The Slovenia Times

Imperial censorship revealed

CultureScience & Education

An exhibition at the National and University Library (NUK) in Ljubljana sheds light to one of the most fascinating historic periods in terms of censorship. Slovenians and Imperial Censorship from Joseph II to the First World War is the result of a multi-year research project.

Censorship was virtually non-existent for Slovenian literature up until the period of playwright Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795), because Slovenian literature was virtually non-existent up until that point, curator Marijan Dović of the research centre ZRC SAZU told the pre-opening press conference on 25 May.

Linhart, known as the author of the first play written in Slovenian, Županova Micka (Micka, the Mayor's Daughter), became the first of the nation's literary greats to "have intense encounters with censorship," said Dović, also mentioning poet and writer Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819).

Vodnik's poem Ilirija Oživljena (Illyria Revived), which celebrates Napoleon's establishment of the Illyrian provinces, obviously did not bother the French authorities, but after Austria claimed back the territory, Emperor Franz I forced Vodnik into retirement, preventing his obtaining the new Slovenian language chair at the Ljubljana Lyceum, reads the Slovenian-English exhibition catalogue.

Another key player in this period was writer Fran Levstik (1831-1887). Although he himself had never been imprisoned, several of his editors were, Dović said.

Then came a watershed moment, brought on by the revolutions of 1848, after which censorship became laxer. The exhibition features Miroslav Vilhar, a journalist, editor and nationalist from the 1860s, also one of the editors imprisoned over Levstik's work.

Vilhar's work shows that certain things could be published in that period and that sanctions only followed later on, after the state apparatus realised a line had been crossed.

The exhibition features multifaceted responses to censorship by poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), the author of the poem that became Slovenia's national anthem, which had also been censored. In this respect, censorship led to some very interesting works, said Dović.

The publication of Prešeren's first version of Zdravljica, (A Toast), was prevented by a local censor, likely because of the third and fourth stanzas, and their "potentially rebellious intent, calling down thunder on the enemies of Slovenians, and for the breaking of all shackles", reads the catalogue.

The censor may also been apprehensive about the sixth stanza, in which the poet openly discouraged mixed marriages: May the sweet bonds of love/ Bind you and our kin/ Within it betroth/ That never again/ Daughter's progeny/ And sons'/ Will be an accomplice of the enemy!

Peršeren later thoroughly rewrote that stanza; part of the message is now included in the fifth stanza Sons you'll bear/Who will dare/Defy our foe no matter where. The 7th stanza, adopted as Slovenia's national anthem, calls for God's blessing on all nations, which long to see That all men free/No more shall foes, but neighbours be.

Dović said that it is still hard to comprehend what could have happened in the era before the March revolution if censorship had not been in place. He illustrated that some newspapers never made it to first edition because of censorship, among them Slavinja. The exhibition imagines what the paper would have looked like had it made to press.

The iconic Map of Slovenian Provinces by Peter Kozler (1824-1879) was also subjected to censorship, delaying its publication by nine years, said Dović.

Interestingly, the censorship service did not repress only ideas it deemed too progressive but also ideas it deemed to backward, Dović noted.

Theatre censorship remained very strict until the end of the monarchy, stricter than censorship of newspapers and books. Virtually all shows had been censored, but very few were banned entirely. Instead, many were allowed only under the condition that certain segments were not performed.

Socialist print was also repressed, said Dović, adding that the attempt to launch the first such newspaper, Novi Čas, was nipped in the bud.

Running until 25 November, the exhibition concludes with the First World War when rules of the game are changed radically and the state established very strict control over all aspects of public and cultural life in the empire.


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