Identity and local museums. The case of the Slovenes living in the Italian border area
The Slovene nation formed its identity in historical contacts with the peoples, nations, and states which surround its territory; at times in peaceful coexistence, and at times in violent conflicts. The importance of the border in a social as well as territorial sense is quite clear in the intense conditions of close contact with neighbouring ethnic groups. The Slovenes of Primorska primarily shaped their identity in historical contacts with Latin peoples – the Italians and Friulians; at times in peaceful coexistence, and at times in confl icts. They were separated from them linguistically, but linked spatially. Gorica and Nova Gorica are two towns with the same name; they differ by the adjective “nova” (new), because Nova Gorica developed just fifty years ago. After the Second World War and the determination of the new border between Italy and Yugoslavia in 1947, Gorica ,which had been the centre of the area for centuries, remained on the Italian side of the border. The difference between Nova Gorica and Gorica at the level of recognisable identity is in the exclusively Slovene nature of Nova Gorica and the mix of identities of the four ethnic groups in Gorica – Slovenes, Friulians, Germans, and Italians. From the 19th century, when national identity started to obtain its typical form, the aspirations of individual national identities also showed in the establishment of cultural institutions and, as part of these, museums. A museum’s role of substantiating the story of a nation became particularly important for local border communities toward the end of the 19th century, when national museums were established. The commitment of the two most energetic ethnic groups in the Gorica of the 19th century - the Italians and Slovenes - led to the desire to found a museum of their own. The Italian community succeeded in establishing its museum in 1861; in 1910 the Slovene community published an appeal to the readers of the magazine Soča to collect and donate ethnographic objects from Slovene folk culture for the establishment of a national museum, but the First World War prevented the intended establishment of a Slovene museum in Gorica. After the First World War Primorska, including Goriška, was incorporated in Italy and the fascist regime strove to forcibly Italianise Slovene culture in Goriška. The first Slovene museum of Goriška was thus established only in 1952, after three years of preparations which had started two years of the incorporation of Primorska in Yugoslavia in 1947. For many years, both the Slovene museum in Nova Gorica and the Italian museum in Gorica gave expression to ethnical identity, but also to the identity of the political regimes in the two countries – the communist regime in Slovenia within Yugoslavia, and the capitalist regime in Italy. For a long period of the war, the two museums operated without any formal contacts and focused on collecting material and evidence on the history of their own nations.