France Prešeren (1800–1849), the greatest Slovenian poet, placed the Slovenian language on the level of European languages. The first version of his poem Zdravljica was written in 1844. Because of censorship, which ordered omission of the stanza, the poet did not include the poem in his collection Poezije (Poetry) published in1847. He published partly moderated Zdravljica during the Spring of Nations in 1848, when many European nations required greater rights and fulfilment of their national goals. The abolition of censorship in April 1848, was among the major achievements of the movement in the Habsburg Empire. As the seat of the monument area, NUK keeps four manuscript versions of Zdravljica, the Poezije manuscript in which Zdravljica is crossed out, and all printed editions of the poem.
Zdravljica carries a deep humanistic message about the core of the idea of a connected and peaceful Europe. Free-thinking and cosmopolitan verses are relevant also nowadays, when the EU is faced with various outward tendencies. The poet's ideas such as "unity, happiness, reconciliation should return to us", "Long live all nations that long to see the day", "Long live all good people", go beyond the temporal and spatial boundaries. History attributes Prešeren’s poetry a nation-building function, which is "not nationalistically bounded, it is visionary embedded in humanistic internationalism, in the idea of an equal and friendly coexistence of all nations."
Zdravljica has become a symbol as it holds the messages of many years of endeavouring for freedom and independence. Slovenes identified with it during milestone times:
- in 1848, in the period of the Spring of Nations, when a program for the unification of the Slovenian provinces within the Habsburg Empire ("United Slovenia") was formed;
- in 1944, during the resistance against Nazi-Fascism, one hundred years after the poem’s creation when a jubilee bibliophile edition of Zdravljica was published in the partisan printing house;
- in 1989, in the independence process, when Zdravljica was spontaneously sung on various occasions; the 1991 Constitution designated it as the national anthem.
February 8, the day of the poet's death, has been celebrated as the Slovenian Cultural Holiday since 1945. It is marked with cultural events, the awarding of the state Prešeren Awards conferred for outstanding achievements in culture, the reading of Prešeren's poetry, and free of charge visits to cultural institutions. December 3, Prešeren's birthday is celebrated by Slovenian cultural institutions as an Open Day.
Prešeren's poetry gained international acknowledgement through numerous translations. The poem, or its fragments have been translated into more than thirty languages, most of them European. Its message is spread by playing the Slovenian national anthem at national ceremonies, international cultural and sports events. It is presented on the two-euro coin, and on the monument in front of the Justus Lipsius Palace in Brussels set up in honour of the 2008 Slovenian Presidency of the EU.
The Zdravljica manuscript versions offer an excellent insight into the creative process of the poem; in digital form they are available in the Digital Library of Slovenia.
"Zdravljica" - the Message of the European Spring of Nations