In early eighties Dr. Jozko Šavli, professor of economics in Gorizia, was doing a research on a linden tree (tilia europaea). Tilia species is spread all over the Northern Hemisphere. Its wood is so perfect for carving that it has been used for most statues in churches. Even its bark has been employed by Russian peasants for their summer footgear.
In Slovenia, however, linden tree has been considered much more than a renewable natural resource. From time immemorial, it has been considered a national tree due to its special role. To this day, many a Slovenian village still clusters around an ancient linden tree, and for a good reason. Throughout history, the tree has served as a social and political center of the village. To its inhabitants it symbolized the "tree of life".
Šavli's research led to an interesting discovery: only certain Slavic ethnic groups had such reverence for a linden tree. He noticed that while Southern and Eastern Slavs had no special interest in the tree, the culture and politics of Western Slavs, i.e., Slovenians, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles evolved under their linden trees. Beyond these Slavic lands, reverence for the linden tree continued into eastern, central and southern Germany, eastern Switzerland and in Tyrol.
Curious, thought Šavli, that an allegedly ancient Slavic custom straddles several foreign ethnic groups whose territories were never reached by the migration of Slavic tribes, while it is ignored within the ethnic group itself, this is, by Southern and Eastern Slavs.
Then Šavli noticed that the spread of linden tree intersects rather well with the toponyms of Veneti origin. This led him to suspect that Slovenian heritage of linden tree derived from an older custom established by Veneti and not from newly arriving South Slavic tribes who had no cultural interest in the species.
An examination of written historical records further confirmed his suspicion of a link to Veneti. The writings made much more sense when viewed in relation to the civilized Veneti, rather than to the relatively primitive South Slavs.
One of the earliest records which links Slovenians to an older civilization is the report on the state "Provincia Sclaborum" in 595 A.D. (Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum, c. IV, 7). This report dates from the period when early waves of Slavic tribes had barely arrived in the area. It also refers to the Langobard kingdom as "Provincia", providing a reasonable conclusion that "Provincia Sclaborum" was organized on the level of a Slovenian kingdom or state. There is no evidence even in the official Yugoslavian history books that the migrating South Slavic tribes had at that time a political or social structure that would merit designation of "Provincia". There can be little or no doubt that Paulus Diaconus wrote about Slovenians.
A further link to Veneti from the 615 A.D. source (Vita s. Columbani) should clear any remaining doubt: termini Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur, that is, land of Veneti called Slavs. And eight years later, the inhabitants of this state are referred to as Sclavos coinomento Vinedos (Fredergarii Chronicon, ad a. 623). Indeed, many early historic documents use Slovenians and Veneti as synonyms.
Later other forms of the name were also used: Venedi, Wenden, Vendi, Vindi, and Windische. To this day, Veneti names are found all over the "village-linden-tree" territory. In Northern Switzerland, a major Roman military base Vindonissa is today Windisch. When Bavaria was occupied by the Romans, it was called Vindelicia. In Germany we have Wedemark (Wendenmark), in France Vendee, to say nothing of Venezia, Veneto, and others in Italy.…
Throughout these lands, many Venetic place-names have been preserved, although the meaning of some has been lost. It is clear, however, that in Central Europe, a substrate of pre-historical Venetic vocabulary has survived the Middle and Modern Ages and is now part of the Slovenian language. Many Venetic inscriptiona have been recently deciphered on the basis of Slovenian language and other Slavic languages.
Šavli published his research in 1985 as a study in Glas Korotana Issue No. 10, Vienna (see left). It immediately raised a major polemic with heavy political ramifications: if Slovenians are not South Slavs, or more particularly, Yugoslavians (a term Yugoslavia was created around 1930), then they are not bound to the state of Yugoslavia and the South Slav brotherhood.
His research provided rationale for Slovenia's independence.
Not surprising, the Yugoslavian communist government, already on the verge of economic collapse, sprung a violent opposition to any notion of Slovenia's independence and especially against any doctrine which would provide moral and ideological foundation toward secession. The whole academic apparatus was engaged, but no rational counter-arguments to the fledgling Veneti theory were found.
The key proponents of the Veneti Theory were an unlikely group. Dr. Jozko Šavli, an economist in Italy; Matej Bor, a famous former communist poet, author, and linguist in Slovenia; and father Ivan Tomazic, a priest, professor and philanthropist in Austria. Šavli wrote the first study, Bor solved the enigma of the Tablets of Este and deciphered many Venetic inscriptions, and Tomazic wrote reviews and commentaries, and also funded the publications.
Their joint efforts on Veneti Theory was first published in German (1988), then in Slovenian (1989), in Italian (1991), and in English (1996). A Russian translation is being prepared. Several collections of articles, polemics were published in Slovenian (1991, 1995, 2000).
The discoveries continue to create a major upheaval and rethinking of many facts on which ancient European history has been written. It is now up to the world of academia to interpret the history with open mind in light of these discoveries. Of course, knowledge of Slovenian language, currently only spoken by fewer than two million people, will be essential in this endeavor.