19 / 2004
Zvone Žigon

Preservation of ethnic identity among Slovenian emigrants in the era of globalization

Slovenian ethnic territory has suffered a very high level of emigration during the last two centuries. Slovenians emigrated as economic emigrants mostly to the USA, in the first half of the 19th century also to Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Belgium and some other developed European countries. In the mid 1920's a large number of Slovenians escaped (mostly to Argentina) from the growing fascist pressure in the region which at that time was under the Italian government. After World War Two, there was an important flow of political refugees from communism who escaped mostly to Argentina, the USA, Canada and Australia, and in different periods from the 1960's to 1980's a large number of typically economic emigrants left for Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Belgium and some other countries. It has been estimated that close to 500,000 Slovenians have emigrated from the Slovenian ethnic territory in the recent past, and this number is a “fifth quarter” of today's 2 million Slovenians living in Slovenia.
In their efforts to preserve their original ethnic identity, Slovenian emigrants established hundreds of ethnic societies and associations. In the course of time, the first generations of immigrants passed away, and the second, third and already the fourth generations are doing their best to cultivate close ties with their roots and keep in touch with the homeland of their ancestors.
The level of the preservation of their ethnic roots has depended on different multicultural policies in individual countries, and also on the attitude of the Slovenian (Yugoslav) political order towards them. After the independence and international recognition of the Republic of Slovenia, the Slovenian identity in the Diaspora raised significantly. Many of those who had always found it difficult to identify with Yugoslavia (which was a centralist multiethnic state), began to identify with Slovenia at that time. Suddenly a significant number of new emigrant societies appeared, the number of emigrants’ visits to Slovenia increased, etc. On the other hand, the Republic of Slovenia also introduced a new policy towards Slovenians abroad. A ministry – later changed into an office – for Slovenians abroad was established, and new systematic models of financial and other support to Slovenians in the Diaspora came into practice.
Globalization itself is not a threat to the ethnic identity of Slovenians abroad. As a process of an advanced technology it has brought many benefits to the relations between Slovenia and its countrymen living abroad, and this is becoming increasingly evident in recent years. Slovenian associations, societies and individuals abroad are using the Internet as the most convenient means of overcoming two major factors of their separation from their motherland: the distance, and – for younger generations – the language. The speed and the global access of modern communication seem to provide a sufficient substitute for a physical contact. The lingual assimilation and consequently the language barrier between the emigrants and their relatives in Slovenia are becoming less and less problematic, and the era of globalization is bringing similar values and codes of communication to all youngsters around the world.

Zvone Žigon is doctor of political sciences, employed as government advisor at the Office for Slovenes Abroad, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia. His supplementary post is that of a research fellow at the Institute for Slovenian Emigration Studies, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana.