How Slovenia is positioning itself as a bridge between two superpowers: the US and Russia.
Slovenia may not have the reputation of being a diplomatic big-hitter but its prime minister, Miro Cerar, has suggested it “could be a bridge between two superpowers” and play host to a summit between Russia and the US.
It is not a fanciful idea. In 2001, Vladimir Putin and his then counterpart George W Bush had their first meeting in Slovenia. And now there is an additional, personal dimension: Melania Trump grew up in Sevnica in central Slovenia. During a phone conversation with the US first lady, Cerar also exchanged pleasantries with her husband – and suggested an official visit. A summit would depend on Russia and the US taking the initiative but he has noted that, “We proved we are capable of organising such meetings.”
Putin and Trump met at the g20 Summit hosted in Hamburg in July, but Slovenia remains well placed to handle a more substantial interaction between the two nations. Despite being a committed member of the EU, it maintains friendly relations with Russia; only last year Putin visited Slovenia to unveil a memorial to Russian and Soviet soldiers at a century-old chapel that was itself built in tribute to First World War servicemen. He praised Slovenia’s “warm welcome” to Russians and its “caring attitude towards our shared history”.
Cerar is the son of an Olympic champion gymnast; he had a basketball match after our meeting. His mother, meanwhile, was a senior judge and former justice minister. This meant that though he only entered politics a matter of weeks before the election, he was already cognisant of the machinations of government and the Balkans’ place in the world.
“We know that in the past the superpowers were interested in the Balkans; not just Russia but also the US, Turkey, China even,” says Cerar. “Many big powers would like to gain more influence in this region. We must be realistic here.”
Cerar’s balancing act between Brussels and Moscow could prove useful at a time of increased rumblings about Russia’s growing influence in the western Balkans. In 2004, Slovenia became the first country to emerge from the breakup of Yugoslavia to join the EU. The next was Croatia but only in 2013, after an attritional accession process drawn out over more than a decade. Cerar believes that Slovenia and its EU colleagues should be looking to smooth the membership path for applicants from the region and may have tips to offer from his country’s experience. “Now and tomorrow we must collaborate with them,” he says.
Taiwanese passport holders sometimes get a raw deal. The nuanced difference between the Republic of China (the Beijing-sanctioned name for Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China can be lost at airports. For instance, two Taiwanese backpackers were denied entry to India amid rising tensions between Delhi and Beijing. Some Taiwanese travellers have begun attaching stickers to their passport: both “Republic of Taiwan” and images of the Formosan black bear are popular. Naturally, altered documents are liable to get the cold shoulder in China.
The Falkland Islands are on a push to promote trade and tourism, and welcome a few extra diplomats to their shores. New hires include a trade attaché tasked with strengthening ties between the Falklands and Uruguay. The motivation, says Royal Holloway University’s Klaus Dodds, who has written on the Falklands, is to ensure the islands are less politically, economically and culturally isolated from South America.
The timing is pointed: Argentina is heading to the polls and the question of who owns the Falklands could return. Ensuring that islanders have more of a hand in their affairs is a statement that only they can decide their future.