The Slovenia Times

Emigration through the eyes of those who returned

Emigrants (Gastarbeiters) at the Ljubljana railway station in 1947. Photo: Svetozar Busić, kept by National Museum of Contemporary History

Slovenians have left their homeland to find a new life abroad for different reasons through centuries, but some of them decided to return, in particular after the country became independent. Some of their stories are brought to life at an exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary History.

From Homeland to Homeland: the return of Slovenian emigrants and their descendants to Slovenia after 1990 is the product of new research into this so far little explored topic.

Each of the 17 featured stories provides a personal perspective on life as an emigrant, and the reasons why the returnees left and then came back to their homeland or the homeland of their ancestors.

In this way it provides insights into different chapters in the history of Slovenian emigration, highlighting major historical events that affected its course from the 19th century onwards.

The stories include that of student Amira Elkanawati, who was born in Egypt as a descendant of the Alexandrinians, the Slovenian women who left the region of Primorska in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to earn their living as wet nurses for rich families in Egypt.

Amira's grandma stayed in Egypt and started her own family in the 1930s.

Jožica Čeč Drese fell in love with a Dutchman but after retirement she returned with him to Slovenia.

Born in 1938 into a farming family in Bela Krajina in the south-east of the country, Anton Malenšek emigrated to America in the 1960s. He came back to his homeland in 2015.

Emigration was linked mainly to socioeconomic reasons, as well as political at a certain period of time, but often the decision to leave was motivated by love, the museum says.

Meanwhile, a 2004 survey conducted by the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU) showed the most common reasons for return were homesickness, patriotism, family ties, inheritance and retirement.

According to unofficial estimates about half a million Slovenians and people of Slovenian descent live outside Slovenia. About 130,000 of them are members of ethnic minorities living in the border regions in Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy.

"Return migration remains one of the least researched chapters of the migration process," Miha Zobec of the Institute for Slovenian Emigration and Migration at ZRC SAZU wrote in the exhibition catalogue.

He says the stories at the exhibition "can challenge conventional ideas and teach us about both the complexity of the reasons for the return and finding a new life in the (former) environment".

The exhibition runs from 26 October to 23 January 2024.


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