Today is the last day of my stay in Slovenia. I am reporting from Nova Gorica, a small city right next to the former separation between the worlds of communism and capitalism. Nova Gorica was built shortly after World War II. It served as a compensation for the Yugoslavian loss of territory to Italy, decided upon by the allied forces.
One of the cities that fell victim to the shift of the border was Gorizia, which used to be a part of Slovenia but since 1947 belongs to Italy. As a compensation, Yugoslav leader Tito commanded that a new city be built right next to the border. Nova Gorica ? New Gorizia ? would halt the expansion of Italian territory at the expense of Yugoslavia. At the same time, it would be a nice showcase to the western world, showing that communist Yugoslavia was sufficiently rich and powerful to build an entirely new city from scratch.
..lives and works in Slovenia but attends university in Italy
For more than half a century, the border between the two cities was part of the iron curtain. Families living in the direct proximity of the border held special identity cards that would allow them to cross the border as often as they liked. Inhabitants of the rest of Slovenia, or even Yugoslavia were restricted in traveling internationally and could only occasionally travel to Italy. Limits on how much foreign currency they could take out of Yugoslavia was limited, which effectively meant that they could hardly ever stay out of their home country for longer than a few days.
Bostjan (33) tells me that the Italian-Yugoslavian border was closed between 1947 and 1957. In later years, the border gradually opened up. `The Yugoslavs and the Italians considered themselves friends and they did not accept the leaders of their countries to draw such a rigid line between them`, he says. Bostjan then expands on the border crossing adventures that marked the years between 1957 and Slovenia`s independence:`Yugoslavs developed themselves into smuggling experts. They would hide meat, which was very inexpensive in Slovenia, then sell it in Italy for a much higher price and use the difference to buy products that were not available in Yugoslavia at the time. We had no jeans, for example, and depended on excursions to Italy to get such `products from the West`. In Yugoslavia, one could buy a Russian-style Zenith photo camera. Italians were selling Minolta, Nikon, Pentax everything. A wider choice, and usually higher quality as well. Yugoslavians used to be keen on having access to all that. However, you would first have to get it across the border without having to hand it in, which used to be quite a challenge.`
`Now, since Slovenia joined the Schengen area, you don`t even need to show a passport anymore. The border posts are empty. You can just walk or cycle freely out of Slovenia, into Italy and back. You can still go to Italy for shopping, but we now have everything they have and vice versa. In case they were not yet when we joined the European Union, they for sure reached the same level after the introduction of the Euro. The only remaining financial difference is the fact that we Slovenians earn lower salaries`, Bostjan explains.
Connections between the two parts of the city can be a bit troublesome for people just aiming to pass through. City buses do not cross the border and trains stop in the railway stations at either side ? about 10 kilometres away from each other. The Slovenian railway station is however within ten steps from the border, and a public bus is waiting 10 meters away from `Europe Square` to take people into Gorizia every 10 minutes.
Tjasa (23) likes to go to Gorizia for buying clothes: `It`s not a matter of price or the fact that they have better products or a wider choice. They simply sell slightly different fashion styles at just a short cycling trip away from where I live. But apart from the shopping, I don`t feel the need to cross the border very often. We have everything we need on this side. I prefer to go to the shops where the owners speak Slovenian, because I am not sure that the others will speak English and my Italian is not very good. I am not originally from this city ? I come from Ljubljana where the need to learn Italian is not as strong.`
When I ask Tasja to describe the stereotypes Slovenians have about Italians, she mentions that Italians make a lot more noise: `They talk louder, tend to expect everybody to speak Italian even if they travel to another country, they are on average less tall than Slovenians and havs e slightly darker skin colour. They also dress differently. All of that combined makes them recognisable as `different`, even though they come from only a few kilometers away.`
Because of the short history of Nova Gorica, only a small group of youngsters is originally from there. Many others have come to Nova Gorica to study. Alenka (28, photo), Serbian by birth but Slovenian by ethnicity, first exchanged Belgrade for Ljubljana and then came to Nova Gorica: `I am studying environmental protection, which is only offered in Nova Gorica. From here, I travel to Italy on a daily basis, as our faculty recently moved to a building just across the border. The university is still Slovenian, it`s just the faculty which is now located in a building on the Italian side. It`s within walking or cycling distance. We also have some Italian professors, because other universities across Slovenia failed to supply lecturers in, for example, biology and chemistry. Fortunately, those professors are able to speak English, which is not that common for Italians. Some of the originally Slovene families across the border have cherished their own language, but most of the other inhabitants of the region can`t be bothered to learn Slovenian. At the same time, many Slovenians on this side of the border do speak Italian.`
`Nova Gorica is the drugs and casino capital of Slovenia. If Italians come here, it`s usually for the casinos. A handful of Italian companies have started opening offices on the Slovenian side in recent years. Corporate tax is lower on this side of the border. Then there`s Italians who come to Slovenia for skiing or to see the natural caves in the centre of the country`, Alenka explains.
Alenka is not a big fan of Nova Gorica: `It`s too big to be a village and too small to be a city. You can`t feel anonymous like you can in Belgrade, but it`s not the countryside either. I think I will move away from here once I finish my studies. I would like to live somewhere up in the mountains, but I also need to find a job. And in Slovenia, it`s usually the job that decides where you end up living, especially if you cancel the need to live close to your family`, she says.
Rory (21) tells me that he doesn`t like the Italian side of the city. `I won`t go there if it`s not necessary. The Slovenian side is much greener and much prettier. You can really tell the difference. But actually, I don`t even like the Slovenian side of the city that much. My parents live in a village not far away from here. I largely prefer the countryside over the city. I only live her for work and study, which are both in the field of manufacturing furniture from wood.`
Petra (20), originally from Ljubljana, thinks Nova Gorica is nothing special, while adding that it at least it has the best weather of all of Slovenia. `We just lack the sea, which is more than 25 kilometres way from here. `That part of sea-side, including the city of Trieste, also belonged to Slovenia before the end of World War II. But just like Gorizia, it was one of the parts of the cake that were granted to our neighbours in the 1940s.`
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