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Speech delivered by the President of the Republic of Slovenia at the main state ceremony commemorating the Year of Cankar

Vrhnika, 10. 12. 2018 | speech

President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor attended the state celebration ceremony marking the Year of Ivan Cankar, held at Cankarjev Dom in Vrhnika. President Pahor, who is also the President of the Honorary Committee commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ivan Cankar’s death, was a keynote speaker at the ceremony.

The text of the address by the Slovenian President follows below. The spoken word applies.

"Honorary Academy, Your Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year was proclaimed the Year of the Reformation, that is to say, the Year of Trubar. This year is dedicated to Ivan Cankar. The two were the giants and geniuses of Sloveneness. Nearly half a century ago, Primož Trubar laid the foundation for the Slovenian language, while centuries later Cankar luxuriously developed it at the top of a literary Mt. Parnassus. We were among the first nations in the world to have the Bible translated into the vernacular. Our roots grow deeper than we usually think. They have yielded literary greats, such as Ivan Cankar, who have placed us on an equal footing with the culturally most developed nations.

As the President of the Honorary Committees commemorating both important milestones in our national development, I have the honour of telling the Slovenian public tonight that a wide range of wonderful events held throughout our country have greatly strengthened our nationality, self-awareness and self-esteem. After all, Cankar made it his life’s mission to strive for the self-esteem of Slovenians. Therefore, Cankar would be happy and proud.

Ivan Cankar was the greatest Slovenian writer. His artistic opus is very extensive and diverse. He also wrote poems, but left the poetry crown to his contemporary Oton Zupančič. Cankar left behind a remarkable legacy of short stories, novellas, tales, novels, essays and plays, and is without parallel in Slovenian literary history. A few days ago, I asked Academy Member Dr Kos which of Cankar’s plays – The King of Betajnova, Scandal in the Valley of Saint Florian, or Serfs – he believed was the most important. He thought briefly and replied "all three are the most important."

Ladies and gentlemen, Ivan Cankar has raised Slovenian storytelling to the highest artistic value, and thanks to his works Slovenian plays are clearly comparable to the best works of Europe and the rest of the world. His writing is timeless and therefore also stimulating as regards contemporary thought. Cankar portrayed the society of his time, relentlessly attacking its morals, greed, and hypocrisy of all manner. And in a way, this is also the society of our times. In light of all this, Cankar would not be jobless in the present day. He was merciless towards the authorities. I wonder what he would have written about me.

Cankar’s stories are often sad and he brilliantly portrays sorrowful people and, in some ways, the dispirited society of his time. But let us bear in mind that Cankar was not a pessimist. He himself repeatedly stated this. He considered himself to be an optimist and believed that writing about human weaknesses would lead to their elimination. He expressed his optimism through satire, tragedies and paradoxes. Pessimists don’t create such an impressive and comprehensive artistic oeuvre. Pessimists don’t work, they moan about their fate. Cankar portrayed the ordinary man, who hopes and believes. He believed in the nation’s future.

Ivan Cankar had an enormous impact on the literature, art and culture of his time. With his views, which were original and can today still be deemed intellectual and meaningful, he could influence politics as well. In his youthful years in Ljubljana, when he published his first literary works, he only wanted to be an artist. Similar to his poet colleagues from the period of Slovenian Modernism, he did not like politics, saying that "politics amounts to nothing." But after his successful entry to public, cultural and literary life, he became aware of the fact that he could not remain outside the social and political developments of the then Slovenian society. He came to realise the legitimacy of all political powers and the need for their cooperation.

I think it is important for today’s world to draw attention to his stance that the political future of Slovenians lies in the fair competition of all parties, who only have to strive for one common goal, which according to him is the freedom of the Slovenian nation as an equal among all other European nations. If anyone, then it was Cankar at that time who – of course in his own experiential way – thought about Slovenian independence. And if I may slightly exaggerate, he lit the path towards it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have made good use of the Year of Cankar with the aim of bringing us together while pondering the artistic words and critical thought of Ivan Cankar. Let us embrace Cankar’s stance and deepen our love for our homeland, language, culture and art.

Let us be critical, but optimistic. We should not ignore unfortunate fates, but we should also not be apathetic because of them. We should give life a chance and should encourage each other. Or as Ivan Cankar wrote back in 1909 in his ancient tale Kurent: "My Homeland, when God created thee, he blessed thee with both Hands and said, Merry People will live here."

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all a pleasant evening."

Speech delivered by the President of the Republic of Slovenia at the main state ceremony commemorating the Year of Cankar
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA