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#firefighters #entertainment #culture #joy

Firemen's festivals arouse similar reactions to Slovenian telenovelas: Apparently no one follows them, but everyone criticizes them in turn. The data on the attendance of firemen's celebrations tell the story of perhaps the most visited cultural event in Slovenia, as there are around 1300 Slovenian volunteer firemen's associations, and in the last five years, an average of 724 celebrations have been registered each year. There is no exact data on how many Slovenians grind their heels on the asphalt in front of fire stations every year, but the organizers claim that there are usually at least a thousand visitors. When one of the more popular ensembles is hired, revelers quickly gather to the tune of five thousand or more. At the end of summer, there are almost as many visitors to the festivities as there are Slovenians.



In urban environments, firemen's festivals arouse similar reactions to Slovenian telenovelas: apparently no one watches them, but everyone criticizes them in turn. Secret viewers are put to the lie by viewership metrics that rank the shows suspiciously high. Similarly, data on the number, locations and attendance of firemen's festivals defy the naive belief that festivals are a marginal phenomenon and a thing of the past and rurality.


Around 1,300 Slovenian volunteer fire brigades have registered an average of 724 celebrations each year with the SAZAS association over the last five years. Most of them are thrown at the weekend, and the season lasts from the beginning of May to early September. We can roughly estimate that every summer weekend in Slovenia offers at least forty such events. And probably one more that escaped the radar of the authors' association.

There is no exact data on how many Slovenians grind their heels on the asphalt in front of fire stations per year, but the organizers claim that there are usually at least a thousand visitors. When one of the more popular ensembles is hired, revelers quickly gather to the tune of five thousand or more. At the end of the season, the total number of visitors to the festivities is almost as large as the population of Slovenia.

Since it is undoubtedly a massive social phenomenon with elements of popular and rural culture, it is understandable that the so-called intellectual elite (at least on a declarative level) turn up their noses at the festivities. It is somewhat less understandable that the last more comprehensive scientific analysis of a phenomenon so obviously embedded in society was published in the journal Problems in 1982. It was written by Marko Meglič and Ivan Šprajc. The historical and ethnological insights of the present text are mostly based on their text Garden Festival in Ljubljana and its surroundings.


"It often happens that phenomena that seem self-evident are scientifically poorly processed," assesses Ksenija Šabec from the Chair of Cultural Studies at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences, because "anthropologists sometimes prefer to investigate what they find exotic, what they have before them, so to speak nose, but they neglect it".

In the beginning, there was a celebration

The people of Carniola have always loved to party, Valvasor already reports. Firemen's festivals were added to the permanent repertoire of social events at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when firefighters, following the example of bourgeois interest groups, began to form associations. The latter reached their peak between the two wars, when almost every slightly larger Slovenian village had a fire brigade. And the number of festivities was corresponding to that. Especially the "institutional" ones, which were organized when the association was established to collect money for the construction of a fire station and the purchase of equipment.


Before the Second World War, however, a breakthrough occurred: the crisis affected the purchasing power of the population, the repressive measures of the authorities made it difficult to organize, and the approaching war could already be felt in the air. Since there were not many reasons to be happy, there were no celebrations either. But, understandably, they revived immediately after liberation. Also because it was necessary to restore facilities destroyed in the war and to purchase equipment.

Today is no different. The reason for the fire brigade or any other house party has not changed: to collect some money for the operation of the association with the profit from the food and drink sold, lucky draw and voluntary contributions. "Collecting voluntary contributions is a legitimate way of raising money, but it is difficult to place it in the context of neoliberal capitalism. Is it an archaic remnant, a social corrective or an equal partner?" asks Ksenija Šabec. "Voluntary associations and charities seem to be doing work that should be done by someone else - from the public or private sector," he adds. Truth be told, data from the Agency for Public Legal Records and Services show that the profits from celebrations represent a relatively small share in the budgets of societies, as they receive money for regular operations and major investments from municipalities, private donors and other sources.

Krpan firefighter


In times of technically more effective control, organizers can no longer announce that only national music will be played, which was once the commitment of the predecessor of the Sazas association. Today, even tax offices and other paper obligations make it difficult to creatively search for the edges of legality, which firefighters once knew how to pull out of their sleeves when obtaining financial resources.


Inventive men, Šprajc and Meglič report, in the past, for example, before starting to collect voluntary contributions from homes, wrote quite high amounts at the top of the list of donations themselves. When they then went door to door and people asked them how much their compatriots had contributed, they were shown a prepared list. With a little deception, they managed to extract a few dinars more.


Even in the lottery, Fortune usually favored them so much that no one drew the main prize until they had sold all the lottery tickets with smaller prizes. When luck smiled on them even more and at the end of the game, the coupon with the highest prize was the last one left in the bag. In order to avoid accusations of a "fortunate kitchen", it was sold at an auction, which must have fetched more than the value of the lottery ticket.


It is interesting that no one blamed the firefighters for the ingenuity described, which were actually public secrets. The Fejst boys, who are always ready to help people, have in the Slovenian consciousness at least since Martin Krpan, if not since Matičk, a historically justified right to steal a piece of cake from the stepfather or otherwise put him on the ice.


According to Ksenija Šabec, people use their ingenuity when the welfare state is disappearing. "It's a kind of corrective to the system, which causes the small frauds of otherwise honest people to become socially acceptable, legitimate, even if they are not legal." Modern party organizers give the impression of honest and law-fearing people who no longer want to indulge in such scams. Which doesn't mean that sometimes they don't forget: at the bar, a member of the association hinted to us that the mountain bike lottery is (not yet) up for grabs.

Sausage, syringe and hunt for fortune


Food, drink, dancing and lucky charms are the common thread of firemen's festivities, but today in most cases it is also everything that the organizers can offer. Before the world wars and a few years after the second one, the accompanying program was somewhat more varied.

During the celebration, visitors spent their time sending humorous mail to each other, with messages of a mostly teasing nature circulating among the tables. Each guest could also have anyone imprisoned in the so-called American prison in the middle of the party area. Of course, he had to pay the policeman for the service, and the prisoner had to serve time in prison until his friends bought him off. The specially trained boys made sure that they "accidentally" found themselves in the prison together with a potential chosen one, as the boarded-up space offered the necessary intimacy and a good opportunity for courtship. In the end, Fantič benevolently bought the girl out of prison, and as a sign of gratitude, many became women that night with the user and the savior in the same person. Historical sources do not report what those who preferred to be left in prison did.

Bye, aufbiks!


Prank mail and the American penitentiary aren't the only side activities that disappeared from festivities in the decades after World War II. Once upon a time it was considered that there was no good event if no one was stabbed, but today it is hopeless to wait for a mass fistfight. Of course, it happens that some repentant individual would like to push another against the wall, but there are no more mass fights with witches, logs, and fairies, which were regularly reported in the history of merrymaking.

Fights were most common in self-contained environments, where residents of villages just a few kilometers away were viewed with distrust. They called each other insulting names, with which, with one wrong word, the celebration could be transformed in an instant into a brutal confrontation between, for example, the Morostari from Črna vas, the cobblers from Borovnica, or the tenters from Iška vas. Their nicknames are still alive, but no one understands them as a serious insult that would require an immediate punching out of the undereyes. However, the reasons for the disappearance of aufbiks (calls to fight) are not to be found in the evolutionary progress of the human community, on the contrary - in its disintegration.

Industrialization and urbanization in the post-war period led to the breakdown of local ties. At first, people moved to the cities, as a result of which the villages remained empty, there were no more willing cubs to fight in them, because there were no more old grudges. In recent years, the descendants of the latter have returned home or moved to urban suburbs, but the identification of newcomers and returnees with the local environment is not as strong as it once was.


People in such communities know each other more superficially and therefore it would be difficult to make jokes at each other's expense in a humorous mail, and nowadays it is supposedly easier to seduce a young lady through social networks than with a ransom from an American prison.


The role of festivities remains unifying, both at the level of the local community, where nearby residents get together at least once a year, as well as at the level of erasing social differences, since at firemen's festivities old and young, managers and unemployed sit together on the same wooden benches . At the same time, they represent, as Ksenija Šabec says, a socially legitimate ritual of excess, which, at least for a while, puts the imperatives of a healthy life, sports, leisure time and, of course, everyday productive work in parentheses.

Voranc Vogel

for the Saturday supplement of Dela

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