Gay Slovenia News & Reports 2000-05

1 History of Homophobia in Slovenia 1991-2002

2 Media representations of Homosexuality 1970 to 2000

3 Slovenia Not for "that" kind of people 2001

4 Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Slovenia 2001

5 Report from the IGLYO’s Hearing on the Situation of LGBT Youth 2/02

6 Transvestite Sisters stir Eurovision storm 3/02

7 Tiny Slovenia Craves to Be a Joiner in the EU 10/03

8 For Slovenia, New Alliances Are Raising New Issues 2/04 (background story)

9 In Ljubljana, the Old Europe and the New Are Still in Balance 7/05 (background story)

History of Homophobia in Slovenia
from 1991 to 2002: ‘Eleven years of independence, eleven years of homophobia’

See (

From Media Watch (

Book Review

Media representations of Homosexuality
-An Analisys of the Print Media in Slovenia, 1970-2000

by Roman Kuhar
The subject of this study is media construction of homosexuality. The author looks into the media representations of homosexuals and related discourse on homosexuality in the print media in Slovenia in the period 1970-2000. The author places these media texts into their historical context and presents an overview of the history of gay and lesbian movement in Slovenia.

Media representations of homosexuality are divided into five basic categories: stereotyping, medicalization, sexualization, secrecy and normalization.

Stereotyping primarily relies on rigid gender schemas exploited by the media to present gays as effeminate and lesbians as masculine, drawing on the analogy with their social roles which thus appear as natural rather than socially constructed. Medicalization of homosexuality is a continuation of the psychiatric discourse on same-sex orientation from the end of the 19th century. In media representations it is manifested as a search for the causes of homosexuality (the implied question is “what went wrong and led to homosexuality?”) and the consigning of homosexuality to the medical and psychiatric spheres (homosexuality as a disease or a disorder).

Sexualization, the third component of the media discourse, is manifested as a reduction of homosexuality solely to sexuality and sex (since sexualization frequently occurs in graphic images, the author uses Barthes’ model to explain the difference between the connotative and denotative levels).

The veil of secrecy implied by media representations makes homosexuality appear as something concealed and related to shame and regret. Normalization, the last component of media representations, is characteristic primarily of the late 1990s when previous images of homosexuals as criminals, psychiatric patients and the like, were surpassed. However, this change in attitude is only apparent, since the kind of normalization found in media representations is actually a heterosexual normalization. Media representations of normal homosexuality are representations tailored to the perception of heterosexuals in such a way that they do not threaten their world. Homosexuality is acceptable only when depoliticized.

The author concludes that in the period 1970-2000 media reporting on homosexuality was generally sympathetic or neutral. Yet this general positive trend within media representations nevertheless contains ingredients that enable the perpetuation of the negative attitude of public opinion towards this phenomenon. The author argues that it is precisely the five most frequent components of media representations mentioned above that are responsible for the gap between politically correct media representations and negative public opinion. Homosexuality still causes uncertainty and uneasiness, so the media usually resort to highly stereotyped images which easily tally with the readers’ representations of homosexuality without upsetting them.    

From: Slovenian Queer Resources Directory

Slovenia Not for "that" kind of people


End of June 2001, two homosexuals, Brane Mozetiã, gay activist, and his guest Jean Paul Daust, Canadian gay poet, were denied entry into Cafe Galerija in old town Ljubljana. They were told by security staff at the door that "they should get used to it that this place is not for "that" kind of people". Legal protection against discrimination of lesbian and gay people in Slovenia is guaranteed by the Constitution. Article 14 ensures equality before the law and equal human rights for all citizens without discrimination on any ground, including "other personal circumstances" sexual orientation being one of them.

In 1998/99 the police entered LGBT bars Tiffany and Monokel in Ljubljana with strong flash lights and unlawfully checked the identification of some activists present. After police repeatedly visited both clubs and intimidated visitors at the end of 2000, it was officially reported to Amnesty International. In Slovenia four NGO’s are active in the field of gay and lesbian rights, gay group SKUC-Magnus (since 1984), mixed gay and lesbian group Roza klub (since 1990), lesbian group SKUC-LL (since 1987) and mixed youth group Legebitra (since 1998).

Despite more than 16 years of organised gay and lesbian movement, there are no governmental institutions or other services dealing with issues of homosexuality. The fact that the State is ignoring the issue of gay and lesbian rights is obvious from the time it takes for the bill on same sex partnership to enter the national parliament. In 1997, the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs started the process of adopting the bill on same-sex partnerships. The Ministry named the expert commission, after their own request the representatives of the lesbian group ·KUC-LL and gay group Magnus, were allowed to take an active part in the process of drafting the bill.

Since 1998, the bill for registered same-sex partnerships has been waiting to enter the national parliament. The bill would introduce the possibility of registration for same-sex couples with two legal consequences: the right and duty to support partner without income and the regulation of property relations between partners.

After the official statement of the Governmental Office for European Affairs, the bill should pass before 2002 at the latest. The law that the Santa is supposedly bringing us this Christmas is a start but is still far from ensuring equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. Many of the rights granted to heterosexual partners will still not be feasable to same sex partners in registered partnership including adoption rights and the right to medical artificial insemination.

Homosexuality persistantly enters the public space through spectacles and scandals rather than trough an articulated political, civil and human rights context. Althought a slow tendency towards less sensational and more accurate reporting is visible, the high degree of insufficient knowledge about homosexuality and the biased attitudes of the journalists are also present. Media’s discomfort with homosexuality is so great that it often allows for the hate speech to pass uncommented and unproblematic as in a recent case of notorious Slovene psychiatrist who, in his interviews repeatedly makes homophobic, xenophobic and shauvinistic remarks which the media turned into a spectacle and entertainment rather than problematising their meaning.

Those that try to cover homosexual issues in positive light somehow cannot escape the medical discourse
. Homophobia is treated as something totally new showing that the media is covering their eyes from years of discrimination toward gays and lesbians. Yet to claim that the media is the source of all evil would be a great simplification. The media is largely producing what its consumers demand–or know nothing about.

Acording to the main public opinion poll, SJM Research, which is systematicaly conducted by the Faculty of Social Sciences (University of Ljubljana) it is possible to conclude that the level of social intolerance toward homosexuality is considerable.
In 1992 app. 42% of people questioned stated that they "did not like homosexuals for neighbours". The same answer was given by app. 62% in 1993 and app. 60% in 1998. In 1999, The Pedagogical Institute conducted systematic research in schools called "Education for a healthy life", where pupils aged between 14 and 15 were interviewed. The research showed that young people do not receive sufficient information about homosexuality. In totaly only about 10% of school children received information about homosexuality at school. The research also showed that approximately the same number of young people thought that "homosexuality is a disease".

The area of education is significantly lacking information with regard to homosexuality on all levels. In 1998/99 fold-ins on Homophobia were sent on all slovene schools by ·KUC-LL as a part of anti-homofobic education project. Only 2 of the contacted schools replied and reported to have used the material given.

The state is reluctant to include anti-homophobic pedagogic work into educational system
. Instead this work is being done by the NGO’s. For several years The Assosiation for Non-violent Communication performed a set of work-shops about violence and discrimination in high schools. A part of the program was the work-shop on homosexuality. In spring 2001 the High school for print and paper in Ljubljana rejected it because of complaints of several parents. Parents were claiming that the school by including this workshop as a part of extra-curriculum activities was promoting "homosexualism".

End of november 2001 a sociology seminary work entitled "Lesbians and the class of women" has been rejected by the State Matura Commission. Commission’s decision to turn down the seminary work was based solely on it’s title. Seminary work is a part of the Matura exam, the exam students take at the end of the high school and that if they pass it, enables them application to faculty. The comission turned down proposed title for the seminary work without any explanation and without any possibility of complaint to their decision. SKUC-LL strongly protested and notified the ombudsman. At the end of 2001 the title has finally been accepted by the commission, yet again without any explanation.

Topic of homosexuality is rarely covered in curricula
. Mostly it is mentioned at sociology or biology where it is often placed into the category of deviant sexual behaviour. Inclusion of glbt issues into the educational process is based mainly on good will of the teaching staff. Youth group Legebitra tries to fill the informational and socialisational gap that young people encounter at school. The group offers safe place for discussions relevant to gay and lesbian youth.

The main organised LGBT scene is centered in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana leaving gays and lesbians from smaller towns accross Slovenia cut off from it. While for grown up gays and lesbians a possible trip to Ljubljana is not mission impossible, for homosexual youth not studying in Ljubljana active participation on the LGBT scene is not feasable. Therefore the youth group Legebitra supported all the initiatives from the local LGBT individuals to start a similar local lgbt groups, offering them knowledge, moral and organisational support. Somehow this was not enough to help local groups to start or to function on a long term basis. After several attempts at different towns in Slovenia it was clear that what young people who want to start a youth group need is a cover organisation or a partner who can provide some financial support.

Rather than grasping the concept that homosexuality is a part of discourse on human rights, the State, media and the public tend to push it into the concepts of trivia or simplly ignore it. Slovenia as one of the candidates in the EU Accession Process is largely ignoring EU recommendations about the equality of it’s lgbt citizens. So it is not off the track to conclude that the State with it’s silence regarding gay and lesbian rights is telling us day after day that this country is not for "that" kind of people.

Urka Sterle
T. Greif: "Slovenia", in Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men, ILGA – Europe, Brussels, March 2001
R. Kuhar: "Primer Cafe Galerija", Intolerance monitoring group, report No. 01, Mirovni in‰titut, Ljubljana, 2001
R. Kuhar: "Geji in lezbijke vam Ïelijo lep dan", Medijska preÏa, Mirovni in‰titut, Ljubljana, poletje/jesen 2001
T. Greif, N. Velikonja: "Anketa na osnovi spolne usmerjenosti", Lesbo 11/12, Ljubljana, 2001
Dru‰tvo za nenasilno komunikacijo: "Pismo proti homofobiji", Lesbo 11/12, Ljubljana, 2001
Raziskava "Vzgoja za zdrav nacin Ïivljenja in prenova ‰olskega sistema v Sloveniji", Lesbo 11/12, Ljubljana, 2001

From Slovenian Queer Resources Directory

Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Slovenia


A Report by SKUC-LL, Metelkova 6, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

" I was told by an acquaintance: ‘People like you should be imprisoned in the zoo or killed.’" " We don’t dare do what everyone else does. We are not allowed to show that we are gay. We can’t hold each other’s hand in the street or kiss in public. We can’t risk being spontaneous, but have to hide instead." " Someone has to tell Slovenian parents that it can happen in every family that a child is gay. My boyfriend killed himself because of the problems within his family, who refused to accept the fact that he was gay."

These statements provide a strong sense of how homophobic attitudes can overshadow the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Slovenia today. Such statements represent a mere sample of the numerous responses to a questionnaire survey that sought to conduct initial research into the nature and extent of sexual orientation discrimination in Slovenia. The survey was carried out by the lesbian group SKUC-LL and represents one of four investigations conducted in EU candidate countries (the other studies are based in Hungary, Poland and Romania). The investigation was performed in coordination with ILGA-Europe ÿ the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association ÿ and was funded by the Open Society Institute in Budapest.

The central purpose of this report is to call attention to the extent of sexual orientation discrimination in Slovenia, and to increase the awareness of those actors who can most effectively combat such discrimination. In particular, these actors are the Slovenian government, the Slovenian parliament and institutions of the European Union. The survey addressed the issues of (1) violence and harassment and (2) discrimination in employment, health care services, housing and military service. Full details of questionnaire results are provided in the Appendix to this report.

The survey was conducted from January to March 2001. During this period, 172 persons completed the questionnaire. Respondents were primarily those individuals who regularly frequent openly lesbian and gay meeting places in Ljubljana or who are indirectly connected with lesbian, gay and bisexual organisations (e.g., through personal contacts or correspondence). The questionnaires were distributed in the lesbianbar Monokel, the gay bar Tiffany, and the Metelkova Cultural Centre in Ljubljana. The questionnaire was also distributed to members of SKUC-LL as well as the youth group Legebitra, and was made available on the website

A survey of this type does not purport to produce results that are statistically valid for the entire target population, as would be the case with a random sample. Nonetheless, the survey results provide valuable information and permit certain broad conclusions to be drawn about the nature and extent of sexual orientation discrimination in Slovenia.

In considering any findings, allowance must be made for two important factors:

·         Surveys that seek to quantify the extent of discrimination directed toward lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals confront a particular problem: unlike many other minorities that experience discrimination, most lesbian, gay and bisexual persons can conceal the aspect of their identity that is the target of discrimination, namely their sexual orientation. Thus any survey investigating sexual orientation discrimination is likely to understate the actual extent of discrimination.

·         As noted above, the survey respondents consisted mainly of participants in Ljubljana’s openly lesbian and gay scene, as well as individuals connected with lesbian, gay and bisexual organisations in Slovenia. It is likely that this sample is atypical of the general lesbian, gay and bisexual population in Slovenia, since it includes a relatively high proportion of individuals who are politically aware and open about their sexual orientation.

The survey was coordinated by Tatjana Greif. TomaÏ Bergoã (Varianta d.o.o.) conducted the statistical processing, and Nataöa Velikonja analysed the data and produced the final report. This report is being published in both Slovenian and English.
Summary Of Findings
The findings of this survey lead to the conclusion that there is a high level of discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Slovenia. For example, one of every two respondents had experienced some form of violence or harassment because of their sexual orientation, and one in five had suffered harassment at the workplace. The survey findings also raise serious concerns about discriminatory behaviour in the police force, in the health service, and in the military, and the difficulties faced by open lesbians and gays in finding housing.

However, it is highly probable that these findings seriously understate the scale of the problem, due to the above-mentioned fact that many lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals seek to avoid discrimination by concealing their sexual orientation. The potential magnitude of this factor is revealed when one compares the number of incidents of workplace harassment with the number of respondents who stated that they are open to their co-workers and superiors about their sexual orientation. On the basis of this comparison, the proportion of those harassed rises from 20% to 70%.

Thus it is impossible for the survey to measure precisely the extent of sexual orientation discrimination in Slovenia. However, this is unnecessary for determining whether action is needed. It is clear from the survey results that:

* The overall level of discrimination in Slovenia is shocking and entirely unacceptable.

* Acts of discrimination, and the potential for discrimination, have profound and negative consequences on the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals in Slovenia. The fact that one in three respondents would seriously consider emigrating from Slovenia because of their sexual orientation dramatically underscores the damaging effect of discrimination on the lives of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in present-day Slovenia…

For the complete text of the report see:

Slovenian Queer Resources Directory

Report from the IGLYO’s Hearing on the Situation of LGBT Youth in the Accession Countries

February 27, 2002

<IGLYO (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Organisation) organised a Hearing on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in the Accession Countries to the European Union. The event took place on Friday 18 January 2002 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This one-day hearing focused on the situation of LGBT youth in the 13 accession countries to the European Union (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Malta, Cyprus and Turkey). It was organised in close co-operation with the Student Organisation of the University of Ljubljana and COC Netherlands.>

"FAGGOTS AND âEFURS (derogatory term for Serbs, Croats or Bosnians) THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE!"

Messages like those stated above started to pour out right after the winning song of Slovenian Eurovision Song Contest 2002 preselection had been announced and have been filing the space of various media, such as internet forums and SMS messages to radio stations. They prove that dr. Rugelj’s* publicly stated opinion is not a sole excess, but merely the tip of an iceberg of Slovenian intolerance and hostility to everything different.

Twisting around voting complications cannot hide its striking directness, at least to us. Only after revising all reactions and commentaries in the EMA case it is clear that it is not the song that is problematic, but the performers. Three transvestite sisters (Sestre) are a disturbing element, members of ‘the different’, that do not have the right to exist, let alone represent Slovenia abroad.

Such intolerance and homophobia are so strongly present in Slovenian society and are not visible only in the response of the audience. Even politics had to interfere; especially right-winged parties had to express their disagreement with the selection– with the selected transvestites. Some of the media, various experts and latent homophobes also added their share, stating that the problem was merely in the suppose to be problematic voting.

It is not a question of one or another song, but one of having the right to be who you are: a transvestite, a homosexual, a heterosexual, etc. Words from our constitution and the penal code are now empty letters on the paper and no one takes them seriously. Hate speech, encouraging and spreading intolerance, calling for open violence – all this in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ and’ normal citizens’ encouraged by some politics and some of the media- should not be a part of the idea of contemporary Europe.

By revealing the evidence of the verbalized intolerance we would like to call your attention to real reasons behind the EMA 2002 scandal, so their creators, as well as the media and broad public, can face them instead of following them. At the same time we would like to stress that in the given situation reselection of the winning song would only mean voting, some kind of a referendum, for or against intolerance.

Drutvo SKUC, redakcija Magnus, Ljubljana
Drutvo SKUC, redakcija LL, Ljubljana
Legebitra – Skupina za istospolno usmerjene mlade, Ljubljana (LGBT-youth group in Ljubljana)

(For clarification in the English Version: Dr. Rugelj, Janez is a Slovene Psychiatrist who claims, that homosexuality is a sickness and WHO is wrong when thinking that it isn’t. He has given an interview in September 2001 in a monthly Slovene magazine with statements: "How can somebody who wants to put his dick in a dirty stinking ass call himself normal? It’s disgusting that’s what it is." )

Ljubljana 27.2.2002
We have become acquainted with remarks by Alja Brglez, Director of the government Information Office of Republic of Slovenia, in which she states: "Slovenia is an open and democratic society that can and will be able to deal with difference in an entirely civilized manner." She also states that she is "firmly convinced that homophobia is not behind the complications surrounding EMA 2002."

The materials, or media archives, that we have been systematically compiling on the EMA 2002 case, prove her wrong. Based on many years of experience advocating for equal rights of homosexuals, we have come to the conclusion that there is a high level of homophobia and intolerance towards anyone who is different in Slovenia.

We are troubled by the fact that the director of the Information Office of the Republic of Slovenia is not informed about the situation in this area.

The widespread diffusion of homophobia in our society has been confirmed by statistical data and research carried out by nongovernmental organizations. Ms. Brglez’s assertions are unfounded and misleading to both the domestic and international public. We demand that the Information Office provide a suitable explanation of the reasoning behind Ms. Brglez’s statement and correct this misleading information.

SKUC – Magnus, Ljubljana
SKUC – LL, Ljubljana
Legebitra – skupina za istospolno usmerjene mlade, Ljubljana (GLBT youth group)
SKUC – Roza klub, Ljubljana
Out in Slovenija. Ljubljana

BBC News 00/1855726.stm

March 5, 2002

Transvestite Sisters stir Eurovision storm

Slovenia is in uproar over the choice of a song performed by a gay transvestite group to represent the country in the Eurovision song contest. The ensuing row has now reached the European Parliament, where there have been expressions of concern. Since 17 February when Sestre, or Sisters as the trio call themselves, won the Slovene Eurosong competition, the whole country has been divided. There have been protests in the capital, Ljubjlana, with anti-gay and gay activists taking to the streets, and questions have been asked in the national parliament.

The three men at the centre of the controversy – Miss Marlenna, Daphne and Emperatrizz – performed the song Only Love in bright red air stewardess costumes, high heels and red lipstick. The decision caused a furore from the outset as the judges overruled the public phone vote and chose Sisters by a tiny majority on points. After a decision not to rerun the competion, despite widespread calls for a repeat, a number of Slovene deputies alerted the European parliament. Human rights record Lousewies van der Laan of the European Parliament Public Liberties and Civic Rights Committee told Slovene TV she was shocked when she heard of the public debate.

"I was very shocked to learn that in Slovenia there is again a debate relating to sexual minorities. That the issue of gay rights is coming up, confirms to us that, perhaps, Slovenia is not yet ready for EU membership," she said. Recent polls show that the majority of the public still want the runner-up in the Slovene Eurosong competition, Karmen Stavec to represent the country with 59.9% of the vote. The sisters only polled 18.1%. One woman told Slovene TV: "This is a disgrace, they (Sisters) cannot stand for us in Europe".

Most of the country’s two million inhabitants are Roman Catholics. But the country’s gay community has rallied to support the group. A Slovene psychologist also told TV that the lack of support for the Sister’s song had less to do with their artistic expression, and more with the nation’s widespread homophobia. But the Sisters – who have been keeping a low profile – seem determined to sing at the Eurovision Song Contest in Estonia in May.

Associated Press

October 26, 2003

Tiny Slovenia Craves to Be a Joiner in the EU

Some have misgivings, but a sense of manifest destiny drives a move toward linked societies.
The World By Mort Rosenblum, Associated Press Writer
(Ed. Note: Slovenia joined the EU in May 2004)

Ljubljana, Slovenia – Little Slovenia, emerging from Old World shadows, is remaking itself as a regional dynamo, part of a 25-nation European superstate designed to rival the United States. Among Europe’s best-kept secrets for its relaxed lifestyle and spectacular Alpine setting, Slovenia exemplifies a quiet revolution that dwarfs imperial dreams dating back a millennium to Charlemagne. Ten countries as disparate as Poland and Malta are to join 15 European Union member states in May, bringing the total population to 450 million with a combined gross domestic product rivaling America’s.

Despite hesitation among many who oppose a larger EU, a sense of manifest destiny is driving a slow but steady evolution toward open borders, linked societies and a single currency. "We’re doing away with borders, not only on land, but also in people’s minds," said Janez Potocnik, Slovenia’s minister for European affairs.

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Soviet republics until 1991, each voted to join. So did Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, all former communist states. The power of the EU to drive reform is evident on the divided island of Cyprus, where people from the Turkish side peacefully forced open the fortified border this year rather than be left out when the Greek half joins the union. Malta, another Mediterranean island republic, is also coming in. If all goes as planned, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania will join in 2007, and others may come later, extending EU borders from Ireland to the Black Sea, skirting the edge of Russia.

For Slovenia, which for most of its history has lived under some foreigner’s thumb, giving up a measure of newly won independence is significant. Until its weeklong war of secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, the New Jersey-sized nation of 2 million people saw itself as a reluctant doormat between a backward Balkans and a more advanced Europe to the north and west. After World War II, Slovenia was dissolved into a seamless, gray Yugoslavia, with cooperative farming and state industries. Now a different state has emerged, alive with energy and vibrant colors.

Already, Slovenia’s annual per capita national product is $10,000, in the range of EU members Greece and Portugal. Its economy grew 3% last year, and exports reached $11 billion. Although their language resembles Serbo-Croatian, Slovenes say their mentality is closer to their Austrian and Italian neighbors. They are well placed to be a center for services and technology for their part of Europe. When it came to a vote recently, 90% chose the EU, far more than in the Baltic states, where citizens also had to consider losing some of the independence they won only 12 years ago. "It was an easy choice," said Potocnik, who led intricate negotiations at EU headquarters in Brussels. "We are part of Europe."

He believes that membership will force Slovenes to work harder and raise their standards, thus ensuring healthy growth in a vastly larger market. With competition, farmers will produce and sell more.

But if Slovenia illustrates European promise, it also shows the problems of lumping together societies of different languages and cultures, many of which have fought bitter wars within living memory. At the storefront information center set up to cheerlead for the EU, the young man on duty was dubious. Slovenia voted heavily to join, he said, but he knew of no one who was enthusiastic about it. He asked not to be identified, but a range of others echoed his basic fear: When hard reality dampens high expectations and rules written in Brussels impinge on daily life 500 miles away in Slovenia, the mood may shift toward hostility. (One likely cause for controversy–dismay and delight–is the liberal EU policy toward homosexuality, which requires all member states to decriminalize it and to approve anti-discrimination statutes.)

"What choice do we have?" asked Janez Lotric, head of the Slovenian gasoline company. He is optimistic despite a threat of more competition. Zoran Thaler, an economic consultant and former foreign minister, chose almost the same words. Small states like Slovenia cannot afford to stand apart from the inevitable, he said. But, he added, a hodgepodge of so many cultures, income levels and specific national interests may never be able to achieve the EU’s goal of common policies for defense and foreign affairs. Closer to home, Thaler worries about the impact on daily life. Cars now speed up from Croatia, often with only a glance from border guards.

Next year, that border will be Fortress Europe’s rampart holding back the tide of illegal immigration from the Balkans and Middle East. People walk under the president’s windows and wander into government ministries, ignoring the metal detectors, because neither crime nor terrorism is a major concern. EU security standards are different. At Ljubljana’s riverside market, Lidinja Kurtic, 28, sells tulips that she imports from the Netherlands. Next year, she expects Dutch merchants to come sell the tulips themselves.

The ambivalence is reflected in conversations and polls in each candidate nation as well as in the 15 that already are member states. Many people are loathe to reshape their societies for distant cousins of dubious relation. Poland, population 39 million and the largest of the newcomers, is particularly worried about agriculture. The EU’s yearly $45 billion in subsidies favors big agribusiness, endangering thousands of family farms. Newcomers hoping to cash in on EU subsidies can expect only a fraction of what Spain and Portugal got after joining. Germany, the richest member, is in recession.

All of this unsettles EU enthusiasts. According to complexities set out in 80,000 pages of law — each translated into a score of languages — a single country’s recalcitrance can gum up the works. Swedish voters sent a chill across the whole community in September by refusing to abandon their own currency for the euro that is now the sole legal tender in 12 EU countries. Hopes for a joint foreign and defense policy came unstuck earlier this year as divisions emerged within the EU over supporting President Bush’s war in Iraq. In the Provence hills of southern France, retired farmer Antoine Garcin summed up the mood of many Europeans: "It can’t work. It’s all about big business.

What do bureaucrats behind this know, or care, about us?" The doubters fear that the leveling force of Brussels will squeeze the flavor out of everything from cheese to chocolate and blur cultural distinctions, while taxes collected in one country will go to help faceless strangers in another. In Paris, insurance executive Patrick Dana sees the opposite: "It is already working and will only get better. Things like the euro and open borders have changed our lives. I don’t feel any less French."

The pan-Europeans argue that a stronger EU will, in fact, bolster cultural identity and give a louder voice to peoples such as the Scots and Basques who feel restricted by their national governments. This fall, EU members are debating a constitution drafted over 16 months in a process that some Europeans liken to the work of the U.S. Founding Fathers. But opponents say the bulky and stiffly worded document smacks more of a merger contract than an inspired magna carta. Britain’s weekly Economist suggested that the best place for it was a garbage can.

The new constitution must define how to manage 25 mismatched states, balancing national sovereignty with effective government. Opponents decry the growing power in the hands of non-elected bureaucrats in Brussels. The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, is supposed to have more power and even some of its members dismiss it as a debating forum.

The nearest thing to EU leadership is a rotating six-month presidency — too brief and toothless to matter much. It is now held by Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, under fire at home for alleged corruption and reviled in Germany for bringing up its Nazi past. Business is conducted by a Council of Ministers appointed by its native countries. Seated around a gigantic table, members wage heated polyglot debates under the constant threat of a veto from just one disgruntled participant.

In the end, pro-Europeans in Slovenia and elsewhere argue, the grand concept will outweigh the operational difficulties and succeed by negotiation where Hitler, Napoleon and Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire used force and failed. For them, the answer lies in the landmark 2001 declaration that envisaged an expanded EU: "Europe is finally going to become one big family, without bloodshed."

New York Times

February 27, 2004

For Slovenia, New Alliances Are Raising New Issues–Intolerance

by Nicholas Wood
Jubljana, Slovenia – When Slovenia, an almost idyllic place of just under two million people, nestled cozily between Austria and Italy, enters the European Union in May, it will do so with one of the highest standards of living of any of the 10 new members. But anticipation of European Union membership is adding a new layer to the debates about the identity of this still-young country and fanning fears of the kind of narrow nationalism that Slovene politicians are usually anxious to deride as typical of the rest of the old Yugoslavia.

This month, members of Ljubljana’s city council submitted a petition signed by more than 12,000 people protesting a decision to allow construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center on the outskirts of the capital. The center would provide the country’s 47,000 Muslims with their first mosque. According to Mihael Jerc, a city councilor and one of the petition’s organizers, the building is "too big" and the minarets are "too high."

They would, he said, mar the baroque architecture and church spires that dominate the skyline of Ljubljana, the capital of this mostly Roman Catholic country. The petition may lead to a citywide referendum. As if to underline the new fears about identity in Slovenia, which won independence for the first time after a brief war in 1991 against the Yugoslav Army, the national Parliament is debating another possible referendum — this one on the fate of former Yugoslav citizens, mostly from Bosnia and Serbia.

Officials estimate that more than 18,000 of these people — known locally as the "erased" — failed to extend their residency rights shortly after Slovenia declared independence in June, 1991. The country’s constitutional court ruled in 2000 that these former citizens should have those rights restored, and reinforced the point last April with a ruling that backdated the rights to February 26, 1992, when they were first removed.

Opposition parties, which have long sought to make a dent on the center-left government that has governed Slovenia since independence, seized on the issue, questioning the loyalty to the state of the country’s 18,000 Yugoslavs. At least one party in the governing coalition has also taken up the battle cry, arguing that these ex-Yugoslavs opposed Slovenia’s independence. "Why should those who hoped for the Yugoslav Army to return be given certain privileges?" said Andrej Umek, a senior member of the Slovene People’s Party, which is part of the governing coalition.

Both projected referendums appear to be designed by politicians "to raise hatred and intolerance," Matjaz Hanzek, Slovenia’s human rights ombudsman, said in an interview. There is some tentative evidence that the message may be striking a chord on the eve of Slovenia’s entry into the European Union, which in May will become a 25-nation entity, far bigger than the old Yugoslav federation that Slovenes often complained rode roughshod over their interests.

The opposition Slovenian Democratic party, which is leading the campaign to prevent the "erased" from getting any financial compensation, has apparently gained some support, analysts at Ljubljana University said. One poll taken by the university in December showed that close to 50 percent of Slovenes believed foreigners should not enjoy the same rights as they did.

Mr. Hanzek said that in a span of a few months Slovenia had shattered its reputation for tolerance. "The same politicians" that liked to distance themselves from the troubles affecting other former Yugoslav states, he said, "are acting like other politicians in the Balkans." Supporters of both referendums, on the other hand, stress the need to preserve Slovenian identity. "We are a very young country," said Mr. Jerc. "Slovenes are very sensitive about something that might change that balance." Musafer Djokic, a leader of the Islamic community in Slovenia, said the debate revealed traits that existed in Slovenia long before European Union membership was an issue.

"There is a prejudice in general against all people from other parts of former Yugoslavia," he said. "They think they are more advanced, blue-blooded, and European. It’s pure racial bigotry." Slovenia’s Muslims come mostly from Bosnia, from where they were recruited to work in Slovenian factories. Miso Alkalaj, a prominent Slovenian mathematician and political commentator, said the opposition was unlikely to let the debate die down soon. With membership of the European Union foremost on people’s minds, he argued, politicians had until recently carefully avoided nationalist causes. But now that membership was guaranteed, political leaders could show their true colors, he said. "We are not more tolerant than any other Balkan nations," he said. "We have just had less opportunity to show it."

New York Times

July 31, 2005

In Ljubljana, the Old Europe and the New Are Still in Balance
(Non-gay travel story)

by Alex Crevar
From the 16th-century fortress walls atop Castle Hill, the view of Ljubljana is exquisite: waves of red-tiled roofs, turquoise domes, spires and, here and there, lacy bridges spanning the green Ljubljanica River, stitching the two sides of Slovenia’s capital city together. The overall effect is that of a snow-globe town in the foothills of the Alps.

But as lovely as the view is, there is nothing in that macro-shot that suggests the current source of Ljubljana’s vivacity – an intrinsic hum of energy that has, in recent months, generated avid comparisons to the city that everyone seems to long for: Prague circa 1995. The evidence, I decided, must lie in the streets below, so, on a recent summer morning, I headed past Ljubljana’s weave of medieval, baroque, and Art Nouveau buildings toward Preseren Square, the city’s bustling social hub, which is anchored by the 17th-century Franciscan Church of the Annunciation and monastery and the Triple Bridge.

There, vendors were busy selling wooden crafts and honey alongside Internet cafes and bistros filled with tourists and residents, many of them university students intent on their laptops or with their ears glued to cellphones. On the other side of the twin-towered Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the outdoor market was a blaze of color. Here, farmers bring their produce in on antediluvian wooden pushcarts, called cizas, from the village-like neighborhoods of Trnovo and Krakovo.

"We push in our homegrown vegetables because it’s a tradition in Ljubljana," said Andrej Persin, a farmer. "Thirty years ago there might have been 40 cizas, today there are 10. It’s a lot of work and difficult for our old-fashioned gardens to compete with big farms."
As I watched him arrange his dill, basil, cauliflower and lettuce, I realized I was standing on a nexus of sorts in a city that is itself a sort of synapse, where Blackberries and cellphones jibe with soil beneath fingernails. In Ljubljana, (pronounced LOO-blee-ah-nah) Old Europe still provides a tasteful, functional backdrop for a cool, microchip New Europe – a point evidenced by the meticulously modern Domina Grand Media Hotel. The hotel proclaims itself "the most technologically advanced hotel in the world" with plasma-screen televisions, Internet access and free calling in every room to 43 countries.

All this is precisely why Ljubljana is generating such excitement: the juxtaposition of old and new that, at the moment anyway, seems to be in a perfect, if precarious, balance. But how long can that balance last? The buzz surrounding Ljubljana is not new. The city, a well-preserved center of Yugoslav-brand Communism and a graceful marriage of Slavic, Austrian, and Italian cultures, started to gain a reputation as an up-and-coming hotspot not long after Slovenia became independent 14 years ago.

But Ljubljana’s international exposure surged in the spring of 2004 when Slovenia was admitted to the European Union and EasyJet, a budget airline based in Britain, began flying here – making the comfortable city center feel, at times, like a marvelously priced London suburb. So far, Ljubljana, with a population of 300,000 that includes 60,000 college students, has enough genuine charm to withstand the exposure. Its river dreamily serves as the central theme for bistros, boutiques, meticulously crafted bridges, monuments, museums, and a town hall originally constructed in the 1400’s.

As a group, the cluster of buildings – often described as "human" and "livable" and "balanced"-is just big enough to resemble a small city or just small enough to qualify as a big town. And while Slovenia is now a member of the European Union, Ljubljana is still a non-euro vacation bargain. Its struggle is to avoid becoming a parody of itself in today’s destination-of-the-month climate.

For some, the suspense in seeing how long this balancing act holds up is intense. That’s why the recent proposal for a 25-story "skyscraper" has caused more than a little consternation. The design, which calls for a building that would loom 10 floors higher than any other structure in the city, is seen as a conundrum for a town with an embarrassment of architectural and cultural riches – Ljubljana has three locally based symphony orchestras and 10,000 cultural events a year – and one keenly aware of the price that too much change can exact. " I am not against modernization but the size of the proposed architecture will make the town’s symbols funny in comparison," said Ales Vodopivec, University of Ljubljana’s vice dean of architecture. "When you lose scale you lose identity. I’m frightened that if we lose our cultural reflection, it will signal a change that material things are most important."

Such discussion is typical in a place where the statue in the city center is not of a warrior or king, but instead of the 19th-century Slovene poet France Preseren, and where the local icon – Joze Plecnik – is an early 20th-century architect who spent his life tweaking the delicate interlacing of Ljubljana’s different eras so that the cosmopolitan feng shui one feels here is unidentifiably invigorating. "I’m not sure why Ljubljana’s cool, but it’s really cool," said Damir Jezbec, a harmonica player and lifelong resident who spoke with me one night after his set with blues band "Jimmy and the Easy Walkers" at Planet Plocnik.

The outdoor cafe in Preseren Square has music nightly from spring to fall and is the center of a bar-hopping circuit that flows along the river’s banks year round. "And it’s a really great place for music. Everyone here plays something."

The next day, I sampled Ljubljana’s offerings: a long walk through Tivoli Park, which is set askew across the city’s northwest quadrant, followed by a visit to Plecnik’s fascinating house and museum in Trnovo, where many of Ljubljana’s characteristic ideas – the Triple Bridge, the colonnaded market in the town center, the tastefully simple National and University Library – were developed.
At Vinoteka Movia, a quiet wood-paneled wine shop and bar, I sipped a glass of Turno – a smooth combination of red and white Pinots – while Movia’s general manager, Manca Mesesnel Hofler, explained what she saw as the prevailing attitude among Ljubljana’s young women. "We want to marry foreign guys but stay here. Why would we bother going somewhere like France when we can stay here and have all the affordable good wine and food you’d want?"

Walking back out into Mestni Square, which is dominated by a 17th-century fountain representing the region’s three rivers (the Sava, the Krka and the Ljubljanica) I turned into the Town Hall and then up the stairs for a meeting with Ljubljana’s mayor, Danica Simsic. "Ljubljana is exactly the right size because all the major sites can be reached in a five-minute stroll," she said, adding that while the town had always been a strategic spot for travelers, Slovenia’s admission to the European Union "has made the city a ‘new star.’ "

"But we don’t want Ljubljana to become a kind of train station," she said. "We are trying to maintain its soul." (In an e-mail message after the interview, Ms. Simsic said, "We know what happened in Prague and Budapest, which is why Ljubljana pays special attention to the development of tourism.")

The tourist board’s public relations manager, Petra Stusek, attributes much of the city’s popularity among travelers to EasyJet. "When EasyJet started flying here last year things changed dramatically," she said. "Between 2003 and 2004 we had 23 percent more guests in the city." For all the efforts to avoid compromising Ljubljana’s past, one of the most compelling attractions of the city is that it is not a museum piece. People live and work in the beautiful Baroque buildings. Events are still held in the Philharmonic where Gustav Mahler was once resident conductor. Break-dance competitions take place in the shadows of Ljubljana University in Kongresni trg (Congress Square). Mothers and fathers on inline skates push baby carriages across cobblestone streets. And local climbers scale the Roman wall of Ljubljana’s predecessor, Emona, on the town’s western edge.

Strolling past riverfront cafes teeming with business people and hipsters, I passed a farmer pushing a half-empty ciza over the Triple Bridge. In the background, the crenellated walls atop Castle Hill overlooked the city, as they has done for nearly 500 years, a promise, perhaps, that whatever change comes Ljubljana’s way, its identity will be protected.

If You Go
Getting There
EasyJet,, flies to Ljubljana from Stansted Airport, serving London, and Berlin Schönefeld. Prices vary based on season and day. As of mid-July, fares for several September departures, were as low as $8.85, at $1.78 to the pound, one way from Berlin and $32 from London, leaving Sept. 27.

Where To Stay
At the 214-room Domina Grand Media Hotel, singles are $184.50, at $1.23 to the euro. A limited number of single rooms are available in the summer for $49. Dunajska cesta 154, (386-1) 588 25 00, Later this year, the hotel is changing its name to the Royal Media Ljubljana Hotel.
Each of the 20 rooms in the Celica – a hostel in a converted jail in the "alternative scene" area called Metelkova – has its own distinctive design. There are also four-person rooms and dorms. Cell rooms cost $27.50, at 191 Slovene tolar to the dollar, a person. Metelkova 8, (386-1) 230 97 00,

Where To Dine
Vinoteka Movia, Mestni Square 2, has a wall full of foreign and domestic wines, freshly sliced prosciutto and cheese, and a staff that will guide you through tastings. A bottle of Turno is about $18. Information: (386-1) 42 62 230.
Zlata Ribica (golden fish) is right on the river, open for lunch and dinner, and serves Slovene specialties like venison wrapped in bacon. A meal for one with appetizer and a glass of wine costs about $13. Cankarjevo nabrezje 5-7, (386-1) 241 26 80.Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company