Books on Slovenia
% of GDP
Update No: 112 - (26/09/06)
The exceptional Slovenes
The Slovenes are the least nostalgic of the former communist countries for
communism. They are a naturally Western people, even physically, right in the
heart of the Alps. There is nothing more certain than that they will do very
well from being now politically and economically bonded with the West in the EU.
Slovenia always had decided advantages over other Balkan countries and other
Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Not least, it borders both
Italy and Austria, and it enjoys a very small coastline (about 10 miles) on the
Adriatic, which gave it readier access to the West than most other nations of
It was perfectly logical that it should be the first of the Yugoslav republics
to go its own way, which it did in September 1989, although full independence
was two years away. It had always been the odd man out in Yugoslavia, tucked
away in the far north in the Alps and with a standard of living five times that
of the poorest republic, Macedonia, down in the far south.
The one communist success story?
It curiously, despite everything, did rather well out of communism. Tito was
half Slovene, a fact not generally known, his other half being Croat. He had the
traditional reserve of the Croats and Slovenes towards the Serbs.
He always had a soft spot for the place, with memories of idyllic Alpine
holidays in childhood. He never totally acquiesced in the dismantlement of its
market economy, which continued, even if harassed, throughout the communist
period: hence its superior record vis-a-vis Macedonia et al. But of course it
suffered. He was a Marxist ideologue after all.
The communists had at least one merit. They believed wholeheartedly in education
- thereby preparing the way for their demise, because what educated person could
swallow whole the claptrap that was Marxism and Communism. They were creating
their own gravediggers, nowhere more so than in serene and Alpine Slovenia, an
obvious candidate to become Western.
The Slovenes are perhaps the most highly educated people in Europe,
multi-lingual and multi-faceted. They are certainly remarkable, with its most
dazzling philosopher, Slajov Zizec.
The ideal EU state
Now, indeed, it belongs to an entirely different federation than the Yugoslavian
medley of republics, the European Union, which it joined two years ago. And it
seems to be thriving thereby, while other new members worry about losing their
identity and are prone to mean-spirited and nationalist politics.
Slovenia is almost a model new member of the union. In January, it will become
the first of the 10 countries admitted in 2004 to join the European currency
union. It will take Europe's coveted presidency for a six-month term in 2008,
the first of the new members to do so. Its per capita gross domestic product has
grown to 81 per cent of the European average. Some 80 per cent of its small
population - just under two million people - is connected to the Internet.
"We were able to start with the transformation immediately, and now we see
the difference," Prime Minister Janez Jansa said in an interview in his
office in Ljubljana in July. He meant that once Slovenia became independent of
Yugoslavia in 1991, it began the transition to a market economy straightaway.
"In 1991, people left Slovenia because they thought that things would be
safer in Belgrade," Mr Jansa continued. "Now they are coming
But how, he was asked, has Slovenia apparently avoided some of the sourness of
other countries like Poland, where a new rightist government has criticized its
predecessors for having been so eager to join the union that Poland's interests
were sacrificed in the process.
Issues like these are easily manipulated, Mr Jansa said, but to succeed, they
need a political force pushing them. "In Slovenia there were no strong
political parties that opposed" membership, he said.
Domestic strife all the same
Not that politics in Slovenia is without its troubles. Mr Jansa himself is
not universally popular. Taking over from a social-democratic government that
was in power for a decade, he has promised a faster pace of privatisation and a
reduction of the state.
But according to his critics, he has increased the power of the government by,
for instance, winning enactment of a media law that enabled him to place party
loyalists in key positions in the commission that controls the government-owned
radio and television stations. He has gained influence over the largest national
newspapers by changing officials in the funds that own them.
"They totally control the biggest newspaper, the biggest radio station, and
the biggest public television station," said Anton Rop, a former prime
minister and a continuing rival of Mr Jansa, describing what he said were the
effects of the change in the media law. "They are talking about reforms,
but they are anti-reform," Mr Rop said.
He complains that soon after taking power, Mr Jansa increased pensions, a
popular move but one that, in Mr Rop's view, threatens Slovenia's historically
low budget deficit, which is necessary for membership in the European currency
union. "They like to talk about history," Mr Rop continued,
"especially about what they did in the war for independence, but in reforms
they are unable to do anything."
Mr Jansa has been involved in a continuing skirmish with Mladina, the magazine
where he worked when he was a pro-independence Slovene dissident in the 1980's,
but which has criticized him ever since he took power at the end of 2004.
In a much noted comment recently, Mr Jansa darkly suggested that "some
editors" of Mladina, as well as other journalists, welcomed the Yugoslav
Army's interference in Slovenia or criticized the Slovene government during the
struggle for independence.
"From time to time I have the impression that he's still angry because he
was in prison," said Ali Zerdin, the current deputy editor of Mladina, and
a colleague of Mr Jansa at the magazine in the late 1980's.
A hopeful outlook
Still, compared with Poland and its tilt toward religious nationalism, or
with Slovakia, where the governing coalition includes a right-wing nationalist
party, or even compared with France or the Netherlands, where public fear of
competition from cheap eastern labour has produced a deep disillusionment with
the European Union, tiny Slovenia seems to be experiencing little of such a
"People here are satisfied with their economic circumstances," Mr Rop
said, in a statement that few European politicians could reasonably make.
The sights around the country confirm this view, from the numerous open-air
cafes in Ljubljana, a small capital with a jewel-like old city, redolent of the
Austro-Hungarian past, to the country's Adriatic seaside, linked to the capital
by a world-class superhighway, and crowded with visitors from all over Europe.
To be sure, Slovenia has a certain modest scale. Ljubljana's airport is tiny. In
the whole country there is only one soccer stadium adequate for international
play. There is no convention centre worthy of the name, nor are there any
five-star hotels. The country, a NATO member, has steadfastly supported the
United States in its foreign policy (Mr Jansa met President Bush in Washington
recently), but its entire contingent in Iraq consists of four police trainers.
But Slovenia seems largely optimistic. "This is the first time that we have
our destiny in our hands," Mr Jansa said. "It's a historic
achievement. Never was the neighbourhood, the region, Europe so kind to small
countries. We are aware of that, and we want to use this opportunity."
There was an interesting peace in a recent edition of the International Herald
Tribune, namely for September 12th, 2006:-
President of Slovenia finds peace
By Nicholas Wood
The best-selling book there right now, a New Age thumb sucker called
"Thoughts on Life and Awareness," is predictably full of platitudes
about "finding our inner balance, peace and integrity and then transferring
this to our surroundings."
Dedicated readers, and there seem to be many, can also consult the blog and
advice column by the same author, who happens to be the president of Slovenia,
For well over a decade he has been at the centre of Slovene politics, first as
prime minister and then as president, a cool and reserved politician best known
for his expertise in controlling inflation. But seven years ago, he was stricken
with cancer of the kidney, which he says he survived only after rejecting
conventional medical treatments and adopting a vegetarian diet, fasting and
natural remedies. He says he was transformed by the experience, suddenly
emboldened to speak his mind on all sorts of topics, from advice to the lovelorn
to peace in Darfur.
He has frequently criticized the government and the Catholic Church, and started
a raft of initiatives that his advisers say they can barely keep up with. Above
all, he says he has found "a higher consciousness" and now wants to
share what he calls his "positive energy" with the rest of the world.
Drnovsek has not seen a doctor in a year and a half. Though questions were
raised about his health after he fainted during a public ceremony in June, he
maintains that he has fully recovered, and now is obliged to help others.
"I am trying to help the people," he said in an interview in his
offices in Ljubljana. "I would say it's a result of my own personal
development. I have developed my awareness. I can help people, I think, because
they are finding themselves down the road I have passed some time ago."
Frequently smiling, and looking relaxed but older than his 56 years, Drnovsek
outlined how overcoming the "formations," as he called the cancer that
at one stage had spread to his lungs, changed his personality.
"You realize that life could be really short," he said. "Before,
I was concentrated on pragmatic issues as prime minister." But he then
decided to do more to help others, saying, "I don't have to make a
compromise, just to say what is right."
Rather than live in his official residence, Drnovsek stays in a village on a
mountain half an hour's drive from the capital. He says he lives on fresh
vegetables and bread that he bakes himself, and periodically fasts for periods
as long as eight days at a time. In January, he resigned from his political
party and formed a group called the Movement for Justice and Development, a
platform for his new political and moral vision. He has a blog on the group's
Web site, in which he comments on topics as diverse as micro-lending, Jesus
Christ, herbal medicine and the responsibilities of public office.
"Someone in power should be a person who wishes it the least; a person who
is honest, and who is aware of all the traps and the huge responsibility of
authority," he writes in one entry. "Such a politician will work for
the people, for the municipality, the state and humankind."
Drnovsek's frankness has made him one of the most popular figures in the
country. Last Christmas, his popularity surged when a woman surprised Drnovsek
with the revelation that he had a 19-year-old daughter, from a relationship they
had in the 1980s. The disclosure only added to his popularity, as father and
daughter were publicly united for the first time.
But it is the application of the president's new vision to world affairs that
has courted the most controversy, and not a little ridicule.
Last October, he began a campaign to resolve the future of the disputed province
of Kosovo, now administered by the United Nations.
His proposal - to give the province conditional independence from Serbia -
angered both the Albanian and Serbian sides in the dispute, and prompted the
Serbs to cancel an official visit by Drnovsek to Belgrade.
This year he has made repeated suggestions about ways to solve the conflict in
Darfur, going as far as inviting the leaders of the rebel factions and the
Sudanese government to a peace conference in Ljubljana. None came.
In August, an envoy Drnovsek had sent to Sudan - Tomo Kriznar, a prominent
Slovene human rights advocate - was sentenced to two years in prison by a
Sudanese court for entering the country illegally.
Kriznar, who was trying to draw up an agreement among rebel groups that were not
yet parties to an existing peace deal with the Sudanese government, had crossed
over the border from Chad without a visa.
After intervention by the Slovene government and the European Union and a letter
from Drnovsek personally, Kriznar was pardoned on Monday and set free.
Diplomats deplored what they said was the amateur nature of his initiative and
the damage it did to Slovenia's reputation.
But he responds, "Did the whole international community make progress, with
so many hundreds of diplomats who are paid for this? Nothing, neither in Darfur
nor in Kosovo. Nothing."
Ali Zerdin, deputy editor of Mladina, a weekly magazine, said, "It was
naive to expect that such a complex problem would be solved with the power of
More ominously, several politicians and at least one doctor have raised
questions about whether diet and positive thinking really have cured Drnovsek.
"I'm no prophet," wrote Tine Velikonja, a retired surgeon who said he
had spoken with the president's former doctors. "But I can say for certain
that if Drnovsek insists on his vegetarian diet, he will not walk this earth in
Russian giant LUKoil steps into Slovenian market
The Russian oil giant, LUKoil and Slovenia's Petrol recently announced plans to
launch a joint venture with the aim of retailing fuel in Central and Eastern
Europe, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported.
The Slovenians hold a 51 per cent stake and Russians the rest in the new,
Llubljana-based company, Petrol LUKoil. Petrol operated around 350 fuel stations
in the region and on Cyprus and controls 70 per cent of the domestic market.
Financial details of the deal with LUKoil were not announced. The company also
plans to restructure into a holding, with plans to venture into other segments
of the energy market, including trade in gas and electricity.
FOOD & DRINK
Brewer Lasko posts rising H1 earnings
Slovenia's largest brewer Pivovarna Lasko has seen first-half profits rise on
the back of increased beer sales, just-drinks.com reported recently.
Lasko said that net profit increased seven per cent to 1.5bn tolars (US$8m)
during the first six months of the year. Net sales reportedly rose just over two
per cent to 32.1bn tolars. In April, Lasko was reportedly showing an interest in
a tie-up with Serbian beer maker Pivara MB, though nothing has yet come of the
Chinese premier calls for tighter ties with EU
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on September 11th called on Slovenia to boost
relations between China and the European Union (EU) when it assumed the EU
presidency, Xinhua reported.
Wen made the call when he met here with his Slovenian counterpart, Janez Jansa,
on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, according to Chinese
diplomats who attended the meeting.
Slovenia will take the EU presidency during the first half of 2008, making it
the first of the new member states, which joined the EU in May 2004 to head the
25-member bloc. Wen said the Chinese side hoped that Slovenia would play an
active role in deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between China
and the EU. On relations between China and Slovenia, he said the two sides had
enhanced political trust since they set up diplomatic ties 14 years ago, and
they had expanded cooperation in trade, cultural exchanges and education.
China was willing to join hands with Slovenia to deepen cooperation in various
fields, Wen said. Jansa said the Slovenian side welcomed the enhancement of
cooperation between China and Slovenia, as well as between China and the EU at
large. He pledged that his country would make more efforts to boost relations,
according to Chinese diplomats. Jansa also extended appreciation to Wen for the
constructive role China had played in resolving issues surrounding the Balkan
region within the framework of the United Nations.
Three bidders for Slovenian 3g licences
Three domestic operators have entered bids for the trio of 3g mobile licences on
offer in Slovenia: Cellcos Mobitel and Si.Mobil, and triple-play broadband
provider T-2, local media reported on September 6th.
Telecoms regulator APEK said that it hopes to grant the licences this month, and
before the end of the year at the latest. APEK set a closing date of September
1st for the tender, and a starting price of US$ eight million for each
concession. It received two bids of 1.5 billion Slovenian tolars (US$8.03
million) from Mobitel and T-2, whilst Telekom Austria subsidiary Si.Mobil
offered 1.55 billion Slovenian tolars. Mobitel, a wholly owned unit of state-run
Telco Telekom Slovenije, launched a W-CDMA network in December 2003, but it is
reportedly interested in acquiring a new concession to enable it to improve
coverage, capacity and quality of services. Up-and-coming ISP T-2 launched VDSL
internet access and triple-play services in October 2005.