Gregor O. (law student)
Every so often we say that there is something wrong with young people these days. Even the ancient Greeks used to say that something was wrong with their youngsters. But I think that the situation has not deteriorated significantly (since then). A pPossible problem lies in the fact that nowadays young people are slightly too submissive. Perhaps we are too keen to lay down the guidelines and determine which route exactly should be followed in order to achieve success. We do not stimulate creativity enough. During classes in schools, pupils are listening while the teacher talks. It’s similar at university; practically no one dares to raise their hand and speak out because they do not want to be humiliated or ridiculed (again). I believe that young people should be encouraged to be creative, investigative and more daring, while still remaining diligent.
Gregor, you are two years younger than our country and a student in his graduation year at the Faculty of Law – how do you see Slovenia?
I'm glad to be Slovenian and I have never had any trouble admitting it. There's a lot that is good and beautiful in our country. Despite the usually gloomy media reporting, we're still doing quite well. Maybe we don't focus enough on positive events. I feel good in Slovenia as a student. The country still provides a reasonably broad spectrum of healthcare services. However, I don't like the fact that the politics is extremely sectarian, with politicians divided into two camps that seldom find common ground. Events from the Slovenian history are still too often perceived as black and white. There are too many discriminatory public statements and we are too susceptible to them. If we didn't react in such a way, the politicians would be forced to behave differently as they would know that populist remarks would not have any effect on voters.
How does this affect real life?
Important debates, such as those on the tax reform or pension law, are all too often consumed by quarrels about the "Communists and the Home Guard". We should be looking for the solution that would best suit Slovenia at the given moment. We certainly lack impartial, profound insight into history. The first step towards finding a solution would be to listen to each other and to establish a dialogue. That would allow us to understand each other. But most importantly, everybody should accept their share of responsibility for the problems in our society. Better people would then lead to better politics.
What did you learn about our former country from older people?
They have mixed feelings, but mostly they felt good living in Yugoslavia. After World War II, there was a lot of optimism, and the nations were connected by the idea of a successful common economic and social area. They told me about great sporting events, for example the 1970 Basketball World Championship and the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, and about other positive events. Some complained about the sense of deprivation, particularly in the areas of religion, culture and politics. If you did not belong to the right political party, it was very hard to succeed. I also heard a lot about the tragic and bloody conflicts following the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
And how do you, as a student, experience Slovenia today?
As Slovenians, our problem is that we only act when we are forced to act. What I mean is that we tend to be complacent and take short-cuts that don't pay out in the long run. It bothers me that many people only think of their own short-term interests while ignoring the long-term common good. This is very harmful for the society. Under these circumstances, corruption flourishes, which has damaging consequences for the country. People don't realize that the greater common good would lead to individuals receiving more as well. For example, the Swiss rejected a minimum wage increase two years ago because they were aware that their economy would be simply unable to withstand the additional burden. At roughly the same time, Slovenians rejected the pension reform, although all objective indicators showed that it was absolutely necessary. This led to the lowering of Slovenia's credit rating and increased the interest rates; two years later, we adopted a proposal that was substantially the same, but the harm had already been done. In a nutshell, we lack a collective spirit that would lead us to make decisions for the common good. We also fought against austerity measures, and only when they were presented to us by somebody else, in this case the EU, we accepted them with few reservations. The golden fiscal rule was a similar story; it was discussed for a couple of years, but when the EU made a decision, we accepted it. It is sad that we are unable to make such decisions by ourselves. That is what I would like to change. For people to prioritize the long-term common good over short-term individual interests. On the other hand, it bothers me that we accept EU measures too quickly, without giving them enough concern. It is a fact that Europe is a large market and that the key European countries are going to lead the way. The question is, how much of the say do smaller countries such as ours actually have when decisions are made. In any case, we should be more critical of these decisions, ask more questions instead of just nodding, participate confidently, boldly and constructively, never losing sight of our national interests and stating them clearly. The adopted measures are, of course, not equally beneficial to all countries.
But still, Slovenians know how to stand together when necessary.
That's true. In difficult moments, for instance, when faced with a natural disaster, we always come together and help each other. I would like that we could act in the same manner in other cases as well, without needing the Troika or nature to force us into unity. I also wish that every citizen would contribute more to the greater common good. The laws we have are quite decent; however, we are having problems with their implementation. We really have a problem; we know we are not doing the right thing but we do it anyway. Obviously, the field of education and upbringing should make more effort in this regard, instilling people from a very young age with greater social responsibility. To only think of one's own interests is to foul one's own nest. Due to the widespread corruption, we have to work for a longer time for a lower pay and a lower pension, as well as pay higher taxes. However, it is excruciatingly obvious that people are unaware of this. We should also be investing much more in education. Ethics should be taught in both elementary and high schools. The fact is that we Slovenians are too corruptible, more than any other EU nation, which means the country is less appealing to foreign investors. It all begins with perfectly basic things, e.g. the employment. As people are often employed through personal connections, too many positions are staffed with incompetent individuals. As a future lawyer, I also think that Slovenians are too quarrelsome and leave too many decisions to the courts. Maybe that stems from our history, as we constantly felt threatened as a nation. I'm sure, however, that we could resolve a greater number of matters by ourselves, without mediators. For instance, Japan has an average of two judges per 100,000 people, while Slovenia has as many as 50.
What are our greatest accomplishments in the 25 years of our state?
Independence in itself was a great achievement. We broke away from the previous system, and adopted constitutional democracy and the principles of respect for human rights and separation of powers. Today, we may take all this for granted, but no too long ago our parents and grandparents couldn't even dream about it, and that is an aspect we should acknowledge more often. We have free elections, a multi-party system and freedom of speech that has become well-developed over the 25 years. About the country's greatest accomplishments – we became a member of the international community, the UNSC, the Council of Europe, the EU, NATO and many other institutions, and have adopted a number of international instruments.
What about our weaknesses?
Most of them actually stem from such crucial turning points, our achievement of independence and our accession to the EU. We have been adversely affected by the incomplete transition. We somehow seem to be unable to come to any agreement regarding the former system. We are also having trouble adapting to the EU and preserving our identity at the same time.
How do you feel as a Slovenian when you travel abroad?
I am proud to tell people that I am Slovenian. I often get angry at the media for reporting only the bad things and overlooking the positive stories. Slovenia is a very beautiful country. Although it is small, it is very diverse and successful in numerous fields. I never felt I was doing poorly, and despite of the crisis we preserved many elements of the welfare state. To a foreigner, I would explain that Slovenia may seem tiny on the map but it is home to more diversity than many other, even much larger countries. I would also tell them we are industrious, well educated, that we speak foreign languages very well and have an excellent geographical position.
What future would you like to see for the country?
I would like to picture Slovenia as a "Switzerland on the east", a kind of a bridge between the East and the West. Western countries have long acknowledged us as the most developed country on the Balkans, and we know a lot more about this region than the rest of Europe, which allows Slovenia to function as a bridge, as a sort of logistics centre. I think we are trying too hard to be successful in too many areas; it would be better to take on fewer projects and carry them out more effectively. For example, it is absurd to expect Slovenia to ever be the home of the largest automotive corporate group in the world; however, we could manufacture individual parts for larger systems and develop ideas and technology solutions. Our university could be the best in the EU, we could have, for example, a centre for the development of ideas – start-ups, we are known to be good and inventive in this area. Unfortunately, we often forget about our many natural resources, e.g. timber. There is great potential for development in the timber industry. And in politics as well – due to its location, Slovenia could function as a kind of arbitration centre.
Considering its tiny population, Slovenia is extremely successful in sports. How do you explain that?
Sport makes you focus on a certain goal. As your desires become crystallized, it is s lot easier to ignore everything that could prevent achievement. Sport requires unity; there is no place for grudges and politics there. It would be good if we handled other things in a similar way as well. We are also successful because we are aware of how small out country is and want to show the world not only that we exist but that we are capable of great things.
What do you think about your generation?
I think we are quite optimistic. We are aware that success depends on ourselves and we know that knowledge is power. Young people like challenges; we started to realize that knowledge acquired through one's studying is merely the foundation and that we have to keep investing in ourselves. We like debates and critical thinking. We also know that everything is relative. We are curious and ask ourselves how the world works.
How do you picture Slovenia in another 25 years?
I'm a bit concerned that we might lose ourselves in the flatness of modern Europe. But I am also comforted by the thought that we will, again, come together once the going gets tough, like we had in the time of other major historical events. I want Slovenia to be a trustworthy country with reliable public administration, education and healthcare and a stable banking system.
How would you address the citizens of Slovenia on the Independence Day if you were the country's Prime Minister?
I would tell them to use their abilities to the full and develop their talents. They should not just complain but try to change what they believe is inadequate upon their own initiative. We are often oblivious to how little sometimes has to be done for things to improve. And it is precisely the determination and courage of certain individuals that have allowed Slovenia to exist as an independent country for almost 25 years. At the same time, I would try to acquire the trust of citizens, convince them that the government is doing well and reinforce the credibility of state institutions. How can we convince others to trust us if we ourselves don't believe in our country?