Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014
Burgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.
The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Austria, Burgenland, Fidesz, Hungary, Lativa, Neusiedl, press freedom, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Soain, Ukraine, Valdis Dombrovskis | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014
Slovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bled, Europe House, Greenwich, James Joyce, Lake Bled, Ljubjana, Maribor, New Malden, PEN, Piran, Slovenia, Tito, Trieste, Westminster, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013
When the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans — was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, Bulgaria, Charles Tannock, Croatiam, EU enlargement, Europe House, European Parliament, Montenegro, Podgorica, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd October, 2012
The graphic designer Miljenko Licul first made his name working for commercial and public companies in Tito’s Yugoslavia, but it was Slovenia’s declaration of independence 21 years ago that really provided him with a niche. Born in Pula, Croatia, Licul had by then been living for some time in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and he successfully tendered for a succession of freelance contracts awarded in open competition to design what have become the visual symbols of the new state and therefore its visual idrntity. Much of his work is currently on show in the atrium gallery at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) near Liverpool Street, pride of place being given to his design for the Slovenian currency, the tolar, some of which I still have, even though they were taken out of circulation when Slovenia joined the eurozone. They were remarkably elegant banknotes (as well as meeting the stringent requirements of difficulty to forge) and notably portrayed writers, artists and musicians, not political figures. This small central European state (which dislikes being incorrectly referred to as part of the Balkans) puts great store in style and beauty, a context which gave Licul the freedom to be creative even when designing such banal items as health insurance cards. His widow, Barbara Jaki, Director of the National Gallery of Slovenia, gave a well-deserved tribute to her late husband’s work at the launch of the EBRD exhibition this evening. Few individual graphic artists can have left such a distinctive legacy; not only distinctive of his style, but also distinctive of Slovenia.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barbara Jaki, EBRD, Miljenko Licul, Slovenia, tolar, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th May, 2011
The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is a significant step towards the normalisation of Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe and the country’s eventual accession to membership of the European Union. Belgrade had come under considerable criticism from some quarters for allegedly not doing enough to track down the man accused of responsibility for war crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995. Following the discovery of Mladic — looking considerably aged and weakened — in a village in northern Serbia (some of whose residents must have known he was there) opens the way to his being tried in The Hague. Mladic’s son insists his father was not guilty of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. It will be for the Court to decide. Certainly, there are some Serbian nationalists who still believe Mladi to be a hero, not a war criminal, as witnessed by the crowd which demonstrated outside the parliament building in Belgrade this evening. Meanwhile, to the relief of Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, the end to the 16-year manhunt removes an obstacle in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. European integration has been a top priority for the Serbian government since it was elected in 2008. The following year, the European Commission in Brussels proposed visa liberalisation for Serbs. Just how many years it will take for Serbia to be allowed into the EU, however, is another matter, not just because of the rate of progress in accession negotiations but also because of the outstanding issue of Serbia’s non-recognition of the independence of the breakaway, predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. There is also a certain enlargement fatigue among some of the EU’s current member states. Moreover, some other countries in the Western Balkans — notably Croatia — feel that they deserve to be let in first. One way or another, though, it does seem that most constituent parts of former Yugoslavia will follow Slovenia’s lead and inegrate into the Union, which is a development that should be welcomed.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Belgrade, Boris Tadic, Bosnia, Croatia, EU enlargement, Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, The Hague, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd November, 2010
The President of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Turk, was the guest lecturer at an LSE event this evening, taking as his subject the EU as a Global Player: Reality or Illusion? I’ll be writing the event up at much greater length for Diplomat magazine, but a few coments are perhaps warranted earlier. Slovenia is definitely among the ‘good guys’ of the new EU intake of 2004. Indeed, it joined both the euro-zone and Schengen in 2007 and in January 2008 even assumed the Union’s presidency (very competently). But as the first of the former republics of Yugoslavia to join the EU, it inevitably has a particular vision of the Union’s future vocation. Dr Turk — who was a law professor and UN diplomat prior to his becoming Head of State — highlighted what for him is the primorial importance of the EU’s looking East: not just to taking the Western Balkans and Turkey into membership, when they have met the necessary conditions, but also maintaining positive relations with Ukraine and Russia. Of course, the EU is currently beset by the problems of the financial crisis in general and Ireland in particular, but that should not blind us to its global potential, he argued. That means championing our shared set of European values — including human rights — while not lecturing or being condescending to outside powers such as China. Probably the EU is over-respresented at present within the G20, but nonetheless, in the shifting geopolitics and economic balance in the world, the EU can and should be punching more at its natural weight.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Danilo Turk, Diplomat Magazine, EU, LSE, Slovenia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th May, 2008
If one relied mainly for one’s information on the Daily Mail and the Sun (as, alas, millions of people in Britain do), one might believe that the European Union is all about banana-straighteners and widget directives. One of my main tasks, in articles and speeches, is dispelling such Euro-myths. But there is another, important side to Europe, too: its cultural diversity, which is something the EU actively champions. So it was particularly interesting and enjoyable to attend the opening of a new Slovenian exhibition ‘Saaneckh People from Elsewhere’ at the European Commission building in Storey’s Gate, Westminster, last night. Slovenia, of course, is holding the EU Presidency until the end of next month.
The exhibition was an installation by Miha Vipotnik, who was on hand to explain what it is all about. In his own words, ‘Disiciplined science presents history and the past as a belt, a straight line that explains the flow, causes and consequences of the events that took place in the past. However, the more undiciplined people there are dealing with the past, the more they mythologise it.’ Quite so! The centrepiece is a fascinating projection on the floor of an aerial view of one of Slovenia’s finest castles, which disintegrates before one’s eyes. Why not go along and try to work things out for yourself!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: EU, European Commission, Miha Vipotnik, Slovenia | 4 Comments »