Slovenia celebrates "Preseren Day"


Not too many countries have a national anthem, which is at once a drinking song - and a call for peace. Slovenia does. On Tuesday, Slovenia celebrates "Preseren Day" in honor of its great national poet, France Preseren.

Slovenia's national anthem sticks out among other European anthems, in that it's based on a drinking song called Zdravljica or "A Toast." It also differs in that it doesn't praise the beauty of the homeland or remember heroic national moments, but instead calls for peace between nations and the unity of humankind.

This hymn to peace was written in 1844 by the Slovenian national poet France Preseren. Many believe that it nicely foreshadows the advent of the European Union, when Europe's violent history gave way to peace and unity.

France Preseren was born on December 3, 1800, in the small town of Vrba, in the province of Upper Carniola in Slovenia. He studied law in Vienna and found work as an assistant in the state financial services. In his free time, he wrote poetry, becoming one of the great romanticists of Europe and a national Slovenian hero.

Preseren's lyrics provided inspiration to Slovenes and gave them a national voice. Even many years later, during the dark days of occupation in World War II, his lyrics were applicable to Slovenes, such as:

"Less terrible is night in black earth's bosom, than days of slavery under the bright sun!"

In 1844, Preseren wrote the poem that would become the Slovenian national anthem. It was officially adopted as Slovenia's anthem in 1991. Here is the anthem, as read by the English actress and five-time Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave:

God's blessing on all nations,
Who long and work for that bright day,
When o'er earth's habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be.

Sadly, Preseren died just five years after completing the poem. The day of his death, February 8, was declared a Slovenian cultural holiday. On this day, people from across the country gather to honor the man who was best able to tap into Slovenia's collective soul.

As part of this year's festivities, awards will be given out to people who contributed to culture in the country. There will also be music performances and, of course, both public and private readings of Preseren's poetry.