Ljuba Prenner

Dr Ljuba Prenner with friends in Slovenj Gradec in 1938, when he was writing his most successful book. Legacy of Dr Ljuba Prenner, Carinthian Regional Museum Archive

Born in 1906 in Fara near Prevalje; died in 1977 in Ljubljana. Barrister, writer, activist.

Already in his youth, Amalija Marija Prenner changed his name to Ljuba, identifying himself as a man. His life was hard and marked by transitions between genders, places, ideologies, and occupations. Despite his clear ambitions, he spent a long time educating himself due to the lack of finances and dispersed interests; finally, in 1930, he enrolled in Ljubljana Faculty of Law, finishing it with a PhD in 1941. During his studies, he wrote several works of prose and drama. Best received among them was the tale Neznani storilec (1939) – the first Slovenian crime story he wrote in response to a bet in only three months.

His whole life, he wished to become an acclaimed writer, and although his plays were performed on Slovenian theatre stages and his crime story became popular, he thought he should have pushed himself further as an artist. But, while he failed to fulfil his writer’s potential, he was successful in establishing himself as a lawyer, at least at the start of his career. During World War II, he helped the National Liberation Front (the Yugoslavian anti-fascist resistance movement) by issuing fake release forms for prisoners in Italian concentration camps. His illegal activity, however, was disclosed and through mere coincidence he was saved from prison or worse.   

As “a democrat by mentality and socialist by practice”, he also got in trouble with the post-war Communist authorities, which, unlike him, fell short of democratic ideals. He advocated for the multiparty system with an opposition, but above all, independent judiciary. Immediately after the war, this was his most important endeavour, and he advocated for defendants as a barrister in the show trials. He soon became disfavoured himself. First in 1947, he got expelled from the Association of Slovenian Literates for allegedly breaching cultural silence during the war – the Liberation Front having banned Slovenian artists from acting under the occupation. In vain, he tried to prove that his comedy Veliki mož had been sent to the Ljubljana National Theatre already before the ban and the Italian occupation in 1941. In 1947, he lost his barrister’s licence for seven years and was erased from public life until 1954. This included the ban on his publishing, which was especially painful for him. He spent over two years in prisons and was forced to sustain himself as a secretary in law offices, because he was banned from working as a barrister.

In his own words, Ljuba Prenner was “a democrat by mentality and socialist by practice”.

Ljuba Prenner identified as a man: by manner of speaking and behaving, by use of male gender pronouns, as well as by clothing and manner of representation. He only used female pronouns when talking to his mother and in court. For his friends, he was exclusively a man. A public identification of this sort took outstanding courage, pride, and a conviction that everyone can publicly express in such a way as they intimately identify. Therefore, the irony of fate becomes all the more painful with the fact that he died from breast cancer in 1977.  

There might be symbolic meaning in the fact that the Ljuba Prenner Memorial Room is located in an inn. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, inns became central public spaces – but only for men. A lot of time had to pass for women to be able to enter coffee houses, joints, canteens, and restaurants, and for years, every woman who passed that threshold was stigmatized or even endangered. The gender non-binary Ljuba Prenner found one of his homes precisely in an inn: this was his safe place. Such spaces are still extremely important today – as constituent parts of minority communities, as well as refuges for diverse identities and convictions.

Bučinek Inn

The Ljuba Prenner Memorial Room is located in the inn that became Ljuba’s second home 17 years prior to his death. It was there that he got close to the widowed innkeeper Marija Mrzel Krenker a.k.a. Mimika for those who knew her. She was the niece of Štefka Vrhnjak, teacher and Ljuba’s partner who died in 1960, leaving a strong mark on Ljuba. The memorial room was arranged in collaboration with the Carinthian Regional Museum on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Guided or non-guided tours are possible upon prior request, the room is accessible to persons with reduced mobility.