Thursday, November 25, 2010

Introducing The Slovenes

Slovenians, or (probably) more properly Slovenes, are a national group small in numbers--not many more than 2 million in their homeland as this is written. They were never a giant part of the immigrant influx to the United States around the beginning of the 20th century; but they came and made an outsized contribution to American society with their hard work and their giftedness. They deserve to be better known, and I am going to do my bit here.
When they did immigrate, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was one of their destinations of choice.
This group is recognized as having been a people for at least eight centuries; but almost never as a nation. The location of their home territory shows why. It is located on the Balkan peninsula, that famous anvil of history, and surrounded by powerhouse nations and groups--Hungary, Italy, Croatia...
The Slovenes, small but proud, also had to deal with a nickname that many could have lived without. Whoever started it, they were called Windish. To a lot of them it sounded like a pejorative term. Likely it was meant to be. Yet they carved it on the two churches they founded in Bethlehem--St. John's Windish Lutheran and St. Joseph's Windish Roman Catholic.
They may have thought they had to bear the nickname because, while their peoplehood was not in question, they were not recognized as a nation.
That changed in 1991, when the Republic of Slovenia was established with its capital at Ljubljana. Bethlehem has a habit of honoring the national holidays of at least some of its constituent groups; so the handsome Slovenian flag soon took its turn on the special flagpole at City Hall. To the delight and edification of many--you didn't have to be Slovenian-- an ambassador from the new country arrived to take part in the ceremonies.
And, while I don't know how Slovenia is faring in the general economic malaise, it seems to have done pretty well up to this point. By all acounts, it is a lovely country. If you visit it you can swim in the Mediterranean, climb Alps, go whitewater rafting or hiking, and explore old castles and churches. The Disney studio has even used it as a setting for one of its "Narnia" films--not a GOOD film, in my view; but at least the scenery was lush.
All this, plus prices that have been low compared to those in more familiar European destinations, have made Slovenia a holiday favorite with many.
I wish the country continuing success. It could be my imagination, but it seems to me that you don't hear the term "Windish" much any more. At least here in Bethlehem.

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