Cartography, Slovenian Nationalism, and Its Limitations

Cartography has long been an important tool for nationalism, as nationalist activists have used mapping to help establish the foundations of their national communities in the public mind. In the case of 19th century Slovenian nationalism, struggling against the Austrian Empire, cartography was particularly important; Peter Kozler’s famous map of the Slovene Lands, published in 1854, helped establish the idea of a separate Slovenian nation. The area covered by the map, not surprisingly, is rather larger than the area occupied by speakers of the Slovenian language. The map upset the Austrian authorities, who confiscated copies and briefly imprisoned Kozler.

Slovenian nationalism at the time should not, however, be stressed too much. I have some evidence of such limitations from my own family history; my Slovenian maternal grandfather, born in 1880, always considered himself an Austrian, despite the fact that he spoke no German and had never visited the area that now constitutes Austria (to this day, my elderly aunts call Slovenian “the Austrian language”). I always found this attitude perplexing, but the mystery was clarified yesterday in a talk in the Stanford History Department by Pieter Judson of Swarthmore College, entitled “Everyday Empire: Habsburg Central Europe in the Nineteenth Century.” Judson argued that ethnic-based nationalism in the region has been greatly exaggerated, and that many people, speaking a variety of languages, maintained firm loyalty to the Empire up to World War I. The talk proved somewhat controversial, but based in part on my own family history, I found it largely convincing.

The Urban/Rural Divide in Slovenia’s Recent Election

Several recent GeoNotes have emphasized the urban/rural divide in U.S. Republican presidential primary elections. The same pattern is evident elsewhere, and is illustrated in a particularly striking manner in the recent Slovenian Family Code Referendum. The new family law code, which had been passed by the Slovenian Parliament, extended the rights of same-sex couples and prohibited the corporal punishment of children. A conservative group called “Civil Initiative for the Family and the Rights of Children” opposed the law and collected enough signatures to force a referendum. In the resulting contest, the code was defeated, with 55 per cent of voters rejecting it.

The geographical patterns in the vote are clear. The new code was supported in almost all urban areas, and opposed in almost all rural districts. On the Electoral Geography 2.0 map posted here, I have added Slovenian’s largest cities to highlight the urban/rural divide. As can be seen, support for the measure was especially pronounced in Ljubljana, the capital city.  The only other tendency of note is the fact that voters along the southwestern border, an area heavily influenced by Italian culture, tended to support the measure more than those elsewhere in the country.