President Kučan visits Cleveland
President Milan Kučan visited the United States this week to attend the dedication of a Slovene cultural center and to receive an honorary doctorate from Cleveland State University.
Kučan's first stop was perhaps the smallest town in the United States, Slovenske Narodne Podporne Jednote borough (referred to simply as SNPJ) in Pennsylvania, where he participated in the dedication of a major new Slovenian Heritage Center.
Though the 2000 census recorded no permanent residents, SNPJ borough is actually home to fourteen. It was founded in 1978 by the Slovenske Narodne Podporne Jednote (Slovene National Benefit Society), which with more than 40,000 members is the largest Slovene organization in the US. The Society was founded in 1904 it to help Slovene immigrants in the US and continues that mission but is today primarily an insurance provider.
The president then went on to Cleveland, home to almost 80,000 ethnic Slovenes, the most in the US and perhaps the largest settlement of Slovenes outside of Slovenia. The president gave the key-note address at Cleveland State University's commencement. The university also gave him an honorary doctorate in pubic administration.
Members of the American Slovene community protested the doctorate. About a dozen people staged a protest outside the auditorium, and the university received more than 30 letters of protest. One alum, Janez Hočevar, returned his degree to the university in protest.
This group is part of the larger conservative movement in Slovenia and throughout the "Slovene diaspora" which opposes the Communist past of leading politicians such as President Kučan. They are concerned about continued Communist influence in Slovenia, alleged media bias against conservative figures and the slow rate of denationalization, among other issues.
New Italian government not a threat, yet
On 14 May, Italians went to the polls and elected in a government led by right-leaning Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party. Though the creation of a rightist government could pose serious problems for the Slovene minority centered on Trieste (Trst), so far Slovene reactions both within Italy and without have been positive.
Berlusconi's allies managed to take 368 of the 630 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, representing a majority of 52. They took 177 of the 326 seats in the Senate, the upper house, representing a smaller majority, of 14.
It is the notable success of pro-Slovene politicians in and around Trieste that has given hope to local Slovenes and the leadership of Slovenia that overall national policies concerning the minority will remain satisfactory.
The elections served to cement Trieste's newfound sense of partnership with the Slovene minority. Since the end of World War I, there has been huge tension between Italians and ethnic Slovenes, which fueled the power of rightist forces in the area. Until very recently Trieste would not so much as admit it was home to a Slovene community. However, in an historic turnaround, seven MPs were elected from the area, four of them from leftist parties.
Two of the four left-leaning Triestino MPs, former Trieste mayor Riccardo Illy and former Trieste vice-mayor Roberto Damiani, emerged in recent years as champions of the rights of the Slovene minority, and indeed the change in thinking in Trieste is largely credited to their policies.
Another of the Triestino MPs is ethnic Slovene Miloš Budin. Although a seat is allotted to an ethnic Italian in the Slovene parliament, Italy does not guarantee minority representation in its parliament, and so Budin's election is all the more important to the community.
Referendum on artificial insemination
Controversy is brewing as Slovenia prepares for a referendum on whether single women should have access to artificial insemination. Parliament passed changes to the Infertility Treatment Act to give single women this right on 19 April over the protests of opposition parties and the already-disgruntled coalition-partner SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party. Just five days later, the SLS+SKD and the opposition demanded and received a referendum on the issue, which is set to take place on 17 June.
The results of a public opinion poll published this week in Mladina show a sharp polarization of society over the issue. The poll shows 38.4 per cent support allowing single women to undergo artificial insemination, while 50.6 per cent oppose it. Breakdowns by gender, age, education and place of residence (urban/rural) all provide similar results to the overall figures.
The opposition and the SLS+SKD are protesting on the basis of traditional family values. Some believe that it threatens the traditional Slovene family and could even open the door to adoption by same-sex partners.
However, the Liberal Democrats (LDS) and United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD) strongly support the changes. One LDS MP was quoted in Mladina as saying that since only 50 single women in the past twenty years have undergone artificial insemination, it cannot represent a threat to society.
In 1977, when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia, the Law on Heath-Related Measures to Realize the Right to Freedom of Choice in Childbirth was adopted. This law dealt explicitly with artificial insemination, and extended access to all women of age, including unmarried women. The Infertility Treatment Act, adopted in independent Slovenia, prohibited unmarried women from undergoing artificial insemination, and thereby clearly represents a step backward for the country.
And in other news...
- For the first time, Slovenia is connected to neighboring Hungary by rail. The first new tracks in Slovenia in thirty years were opened this week by the two countries' prime ministers. The first train traveled the route on 17 May, and regular service will begin on 10 June. The project is part of the Fifth Corridor European rail system, which runs from Venice through Trieste, Ljubljana, Budapest, and Bratislava on to Lviv.
- The gala opening of the Kolosej on 14 May in Ljubljana has ushered a new word into the Slovene language—mulitkino. The cineplex features 12 theatres and seating for almost 3400 people, as well as gift shops, an aquarium, a McDonalds and a bar. One of the highlights of the opening was the premier of the Slovene feature film Barabe! (Rascals!), and the management promises to continue to feature domestic productions. And even though the gala opening also featured the European premier of the very Hollywood The Mummy Returns, the Kolosej intends to promote international and independent American films over Hollywood ones.
- The Autonomous Network of NGOs (AMNECO) was established on 10 May, at a conference organized by Radio Študent and the University of Ljubljana's student organization. For now, the membership includes the Institute for the Safety of Children, Civil Society for a Democratic and Legal State, Ecological Slovenia, the Union of Slovene Environmental Movements and the Šišenska Refugee Center Civil Initiative among others.
Brian J Požun, 18 May 2001
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