Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Slovenian success story

When Tina Maze and other successful Slovenian athletes are winning their races our hearts are filled with national pride, only to discover that our Australian neighbours do not watch winter sports and are completely ignorant of the fact that our Slovenian heroes even exist. It is a tough battle convincing the world that Slovenians can be and are successful internationally.

Dr Edi Gobec  has spent most of his life diligently collecting and researching every person of Slovenian background that could be considered a candidate for 'who is who' in any field, and in American science and industry in particular. His latest book  published recently in Slovenia 'Slovenski ameriški izumitelji in inovatorji' (the book is published in Slovenian even though originally written in English, it's English title is 'Slovenian American Inventors and Innovators') is another of his quixotic  attempts to battle this ignorance.

In the introduction to the book, Dr Gobec explains what motivated him to become so involved with this peculiar line of research. As a penniless migrant he supported himself as a student by working as a brickie hand on construction sites. His work mates teased him about his Slovenian background and demanded he named an important Slovenian in the American society. His inability to provide a convincing answer incensed him to spend all his free time for the rest of his life researching noteworthy Slovenians.

In over 60 years of research Dr Gobec compiled an impressive list of inventors and innovators of Slovenian background who significantly contributed to progress in the American and international science, technology and industry. His latest book reads like an encyclopaedia: one  great achiever of Slovenian background follows another. There is no doubt: some Slovenians are extremely smart, ambitious and successful people and we as a nation can be very proud of them. But are we?

Behind these powerful stories of people like Dr France Rode, the lead inventor of the first sophisticated pocket-size HP-35 calculator, or Ed Repic, the leader of the Rockwell’s Space Exploration Team and major contributor to the design of Apollo 11, the first spacecraft from the Earth that landed on the Moon in 1969, there is a certain unease. Do we really care about these people and their successful careers? Do they really have the potential to become the source of our national pride?

The high achievers presented in this book, to which we can add a list of very successful Slovenians in the Australian society, are people who left Slovenia themselves or were born overseas to Slovenian parents. While nobody denies or disputes their contribution, their achievements on the American or Australian soil are considered first and foremost American (Australian). This is only natural as their new country financed their achievements and reaped the benefits.

Slovenia, however, could potentially gain some moral credit from their high position and status - but remains fairly mum and numb. There was no real interest in the publication of this remarkable book by Dr Gobec. The author subsidised the publishing cost of only 1000 copies by giving up his right to royalties. The Office for Slovenians Abroad  - the institution whose main area of work, as its name tells us, are 'Slovenians abroad' -  in its press releases has not mentioned the book.

The main daily paper Delo published an article about the book by Lidija Pavlovčič on 16 May 2015 with a telling heading "American provocation" and subheading "Is the worldwide celebrity of individuals of Slovenian background the medicine for our collective pain for not being recognisable enough as a nation and a country?"

Why are Slovenia and its government sponsored agencies in particular so reluctant to embrace the great achievements of these distinguished Slovenians? How can the main Slovenian newspaper see successful people of Slovenian background from America as provocative? What have they done to provoke Slovenians?

Is leaving Slovenia in search for employment and a better life a provocation?

When I was in school we used to read Mile Klopčič's poem "Mary se predstavi", a sad picture of struggles in American mines many migrants had to endure. Nobody thought their suffering was provokative. On the contrary, we were sorry for the poor migrants and pleased that we were so much better off. Apparently the problem are not the poor, uneducated and struggling migrants, the last illusory remnants of which the Office for Slovenians Abroad is still trying to hang onto.

Successful migrants, though - that's a different story. They are the real provocation. Their competence, their abilities, their fearless move from the safety of their homeland into the unknown - and succeeding, this is the challenge the Slovenian official politics could never quite accept.

But in fact most of us who have moved out of Slovenia have successfully settled in our new country. Some have become prominent, others have just managed to live well. Sure, it was tough, even very tough for a while, but after the initial adaptive period most of us got the hang of it and succeeded. This gives us confidence and a feeling of achievement.

Let us celebrate those among us who have been able to show the world how smart Slovenians as a nation really are and feel also proud of our own, no matter how small, steps into the brave new world.

Thank you, Dr Gobec, for your remarkable work!

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