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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

A nation in the making

Anton Melik
Traduction de Olga Vukovič

Texte intégral

1Title: Narod, ki nastaja (A nation in the making)

2Originally published: Ljubljanski zvon (a monthly on literature and educa-tion), Ljubljana, 1918, vol 38, issue 8.

3Language: Slovene
The excerpt used is from the original, pp. 476–484.

About the author

4Anton Melik [1890, Črna vas (Ger. Schwarzendorf, present-day Slovenia) – 1966, Ljubljana]: geographer and historian. He studied in Vienna between 1911 and 1916, and in 1927 received his doctorate in geography from Ljubljana University. He started his career as a secondary school teacher in Ljubljana. From 1938 to 1966 he served as a professor of geography at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana. From 1946 to 1950 he was the President of Ljubljana University. He served two terms as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and was a member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Until 1958 he was a deputy to the ‘People’s Assembly’ in Ljubljana. From 1911, his works, literary texts and later essays on political, social and economic top-ics in the new Yugoslav state, appeared in Slovenian and Croatian newspapers, fre-quently under his pen-name Loboda. After the First World War, he wrote several historical and geographical reference books, overviews and secondary school text-books. He was the editor of the literary monthly Ljubljanski zvon (The Ljubljana bell). After the Second World War, he primarily concentrated on the organization and institutionalization of the discipline of geography in Slovenia. He also partici-pated in the preparation of documents that served as the basis for the drawing of the western border of Yugoslavia. His close attention to natural, historical, socio-economic and developmental features of the Slovenian regions made him a doyen of the discipline of geography in Slovenia. As the most prominent Slovenian geographer and one of the most prominent geographers in Yugoslavia, Anton Melik was a renowned public figure. His acceptance of administrative-political functions within the communist establishment and his political activity after the Second World War were seen by many of his contemporaries as highly controversial; some critics even accused him of power-mongering. However, Melik’s political activity after the Sec-ond World War can be attributed to his pre-First World War propensities. He wel-comed the communist regime because it restored the western Slovenian border, stopped the German Drang nach Osten, and nationalized landed property.

5Main works: Zgodovina Srbov, Hrvatov in Slovene ev [The history of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes] (1919–1920); Jugoslavija. Zemljepisni pregled [Yugoslavia. A geographical overview] (1921, 1923); Kolonizacija Ljubljanskega barja [The settlement of the Ljubljana marshlands] (1927); Slovenija. Geografski opis [Slovenia: a geographical description] (1935, 1936); Amerika in ameriška Slovenija [America and American Slovenia] (1956).


6Melik matured during the period when the national awakening movement in Slovenia reached its peak. Like many of his contemporaries, Melik was driven, under the pressure of Germanization, to articulate a sense of (Slove-nian) national awareness. The result was his resistant and combative personal stance in a series of publications dealing with the issue of borders within the nation-state. Melik’s fundamental political stance rested on the conviction that because of the region’s geo-strategic importance, the Balkans were al-ways destined to be at the center of European and global political developments.

7At the time of the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, many Slovenes were convinced that they would cease to have any contacts with Germans, not even on the economic level. After 1918, the cultural orientation of Slovenia completely changed. With the establishment of Yugoslavia, new horizons and opportunities were opened for Slovenian culture, but the centralist rigidity of the kingdom under the Karadordević dynasty soon began to obstruct the national and cultural ambitions of the Slovenes. According to the 1921 census, more than 90 % of citizens living in the Slovenian part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were literate, while in other parts of the Kingdom this percent was only around 40 %. In Slovenia, elementary schooling was incomparably more developed than the south-eastern regions of the country. However, the situation of higher education was quite the opposite. Unlike Zagreb and Belgrade, Ljubljana did not have a university. From the very beginning, there existed an irreconcilable contrast between the aspira-tions of the Slovenes and the expectations of other parts of the country. While Belgrade allocated most of its educational funds to literacy campaigns, Ljubljana worked towards the Slovenization of secondary schooling and the development of Ljubljana University, which had been established in 1919.

8Before 1914, there was no wide support in Slovenia for the idea of resolv-ing the Slovenian and South Slavic issue outside the framework of Austria-Hungary. Ivan Cankar’s view, presented in the lecture ‘The Slovenes and the Yugoslavs,’ was isolated. Nothing at that time suggested that an age-old monarchy would soon come to an end. The idea of Yugoslavia suddenly gained ground among the Slovenes towards the end of the First World War, prompted by the threat posed by the Germans. Nevertheless, it was evident that the intellectuals greatly differed in their views on the issue of developing closer links with southern Slavic nations. Although Yugoslavia was the choice of the majority among the Slovenes, in their imagination it was pri-marily a synonym for a ‘nation-state’ which would provide a framework for the fulfillment of Slovenian aspirations for self-determination. At the time of the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Slovenian (political) elite was divided on the question of whether the Slovenes, Serbs and Croats consti-tuted one nation which had to be reunited after a tragic period of separation, or were three distinct nations which still had to formulate a way to found a common state.

9Liberally oriented Anton Melik was among those who enthusiastically greeted the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Shortly before the formation of the Yugoslav state, the leading figures of the most influential political party in Slovenia between the two wars—the ‘Slovenian People’s Party’—declared that a person’s identification as a Serb, Croat or Slovene was undemocratic, compared to the “democratic conception of the three-name Yugoslav nation.” At the time of the breakdown of Austria-Hungary, the leader of the party, Anton Korošec, was one of the most prominent representatives of the “Yugoslav nation” in the eyes of the international community. It was only after the ‘Slovenian People’s Party’ monopolized power during the parliamentary elections in 1923 and established itself within the Yugoslav political context as an autonomist party, did its public stance turn into the opposite of what it had been before.

10After the Second World War, neither the political activity of the ‘Slovenian People’s Party’ nor Melik’s Yugoslavist mission were interpreted as efforts towards a uniform Yugoslav nation. On the contrary, Melik’s historical and geographical textbooks written during the inter-war period were perceived to endorse Slovenianism, which Melik only saw as the battle for the autonomy of Slovenian science and culture.

11According to his contemporaries’ accounts, it was through his lectures as a secondary school teacher (1917–1927) and then a university professor (1927–1965) that Melik’s love for Slovenian culture and his exceptional talent for narration found expression. Shortly after the unification, he began to write ‘The History of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes,’ a popular science book written in the spirit of Slovenianism which served as the basis for many historical textbooks he wrote subsequently. In the book, he still used the designation “three-part nation,” or avoided a classification altogether. Still, the list of references was divided according to the individual nations. Svetozar Pribićević, the minister of education in 1921, pointed out that teachers in Slovenian schools did not devote sufficient attention to educating students in the Yugoslav national spirit.

12The Slovenian experience of the first Yugoslav state (1918–1941) points to the fact that Slovenes, while they were articulate in their criticisms, produced no clear vision of how to achieve their own ideals. Their decision to join the Yugoslav state was born out of general enthusiasm and little judgment. It seems that Anton Melik’s perception of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was also informed by this dominant mindset. After the establishment of the Kingdom he stated that the “national liberation” thus achieved was the greatest turning point in history following the subjugation of the Slovenes to Frankish rulers one thousand years before. He held that the Slovenes now had to turn to Yugoslavia and Western Europe, and that Croatian and Serbian culture, and the learning and use of French in particular, would help them shape a new Slovenian “civilizational orientation.”

13After Melik’s death his colleagues maintained that he never advocated the idea of a singular Yugoslav nation. For example, Ivan Gams attempted to prove that Melik’s article on the western border of the Balkans, running along the Ljubljanica River, was written under pressure, rather than out of conviction. However, the article ‘A Nation in the Making’ suggests that, at least in the aftermath of the war, Melik was enthusiastic about the common Yugoslav nation, similar to many other Slovenian intellectuals. It has been argued that Melik did not write this article under pressure, but because he concurred with Jovan Cvijić’s view that the natural border between the Balkans and Europe was the watershed of rivers that flow into the Adriatic and the Black Seas respectively. For Cvijić, the border between the Balkans and Europe was the Soča river, but Melik is said to have shifted this border eastwards, to the Ljubljanica river.

14Today, Anton Melik is viewed as the indisputable founder of the science of geography in Slovenia, and his professional legacy informs research on any Slovenian region. The Geographical Institute of the Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, one of the main scientific and research institutions in Slovenia, bears his name.


A nation in the making


16The contemporary Yugoslav movement engrossed our entire Slavic south within a very short time. Its main demand, an independent Yugoslav state, rests on a dual conceptual basis, that is, political and national-cultural. The former is described by the popular motto of national self-determination: a nation is sovereign so it should be self-governed, self-administered and should decide autonomously, of its own free will, on its state organization; every such individual state organization should comprise one nation and cover its undivided territory, and should be free to decide on its relations with other, in principle equal, groups organized within nation-states. The second element of the Yugoslav movement’s conceptual basis is the principle of national unity of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, which is our guiding idea, now and in the future.

17The political aspect of our national program rests on a modern, European, or better said, global idea, which is shared by all politically and culturally living nations; it is a fruit of their struggles, defeats and victories, and of more than a hundred years of political and cultural experience. Our nationalcultural idea, on the other hand, is something that is specific to us, which, compared to modern, global, and particularly western European circumstances, appears as an alien phenomenon.

18The Slovenes, the Croats and the Serbs accepted the idea of the Yugoslav national unity as their national principle and as the highest national will, albeit in somewhat different forms. In an effort to realize it, we are still struggling against external and internal opponents. Because of this, and because of our future national and cultural endeavors, I find it very important that we should fully clarify our fundamental concepts and deepen and strengthen our views in many respects.

19In order to be able to proceed with this deliberation, we first need to analyze the concept of national unity. First we have to define, by observing the existing nations, the content of the concept of nation and understand which traits are its essential components. In so doing we arrive at the following conclusion: nations are primarily larger or smaller groups of people who inhabit an undivided territory and speak the same language, which indeed branches into various dialects in individual regions, but nevertheless presents itself, outwardly and inwardly, as a common literary and cultural linguistic unit; furthermore, every part of a nation is characterized by the awareness of the national community and the sense of belonging to the same nation. Every nation is a cultural unit; all of its parts share the same or very similar cultural views and sentiments, and even a number of ethnographic idiosyncrasies. If we take a closer look at the examples within the Roman, German and Slavic nations, we have to conclude that it is precisely the issues of cultural community and national awareness that are the most important. A literary language is an outward sign of unity and the idiosyncrasy of culture, and it represents the highest, the deepest, and the most potent trait of a nation [...].

20Starting from the traits of a nation outlined above, the Yugoslavs, that is to say, the Slovenes, the Croats and the Serbs, share primarily tribal affinities; we also occupy a compact national territory and speak related dialects of the same language; finally, we are all related through shared national awareness, given that we all stated our will to be united within Yugoslavia. What prevents us from being completely compatible with the concept of nation delineated above is the fact that the literary language (and script) and our current and past culture divide us into three distinct groups. [...]

21In our era, the modern Yugoslav idea arose as the expression of a natural developmental stage of our nation; among its strongest basis is the only correct recognition that the path to the full national unification of the Slovenes, the Croats and the Serbs is a political union. According to the modern Yugoslav idea, which is based on the awareness of the national unity of the Slovenes, the Serbs and the Croats, our linguistic and cultural differences are so negligible that our future life as a common nation is possible. Our common national life will proceed from the political community and will be a result of the common domestic and foreign political, economic, social and cultural life. We do not underestimate the differences among us that are a result of divergent development paths in the past, but it is our conviction that under the influence of the political and other changes in the life of the nation we will achieve over time, in addition to the enumerated signs of the Yugoslav national unity, also the cultural and civilizational community. That is when we, the Slovenes, the Croats and the Serbs will become the Yugoslav nation in its full scope and wholly consistent with the definition given above. Or, in other words: the Slovenes, the Croats and the Serbs are one and unique Yugoslav nation in the making [...]

22Such a conscious making of the nation is, as has already been stated, a peculiarity of Eastern Europe, and of the Slavic world in particular. [...] I have already mentioned in passing that the national individuality of the Slovenes emerged under the influence of circumstances unfavorable for the Yugoslav community, and that it is a result of the political, that is, historical community with the German nation. There lies the reason why we differ so much from our kindred tribes, and why we have become nationally, politically and culturally a nation apart. However, as already mentioned, an overview of the national-political events across the Slavic world over the recent period indicates that the process of nation-formation among the Slavs has not been completed yet. In accordance with this conclusion, we, the Yugoslavs, hold the view that individual Slovene, Croatian and Serbian national-cultural formations should not be considered the ultimate result of national development, but only a stage in that development and a necessary result of our history until now, much like the inevitable result of our future history will be—the Yugoslav nation. These are the main thoughts underlying our Yugoslav nationalism [...]

23I think that what logically proceeds from the discussion up to this point is that anyone who accepts the national unity of the Yugoslavs, but at the same time maintains the principle of cultural separation of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, is self-contradictory. Those who do not acknowledge the process of cultural amalgamation do not acknowledge the formation of the nation either, and hence cannot speak about the national unity of the Yugoslavs, even if they are the fanatic fighters for our political union [...]

24Our Yugoslav cultural future opens for us many possibilities. In much the same way as mankind in modern times tends to organize its administrative-political and economic life into national groups, where national states appear to represent a kind of cell that makes up the large organism that is the human family, the cultural development of humankind also proceeds by national groups, but even more so. We want to participate in this immense deed of mankind as part of the Slovenian-Croatian-Serbian cultural community. [...] These are our goals, the goals of the not-yet-joined elements of a nation in the making. They will be achieved over several generations, when that great synthesis among us is completed, that assimilation, that natural amalgamation willed by leading intellects and carried out unconsciously by a large mass of people and future generations. This process has begun in our time, but the laws that underlie it have been with us since long ago.


Olga Vukovič (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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