Historical overview 1900–2020

The Slovenian nation entered the 20th century with a strong national consciousness. United around the political programme of the United Slovenia, still divided into historical lands, it failed to achieve national autonomy and the desired political rights within the state framework of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a result, society increasingly favoured the integration of Slovenians with other South Slavic nations living both inside and outside the Danube monarchy.


The First World War, which reached Slovenian territory in 1915 with the Isonzo front, accelerated the disintegration of the monarchy and Slovenes finally declared their decision for the ‘Yugoslav option’. On 29 October 1918, together with the other South Slavic nations living within the monarchy, they proclaimed their own State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. On 1 December 1918, the new and internationally unrecognised country merged with the Kingdom of Serbia to form a new state – the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but Slovenians were unable to achieve formal national constitutional autonomy in this state formation.


The feeling of freedom and the end of political barriers triggered a real euphoria among Slovenians, both organisationally and creatively, and both on a professional and amateur level. That is why, between the two wars, the Slovenian nation also gained all its the most important scientific and cultural institutions: the Slovenian National Gallery (1918), University (1919), National and University Library (1935–1941), Academy of Sciences and Arts (1938), and a number of other cultural institutes, institutions and societies.


At the turn of the century, modernism became fully established in Slovenian art, and it once again reached the European level. Many eminent Slovenian artists, such as Ivan Cankar, Oton Župančič, Dragotin Kette and Josip Murn in literature, a new generation of painters – Rihard Jakopič, Matija Jama, Ivan Grohar, Matej Sternen, Maksim Gaspari, Hinko Smrekar and others, and important Slovene architects – Jože Plečnik, Maks Fabiani, Ivan Jager and others – established themselves at this time.


Although the young monarchy faced an economic crisis and many internal contradictions for most of its existence, the period between the two wars saw a significant change in the everyday pulse of life in Slovenia. The establishment of Radio Ljubljana (1928) was a major step forward, 54 cinemas were operating across Slovenia, and in 1924 sound films were screened for the first time. There were around 2,200 libraries, two professional and many amateur theatres, publishing and newspaper activity boomed, and in 1933 Ljubljana, in the form of the Nebotičnik skyscraper, became home to the tallest building in the Balkans and the ninth tallest in Europe, which was only a further symbolic underlining of the fact that Slovenia had entered and was now a part of modern European trends.


On 6 April 1941, the Second World War plunged the Kingdom of Yugoslavia into turmoil, and with it the Slovenian people. The internally completely unstable and disunited country of Yugoslavia was brought to its knees after only eleven days of the so-called April War. The short war was followed by the occupation and dissection of Yugoslavia, which was most thorough and brutal in the Drava province, which was a Slovenian ethnic area.


After the liberation and the signing of one of the partial German surrenders in nearby Topolšica near Šoštanj on 9 May 1945, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, thanks to the international prestige it had gained during the war and the broad support of the local people, assumed full political and ideological power in the new country without much difficulty.


After its 1948 dispute with the Informbiro, Yugoslavia abandoned the Soviet state-administrative economic model and in the early 1950s introduced its own economic model of workers’ self-management, which, at least in theory, allowed more economic freedom and participation in the management of enterprises for all working citizens.


From the mid-1950s onwards, the Yugoslav and especially the Slovenian economy grew rapidly, which lasted until the mid-1960s. In line with the rapid growth of industry, the standard of living of the population size also rose. The number of newly built homes, cars, household appliances and other consumer goods increased rapidly. State party repression and control eased somewhat, and Yugoslavia opened its borders to the world, which in Slovenia meant mainly an opening towards the European West.


The needs of the Velenje coal mine in the east of the Šalek Valley in the last decade and a half led to the establishment of a new urban centre in Velenje. The city located in a park, an urban and architectural jewel of modernism, unparalleled in Yugoslavia at the time, was designed by leading Slovenian urban planners and architects: Oton Gaspari, Janez Trenz, Stanko Kristl, Stanko Rohrman, Drago Umek, Aljoša Aljančič, Ivan Kocmut and others.

Despite the fact that the new, second AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) Yugoslavia, or (still the most commonly used colloquial term) Tito’s Yugoslavia, stressed throughout its existence the federal structure of the state, the political and social reality of post-war Yugoslavia was far from this declarative definition. Throughout its existence, it has remained a highly centralised, ossified, highly bureaucratic one-party state that has only slowly and with difficulty changed. As a result, it increasingly lost touch with developments in the fast-changing developed world, and in the 1970s a number of problems, initially mainly economic, began to accumulate, which were mitigated and covered up by the apparent democratisation of the so-called delegate system and by excessive borrowing by both the state and its citizens.


Behind the apparently idealistic picture of Yugoslavia in the 1970s, there was hiding a last serious attempt by the Party to put Yugoslav society – and especially Slovenian society, as the most pro-Western and therefore subject to many “negative influences” – back on the “right track”, which tainted the period of the so-called new leaden years. After the reckoning with the liberal tendency in the ruling party and the alleged technocratism in the economy, a number of cleansings, bans and various restrictions also reached education, especially at the university level, and the media, and last but not least, also the cultural activity. The rejection of realism and the search for new paths of artistic expression in contemporary Slovenian drama, art, sculpture and film art were the most exposed to rejection, harsh criticism and often even bans. In 1982, Slovenia received a new central cultural centre, Cankarjev dom, designed by architect Edvard Ravnikar.


When Josip Broz-Tito, the country’s greatest moral authority and strongest pillar, died in May 1980, the heterogeneous community of Yugoslav nations began to disintegrate faster and faster under the weight of the severe economic crisis and the pressing economic, political, social and, ultimately, national issues that the crisis exposed. Two camps were formed. Slovenia (with Croatia) was for as loose a confederation as possible, while Serbia (with Montenegro) was for as unitary, highly centralised and ideologically monolithic a society and state as possible.


At the beginning of the 1970s, with the completion of the cultural infrastructure, Velenje established itself not only as a social, administrative, economic and technological centre, but also as an important cultural centre. The Home of Culture (1960), which houses the local amateur theatre, music school and brass band, and the museum at Velenje Castle, which opened its doors to its first visitors in 1966, were joined in 1971 by a new prestigious building in the very centre of the town, designed by the architect Adi Miklavec and used as a library and gallery. At the beginning of 1976, most of the municipal institutions involved in cultural activities merged into a single Velenje Cultural Centre, which was renamed the Ivan Napotnik Cultural Centre in 1978.

After persistent efforts and initiatives for change, coming mainly from intellectuals and culturalists, as well as from alternative and youth subcultures, the realisation of the futility of persisting in the community of Yugoslav nations finally dawned in Slovenia in the early 1990s. The League of Communists of Slovenia opened the way for many democratic changes with its declaratory thesis of “voluntary and peaceful withdrawal from power”. In April 1990, the first post-war multi-party elections were held, and in December of the same year, Slovenian citizens voted in a plebiscite in favour of an independent and sovereign Slovenia. On 25 June 1991, the Slovenian Parliament adopted the Independence Acts, and the following day the so-called Ten-Day War for an independent Slovenia began.

After successfully defending itself against the aggression of the Yugoslav federal authorities and the Yugoslav People’s Army, the independent state of Slovenia gradually began to integrate into a number of European and global international alliances in all areas: the United Nations (1992), Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (1992), Council of Europe (1993), WTO – World Trade Organisation (1995), EU – European Union (2004), NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (2004), OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2010), and many others. In 2007, Slovenia became part of the European Monetary Union and adopted the single European currency, the euro.

After Slovenia’s independence at the turn of the millennium, cultural activity in Velenje also underwent significant organisational changes. In 2004, the central umbrella cultural institution, the Ivan Napotnik Cultural Centre, was abolished, and its former organisational units, as institutions, underwent some further organisational changes and programme additions in the following years. Nevertheless, the cultural workers of Velenje achieved some notable successes during this time. First, the museums of Velenje drew the attention of the local and foreign public when in 1994 Kavčnik Homestead was successfully nominated for the European Museum of the Year award, and a few years later so was the museum presentation of the history of Slovenian coal mining in the former tunnels of the Old Shaft. After moving into a new purpose-built building in 1985, the Fran Korun Koželjski Music School established itself firmly on the Slovenian and international scene over the following decades. After the Velenje library moved to its new premises in 2005, the conditions for the Velenje Gallery’s operation were also significantly improved. The gallery, which has already hosted numerous high-profile local, Slovenian and international exhibitions, has expanded and strengthened its work in the following years, for which its long-standing head, curator Milena Koren Božiček, was awarded the Valvazor Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.


In 2012, Velenje as a partner city actively participated in the then most high-profile Slovenian cultural project, the European Capital of Culture – Maribor 2012. The Velenje Festival, which led all the organisation and coordination of the Velenje part of the project, in the following years drew a lot of attention from the local and international public with some of its high-profile cultural productions.

Call Now Button