Having emerged from its 10-day war of independence practically unscathed, Slovenia is a country of tremendous stability and calm. A high-ranking E.U. official once referred to Slovenia as the "good pupil of the European Union," but in fact Slovenia could teach the rest of Europe (and much of the world, in fact) a lesson or two. A country that quietly gets on with the job of improving its position on the world stage, Slovenia consistently administers to all spheres of local life, thereby attracting foreign investment through both industry and -- now that the crisis faced by its Balkan neighbors appears to have abated -- also on the tourist front.
A Look at the Past
Slovenes will tell you of a history fraught by outside rule; when independence was won in 1991, it was after a 1,000-year struggle.
Once the ancient home of southerly Illyrian tribes and Celts from the north, the Romans arrived here in A.D. 100, legendarily traversing the Julian Alps (named, in fact, for Julius Caesar) and creating the trade hubs of Emona (Ljubljana), Poetovia (Ptuj), and Celeia (Celje). Attila the Hun raged across Slovenia from the east, en route to Italy in the 5th century, causing the Roman settlers to regroup at the coast, where the port cities of Capris (Koper) and Piranum (Piran) were created.
Slavic tribes -- the ancestors of contemporary Slovenes -- arrived in the 6th century, bringing pagan superstitions and an agricultural lifestyle, and finally uniting to form the Principality of Karantania. But it wasn't long before the Slavs were forced to submit to the rule of the Frankish emperor, who converted them to Christianity. From the 14th century, Slovenia fell to the Habsburgs, who stimulated great resentment during most of their reign. War, Turkish invasion, and economic gloom were the ongoing themes in the 15th and 16th centuries. The coastal cities fell under voluntary protection of the Venetian Empire until the end of the 18th century, while the Ottomans repeatedly trampled through the region in attempts to take Vienna.
Germanic culture was encouraged among the elite, while the peasant classes occasionally rose up, determined to replant their Slavic roots. Slovene culture was touted by nationalist movements, and for the brief 4 years (1809-13) that Napoleon made Ljubljana the capital of his Illyrian provinces, the Slovenian language entered schools and government. In the mid-1800s, Slovenian nationalism reached its zenith; amid (largely unsuccessful) cries for nationhood and recognition of a unique identity, the call for Slavic unity could be heard pushing for the unification of all Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The second half of the 19th century was a period of industrialization, but this failed to prevent mass emigration by the country's poor.
In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking World War I between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Triple Entente (France, Britain, and Russia). Dragged into the fray, Slovenia was forced to fight to protect its homeland when Italy attacked. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918, Slovenia was partially incorporated into the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which later became Yugoslavia ("Land of Southern Slavs") in 1929; coastal Slovenia was given to Italy.
In 1937 the half-Slovene, half-Croat Josip Broz Tito became party leader, and was the man at the helm when Hitler invaded Yugoslavia in 1941. After World War II, Tito headed up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with Slovenia as one of six states. Tito played his cards right with both Eastern and Western powers, and -- unlike other Eastern bloc countries -- Yugoslavia enjoyed a fairly open relationship with the rest of the world.
To curb the tide of nationalism from Slovenes who resented their unbalanced contribution to the socialist economy, Tito gave cultural freedoms to minorities, and constituent states had some autonomy. In 1980, Tito's 35-year rule ended with his death in Ljubljana, opening the floodgates of political and economic disaster. Slovenia represented less than 10% of the Yugoslavian population but brought in over 25% of its export wealth, and with Tito's death Slovenes affirmed their desire to break free from their Balkan neighbors. In December 1990 over 90% of the population voted for independence which it declared in June 1991, sparking a short, bloody war with president Slobodan Milosevic. The small Slovene defense force resisted for 10 days before Milosevic was forced to withdraw his troops to focus on Bosnia and Croatia. Slovenia was formally recognized as an independent state in January 1992, joining the United Nations later that year, and the European Union in May 2004. Recently, Slovenia also became part of the Schengen zone, which means that border checks with neighboring Italy, Austria, and Hungary no longer exist.
Slovenian People & Culture
Slovenes, one of the smallest ethnic minorities on the Continent, are a proud, prosperous people, with a distinct cosmopolitanism that has evolved out of the assimilation of foreign and neighboring influences over the centuries. Seen as former-Yugoslavia's well-to-do sibling, Slovenia is a nation of vivacious, cultured, and gregarious people, and you'll find it easy to meet locals, many of whom speak several languages (typically Slovenian, English, German, and Italian). While city life is energetic and modern, you may also come across tiny bucolic communities where a traditional agricultural lifestyle is augmented with the odd beer festival or carnival, complete with a lineup of cheerful polka bands. For while they're considered a nation of hard workers, Slovenes love to kick back, relax, and party; with life this good, there's plenty to celebrate.
Most Slovenes you meet will understand English, so you won't have much call to try Slovenian, a complicated and difficult-to-learn South Slavonic language. Using Roman letters, written Slovenian includes three modifications of the letters s, c, and z, which receive a hacek top in order to slur them; thus, s sounds like "sh," csounds like "ch," and z sounds like "zh."