I would wager that the middle of the 19th century gets the most coverage on this website, in this book, in this story. It was the awakening of the nations after all, the moment the miffed Slavic nations grew tired of being treated like dirt by the empires and began to stand up for themselves. The Slovenes were no different, and they made sure not to miss out on the fervour of 1848.
France Prešeren (national poet and creepy stalker) died in 1849, and his role in awakening the national consciousness of the Slovenes is well documented. The man who was the first to suggest a statue to Prešeren was just as important as the great drunk but gets nowhere near the press coverage. This is more than likely because he didn’t write a load of great poetry, and wasn’t a creepy dude stalking a young girl. He was the first man to raise the Slovene tricolour in Ljubljana however, and that is something – his name was Lovro Toman.
Lovro Toman’s story begins in the village of Kamna Gorica, a cough and a hiccup away from idyllic Radovljica. Toman was born into a wealthy family and as such had plenty of opportunities on his plate from an early age. He eventually decided that studying law in Vienna was going to be his thing, and it was here that Romantic nationalism took hold of young Lovro Toman.
Toman quickly became actively involved in the political life of Slovenians in the capital of the empire. Lovro was the editor of the very first uncensored Slovenian newspaper, which was published in Vienna in 1846. He also became an energetic member of Slovenija, an organisation that was all about the formation of a Kingdom of Slovenia within the Habsburg Empire. This dualism wasn’t to Toman’s liking, he went so far as to describe it was the ‘grave of our existence’, but he was keenly aware of the weak position of the Slovenes.
Toman’s focus was on the national emancipation of the Slovene people, and the focus of that was the language. Toman dearly wanted equal status for the Slovene language in public administration and education, and he worked towards this goal in parliament and in prose. He famously wrote an open letter to the Slovene people, in which the language took centre stage.
“Let us reveal to those unknowledgeable the richness, the beauty, the virtue and the gracefulness of our language; let us guide those who are lazy towards learning the language and towards reading our books and newspapers”
Lovro was a political poet who implored the Slovenes to embrace their collective spirit, and he did this in both formal and informal settings. In 1856 he became Radovljica’s first lawyer (not its last), and between the years of 1861 and 1870 he was a deputy in the Vienna Parliament, struggling day and night and day again for the rights of the Slovenes. Sure, he tarnished his own reputation by winning the concessionary rights for the construction of a railway line and then selling those same rights for a small fortune, but let’s forget that for now.
Lovro Toman was another vital mid 19th century individual who helped create a distinct national identity among the Slovenes in the Austrian sphere of influence. He was a fiery chap who wasn’t afraid of conflict, convinced that he was on the right side of history. It was this conviction that led to Toman being the first individual in history to publicly raise the Slovenian tricolour, in response to the unveiling of the occupying flag on Ljubljana Castle. The date was April 7, 1848, and the flag was unveiled in the centre of Ljubljana on Wolfova ulica, a street that now houses jewellery shops and a restaurant or two.
The Austrian government subsequently recognised it as the official flag of Kranjska, which itself was an unusual move. The Austrians had a tendency to view such flags as inherently nationalistic, and the acceptance of this one gave the Slovenes renewed energy. It became the major unifying symbol of Slovenes as the Austrian Empire spluttered to its end. Lovro Toman’s work was done.
John Bills writes books about Eastern and Central Europe, tomes covering history, travel, booze and the rest. These magical pieces of literary competency can be purchased at this link, so get yourself over there and do the right thing. Pay attention to the discounts.