Culture Day celebrations lively despite restrictions

Ljubljana/Kranj/Vrba – Despite restrictions limiting gatherings and the cancellation of several long-standing events, Slovenians flocked to cultural institutions and points of interest on Tuesday to celebrate Culture Day, a public holiday in memory of the great Romantic poet France Prešeren.

Vrba, a tiny village in Gorenjska where Prešeren (1800-1849) was born, cancelled its traditional formal celebration for the second year in a row, but that did not prevent hundreds from visiting the museum in the house where the poet was born.

“People appear to be fed up with restrictions, corona and all that. We miss hanging out. And in this beautiful weather today, it is really merry here,” Žirovnica Mayor Leopold Pogačar said.

Many traditionally hike to Vrba in honour of the poet, and it was no different this year as groups made their way to the village. “It seems this is what the people want, particularly on a day as nice as today,” one hiker said.

Kranj, the city where Prešeren spent the last years of his life, put on a special fair that was smaller than usual but still featured 60 stands and a few cultural events.

Cultural institutions, where admission is free on Culture Day, reported high visitor numbers and visitors were standing in line to enter the National Gallery in Ljubljana, the National Museum and the Ljubljana City Museum.

Luckily the gallery is spacious and people disperse, said the head of educational activities at the National Gallery Živa Rogelj.

Another mainstay was President Borut Pahor’s reception for the Prešeren Prize Laureates and open day at the Presidential Palace, where the number of attendees was limited due to space constraints.

One event that was missing was the traditional reading of Prešeren’s poetry in front of his statue in Ljubljana’s Prešeren Square organised by the Association of Dramatic Artists.

While the reading was instead broadcast on national public radio, there was a spontaneous performance of poetry by an unknown man that attracted a significant crowd.

Culture Day is also traditionally an occasion to reflect on the state of Slovenian culture. Senior officials provided distinct takes on how things stand.

Prime Minister Janez Janša highlighted in his message the record Culture Ministry budget and said the current government’s dedication to culture was “measured not in words but in actions and figures”.

“Even though I know that the bullhorns of those who see culture through demagoguery and subjective feelings will be loud yet again, facts backed up by figure cannot be drowned out.

“What the numbers say is that Slovenia allocates an above-average share of GDP for culture, which places it high in the rankings compared to other European countries,” he said.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič meanwhile highlighted the plight of artists during the pandemic and questioned the government’s attitude to the arts.

“We should reflect once again on the attitude to culture. let’s ask ourselves about its future, the future of artistic creation… While the ministry has a record budget … these funds are not equally available to all,” he said.

President Pahor, who described culture as “a pillar of our identity, our homeland and our country,” meanwhile made an appeal for respect among political rivals as the general election approaches.

“If we are mindful of one another with the words we choose, we need not fear the differences between us. Surely, besides all the differences we will find a thousand or more things that connect us as a community.”