STA, 7 March 2019 - A statement by children's doctor and psychotherapist Viljem Ščuka equating sex and rape has been declared the most sexist statement of 2018 by the organisers of feminist and queer festival Red Dawns.
"Mass rapes of girls (schoolmates) are not possible if girls are against. Both participants are responsible for sexual intercourse because it takes place with both being fully conscious ..."
Ščuka, 80, made the statement for the news portal Svet24 commenting on a former teacher's proposal about how to tackle problematic, violent primary school children.
It earned him the Silver Thistle title, which is conferred annually to raise awareness about sexist statements which are usually overlooked.
"This dishonourable title is given to those who publicly attack, humiliate or offend others on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity," according to the festival's website.
The citation of the Silver Thistle said Ščuka's statement "equalises sexual intercourse with sexual violence and shifts responsibility for violence onto victims, which is not only unacceptable but also dangerous".
It added it was hard to understand anyone would think rape takes place with the victim's consent and even harder if such a statement was made publicly by an expert.
The Silver Thistle is given out on the basis of an online vote by the editorial board of spol.si, a news portal focussing on gender issues, and the Red Dawns collective, which organises the festival of the same name.
The most sexist statement of last year was declared Wednesday evening.
Last year, the dishonourable title went to acclaimed jurist Boštjan M. Zupančič, who labelled French politician Simone Veil (1927-1979) a murderer for allowing abortion.
STA, 6 March 2019 - Transparency International Slovenija (TI) has reported the director of the Agency for Commodity Reserves Anton Zakrajšek to the state prosecution over suspected abuse of office in the procurement of what is currently a 179-km fence on the border with Croatia.
Following allegations that the procurement of the fencing favoured a specific contractor, TI obtained part of the documentation after almost three years of efforts, receiving a nod from the Information Commissioner and engaging in a tug-of-war with the agency in courts.
Screenshot from YouTube
TI believes Zakrajšek abused his powers when signing a razor wire contract with Minis in 2015 which included the provision of an advance payment of EUR 860,832 or 70% of the contract's total value.
Minis has been the main supplier of "technical obstacles" that Slovenia started erecting on the Croatian border during the migration crisis. It has received more than EUR 9.3m from the agency, while the remaining suppliers have been paid a total of EUR 6m, the newspaper Dnevnik reported today.
TI says the agency would have required special consent from the finance minister for the advance payment, which it does not appear to have received, while Zakrajšek is arguing the payment had never been executed.
The official, who is adamant that Minis was always picked as the cheapest bidder, argues the advance payment had been conditional on the supplier securing a bank guarantee in the full amount of the payment, which it failed to do.
What is more, the Finance Ministry said this provision only applied to direct budget users, while the agency is not defined as a budget user at all.
TI responded by saying "the alleged advance payment is only one of the suspicions elements, while confirming or rejecting the suspicion is in the domain of the relevant authorities". The NGO told the STA it saw no reason to withdraw its report.
TI only asked for a portion of the documents, as much of the fence procurement documentation remained classified as internal. The STA has not yet received an answer from the government about whether it planned to declassify them.
The agency said in a press release in the afternoon that the documents were classified because their contents could put in jeopardy the government's objectives to regulate migration flow.
Moreover, Zakrajšek said in the press release that the agency had asked Minis for a bid because the company had already been cooperating with the Interior Ministry at that point and the department had no complaints. The Interior Ministry also provided the specifications for the fence, the press release said.
The fencing contracts, signed under special provisions governing procurement in cases labelled classified, have been raising eyebrows for some time.
Alenka Bratušek, the head of the SAB party who was an MP at the time, caused waves after a 2017 session of the parliamentary Commission for Public Finance Oversight, when she claimed the documents studied had been manipulated with and that the chosen bidder had not been the cheapest.
SAB secretary general Jernej Pavlič said today that Bratušek had forwarded her findings at the time to the prosecution.
Zakrajšek insists the chosen bidder had been the cheapest and fastest and claims Bratušek is misleading with her accusation, which he says is based on a mistake that occurred in one of the minutes.
Media have also been wondering about the choice of Minis, with POP TV reporting on Tuesday that the company and a local office of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the senior coalition party between 2014 and 2018, shared the same address for a while.
SMC leader Miro Cerar responded to the reports by saying the intensive migration pressure in 2015 required the decision to protect people and property.
"This was the task I put to the ministers," he said, expressing his belief the decisions followed professional criteria and legal obligations. "I believe Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek acted in due fashion."
All our stories on corruption and Slovenia are here
Below is a review of the headlines in Slovenian dailies for Friday, 08 March 2019, as summarised by the STA:
"For successful society we need both sexes": The newspaper you are reading is issued by a company employing 318 people, including 150 women. Nine out of 16 senior managerial positions are filled by women. (front page, pages 5, 7)
"Televisions to create thousand new jobs": The new television factory to be built by Chinese-owned Gorenje in Velenje by the autumn next year is to create more than a thousand jobs in a few years, Franjo Bobinac, chairman of the board of directors, told the Delo Saturday supplement in an interview. (front page)
Sick health minister
"Health minister on the way to recovery": Prime Minister Marjan Šarec would neither confirm nor deny yesterday whether he would like to replace the health minister, who has been ill, but the Health Ministry said that Samo Fakin was expected back to work next week. (front page, page 3)
Alpine Ski World Cup meet in Kranjska Gora
"Žan and Štefan ready": Home favourites Žan Kranjec and Štefan Hadalin are looking forward to the Alpine Ski World Cup meet in Kranjska Gora this weekend. (front page, page 18)
"Dear women, if we could we would pay tribute to each one of you with a flower": On International Women's Day, the paper examinees women's position in society and puts into spotlight ten most influential women in Slovenia. (front page, pages 2, 3)
"Did car dealers abuse public tenders?": Information available to the paper indicates that the anti-trust agency has been investigating suspected cartel collusion by major car dealerships in applying for public procurement calls. (front page, page 4)
"Money cheap at least until year's end": The European Central Bank has downgraded its economic outlook for the eurozone while announcing it will launch a new round of long-term liquidity loan auctions. (front page, pages 2, 3)
"Will govt be kinder when taxing capital gains?": The Finance Ministry is considering watering down proposals on capital gains tax so that the zero-tax rate would be kept for capital owned for at least 20 years. (front page, page 4)
"These are this year's GZS business Oscar winners": The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has presented awards for exceptional achievements to six businessmen. (front page, page 6)
Maribor development plans
"Lent will be different": The coalition of Maribor Mayor Saša Arsenovič is praising budget plans, while the opposition is pointing to a development lag and costlier services. (front page, pages 8, 9)
"Business Oscars presented": The six winners of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry's awards for business achievements are focused on the future, sustainable development, and green energy, they invest heavily in development, and are virtually debt-free. (front page, page 6)
"Cancer is a sign of the times": You have to face up to the disease and ask yourself what you can change, says the ambassador of the cancer prevention programme Svit. (front page, page 3)
"30 new jobs in healthcare": The Ptuj community health centre has launched a mental health unit. The programmes of services launched this year and last are estimated at EUR 1.9m. (front page, page 15)
"Omerzu wins disciplinary acquittal": After being suspended as the president of the Maribor Labour Court last year, Stanko Omerzu has now been cleared of disciplinary charges. He is still being tried for stalking. (front page, page 21)
Where did you live before Slovenia, and what brought you here?
I was born in Iran and moved to the UK when I was two years old. I lived in Cumbria until the age of 15 and then moved to London. My mum moved the family to London so I could fulfil my dreams of working in television, and opportunities for this are plentiful there. My husband is Slovenian and, to be honest, if i didn’t meet him, I wouldn’t know much about Slovenia, if anything at all. After he and I got together, we visited many times until we eventually moved here.
What were your first impressions of Slovenia, and how do they compare with what you think now?
In 2012, early in our relationship, my husband brought me a book about Slovenia. The images were breath-taking. He also brought me gibanica and a bottle of pumpkin seed oil. I loved them, but I’d never been to Slovenia and barely knew anything about it.
I first came here in 2013 and I fell in love straight away! I loved the vibe, the energy and hospitality of the people, how clean the country was, how easy it was to get around, the amazing places to see, the food, the fresh air - pretty much everything. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like. I’ve seen more of it now, met more people, made more friends and learned more. I fall in love with Slovenia more and more as time goes on.
What do you wish someone had told you before you moved here?
I wish I had the contacts I do now. I wish I had done more intense research before coming here so I would have been to more events and met people much earlier. I advise anyone who’s moving to another country to do as much research and create connections online prior to making your move more enjoyable, so you’ll settle in faster in the areas that are important to you, and for me that’s business.
Have you started to learn Slovene?
I’ve been hearing and listening to Slovenian for almost six years now so I’ve managed to pick up a few words. I haven’t yet mastered sentences or verbs, but I started classes in February and because of my experience with the language I’m finding them quite easy. I’ve heard several times that it’s a difficult language, and I can understand why so I’m even more motivated to learn.
What methods do you use to learn it?
I ask my husband and friends how to say things and I ask for translations almost every day and listen to people’s conversations. I Google Translate a lot of things, my mother-in-law only speaks to me in Slovenian, and like I said, I’ve started classes.
How did you start looking for work here, and what was that experience like?
I have my own online speaker trainer business. I teach business owners how to deliver effective and persuasive presentations to help leverage time, reach more people and make a bigger impact.
But I love doing live events, and at first I didn’t see a market for it here and I wasn’t looking in the right places, so I gave up the idea of doing those. Then I met someone and he pointed me in the right direction and introduced me to so many different people that eventually I realised that there is an opportunity for me to bring my business here, do live events and teach what I know and love in Slovenia. And that’s what I’ve started to do.
You have a young son, how is he settling in?
My son loves Slovenia (or as he calls it, ‘Felinia’). He loves čevapčiči, the road trips we take - we try to go out of Ljubljana as often as possible. He loves visiting his babi in Novo Mesto, skiing, Atlantis, Tivoli park, the castles, the various workshops for children. Slovenia is definitely one of the world’s most child-friendly countries, so as a family we pretty much settled in immediately.
What are some things from Slovenia you think your home country could benefit from?
How to deal with snow! London goes into a complete shutdown when it snows - trains stop running, major traffic jams and people don’t turn up for work. I was in Kranjska Gora a few weeks ago and it snowed heavily overnight. People started dealing with it effectively the following morning - they just started clearing the snow. By 11am, people were driving normally. Life doesn’t have to stop when it snows - and London can definitely learn a thing or two about this.
The UK can definitely have more cool spots and things to do for young children. For example, my son loves Mala Ulica in Ljubljana- nothing like that exists in London and at such a low price. He also ended up in hospital a few weeks ago they had a huge room in the paediatric wing filled with so many toys, activities and teachers. He loved it! I’ve never seen such a room in any medical centre in London. Also, cheaper cinema tickets, so an evening out costs much less than in London.
And what are some thing from your home country that you think Slovenia could benefit from?
All I can think of is how the country is marketed. I can understand why it isn’t so loud for Slovenia, but it’s such a gem of a country, and I think more people would appreciate visiting and experiencing what it has to offer. Also, I’m yet to understand why we need to drive with lights on when it’s fully bright outside. I sometimes forget to turn the lights on and I get flashed by other drivers. I’m getting much better now, though.
Where are some of your favourite places to visit here?
My favourite part of Slovenia is definitely Ljubljana - I’m a city girl. But Slovenia as a whole is such a beautiful country, it’s difficult to pick one or two places. I love Bled, I love the castles here, Bohinj is stunning, I learned to ski in Kranjska Gora, I love driving to Novo Mesto and Savica Waterfall is amazing! I really love all of it. As a family, we try to take as many road trips as possible.
How do you feel about Slovenian food and drink?
I love Slovenian cuisine. I’ve learned to cook quite a few Slovenian dishes. My mother-in-law’s dishes are amazing and I picked up various recipes from her such as goveja juha, bucna juha, goveji golaz and testani krompir. I really enjoy cooking and eating Slovenian food.
However, something I'm still trying to get over is eating horse. I couldn't believe it at first that it’s on the menu in Slovenia. Unfortunately, I did try some - I was tricked into it - but never again!
What things frustrate you about life in Slovenia?
The thing I don’t like about Slovenia is how cars can turn left or right at a green light the same time as pedestrians can cross. I think this should be stopped to allow cars to cross without putting pedestrians, and drivers, at risk. Sometimes cyclists race across whilst a car is turning, and it’s pretty dangerous. Someone once told me that they’re planning to get rid of this system, so I hope they do it soon.
And what things delight you?
I love how in Ljubljana you can get so much done in one day! Obviously, the fact that it’s small plays a huge part in that. I also feel super productive here. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but like I said, there’s something about the energy here.
Would you advise a friend to move to Slovenia?
I always do, especially friends with children. Every person I’ve spoken to who has kids and have moved to Slovenia love how easy life is here. When I tell people about the country, they think it’s too good to be true.
So do you think you’ll stay in Slovenia for the rest of your life?
I don’t plan so far ahead. Moving to Slovenia was a last-minute decision. I know for a fact that I’ll be spending a lot of time in Slovenia even if I don’t ‘live’ here forever. But for now and the foreseeable future Ljubljana is home, and I love it that way.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
STA, 6 March 2019 - The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije - GZS) has proposed a reform of the pay system in the corporate sector for 2019-2025 centred around tying wage growth to productivity gains, echoing its long-standing position that pay should be more performance-based.
Under the proposal unveiled on Wednesday, average gross wages would increase by nearly a quarter by 2025, provided that annual productivity gains almost doubled compared to 2014-2018, from 2.7% to 4.8%.
The goal of the proposal is to increase value added per employee to EUR 60,000 and exports to EUR 50bn. In that case, the average gross wage would be EUR 2,000, GZS director general Sonja Šmuc said.
Slovenia's exports amounted to EUR 31bn last year, the average private sector gross wage was at EUR 1,647 in December, whereas value added per employee was EUR 43,000 in 2017, the latest year for which data are available.
"Assuming appropriate productivity gains, the average gross wage could rise by EUR 370," GZS chief economist Bojan Ivanc said.
To achieve the required productivity gains, Slovenia has to step up investments in research and development and improve vocational education, according to Šmuc.
At the same time, wages in the public sector must grow at a slower pace than private sector pay, and the retirement age must gradually converge towards the EU average.
"It is time to talk about this now, not when we already have major problems funding pension," Ivanc pointed out.
The GZS has sent its proposal to all social partners and will now try to reach a consensus. Negotiations are expected to start next week.
Meanwhile, employers and trade unions have voiced reservations about the proposal. An exception is the ZSSS, Slovenia's biggest trade union confederation, which believes the goals could be reached.
Marjan Trobiš, the head of the Employers' Association, expressed surprise that the proposal was presented as having the backing of the entire business sector.
He said that his association had only gotten the text yesterday and had not yet had the chance to become fully acquainted with the document. He is also surprised that negotiations are to start as early as next week.
Igor Antauer, the secretary general of the Trade Crafts and Small Business Employers' Association, said that the proposal had not yet been coordinated among employers.
"It's a shame that somebody was in a hurry ... and that they did not check what would happen to all segments of the private sector not just the industries represented by the GZS."
Pergam trade union head Jakob Počivalšek said that the document was not aiming to raise salaries but to limit them and enable higher pay for managers.
Počivalšek said he was not against investing in R&D and training, but that the proposal provided no guarantees that this would actually be the case and the funds would not be spent on higher pay for top managers.
Lidija Jerkič, the head of the ZSSS, is not as critical. "These goals are nothing new. They can be reached but will require a restructuring of the industrial sector." She added that it was high time to reach an agreement on private sector pay.
March 7, 2019
With regard to the name that will compose party lists in the upcoming European parliamentary elections, we know now that at least four major parties chose women as heads of their lists of candidates. Since the voting system allows voters to also cast a preferential vote to one of the candidates on the list they are choosing, being no. 1 on the list doesn’t necessarily mean you are first to get a parliamentary seat but rather that you serve as a face of that list, and will almost certainly participate in election debates.
So far the lists have been presented by Nova Slovenija (NSi), Socialni demokrati (SD), Levica and most recently also the Prime Minister’s Lista Marjana Šarca (LMŠ), who surprised with some very fresh faces, a bit too fresh, some might say.
Soon Slovenska Demokratska Stranka (SDS) is expected to present their list of candidates, and if they decide to put the current European Member of Parliament Romana Tomc at the head of the list, this would be the fifth woman in such a position so far.
Although women are usually allowed to lead in times of crisis (the so-called “glass cliff”, as seen with Alenka Bratušek becoming prime minister during the peak of the last financial crisis, of Theresa May taking charge after the Brexit vote) or when no chance of winning is in sight (five women were pushed into the race against the incumbent and very popular President Borut Pahor who was running for a second term in 2017). With few exceptions this time the female candidates are strong and experienced politicians, with, hopefully, good chances of winning their European Parliament seats, which continues to be seen as an honorable and well-rewarded job.
NSi: Ljudmila Novak, one of the strongest female politicians in the country and former party president, managed to beat her party colleague, current member of the European Parliament and one of independent Slovenia’s first generation of politicians, Lojze Peterle, at the top of the list. With Ljudmila at the top, Lojze fell to no. 3.
SD: Tanja Fajon, current Member of the European Parliament. One of most active and recognisable Slovenian politicians serving in Brussels.
Levica: Violeta Tomič. The former actress is one of the strongest female politicians in Slovenia, and also one of the two transnational spitzenkandidaten of the oppositional “European Left”.
LMŠ: Irena Joveva, a 30 year-old journalist without any political experience.
While recent polls suggest strong popular support for Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) it remains to be seen how this latest choice might affect the party’s popularity. So far the group’s success has been mainly based on the charisma of its leader and the current Prime Minister, Marjan Šarec.
At the press conference on Monday Šarec explained his party’s choice of candidates with the following words: “This is like sending a song to the Eurovision song contest. It is difficult to know what the winning formula might be.”
STA, 6 March 2019 - A campaign urging people to abstain from alcohol for the next 40 days until Easter started on Wednesday for the 14th year running, reminding the public of the dangers of alcohol consumption.
The campaign, instigated by Slovenian Caritas, the Slovenian Traffic Safety Agency, and the prevention organisation Med.Over.Net Institute, is running under the slogan "For a responsible drinking culture".
It encourages a responsible attitude towards drinking "at home, on the roads, at work, in company or wherever", secretary general of Slovenian Caritas Cveto Uršič told reporters.
The campaign, coinciding with the Catholic period of Lent, supports everybody who is suffering due to the negative effects of alcohol consumption such as violence, accidents, or health problems.
Uršič pointed out the "extremely cruel" statistics in terms of alcohol consumption. At least 1,000 people on average die every year because of alcohol-related reasons. In the last five years, drink driving caused 7,907 traffic accidents in Slovenia, 157 deaths and 732 gravely injured.
"Alcohol often leads to domestic violence, workplace violence, and bullying. It can also result in unemployment and poverty or is caused by them," Uršič said.
The representative of Med.Over.Net Institution, Andreja Verovšek, stressed that giving up alcohol was a decision demanding a lot of persistence and support.
According to the National Institute of Public Health's (NIJZ) data, almost half of Slovenians between 25 and 64 years of age (43%) consume too much alcohol, crossing the recommended consumption limit.
Alcohol-related costs to Slovenia's health system for the period between 2012 and 2016 are estimated at EUR 147m per year. Including all other related costs, such as the ones caused by accidents and domestic violence, the estimate rises to EUR 228m.
The ambassador of this year's campaign, journalist and presenter Igor E. Bergant, said the campaign raised awareness of a major social problem, as well as sent a positive message of educating instead of judging.
He stressed the importance of a zero-tolerance policy while driving or working, and the importance of being a role model for children. Bergant also acknowledged that Slovenia's stance on alcohol consumption had always been over-tolerant and therefore problematic.
Slovenian Caritas has included older pupils of primary schools and high school students in the campaign, inviting them to contribute to the prevention project with their own ideas and creations. They were encouraged to consider maintaining relationships, health, prosperity, and fun without alcohol and other drugs.
All our stories about alcohol abuse and Slovenia can be found here
STA, 6 March 2019 - The government managed to get the revised budget for 2019 through parliament on Thursday with the help of the opposition Left. But the vote does not end uncertainty over this year's spending, as the upper chamber has indicated a veto was possible and the Left may make its support in a re-vote conditional on additional spending.
The supplementary budget sets expenditure at EUR 10.16bn, a rise of EUR 463m or 4.8% from the original budget. Revenue is to go up even more, by 6.2% or EUR 599m to EUR 10.35bn, exceeding EUR 10bn-mark for the first time, mostly due to significantly higher public sector wages.
The adjustments increase funding for almost all ministries despite warnings from the centre-right opposition and the Fiscal Council that such spending hikes risked setting up Slovenia for trouble now that economic growth had started to cool down.
The government has rejected criticism with the argument that the spending blueprint was treading a middle path between exclusive focus on welfare and excessive austerity. It insists the budget is fiscally sustainable.
The budget was passed without the support of the opposition Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi). The former argued that the government had ignored warnings of the Fiscal Council, while the latter was bothered by the rejection of the amendments filed by the SDS, NSi and the National Party (SNS).
The three opposition parties had filed 34 amendments, mainly concerning the funding of infrastructural projects, but all of them were rejected.
But the SNS nevertheless supported the budget. According to party head Zmago Jelinčič, this was only to see how the European Commission will respond.
To secure passage, the government has had to reach a deal with the Left that entails additional spending potentially running into several hundred million euro on policies including precarious work forms, housing, corporate tax, wages, pensions and healthcare.
The initial plan was that the pact would be signed before today's vote, but due to apprehension by some coalition partners, in particular the Social Democrats (SD) and the Modern Centre Party (SMC), it was merely initialled after a half-hour recess in which the final details were hammered out.
The leader of the Left, Luka Mesec, said the deal was very similar to the one that was initialled with the government last summer. He expects it to be signed in the coming days.
In line with the deal, the leader and the secretary of the Left will from now on be invited to the meetings of coalition deputy groups every Tuesday.
The head of the deputy group of the ruling Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ), Brane Golubović, rejected criticism that the agreement had not been coordinated with other coalition parties, saying that all ministries concerned had participated in the talks, including those led by ministers of the SMC and SD.
There has been some speculation that the pact with the Left may be sidelined after the budget is confirmed, but this would leave the budget vulnerable in the event of an upper chamber veto, which is possible given the balance of power in the chamber.
The National Council recently denied support to the budget, with councillors voicing complaints about government plans in the area of local government and regional development.
Any vetoed legislation would requires confirmation by 46 MPs in the 90-member National Assembly. The coalition only has 43 votes.
Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said he was not surprised by the threat of the veto. "I only hope to hear some solid arguments, because the ones I heard today are very shaky considering the wishes of those presenting them and are reminiscent of horse-trading," the PM said.
Slovenia was recently assessed as the 28th most LGBT-friendly travel destination in the world (see here), and the capital prides itself on being particularly welcoming to this community, at least in terms of the City of Ljubljana’s official programmes.
Yesterday, March 6, saw the official start of the Red Dawns International Feminist & Queer Festival, which offers several days of events, exhibitions, discussions and concerts to bring people together for art and activism. The full programme for the event, in English, can be found here, while the Facebook page is here.
One large event, not strictly part of the festival but surely related, will be the Women’s Day march that’ll take place on Friday (08/03), starting at 17:00 in Congress Square (Kongresni trg), the main square downtown that’s also home to Zvezda Park.
All our stories about LGBT+ issues and Slovenia can be found here
Below is a review of the headlines in Slovenian dailies for Thursday, 07 March 2019, as summarised by the STA:
"Layoffs already taking place because of cool-off in Germany": The Slovenj Gradec-based company Dani AFC is facing a decline in orders from Germany for car seat covers for Audi models, and is forced to lay off 60 workers. (front page, 8)
"Supplementary budget passed, unease remains": The National Assembly passed yesterday the supplementary budget for 2019, keeping together the minority coalition, which nevertheless remains uneasy as new allegations are piling up. (front page, 2)
"How life works": Slovenian scientist Jure Leskovec is heading a team at Stanford University who is looking into strategies of survival common to all organisms in the world by analysing complex protein networks by means of supercomputers. (front page, 13)
"Dangerous buildings could be supported by Brussels money": The state needs to take the opportunity if the EU endorses expensive measures to improve earthquake resistance of problematic buildings in the next financial perspective. (front page, 10)
"Employer organisations appalled by GZS's proposal": A reform of the pay system in the corporate sector proposed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) is facing opposition from other employer associations, both because they were not involved in the process and because some proposals sound like they come from trade unions. (front page, 5)
"How good bids for Intereuropa really are": The paper analyses the three binding bids for the Koper-based logistics company Intereuropa, noting that it will be known by the beginning of April to whom and for how much it will be sold. (front page, 10-11)
"OECD significantly downgrades forecasts, Italy in recession this year too?": The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has downgraded its GDP growth forecasts for almost all major economies in the world. (front page, 2-3)
"Five facts about pensions and demographics": The number of pensioners is growing, the majority of old-age pensions equals minimum wage, the ratio between employers and pensioners has improved somewhat, but ageing decreases the number of working-age people and public spending for pensions will only get higher. (front page, 6-7)
"A click away from internet mafia": Con artists on the internet are successfully preying on women who fall for fake doctors or soldiers, and on men who are looking for sexy young women. Victims of such scams are often silent. (front page, 5)
"Budget passed, dispute resolved": The National Assembly passed yesterday the supplementary budget for 2019 as the minority coalition and the opposition Left had signed a cooperation agreement for this year despite a dispute. (front page, 2-3)
"Lining up ahead of Andrej Šiško's trial": Supporters of Andrej Šiško, who presented his case yesterday as his trial started over the formation of a para-military group, lined up in front of the Maribor court and brought a masked man with a limousine, who represented the "erased Slovenian people". (front page, 2-3)
"Decisive days for Mercator": Decisive days are coming for Slovenia's largest retailer Mercator, as it is planned to be transferred from the indebted Croatian conglomerate Agrokor to the newly-formed company Fortenova Grupa, seated in the Netherlands. (front page, 6)
A leisurely walk in the woods in many countries, especially in my home country of England, invokes an image not only of peace and tranquillity, but also one of relative ease and safety. One of the advantages of the UK is that nothing really dangerous lurks in our woods; other than the odd crazy person with an axe or a gun. In Slovenia however, while you are less likely to encounter an axe-wielding homicidal maniac, there are other more natural dangers to be aware of: bears!
Brown Bear in the forest in Notranjska, Slovenia.
If you go down to the woods today, the likelihood that you’ll encounter a bear is extremely low. Over the years I have frequently gone driving and walking in areas where I had hoped to see or photograph them. Not a single sighting. Yet there is an estimated 800-900 European Brown Bears in Slovenia, bearing in mind (pun intended) that many of these bears and other wildlife routinely wander between Slovenia and Croatia. The brown bear is an elusive creature and at best it’s safer to go with a hunter, or an organised tour.
A few years back I did manage to find someone who had setup a series of hides specifically designed for photographers, so I was able to finally go on a bear watch and capture some great photos. However, while these are ideal for serious amateur or professional photographers, they are not so good for tourists who simply want to see the bears but don’t have the expensive camera equipment required to photograph them.
A one year old Brown Bear Cub in the forest in Notranjska, Slovenia.
So imagine my delight when I found Bears and Wildlife Tours. Based at the tourist office in the little village of Hrib, in the municipality of Loški Potok, they offer an array of wildlife watching tours as well as bear viewing huts. But the most intriguing of all, was the offer of staying the night in a simulated bear cave. I had to go and see.
The journey took me south from the capital Ljubljana to the border with Croatia, where I met with Tjaša, who organises and coordinates the tours, and Stanko, a local hunter and guide. We were already late into September so they told me that the chances of a sighting were low because the bears usually come out late in the evening, and as the sun is now setting earlier it would more than likely be dark by this time. But they would take me to see what they had to offer anyway.
Over a strong cappuccino, they told me a little about the bears and what they offer. They currently have about 7 hides in total, 3 in the Loški Potok region. This gives them much more scope to ensure a sighting for their guests. “We have never seen the same bear at each of our hides. The bears travel around 60kms per night or day. Many go from Loški Potok to Cerknica, and of course across the border,” said Tjaša.
The bears tend to travel over a specific area. A mother bear can remember from 5 years before where she got a good meal. Amazing, I struggle to remember where I ate yesterday!
Their numbers are increasing. In 1960 there was an estimated 150 bears in Slovenia. In 2018 that number was around 900. These numbers apparently swelled during the Balkan conflict; where many bears I guess fled here for asylum! I asked how it’s possible to know the numbers. “Hunters collect bear poo and send it to Ljubljana to the institute and from the DNA they can estimate their numbers. Every year the number is increasing,” replied Tjaša.
Mother bears in Slovenia are now giving birth to 3 cubs instead of 2. Rarely before have bears had more than 2. This is also an indicator that the quality of their habitat and food source is improving. 2018 was a particularly good year for food, as conditions that year made not only the forest rich with food, but the village orchards were overgrown with fruit. Stanko explained to me how September 2018 has seen an unusual rise in bears coming into the villages, much more than previous years. In autumn the bears are fattening up for the winter hibernation.
The improved quality of the habitat is partly down to conservation work, and rules being enforced that prevent hunters or bear tour organisations from feeding the bears within 2kms of a village. This helps stop them from wandering into villages in search of food and prevents any incidents with locals, and also accidents with cars. One of the biggest threats to bears is being hit by cars.
Every year the government sets an annual cull to try to control the population. For 2019 it was 200, increased from previous years because of the reasons above. However, this decision was suspended by the administrative court after a case was brought by the environmental protection organisation Alpe Adria Green (AAG).
After coffee we headed out for the first part of the tour. Stanko drove us to a location a few kilometres outside of town, where we stopped beside a forest road. He pointed to the forest and said that just up the hill is a winter den for a mother bear.
Bear dens are always close to water, so they can often be close to the road and village. Stanko and Tjaša then pointed to a stream running out of the forest to the roadside and told me how the bears will seek out sources of water, especially when it’s very hot.
These pools of water or streams are mostly deep in the forest well away from people and villages. However, they are also found on roadsides like this close to villages, because the water that runs off the forested hillsides collects in pools by the road. Stanko regularly comes here deer hunting and told me how, early one morning around 5am, he spotted a bear immersed in a pool of water up to its neck, with just its head poking out the surface.
“I call it the Bear Jacuzzi”, he laughed.
The bears often come to these roadside pools to cool off in the heat of the summer days, and Stanko, and likely many locals, see them as they drive these forest roads.
Wild Parasol mushrooms, known as Marela in Slovenia.. Macrolepiota procera or Lepiota procera
I then followed them up the hill to the winter den. On the way Tjaša picked some mushrooms and described how to prepare them. Mushroom picking, along with other forest fruits, is a national sport here in Slovenia. Every season the forests are packed with locals out mushroom picking, and they are usually racing each other to get the best and most. She also explained how to tell the difference between a poisonous and non-poisonous one.
Wild Parasol mushrooms, known as Marela in Slovenia. As you can see, on the stem this circular piece is an indication that the mushroom is non-poisonous.
“I’ll take these to my mother in law’s tomorrow for cooking,” I said.
I feel I should add here that I fully intended to give my mother in law the non-poisonous mushrooms.
Slovenian folklore says that if you see a mushroom in the forest you must pick it immediately, no matter how big or small it is. Once someone has seen it, the mushroom will stop growing. Tjaša also explained that when you pick a mushroom you must clean it there and then in the forest before you take it away.
Bears hibernate during the winter in a den, essentially a small cave deep in a hillside. The entrance is narrow, but inside it is very wide and deep. The bear can get inside because its head and neck are very small and it doesn’t have a collar bone, so can squeeze its body through.
The bears enter the den when the first snow comes, or before if it’s a pregnant female. She will give birth in January and emerge from the den in April with her cubs. The cubs remain with the mother for two years. Therefore the bear has cubs every three years.
The male bear typically weighs 300kgs, while the female weighs 150kgs, so they can tell by the small size of the den that this is for a female only.
Bears and Wildlife Tours believe in keeping tourism to a minimum. Therefore they don’t have tours every day in the same location, so the wildlife isn’t disturbed too much. Bears can smell fresh blood from up to 4 kilometres away, and have excellent hearing too. If too many people are around the bears will hear and keep well away. Unless you are hunting!
On the way to our next destination, the viewing cave, Stanko told me a story about a time he shot a roe deer. Afterwards he placed his rifle against a tree and proceeded to cut open the deer and gut it. When he had finished pulling everything out, he took the gutted deer to his vehicle about 400 metres away.
Upon his return, Stanko got to within 100 metres to discover that between him and his rifle was a big male bear feasting on the leftover deer. It was not the most ideal of circumstances, so Stanko had no choice but to patiently wait before he could retrieve his firearm.
So to not only ensure the safety of visitors, but also ensure they don’t scare away the bears and other wildlife, they practice responsible tourism and ensure the numbers are kept low, and wildlife tours are conducted in different places each time.
There are very strict rules governing hunters and tourist organisations offering wildlife tours or trips to see bears in Slovenia. Along with the 2km rule, it is forbidden to feed the bears with farmed meat. But when gutting a deer it’s permitted to leave the leftovers in the forest for the bears to find, as long as they don’t find you first! But while an attack is undoubtedly terrible for the victim, it also means a death sentence for the bear. Once a bear has attacked a human being, it will be hunted down and killed. So these rules are not only there to protect people, but to protect the bears too.
Despite its love for meat, bears are actually 90% vegetarian. A sobering thought when you are just about to trudge through bear country.
Wolf footprints in a forest in Loski Potok, Slovenia
We then headed off to the starting point of our walk deep into the forest to one of their viewing huts and, in this case, the bear viewing cave which you can sleep in. Along the way we spotted some wolf tracks, apparently attracted here because it’s deer mating season. As we got deeper into the woods I was told that from here on we must be very quiet and talk in whispers, or else the bears will sense us. In our case, we were here to spot them, so didn’t want to scare them off.
I just hoped the big bucket of apples that Tjaša was carrying wouldn’t encourage them to overcome their fear of humans!
Contrary to popular belief, bears are not the man-eating beasts they can often be portrayed as. In fact, they are very nervous creatures and will likely hear you first and keep well away. Attacks are usually the result of a bear being startled by a walker, or often a bird watcher who is not making any noise; or a photographer sneaking around to take photos. The bear will only attack if it sees no means of escape. Or if you inadvertently come between a mother and her cubs, you’re in for trouble.
Ordinarily when walking in the woods the advice is to never walk alone, and walk and talk (but don’t shout), make as much noise as possible in order to stay safe and avoid startling a bear, or other wild animal. This way the bear will hear you first.
There are many stories about what to do if you happen to surprise a bear. Although the instinct is to run, this is apparently the worst thing to do. A bear can run much faster than you, and if you run it will see you as a threat. Some say you should grab a stick and make yourself look big and loud. If the bear charges at you, remain still. Chances are it is a bluff and will veer away at the last minute.
Another crazy theory I heard is that you should run downhill, because the bear’s front legs are shorter and it cannot run fast downhill. But Tjaša laughed and said that the bear will still outrun you.
Tjaša’s advice is simple: back away slowly, always keeping your eye on the bear and it will very likely run away from you.
When we arrived at the viewing spot, a wide open meadow at the edge of the forest, Stanko went off alone first to check it was safe. Then they both prepared the food they would put out to try and attract the bears; Tjaša didn’t touch the food to ensure any human scent was kept to a minimum. For obvious reasons, the area was a short distance away from the viewing area. Tjaša explained that, for the reasons above, Stanko alone must go; no one else, not even her.
This particular viewing area is actually right beside the Croatian border. There are two places from which to observe the bears. The first is a viewing hut setup for both photographers and casual observers. The second is the specially designed bear cave. Here they have built a small wooden room into the rocks that is designed to simulate a bear’s den. Inside I was surprised to discover a cosy double bed and a row of seats next to small windows that look right out across the field to where the bears will hopefully come.
Stanko returned with a special night vision camera that they clamp to a tree where the bears are. It is triggered by movement so they can see when they are active at night. The previous night they came at 9pm, after dark. This was not looking promising for me. But as they had explained I was well into September now so the chances of a sighting during daylight were much lower.
The camera also showed a bear was here at 8.30 in the morning. So this goes to show that a night in this bear cave will undoubtedly increase your chances of a sighting. Sadly, commitments elsewhere meant I couldn’t stay the night.
The best time to take this tour is in high summer, from late May through June and July. August is also a possibility. The tours start at 16:00 and end at 22:00. There are several observation points like this, all on hills in areas of wide open space with lots of light.
But there is only one bear cave, and in this case you get to spend the night here. Naturally this increases your chances of a sighting, because you can also wake early and likely see them in the early morning.
Soon after, Tjaša and Stanko left. Just before he bolted the door, Stanko looked at me and said: “Do not go outside.”
I had no intention of doing that.
I was alone. All was quiet. I settled down for the evening, camera ready. When I had been on the photography tour a few years before we were extremely lucky that, not more than 30 minutes after settling into the observation hut, a couple of one-year old cubs came, followed by the mother and soon after a big male.
As the time ticked away I continued to live in hope. A bird of prey was swooping by occasionally, but sadly no bears.
Stanko returned to collect me after dark, and we trudged on through the forest without torches back to the car. Along the way he told me how he had been privileged to see a lynx in the forest. The Eurasian Lynx was reintroduced to Slovenia in 1973 by a hunter’s initiative. The current population is estimated at about 15-20. Thus not only are their numbers low, but they are very shy animals so a sighting is extremely rare. He showed me a photo he had. “It was a big privilege for me,” he said, proudly.
The love and respect that both Stanko and Tjaša have for the bears and other wildlife is clearly evident.
All this just goes to show how difficult it can be to spot the wildlife, and how important it is to go with an organisation like Bears and Wildlife Tours. Not only will they ensure your safety, as long as you follow their rules and instructions to the letter, but it will increase the chance that you too will be privileged enough to see one of these magnificent animals in their own habitat.
I had seen them before, but sadly not this time. However, I plan to return in May or June for another tour, and maybe even an overnight stay in a bear cave!
If you would like see bears, then visit the Bears and Wildlife Tours website. They also offer other wildlife tours, including as well as the bear cave, the opportunity to sleep on a rocky shelf in the forest and experience the sights and sounds of nature, with your guide there to keep you safe.
More info and bookings here: www.bearsandwildlife.si
Check out a video of the trip below: