Kurentovanje 2014

If you feel homesick and miss the arrival of spring in Slovenia, you can join Kurentovanje celebrations at different parts of the world:

In Ptuj, Slovenia, there is an International Carnival Festival  from 1 to 4 March. The main parade will take place on 2 March. The Festival is traditional, this year it is organised for the 54th time.
This year the organisers are expecting 4000 masks from Slovenia and Europe. According to the Festival website, the carnival attracts 120,000 visitors.

You can enjoy some of the action by visiting the Kurentovanje website.

Kurentovanje is not organised only in Slovenia. In Cleveland, USA, the largest Slovenian city outside Slovenia, the second annual Cleveland Kurentovanje Festival will take place on 1 March. It was well attended last year and attracted a lot of attention from the local Slovenian community and other Clevelanders. This year the organisers are expecting the festival to grow.

You can read about this event here.

Traditionally, kurentovanje, pustovanje and similar carnivals take place at the end of winter to celebrate the arrival of spring. In Australia we can enjoy the fun and the masks but must accept that autumn rather than spring is around the corner.

Photos courtesy of  kurentovanje.net.

Jože Ramuta of Geelong on his life in Australia and his new book

When did you arrive in Australia and why did you settle in Geelong?

I arrived in Australia from Bremenhaven in Germany on Italian ship "Flavia" on the 19th of March 1964. After 40 days at sea, the ship docked in Sydney on 19th of March 1964, where we went through immigration formalities. Two days later, the ship docked at Port Melbourne and I arrived in Geelong on the same day. It was Saturday and I started to work at the Ford Motor Company on the following Tuesday. 

When I worked in Germany for eight months as a fitter and turner, my workmate told me that he had a relative in Australia and it happened to be in Geelong. He wrote him a letter and asked him if he had a room for me to stay in. His replay was affirmative and that was the reason for coming to Geelong. I've been here ever since.

What did you do for living before retirement?

Since arrival I mostly worked as a fitter on various jobs, mainly in oil refineries. I retired in 2008 after 44 years of continuous employment.

You recently wrote a book about your decision to leave Slovenia at the age of twenty and your long journey to Australia. Why did you feel you wanted to write a book about this?

After establishing a family here, I thought it would be a good idea to write it for my children so that they could understand our beginning in Australia. I was writing this story over many years and almost abandoned it, until my present partner encouraged me to continue. After I finished the Slovenian version, I realized that the people who matter most - my grandchildren, won't understand it. So I decided to translate it in the English language. Beside my family, I wanted to share this story with others who left their homes in Slovenia under similar circumstances and also with the Australian born generations so that they can understand the hardships of starting a new life in a foreign country with a foreign language and culture.

The Slovenian version has 260 pages and I have launched it at the Slovenian club "Ivan Cankar" Inc. Geelong. It was well received by everyone present. I will have another presentation at the "Jadran Club" on the March the 23rd and at the Slovenian Festival on the April 5th at the Slovenian Association Melbourne. The English language version still needs to be proofread and edited and will go into print hopefully in the second half of this year. It will be about 300 pages long.

My partner Shirley has been an enormous help and encouragement in making this project a success.

Looking back at your life, would you say that you made the right decision to move to Australia? In what ways would your life be different if you stayed in Slovenia?

Looking back now, I am convinced that I made the right decision by coming to Australia; however, I had my doubts in '70s and '80s. and at the beginning of Slovenian independence. Now, however, I am deeply disappointed with the path on which the Slovenian leaders are taking our beautiful country. But I am not losing hope for a better future in Slovenia, even though I know it won't happen overnight.

Overall, I have no regrets about anything I did and I still have dreams.

Slovenian team at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

Congratulations to the Slovenian national team for their outstanding achievements at the Winter Olympics 2014!

The Slovenian team won eight medals:
  • 2 GOLD:
    Alpine Skiing (Downhill, Giant Slalom) - Tina Maze
  • 2 SILVER:
    Ski Jumping - Peter Prevc
    Snowboard Parallel Slalom - Žan Košir
  • 4 BRONZE:
    Ski Jumping - Peter Prevc
    Cross-Country - Vesna Fabjan
    Biathlon - Teja Gregorin
    Snowboard Giant Parallel Slalom - Žan Košir

The Slovenian in Slovenian

Please note that if you wish to read this blog in Slovenian you can. At the top of the column on the right, under 'Translate', is a menu 'Select Language'. Please pull down the menu and select 'Slovenian'. In a few moments The Slovenian will be available to you in the Slovenian language.

The translation is performed by Google machines and is far form being perfect. Nevertheless, it is accurate enough to give you a good idea about each post. As an added bonus, you might have a good laugh!

Martha Magajna of Sydney on her life and work in the Slovenian community in Sydney

     What was your life like before moving to Australia?

I was born in a small village Bevke near Ljubljana in a family of workers/peasants. In other words, my father commuted  by bike to a factory in Vrhnika every day and my mum looked after two kids and worked on three small parcels of land around the house. When my father came back from work, he helped her in the fields. They lived like most other people in those times. My father died when I was eleven. After elementary school I went to 'gimnazija' (high school) in Ljubljana and lived with my relatives there. Somewhere between finished 'gimnazija' and Clinical Pathology School my mother with her new husband fled Yugoslavia. They went across the border, first to Italy and then France. By the time they were given permit to move to Australia, I already had a job at Ljubljanska Poliklinika. A few years later I continued my studies and became a social worker. I got my first social worker job at the Ljubljana Siska Council where I stayed for three years.

Why did you leave Slovenia?

My older brother returned from the army service and sold our family home so that he could move with his family closer to his work in Vrhnika. I no longer had a home, my mother kept pressing me to join her in Australia, and as there was an employment crisis in Slovenia I finally made my decision to move. While my papers were being sorted out, I spent a year working for a kind family in Austria where I learned German and looked after their two children, cooked and ran the household. In those times, you could come to Australia on assisted passage, you only had to wait a bit longer. My mum borrowed money from her friends and paid for my ticket on AirIndia via Cairo, one-day stop-over in Bombay and Perth where I had to go through the immigration procedure. I could then proceed to Melbourne and to my final destination Sydney.

When did you arrive in Australia?

We landed in Sydney early in the morning on 9 December 1967. My mother and my stepfather awaited me at the airport. It was ten years since I last saw my mother and we both cried. Then we got lost in the airport car park as my mum who was the only driver in the family never travelled to the airport or parked in such a big car park before. It was hard to find our way to the other side of Sydney, to Leppington, where they had a little farm. The heat was intense and totally unexpected since I left Slovenia in the middle of winter and was dressed accordingly.

On the farm where they grew tomatoes and capsicums we lived in a small building we called 'garage': a temporary dwelling while everything was getting ready to build the real house. The little house was divided into two areas: a small bedroom and a bigger kitchen and living area where we put a sofa bed. This is where I slept. We had running water and power, the toilet was in a small shack outside. My stepfather had to take the bucket out once a week and bury the contents in the ground in some distant corner of the farm. We had no bathroom: for washing we used a hose which was also used for watering vegetables. We pulled the hose inside the toilet and had a wash under the hose.

In the first few months I helped on the farm. Every other day I had to pick semi ripened tomatoes, pack them in wooden boxes and then my mum and me took them to the main market in Sydney where greengrocers came to buy vegetables.  If we wanted to get a good spot on the market, we had to leave home no later than by three o'clock in the morning. The income was not good and as I could already speak English fluently we soon decided to buy a little corner shop with a petrol station in Glenfield. A small number of Slovenians already lived there. I met them when they came to the shop. The shop was open seven days a week, from 7 am to 7 pm. I had very little time for socializing or anything else.

When did you become involved with the community? Why?

Once in that time I remember visiting a Slovenian function in Paddington with my mum's friends from Sydney. Soon afterwards two of the early Slovenian settlers visited us in our shop. They were raising funds for Slovenski dom. A few months later my mother and my stepfather separated, we sold the shop and I found a job in a bottle shop in Guildford, owned by a Serbian family. I stayed there for eleven years. Life became a little easier; with this job my mum and I had a regular income and more free time. In nearby Merrylands a new Slovenian church was being built, on the hill in Horsley Park Slovenians congregated in Slovensko društvo Sydney. My mum and I frequently visited both places and became members of Društvo. Father Valerijan often visited the shop in Guilford and purchased there drinks for church functions. Eventually I got to know lots of people from the Slovenian community. When a new club, Triglav, was founded we initially attended functions in both clubs. We offered help in both, but apparently Slovensko društvo Sydney had enough people available and they never invited us to join in whereas people from Triglav contacted us and asked us to come and help. I was soon a board member and had my hands full, and this is how it has been for the next forty years.

What is your motivation to stay involved with the community for so many years?

One thing led to another and so on. In addition to my work on the board and Sunday service in the kitchen and in the bar in the Triglav Club, we started our first folk dancing group and appeared  at many events where I also recited poems. Later, when the Triglav Choir was founded, some of us women sang in the choir. Our club published a newspaper 'Triglav' and I wrote articles that were published there and later in the “NOVO DOBA” newspaper. We also had a theatre group led by Korl  Dolenc at the Club and later another one in Merrylands led by Ivan Koželj. With a few other members of the theatre group we first organized a few exhibitions for Slovensko društvo Sydney and the Slovenian Religious Mission Merrylands and later,  after  founding  Slovenian archives HASA NSW  ten years  ago, we started gathering historical materials  for the preservation of the history of the Slovenian community in NSW.

In the last ten years, my time  was split between working as a  public relation officer at the Triglav Club, including  managing a very successful Bocce  Section, and my  work at  the HASA NSW  Archives.

As a result of writing articles for Misli and Stičišče, I was invited a few years ago to attend a seminar for journalists in Ljubljana. 

My husband Lojze Magajna is also involved with the bocce club and works as a registered trainer of the Australian junior bocce  team. His team competed at the World Bocce Championship in Slovenia, Italy and Bosnia.He also sings in the Merrylands Choir.

What do you see as your main achievement in your extensive community work?

In addition to my long-term support to the Slovenian community in the Triglav Club, I worked as a deputy president of the Slovenian National Council for NSW and participated in the founding of the Australian Slovenian Conference in the Club. I took part in all activities to support Slovenia in the period of the independence process.

Another very important achievement is my work in HASA NSW. This is an organization that we started ten years ago: we collect and archive materials related to the history of our organizations and individuals from NSW and elsewhere. We recently started to digitize our archives so that the collected materials can be available to other archives in Australia, Slovenia and anywhere else in the world. I have been the HASA NSW president for the last few years.

I am also very proud of my work in the Religious Centre Merrylands where I help whenever my help is needed and of the fact that most people in our community know that they can turn to me when they need help. I am pleased that I have many friends among those who are known in the community for their dedicated work to uphold the Slovenian spirit and traditions in Australia.

What is your view of the Slovenian community in Australia?

I believe the Slovenian community in Australia follows the pattern of other Slovenian migrant communities around the world. A lot depends on the abilities and dedication of individuals who are willing to sacrifice their time to uphold the Slovenian spirit in foreign lands. I believe that Slovenians are very adaptable people and quick to assimilate in the Australian world. As the spiritual leaders are departing, our Slovenian spirit is slowly disappearing as well.

What would you change if you could?

I would like more unity and cooperation in Australia and in our homeland. Reconciliation should not be just a word: it should be real and not conditional upon admission of total defeat and humble apologies for its real and perceived sins by the opposing side. It is not right that people think that with the independence the black, the red or the white won. The Slovenian nation should be the winner: we should draw the line under our past and work together for our common good and for our homeland, not for our private pockets. Unfortunately, it is our human nature to think that each of us knows what is best for everyone and any voicing of different views is perceived as hostile. No wonder so many people became disappointed with the dream of heaven under Triglav when it transpired that in order for this heaven to materialize a lot of hard work and common sense was required.

Dr Jože Pučnik and his 'crime'

I was recently given a very nice present by a kind person, the latest biography of Dr Jože Pučnik by journalist Rosvita Pesek (in Slovenian, 491 pages, published by Mohorjeva 2013). This important book, which is very well written, easy to read, packed with useful factual information, and documentary 'Korak pred drugimi' (A step ahead), authored by the same journalist  and used as the basis for the biography, made a deep impression on me.

Joze Pučnik was a Slovenian dissident, imprisoned in 1958 for writing (and printing 15 copies!!!) an article 'Naša družbena stvarnost in naše iluzije' (Our social reality and our illusions). He was sentenced to nine years in prison which were later reduced to seven of which he initially served five, but after writing another article about the state of agriculture in the country and a review of a movie (!) when released on probation he was returned to prison to serve the remaining two years. When he was finally released from prison in 1966 he was unable to find work in Slovenia and was forced to move out of the country. The communist regime refused to return his original university degree that was seized in the process and was so slow to issue a certified copy that he re-graduated from philosophy and sociology in Germany and earned his PhD well before they  finally sent him the document.

In the article that triggered off this horrendous  and disproportionate punishment, Pučnik fully supports the communist government but points out the discrepancy between the party that fought the enemy during the war and worked towards destructing the former capitalist system and the party that now finds itself without an enemy and in a position to build a new, better system. His main premise is that the communist government should become more open and more people friendly so that people could better relate to it as truly theirs, people's government.

In 1989 when Europe and Slovenia started to show signs of renewal, Dr Jože Pučnik  returned to Slovenia and became the driving force behind Slovenia's independence. 

Today it is hard to comprehend WHY such harsh punishment for someone who just wanted to improve the system -  Jože Pučnik was for a short period a member of the communist party - and in fact make it 'more communist'.

In the documentary 'Korak pred drugimi', philosopher Ivo Urbančič says that Jože Pučnik came from a family of farmers and had no high-level connections who would stand behind him whereas his friends who were also under investigation at the time all had well-known and powerful parents.

According to writer Drago Jančar the communist regime saw their own enthusiastic and socially sensitive ethical self in him and felt bound to destroy him because they couldn't bear to see their own face in the mirror held for them by Jože Pučnik.

This poetic view set me thinking about the state of affairs then and now.

Before and during WWII the communist party had to be very well organised in order to survive and succeed. Those who called themselves communists had to be enthusiastic, determined, dedicated, organised, obedient. They were warriors. At the end of WWII, they became the victors. It was time to share the cake.

These brave men and women of steel determination but in most cases with very little education and no management skills were suddenly put in positions where they were required to run a factory, manage an agricultural co-op; instead of planning how to ambush the enemy and destroy the railway line they had to think of how to make things work and be productive. But this was simply too much to ask. In the positions to which they were appointed as a reward (or punishment) for their past achievements, they were simply incompetent.

The old capitalist way was dead and couldn't be followed, to develop a new one they needed direction and skill and they had neither. They didn't have the know-how, the ability to train rather than brainwash young generations and to generate the kind of life they envisaged when they set out to destroy the old one. Today we know that building life on far-fetched ideas rather than on what already works  (and can be changed in small steps) is a perfect recipe for disaster, privately and publicly. But of course, this is a secret they couldn't afford to let anyone discuss. Instead they resorted to fiercely protecting  it, covering up their incompetence and punishing everyone who dared to point it out.

I dare think that initially they may have been aware of their own shortcomings and of the unfairness of the loyalty-based award system. But the system of rewarding their own was put in place and became the justification for perpetuating the same corrupt system that exists to this day.  Good jobs (these days it is becoming 'full-time jobs') in Slovenia have been given to the loyal friends rather than to competent people since those times. As a result, many - but of course not all - positions are held by incompetent people. It is not to say that these people are not intelligent; on the contrary, they use their sometimes considerable capacities to scheme and cover up their inability to perform in the given position. This makes them destructive and corrupt. These days, this same system that put Dr Jože Pučnik in jail has become a caricature of its former self, yet it is still potent enough to continue to harm the country.

Corruption again - EU Anti-Corruption Report

The European Commission published its first EU Anti-Corruption Report yesterday. In its summary for Slovenia, it states:

"Slovenia has been among the most active of the Central and Eastern European states in the fight against corruption, with a well-developed legal and institutional anti-corruption framework. However, recent years appear to have seen a decline in the political drive against corruption, amidst allegations and doubts about the integrity of high-level officials (Highlighted by M.C.). In this report, the European Commission suggests that Slovenia should apply dissuasive penalties to elected and appointed officials for when requirements to disclose assets and conflicts of interests are breached and take further steps to strengthen accountability standards for elected officials. The Commission is also suggesting that Slovenia should safeguard the operational independence and resources of anti-corruption bodies and prosecution services specialized in combating financial crime . Slovenia should also strengthen anti-corruption mechanisms concerning state-owned and state–controlled companies, as well as around public procurement and privatisation procedures. More efforts can be made to ensure effective supervision of party funding.
Alongside an analysis of the situation in each EU Member State, the European Commission is also presenting two extensive opinion polls. More than three quarters of European citizens, and a full 91 percent of Slovenians, agree that corruption is widespread in their home country. Four percent of Europeans, and three percent of the Slovenians, say that they have been asked or expected to pay a bribe in the past year."

In plain language, corruption in Slovenia is widespread and worsening, especially among high-level officials, which is something that 91 percent of the population perceive as true.

And what are the government and Slovenians doing about it? Talk about it to create the impression that something is happening. Organise fake demonstrations??!

Slovenian Community at the Piers Festival 2014 in Melbourne

By Draga Gelt

Slovenian Historical Exhibition at the annual event of Multicultural Arts Victoria
The HASA webpage was the reason behind the invitation to participate in the Multicultural Arts Victoria Piers Festival 2014, A Celebration of Migration, especially the stories of migration and photographs, and the historical presentation of Slovenian Association Melbourne. HASA web pages present stories of individual Slovenians, belonging to various Slovenian clubs and organisations in Victoria and New South Wales, documented with photographs. Slovenian Association Melbourne was an example of how the Slovenians grouped, formed a club, were socially, culturally and sporting active since before 1954.

The Festival was attended by many people.  The organizer, Andrea Makris, reported the number was 10,200.

The Slovenian exhibition - history of immigration and individual stories of Slovenian migrants - attracted a lot of interest, particularly from Australians and other ethnic groups.  Slovenians were mainly interested in photographs, the DVD presentation of various camps in Italy and Germany, departures and arrivals of different ships, the life at Bonegilla camp and work placements.  Visitors were also very interested in the Slovenian craft, in particular the Marija Brne's bobbin lace and Anica Kodila's embroidery. Questions and explanations were many.

Alicia and Portia Bevc in the Slovenian national costume from Gorenjska were a huge attraction. Thank you both, including your parents Donna and Paul Bevc. Visitors continuously approached them, took photos and asked them what country they represented. With pride, they explained that they were Slovenian, handed out many contact cards for HASA and the Slovenian Association Melbourne and invited visitors to the Slovenian exhibition.
Yes, our exhibition was extremely popular and well visited. Let me mention special guests of the day: the visitors to our exhibition. All only had praise and compliments, commending the organizers of the exhibition.  Allow me to repeat some of the phrases used by most:  interesting, professional, excellent presentation, of very high standard, informative. 

We were honoured by the presence of our new Honorary Consul for Slovenia Derry Maddison and his wife. 
Andrea Makris, the organizer - events coordinator of The Piers Festival 2014 was also extremely impressed by our presentation.
Dr. Helen Light, AM - Multicultural Communities Collections, only had praise and compliments for our work and dedication. She stressed the importance of preserving historical and cultural materials for future generations.
Fr David Šrumpf, OFM, Slovenian Religious and Cultural Centre, Kew, our newly arrived priest from Slovenia too was very impressed and emphasized the importance of preserving our heritage, history and culture for future generations.

Most compliments came from our neighbours, the Italian participants.  Dr Paolo Baracchi, Italian Historical Society, kept returning to view the whole presentation, complimented us on our work and asked if he could visit our archive at the club, the Slovenian Association Melbourne. He presented our president, Frances Urbas-Johnson, with a book for our library depicting the Italian community.

Many commented on the importance and significance of maintaining and documenting the activities, contributions and the presence of the Slovenian community. Digital preservation, documentation of historical, cultural and social activities in the English language is the key and the aim of HASA webpages for future generations, strongly stressed also by Fr David Šrumpf OFM. HASA web pages have many visitors, in spite of the fact that some organisations opted not to participate.  It is of highest priority that each page is factually accurate, picturesque and interesting. Perhaps we will have fewer organisations participating, but the HASA web pages are unique in their mission.

There was an Italian gentleman, kneeling in front of our PowerPoint presentation, with a camera in his hand, waiting for a particular ship to reappear. It was the one that ferried him to Australia.  Another Slovenian/Italian gentleman became very emotional and requested that we forward, via email, a photo of a ship leaving Trieste on the date his father sailed off to Australia.

Many Slovenians remembered their own experiences of departing Trieste and sailing to Australia. Slavko and Jočka Ličen, Ivanka and Franc Tomažič docked at the Princes Pier.  Ivanka pointed to the ship on the screen that brought her to Australia; overcome with emotions, she suddenly remembered the date she sailed off from Trieste. 

There was a Chinese national that knew the history of Yugoslavia, as he studied it in China.  He was also very interested in everything about Slovenia.  Even his young daughter was asking many intense questions.

There were people that knew Slovenia from their travels and read our stories on the posters that related to our arrivals to Australia with great interest.

It was great listening to all the positive comments and compliments, especially compliments from official guests such as Dr. Helen Light from the Museum of Australian -- Victorian Historical Collections, Dr. Paolo Baracchi from the  Italian Historical Society, the Piers Festival 2014 coordinator Andrea Makris.  She thanked the Slovenian exhibition organizers for their participation, skilled organization, promptness and professionalism.

There were no official invitations sent out to anybody. Everyone, including the organizer, were of the opinion that our national pride and interest should be enough to attract individuals.  After all, the participation of the Slovenian Association Melbourne and HASA at this exhibition was the first time that any Slovenian organization and our community were represented at the Piers Festival.

On behalf of the co-ordinating committee for the Slovenian Historical Exhibition: Draga Gelt OAM, Dragica Gomizel, Lili Eggleston Tomažič, Anica Kodila and Anica Markič a heartfelt thanks to all the visitors, sponsors, to everyone else that made this exhibition possible and to all that considered this event a significant day for Slovenians in Australia.

This article was first published on the HASA web site: http://www.hasaarchives.com/home/slovenian-migration-stories/piers-festival-2014/