Ljubljana: the European capital with the hardest name to spell, and the Slovenian coast.

What I am about to write here should have been my first story about Slovenia, but I had little time to write and I was really looking forward to sharing my photos from lovely Bled.
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As I mentioned a few days ago on my blog’s Facebook page, Slovenia was the 44th sovereign European country I visited, hence I have visited them all! The feat warranted this lame picture. I apologized to the guide, Tina, who lent me the flag, saying I wasn’t trying to avoid the country, it was simply a coincidence. One had to be last.
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Of course, like everywhere in the last weeks, it rained constantly. The city was quite dead, but I am sure the centre is very pleasant and busy in good weather, because it was made 100% car-free a few years ago. I didn’t know much about the place, and honestly, I still don’t. Walking tours of a city in the rain are not as conducive to learning. With an umbrella in one hand it is not the easiest thing to operate a DSLR camera or to take notes (except typing on the phone, but I hate to do it because it looks like I am not paying attention and texting someone instead). Of course, I did read a bit about Slovenia, so here’s a bit of its recent history, and incidentally, an explanation for why you probably have heard less about it than the other former parts of Yugoslavia.

[INSERT HISTORY LESSON]

In 1990 Slovenia held a referendum and 93% voted for independence. In short, it was the richest part of the country, had a border with Italy and Austria, was very western-looking and viewed the Government in Belgrade as authoritarian and communist-oriented. So why not? But the Slovenian Government didn’t expect Belgrade to accept this. So how was tiny Slovenia, with a population of under 2 million, going to resist the might of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA)? It turned out to be the combination of a well crafted plan on the Slovenian side and a catastrophic miscalculation on the Yugoslav side.

The Slovenians set-up a secret national defence force structure which organized itself for several months, and suddenly, about 20,000 Yugoslav soldiers and policemen of Slovenian ethnicity “enrolled” in it. The Federal Government had planned to attack the day the Slovenian Government declared independence, July 26th. But secretly, the Slovenians changed the date and on the 25th, they declared independence and their new “Army” took control of airports and border posts without any resistance.

Some in the YPA recommended a massive operation to crush the Slovenians and impose military rule. It is hard to believe this would not have worked, at least in the short-term. But the Slovenians bet that the Serbians were not prepared to do this, because there were essentially no Serbs in Slovenia and Serbia was already getting very worried about the looming conflict in Croatia. Killing thousands of Slovenians would have put enormous international pressure on Belgrade at a time when it had bigger fish to fry (and while Serbian-dominated, the Yugoslav Government also included Slovenians, Croatians, etc.)

So the Government in Belgrade opted for another general’s recommendation; a show of force. The YPA already in Slovenia would leave their bases and retake border crossings and other key installations, and a modest movement of troops from the rest of Yugoslavia would accompany the operation. The whole plan was based on one assumption: when faced with the might of the YPA, the Slovenians would step back and negotiate. It turned out to be a very, very wrong assumption.

The Slovenians had long ago decided not to fight the YPA head on, and they trained for insurgency operations and secretly purchased light missiles abroad. When the YPA started their operation, they were able to retake all the key positions in one day because the Slovenians did not resist much. Then they made their move. They attacked the bases left nearly empty by the YPA and seized all the weapons and some heavy equipment, like tanks. They then attacked the YPA positions in raids and ambushes and the defenders were left unsupported, with no logistic plans and little clear direction from the shocked leadership in Belgrade. Nearly all the YPA Slovenians deserted or switched sides. The YPA Officers were mostly Serbian professional soldiers and determined to accomplish their mission, but in the Army Sector in and around Slovenia, 30% of soldiers were Albanian conscripts. Between an Albanian conscript serving a Serbian Officer and a Slovenian fighting for his new country, the level of motivation was not quite the same. So it turned into a major failure for the YPA and its leadership. Thousands of soldiers were captured and all sorts of equipment seized. The YPA leadership recommended going back to plan A, the massive invasion, but the politicians refused and a treaty was signed, recognizing the country’s independence.

Compared to the other Yugoslav Wars, the toll was minimal: under 20 Slovenians were killed and about double the number for the YPA. The war lasted 10 days in total, and very little of the country was damaged. While the rest of the former Yugoslavia descended into a decade of Hell, Slovenia prospered and joined the EU in 2004.

[END OF HISTORY LESSON]

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On a much lighter note, this door on the Church of Saint Nicolas is no medieval relic, as the man at the top is John Paul II. But the artist decided to also immortalize himself. So at the base of the massive right door, he sculpted himself, with the face being at most 3 cm long.

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Apparently it brings good luck to rub his nose!

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This statue honours France Prešeren, who is widely regarded as the greatest Slovenian poet ever. Sitting on top is a muse, portrayed topless. This artistic twist did not please the authorities of the church located immediately to the left (out of frame). Unable to convince the municipal authorities to remove it, the priests planted these trees to protect the virgin eyes of churchgoers! Prešeren’s real muse was Julija Primic, the daughter of a rich merchant. She never returned his love, and like any respectable poet, he died young after an unhappy life filled with substance abuse and suicide attempts.

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I rented this cool little car, and this allowed me to stop at all sorts of little villages between the big cities. Here I was parked in the village of Socerb (population: 19 – for real!)

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On the left Koper, Slovenia and on the right, Trieste, Italy. There is a small castle above the village that now serves as a cafe, but it was not opened yet when I visited early in the morning.

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Having a car also allowed me to stay in a farm home away from any public transportation. I have not had such a view from my room anywhere in Europe in the last few months.

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The Predjama Castle, built inside a massive cave on a cliff. The former owner, Erazem of Predjama, was once besieged there for more than a year by some sort of enemy.

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Unbeknownst to the enemies, the main cave is connected to a vast underground network of natural caves stretching for tens if not hundreds of kilometres. When the food got low, Erazem simply sent his men shopping in nearby villages.

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To add insult to injury, he would throw cherries at the soldiers down the valley when they were in season! Eventually, the assailants recruited a traitor and he indicated with a flag the moment when Erazem went to the outhouse near the top of the castle, one of the least protected areas. A cannonball later, and the the outhouse was gone, along with the owner.

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The beautiful coastal city of Piran. I just spend a couple of hours to grab a coffee and climb on the old city walls, from where I took this picture.

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I think the town looks much cooler form this angle, but I was short one flying machine to take the shot myself.

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Hrastolvlje, a small village known for being the home of popular art galleries. The Church of the Holy Trinity would look like a typical 12th century church, if it wasn’t for its fortifications.

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When the Turks roamed the area, villagers took refuge behind the wall, and a balcony above the door made it possible to pour boiling oil on the Turks when they knocked at the door. You can visit the inside of the church, but photography is not allowed. I just refuse to pay for admission when I can’t take pictures, unless there is a good reason, like copyright. So as far as I am concerned, the inside of the church does not exist.

Similarly, did a big detour (because I got confused) and I went to Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing a massive network of underground caves and one of the largest underground canyons in the world. As I was about to purchase the somewhat expensive ticket, I noticed the sign: no pictures anywhere underground. I did a 180 and went back to the farm.

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But not before walking around a nature trail and taking this picture of the spectacular valley.

#Slovenia

2 thoughts on “Ljubljana: the European capital with the hardest name to spell, and the Slovenian coast.

  1. Colin, aren’t there 50 sovereign countries in Europe excluding the partially recognized ones? In any case quite an accomplishment, my friend. The castle in the cave was spectacular!

    • Thanks Dave. It really depends how you define “country” and “Europe”. I went with the UN definition of Europe (so excluding Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – which are considered to be Western Asia), and I only count sovereign, voting UN members, so no Greenland, Svalbard, Scotland, Vatican or partially recognized countries like the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Transnistria or Kosovo. But that being said, I have also been to many of the places I just mentioned! :-)

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