Pahor presents Mattarella with Slovenia’s highest honour

Nova Gorica/Gorizia – President Borut Pahor presented on Thursday his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella with the Order of Merit for Distinguished Service, Slovenia’s highest honour, in a ceremony in Europe Square linking Nova Gorica and Gorizia, the cities on each side of the Slovenian-Italian border.

The ceremony concluded the meeting of the Slovenian and Italian presidents. Pahor said that last year, the two had looked back into the painful past in Bazzoviza and Trieste hand in hand, and today they were looking towards bright future.

“And there is nothing more Slovenian-Italian and European in terms of this happy future than the joint project of both Gorizias as one, the 2025 European Capital of Culture,” he said.

Pahor and Mattarella were also in Nova Gorica and Gorizia to hail their title as the 2025 European Capital of Culture. The two cities will jointly host the European Capital of Culture in four years with slogan Go! Borderless.

The president’s office had announced that the official visit by the two presidents is meant to welcome the project as a symbol of partnership, understanding and tolerance and as an illustration of a borderless Europe.

Pahor said at the ceremony that the project was about co-existence of two cultures, two languages, two traditions and about understanding two pasts, while at the same time it was about joint future of the residents of the two cities as Europeans.

“We have certainly been given a unique historic opportunity to create within the European Union a place of co-existence, where all differences are respected and where things are being built on on everything that connects,” he added.

Mattarella said that “the decoration solidifies the path … that leads towards misunderstandings from the past finally being overcome and towards building a joint future of even more intensive and fruitful cooperation.”

He added that creating a joint memory meant accepting responsibility and treating history with respect, with a precise and professional approach to the painful moments experienced by the people from the area.

The border used to divide the two nations and two cultures, and it now brings them together, the Italian president concluded.

The ceremony was also addressed by the cities’ mayors, with Nova Gorica’s Klemen Miklavič saying that “the time of dominance of national capitals has ended; it is time for capitals, like our capital of culture, that erase borders and bring people together.”

Gorizia’s Rodolfo Ziberna said that the cities wanted to become an example of how two countries, despite different identities, are being connected by joint growth, in the spirit of European development that everybody strived for.

The meeting started in Bevk Square in Nova Gorica, where Pahor received his Italian counterpart with full military honours. The presidents then held a bilateral meeting before being joined by representatives of the countries’ respective minorities.

Senator Tatjana Rojc, a member of the Slovenian minority in Italy, handed to the presidents a document calling for changes to the Italian Constitution to guarantee that the Slovenian minority is represented in the Italian parliament.

Rojc said that “Europe is being created today” and that only time would “give the righteous assessment of the role played by these two statesmen, who have successfully contributed to the conclusion of an era and birth of a new world” on the border.

The presidents also visited a new footbridge across the border river Soča, a joint Slovenian-Italian project, and an exhibition in Gorizia that marks the 140th anniversary of the Trieste-based newspaper Il Piccolo.

In Gorizia, Mattarella formally received Pahor with a guard of honour.

As Nova Gorica and Gorizia won the 2025 European Capital of Culture designation in December last year, Pahor and Mattarella sent out a joint letter of congratulation, saying they were genuinely excited about the news.

Meeting in Rome on 14 April this year, the presidents announced they would take up the honorary patronage over the project, agreeing to visit the two cities together in the autumn to show their support.