If you want to feel love, come and visit “sLOVEnia”
Interview with His Excellency Ambassador of Slovenia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr Roman Kirn
Slovenia stands for more Europe
Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska: The Netherlands and Slovenia established diplomatic relations on January 15, 1992. You stated that ‘’Slovenia and Netherlands are closely linked-up by common values and interests, based on EU and NATO membership.’’ Can you elaborate on the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Slovenia?
As strange as it may look like for two European countries, both members of the EU and NATO, Slovenia and Netherlands do not share centuries long history of cooperation. Reason for that is rather simple: Slovenia, being a young state but an old nation, and before achieving its independence 25 years ago, was under Habsburgs rule for 600 years and a part of Yugoslavia for 70 years. As such, with low visibility and no identity of its own, Slovenia was not known neither to the world nor to the Dutch. Our bilateral relations started in January 1992, when the Netherlands together with other EU member states recognized Slovenia as an independent state. Our relations since then have developed successfully in all areas – we know each other and we cooperate with each other much better; yet a lot of room for further improvement remains open on both sides.
I would like to look back at the years of Josip Broz Tito to explain to the audience how Yugoslavia differed from the rest of the countries behind the iron curtain. The famous statement says that Tito said no, both to Stalin and to the Western World. In 1951 Tito implemented a self-management system that differentiated Yugoslavia from other socialist countries…
In many respects former Yugoslavia was different from other Eastern European socialist countries. First and foremost Yugoslavia was not a member of the Eastern European communist bloc, ruled by the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia´s economic and political system was much more liberal, its foreign trade oriented to western markets as well, implemented a policy of open borders and enjoyed a much higher degree of social liberties. All of that was even more evident in Slovenia, being the most developed part of former Yugoslavia.
After Tito’s death in 1980 tensions between Yugoslav republics emerged and in 1991 the country got disintegrated and went into terrible series of wars and unrest. How present are these experiences still in Slovenia and in the Balkans?
In late 80´s we witnessed historical changes in Europe, marked by the fall of the Berlin wall. Former communist countries embarked on the road of democratization and European integration. Yugoslavia failed to adapt to these changes, instead of democratization nationalism prevailed which consequently led to its disintegration. Unfortunately, this was a violent disintegration, of which Slovenia was more or less spared, which left the new states of former Yugoslavia with a number of unsolved issues, including border issues. The solution for lasting stability and prosperity of the region of Western Balkans ( that includes countries of former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia, plus Albania) lies in their integration into the EU. Slovenia became a EU member in 2004, followed by Croatia in 2013, other countries still have to achieve this goal.
Once you said: ‘’For Slovenia more of Europe means more of Slovenia.’’
Our experience with multinational Yugoslavia was not a good one. Unfortunately we failed in our efforts to bring Yugoslavia closer to the EU. However, Slovenia did not depart from Yugoslavia to grow in isolation. In European integration we saw our safety net and our future.EU integration is by far the most important project Europe has ever had, the best thing that has ever happened to Europe, worth to be supported and defended. It not only succeeded to reconcile what had been the legacy of two world wars in Europe but also provided democratic framework for common future of all European states. EU has institutional capacity for diversity management and values that keep all EU member states on the same track. Yugoslavia lacked all that and that is why it failed. EU is a union of national states, a guarantor of equality, of culture and of political identity for all of its member states and EU is also a community of democratic states, a guarantor of high democratic standards and values in each individual member state and in EU as a whole. That is why Slovenia does not want EU to fail, that is why Slovenia stands for more Europe.
Netherlands is the 10th most important trade partner with 2,5 percent of total Slovenian trade. In 2012, according to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, Slovenia exported to the Netherlands goods in the value of 416 million EUR and imported goods in the value of 675 million EUR. Total trade volume decreased by 6,6 percent in comparison to 2011 and reached 1,09 billion EUR in 2012. How does the Slovenian government stimulate the international trade cooperation? Are they any incentives, economic zones?
Slovenia is a developed, export oriented country – export represents 68% of its GDP and 70% of our foreign trade is within EU. Unlike other Central and Eastern European countries before 1990, Slovenia´s foreign trade with western markets already at that time amounted to 67%, therefore we have a long standing tradition in trading with demanding western markets. Free trade, open markets, competitiveness are imperatives for our economy. We do not have any special incentives that would go beyond usual economic policies within the EU. Currently we have only one economic zone operating in Slovenia: Koper Economic Zone, located in the Port of Koper, being the largest port in the northern Adriatic coastline and important logistic hub for many Asian and Latin American countries to export their goods to countries of Central and Eastern Europe. As for our export we have SID Bank, which operates as an export and development bank and as a national export credit agency providing insurance against non-marketable risks.
What does the Netherlands specialize in as far as the trade and business is concerned in Slovenia?
Slovenia is a small country, half the size of the Netherlands, with only 2 million inhabitants and does not have many big companies (99,8% are small and medium enterprises) and yet, Slovenia is building a global reputation ,amongst others, in industry innovation, especially in precision engineering.
Our trade with Netherlands, that amounts to 1,2 billion EUR, is quite important and brings Netherland as our 10th foreign partner. There are a number of Dutch companies in Slovenia (Goodyear Dunlop, Atlas Copco, Amgen, Johnson Controls, etc.), however there are low Dutch greenfield investments in Slovenia. The latest Dutch attribution is Slovene mayor brewery Laško Pivo, bought by Heineken. There are also opportunities for Dutch companies to take part in the privatization of state property in Slovenia which is underway.
What is the recipe to do the successful business in Slovenia?
The recipe for the successful business in Slovenia is to take the advantage of its four qualities:
- Quality of infrastructure : well – developed general ICT infrastructure, including Port of Koper;
- Quality link to regional markets;
- Quality workforce;
- Quality of life (high standard of living, cultural and geographical diversity, with intersection of Roman, German and Slavic culture)
In what sectors do the Slovenian companies operate in the Netherlands?
The largest Slovene company in the Netherlands is Gorenje, one of the European largest producers of household appliances, sold in the Netherlands under trade mark ATAG. High sales and well – known Slovene brands are also mobile homes (Adria Caravan) and scooters (TOMOS), as well as Pipistrel (small light planes) and Green Line (boats).
Could you please tell us more about Bled Strategic Forum?
Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) is one of the leading international conferences in the region. In the past 10 years it has grown into a visible platform for high-level strategic dialog of leaders from private and public sectors on key issues facing the region, Europe and the world. It is held every first week of September in Bled, the most well – known Alpine touristic destination in Slovenia. Apart from the main forum it traditionally includes also business forum and Young BSF. For the last couple of years it has also included a panel on international criminal justice, which attracts participation of high level participants from The Hague as well. This year the president of ICC, Mrs. Fernandez de Gurmendi attended BSF.
How does the cultural and scientific cooperation between two countries look like?
The driving force of cultural and scientific cooperation between Slovenia and the Netherlands is a dynamic flow of personal and institutional contacts of many Slovenes and Dutch citizens, especially in the last 15 years, when Slovenia became a member of a larger European family and when physical and mental borders gradually ceased to exist. This cooperation is being reinforced by a number of young Slovenes, studying or working in the Netherlands, in the fields of culture and science. Lately more and more Dutch have also settled in Slovenia for the same reasons.
Could you please tell us more about the Slovenian community in the Netherlands. When were the main waves of immigration, how many Slovenian citizens live in the Netherlands, in what regions mostly and what were the reasons of immigration?
Compared to others, Slovene community in the Netherlands is not that big, it amounts to app. 1000 persons. A greater number of Slovene settlers came to Limburg, just after the First World War, in search for work in coal mines. This community, though ageing, has preserved Slovenian culture and traditions. Younger generation of Slovenes, though not in big numbers, started coming to the Netherlands in the last 20 years, seeing Europe as a new big home and looking for job opportunities or even more, for studies, due to low Dutch tuition fees and use of English as a second language. Many of them are taking an active part in the activities of the Association of Friends of Slovenia.
You said when you became the Ambassador of Slovenia in the Netherlands in 2013:’My personal mission, as an Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to The Hague, is to develop good relations between Slovenia and Netherlands on all areas, from political and economic to cultural and scientific. Slovenia and Netherlands are closely linked-up by common values and interests, based on our EU and NATO membership; we belong to the same family of nations, we have shared commitment for the future and well-being of our two nations and shared responsibility in our efforts to secure peace and sustainable development in the world.’’
Before you had worked in Burma, Czech Republic, Austria, America, Mexico. You had also various governmental functions in Slovenia such as for example Head of Multilateral Relations Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or State Undersecretary, Head of Multilateral Relations department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
What were you first impressions of the Netherlands from this international perspective?
As a diplomat I have served in a number of countries and international organizations. Being posted to The Netherlands brings me some new opportunities, apart from being now closer to my family and friends. Bilaterally, though our two countries are both members of EU and NATO, a tremendous amount of work remains to be done in getting known each other better and in promoting of our business cooperation; multilaterally. The Hague has grown into a world capital of international law and justice, hosting a number of international organizations, such as OPCW, ICC and ICJ, thus calling Slovenia as many other countries to take an active part in their work. Finally, The Netherlands, a country of centuries long experiences and tested practices, is a source of inspiration in a search for lessons learned, be it in trade, politics or science, education or civic services. All of that makes my daily agenda quite a busy one.
I went this year to Slovenia on a holiday and I was really amazed. Slovenia is Europe in miniature, it has it all and Slovenian people are extremely open, friendly, hospitable and at the same time hard-working. How would you recommend your country as a tourism destination? What can we visit there?
Slovenia is a developed country with high quality of life, also by standards of Human Development Index. And what is most important for a Dutch tourist, it is a country of striking and intriguing diversity (in the territory of half of the Netherlands) that can hardly be matched in Europe and in the world. Being on the sunny side of Alps there are numerous opportunities to enjoy comfortable solitude in an unspoiled nature, by trekking or rafting, swimming in the spas or in the Adriatic see, amongst others. Wine yards cover 1% of our territory which means that we offer a variety of very good wines that are accompanied by excellent Slovene cuisine. The number of Dutch tourists visiting Slovenia is traditionally high, despite the distance they have to make when travelling by car or mobile home. It is though much easier and faster to travel by air, using daily flights of Adria Airways from Amsterdam to Ljubljana. One can fly in just over the weekend, enjoy Ljubljana or visit world famous Postojna caves, ride Lipizzaner horses in the vicinity or simply play a round of golf near Alpine Bled and be back on Monday to start working again.
The region of Central and Eastern Europe is becoming slowly more familiar to the Western Europe, but unfortunately the knowledge about this region is still limited and mostly based on the negative media news. Therefore I try to expand the knowledge about the region to show how much it has to offer. What do you think about my mission, is it not pointless?
EU is project in making: from 6 founding members (which included the Netherlands) it gradually expanded to 28 member states and over time it has also strengthened the existing and build up its new institutions, which all makes EU stronger internally and in the global world. For EU one of the defining moments was 2004 “big bang” enlargement with 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe, including Slovenia. By this Europe started reintegrating again, but unfortunately the abolishment of physical borders between west and east of Europe proved to be much easier than abolishment of their mental borders. Too often we continue to witness dividing policies within some EU member states, the Netherlands included, which, instead of taking full advantage of EU capacity for diversity management they are taking their differences as a proof that EU is not or is not anymore functional enough. Obviously there is still much to be done to understand each other better within the family of EU member states.
If you had to characterize Slovenia in a few words what would they be?
If you want to feel love, come and visit “sLOVEnia”.
See photos below of Beautiful Slovenia thanks to the Slovenian Tourist Board photo library.
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