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Former professor John Arnez works to preserve the history of Slovenia

Still going strong at 90, Arnez is a co-founder of Studia Slovenica

by Lenore Kelly, Ph.D.

John Arnez and Lenore Kelly

Former SJC professors John Arnez, Ph.D., and Lenore Kelly, Ph.D.

Traveling has been an avocation of mine for many years, and it complemented my professional interest in understanding people’s cultures. Since my retirement as professor of sociology from SJC in 1993, I have been on all the continents. Most recently, I traveled to various countries of the former Yugoslavia and decided to see if I could locate John Arnez, Ph.D., who had been an economist in the social sciences department. Dr. Arnez, no one within my hearing ever referred to him by his first name, taught at SJC from the 1950s to 1991. Little did I know when he was a colleague what an accomplished person he was! Besides many publications in his fields, he has published his autobiography but unfortunately for me and many other Americans, it is written in his native tongue.

At 90, John Arnez is alive and well, still busily engaged in another of his endeavors to preserve the history of Slovenians. I met him, his lovely wife, and one of his sons (he has another son, two daughters and grandchildren, all of whom live in Slovenia) on the outskirts of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, on a February afternoon. This is what I learned.

As a young man who had attended five universities, John Arnez fled his native country when the communists took over Yugoslavia after World War II. After several employments in America, John accepted a position at SJC because it was the only college that did not require his teaching a summer course and allowed him to return to Slovenia in northern Yugoslavia after each semester. He was one of three young Americans of Slovenian descent who created a cultural foundation in 1957, Studia Slovenica, to inform the public about Slovenia and Slovenians. They published books in English and collected materials produced by Slovenian émigrés in different countries. The first book, authored by John Arnez, was published the following year: Slovenia in European Affairs: Reflections on Slovenian Political History. Fifty years later, the 35th book appeared with a series of essays on Studia Slovenica. One of the essays was written in English by Dr. Arnez, who also was the editor of the publication.

When communist Yugoslavia was falling apart in 1991, and Slovenia was slated to become a separate country, John retired from St. Joseph’s College and returned to independent Slovenia to establish Studia Slovenica there. For years he had his eye on a Yugoslavian building as a site for the archives. Prior to Nazi occupation and later communist rule, it was the former Catholic diocesan high school in Ljubljana. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was destroyed by departing soldiers but eventually the building was returned to the Archdiocese of Ljubljana. It was into the basement of this building that John Arnez moved with a military cot and his precious archives. A setback occurred in 2002 when his lease was canceled, but fortunately a new administrator returned him to his post, allocated new space, and a new library was designed for Studia Slovenica.

In addition to housing the accumulated resources gathered from America, Argentina, Canada and various European countries, Studia Slovenica holds almost all of the material from postwar refugee camps in Europe and primary historical documents from wartime and post-wartime leaders and other private individuals.

Archives of the People’s Republic of Slovenia had been established first by the communist government in 1945 but that government judged what was appropriate to be stored. Unfortunately, this meant that anything John Arnez forwarded to them was placed in a special section unavailable to him. Now, the director of the National Archives recognizes the quality of Studia Slovenica and has assigned an archivist to work there one day a week.

Besides viewing the aisles of bookshelves at Studia Slovenica, one of the highlights for me was hearing John Arnez excitedly talk about his leaving Yugoslavia by ship just as the communists moved into Slovenia in 1945 or how he watched his beloved archives in trucks stranded at the border while the boundaries of the new nation were being debated. In hindsight, Dr. John Arnez is probably the most published of professors who ever taught at SJC and in my view, one of the most courageous. He was considered a political enemy and suspect by the secret Yugoslavian police. Every time he crossed a border in or out of Yugoslavia, he feared his manuscript would be confiscated. Yet he never lost sight of why he left his homeland and dedicated his efforts to keeping alive the Slovenian culture. Needless to say, that had great appeal to a sociologist!

 

Lenore Kelly, Ph.D., is a former professor of social sciences at St. Joseph’s College.

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