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Boris Pahor (born 28 August 1913) is an Slovene writer from Italymarker. He is considered to be one of the most important living authors in the Slovene language and has been nominated for the Nobel prize for literature by the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Early life and education

View of Trieste, "the city in the bay" from Pahor's novels
Pahor was born to a Slovene family in Triestemarker, then a cosmopolitan port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father moved to the city from the nearby Karst region and was employed as a civil servant in the Austro-Hungarian administration. In 1919, he was fired by the new Italian military authorities, and had to work as a costermonger.

During his childhood and young age, Pahor witnessed the growth of nationalist and totalitarian ideologies, against which he has fought a life-long intellectual battle, asserting the Christian humanist and communitarian values of his early personal formation. In 1920, Pahor witnessed the fascist squads burning down the Slovene Culture Center (Slovene: Narodni dom) in Trieste. The event had a profound impact in his personal growth. He would later frequently recall this memory in his essays, as well as in his latest novel, Trg Oberdan ("Oberdan Square", from the name of the square on which the Narodni dom stood, named after the local Italian radical nationalist Guglielmo Oberdan).

He attended a Slovene-language high school in Trieste between 1919 and 1923, when all Slovene and Croat schools in the Julian March were abolished by the Gentile school reform. He continued his education in Italian. He enrolled in a Roman Catholic seminary in Kopermarker (Italian: Capodistria), then part of Italy, and graduated in 1935. He continued to study theology in Goriziamarker (Slovene: Gorica), but quit in 1938. While studying in Gorizia, he was deeply shocked by the brutal assassination of the Slovene choirmaster Lojze Bratuž, killed in 1937 by Fascist squads.

During his studies in Koper and Gorizia, he began to study standard Slovene. At the time, all public and private use of Slovene in the Julian March was prohibited and all relations between Slovenes living in Fascist Italy and those from the Kingdom of Yugoslaviamarker were forcibly cut off. Pahor nevertheless managed to publish his first short stories in several magazines in Ljubljanamarker (then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) under the pseudonym Jožko Ambrožič. In 1939, he established contact with the Slovenian Catholic poet and thinker Edvard Kocbek. Kocbek introduced him to contemporary literary trends and helped him to improve his use of standard Slovene.

Pahor returned to Trieste in 1938, where he established close contacts with the few Slovene intellectuals that still worked underground in Trieste, including the poet Stanko Vuk and some members of the Slovene militant anti-fascist organization TIGR.

Resistance fight and imprisonment

In 1940, Pahor was drafted into the Italian army and sent to fight in Libyamarker. In 1941, he was transferred to Lombardy, where he worked as a military translator. At the same time, he enrolled at the University of Padua, where he studied Italian literature.

After the Italian armistice in September 1943, he returned to Trieste, which had already fallen under Nazi occupation. After a few weeks in the German-occupied city, he decided to join the Yugoslav resistance forces active in the Slovenian Littoral. In 1955, he would describe these crucial weeks of his life in the novel Mesto v zalivu ("The City in the Bay"), a story about a young Slovene intellectual from Trieste, wondering about what action to take confronted with the highly complex personal and political context of World War II on the border between Italy and Slovenia.

In 1944, he was captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. He spent the last year of World War II in concentration camps in France and Germany: first in Natzweiler-Struthofmarker, then in Dachaumarker and finally in Bergen-Belsenmarker. The concentration camp experience became the major inspiration of Pahor's work, frequently compared to that of Primo Levi, Imre Kertesz, or Jorge Semprún. Outside Slovenia, his best-known work is probably Nekropolis, a novel in which he remembers the internment at Natzweiler-Struthof, analysing with intensive scrutiny the human relations in the camp. His other major work, in addition to City in the Bay, are Pilgrim among the Shadows, and a trilogy about Trieste and the Slovene minority in Italy.

Between April 1945 and December 1946, he recovered at the French sanatorium at Villers-sur-Marne (Ile de France).

The Cold War years

Pahor returned to Trieste at the end of 1946, when the area was under Allied military administration. In 1947, he graduated from the University of Padua with a thesis on the poetry of Edvard Kocbek. The same year, he met Kocbek for the first time. The two established a close friendship that lasted until Kocbek's death.

In 1951 and 1952, Pahor defended Kocbek's literary work against the organized attacks launched by the Slovenian Communist establishment and its allies in the Free Territory of Trieste. This resulted in a break with the local leftist circles, with whom Pahor had been engaged since 1946. He grew closer to Liberal Democratic positions and in 1966 he founded, together with fellow writer from Trieste Alojz Rebula, the magazine Zaliv ("The Bay"), in which he wanted to defend the "traditional democratic pluralism" against the totalitarian cultural policies of Communist Yugoslaviamarker. The magazine Zaliv became an important platform for democratic debate, in which many dissidents from Communist Slovenia could publish their opinions. Pahor dissolved the magazine in 1990, after the victory of the DEMOS coalition in the first democratic elections in Slovenia.

Between 1953 and 1975, Pahor worked as a professor of Italian literature in a Slovene-language high school in Trieste. During this time, he was an active member of the international organization AIDLCM (Association internationale des langues et cultures minoritaires) which aims at promoting minority languages and cultures. In this function, he traveled around Europe discovering the cultural plurality of the continent. This experience strengthened his communitarian and anti-centralist views.

Pahor also pubblicly supported the political party Slovene Union and has run on its lists for general and local elections.

The "Zaliv affair"

In 1975, Pahor and Alojz Rebula published a book in Trieste, entitled Edvard Kocbek: pričevalec našega časa ("Edvard Kocbek - the Witness of Our Epoch"). The book contained an interview with the Slovene poet and thinker Edvard Kocbek, in which he publicly condemned the summary killing of 12,000 Slovene Home Guard war prisoners by the Yugoslav Communist regime in May and June 1945. The book caused a great scandal in Yugoslavia and served as a pretext to launch a massive denigration campaign against Kocbek by the state-controlled Yugoslav media. The journal Zaliv, which published the book, was banned in Yugoslavia and Pahor was prohibited to enter Yugoslavia until 1981, when he was allowed to attend Kocbek's funeral.

In 1989, Pahor published his memories on Kocbek in the book Ta ocean strašnó odprt ("This Ocean, So Terribly Opened"). The book was published in Slovenia by the prestigious Slovenska matica publishing house, with the preface by the renowned historian Bogo Grafenauer. As such, it marked one of the first steps towards the final rehabilitation of Kocbek's public image in post-Communist Slovenia.

Later years and recognition

After 1990, Pahor gained widespread recognition in Slovenia. He was awarded the Prešeren Award, the highest recognition for cultural achievements on Slovenia, in 1992. In the last decade, his works have attracted an international attention and have been translated into the major European languages. In May 2007, he received the French order of Legion of Honour. In 2007, his novel Necropolis was published by the Italian publishing house Fazi editori, which opened him the way to the Italian reading public. In January 2008, The Italian journal La Repubblica published an influential article entitled Il caso Pahor ("The Pahor Case"), deploring the fact that the author had remained unknown in Italy for so long and blaming the Italian nationalist milieu of Trieste for it:

Forty years were needed for such an important author to gain recognition in his own country. (...) For too long, it was in someone's interest to hide that in the "absolutely Italian" city of Trieste there was somebody able to write great things in a language different from Italian.

In February 2008, Pahor was invited as a guest on Italian national televisionmarker for the first time. In May 2009, he became member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Literary achievements and influence

From the 1960s, Pahor's work started to become quite well known in Yugoslavia, but it did not gain a wide recognition due to the opposition from the Slovenian Communist Regime, which saw Pahor as a potential subversive figure. Nevertheless, he became one of the major moral referents for the new post-war generation of Slovene writers, among others Drago Jančar who has frequently pointed out his indebtedness to Pahor, especially in the essay "The Man Who Said No", published in 1993 as one of the first comprehensive assessments of Pahor's literary and moral role in the post-war era in Slovenia.

Current activities

Pahor lives and works in his native city of Trieste. He is still very active in the public life, both in Sloveniamarker and in the Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. In 2007, he publicly supported the candidacy of Mitja Gaspari for president of Slovenia.

Selected bibliography

  • Moj tržaški naslov ("My Trieste Address", 1948)
  • Mesto v zalivu ("The City in the Bay", 1955); Die Stadt in der Bucht, Kitab, Klagenfurt 2005
  • Vila ob jezeru ("The Villa by the Lake", 1955)
  • Nomadi brez oaze ("Nomads without an Oasis", 1956)
  • Kres v pristanu ("The Bonfire in the Quay", 1959)
  • Onkraj pekla so ljudje ("There Are People Beyond Hell", 1961)
  • Nekropola ("Necropolis", 1967)
  • Varno naročje ("In a Safe Haven", 1975)
  • Zatemnitev ("Twilight", 1975)
  • Spopad s pomladjo ("Struggling with Spring", 1978)
  • V labirintu ("In the Labyrinth", 1984)
  • Zibelka sveta("The Cradle of the World", 1999)
  • Dihanje morja ("The Breathing of the Sea", 2001)
  • Notranji odmevi ("Inner Echos", 2003)
  • Blumen für einen Aussätzigen, Erzählungen, Kitab, Klagenfurt 2004

  • Die Stadt in der Bucht, Kitab, Klagenfurt 2005

  • Die Wiege der Welt, Kitab, Klagenfurt 2009

  • Trg Oberdan ("Oberdan Square", 2006); Piazza Oberdan, Kitab, Klagenfurt 2008
  • Srečko Kosovel: pričevalec zaznamovanega stoletja ("Srečko Kosovel: the Witness of a Stigmatized Century", 2008)

Sources and references

  • Article on Pahor in La Repubblica
  • Drago Jančar, "Das eigene Gesicht : über Boris Pahor und die slowenische Frage Europas", in Literatur und Kritik, n. 417/418 (2007).
  • Drago Jančar, "Različen po svojih obrazih", in Delo, y. 49, n. 86 (April 14, 2007).
  • Drago Jančar, "Uporni človek" (1993).
  • Marija Pirjevec & Vera Ban Tuta (ed.), Pahorjev zbornik (Trieste: Narodna in študijska knjižnica, 1993).
  • Boris Šuligoj, "Italijanom povedal, kakšno je "vreme" v Trstu" in Delo, y. 50, n. 41 (February 20, 2008).

  • Wilhelm Baum:Triestiner Wirklichkeiten. Über den Triestiner Schriftsteller Boris Pahor, in: Bücherschau 183, 2009, 12-16

See also


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