The Slovenia Times

New Europe, Old Problem



Michael Palin's New Europe, a seven-part BBC travelogue of post-communist Europe (plus Turkey), now being shown on TV Slovenija, opens with a sweeping aerial shot of the snow-capped Julian Alps. Palin's crew filmed the ex-Python atop Mangart with the help of Cebram, a Slovenian production company, whose press release boasted that this was the first-ever high-definition shoot from a helicopter in Slovenia. Here, high above most of Slovenia, we meet Palin, who introduces us to the series and invites us to join him on a tour of the part of Europe he, like many other Western Europeans, knows very little about.

Precious moments

However, the minutes following this introduction have raised some eyebrows. Palin is seen boarding a train in Slovenia, but his first stop is the Croatian port city of Split. The spectacular scenery of the Julian Alps is just about all there is of Slovenia in the series.

The little attention given to Slovenia - in an episode that received high ratings when it premiered on the BBC -- has prompted a number of critical comments, including two letters to the editor printed in the daily Delo. One contributor, for instance, lambasted what he considers a missed opportunity for some free promotion of Slovenia, at a time when the government is spending millions on CNN commercials and other advertisements.

The disappointment was even felt outside Slovenia. Oxford-based blogger "Edd" of wrote: "The opening scene set in Slovenia's Julian Alps naturally put a smile on my face but it was short lived. Actually, incredibly short lived as MP only managed to squeeze-in a 3 second train scene before skipping the entire country (Europe's coolest country) and most of the Adriatic and declaring his first destination as Split in Croatia."

Slovenia does, however, get slightly more attention in the companion book to the series (New Europe, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson). The book includes seven photographs of Slovenia, including two of Lake Bled, which Palin describes as being "in Austro-Hungarian costume." He discussing some of the changes that Slovenia has seen since independence, and spends and evening at Villa Bled with singer Lado Leskovar, reminiscing about the legend of Josip Broz Tito.

Still, even in the book, Slovenia isn't featured very prominently. After just three days, Palin is off to Croatia and then on to 20-odd other countries covered in the series. In fact, a number of critics posting on Palin's site felt that he covered too much ground in a series consisting of just seven hour-long episodes.

While the reactions to the series in the countries of the New Europe were varied, one country in particular was vocal in its displeasure with how it was portrayed. Slovakia received slightly more attention than Slovenia in the series, but almost the entire Slovak sequence consisted of shots of a traditional pig killing in the countryside. As the Daily Mail reported, even the Slovak embassy in London complained: "Although the original intent was to present a less formal face of visited countries, in the case of Slovakia this was fully out of reality." Meanwhile, ordinary Slovaks living in the UK made several angry complaints to the BBC. "He portrayed us as simpletons with nothing better to do than drink and slaughter pigs," said one viewer quoted by the Daily Mail.

In fact, Palin himself predicted some of the disappointed reactions on his website months before the series premiered. "Inevitably, there will be those who think we should have spent more time in their country, as opposed to somebody else's," he wrote, "or talked to different people or eaten different food, or not drunk quite as much brandy, or whatever." In the case of several countries, including Slovenia, he was right. Regardless of the merits of the series, Slovenia's big promotional opportunity is yet to come.


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