AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia,
H.E. KRISTINA RADEJ
on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence – June 25, 2021 –
Slovenia celebrates its 30th independence anniversary (Statehood Day) this year on June 25th. What path has Slovenia taken to gain independence?
Slovenia’s national day ”The Statehood Day” is celebrated to commemorate 25 June 1991, when Slovenia officially gained its independence and sovereignty. Following the plebiscite held in December 1990, which had resulted in a 94.8% vote in favour of establishing an independent Slovenia, the Slovenian Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Independence of Slovenia and the Basic Constitutional Charter on the Sovereignty and Independence of the Republic of Slovenia.
For Slovenia and Slovenians, the year 1991 was a turning point. In that year, Slovenia was placed on the global political map as a sovereign and independent state. Independence is considered the most important decision made by Slovenian citizens who, 30 years ago, understood the historic aspect of the opportunity and seized it. The political agreement reached by the parliamentary parties signalized a political unity and national maturity.
Nevertheless, the foundations for the statehood were established by Slovenians more than a thousand years ago. The exceptional geographic location at the crossroads of the Alps, the Mediterranean, the mysterious Karst and the vast Pannonian Plain undoubtedly played an important role in this process.
In the 6th century, our Slavic ancestors moved from the area behind the Carpathian Mountains and settled in today’s Slovenia. In the 7th century, they had already formed the oldest known Slavic state – the principality of Carantania for almost 300 years. Carantania was renowned for its democratic system, which even inspired the authors of the United States Constitution.
Although up until the 20th century the Slovenian national community was governed by foreigners, mostly the House of Habsburg and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it still managed to establish its own national identity. After World War I, Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and after World War II, it became one of the republics of the Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
After being a part of Yugoslavia for more than seventy years, a consensus for an independent path developed among Slovenians. Slovenia became a sovereign and independent state in June 1991 and was recognized internationally until January 1992. Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Slovenia and the Islamic Republic of Iran were established on 9 March 1992.
In 1998, Slovenia, which was still a new state at that time, received great recognition when it was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and when it also presided over the Council. The year 2004 was an important milestone for Slovenia as the country became a member of the European Union and NATO.
Among the new EU member states, Slovenia was the first to introduce the common euro currency on 1st January 2007 and the first to preside over the EU Council in the first half of 2008. From July to December 2021, Slovenia will preside over the EU Council for the second time.
Celebration of 30 years of Slovenia’s independence coincides with its second presidency over the Council of the European Union. What plans has Slovenia put on its agenda to take this responsibility?
Slovenia’s main priorities during the Presidency will be the Union’s resilience to crises, the debate on the EU strategic autonomy, and the recovery of the economy based on the digital and green transition. Attention will be paid to the rule of law, equal criteria for all and security of the EU, ensuring stability in its neighbourhood and promoting its interests and values in the world.
On the subject of the EU’s resilience to crises, Slovenia will pay particular attention to preparedness for pandemics. Slovenia will also pay due attention to the strengthening of cyber resilience, especially to possible large-scale cyber-attacks. It will stay committed to the economic recovery, green transition and tackle climate change.
We will pay particular attention to the implementation of the updated industrial strategy, which also includes the aspect of strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty. We will strive for better access to global integrated value and supply chains for European companies, including SMEs. We will also work towards an open trade policy, support alliances and cooperation with trading partners around the world, strengthening tools to deal effectively with unfair trade practices.
Slovenia’s Presidency will address areas, which are of special importance in times of crisis. One such area is security of supply of energy, where we will emphasise energy interconnections; another is food supply, where we want to lead a debate on the strategic role of European farming and the contingency plan to ensure food supply.
Slovenia will organise a series of events, which will invite a high-level international participation and foster an extensive and inclusive debate on the main issues of the EU’s future development. We will devote the 16th Bled Strategic Forum to this discussion, with leaders debating Europe’s main strategic challenges, discussing current issues and the future developments.
Slovenia will promote a rule of law culture and work towards a better understanding of the different systems in the Member States. The Slovenian Presidency will also draw attention to the need to confront negative demographic trends in the EU. We will pay special attention to the European neighbourhood, including supporting the countries in the Western Balkans on their path towards European integration, as well as on globally relevant issues, including COVID-19 response & recovery, climate change, and multilateralism.
What is Slovenian viewpoint about the new process of reviving JCPOA?
Slovenia fully supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which, when implemented in full, is in the collective security interests of us all.
We firmly support the ongoing negotiations undertaken by all JCPOA participants and the United States in Vienna focussed on facilitating a return of the US to the deal, bringing Iran back into full compliance with its commitments and restoring the benefits of the JCPOA for all. Slovenia sincerely hopes that remaining obstacles will be solved soon with the objective of finding a diplomatic solution to restore and revitalise the JCPOA.
The Slovenian Embassy, together with its EU partners in Tehran, is closely monitoring developments in Vienna and will work closely with Iranian counterparts on this issue during its local presidency of the EU Council.
Has the EU managed to come up with a practical action to save the JCPOA?
The EU is firmly committed to the JCPOA. Preserving the JCPOA is crucial not only in terms of nuclear non-proliferation but also for the security and stability of the region and beyond.
Following the US decision to withdraw from the agreement in May 2018 and to re-impose previously lifted sanctions, the EU remained determined to continue political dialogue and cooperation in different fields as well as pursuing legitimate trade with Iran. The EU updated its Blocking Statute, extended the EIB external lending mandate to make Iran eligible and provided comprehensive support to E3 (France, Germany and the UK) as core shareholders to set up and fully operationalize INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges), a special purpose vehicle to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran. EU welcomed the decision of six European countries to join INSTEX as shareholders and encourages further broadening of INSTEX shareholders’ basis.
The EU has continuously expressed deep regret at the US decision to withdraw from the agreement and re-imposition of sanctions. On the other side, the EU and its Member States have consistently urged Iran to reverse nuclear steps and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal. Based on the strong political will to save the JCPOA, the EU as a key stakeholder and a coordinator of the Joint Commission, strive for positive results of the ongoing Vienna talks on reviving the JCPOA.
How do you assess the approach of the Slovenian Government to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 in comparison to other European countries?
The corona virus spread to Slovenia on 4 March 2020, when the first cases were confirmed. Until 14 June 2021, there have been 256,352 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 4,717 deaths.
After successful management of the first wave of epidemic and following considerable reduction of confirmed cases and deaths on 15 May 2020, Slovenia became the first European nation to declare the end of the COVID-19 epidemic within its territory. Slovenia’s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak was cited as a significant success when Europe faced the first wave of the pandemic, and earned praise for its effectiveness.
However, after summer, the situation has deteriorated and in October 2020 the Slovenian Government declared a country-wide epidemic of COVID-19. The health care sector was facing with the second wave, which spread out of control, even after more than three months of lockdown. Fortunately, vaccination started in December 2020 and as of 5 June 2021, a total of 1,207,588 vaccine doses have been administered. On 13 June 2021, the number of 24 confirmed infections and 2 deaths was the lowest since 30 August 2020.
I would like to use this opportunity to express condolences for all the victims of COVID-19 in Iran and hope that both, Slovenia and Iran will successfully overcome the COVID-19 epidemic.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the operation of the Slovenian Embassy in Iran?
COVID-19 pandemic affected the operation of the Slovenian Embassy in Tehran, but also forced us to be innovative, as we had to reorganise our activities and move online. Our staff works in shifts and respect preventive measures. We regret that we have to avoid most of direct contacts with our Iranian interlocutors and colleagues in the diplomatic community.
It would be my great honour to host a reception on the Slovenia’s 30th Statehood Day in Tehran. I deeply regret that limitations due to the epidemiological situation do not allow us to mark this important day in Slovenian history in an official setting. In order to mitigate the health risk larger gatherings may hold, I have made a decision not to host the reception and other events on this special occasion. It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe that virtual celebration, designed especially for Slovenia’s important anniversary, will mark the 30 years of independent and sovereign Republic of Slovenia in appropriate way.
How are the political and economic relations between Iran and Slovenia now and what we can expect in the future?
Slovenia and Iran have always enjoyed friendly relations and had open political dialogue. Current situation, influenced by delay in JCPOA implementation and COVID-19 epidemic, have affected our bilateral dynamics. However, it is important that we continue political and other dialogues and hear each other’s views. Opportunities for strengthening our cooperation will offer our local EU presidency during the second half of 2021, when our Embassy will represent the whole of the EU in Iran.
Our economic cooperation has been affected by sanctions and pandemic, but Slovenian companies are persisting in the Iranian market and trade is continuing. We are confident that the political and economic dynamics will improve after the current challenges are eliminated.
What plans have the two countries to further enhance scientific and academic collaboration?
A number of scientific institutes and universities of Slovenia expressed their interest in deepening their cooperation with Iran. The opportunities for deepening scientific cooperation have already been identified (like in environmental issues; inter-university cooperation). Cooperation in Karstology has been established since 2001 and there are possibilities to deepen and widen this cooperation with sustainable water management and preservation of wetland, which is an important topic and a national priority in Iran due to the dry climate. There is also our joint interest to strengthen cooperation between agricultural institutes and chambers of both countries, in particular in beekeeping.
Moreover, the Embassy closely cooperates with Iranian side in promotion of the World Bee Day on 20 May. Cooperation between beekeepers organisations and experts of both countries is established and we will continue to develop scientific and academic collaboration in this area, going on now in form of virtual workshops.
In this regard, I would like to emphasize the successful and very well-attended virtual conference from the “Save The Bees” series in February this year. The purpose of the round table, organised by the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Tehran, was to connect Slovenian and Iranian experts and facilitate transfer of knowledge and technologies in areas of beekeeping, health care of bees and professional education of beekeepers.
What are the most significant challenges that hinder the bilateral relations and economic ties between the two countries in the future?
Slovenia and Iran developed good political relations and promising economic cooperation. Our respective countries regularly exchange visits at high and other levels and maintain dialogue. Roles of Slovenian Embassy in Tehran and Iranian Embassy in Ljubljana are important in this context. Both sides are hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic will be overcome, which would create conditions to continue our direct dialogue and cooperation. A number of possibilities are in front of us, in the field of economic cooperation and trade exchange as well as in political, cultural, scientific and other areas of our bilateral cooperation.
As mentioned before, Slovenia fully supports the JCPOA and the ongoing negotiations undertaken by all JCPOA participants and the United States in Vienna focussed on facilitating a return of the US to the deal, bringing Iran back into full compliance with its commitments and restoring the benefits of the JCPOA for all. Slovenia sincerely hopes that remaining open issues will be solved soon. When implemented in full, the JCPOA is in the collective interests of us all.