When and why did you migrate to Australia? Where did you settle initially? When did you move to Queensland?
I arrived in Australia in April 1988 as a permanent resident. It is hard for me to explain why I applied for a migration visa but I did. It has certainly changed my life. After arrival I first travelled a bit around Victoria - Philip island, Twelve Apostoles etc.. then to Sydney. I returned to Melbourne where I met my future husband and after a few years we decided to move to Queensland in 1992.
You are running a successful pocket book business and were quite active at the time of Slovenia's fight for independence by publishing a book about Slovenia. Can you tell us more about your involvement in this project?
The declaration of independence signaled a turbulent period. I worked at International Trucks in IT department at that time. I could see that some people could not understand why Slovenia would want to be independent. Too small, they said. Can't exist on its own at that size. They had no answer when I said that there were some 50 countries smaller than Slovenia. We were portrayed in media as rebels, especially due to cleverly designed Serbian Milosevic's propaganda machinery. Americans were backing Yugoslavia at that time. Europe was silent. Something had to be done. Slovenian National Council (SNS) in Victoria organised a rally in support of Slovenia’s independence. I joined the SNS at that first gathering at the City Square in Melbourne on 29.6.1991. I had a short speech and from then on I was asked to represent the Slovenian cause at many other meetings, especially meetings of other ex-Yugoslav republics and Kosovars who also strived for their own independence. I was very happy to do that. But I felt more had to be done.
There was very little understanding among Australians about the situation. I felt a need to explain that the Yugoslav constitution allowed each state to vote to leave the federation. Slovenian, as we know, voted overwhelmingly in support of independence.
After the independence declaration there were question of whether the new fledgling country satisfied the requirement of statehood by international laws. The Montevideo convention 1933 defines a state as an entity with a defined territory, permanent population, government and capacity to enter into relations with other states. Slovenia satisfied the first three conditions but the last one depended on international recognition.
I also felt I needed to present Slovenians to Australians as a nation of its own, with its own language and culture. The notion of federation in Australia was in stark contrast to the notion of federation in Yugoslavia. Those two types of federations had virtually nothing in common and I wished to explain that.
For this reason I put together an article about the legal rights for Slovenian independence, a short presentation of the Slovenian nation as such and added a bit of spiritual and moral flair to it - and 120 pages of the "Republic of Slovenia" was born. After the first issue I was asked to make about 50 more copies. It was all quite simple, just photocopies and do-it-your-own binding. We worked fast and low-tech and cost-effective. The purpose was to inform the Australian government and society about Slovenia, its rights and desires, and to lobby for its recognition and acceptance in the wider international community.
Almost a year ago you were appointed to the position of the first Honorary Consul of the Republic of Slovenia for Queensland. How do you see your new role? In what ways can the Slovenian community in Queensland expect to be served by you?
Indeed, this happened quite unexpectedly. It was an honour to be offered this position. Slovenia is close to my heart and to be given an opportunity to work on a diplomatic level for Slovenia and Queensland is very special. I am still learning a lot of course. I see my work as a three-fold engagement - working with Slovenia and the Slovenian government in any area pertinent to my role; working on matters pertinent to the relationship between Slovenia and Queensland, and working with the Slovenian community in Queensland. I find that the Slovenian community has embraced the idea of having a Queensland consulate with great warmth. As a consul I will work as dedicated as I can for Slovenia, Slovenians and the Slovenian community.
Do you feel that the office of Honorary Consul should function as a community leader? How do you see your position in relation to the existing Slovenian organisations in Queensland and Australia?
Let's put this into perspective. Slovenian clubs and community existed well before the consulate was established. Club Planinka, for example, was established about sixty years ago and club Lipa around twenty years ago. They are the true leaders of the community. I take myself more as a link for something that was perhaps missing in the past - a connection between the Slovenian government, the clubs, individuals and community as such. I see my role as to assist, rather than, as suggested, to lead. Together with the community we need to make Slovenia better known to Australians.
There was a Consulate General in Sydney operating successfully for many years by Honorary Consul General Mr Alfred Breznik but it was physically impossible for Mr Breznik alone to cover the whole of Australia adequately. The Slovenian government eventually established the Embassy and in my view it was the right decision to also establish local consulates in each state. This will ensure a much greater connectedness between the Embassy and the Slovenian community in each of the states and will serve the community better. One great advantage of this has already become apparent: people now no longer need to travel to Canberra to obtain a passport. The passports are still processed by the Embassy but now the Embassy staff comes to each of the states at set times to process the passports. This saves hundreds of dollars to people who need to renew or obtain Slovenian passports.
There is a growing group of new migrants from Slovenia who settled in Queensland in recent years. Do you have any contacts with this group?
Yes, indeed. Migration now is very different. After the Second World War most Slovenians arrived either to Melbourne or Sydney. Some of those later moved to Queensland, which has a more pleasant climate than 'four-seasons-in-a-day' Melbourne. Not surprisingly, quite a few people originating from Primorska, the warm, coastal part of Slovenia, opted to live in Queensland.
These days Slovenian migrants often move directly to Queensland, the state often perceived as exotic. I am not aware of any organised group of these new migrants but I do have contacts with quite a few of them.
While a cluster of Slovenians is denser around Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast, Slovenians have found their home also in Townsville, Hervey Bay and other areas of Queensland. I wish to connect with all of them. Everybody is welcome to get in touch with me or come to the office for a chat.
What projects have you set in motion in the first year in office? What other projects are you planning to realise in the future?
There are regular consular tasks to be performed, such as answering enquiries and assisting with forms and information mainly about passports and citizenship. In addition to these there are certain activities that are either initiated by the Embassy or by us, the Consuls.
For example, in the first year the Embassy and the Consuls established a Slovenian Australian Chamber of Commerce. We expect that the foundation of this organisation will play an important role in the future economic relationship between Slovenia and Australia. One of the main aims of the Chamber is to join forces of interested parties in lobbying both governments for legislative changes in order to increase trade and investments between Australia and Slovenia.
Additionally, I have, with a few other enthusiasts, initiated an ambitious project of establishing, or perhaps re-establishing, learning of the Slovenian language in Queensland. There was a 'Slovenian school' in 1980s for a short time, but since then there has been a huge gap. Last year some interest to rekindle the school emerged. We took it quite seriously, of course on the basis of interest among students. A project like this certainly has a few challenges in Queensland because of the size of the state and its scattered population. We have established three core locations at the moment: Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast. Occasionally, if appropriate, we offer classes over Skype. Both clubs have been very supportive. The Gold Coast classes are held at the Lipa club. Planinka often hosts bigger events in relation to the project. Classes are more or less individualised and are held for adults and for children. They can join at any time.
How would you like to see the Slovenian community develop in the future?
To start with, I would like to see another club established on the north side of Brisbane, around Sunshine Coast. As said earlier there are enough Slovenians living in this area for this to happen.
The Slovenian community in Queensland has a core comprising migrants who arrived after the WWII. Those Slovenians have established the clubs with their heart and have played a vital role in retaining the spirit of Slovenia within the community to-date. Some of them came to Australia due to political purges, some might not have liked the then system and some simply applied for an Australian visa and got it.
The new migrants, let's say people arriving to Queensland in the last eight to ten years, have different reasons for coming. Some might have been disillusioned with the system in Slovenia. The economic situation was and still is hard. These people have different ambitions. They are often highly educated and obtain straight away very good positions in the Australian society.
But there is a gap between the two groups. I believe that with tolerance and mutual respect and understanding we can obtain better cooperation. We need this cooperation to be better heard as the Slovenian community in the Australian society. For example we could join forces to represent the community at various multicultural festivals and events or perhaps organise a Slovenian Cultural Day.
Above I mentioned the Slovenian language learning project in Queensland. For this purpose, the teachers are in the process of registering an Association of the Slovenian Language and Culture Queensland. We have specifically decided to include the word 'culture' in the name as this gives us much broader scope of work within the community and promoting Slovenia externally to the community. The first president of the new Association is Mrs Jerneja Svetičič..
Do you have any business ties with Slovenia? What are your views on the trade exchange between Slovenia and Australia? What would be your advice to a company in Slovenia that wishes to sell its products in Australia?
We do not have a subsidiary of Pocket Books in Slovenia. We looked into it many years ago. As far as I remember we found out that one firm in Slovenia obtained, at that time, the sole right for producing directories and/or publishing phone numbers. This might be different now. There would have been also a question of the double taxation if we pursued the option.
I looked into statistics of trade between Slovenia and Queensland. From what I could see, there is about AU$1 million monthly exchange trade. This is not good enough. I believe more could and should be done.
There are also opportunities with tourism. For example, I have had a few people asking me for tourist information as they were travelling to Slovenia for holiday. I was of course very happy to provide as much as I could. Slovenia generally exports more to Australia than imports from Australia. We should be active in the area of high-tech and innovation cooperation.
Companies that want to sell to Australia can ask for advice from SPIRIT in Slovenia. They can also contact the Slovenian Australian Chamber of Commerce, the Embassy or the Consuls. Of course, they should also do their own other research of the market, especially regarding the demand for and saturation of their product or services in Australia.
Thank you for the interview.