In the late 1980s, the Slovenian Spring was in full bloom. It was a time of a renewed national consciousness and ever-louder calls for human rights. During this period, one symbol soon took the country by storm: The linden leaf became a proud emblem of Slovenian national aspirations as Yugoslavia and Communism began to crumble.
The appearance of the linden leaf as a symbol had its roots in history. For centuries, the linden trees had a profound significance to the Slovenian people and could once be found in almost every village. Locals would gather under its shady canopy and discuss the issues of the day – and even to make political decisions. “Under the Linden” became a common name for traditional village inns, and new lindens were planted to mart major historical turning points. Often, new trees were planted after victories over the Turks, who made frequent incursions into the Slovenian lands.
The linden branch also had a special role in Slovenian traditions. Each spring, during Pentecost, households would place a linden branch in their windows. According to tradition, the branch welcomed the Holy Ghost on its return to Earth on that very special day.
In the modern era, the significance of the linden tree as a symbol became less prominent, but it always remained an important national symbol. Many Slovenian organizations in foreign countries adopted the name “lipa”– meaning linden – to mark their ties to the Old Country.
Unexpectedly, the 1980s saw a revival of the linden – particularly the linden leaf – as one of Slovenia’s most beloved symbols. It was first featured in an advertising campaign that promoted the virtues of tourism. However, it soon captured the imagination of ordinary people and was adopted as an informal national symbol at a time when more and more people came to embrace a distinct Slovenian national identity. Even Slovenia’s first – still unofficial and unsanctioned – national currency was known as “Lipa.”
When Slovenia became independent, many called for the linden leaf to appear on the country’s new flag – in the style of Canada and its world-famous maple leaf. The proposal wasn’t adopted, but the linden lives on as a national symbol. Several linden saplings were symbolically planted at independence – in the old tradition of marking historic events – and have since grown into mature trees. (One of them was planted at the very geographical center of Slovenia.) And each year, prominent Slovenian politicians gather under Slovenia’s oldest linden tree – the Najevnik Linden –, keeping alive a tradition that has survived for centuries.