Ingenue on the World Stage
On Sunday, the Washington Post began an article with: "President Bush's advisers knew they were assuming a certain risk when they scheduled him to visit Slovenia, a country he once confused with Slovakia. But they figured it would all work out." And largely, it did. The chance the country got last weekend to host the first summit between American president George W Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin may just have been the final push Slovenia needed to break onto the world stage.
Since independence in 1991, the country has constantly jockeyed for the world's attention, but, tucked into its little corner of Europe, it more often than not goes overlooked. Not so last weekend, when the world was all but forced to turn its undivided attention to "the sunny side of the Alps."
Overall, the coverage was spotty at best. As the Slovene newspaper Finance pointed out on Sunday, though the international media covered the Summit in depth, it had little to say about the host country. Generally, most articles referred to it as a former Yugoslav republic, and presented Brdo, the actual venue of the summit, as the former summer home of Tito. The New York Times, the Financial Times and The Sunday Times of London all took this tack.
Virtually alone among the world's major media outlets was the BBC, which ran a story on Slovenia itself on Friday. Still, the thrust of the article was the question of why Slovenia was chosen as the site and did not feature much to satisfy the national tourist board.
Bush isn't the only one...
One of the first serious treatments of Slovenia in the international press before the Summit came on 12 June, when Salon published tongue-in-cheek briefing notes for President Bush's first trip to Europe. The writer expressed the thoughts of most when he wrote: "Little is known about Slovenia. It's believed to be below and to the right of Austria, although that may actually be Slovakia."
This humorous observation belied the stark truth that few know much about the country, as proven by the fact that the Washington Post somehow managed to rename the capital, Ljubljana, "Ljubijana" (which incidentally could be mistaken as the Slovene word for bloodlust).
However, the Slovene daily Dnevnik noted with satisfaction that the international media almost across the board spelt the name of the Summit's location, Brdo pri Kranju, correctly. The only major slip up was an early Associated Press report that used the Serbian form, Brdo kod Kranja.
The venue—maximum psychological comfort
Even though the international media reported from the beginning that Ljubljana was the site of the Summit, by Friday it was clear that the 16th century castle at Brdo pri Kranju would be the actual venue.
As the Associated Press pointed out in a report, the castle's history is not necessarily a happy one. In 1980, it was the last place Tito ever saw alive, aside from a hospital in Ljubljana. Ten years later, it hosted a meeting of the presidents of the six Yugoslav republics who were unsuccessfully trying to reach a compromise to keep the country from collapsing.
The Russian news magazine Itogi ran a feature on Brdo in its 12 June issue. Titled "Summit, Country-style," the article points out that Brdo offers the "maximum psychological comfort" for both leaders: the pastoral surroundings should remind Bush of his native Texas, while the world-class skiing and other sports facilities nearby would be of interest to Putin.
Any publicity is good publicity
The fact that the American Business Week devoted a feature article to Slovenia was a mixed blessing, to say the least. Forgoing the glories of Slovenia as provided by press releases from the national tourist board, the magazine ran a rare, meaty piece on the country's obscenely high suicide and alcoholism rates. (See: Suicidal Tendencies in CER)
The writer links those rates with the country's economic successes and observes that Slovene alcoholics are "an altogether better-heeled class of lush" than their East European counterparts. The drunks in the main train station are cast as a "gaggle of suited types sprawled across the waiting room benches like tycoons snoozing on an ocean liner."
The Moscow Times, Moscow's English-language daily, gave a much more favorable treatment. On Monday, they ran a glowing appraisal of the country that surely put a smile on the faces of official Ljubljana.
Were the protests too low-key?
The protests and demonstrations that came hand in hand with the Summit were another mixed blessing. Ljubljana saw none of the rioting in the streets that rocked Gothenburg just days before, which was a testament to Slovenes' organizational skills and planning on the part of the police (and, some would say, the government's draconian policies to keep protesters to a minimum). On the other hand, the riots did put the otherwise anonymous city on the map, however perversely.
One of the highlights of the Ljubljana demonstrations was provided by Greenpeace. Five of its members managed to break onto the grounds of the American embassy, and ultimately 22, mostly Austrian and Slovak citizens, were arrested.
Amnesty International also staged a demonstration, at Ljubljana's Zvezda park. Thanks to the intervention of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, Matjaž Hanžak, the group did manage to get a permit even though municipal authorities had initially turned them down. Amnesty's petitions against capital punishment in the United States and Russia proved successful, and the group collected more than 200 signatures in two hours, more than 500 total. They had started to fax the petitions off to Brdo, but after 30 pages the line was disconnected.
The Urad za Intervencije (See: Office Politics in CER) mustered more than 500 protesters at its anti-globalization march through the capital, from Tivoli park to Metelkova. The march went off smoothly, though the police presence was imposing.
One more group planned a demonstration, but never quite made it. About 40 members of the Trieste-based Ya Basta group intended to stage their own anti-globalization protest, but, upon reaching the border, police denied them entry. A minor altercation ensued and Slovene police beat several of the protesters with nightsticks.
Even though little came of the protests, much of the international media commented on them. Rome's Il Messagero referred to the protesters as "an invasion of the folk from Seattle," while Zagreb's Večernji List concentrated on Greenpeace's "surprise attack." Coverage by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung focused on the Urad za Intervencije and its "Festival of Resistance."
Praise for organization
Several media outlets praised the Summit's organization, especially considering that it was done on relatively short notice. The Moscow Times specifically applauded the organization, adding that the free food provided to journalists at the press centers was particularly appreciated.
More than 1200 journalists were accredited to cover the Summit, the most ever for an event in Slovenia. More than 150 were from the US, while just under 100 were from Russia. Surprisingly large contingents were also on hand from Japan, Canada and Australia.
To accommodate them, organizers prepared two major press centers. In Ljubljana, one was set up at the Cankarjev Dom conference center—250 workstations with desktop computers and Internet access, and 100 additional telephone lines to provide Internet access for portable computers.
The other press center was at Brdo, 100 workstations with computers, and 100 more with facilities for portables and live closed-circuit TV broadcast. Further, a special intranet was established for the press. Dnevnik proudly boasted on Monday that the only complaint heard among the press corps was that they had too little time to enjoy the country.
Security was the largest such operation ever in Slovenia, with more than 2000 police officers. On Sunday, General Director of Police Marko Pogorevc met with the director of the Ljubljana police force. Pogorevc praised the police who worked on the operation for their professional and lawful conduct and their use of minimal force. In total, more than 2000 officers were assigned to the operation, half in Ljubljana and half at Brdo.
Before Bush and Putin met privately, each met with Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek and President Milan Kučan. The Slovenes' talks with Putin focused on the situation in South Eastern Europe, particularly in Macedonia. Kučan familiarized Putin with the agreement reached Friday in Skopje to begin a dialog on constitutional adjustments.
Speaking with Bush, Drnovšek and Kučan focused on NATO expansion and partnership among Europe, the US and Russia. Unfortunately, Bush did not go so far as to offer an
invitation for membership in NATO as many suspected. He simply reiterated the stance he had taken earlier in his trip, that he supports NATO expansion and is sure that at the summit next year in Prague new members will be invited.
After the meetings, Reuters quoted Bush as saying "I would urge people looking for a good vacation spot to come here." The American president was apparently quite impressed with Drnovšek, Kučan and Slovenia itself, and publicly thanked Drnovšek "for his hospitality in this spectacular, beautiful country."
Was it enough?
Correspondents from the Japanese television station NHK told Finance that prior to the Summit Slovenia was unknown in their country. "I think that this is an absolute paradise for Japanese tourists, all they need is to be invited," one NHK correspondent said. "It is a shame that we are reporting only about the politics and don't have more room to report about Slovenia."
Hopefully, the NHK correspondent was voicing the concern of the rest of the press on hand at the Summit. While virtually the all of the world's media covered the Summit in one way or another, there were only passing references made to the host country, which was certainly a disappointment. Slovenia had high hopes that this summit would significantly raise its profile, and while feature articles in Business Week and The Moscow Times do not hurt, a feature in The New York Times or another heavy-hitter would have been much more gratifying.
On Monday, however, there was an interesting footnote to the saga of Slovenia's quest for attention. CNN ran a story on Slovenia's referendum on artificial insemination that had taken place on Sunday, after the conclusion of the Summit. It is doubtful that CNN would have noticed had its correspondents not been in Ljubljana for the Summit.
The immediate effect of the Summit on Slovenia's international profile may not have been much, but that does not mean that all of the promotional activity the country undertook during the summit was a failure. More than 1000 journalists are now acquainted with the country, and, as with CNN, it will not be surprising if Slovenia is mentioned more and more in the international media.
Brian J Požun, 25 June 2001
Elsewhere in CER:
Slovenia's official Bush-Putin Summit site
The Moscow Times
The New York Times
The Sunday Times