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New Europe

Day Two: Bled

The Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled 
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The Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Catholic Church is reasserting its authority in Slovenia.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI take a ride on the lake with an unsentimental, left-leaning theatre director from the capital, Ljubljana (pronounced Loob-li-Ana). Our pletna, a stouter version of a gondola, is punted about by a man called Robert dressed in velvet jacket and pantaloons, with a pole in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. He's clearly more interested in what's happening on the end of the phone.

My companion, Zjelko, whilst not exactly nostalgic, misses the artistic contacts which were so easy during the Yugoslav times. People tend to forget that Slovenia is the most westerly Slav nation in Europe. With a population just short of two million, they, perhaps more than anyone, appreciated the cultural kinship of Slav federation.

'Is there anything in the old Yugoslav way of doing things that might have been better than now?'

He replies with feeling.

'In those times families spent weekends going walking in the mountains or going out. You know how they spend them now? In the commercial centres, all the Saturdays and Sundays, shopping and kids playing in the kindergarten of the commercial centres. That's how Slovenians now spend weekends.'

The medical care system was better then too. Now it's all to do with money.

'You can get a cataract operation in a week if you have money. If you don't it's a year and a half.'

By the time he's got onto the resurgence of the Catholic Church, which is trying to revive ancient Austrian laws to claw back property and raise taxes, I feel we're in danger of getting into a What Have The Yugoslavs Ever Done For Us situation, but Zjelko concedes that on the whole people live much better than before, and he adds that Slovenians feel proud to have moved seamlessly into the European Union and even prouder that next year they'll be in the Eurozone. I suggest that for the Slovenes this is exchanging one federal system for another, that Europe is 'the bigger country' that Yugoslavia once was before it all went wrong.

Zjelko considers this.

'There's a stereotype saying that Slovenians are always eager for someone outside to rule, like before it was Vienna, then it was Belgrade and now it's Brussels. So,' he smiles, 'they need someone to listen to.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Two: Bled
  • Country/sea: Slovenia
  • Place: Bled
  • Book page no: 13

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