Culture Day attracts many, ceremony leaves bitter after taste
At the ceremony, composer Ivo Petrić and author Tone Partljič received this year's Prešeren Prizes, the top prizes in arts, while Prešeren Fund Prizes were given to composer and choir conductor Ambrož Čopi, director Janusz Kica, painter Aleksij Kobal, poet Cvetka Lipuš, sculptor Mojca Smerdu and actor, dancer and performer Katarina Stegnar.
The ceremony did not pass without controversy, which has been a mainstay of proceedings for several years. While this time around the recipients of the award were not challenged, director of the ceremony Bulc told public broadcaster RTV Slovenija that his idea for the ceremony had been censored by the Prešeren Fund, which gives out Prešeren Prizes, and the ministry.
According to Bulc, the fear of the ceremony being too provocative and critical was behind the censorship. He said he had to decide whether to accept the censorship or leave the project behind as he no longer felt as the director but as the executor of the Prešeren Fund's and the ministry's ideas. He persevered because of the artists he had invited and because of the core message of the project.
On the other hand, the fund's president Janez Bogataj told the STA that the ceremony had been one of the best and that the institutions had not influenced the substance of Bulc's idea but had to ensure Slovenia's symbols would be used in line with the legislation.
"I believe that Slovenia showed it knows how to see itself and the world in a slightly different way. If the director is not happy with what he's done, it's a question for him," Bogataj said, referring to the Slovenian anthem being sung in several languages during the show.
Other "artistic expressions Bulc may have come up with" however belong in the experimental theatre or on the streets and not in the state ceremony, he added.
Culture Minister Julijana Bizjak Mlakar noted that the Prešeren Fund was in charge of the ceremony and had to ensure that state symbols were used in line with the law.
Just as controversially, France Prešeren's statue in the centre of Ljubljana was wrapped in wire, unofficially as a sign of protest against the policy of closing borders. Several town signs across the country were wrapped in wire as well.
The controversy did not however detract from the spirit Culture Day celebrations throughout the weekend and on Monday.
President Borut Pahor, who addressed the central ceremony in Vrba, the birthplace of the bard, called for the culture of dialogue and understanding.
"Slovenians are the only nation to have a public holiday for Culture Day," Pahor stressed. "It may be a day when we don't only celebrate culture in the strictest of senses, when it's not just about the language, poetry, art, but also about us as people and the relationships among us - the cultural relations in the broadest possible sense."
Slovenia will survive if it remains an open society and that "needs a free individual who is not afraid to speak their mind, because they speak it in an understandable and respectful way." "And that is Prešeren's heritage and the heritage of his Zdravljica (A Toast), which is our anthem."
Several hundred people gathered in Vrba for the central ceremony despite bad weather, with Živrovnica mayor Leopold Pogačar stressing that "neither rain nor wind can stop a true Slovenian when they go to Vrba".
Pahor, along with Bizjak Mlakar and Bogataj also laid a wreath at the monument to Prešeren in Ljubljana in the morning, while several actor recited the poet's poems at noon.
Bizjak Mlakar told the recital that Prešeren elevated Slovenian poetry among Europe's best, and placed shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Alexander Pushkin and Lord Byron. According to the minister, Prešeren was great because he developed Slovenian poetic language and introduced into it the most difficult poetic forms.
Chair of the Association of Theatre Actors (ZDUS) Branko Šturbej noted that the 30th recital of Prešeren's poetry in front of the monument was aimed at "opening the hearts, not only for the time of celebration, but throughout the year".
Prešeren's poems were read by a number of actors, including Saša Pavček, Štefkoa Drolc, Olga Kacjan and Niko Goršič. Alongside the one in Ljubljana, recitals were for the first time also held in Maribor and Nova Gorica.
A number of events were also held in Kranj, where Prešeren lived for a few years before his death, including a traditional fair and a get-together of Prešeren Prize laureates at the Prešeren Theatre.
The Culture Ministry held a reception for this year's laureates and President Pahor held open day at the Presidential Palace.