“This is my homeland”


After many years, my father, Jenö Horvat, returns to the villages of the Slovene Raba region and remembers his days of youth. Joël Gerber and I accompany him on this trip back to the past.


A report by Tibor Horvat, 06/08/18


We begin our little trip in Monošter, from where we drive in the direction of Andovci/Orfalu. Our way leads over Zsida-Hegy, which is a small hill in the southern direction of Monošter. On this road lies Števanovci/Apátistvánfalva, the birthplace of Jenö Horvat. As we reach this village he suddenly utters a remark: “This is my homeland…” Here we have a short break in order to show him the big stone memorial, which commemorates those inhabitants of Števanovci/Apátistvánfalva who died in the Second World War.* József Bedi, Jenö Horvat’s grandfather, is immortalised on this monument as well. József Bedi fell in battle in Vienna in 1915, which is also written on the tombstone of József Bedi, on the cemetery of Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva. The inscription is written in Windish language (Porabščina) and above the inscription one can see a photograph showing József Bedi wearing the soldier’s uniform of the former Danube monarchy (Austria-Hungary).


We get back into the car and drive to Andovci /Orfalu. Shortly before leaving Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva, Jenö Horvat points at a house (“Šporani”), which lies alone in the forest and tells us that his father, József Horvat, was born and raised there. After arriving in Orfalu he says that former Orfalu, which he had known as a child and teenager respectively, made a much more neat impression than it does today. Every peasant used to take care of his own fields and woods and as a consequence every square metre of the land had been tilled. However, today’s Orfalu is strongly characterised by bushes and high pastureland. A reason for this is the fact that many inhabitants have moved to the cities because agriculture was a source of income, which didn’t pay anymore. What is more, in the course of the nationalisation in the agricultural sector after the Second World War, the peasants had hardly any influence on their former fields and woods.


In Andovci/Orfalu we leave the car on a forest track and walk in the direction of the Slovene border. In Jenö Horvat’s times of youth in the beginning of the 1950s, there were reports about Hungarian or Yugoslav border soldiers, which had been shot almost every week, my father explains. In the beginning of the 1950s Tito’s Yugoslavia and Stalinist Hungary were strongly disunited and thus this border was often a scene of mutual provocations. A rusty border bar in the colours of the Hungarian tricolour red-white-green still marks the Hungarian border to the neighbouring country Slovenia. We look at Slovenia interested and notice an asphalt path. Some years ago, it was intended to build a border crossing here, however Hungary did not give permission to this construction. A clearly visible line still remembers the former Slovene construction plans.


The next stage of our trip leads us to Verica-Ritkarovci/Kétvölgy. In order to get to Verica-Ritkarovci/Kétvölgy from Andovci/Orfalu we have to pass through Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva again. While passing by the municipality building of Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva my father remembers that the ringer of the village used to live in a small house near the building. This ringer was blind and therefore he had to feel his way to church, which was about 200 m long, in order to be able to ring the church bells.



In about ten minutes we reach Verica-Ritkarovci/Kétvölgy. My father says, correctly, that he remembers Verica-Ritkarovci/Kétvölgy as a settlement which consisted of two villages, Permise and Ritkaháza. From Permise we drive to Ritkaháza on a narrow and winding road. After having arrived in Ritkaháza my father says that there hadn’t been any fundamental changes in this village in the last fifty years. The image of the village lives up to its name because “ritka” means “scarce/seldom” and in fact, the houses of this village appear only scattered.


Since the road of Ritkaháza does not continue anymore we turn and drive back to Permise. In Permise my father spots a field, on which had been placed small mucks of cow and horse dung. He remembers that his parents used to follow a similar dung technique. Our next destination is Gornji Senik/Felsõszölnök. Because there is no direct road from Permise and Kétvölgy respectively, and the road over Monošter is almost forty kilometres long, we decide to take the road on Slovene territory to Gornji Senik/Felsõszölnök.


Some years after the political changes 1989/90 a border crossing leading from Kétvölgy to neighbouring Čepinci had been built. From Čepinci we continue over the hilly scenery of the Mura region (Prekmurje/Pomurje) to Martinje, a neighbouring village from Felsõszölnök. While driving through the picturesque northern Mura region my father mentions that the local inhabitants live on more strongly from agriculture than in the Slovene Raba region. The fields had been cultivated and the meadows mowed. An explanation for this is the fact that the nationalisations in the agricultural sector in Tito’s Yugoslavia did not have the measurements like in communist Hungary. What is more, the distances between the villages and cities offering attractive employment opportunities are much bigger in the Mura region than in Porabje (for example MonošterŠtevanovci /Apátistvánfalva). Furthermore, the inhabitants of the Mura region were allowed to work abroad as foreign workers, while the inhabitants of the Raba region in Hungary did not have this permission.


After having arrived in Felsõszölnök we have a little refreshment in a garden restaurant (Gostilna). Meanwhile, church service ends and numerous churchgoers, among whom there are many women wearing black clothes, leave the church. My father follows the conversation of the villagers in Slovene dialect (Porabščina) in suspense. “It’s a beautiful feeling to hear my mother tongue again...”, my father says excitedly. Abroad he hardly ever has the possibility to speak or to hear Porabščina. Furthermore, when he visits his siblings in Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva, very often Hungarian is spoken because his nephews and nieces, unfortunately, hardly speak Porabščina fluently.


Refreshed, we drive in the direction of Dolnji Senik/Alsószölnök. “When I was a teenager, I haven’t been in Felsõszölnök and Alsószölnök often”, my father says. Due to the big distance between the two locations and Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva, one had to take the long and exhausting way through the forest. Orfalu and Kétvölgy are the settlements my father – apart from Apátistvánfalva - knows best. These two villages are closest to Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva and since Orfalu and Kétvölgy do not have their own churches and schools, one went to school and also to church in Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva. “That’s the reason why I predominantly know people from Orfalu and Kétvölgy”, my father explains to us.


Sakalovci/Szakonyfalu is the next village we briefly show my father. This village is more familiar to him because he had marched there from Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva together with his friends several times in order to go to balls (proms) when he was still in his teens. In contrast to Felsõszölnök and Alsoszölnök, Szakonyfalu is somewhat closer to Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva. „I remember very well how a gypsies band from Szakonyfalu often played their music when there were balls in Števanovci /Apátistvánfalva”, my father tell us with a voice expressing the wish to revive the good old times. We ask him if this gypsies band spoke Hungarian only and he answered that they spoke Porabščina, like the Slovenes from the Raba region.


The final stage of our short trip through the Slovene Raba region is Slovenska Ves/Rábatotfalu. Noticing the place-name sign Rábatótfalu leaves an astonished impression on my father’s face. On this sign the “Monošter” is written as well, and he remarks: “But we haven’t arrived in Monošter yet?” We explain to him that the Slovene-speaking village Rábatótfalu had been joined to the neighbouring city of Monošter some years ago and that therefore “Monošter” is indicated already at the gateway to Rábatótfalu. While passing by the village restaurant of Rábatótfalu, my father starts grinning. He has just remembered how he once walked to Rábatótfalu with his friends when he was sixteen years old and wanted to fill his glass with soda in this very tavern and, due to the big pressure of the soda bottle, splashed the innkeeper right in the face.


My father was really happy to visit the villages of the Slovene Raba region, some of which he had not seen for fifty years. “A lot has changed, new houses have been built, the roads have been tared, but the church and the village restaurants still stand on the same spots like fifty years ago. Furthermore, the inhabitants still stop at these taverns in order to enjoy a small appetiser.”



                Pictures                                                                                        Tibor  Horvat



* The village name “Ùjbalázsfalu” is engraved on this memorial stone. A part of Števanovci/ Apátistvánfalva used to be an autonomous municipality called Ujbalászfalu (Otkovci), which was joined to Števanovci/Apátistvánfalva later.