Roman Ruins in Modern Slovenia

Plečnik Pyramid within Roman Wall. Photo by Riley A Arthur
Ancient Roman Wall of Emona. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo By: Riley A Arthur
Ancient Roman steps within Emona Wall. Ljbuljana, Slovenia. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Ancient Roman Pillar within ruins of Emona. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo by: Riley A Arthur
Close up of re-appropriated Roman Stones within masonic pyramid, with litter. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo by: Riley A Arthur

National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia- 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Without legal documentation, these people could not legally travel, own property, obtain medical care, vote, marry, attend school or work without a visa. A decade later, the community is still fighting for documentation.


Expedition Journal Excerpt: Izbrisani

Ljubljana is beautiful in the Fall. The warmth of Summer continues into October and the first fresh brisk winds of Autumn are so gentle I didn’t protest. While the days have gotten shorter and the tourists have thinned out, there seems to be no less bustle in the streets.

I recently discovered that my small apartment resides in the center of Emona, an ancient Roman town developed in 35 BC. About two blocks away from my building is a long stretch of Roman wall. In the Summer local rock climbers traverse it, smearing chalk all over the ancient stones. High School students come to drink here after school and leave their cigarette butts and beer bottles, having no regards to sanctity of the place. With numerous Roman ruins throughout the town, seemingly every new construction site is temporarily halted due to new discoveries. During a reconstruction effort Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s most famous architect, build a masonic pyramid in the center of wall. Re-appropriating carved stones from other Roman sites, the pyramid provides a bizarre aesthetic contrast.

On my walk to the wall, remains of an ancient Roman sewer lay on display in front of the University of Ljubljana School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. There is a plaque, but it seems out of place in front of the busy crosswalk and bored looking University students. Despite the city’s varied efforts to showcase the past, the juxtaposition of a modern European capital provide an interesting backdrop to my research.

My research focuses on a group of 25,000 people, struggling to survive after being stripped of their rights twenty-one years ago. People who try to bring attention to their plight, despite living within a population eager to move on.

After snapping photographs of cigarette butts piled in a Roman basin, I stood at the light and considered the Roman sewer. The pride the residents of Emona would’ve felt knowing that over two thousand years later tourists like myself stand at their ruins in wonder.

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  • Nuska Zakrajsek, Embassy of Slovenia in the U.S.

    The story of the erased is not one more sombre story of 200,000 persons who held citizenship in one of the republics of the former SFRY when Slovenia gained independence and who, as a result, automatically lost their civil rights. The victims of this process – and we speak about them openly, not in secret, in fear and silence, as implied by the author of the text – were approximately 25,600 people who, after the emergence of the new state, did not take any of the options available to regulate their status in Slovenia. More than 170,000 people, citizens of other republics of the former SFRY, acquired Slovenian citizenship or a residence permit under favourable conditions soon after Slovenia’s independence. These people were not compelled to cancel their original citizenship, but were allowed to keep it even after obtaining Slovenian citizenship. (Note: Foreign citizens holding a permanent residence permit have the same rights as Slovenian citizens, with the exception of the right to vote).

    The matter of the erased is a complex issue facing post-independence Slovenia. The current Slovenian Government is well aware of this fact, as well as the urgent need and responsibility to compensate the victims. The issue will be addressed in compliance with the standards of a democratic state. The law envisaging the payment of indemnity and providing other facilities to the erased to redress the wrongs they suffered is already before the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia.

    • Thanks for the comment Nuska, I have spent over two years studying the Erased. I am well aware that they are spoke about openly and if I implied otherwise that was not my intent. Thank you for your comment. I received a Fulbright Scholarship in addition to the National Geographic Society Expedition Grant, and was thus in touch with your office prior to my departure. Look for upcoming posts about the Erasure, a topic I am very passionate about and will do my best to address with the upmost respect.

  • mj

    I come form a “ethnically” mixed family form former Yugoslavia and at the time of Slovenian independence we lived in Slovenia and took Slovenian citizenship however we were required to relinquish Yugoslavian. So for us this statement is not accurate: “These people were not compelled to cancel their original citizenship, but were allowed to keep it even after obtaining Slovenian citizenship.” As a result we only had Slovenian citizenship not dual after independence. While maybe what Nuska states may have been an official stance of dual citizenship it was not obtainable in practice.

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