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TOPIC: slovenia

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Ukraine Gains & Putin Signs, Musk-Twitter Saga Back On, Chemistry Nobel

👋 Hei!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Ukraine continues to advance on the ground while Putin officially signs annexation, Elon Musk’s Twitter bid is back on, and the Nobel in Chemistry goes to three “click chemistry” scientists. Meanwhile, Argentine writer Ignacio Pereyra has a different take on the meaning of Federer and Nadal’s recent PDA that the whole tennis world was gushing over.


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A Slavic Take On The Russian Complex Of Superiority

Putin’s brutal attack on Ukraine has turned the world on its head. As shocking as it is, those closer to Russia sense something familiar in the past three months. This personal dispatch is about the Russians and the Slavs (I am the latter).


LJUBLJANA — I don’t have a great relationship with Russia. Growing up in Slovenia, I did not need to learn Russian to grasp the beauty of classic pre-Soviet literature. The translations of Russian masterpieces into my native language have been admirable.

But besides my proxy relation to Russian culture, I had very few run-ins with actual Russians since, to my knowledge, none of them lived in Slovenia. Well, except one: An athletically-built young man with long curly hair. I recall him mingling with the poets and other groups in a bohemian bar in Ljubljana. I forgot his name, but he disappeared from the scene after a few years. There was talk that he might have been a Russian intelligence officer or a drug pusher. But I had no idea. The matter never interested me enough to investigate further.

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During World War II, my parents took part in the resistance war against Nazi occupiers and spoke fluent German. As a consequence, German was the first foreign language I learned. But it was also the language I used the least. In high school, I learned English and French. I felt no attraction and no affinity to Russian, a language that I felt would be easy to grasp, something that, in a way, was too close and familiar.

But at the same time, there was always a great diffidence toward anything Russian. After the dispute between Joseph Stalin and Tito, and Yugoslavia’s exit from the Soviet bloc in 1948, both sides never recovered the comradeship from the revolutionary times of the Third International.

But to my mind, there was more to it.

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Balkan Scars And A Secret Plan To Redraw The Borders Of Bosnia

The colored tattoo of a fortified bridge towering high over troubled waters takes up almost all of my friend Ivan's shoulder. In his early 30s, Ivan has a footballer's build and flawless cockney accent. He's been a British citizen almost all his life, but was born in Mostar, in present-day Bosnia, in the late 1980s — a bad time to be born in Bosnia..

He says he remembers the din of the bombs falling on his town when he was a kid and the Yugoslav Wars broke out, in 1992. Ethno-nationalist groups seceded from Yugoslavia and turned on each other. They fought prolonged, bloody conflicts that killed at least 140,000, and committed genocide on at least one occasion. In Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995, pro-Serbian forces executed at least 8,000 Muslim Bosnian civilians. Ivan's family, ethnic Croatians, fled Mostar as refugees, resettling first in Germany, then in London.

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What To Make Of The Mysterious Melania Trump

Slovenian-born writer Andrej Mrevlje tries once again to get a read on the fiercely reserved first lady, this time with the help of new book called The Art of Her Deal.

NEW YORK — As I finished reading The Art of Her Deal, a biography on Melania Trump by Mary Jordan, it struck me that I could not remember anything relevant that the first lady has ever said that would be worth publishing. Nothing I have heard from Melania has ever been uplifting or even depressing. And in Jordan's book, there was nothing new in what Melania was saying, nothing inspiring, nothing we haven't heard before. It was as if Melania had kept repeating the same mantra again and again, like this phrase, largely used in Slovenian: "The sun always shines after the rain!"

In the book, Melania's expressions are packaged in small blurbs and read like haikus on survivalism that contain common-sense wisdom, rooted deeply in a rural mindset. Her words have an overtone of fatalism, restraining even the tiniest glimmer of hope. Most of the time, when she says something, it's just a dull expression of an obsolete weltanschauung.

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Andrej Mrevlje

Coronavirus, China And You: Political Systems Put To The Test

WASHINGTON — During the coronavirus pandemonium, the voice of Slavoj Žižek is an essential one. The renowned Slovenian philosopher is there when you need him: decoding a mind-boggling event, explaining a new phenomenon that is shattering global society, connecting the dots, filling in loose ends, shedding light on the unknown. There isn't anybody else on this planet who could instantly transform the coronavirus into social theory. Never expect Žižek to do something banal or obvious. Always provocative, Slovenia's most famous export chose to speak from the Russian platform, RT (Russian Television), which is controlled by Vladimir Putin:

When I suggested that the coronavirus epidemic may give a new boost of life to communism, my claim was, as expected, ridiculed. Although it looks that the strong approach to the crisis by the Chinese state worked – at least it worked much better than what goes on now in Italy, the old authoritarian logic of communists in power also clearly demonstrated its limitations. One of them was that the fear of bringing bad news to those in power (and to the public) outweighs actual results – this was apparently the reason why those who first shared information on a new virus were reportedly arrested, and there are reports that a similar thing is going on now.

As Žižek says, China has done a pretty good job fighting the virus because of the Chinese state's strong approach to the crisis. Meanwhile, the predominantly noncommunist world (Italy excluded) is still awaiting a spike in the epidemic. The critical moment–when the capacity of hospitals, the number of respiratory machines, and the medics will become scarce–is still looming. The pandemic may become too big to be managed by a single country, Žižek says:

The coronavirus epidemic does not signal just the limit of market globalization, it also signals the even more fatal limit of nationalist populism which insists on full state sovereignty: it's over with ‘America (or whoever) first!" since America can be saved only through global coordination and collaboration.

I am not a utopian here, I don't appeal to idealized solidarity between people – on the contrary, the present crisis demonstrates clearly how global solidarity and cooperation is in the interest of the survival of all and each of us, how it is the only rational egotist thing to do. And it's not just coronavirus: China itself suffered the gigantic swine flu months ago, and it is now threatened by the prospect of a locust invasion. Plus, as Owen Jones noted, climate crisis kills many more people around the world than coronavirus, but there is no panic about this.

Let's recapitulate: epidemics like the coronavirus, Sars or Swine Flu are dangerous enough to teach humanity that isolation – sealing off a single country – will not block or eliminate the virus. Only global solidarity and cooperation will enable us to survive. There are only more bad viruses and climate change in our future. These upcoming calamities will not be resolved by a simple teleconference among global leaders. Obviously, something much stronger and binding will be necessary.

Žižek finishes his thought:

From a cynical vitalist standpoint, one would be tempted to see coronavirus as a beneficial infection that allows humanity to get rid of the old, weak and ill, like pulling out the half-rotten weed and thus contribute to global health.

The broad communist approach I am advocating is the only way for us to really leave behind such a primitive vitalist standpoint. Signs of curtailing unconditional solidarity are already discernible in the ongoing debates, as in the following note about the role of the "three wise men" if the epidemics take a more catastrophic turn in the UK: "NHS patients could be denied life-saving care during a severe coronavirus outbreak in Britain if intensive care units are struggling to cope, senior doctors have warned. Under a so-called ‘three wise men" protocol, three senior consultants in each hospital would be forced to make decisions on rationing care such as ventilators and beds, in the event hospitals were overwhelmed with patients."

What criteria will the "three wise men" rely on? Sacrifice the weakest and eldest? And will this situation not just open up space for immense corruption? Do such procedures not indicate that we are getting ready to enact the most brutal logic of the survival of the fittest? So, again, the ultimate choice is this or some kind of reinvented communism.

File Image: Zizek speaks in Liverpool, 2008 — Photo: Andy Miah

So this is it? Some kind of reinvented communism? Why call it communism? Communism as the new world order sounds utopian, Trotsky-esque even. "Reinvented" hints towards a more creative and open model of society instead of the pure, rude communism from the Soviet Union. But does the new model include the methods that China is applying under Xi Jinping? A decade ago, Žižek considered the challenge between authoritarian and democratic regimes to be a priority that the world needed to resolve:

Following this path, the Chinese used unencumbered authoritarian state power to control the social costs of the transition to capitalism. The weird combination of capitalism and Communist rule proved not to be a ridiculous paradox, but a blessing. China has developed so fast not in spite of authoritarian Communist rule, but because of it.

There is a further paradox at work here. What if the promised second stage, the democracy that follows the authoritarian vale of tears, never arrives? This, perhaps, is what is so unsettling about China today: the suspicion that its authoritarian capitalism is not merely a reminder of our past – of the process of capitalist accumulation which, in Europe, took place from the 16th to the 18th century – but a sign of our future? What if the combination of the Asian knout and the European stock market proves economically more efficient than liberal capitalism? What if democracy, as we understand it, is no longer the condition and motor of economic development, but an obstacle to it?

The image Žižek puts forward paints China as the most efficient regime when it comes to dealing with the emergencies the world is facing at the moment. It's been a week since we were flooded with reports on how successful China was in dealing with the latest plague.

These reports were sustained in a big way by an interview with Dr. Bruce Aylward, who led the W.H.O. team that visited China to assess the country's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Aylward's praises for China are endless. But if you do not want to read through all of them, you can watch the video in which a journalist from the New York Times who interviewed him shoots out a concentrated version of the Chinese model that sounds like a fairy tale. In addition to the widespread reporting on China's success, images of the dismantling of the hospital that was built to cope with the pandemic in Wuhan and a video of Chinese workers taking off their face masks are circulating throughout the internet. However, the propaganda peaks with footage of the plane loaded with Chinese experts and medicine landing in Rome a few days ago. It is supposed to show that China is now back on its feet and ready to save the world.

But let us not forget that the coronavirus sprung from the wet markets of Wuhan in China and that the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping ordered containment— of both the virus and information about it— on January 7. Only on January 20 did the Chinese government allow any public disclosure about the deadly outbreak, losing vital weeks in which the world might have done more to prevent a pandemic if both the scientific genome sequencing and the dangers had been shared.

As Dispatch.com reports:

Xi's prime concern was not lives at risk, or containment of the virus, but rather the nation's and his reputation, place in the global supply chain and his grip on power. In this, Xi is much like every other dictator who prioritizes everything above the well-being of his own people, let alone others'.

Iran and Russia have also joined in as regimes that have mismanaged the virus for political purposes. As much as it might be hard to believe, Donald Trump joined the elite of dictatorial regimes. There is no difference between the way Xi and Trump forced their members of government into obedience, making them publicly praise their wisdom and success in leading their nations.

As Dispatch puts it, there is not much difference between the two regimes:

When we consider the United States' failings on this front, it's fair to argue that Donald Trump has been more Xi and less Abraham Lincoln than desirable. (See, in particular, his insistent tweets that the virus was "contained" in the United States and his reluctance to let in the passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship because it would hurt the "numbers.") The president and the CDC were initially slow to face up to the challenge.

But even in this instance, the nature of the American democratic state has served to defuse Trump's selfish impulses, with institutions stepping up to fill the void. And as we will likely see, the U.S. will belatedly come to speed, with lower fatality rates that reflect the democracy/dictatorship divide.

It will only be after the pandemic ends that we can start to face what lies beyond.

Even though China's leadership finally managed to mobilize the country against the virus, how can we trust these people? The Chinese authorities put themselves at the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus, but only after they screwed it up and allowed the virus to travel from Wuhan across China and then out into the world. Trump did the identical thing when he hushed data on the potential pandemic, blocking efficient measures that would contain the virus. Was all this done to let the financial markets remain high, to get reelected?

Turning back to the always inspiring Žižek, we can ask if Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and a dozen similar dictators, can reinvent communism ... or reinvent anything. Why did Xi Jinping not close the wild animal markets when he knew that the coronavirus could easily jump from animals to humans in these places, creating a pandemic? Why did Donald Trump abolish the protection plan that the U.S. administration created in the case of a pandemic breakout years ago? Why today, when China is claiming to have resolved the crisis, can we not read more reports about the real state of things there?

It will only be after the pandemic ends and the regimes pass by that we can start to face what lies beyond the immediate emergency. The coronavirus will definitely change our future behavior and our way of life. Take social distancing, working from home, spending more time reading and in nature: how can we go back from this? There is no doubt that even a few weeks of a lockdown will improve climate change. What will we learn from it? There's no doubt that we will have to reinvent many of the things that we took for granted in the past.

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Andrej Mrevlje

Ljubljana Postcard: Slovenian Native Son And A Beauty Restored

The author grew up in the city. On a recent trip back, he finds the Slovenian capital revitalized in a way he'd dreamed about during his youth.


LJUBLJANA — Two elderly men were standing a step away from Šuštarski Most (Cobbler's Bridge) in the heart of the old part Ljubljana. They looked like longtime friends involved in deep, calm conversation. Like a reflection of the bridge in front of them, which has connected two sides of medieval Ljubljana since the 13th century and was last redesigned in 1931 by architect Jože Plečnik, they seemed to be relics of the past.

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Andrej Mrevlje

My Trip Back Home Finds A New Face Of Slovenia

LJUBLJANA — I have been traveling for a few weeks now, on a journey filled with inner dialogue. Searching first for long-desired destinations, I was soon digging deep into my childhood. It was a walk toward the past — a backtrack of the images and sensations that were important in forming my personality. Doing it together, in part, with my siblings, I was able to recreate some of the events I'd forgotten, and also shed a different light on the events that had anchored themselves in my mind for decades. My trip was sort of like the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which all the protagonists have different recollections of the same event; different narratives that only manage to offset the subjectivity of events by adding them up, reconstructing them, and, in Kurosawa's case, explaining a murder. No murders in my case.

My travel took me to different places, starting out by crossing the Atlantic on the magnificent Queen Mary 2. Some of Yonder's readers had the impression that I did not have a good time on that boat. I loved it, it was a great experience, but it was a different kind of travel than what I expected, or what I wanted it to be for many years. It did trash my old quixotic notions of crossing the Ocean, replacing it with a more realistic one, enjoyable nonetheless.

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eyes on the U.S.
Andrej Mrevlje

Melania Trump, A Journey Home To Untangle Her Slovenian Roots

A road trip and reflections from another New York-based Slovenian on a visit back to the homeland of the once Melanija Knavs, who could be the next American first lady.

Hôja, di, hôja, ljubica moja! Aj, jaz pa pojdem v belo gostilno, aj, jaz pa pojdem, da te pozabim, da se tam silno, silno napijem,

dnarce porabim, vinca navžijem! Bodi, toÄ�ajka,tako prijazna, daj mi še vina,

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Rock Concert

Before it became one of Slovenia"s top attractions, Postojna Cave welcomed the likes of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and Benito Mussolini: Orchestras entertained them, making the most of the outstanding acoustics of the cave's "Concert Hall" chamber.


Spain's Elections, Oil Prices Plunge, An Ugly Miss-Take


Yesterday's national elections in Spain have left more questions than answers today, as two of the country's fledgling political movements made huge gains and the conservative Popular Party lost its majority. "Spain knocks down two-party system and leaves the government high and dry," the front page of conservative newspaper El Mundo reads today after Sunday's general election saw the expected rise of newcomers Podemos on the left and Ciudadanos on the right. It's a "messy" situation for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, one El Mundo columnist writes. Despite coming in first, Rajoy's ruling center-right Popular Party fell well short of securing a majority, meaning it will have to seek support from opponents if it wants to rule. Read more in our Extra! feature.

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How Do You Even Get There?

Bled Castle in northwestern Slovenia sure looks impregnable, perched as it is atop a steep cliff more than 100 meters above Lake Bled. From where I took this photo, it actually seemed unreachable.