Notes on Slovenia

IMG_20140411_180506The track leaves the river and climbs through beech woods to a wooden hotel. Beyond the hotel the track continues across a wide pasture, green and flat below the high wall of the mountains. Mixed forest of birch and pine grows either side of the pasture, until it is too high and the limestone shows sheer. Beyond the pasture the track and the river converge, and they climb alongside one another into the snow line.

At night, a three quarter moon shines down onto the snow-covered mountains and the white track. The valley is silent.

The waiter sits behind the reception desk waiting to catch us on our way to bed, so that he might talk. It is not late. The hotel is empty, and he has no work to do. The waiter tells us that the music playing in the lobby is from Sarajevo, and he asks if we have ever visited the city. When he was twenty one, the waiter fell in love with a young Bosnian girl from Banja Luku. She was (is) very intelligent but in Bosnia you must pay to study anything. At first the waiter sent her money, so that she might complete her training to be a dental hygienist. Then he arranged for her to work at the hotel during her holidays, so that she might earn money of her own. She came every summer, and worked with him and he was happy. He had to teach her a great deal, as she knew no language other than Bosnian and she was ignorant about table manners and even items of cutlery. He taught her the German and English words for fork, he drew diagrams of items and labelled them with the correct words so that she might learn. One summer he also found work for his best friend. Like the girl, his friend was ignorant about the art of waitering, and he taught him as well.

But the Bosnian girl has left him for his best friend – just this winter, which has been catastrophically cold and difficult – and he is broken-hearted. The girl and his old friend are living just a short distance down the valley, and he does not know what to do.

We express our sincere regret. These things happen. Life is a series of ups and downs. Sometimes it takes a broken-heart to help us understand what makes us happy. He is still young. Etc.

The waiter then informs us that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is fragile, and that old enmities between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs are re-surfacing. Until Serbia has been admitted to to the EU (accession negotiations commenced in January), the Serbs living within Bosnia and Herzegovina will be cautious, for fear of damaging Belgrade’s chances. But once Serbia is safely inside the EU, her people in Bosnia will start fighting the Muslims again. “For sure, there will be war”.

Did I know, the waiter asked me, that out of Slovenia’s 2 million population, just 400,000 were ethnic Slovenes?

I did not.

“I am one of these” he told me.

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