The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Founded in 1938

The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenska Akademija znanosti in umetnosti) was founded in 1938 but there is a long history going back many hundreds of years relating to the founding, or attempts to found, earlier academies in Ljubljana. Let us therefore give some details going back to the 17th century, beginning with the 'Academia Operosorum Labacensium' founded in 1693. The following description of this academy is taken from [4]:-
Following the example of the Accademia dell'Arcadia in Rome, dei Gelati in Bologna and other learned Italian societies, the chronicler, historian and lawyer Janez Gregor Dolničar (Thalnitscher) (1655-1719) and the cathedral provost, Janez Krstnik Prešeren (1656-1704) became leaders of Ljubljana's intellectual elite, founding a similar society in 1693 called 'Academia Operosorum Labacensium' (The Workers' Academy of Ljubljana). One of the main aims of the 13 lawyers, 6 theologians and 4 doctors who joined the society at its official convening in 1701 was, as written in the academy's charter, to publish "the Ljubljana academy's learned discussions on theology, jurisprudence, medicine, civics ..." The number of Academy members grew, reaching 42 by 1714, including respected foreigners such as the Italian poet and literary historian, Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni, and Valvasor's colleague, the Croatian writer and scholar, Pavao Ritter Vitezovič. The work of Academy members, and others operating outside its circle, was diverse and distinct from their artistic and scientific or academic predecessors. Artistic literary production, inspired by Classical and Renaissance themes, generally hid its lack of artistic merit behind baroque and long-winded rhetoric. The most notable scientific essays included work by Academy members, including Janez Gregor Dolničar on history, Janez Štefan Florijančič (Floriantschitsch von Grienfeld) on economics, and the doctor, Marko Grbec (Gerbezius) on medicine. ...
We should also mention that Janez Jurij Hočevar (Gottscheer), a doctor of law, astronomer and composer, was also a founding member of the Academia Operosorum Labacensium. In 1701 Florijančič saw a great future in the Academy saying in a speech:-
Will not academy members, since all of them work only in accordance with their own reason, be captured by this powerful and alluring knowledge, directed in part towards an understanding of the future? Will they not be captured by this knowledge of things from their very origins onwards, and be carried along so forcefully that soon, each in line with his own reason and vocation, they will investigate the very rarest of things, taking these from darkness into the light and making them available to all, for their own pleasure and that of others?
The Academy closed for a variety of reasons in 1725.

After the Academia Operosorum Labacensium closed, there was little in the way of attempts to revive it for around fifty years. In 1779, however, there was a serious attempt to revive the academy by the scholar and linguist Blaž Kumerdej (1738-1805). He gathered together a number of scholars, particularly those interested in Slovenian history and language, and the Academy began to operate discussing many topics such as language, history, poetry, philosophy, medicine and law. These discussions were held in German or Latin, even those discussing the Slovenian language. The revival was very short-lived but it is a little unclear why it failed. It seems more likely that it closed because the idea of an Academy was not favoured by the authorities rather than from a lack of enthusiasm from the members most of whom continued their research interests without the support of an academy. Ljubljana had no university in the 18th century but it did have a Jesuit college which, among many other subjects, taught Aristotelian physics adapted to Jesuit views from 1704.

In 1797 French armies led by Napoleon occupied the region of Slovenia including Ljubljana but this was only for a couple of months before they withdrew. Another short occupation by the French in 1805 was again only for a couple of months but in 1809 they invaded for a third time establishing the Illyrian Provinces in October 1809. The French ruled the region for four years and introduced many changes, those most relevant to us here being the educational reforms they introduced. Education had been controlled by the Church but this was removed. New primary schools, secondary schools and a higher education college in Ljubljana were all part of the changes. By 1813 the French armies began to withdraw and Austrian forces moved in. Over the following years there were demands for a national academy and for a university in Ljubljana but these came to nothing.

The next important step was the founding of the Slovene Society (Slovenska matica) in Ljubljana on 4 February 1864. This Society [3]:-
... was founded in 1864 with the voluntary contributions of educators, traders and entrepreneurs in order to print more demanding works from different fields in Slovene, raise the level of education and knowledge, create Slovenian terminology for various professions, etc. The then Austrian rulers supported the establishment of such groups, as evidenced by the personal contribution of Emperor Franz Joseph. The Slovene Society reached its first peak at the beginning of the 20th century when the books it published were in high circulation and it maintained contact with universities and academies from London to St Petersburg.
After World War I, in 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes came into existence and gained international recognition as Yugoslavia on 13 July 1922 at a Paris conference. The University of Ljubljana was founded in 1919 but [4]:-
... the struggle for the Slovene Academy of Arts and Science (Slovenska Akademija znanosti in umetnosti) lasted almost until the end of the 1930s, with no support given by the Zagreb or Belgrade academies.
Although the academies of Zagreb and Belgrade failed to give support, there was support from many other sources. In fact a great many Societies were set up in Slovenia such as Catholic societies which were part of the Educational Union, the National Gallery of Slovenia established in 1918, the French Institute in Ljubljana established in 1921, the Scientific Society for Humanities, and the oldest of all the Slovene Society. In 1927, the National Gallery published a promotional booklet "Our most important cultural task: Academy of Sciences and Arts" (Slovenian) which made a strong case for founding an Academy in which:-
... our best men will have the opportunity to foster scientific work, our nation will receive from it a great deal of encouragement for further participation, all our educational organisations will be offered inflow of fresh ideas and new aspirations.
In 1938 the first eighteen members of the Academy were nominated and a meeting was held. At this stage the Academy was given the name Academy of Sciences and Arts, 'Slovenian' only being added to the official name of the Academy five years later. On 4 January 1939, Rajko Nahtigal (1877-1958) was nominated as the first President of the Academy. Nahtigal undertook research in the Old Slavic language, the history of Slavic languages, Old Russian literature, and the Russian language. He was the first dean of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana and also served as rector of the University for one year. He held the Presidency of the Academy until 1942, seeing it through the first years of World War II. In 1942 Milan Vidmar (1885-1962) became the second President. Vidmar was an electrical engineer, famous as a chess Grandmaster being among the top dozen chess players in the world from 1910 to 1930. He was a specialist in power transformers and the transmission of electric current. It was Vidmar who campaigned hard to have 'Slovenian' added to the official name of the Academy. At this time the Academy concentrated on its publishing activities and, due to the circumstances during World War II, elected no new members during these years.

The post-war period saw the Communist authorities force the Academy to follow their requirements [1]:-
Naturally, the post-war social and political upheavals did not leave the Academy untouched; indeed, they impacted its membership and its internal structure profoundly. Immediately after the war, four of its members were requested to leave the institution, amongst them three founding members, two were expelled by the revolutionary authorities, one by the Academy, while the fourth was forced to submit his resignation. On the other hand, under the presidency of France Kidrič (1945 to 1950), a literary historian, and for a short period under the linguist Fran Ramovš (1950 to 1952), the institution was characterised by structural expansion and the enlargement of Academy's ranks. ... From the original four sections, the Academy was further expanded to five and later six sections, with new institutes and similar bodies also founded. The Academy composed of institutes was initially modelled after the Soviet academy, but it also reflected Slovenian requirements. Yet, quite soon this organizational set-up of the Academy, particularly from 1955 to 1958, began to change, with the separation of large technical institutes, which became independent ... Another characteristic of the post-war period was the high degree of dependence of the Academy on the state and its official Marxist ideology. On the basis of the laws passed in 1948 and 1949, the autonomy of the Academy was not merely limited - the Slovenian assembly abolished it. Only the 1980 Act on the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts was more liberal, although the state at that time did not renounce its influence in the selection of Academy membership.
On 23 December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum which, with 95% of the 93% turn-out, supported independence. On 25 June 1991 Slovenia declared itself an independent country. There followed a ten-day war which ended with Slovenian independence being agreed. This led to the most profound changes for the Academy. Under its President, France Bernik (born 1927), the Academy transformed itself to match the structure of other European academies. Bernik, a historian and writer, had been elected a corresponding member of the Academy in 1983 and a full member in 1987. He was President of the Academy from 1992 to 2002. In 1994 the Academy gained its independence from political control and two years later it reinstated several members who had been expelled by the Communists after World War II.

The present day Academy gives the following overview of its activities in [2]:-
The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts ... is the supreme national institution of sciences and arts. It brings together scientists and artists, electing its members for their outstanding achievements in the field of sciences and arts. The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts cultivates, encourages and promotes sciences and arts, through its activities, contributes to the development of scientific thought and of creativity in the arts, particularly by: (i) addressing basic issues of sciences and arts; (ii) participating in establishing the policies of research activities and artistic creation; (iii) giving appraisals, proposals and opinions on the position, development and promotion of sciences and arts, and on the organisation of research activities and artistic creation; (iv) organising research work, also in cooperation with universities and other research institutions, particularly in the fields crucial for raising awareness of and gaining insight into the natural and cultural heritage of the Slovenian nation and for the development of its language and culture; and (v) developing international cooperation in the field of sciences and arts.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. History, Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
  2. Introduction, Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
  3. Iz zgodovine, Slovenska matica.
  4. P Štih, V Simoniti and P Vodopivec, A Slovene history, Inštitut za novejšo zgodovino (2008).

Last Updated September 2018