Prime Minister Janša attends event celebrating 100 years of the Skala Mountaineering Club in Slovenia
Today, Prime Minister Janez Janša and his wife Urška Bačovnik Janša attended an event celebrating 100 years of the Skala Mountaineering Club in Slovenia, entitled "Upward like a rock, we go!" ("K višku kot skala, vodi naša pot!"), delivering a speech at a ceremony held at Hotel Lev in Ljubljana.
Other speakers at the event included the President of Skala, Anton Žunter, and the President of the Alpine Association of Slovenia, Jože Rovan. At the event, the Avgust Delavec Institution awarded a gold plaque to the President of the Republic of Slovenia Janez Janša, Franc Sevšek and Gregor Gomišček, and a silver plaque was awarded to the Skala Mountaineering Club – Mountaineering Club Association. The plaques were presented by the President of the Management Board of the Avgust Delavec Institution, Miro Eržen. The event was moderated by the Slovenian actor Pavle Ravnohrib and featured performances by theatre actor Tone Kuntner, the Žetev Octet, the Deseti brat Quartet, the Mijav Trio, opera soloist Matej Vovk and the Youth Folklore Group KUD Oton Župančič Sora. A prayer for the Skala club members was led by deputy chief of military chaplains, Father Milan Pregelj.
Below is the keynote speech delivered by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, at the event celebrating 100 years of the Skala Mountaineering Club in Slovenia:
Fellow Club Members,
Let me first congratulate everyone on our honourable, century-long efforts devoted to Slovenian mountaineering, mountain climbing, skiing, ski jumping, sledding, photography, film, writing, music and painting – in short, honourable efforts for the advancement of the Slovenian nation, culture and homeland.
Although one hundred years is not a very long period for an organisation, it does speak of its maturity, which is the result of hard work based on values that will ring true for the years to come.
Today, it is my great honour to address you on this, our grand anniversary.
I myself started to learn about the pre-World War II Skala more or less where it all happened. Climbing the routes first attempted by the Skala Mountaineering Club. For example, the Špik Direct Route, one of the most challenging paths to exist in the Alps back in 1926. That first climbing party was led by Skala member Mira Marko Debelak. To this day – as those of you who have climbed it in recent years know – this route is considered not only beautiful, but also demanding. And the Čop Pillar, which was climbed by Skala member Joža Čop together with Pavla Jesih at the end of World War II. Reading the descriptions of Skala routes, repeating them and reading the biographies of the first ascensionists, we learned about the little-known history of Skala.
I am particularly pleased that the organisers chose this venue for today’s event. As we heard, the Skala Trail Club was established at the Novi svet pub, which stood on the site of today’s Hotel Lev that is hosting this event. On Candlemas Day 1921, a handful of mountaineering enthusiasts gathered in the Prešeren Room of the pub in question and established the Skala Trail Club. At the time, the club’s name referenced mountain trails and, as things tended to change rather quickly in those days, the Skala Trail Club was renamed to the Skala Alpine Club just before the outbreak of World War II.
The Skala Mountaineering Club was founded as a democratic and patriotic organisation of the great spirits of the time. Given its small membership, Skala was in a way elitist. Members were accepted on the basis of their achievements, not on their social class, profession, age, political or religious beliefs. Today, it would be known as a meritocracy.
The mountaineering club was founded in rather special times. The Great War, World War I, had come to an end, leaving behind extensive material destruction and, above all, a profound psychological mark. Borders changed, new countries were formed. After the war, the Slovenian Alpine Society took ownership of dilapidated mountain huts and many ruined and abandoned trails. It is therefore understandable that their main objective was to rebuild the mountain infrastructure. But there was also a strong tendency almost everywhere in the Alpine world at that time, especially among young mountaineers, to experience the mountains in a different way.
Young people were no longer content with walking on well-worn and marked trails, nor were they content with only eating in mountain huts. They wanted to climb rock walls, to go to the mountains not only in summer but also in winter – which was considered a daring adventure – with skis and ice climbing equipment. This led to the formation of very diverse groups that went to the mountains together, exchanged experiences, memories and mountaineering literature. From these groups, a formal organisation – Skala Mountaineering Club – was formed. Skala club members decided to continue the work of Kugy, Tuma and also the Dren student mountaineer group. In addition to mountain climbing, they were also interested in skiing, photography, art, literature and all activities related to mountains and nature. Of course, they did not forget the social side of life either, which makes their biographies an interesting read.
With Skala, Slovenians joined the progressive European work taking place in the mountains on an equal footing. In less than two decades of the club’s existence, its climbers scaled many prime routes in Slovenia and elsewhere in the Alps, published books, wrote articles for magazines and even produced the first Slovenian feature-length film "In the Kingdom of Goldenhorn" ("V kraljestvu Zlatoroga"). They educated young generations in the art of mountaineering, skiing and photography, and nurtured their relationship with nature and their homeland. Skala thus combined the four fundamental areas of human activity: work, play, sport and art, and passed this on to the younger generations, as well as made their work known to the wider public.
This very positive picture has, of course, another, more negative side. As sometimes happens in Slovenia, in the face of a new wave, there was also strong opposition to the activities of the club's members. Controversy and a great deal of polarisation emerged. The Slovenian Alpine Society was doing really great and important work at that time to rebuild the infrastructure in the mountains, but they did not have much appreciation for the younger generation, at least not at the beginning. Unfortunately, they did not want to accept a different view of mountaineering. Why would you climb up rocks when there are beautiful and properly protected paths to the top? Why would you go to the mountains in unsuitable conditions, in snow, ice and bad weather? And why would you spend the night in makeshift shelters and bivouacs when there are comfortable mountain huts available? Back then, Skala members were known as ‘neckbreakers’ and ‘suicidals’. There were even ideas to blow up Turnc pod Grmado climbing wall and thus prevent young people from practising their climbing skills there. The members of Skala, on the other hand, accused the traditional mountaineers of cultivating only "inn tourism" in the mountains.
These disagreements were resolved over time and both organisations, the Skala Mountaineering Club and the Slovenian Alpine Society started to work more closely together. This cooperation would have probably developed into something more, but then World War II broke out. After the Italian occupation of Ljubljana an order came that the Skala Mountaineering Club should join the Italian Alpine Club. Faced with this situation, the Skala club members showed the highest degree of patriotism and wisdom. They decided that instead of joining the occupier's society they would all leave Skala and thus disband the club.
After World War II, the new authorities had little understanding for any kind of individual activity. A working man was to engage in sports activities only collectively. At first the Slovenian Alpine Society was also dissolved, but later the Alpine Association of Yugoslavia with its sub-associations set up in each Yugoslavian republic was only excluded from the Sports Federation of Yugoslavia. Fortunately, the mountaineering culture in Slovenia was already rooted strongly enough that the Alpine Association of Slovenia gradually and within the given possibilities also formally adopted many of the values of the pre-war Slovenian Alpine Society and the Skala Mountaineering Club. The ideas to revive Skala had existed ever since the dissolution of the club, but in the circumstances of that time individuals who were still acting in accordance with the values of Skala could not implement them. It was only within the independent and sovereign state of Slovenia, i.e. in 1995, that the Dr Henrik Tuma Mountaineering Club was founded, and two years later Skala was also established as an association of mountaineering clubs.
I am very pleased to have been one of the co-initiators of this action. When I climbed the primary route in the Trenta Mountains together with Tone Jeglič and Bojan Pograjc, the idea began to emerge that on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Skala club in 1996 the first thing we could do was to re-erect the Skala cross on Škrlatica, which was set up as a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the mountains. Thus, the modern Skala club was actually born again as an association of mountaineering clubs, which has been successfully operating for 25 years and as such represents a longer period of existence than the Skala Trail Club. My sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to this.
There was also some disagreement and misunderstanding when the modern Skala was founded. We were criticised for returning the monument to Škrlatica in the form of a cross and of course of competing with the Alpine Association of Slovenia. But time has done its job, and both criticisms have proven to be unjustified. Skala club membership is open to all, and the work of the societies and the association is of course inclusive. Skala and other mountaineering and alpine organisations are working together to find synergies in mountaineering projects, some of which have already been listed, ranging from nature conservation to safety in the mountains and similar.
Fellow Skala Club Members,
On this venerable anniversary, the centenary of the club, I not only wish to congratulate you on your achievements, but I also hope that the motto of the Skala Mountaineering Club will continue to apply also for the next hundred years: "Solid as a rock is the Slovenian nation and steadfast as a rock is our path". We carved the motto into limestone and granite, in ice and snow, into the clouds and into the sky. And God protects it as it protects our homeland. Skala, thank you and good luck!"