Ljubljana – In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Slovenian president Borut Pahor and Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed to declare the day of the ceremony at the Russian Chapel at Vršič as Slovenia-Russia Friendship Day, said Pahor’s office.
On 23 July, Pahor sent a letter to Putin proposing that the day of the annual ceremony in memory of Russian POWs who died building the Vršič pass during WWI also be declared as Slovenia-Russia Friendship Day.
In a long telephone conversation, Putin informed Pahor that Russian Ambassador to Slovenia Timur Eyvazov would hand him a letter on Thursday welcoming the proposal.
The presidents of Slovenia and Russia are aware of the differences in political positions between the two countries, but believe that efforts should be made to promote dialogue in the interests of peace and friendship, a press release by Pahor’s office reads.
“The Russian Chapel symbolises the ties between Slovenians and Russians, and the annual ceremony there reminds us of the importance of peace. It is not a given, but something we must continuously strive for,” the release adds.
During their conversation, both presidents also expressed their hope that the situation will improve after the Covid-19 pandemic and that vibrant economic cooperation will resume.
Putin also recalled the warm welcome he received on his visit on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Chapel, noting that next year will mark 30 years of diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Russia.
The two presidents therefore agreed to dedicate Slovenia-Russia Friendship Day to this important anniversary next year. The Russian president also wished success to the Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU.
The Russian Chapel below Vršič, a wooden Orthodox style chapel, was built in 1916 by surviving Russian prisoners of war to commemorate their dead comrades who had been buried in an avalanche during the construction of the road across Vršič.
After the First World War, the chapel was maintained by local residents. After the reconstruction of the road in 1937, many graves of Russian prisoners were found and their remains were buried in the ossuary next to the chapel, above which a pyramid was erected with the inscription “To the Sons of Russia”.
The wooden chapel had deteriorated over the years, so in 1991 it was cleaned, conserved and restored, along with the graves of the Russian prisoners and the grave of the unknown soldier next to the chapel. In 2006, the chapel was completely restored, and a traditional commemorative ceremony is held there every year at the end of July.
This year’s ceremony will be dedicated to several anniversaries, including the 200th anniversary of the participation of the Russian Emperor Alexander I at the Ljubljana Congress and the 30th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence. Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony.
Slovenia-Russia Friendship Day is not the only one in Slovenia celebrating international ties. This July, the first Slovenia-Israel Friendship Day took place. At the initiative of Pahor, Slovenia also commemorates Slovenia-US Friendship Day and Slovenia-UK Friendship Day.