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The beginnings of the British Slovenian Society 30 years ago

By March 24, 2023No Comments




Jana Valenčič (centre picture), one of the founding members of the British-Slovene Society, recounts how it was created 30 years ago:

In 1986, when I arrived  to London, I encountered broadly speaking four groups of Slovenians.  The most visible and active group were Slovenian women of the baby boom generation who came to London  as au pairs to learn English, met a British husband and put down their roots, quite a few  of them in South East London. They were running a Slovenian Sunday school and belonged to the then British Yugoslav Society.

The second were representatives of Slovenian businesses, established semi-permanently, often bringing with them their families, and  in close contact with Slovenia.

The third group were individuals who for reasons of study or work came to London but did not seek out the company of  other Slovenians, and were often  of a liberal persuasion.

The last group were the emigrés, who had been drafted into the German army as young men, many of them  before they could get  any apprenticeship or professional education. Arriving in the UK, many had to start in  entry level jobs. They gathered around the Slovenian Catholic Mission near The Oval in South London. They were often deeply patriotic  but unsure of the postwar generation who, after all,  grew up as »Tito’s pioneers«.

Until June 1991  there was little contact between the older political emigration  and the postwar generations. There was some mutual suspicion.

The events of June 1991 changed everything.  All of us, Slovenians from London and other parts of the UK, of all generations, our spouses and our British friends, even those who had never been part of any organised group, joined hands to help Slovenia. The attack on Slovenia bonded us for the common cause, a free and independent Slovenia, and gave rise to our grassroots movement, the Slovenian Crisis Centre and the Slovenian Newsletter.

It  was paramount that our movement was inclusive. We all had the same goal, to see our homeland free and independent, but at the same time we were what Dr.Zvezdan Pirtosek at the time  called »The Europe of Many Flags«.

At our rallies one could see different flags, all with white, blue and red stripes but some with the Yugoslav red star, some just plain stripes and a few featuring the »Ducal Stone«, mythic symbol  from the dawn of Slovenian identity.

Our movement was particularly emotional for the generation of political emigrés. Suddenly  they felt included and welcomed, as Anton Hume (picture top right), himself from a mixed English/ Slovenian parentage, remembers about his father Anton Leopold Kacin.

The prominent political emigré, printer Dušan Pleničar from Enfield in North London, said to  me that »you young Slovenes are very different but we all have the same goal, to help Slovenia«.

After three months of intense adrenalin and fear for Slovenia’s future we could not just stop and simply disperse as if nothing had happened. So, in autumn 1991 we started holding regular meetings at  the Mason’s Arms, a pub in Central London run by a lady from Celje. In  the room upstairs we discussed  what we could do for Slovenia once the existential danger had passed.

The emigrés in particular felt those meetings as a pinnacle of their lives. They were ecstatic when we started talking about a formal gathering which would bond Slovenians, their UK born offspring and friends of Slovenia.  In particular the families of embittered emigré generation  parents and their UK born children were brought together during these planning meetings.

We had two goals.

As a registered charitable society we could use our contacts and expertise to support Slovenian efforts to achieve recognition of international status, independence and, last but not least, recognition of our cultural and national identity by the British. At the same time, a formal society would help Slovenians feel loyalty and belonging to their roots to continue through the generations.

We agreed to aim at the founding of a registered organisation with charitable status, »The British Slovene Society« and a parallel business organisation with the same name, which would financially support our not-for-profit charitable organisation.

In the planning we were greatly helped by the expertise of David Bieda (picture top left), himself a  member of several charitable organisations in London, including as founder trustee of the Covent Garden  Area Trust in the 80’s, and chair of the Seven Dials Housing Action Area Committee.

The task of founding the BSS as a charitable organisation fell upon two of the initiators, Anton Leopold Kac and his son Anton Hume, himself a  chartered accountant  with decades of experience in international taxation and transfer pricing, with his father Anton Leopold Kacin in a support role.

Anton played a key role in the formation of the structure and organs of the society. He prepared the draft statute. On 6.10.1993. he co-founded the company »The British Slovene Society (Limited by Guarantee)« with the legal status of an English Limited Company. Subsequently, on the 19th of October 1993 he registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales the charitable organisation »The British Slovene Society«.

Anton was the first secretary of »The British Slovene Society (Limited by Guarantee)«, from its founding on 6.10.1993 to 24.11.1998, and he continued to be one of its guarantors. At the same time, he was also one of the trustees of our »British Slovene Society« charity.

Anton’s  role is recognised in several  documents, including the invitation to the initial meeting of the BSS founding fathers and mothers in David Bieda’s home, from November 1991 (in the Slovenian National Archives). On the founding document of the Society he is listed as a secretary (source: The Charity Commission website).

Two years of hard work by Anton bore fruit. The BSS was registered and  membership increased as the Slovenian members of the former British Yugoslav Society joined the BSS, of which Keith Miles became the Chairman.

Jana Valenčič