Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia Tadej Rupel reports on a recent diplomatic trip to Slovenia
AFTER OUR VISITto Slovakiain May 2017 organised by our friend and colleague Ambassador Ľubomír Rehák, my wife Valentina and I had the great privilege of hosting a group of ambassadors and other distinguished guests to Sloveniajust one year on. The project ‘Distinguish Slovenia and Slovakia’ was originally created to provide the two Central European countries with better recognition in the UK and the wider world, but it has become an even greater promoter of the common values that the two countries – both members of the EU since 2004 – share.
Therefore, there was no better day to arrive in Slovenia than 9 May, when the EU is celebrating Europe Day and countries are remembering the end of the terror of World War II. As the flight approached Ljubljana’s Jože Pučnik Airport, the brilliant sunshine enhanced the colours of the snow-capped Julian Alps, against the greenery at the foot of the mountains. This idyllic picture was just the start of the five-day visit to Slovenia to explore what distinguishes and what connects Slovenia and Slovakia.
On arrival in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana, we explored the cobbled streets of the Old Town, guarded by the castle on top of the hill. There we met Andrej Mertelj, CEO of Datalab, a company which develops software for modern digital farming. The visit fell during the same month that the first UN World Bee Day (20 May) was celebrated, so the tradition of beekeeping and benefits of bees and other pollinators was one of the topics of the visit.
However, the preservation of bees nowadays also depends on the development of modern technology. You can read more in my article in the May edition of this distinguished magazine about Slovenia’s passionate promotion to have World Bee Day recognised as 20 May.
However, Datalab was not the only high-tech company that our delegation visited. Pipistrel produces ultra-light planes, and we met its legendary owner Ivo Boscarol at its headquarters in Ajdovščina. Having worked with NASA and received many awards from the aviation industry, Pipistrel was recently one of the first foreign companies to receive a certificate for achieving the highest standards of design and production from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This allows the company to operate in the UK, as well as in 70 other countries across the globe. It was impressive to learn how these small ‘bats’ were produced, and our guests were highly entertained by the test pilot’s fascinating acrobatic show.
On the way to the coastal city of Piran, we visited the wonders of the Karst region. Postojna Cave is probably one of the most famous European underground cave systems. So far, 24km of caves have been discovered and explored, making it the longest and also the most visited cave system in Europe. But it is also home to more than ten endangered species, including the Olm or Proteus (a cave-dwelling aquatic salamander), a species picked by Sir David Attenborough to take to his own ‘Noah’s Ark.’
In general, I believe that Slovenia’s environmental and preservation practices together with the policies that create sustainable conditions are one of the country’s most important features. Both the government and civil society are highlighting this work, which is in evidence when driving through the countryside. Importantly, this not only engages the rural municipalities, but also Ljubljana – as our capital and largest city – is doing its best to preserve the environment for future generations.
So it’s no surprise that Ljubljana was nominated as the ‘Green Capital of Europe’ in 2016. Ljubljana is also the city with the best recycling results in the EU. Our guests observed the same positive attitude towards nature at the ECO Museum of Hops in Žalec. We were pleased to learn from the Žalec Mayor Janko Kos that Slovenia is the fifth largest producer of hops in the world, meaning there is a high possibility that the next pint of lager you drink will contain our hops. This brewing tradition inspired local authorities to build a beer fountain at the local park. The world media extensively reported on the project and now local authorities are in talks for selling the license to cities around the globe.
After tasting six different craft beers from the Green Gold Fountain, and some traditional Slovenian food and listening to some Slovenian folk music, we drove further to Rogaška Slatina, where the finest crystal glass has been produced since 1665.
There was also a relaxing side to the trip. We enjoyed Pavus’s gourmet experiences at Tabor Castle in Laško and visited the superb Lisjak vineyards and wine cellar in the Karst region. On the way to the North-West region of Gorenjska, we stopped at the national shrine of Mary Help of Christians and then continued our trip to Bled, the crown jewel of Slovenia. The lake has a picturesque church on the island, and a castle looking down from the high cliff. Renowned Slovenian poet France Prešeren described Bled’s scenery as ‘the image of paradise;’ something nobody from the group disputed. We enjoyed this moment on the cliffs overlooking the lake with a celebratory glass of champagne; the bottle having been opened with a sword.
I felt extremely privileged to be able to take a group of distinguished colleagues and friends to visit Slovenia and to provide them with a glimpse of the young, modern and vibrant country and society that we are. Talent and innovation go hand in hand in Slovenia, preserving what we inherited from our forefathers for future generations. But what I’m most proud of is how open, welcoming and friendly people across Slovenia are. And therein lies the reason behind our slogan: ‘I feel sLOVEnia.’