Slovenia, where are you heading?

Speaker of the Slovenian National Assembly, Dr Milan Brglez, recently gave a comprehensive interview in Mladina in which he outlined the direction the current government will pursue during its mandate. While the interview presents him as a sensible scholar who carefully weighs his ideas and genuinely cares about the future of Slovenia, he makes several references that seem quite radical.

The parts of the interview that particularly stand out include:

  • Sympathizing with the United Left (Združena levica), an extreme left party that surprisingly won six seats in the last elections, even though Dr Brglez makes it clear that their ideas, especially their call for a revolution, might be unrealistic at this point in time;
  • Suggestion that children in primary school should start learning 'Serbo-Croatian'. The so-called 'Serbo-Croatian' language ceased to exist a long time ago, being replaced by Serbian,  Croatian and Bosnian. The question of Slovenians being forced to speak the above languages in their communications with the former Yugoslav government was always a sore political issue. Is this yet another indication that revival of Yugoslavia is again on agenda?
  • Suggestion that following the Swiss model of governance the Slovenian government of the future should be run by less than seven persons. In the last local elections, Slovenia with the population of two million people elected mayors to 212 local councils. The current government has fourteen plus two ministries. While the Slovenian administration currently appears overweight, the government of less than seven key persons is such a radical departure from the current situation that it may put already weak democracy in Slovenia under the question mark;
  • Dr Brglez makes not one but two references to Slavoj Žižek, probably the most successful Slovenian intellectual export to the West. In his own words, Žižek is a communist, a radical leftist and an admirer of Josef Stalin. To learn more about Slavoj Žižek please watch the video below (in English).

Jacqueline Bender on bee keeping, cheese making and her Slovenian background

You are doing lots of interesting things. Could you please tell our readers about your interests? 

I’m very interested in locally produced food. I think the more we can make and grow ourselves, the better it is for our environment and our health. It’s also fun and satisfying to make things, and you can make great friendships along the way by joining a community garden, a bee club or buying & swapping veggies with neighbours.

I make lots of things from scratch, including bread and cheese. I also teach cheese making classes. I keep bees and chickens in my backyard in Melbourne.  

Funnily enough, my passion for bee keeping actually reconnected me with a Slovenian club in the area. The Jadran Slovenian club in Diggers Rest hosts a bee meeting once per month. I was a regular at this club when I was a kid, going to dances and even performing in a Slovenian band (I played harmonika and drums). But, the band finished and I lost touch with the club. I hadn’t been there for over 10 years until I joined the bee group.

My website is called DIY Feast, and I write about cheese making, bee keeping and gardening.

From which part of Slovenia did your parents/grandparents come?

My mum grew up in Kalobje, which is a village about 20 minutes drive from Celje. My dad is Australian, from Polish heritage.

My grandmother was born in Šentrupert (which is a short, but very hilly – and hard! – bike ride away from Kalobje). My grandfather lived in Kalobje and my grandmother moved there when they married.

When and why did they migrate  to Australia?

My grandparents migrated to Australia in 1960, with their 3 young children.

At this time, there were incentives to move to Australia. Land was cheap, there was plenty of work and they were offered a free journey by ship. So even though it took 3 months to get here, and they didn’t speak English, they went for the opportunity.

After 8 years, Slovenia called my grandmother home and she has been living there ever since. My mother and her sisters go back to visit every few years.

Have you been to Slovenia? How many times? Where do you usually stay when you visit?

I’ve been to Slovenia twice. When I was 12, I went with my mum and we lived there for 3 months. I went again this year for 5 weeks in August/September.

Both times I stayed at my grandparents’ house in Kalobje. It was such a great experience for me. I met my mother’s many cousins and they opened up their hearts and homes to me, even though we hadn’t seen each other for 17 years!

I feel really lucky to have experienced village life in Slovenia. It was completely new and different for me.

Do you speak Slovenian? How did you communicate with Slovenians in Slovenia?

Ne govorim Slovensko. I learnt a little bit when I was there and I’m studying it now in Melbourne.

Sometimes communication was difficult. I could talk about simple stuff: how are you, where are we going etc. but it was disappointing that I couldn’t communicate well enough to get to know people.

I was travelling with my aunty, who speaks Slovenian. That helped a lot. When I wanted to talk about something more complicated, she would translate. But, when you’re out with friends and having a good time, it’s not so easy to always be translating. So there was still a communication barrier.

To try to overcome this, to show, instead of tell, people a bit more about myself, I played harmonika. My grandfather has a harmonika and when people came visiting, after eating salami and drinking blueberry šnapse, I would play. It really helped! It created a connection between us.

It was also surprising for them to see an Australian playing Slovenian folk music. I often got comments like: “How can you play our music but you can’t speak Slovenian?”

How do you feel about Slovenia and being Slovenian?

I feel grateful that I have a connection with Slovenia.

Life in Slovenia is so different from life in Australia. I can see why my grandmother missed it, and why my mother has a bit of her heart in both places. There’s beauty to both of them.

I loved my time there earlier this year. I feel I was really able to embrace the spirit of the place: of Kalobje, of the people who live there, of the mountains (I went on lots of mountain walks and trekked up Ojstrice), of the natural wonders like Vintgar river and the forests where I went looking for gobe.

I feel I want to connect more with my Slovenian roots, by learning Slovenian and going back for another visit.

Are you a member of a Slovenian organisation? If not, why not?

No, I’m not. I’ve just never explored it.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to visit Slovenia again and speak Slovenian fluently. I would be interested in working on organic farms in Slovenia and Italy (I’m learning Italian too).

I would like to start a small farm on a couple of acres, focusing on growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, with several bee hives. It could be in Australia or overseas.

In the short term I’m going to continue making cheese, like camembert and blues, and having fun with my bees.

The EU says 'No' to the former prime minister of Slovenia

Alenka Bratušek, former prime minister of Slovenia, nominated herself while still holding her former position to become the next Slovenian commissioner in the EU Commission headed by Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU delegates, however, overwhelmingly rejected her bid to the position with 112 votes against and only 13 in her support.

The EU Commission is the most powerful institution in Brussels and its 28 commissioners, one from each member state, draft laws and policy for the EU. The Commission chief, Mr Juncker, was concerned with the number of women in his government and nominated Ms Bratušek to the position of a vice-president for energy. 

Ms Bratušek appeared at a hearing on Monday in which she was expected to provide her plans and vision for the reforming and reorganising Europe’s energy policy into a new European Energy Union. Unfortunately she failed to convince the EU delegates that she was competent and able to provide leadership in such an important portfolio.

The new prime minister Mr Miro Cerar promised to respond to this embarrassing situation by nominating another candidate within three days. AFP mentions Violeta Bulc as the likely candidate.

Youth Concert in Melbourne

Last Saturday the Slovenian Catholic Mission in Melbourne, Victoria, hosted the 40th Slovenian Youth Concert. This year's slogan was 'Slovenian at Heart'.

The program was opened by Father Ciril Božič, Head of Slovenian Mission in Kew. In his speech he expressed his desire shared by the Slovenian community in Australia to connect the new and the old generations. "Young people are our wings, older ones are our roots.Without wings and without roots we don't know who we are and where we should go," he said.

Father Ciril's speech was followed by the screening of film "40 Years - Turning Back the Clock" and 26 performances by young and not so young singers, dancers and guitarists, pianists, flutists, etc.

A visitor from the audience commented: "My congratulations to all young performers: they were well prepared and offered a diverse program, including playing different instruments, such as the guitar, the keyboard, the harph, the flute, the piano, to classical ballet, modern ballet, solo singing and dancing to Slovenian folk songs in national costumes. They offered us rich and proud performances - they are the future of Slovenians."

Father Ciril Božič and Mr Alfred Brežnik (Photo: Florjan Auser)
Young performers in national costumes (Photo: Florjan Auser)