselves more clearly, for better or for worse. Fortunately, mostly for the better.
Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.
What do you think about the economic measures the government is taking, are they helping your business? (PLEASE IGNORE IF THIS DOES NOT AFFECT YOU)
When did you realise that coronavirus was going to be a big issue?
What is your impression of the way Slovenia is dealing with the crisis? How safe do you feel?
Now compare that to your home country and how they are handling it. What is Slovenia doing better/worse?
What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?
What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation?
What's one thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis?
STA, 20 April 2020 - The Constitutional Court has repealed an emergency law ordering the culling of brown bear and wolf populations which was to remain valid until late September. Even though the cull determined by the law has already been carried out, the decision may prevent the adoption of emerging amendments that would increase the cull quota for this year.
The court has ruled that the law is in violation of Article 3 of the Constitution, which refers to the separation of powers between the three branches of government. Based on that, it did not rule on the substance of the law, said Alpe Adria Green, an environmental NGO.
The law gave permission to hunters to cull 175 bears and 11 wolves. Most of the animals have already been culled, but the NGO says the ruling would probably put a stop to an amendment to the act currently under discussion which would enforce additional culling.
A constitutional review of the bill was sought by the Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs and the Association for the Preservation of Slovenian Natural Heritage in July. The court agreed at the time that any culling should be regulated by the nature conservation act and the decree on protected wild animal species, while the culling should be ordered by the government.
After the Administrative Court annulled a number of such government decrees, parliament passed a law directly mandating the cull, a move that the Constitutional Court sees as violation of the principle of the separation of powers.
Since the legislation was to expire at the end of September, efforts to amend the act have begun. The changes, which were proposed by the National Council in February and enjoy support from the government, would expand the annual cull: 220 bears were to be killed between 1 May and 30 April 2021 and 30 wolves from May to late January 2021.
More than 30 environmental NGOs have protested against the proposal, addressing a letter to the EU Commission representation office and European Parliament office in Slovenia and urging the authorities to immediately impose a moratorium on carnivore culling in the country.
Slovenia has a thriving brown bear population that was estimated at 750-975 animals at the end of 2018 under a study conducted in the framework of the international project LIFE. Culling is a widely accepted management practice supported by researchers, but in recent years the public pressure to control the population has increased due to a growing number of human-bear conflicts.
The wolf population, meanwhile, is estimated at around 80 animals, according to a study commissioned by the Agriculture Ministry. Damage by wolves, in particular to livestock, has been increasing in recent years, but experts say culling must be very precise in order not to disturb the hierarchy of wolf packs, which may actually cause greater damage if packs are unstable.
Ne Bom Več Luzerka (My Last Year as a Loser) was pushed hard on the Slovenian film scene last year, and with good reason. It’s a handsome film, shot in central Ljubljana, that follows the lack of career progress of the protagonist, an arts graduate who can’t find gainful employment in line with her education. Written and directed by Urša Menart, if your Slovene is good enough to follow basic conversations, there’s much to enjoy with it’s current presentation on RTV Slovenija’s website and app (for a limited time only, I’d imagine), and you can now watch it here, with the trailer shown below.
If your Slovene is as poor as mine then you’ll need to hit the CC (closed captions) to make the subtitles – Slovene – appear. If you click INTERAKTIVNO in the lower right then all the subtitles open up, and you can copy / paste them into a document for further study.
Lockdown leads Sam Baldwin – founder of BREG Apparel – to a pastoral world, where he finally gets his ‘priden’ badge from The Matriarch of Breg.
Other posts in this series can be read here
It started with a virus. Then followed the excitement of the lockdown-high. I had zoom calls with long-lost friends and was added to a zillion new WhatsApp groups. Then came the come down. Winter returned, life was cold and isolation felt strange.
Now, a month after running to the hills of Koroška, and I have found a certain peace. We humans have the ability to adjust to our situation, no matter how strange, and I seem to have reached a gentle contentedness to living more simply, more frugally and more physically than before.
This has been achieved by turning to a more pastoral way of life. In addition to working on various home improvement projects, (I spent two weeks with a chainsaw and chisels, making traditional wooden rain gutters for my house from tree trunks) I have been helping my neighbours – forty-something Štefka and her 74-year old mother Ančka, Breg’s Matriarch – work their land. They have a mountainside farmstead (think Heidi landscape); a couple of cows, two pigs, a few chickens, some alpine pasture and a scattering of plum and pear trees. And with each new season, there are new tasks to be done.
Assisting them was the least I could do considering their extreme generosity. They have been bringing me a hot, homecooked meals, to the point where I had an excess of food and had to protest. And that is just their most recent act of kindness. Ever since I bought Breg house in 2007, Štefka, Ančka and Jaka (God rest his schnapps-drinking soul) have been nothing but the best of neighbours to me.
I spent two afternoons raking dried leaves and dead grass from the meadows with Štefka. It had the instant gratification of cleaning a dirty window with a squeegee. It was a simple, even mundane task, yet I enjoyed it immensely. With this simple act of raking, we were helping to maintain the meadow and hold nature in stasis by preventing the forest from reclaiming the ground. No tractors, no machines. Just hand rakes, exactly as it has been done here for the last 300 years.
I have come to enjoy all this physical work. There’s wood to split, logs to bring in, the fire to light. There’s a fence to repair, a pipe to be fixed, a stone wall to build. I have found pleasure and fulfilment to the slowness of lockdown life. I am never bored. I become completely absorbed in my tasks. I forget all other worries and lose awareness of time passing. I feel fitter, more focused and more content.
I recently watched a documentary about the Amish. They believe that daily physical labour is a joy in itself. This is why they shun modern-day labour-saving devices as these would, in their eyes, reduce the amount of hard work required, and thus reduce the quality of life. I’m not about to swap my car for a horse and buggy, and grow a weird beard, but my pastoral BREGxit lockdown has made me realise that perhaps the Amish are on to something.
It is also through interaction with my neighbours that I have been able to practise speaking Slovene on a daily basis. Which is ironic. Because in my normal Ljubljana life, when I see far more Slovenian people, I speak far less Slovene. Though my level remains crude, we have been able to converse to an interesting-enough level. And I have discovered more about their lives as we have toiled together.
“My brother would have been 50 today” Štefka told me, as we pulled our wide rakes towards us, gathering hay and leaves at our feet.
Though I knew she had a long-deceased brother, I knew nothing of the circumstances of his death. I decided it would be an appropriate time to enquire.
“He hung himself. His girlfriend left him for someone else.”
A little later, Ančka arrived with a can of cold beer and two glasses.
“She’s come to check on our work!” Štefka joked.
We took a seat on a wooden bench, sipped the beer and looked out over the mountains and Meža valley below, now in the golden sun of spring. I asked them if they knew everyone who lived in the farms we could see, perched on the sides of the surrounding hills. Štefka proceed to point out each farm, recount the family name and the number of inhabitants of each.
“Do they ever come here?” I asked.
“Yes, once or twice each year.”
“Do you ever go there?”
“No!” – Ančka said, shaking her head, as if the idea of her leaving Breg was absurd.
Indeed, Ančka does not leave Breg. Incredibly for a Slovene, she has never seen the sea. She has no desire to visit lands beyond her borders. She believes she has everything she could want right here on the planina of Breg.
If you want to see Ančka, you must come to her. And come they do; she has no shortage of visitors. Despite living 850m up a mountain, the gravity of this Matriarch is strong. There is always someone popping in for a kava or schnapps – be it the snow-plough driver, a relative or one of their many friends. No matter how busy, there always seems to be time for a little malica.
The difference between their worldview and mine, perhaps makes our friendship an unlikely one. I have jumped at chances to leave my own country and go far beyond its borders. I have lived in Asia and North America, and visited exotic lands: Beirut, Beijing, Burma and Kashmir. Back home in the UK, I had never spent so much time with such deeply rural people. But I seem to have an affinity for rural folk in secret corners of the world. Indeed, amongst others, it was the lives of the farmers, fisherman and other local characters of rural Japan that fascinated me most, during my two years living there. There’s something appealing to me about those who still live the ‘old way’.
It’s thanks to Štefka and Ančka that I have met many other Slovenes in the area. But I have returned the favour too. Whenever friends come to visit me in Slovenia, I always take them to Štefka’s and Ančka’s. So ironically, Ančka, who rarely leaves the borders of Breg, let alone her country, has shared her kava and klobasa with people from America, Scotland, France, Iran, England, Austria, Ireland and New Zealand – and she seems to enjoy such visits.
Štefka and Ančka run a tight ship up here in Breg and keep a critical eye on my projects. After I have finished any given construction or garden task, Ančka soon arrives to inspect my work. My wooden gutters met with her approval, but at the same time she remarked on my untidy garden. She approved of my new vegetable plot, though instructed me to make a fence to keep out the deer.
Often when I am working away outside, Ančka will suddenly appear. Normally, I would rely on Štefka to translate her mother’s heavy Koroškan dialect into more understandable Slovene for me. However, a few days ago, Štefka was absent, so for the first time ever, I had a long, one on one conversation with Ančka, and to my surprise (and joy) I found we could communicate. We talked about the number of eggs the chickens are currently laying (seven or eight a day) when the cows will go out to pasture (late May), if they’ll be any plums this year (last year there wasn’t) and when it’s time to start planting the vegetable garden (first of May). I also learned that despite their ample supply of eggs, Ančka doesn’t eat them, and for all the plums they pick, she never drinks schnapps. Instead, such commodities are used as currency; gifted to friends who visit and help out on the land.
As lockdown goes on, I have started to go the way of Ančka, becoming almost allergic to leaving Breg. When I had to make a trip down to civilization this week for supplies, I didn’t enjoy the strange, new COVID-mask world, and I was glad to get back to the sanctuary of Breg.
And so, I have been settling into the rural Slovene life, working with my hands and working outside. Global lockdown makes it easier to appreciate this simple life. Because for now, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been cancelled. One thing we can all be sure of right now, is that there IS nothing to miss out on. And this allows us to gain contentment from life’s more simple pleasures.
This morning it was ‘casually suggested’ by Štefka (likely she was delivering orders from up on high) that it was time I got my flower beds in order (which I confess, have been neglected for more than a decade). So, I spent an hour weeding them, and as I raked in the last of the cow-manure compost, Ančka appeared. She siliently watched my progress, whilst leaning on her stick.
I awaited her ruling nervously. Had I done enough to please The Mighty Matriarch of Breg? Finally, she put me out of my misery:
“OK, now your house is beautiful.”
It’s taken me over ten years, but I think I just got my priden* badge.
*Priden is a Slovene word meaning ‘diligent/hard-working and seems to be a Slovenian trait to aspire to.
Other posts in this series can be read here
STA, 17 April 2020 - Nation-wide primary school exams have been cancelled due to the coronavirus situation, the Education Ministry announced on Friday. This is the first time the exams for sixth and ninth grade students have be cancelled since their introduction 20 years ago. Headteachers have welcomed the decision.
The decision not to hold the exams as schools are closed and children learning at home was taken on the basis of an assessment made by key education stakeholders, Minister of Education, Science and Sport Simona Kustec said in a release.
Nevertheless, the nation-wide tests will be made available online for teachers and students to reinforce what students have already learned.
Sixth graders take exams in mathematics and Slovenian (Italian and Hungarian for minority members in bilingual areas) as well as in a foreign language, which is English or German. Ninth graders also take the exams in maths and mother-tongue plus in a third subject which varies.
The exams, which are not compulsory, are taken in early May. This year's exams for third garde students, which were introduced in the 2017/2018 year, were cancelled already last month.
A decision to hold Matura - the school-leaving exam for secondary school students - has already been taken recently. But Kustec said in an interview for the newspaper Dnevnik, which will be fully run on Saturday, that it will be held in a somewhat changed format.
Students will write the Slovenian language essay on 1 June instead of 5 May, which is a major difference from the standard schedule.
Just like every year, however, secondary school students in their last year will end school on 22 May and all the others on 24 June.
The minister, however, was unable to say earlier this week when kindergartens and schools could reopen, stressing it would depend on an expert assessment that this could be done safely.
The government has already started to relax some of the restrictions imposed after the epidemic was declared on 12 March, but schools are very unlikely to reopen soon.
In his first reaction to the news, the head of the Association of Primary and Music School Headteachers, Gregor Pečan, said that while schools were yet to be formally notified of the decision, which he expects today, he is "grateful that common sense has prevailed".
"I absolutely agree the primary school national exams are cancelled, because it would be impossible to provide for credible exams in this situation," he said in a statement for the STA, adding it would make no sense to hold them for their own sake.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here
STA, 16 April 2020 - The Slovenian government has decided to partially ease the strict lockdown restrictions starting on Saturday. Limited movement outside the municipality of residence will be allowed, as will certain sports activities that do not involve close contact among persons.
Under amendment to the original lockdown decree adopted late on Wednesday, the prohibition of movement and gathering of persons that has confined residents to their municipality will continue to apply.
However, several exemptions were added to the existing list that already included going to work, shopping, access to emergency services, farm work and care for family members.
Bearing in mind the usual precautions about safe distance between individuals, individual sports such as jogging, bicycling, golf and yoga will thus be allowed as well as group sport such as tennis, badminton and boules.
Individuals and families or members of the same household will also be allowed to access private land outside their municipality of residence for purposes such as maintenance and seasonal works.
To do that, they will have to possess some sort of evidence of ownership of property or the right to use such a property, for example a copy of the land deed. They will also have to produce a document stating the purpose of their travel on a special form that is a part of the government decree.
Tens of thousands of Slovenians have property in the countryside and the relaxation in effect means they will be allowed to spend time on properties that many use as holiday homes and where many grow vegetables.
Violations of the decree are subject to fines under the law on the prevention of infectious diseases and compliance will be checked by police.
The decision marks the first significant easing of lockdown restrictions that were introduced on 20 March to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The government started indicating last week that some easing was being considered since the growth in new infections had started to slow down, but it wanted to make sure the flattening of the curve of infections was sustainable.
Health Minister Tomaž Gantar said yesterday Slovenia had managed to turn the trend and would cautiously proceed with the relaxation of measures.
The number of new infections has been steadily declining. After a quiet Easter weekend during which testing was at about half the usual pace, the number of new infections rose by 28 on Tuesday to 1,248.
But more importantly, the number of patients requiring hospitalisation and intensive care has been broadly flat and has so far not come close to the capacity of the health system.
Five persons died of Covid-19 on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 61. The vast majority of the victims have been nursing home residents with multiple underlying conditions.
STA, 14 April 2020 - Education Minister Simona Kustec, who participated in a videocall EU ministerial on Tuesday, is not yet able to say when kindergartens and school in Slovenia could reopen. But she announced the decision on whether to hold nation-wide primary school exams for sixth and ninth grade students would be taken this Friday.
The ministerial showed countries hold very different views on when to reopen schools, with some, including the gravely affected Spain, arguing in favour of starting already at the beginning of May, Kustec told the Slovenian press.
The minister was not yet able to say when this could happen in Slovenia, stressing it would depend on an expert assessment that this could be done safely.
Kustec, who added EU ministers were united in the view that performance grading needed to be kind and motivating in the current circumstances, announced Friday would bring a decision on whether to hold the nation-wide exams in Slovenia for sixth and ninth grade primary school children, which are usually held in May.
A decision has already been made in favour of holding the secondary school-leaving exams, although probably later than originally scheduled, meaning not before June.
Meanwhile, during today's ministerial, Kustec placed special attention on the need for equality when organising remote schooling during the pandemic. She highlighted Slovenia's positive experience with donations that allowed computers and other necessary equipment to be provided for all pupils.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here
STA, 14 April 2020 - A group of companies and employer organisations have raised more than 250 computers and tablets to enable disadvantaged students to participate in remote learning, said AmCham Slovenija on Tuesday.
The campaign, titled Solidarity Together, has been coordinated by AmCham Slovenija in cooperation with the Education Ministry and the National Education Institute.
Apart from the American-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce, the campaign also included the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), Managers' Association, Slovenian Business Club (SBC) and British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.
The organisations' members have provided equipment enabling distant learning during the epidemic for students most in need of assistance, said AmCham, adding that the donated devices would also help the students keep in touch with their peers.
The most generous contributors included brewer Pivovarna Laško Union, telecoms operator Telemach, app developer Outfit7, IT company Oracle Slovenija and HP Computing and Printing, added AmCham.
Chairman of Telemach Adrian Ježina said that the company had donated tablets and internet access to 90 children and their families.
Meanwhile, Pivovarna Laško Union corporate affairs director, Tanja Subotić Levanič, said that the brewer had equipped 40 children with tablets as well as donated additional 15 devices needed for distant learning to hospital schools.
Moreover, Outfit7 has raised EUR 5,500 for the cause, according to AmCham.