25 / 2007
Marjan Drnovšek

Krek’s Westphalian letters: social-economic views and emigration

Janez Evangelist Krek (1865-1917), a Catholic priest, politician, sociologist and journalist, was at the turn of the 19th century significantly present in the then Austrian and Slovene public. His activity was torn between Ljubljana, the then informal capital of Slovenes and of the province of Carniola, and Vienna. Krek had a strong social sense for peasants and workers and was opposer of the capitalist system. As a Catholic, he was adverse to liberalism and social democracy, and was himself the founder of Christian socialism on Slovene ground. He was the propagator of cooperative societies on Slovene territory. In 1899, when Krek was already member of the Vienna parliament, he went as a Catholic missionary to visit Slovene immigrants in Porurje (river Ruhr basin) and Westphalia in Germany. He sent in a good month time 20 letters about his contacts, experiences and deliberations in Germany, which were published in the Catholic newspaper Slovenec in Ljubljana. The letters became known as Westphalian letters and presented a sort of discovery of Slovene emigration to Germany, which was in the shadow of the then mass emigration of Slovenes to the United States of America. The letters reveal Krek’s deliberations on the role of migrations on Slovene territory; he compares economic, social, religious, cultural and other relations, that is, similarities and differences between the Slovene space and Germany. Krek rebuked the underdevelopment in the field of modernisation of work and life on Slovene ground, which was according to Krek a consequence of the Viennese politics. He was an ingenious penman and orator. People liked to read his texts and to listen to him. Krek was among the first to deal with migration problematic from theoretical and practical aspects. In the Austrian parliament, he advocated for the acceptance of the migration law (1905) that would regulate the sphere, particularly in view of protection of Austrian emigrants travelling and in new environments. The act was not adopted until the disintegration of the Habsburg monarchy (1918). Krek considered migration issues social ones. He set out the image of Slovene emigrants who were not desperate, weary, spiritless, but young full of hope for a better living, ready for hard yet well-paid work. Krek points out their education that was not merely elementary, which was a consequence of quality Austrian schools. In the spirit of that time, Krek as a Catholic priest reconciled himself with the fact that emigration was a permanent phenomenon that could not be stopped; however, the departure to new environments could be alleviated. The Rafaelova družba (Rafael’s society) in Ljubljana (*1907) established by the German model, was more or less successful in doing that. I can conclude that the Catholic Church in Slovenia was most aware of the emigration problematic and that it was active in the meaning of improvement of the conditions for emigrants on their way and abroad. Less interest for the emigrants was expressed by the liberals, even less by the socialists. The first were concerned in capital, to the second, in spirit of internationalism, the entire world was the homeland.