Jimi's resurrection puts Ljubljana on the map: Hendrix is dead, but his guitar still talks. And by promoting him, Slovenia hopes to show the world it is a truly European player. Chris Salewicz reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE picture-postcard Republic of Slovenia, which saw off the Yugoslav army in 10 days of fighting in the summer of 1991, has a young government. The Prime Minister, Janez Drnovsek, is 42 years old - of Bill Clinton's rock music generation. And as Mr Clinton brought Fleetwood Mac back to life, so the Slovenian government has had Jimi Hendrix playing in Ljubljana, its capital. More precisely, it has had an exhibition of Hendrix photographs; but the promotional angle for these hundred or so images, collected by the Hendrix estate, was that they were 'once again putting Jimi on the road'.

In a newly independent country 150 miles from the tragedy of Bosnia, this may seem a misplaced priority. At the opening of the exhibition, however, it was clear that this was one of the most dramatic events in Slovenia since bombs landed there 20 months ago. London, Paris, Berlin, Milan . . . and Ljubljana - not only is Slovenia the most cabled-up country in Europe, but it is sending out the message that it understands underground culture, too.

What's more, this is all official. While the Jimi Hendrix Exhibition has been in the hands of private galleries elsewhere in Europe, in Slovenia the show came courtesy of the Ministry of Culture. Its purpose? To let its citizens and the outside world see that the country is not some war-torn Zenda but a true European player.

This slightly odd scenario would not have happened, however, without the activities of Marko Prpic, a 41-year-old hobbit of a man who bustles with energy and believes that being blown up 28 years ago was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

When Mr Prpic was 13 he picked up a metal object by the side of a river. The Second World War grenade exploded in his face; his right hand was blown off, as were two of his left fingers. His forehead was crushed inwards, leaving a small crater, and he lost his sight.

But somehow, he accepts, this grim adversity turned into an almost transcendent advantage. 'When I was blinded I was totally alone, in my own world. Not many people have that experience, and to overcome it I had to learn to be at peace with myself. Partially that was by deciding what I wanted out of life.'

Unable to read, Mr Prpic discovered music, a conduit to his soul. Specifically, he discovered Hendrix's music. 'I was used to listening to the Beatles and Rolling Stones - short, sweet songs,' he explains. 'But Jimi Hendrix, whom I first heard in 1969, sounded like rebellion against everything: I could feel anger and destructive forces coming out of his music, but I also could hear that underneath this was a very good man.

'As a blind person, I was used to sitting in a corner and being quiet; but Hendrix's music taught me to push myself, and also to grow my hair. As soon as I had long hair, I was no longer a blind person, but a hooligan, something bad. And people began to listen to me.'

After seven years and as many operations, Marko Prpic recovered the sight in his left eye. He qualified at night school and went to university to study applied maths, but his good eye began to deteriorate. Mr Prpic changed courses, to history and philosophy, in which subjects he is now a professor. His other job is as deputy head of light entertainment for the Slovenian Broadcasting Service.

As a pastime, he learnt to read Sanskrit and hieroglyphics, and to speak Arabic. Unsurprisingly, in Ljubljana he is something of a celebrity. And, in a world where simply clocking on for your employment was once all that was required, his workload still attracts comment.

'Do you know,' he says, 'that there are some people who say I work so hard to compensate for my physical state, to prove something. But I don't. I just love working.'

Last year Mr Prpic learnt of the Jimi Hendrix Exhibition and in August he travelled to England to try to acquire it for a season in Ljubljana. He petitioned the Ministry of Culture, persuading officials of its worth in helping Slovenia move into the Nineties. 'Marko is full of energy and knowledge and such people should be valued and listened to,' says Zimsek Jelka, who runs the ministry's fine arts section. 'He's full of plans for the future.'

In Ljubljana the exhibition was held in the gallery of the architectural museum, a building whose design hardly suggests its purpose: gloomy black pipes and heating ducts hold up a black chipboard basement ceiling, classics of the Stalinist industrial school of architecture. The culture clash was further reflected at the opening, in the stumbling set of long, drawn-out speeches, a familiar sight to anyone who has had to witness similar toe-shuffling events in the former Soviet Union.

Despite this, the opening was an unqualified success with both the public and the media (in Slovenia no event of any kind has enjoyed such concerted media approval).

Among the 600-strong crowd was every groover in the country, dressed in the fashions of nearby Italy. But the evening was about more than trends. 'I hope,' said one 16- year-old girl, 'that people here realise how Jimi Hendrix felt about the Vietnam war, and that they can see how that thinking should be used in the Yugoslav situation.'

Mr Prpic himself was overjoyed that the evening was such a hit. 'It's amazing,' he says. 'Jimi Hendrix is dead for 23 years, and still bringing people together. That's what the greatness of Jimi Hendrix is.'

There was another photographic exhibition on in town, not such a big draw because it was not so 'sexy': a set of pictures of Bosnia, which revealed how the country's infrastructure is being reduced to dust in an attempt to erase an entire culture.

'But I'm afraid,' said a photographer visiting it, 'that people here are not very interested any more. The tragedy is terrible; but after a time you get desensitised. Those who could really do something - the United States, the United Nations, Britain, Germany - do nothing, They have all the means to stop the war, but they really do nothing.'

Slovenia seems to have gone past the point where its existence could be challenged. But it still has a lingering instability - which is a source of its palpable dynamism, according to Mr Prpic. 'It's exciting to be alive here. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow.'

Marko Prpic, mind you, is capable of experiencing vitality more than most. 'Every morning I'm happy, because I'm riding on my bike and I can see, and see the moods of the day and its changes. When people complain that it is raining I don't really feel that at all. I think how great it is to be able to see the rain.

'I have a friend who jumped into a river when he was 15 and broke his back. He's been in a wheelchair since then. But he's like me, he thinks life is beautiful. He even dances in his wheelchair. If you're empty, you can't see anything: everything you see is a reflection of what you feel inside. Life is really beautiful. It's something amazing.'

(Photograph omitted)