On respect

Slovenians are very touchy people and easily offended. If I say 'ti' to someone I don't know in Slovenia, the person will find my informal address so disrespectful that they may never want to speak to me again. Slovenian politicians and other minor celebrities are suing journalists on a daily basis for allegedly offensive and disrespectful reporting about them. Presidents of Slovenian organisations in Australia are very quick to feel they are not being paid enough respect whenever somebody dares to criticise their actions, no matter how much such criticism is deserved and overdue.

However, 'to respect' is defined in dictionaries as to admire (someone or something), as a result of their abilities, qualities or achievements. In other words, respect is not something we can demand from others, it is something we earn.

The Slovenian community in Australia is fairly small and relatively new. A large majority of Slovenians who settled in Australia soon after WWII were so-called economic refugees - if such a thing exists. They left Yugoslavia because they felt they couldn't live there any more, political circumstances making their life unbearable. Due to the circumstances in which they grew up they were mostly poorly educated and very few could speak English. As a group, they were very keen to stick together as this ensured they remained informed, socially integrated and connected to their Slovenian background. Those among them who were lucky enough to arrive with some English and formal education, took upon themselves formal or informal leadership positions in the community. They ran literary and community magazines and papers, organised cultural and political events, wrote poetry and performed at different functions.

One such prominent Slovenian was Ljenko Urbančič (1922 - 2006). He was a controversial person, no doubt.  His obituary, written by his ideological opponent Mark Aaron in Sydney Morning Herald is not flattering. However, there are not many Slovenians who get obituaries in the mainstream Australian newspapers, are they? And in fairness, it should be added that Urbančič also had many friends, admirers and followers in the Australian Liberal Party, in the Slovenian community and on the Slovenian political right.

People may have disagreed with his firm ideological stands but this does not mean we must vilify him. He was a man of thought, not a man of sword. He was an extreme right politician, not a criminal.

His sculpture 'Črtomir and Bogomila' was donated and transported to the Slovenian Association Sydney in 2005. The Association covered the cost. The Association Committee must have considered the acquisition worthy enough to place the sculpture on its grounds and call the area 'Prešeren Park'.

In January this year, Črtomir and Bogomila were knocked over by a bobcat and buried.
Photos Florjan Auser

Can we find in our hearts a little respect for Urbančič's legacy? Or should we remove everything that reminds us of people who were not entirely to our liking the moment they die? 

Every person who has played an active role in our community has contributed in his/her own big or small way to our common history, present and future. We deeply value their efforts and work. Because of them, we, as a community, are where we are today. 

Let's make it clear that we stand by our community and its individuals. We don't need to fully agree with them to feel respect for their abilities, qualities or achievements, do we?