Ljubljana is a fantastic place, it truly is. I have been here before but rarely has it struck me as forcefully as this time how pleasant the capital of Slovenia can be.
This was a short trip indeed, and I spent little more than 30 hours here, but there was no shortage of the most pleasant sensations: sitting in the evening near the main church in an outside cafe along the river, listening to a musician playing love songs on his guitar; walking through the old town in the early evening, up the hill to the medieval castle, to enjoy a view of the mountains that are so close to the city; listening to an orchestra performing classical music on a huge square in the middle of the old town; or simply eating Slovenian ham or Austrian rolls (Semmel) in the morning. All this makes life appear easy indeed: and the fairy-tale atmosphere of the old town compounds this sense of Lebensfreude. I had no profound thoughts here, except that sometimes it does not take much to be happy and to enjoy beauty and peace. And that this town is certainly worth coming back to for a slightly longer stay than this.
Of course, what added to Ljubljana’s charm on this special occasion was the fact that due to the Slovenian presidency – for a few months – this capital had become one of the centres of Europe. For this very reason the annual WDR Europaforum was held here, bringing an interesting mix of people to the medieval castle overlooking the town. Here they gathered, and from over-heared conversations it seemed that almost all were as impressed by the town as I was: there was Barroso, Poettering, the Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan, Kosovo’s new premier Hashim Thaci, prominent Slovenes (well, I knew two of them) and even more prominent Germans. WDR (part of the big ARD network, but in its own terms one of the biggest TV companies in the world) had turned the interior of the castle into a huge TV studio, to host its guests, thinking and debating the future of Europe.
Living in Istanbul, one often feels that there is little solid to hold on to, that the earth can shake (literally or politically) at any moment. This is even more true in this extraordinary spring. But is most of Europe today not more like Slovenia, from Portugal to Sweden and from Ireland to Estonia, than Turkey? Slovenia was part of a police state only two decades ago, embroiled in a bitter confrontation with Slobodan Milosevic. And today it is Slovenian diplomats chairing the gatherings of the European Council, speaking with confidence in the name of the hundreds of millions of EU citizens.
It is never good to be romantic in politics, and to some this may well appear a cliche, but in fact this is an extraordinary turn of events. And it is worth remembering that the overall trajectory of Europe since 1990 has been more like that of Slovenia than even an optimist could have expected then. So can one be anything but an optimist when one looks at the continent from the Slovenian capital, in itself one of the finest illustrations of the success of European enlargement?
(You can judge for yourself if I got carried away by the positive atmosphere, commenting on the challenges facing Europe today for WDR in the clip below.)