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Criminal Case File on Ivan Cankar

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous criminal trial against Ivan Cankar. Namely, in April 1913 Cankar held a speech Slovenians and Yugoslavs. He saw the solution to the Yugoslav question in a political union into a Yugoslav republic. “We are brothers by blood and at least cousins by language” was his view. But he also uttered famous words “let’s leave Austria in her own crap”. On August 21 he was sentenced to one week in prison due to his “offence against public order “.

In the file, Ivan Cankar is accused of propaganda against the Habsburg Empire.

Excerpt from the court case against Ivan Cankar. SI AS 307, Deželno sodišče v Ljubljani, Spis Vr 445/13. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

Judgement against Ivan Cankar

Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) was born into a poor family of workers which seemed to have a strong affect on his life and his narrative. A socialist by conviction, Cankar joined the workers' socialist party very early on. In his articles and speeches he spoke in favour of the Yugoslav question while being strongly against linguistic and cultural unity among South Slavic peoples.

Slovenian cultural autonomy was a subject of a number of Cankar's speeches. On April 12, 1913 a lecture was organized at the Town Home (the present day Šentjakob Theatre) by the society General Workers' Association Vzajemnost. There Cankar delivered his speech on Slovenians and Yugoslavs. He rejected the idea of the Tivoli resolution, which anticipated political, cultural and linguistic unity of all Yugoslav nations, and stressed the need for Slovenians to stand for their culture and language in this united »Yugoslav republic« instead of just »throwing it over the fence«. Although in favour of the Yugoslav idea, he was nevertheless aware of the fact that uniting Slavs in a country of their own was still a utopia. He criticized Austria's politics during the outbreak of the Balkan wars and also its internal politics towards Slavs within the monarchy. He could only see solution to the Yugoslav question in a political union, but he most certainly did not believe in cultural and linguistic union. »Although brothers by blood and at least cousins by language – when it comes to culture we differ among ourselves more than an Upper Carniolan farmer differs from a Tyrolean one (…)«. Towards the end of his speech he spoke against Illyrism which he believed would deny the beautiful Slovenian language for a higher cause (union) and he appealed to Slovenians not to be ashamed of their culture and their language.

Also attending the lecture was Janez Gogala, a police trainee, who kept detailed notes on everything controversial that was being said. Based on his testimony the police directorate sent information against Ivan Cankar to the public prosecutor's office only a day after his speech. In May, provincial court first interrogated Cankar and then also two other witnesses; one was Alojzija Štebi, the editor of the magazine Zarja, and the other was Ivan Kocmur, the president of the society Vzajemnost. They both defended Cankar, saying that he had not said the things that he was being accused of. Indictment was written based on the testimony of the police trainee Janez Gogala.

Court case file consists of 28 documents and 3 enclosures (copies of the Zarja magazine). This month's archivalia presents the judgement of August 21, 1913 as well as some other interesting documents: information against Cankar submitted by Janez Gogala, minutes of Cankar and Gogala's interrogation and the actual indictment. The file begins with the list of documents and concludes with a report from prison of September 19 on Cankar's serving of his sentence. The report states that Cankar's behaviour during his imprisonment was good and also reveals the costs of his staying in prison to be 5 Kreuzerand 32 Heller.

Cankar was interrogated on May 9. He defended himself stating that when he had said that Yugoslavs should establish their own country he had only taken that as his initial hypothesis which was directed against Illyrism that had aimed to uniform Slovenian culture and language with those of the rest of the Slavs. He admitted saying »Let's leave this official Austria in her own crap« but not in a sense that might have been understood. He did not, however, admit uttering the words »let's be like Mazzini in Italy«, as they were – as he himself said – too childish. He added that in his speech he had stuck to his written text which he submitted to Alojzija Štebi immediately after the lecture and that the same text was then almost literally published in the magazine Zarja (April 15-17).

Janez Gogala was interrogated on June 18. He testified that during Cankar's lecture he had been sitting in the second row, next to Kocmur, and was thus able to hear every word that was said. He took detailed notes and he remembered the words uttered by Cankar in regard to Austria and Mazzini, which in his opinion points to elements of irredentism.

The nine-page indicment written by the Imperial and Royal Public Prosecutor's Office on July 23 begins as follows: »In his speech »on Slovenians and Yugoslavs« delivered on April 12, 1913 in Ljubljana, Ivan Cankar, by saying that »All of us who are here are of the opinion that our only goal is to establish Yugoslav republic« and later that »we should leave Austria in her own crap, let's be like Mazzini in Italy« - encouraged unnatural act and one that was prohibited by the law, he also was guilty of the offence against public order in accordance with Article 305 of the penal code, and should therefore be punished in compliance with Article 305 of the penal code.« 

On August 21, 1913 the provincial court in the name of his imperial majesty pronounced the judgement and Ivan Cankar was found guilty. He served his one-week sentence in the prison next to the court palace between September 12 and 19.

Vanja Pfajfar