- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
On the eve of this especially eventful American election, perhaps you were wondering, as we were, how Melania Trump’s native Slovenia is dealing with the possibility of the ascent of one of their own to the prestigious position of first lady of the United States.
The answer, based on our reporting, is a motley mix of “not well”; “why are you asking me this question?” and “we have our own issues but overall, Slovenia is fine, thanks.”
Lara Kobe, a resident of capital city Ljubljana, did not feel she had enough information to have an opinion of Melania Trump. “But from what I’ve heard from people in different circles about this,” she added, “I can conclude that Slovenians see Melania more as a shame than as a respected person.”
“It’s quite obvious,” said Tamara Juricic, who works in Glasgow but hails from the small Slovenian city of Lasko, “that she doesn’t have any experience, even diplomatic experience.”
That kind of experience, Juricic noted, might be helpful to have as first lady. Juricic made clear she does not want to judge Melania Trump but said if the former model becomes first lady, she’ll need to embrace a few changes: namely, temper her tendency to stay in the background, and also tackle what Juricic called the “the plagiarism issue.” She was referring to Trump’s rather liberal use of a portion of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech without attributing it in her own address at the 2016 GOP National Convention.
All right, so Melania Trump has stumbled. But she’s still Slovenian. Why is Hillary Clinton 30 percent more popular with Melania Trump’s former countrymen?
“Because no one in Slovenia likes Donald Trump,” said Juricic. (Donald Trump does have at least two fans from Slovenia: his wife (presumably), and also Slovenia’s most famous philosopher, Slavoj Zizek). If Melania were married to someone who reflected more positively on the country, Juricic said, Slovenia might be more supportive.
Others do not feel Melania Trump has reflected on the country either way. When asked if global attention to or perception of Slovenia had changed over the course of this presidential election seasion, a press representative from Slovenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sounded nonplussed, and said no one from America had asked him such a thing. “It’s hard to answer from Ljubljana,” said Rok Hren (He also suggested that we speak instead to the Slovenian Embassy in Washington — even though it was the embassy that directed us to the gentleman from the press office at Slovenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)
While Slovenia, like the rest of the world, is attuned to the American elections, there are other concerns on the country’s collective mind. Melania Trump said in an address last week that she considers cyberbullying to be the issue most deserving of her first lady focus (yes, yes, we know she is married to Donald Trump, but let us keep our focus on Slovenia, and not give into the distraction of irony).
But what, we wondered, matters to the people of Slovenia today?
A Slovenian citizen who asked not to be identified said the key issue of the day is immigration—Slovenia, after all, is at the southernmost edge of the Schengen zone. Hren, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreed Europe’s “migration crisis” is an issue for the country, but said Slovenia was also concerned with creating a “green economy.” (That it is — just last week the London-based Legatum Institute said Slovenia is “the best at using nature to improve the well-being of its citizens.”) Hren also lauded the current government in Ljubljana on “the improvement of public finance” and said it was working to decrease “administrative obstacles” to local and foreign investment.
Juricic also named this last point as one of the pressing problems in Slovenia, but said “political parties still live in the past, and haven’t moved past issues that happened 70 years ago … and I would say that it’s really difficult to establish long term or sustainable alternatives to major political parties.”
On this, America understands Slovenia all too well.
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