“Common people sharing ideas with regular people.” This is the mission of the Kobarid Museum.
Hidden in a valley of mountains, Kobarid, located in Slovenia, appears to be an unlikely place for conflict. That was not the case during World War I. This is when the Slovenes allied with the Austrian-Hungarian forces against the Italian forces. Kobarid was the location of the Isonzo front, the location of 12 decisive battles including the Battle of Caporetto (Kobarid).
To maintain the legacy of these battles, a group of locals, driven by an amateur historian decided to create a permanent museum in 1989. By October 20, 1990, the museum was open to the public, created only with the help of volunteers and individual donations.
The museum itself has many different rooms each dedicated to a different aspect of the front along with a temporary exhibit that changes yearly. The museum is open every day, even Christmas.
The most popular way to tour the museum is with a guide. Each museum guide is encouraged to interpret the information in any way he sees fit. There is no correct or incorrect method.
“They [the guides] are free to shape their stories according to their best judgment, which leads to significant differences between individual guides.”
When my family visited the museum, our guide, Željko Cimprič, emphasized one of the main missions of the museum. “The entire museum story focuses on the description of mountain warfare on the Isonzo front and on the experience of all combatants, without characterizing them as good guys or bad guys.”
After entering the museum, he directed us to the top floor to watch a short 20-minute documentary, which can be displayed in eight languages and be seen with subtitles in an additional three.
Cimprič then began the tour, asking how long we would be willing to stay. After responding we had no time limit, he proceeded to begin.
After answering any questions that remained unanswered from the documentary, he brought us to a room that contained a 3D replica of the Isonzo front (1:5000 scale) created by the owners.
After detailing a basic overview of the geography and explaining the key of the map, Cimprič pulled out a remote. The remote controlled two projectors overlooking the model. Once turned on, the map came to life showing the progressions of both sides during the Battle of Caporetto.
“I did not know much about technology, but I learned in order to create this map,” he said.
Cimprič would pause the video to explain the reason behind every defeat or win. “Instead of looking at only the defeats, I try to understand what was going on in the minds of the commanders that allowed these decisions to be made.”
Cimprič has carefully studied any available journal or document relating to the battles on the Isonzo front, trying to discover the reason for each event instead of glorifying the Slovenian “side.” He also continued to emphasize the lack of government funding and censoring, showing that there was no bias in the museum’s story.
“Most of them [visitors] are astonished that the museum neither cheers for our side nor does it judge their side.”
This also impressed distinguished museologist Friedrich Weidacher who awarded The Kobarid Museum the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 1993.
“… In the course of my professional career I visited hundreds of museums, among them war museums. Kobarid was the first one where I could not find the slightest trace of chauvinism, bias, or glorification. Its display is deeply touching. It takes its visitors by their hearts and souls and conveys a message which cannot be disseminated too often and too loud: war is insanity, crime, it only generates victims,” Weidacher said.
All the museum guides are dedicated to their work.
Cimprič is an excellent example of the dedication of the museum worker. Throughout the tour, he showed us how he conducted his research. A map he copied from a museum in Paris is now cited in history textbooks due to the incredible detail and accuracy.
He also created a 3D plaster replica of Kobarid and the surrounding mountains underneath this map. “I had never created something out of plaster before this, but I learned in order to create this.”
After guiding us for four hours, it was finally time for my family to leave. Željko Cimprič could have spoken for four more hours if necessary.
He left us by saying, “The real history is not one studied from books.” Instead he believes it is learned by putting oneself in others’ situation.
“We have to start from Caporetto, from these valleys, from these mountains, from Isonzo.”
Finally he pointed at me and said “It is now your turn to spread the word; don’t let me down.”