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8 February: the Day of Slovenian Culture and the commemoration of France Prešeren

8 February is a Slovenian cultural holiday - it is also known as Prešeren Day, in memory of the poet Dr France Prešeren, who died in 1849. It was declared a public holiday in 1945 by the Presidency of the Slovenian National Liberation Council. The new state also kept it and declared it a public holiday in 1991.

On the eve of the holiday, a central national celebration is held to award the Prešeren Prizes and the Prešeren Fund Prizes, which are the highest honours of the Republic of Slovenia for achievements in the field of art. The Prešeren Prize winners for 2024 are the poet Erika Vouk and the ballet dancer and choreographer Henrik Neubauer. The Prešeren Fund Prizes are awarded to poet Miljana Cunta, actress Jana Zupančič, mezzo-soprano Nuška Drašček, illustrator Ciril Horjak, director Sara Kern and graphic designer Tomato Košir.

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Dr. France Prešeren was of exceptional importance for the history of the Slovenian nation, and most Slovenians understand the deep meaning of the aspirations for personal and national freedom. Prešeren's work is a necessary, inevitable and eternal part of the Slovenian cultural tradition. France Prešeren - lawyer, poet, writer, thinker - has won for himself a position in Slovenian society that resembles a natural phenomenon rather than a flesh-and-blood human being. It is impossible to exclude him from the collective Slovenian spirit, because he is, as it were, one with that spirit. The presence of his name and image everywhere - in squares, streets, awards, banknotes, in the theatre - is only a superficial manifestation of the poet's influence.

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Zdravljica is the culmination of Prešeren's political poetry. It was written in 1844 during a period of strict political censorship in the former Austrian monarchy, of which Slovenia was a part. Because of the censorship, the poem could not be published in Prešeren's "Poems", so it could only be published after the fall of Metternich's absolutism and the abolition of censorship in 1848.

This poem was extremely important in the history of the formation of Slovenians as a modern European nation; the poem was particularly topical during the War of National Liberation during the occupation in 1941-45, and it was during Slovenian independence (1990-1991) that the idea of Prešeren's "Comfort" as the anthem of an independent Slovenia was born. The idea was accepted by a large majority. His thought was certainly ahead of its time.

Author: Vesna Žarkovič

Date: 7. February 2024

Time to read: 2 min