Primož Jakopin
Miran Marussig
caver and road builder
Short portrait

Miran in 1959, from a drawing by Vladimir Posypai*

Can you introduce yourself briefly?
          I was born on April 26, 1932 in Sevnica by the Sava river, and I am the oldest living member of the Ljubljana Cave Exploration Society (DZRJL, Jurij Kunaver was born in 1933, and Marjan Richter in 1934, TN). My father Gvidon Marussig, born 9. 8. 1903, was a mechanical technician, and mother Alojzija, born Breščak 10. 2. 1904, was an accountant. I went to primary school in Sevnica until 1941, when the Germans expelled us all to the other side of the Sava, which was at the time occupied by Italy. We went to my aunt, my mother's sister, in Novo mesto. I finished elementary school there and went to junior high school until 1945. My father and mother took part in Slovenian WWII Resistance movement, and I was a courier at the age of ten, delivering partisan mail. In 1945, upon liberation, we moved to Ljubljana, my father became the technical manager of Pivovarna Union, my mother worked as an accountant. After the high school I graduated from the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Ljubljana in 1964. For my diploma thesis Connection between Logarska dolina and Kamniška Bistrica with a tunnel, I received the Student Prešeren Award. After graduation, I got a job at the Community of Road Companies of Slovenia as a field engineer at the construction site of the Zasavje road Litija-Trbovlje-Hrastnik. In 1967, I became the director of the Slovenian Union of Road Companies, later SOZD (Composite Organization of Associated Labour) of the United Road Companies of Slovenia and finally DDC - State Road Company, from where I retired in 2008, at the age of 76.
          However, this career path had serious consequences for my future as a caver. After graduating in 1964, I had to stop active caving because of my work obligations.
Is there anything particularly interesting that you experienced at work?
          There is. The story of how Slovenian highways started.
          At that time, the director of the Association of Road Companies of Slovenia was the civil engineer Rudolf Cimolini. He was a director of the old forge, a dictator, what he ordered was done, immediately. In those times, in order to go abroad, one had to obtain a Slovenian exit visa, for which the waiting time was half a year.
          One morning in 1965, Cimolini called six civil engineers into his office, lined us up, and said: We have neither state regulations nor any projects on the construction of highways. You will go abroad to get them. Two to Germany, to Bonn, two to France, to Paris, two to Italy, to Rome. You will contact the Ministry of Construction and ask for regulations on highway construction and for old, already completed highway projects. I, because I speak Italian, would go to Rome, and the colleague Počkaj went with me, he was also familiar with the language, plus Jure Vojska, who otherwise did not speak Italian. In three hours we got our visas, jumped into the car and were on our way. We arrived in Rome in the morning, we were warmly welcomed at the ministry, they gave us everything we needed, and in the afternoon we drove home with a trunk full of old highway plans and regulations related to their construction. That's how it started, and soon the design of the Vrhnika-Postojna and Hoče-Levec highway sections was under way.
What can you tell about your grandparents?
          Nona, grandma on my mother's side, lived with five children in the village of Pevma near Gorica, below Mt. Sabotin. In the First World War, the front line passed right through the village and the grandmother was forced to move with her children, they went to Novo mesto. The grandfather, her husband, was in the Austro-Hungarian army and returned from the war with stomach cancer. He soon died.
          Grandma Antonija, my father's mother, was a seamstress. My grandfather was a train driver, on the route Ljubljana - Gorica. When the children were still going to school, he suffered a stroke while riding in the locomotive, leading to his death.
          It might be interesting to tell here how we got the (very non-Slovenian, TN) surname Marussig. There were shepherds in Istria and they founded the village of Lokvica. Around 1870, a new pastor arrived from the Italian side and in 1875 changed the family name of all Marušič people, including the ancestors on my father's side, into Marussig.

Miran in the Dietz window of the cave Logarček, February 24, 1963, photo by Tomaž Planina

How did you get to caving?
          Dušan Novak brought me to the cavers, the Ljubljana Cave Exploration Society, in 1948. We knew each other from school, he was a year older than me, later we also had a few lectures together - he studied geology, I studied civil engineering. We went to caves, especially to Logarček and Planinska jama. And elsewhere too, I remember exploring the Triglavsko brezno, the deepest cave of Slovenia, we went there twice.
What was it like when you two clashed with the older, pre-war generation that had scissors and a canvas in their hands, while the young cavers were more or less for decoration?
          Novak and I wrote that the situation cannot go on any longer in two articles, published in 1952 and in 1954. My article, entitled Young cavers are protesting (Mladi jamarji protestirajo) I signed as Young cavers. It was published in the student magazine Tribuna on November 30, 1952 on page two (Tribuna: student magazine, 1952/1953, volume 2, number 2, price 10 dinars). Dušan Novak wrote a short report  General Meeting of the Society for Cave Research (it was on January 8, 1954) on page 170 in Planinski vestnik, number 3, year 1954. He signed himself as - k - n.

Miran's article in Tribuna in 1952, copy in the National and University Library in Ljubljana, photo by Primož Jakopin

          For the sake of completeness, a rough translation of the article is also presented here:
Young cavers are protesting / The old should know that the young keep the world going

          When the youth section of the (Ljubljana, translator's note) Cave Exploration Society started operating in 1950, the number of members increased to around 60, while now, after two years, there are barely 10 left. Why?
          This state of affairs is probably due to the behaviour of three or four coucilors (of the society executive commitee, TN) don't let young cavers go anywhere, councilors who own a monopoly over the use of society property. The elders explore the caves on their own, as if they fear competition from the younger ones.
          If a young caver asks if he will be reimbursed for the travel expenses, he gets the following answer: "We went to the caves for 40 years at our own expense and were happy if we could go at all, and now you want money from the society!" The society receives several 100,000 dinars in annual support, "elders" also receive a daily allowance of 350 dinars each (until recently 450 dinars), for one afternoon they devote to working for the society, and for visiting the caves. Travel expenses are reimbursed and even gasoline is paid for. They say that after 40 years of work, they can finally have something from the society, and perhaps this is also the reason why they promised the young cavers a daily allowance of only 100 dinars, saying that a young organism needs less food than an old one who is already worn out.
          The reason for all this is the activity that the young cavers showed right from the foundation of the youth section. In fact, more caves were explored in one year than in previous ten years, which obviously did not please some of the councilors. They just wanted to stay "the most active".
          How will the elders rejuvenate society in such a manner? In Ljubljana's society premises there is not a single meter of useful (roll) ladders, not a single boat, not a single centimetre of rope. Two years ago, the society received some equipment for its members, but everything disappeared in an instant, snatched by the "elders", as if they were the only members of the society.
          If the young caver would "complain" about this (anyhow he has nowhere to turn to!), he would be told again that the elders were happy if someone took them to the caves. Now, no one is inviting young people to join, and as members of the association, they do not even have the right to use society property. And yet nowhere it is written that only the president, the keeper of the equipment or their companions can use society property.
          Young cavers come every day to ask when the society will organize a field trip to a cave. "No, we're not going anywhere! There's no money, no time, the water level is high ..." -- that's the answer. After two or three days, however, you learn by chance from a complete stranger that the "elders" have visited several interesting caves in the meantime.
          If someone goes privately to the caves, on his own and submits a report and a request for reimbursement of travel expenses, the elders reject him, saying that they will not pay for the leisury trips. If, in addition to exploring the old caves, the young caver discovers new caves and also explores them and writes a report, he is not reimbursed for his expenses, insisting that he was not sent to these caves.
          It is high time that the unhealthy situation in the society is sorted out, otherwise the members of the society will have to blush during the speleological congress, which is now just around the corner, when they will be asked what and how they are doing in the exploration of our much-vaunted Karst. The society must be rejuvenated as soon as possible without prejudice and without jealousy for experience, because the purpose of the society is to explore the Karst, not to support the career of particular individuals.

Young cavers                    

From Novak's, otherwise much gentler report, it is clear that you did not write in vain. Were there any other consequences?
          Of course they were, both protagonists were exposed and excluded from the society. They accepted me back after some time, but Dušan didn't want to return, he had other plans. My future father-in-law, Emil Strniša, was at the time the president of the Železničar (Railroad) Mountaineering Association - PDŽ, and through him I helped Novak establish the Speleological Section of the PDŽ in 1955 - now it is the Železničar Caving Club (JKŽ).
Tomaž (Planina) told me about how Ljubljana got the second caving club (Trieste, for instance, has ten speleo clubs). JKŽ described these events on their website (in Slovenian) quite from afar. How do you remember Franci Bar?
          Franci Bar was a craftsman, he had a store with electrical materials on Rimska cesta in Ljubljana. Otherwise, he was our best photographer. Marjan Richter helped him the most.
What was the most memorable event from your caving? Interesting, beautiful, was there also something bad?
          I very much remember the expedition to the Winter Cave (Jaskinia Zimna) in Poland in 1957, in the Tatras, an article was published about it in the Planinski vestnik magazine. I went there with Peter Habič. The caves are completely different from what we have here, they were created along the geological fault lines.

Hall of Valhalla in the cave Jaskinia Miecharska, with Izabela Rosner Manda, September 2018, photo by Primož Jakopin

          A rather unusual, if not shocking, experience was during one of the excursions to the cave Logarček, some time between 1950 and 1952. We reckoned - it's always dark in the cave anyway, so we went to Logarček in the evening. At the bottom of the entrance shaft we found a dead middle-aged man. At around ten in the evening, we came to the police station in Planina and reported what we found. The police officer suggested that we go to the cave together, in the morning. And so we did, just the corpse was no longer there.
          In the abysses in Dolenjska and also in Primorje, it often happened that we landed on a pile of bones at the bottom. They were clean, the animals gnawed them all the way. On one upper jaw (only this one broke off when the deceased fell into the pit on his head) there were silver teeth, all of them. I gave it to some dentist. It was on the top of the hill above Planinsko polje, if you go from Planina towards Postojna, on the left side. Novak and I were the first in this shaft after the (Second World) War.
          The best part of my caving was when we spent a whole week in Križna jama near Lož. We camped in Suhi rov (the Dry Tunnel), near Kalvarija. We didn't have tents, just inflatable sleeping mats and sleeping bags. I did all the hydrology of both parts of the cave. We had, if I remember correctly, at least one boat, maybe two, inflatable dinghies with a canvas cover, so that the sharp stones during landings and boardings would not cut the tubes. Tomaž took photos, and we found the teeth of cave bears in Medvedji rov.

Wedding photo of Breda and Miran, from Miran's archive, 1958

What about the matters of the heart? When and how did you and Breda meet? Was she your first love?
          Breda Strniša, Marussig after the wedding, and I met on trips to the mountains, with the Železničar Mountaineering Society. I don't know if she was my first love, I probably had some crush before, but it was definitely my first real love. We were married on my twenty-sixth birthday, in 1958.
How was your life?
          We got along well, we also shared the love of music. She was a pianist, she graduated from the Academy of Music in Ljubljana. She was a music teacher. We have two sons, Matjaž was born in 1961, and Jurij in 1966. She died at the age of seventy-seven, in the summer of 2008, from heart failure.
How did you and Marjana meet?
          Marjana Potočnik makes my autumn years more beautiful, keeps me company, we knew each other from work.
In addition to caving trips, did you also like to travel?
          I held a good position in the company and of course I also traveled a lot. I have been to the US twice, once as a guest of the US government. I have also been to Japan, and in Europe to almost all of the countries. As I already mentioned, Peter Habič and I took part in an international caving expedition in Poland. My family and I spent the summer holidays on the coast, on the Sit island in the Kornati archipelago. Certainly I would be happy to go somewhere else, too.
          I was also an organizer of trips in the company, we went for three or four days, mainly to the coast, to Croatia. Thirty to forty of us, by bus to the port, then on by ship. Islands are always much better than the mainland.

With Marjana (left) and Polona Planina in Članska vas on the 69th anniversary of Metod Di Batista, 2017, photo by Primož Jakopin

Is there a place you would always want to return to?
          To the island of Sit, of course.
What advice would you give to anyone who would like to become a caver?
          Let them love the essence of caving, which is enjoying and accepting the influences of nature. Nowhere else can you see so beautifully, in what ways water can penetrate the stone, what all shapes it can make from it.

Limestone strata carved by the water, Ponor in Križna jama, 2023, photo by Primož Jakopin, assisted by Lojz Troha

Finally, three slightly different questions. Your favorite movies?
          I like movies with dramatic plots the most, but not crime movies. An example is the movie Meet the Fockers.
What about your favorite music?
          I prefer classical music. I regularly go to concerts, especially those performed in Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana. I also went to music school for ten years, namely piano. Among the authors, I like Tchaikovsky the most, if I had to choose one work, it would be his Concerto for violin and orchestra.
And your favorite color?
          Blue. By my very nature, I prefer this color.

Blue-white circles, color composition, 2023, Primož Jakopin

Is there anything you would change about your life if you could live it over again?
          What a question! Not to say silly. It is very difficult for me to answer it. When I was working, there was no time for such a thing. I had a big responsibility. In addition to everything else, I was also the chairman of the Construction Committee for the Karawanks tunnel, and also for the construction of Osimska cesta below Mt. Sabotin.


Related posts:


  Roberto Antonini - high mountain caver, April 2023   Jožek Košir - Cox, there is no place like caves, November 2023

*The portrait of Miran Marussig was drawn by Vladimir Posipaj in 2023, after a group photo of the cavers in 1959 in the Triglav house in Kredarica, with the permission of the heirs of the author of the recording Tomaž Planina - daughter Polona and son Aleš.


The page was made by Primož Jakopin, who also accepts comments, at the address primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert periods and afno in the appropriate places). The photos in the portrait are the property and copyright (c) of the authors. Where known, they are published with permission. The page was created on April 1, 2023, translated into English by the author in October 2023, last modified on January 7, 2024.