It was reported by The Beebs, The Guardian, AP and HufPo while CNN even did a live interview with the man. Sunday last Peter Bossman was elected mayor of the Slovenian Municipality of Piran and thus became the first black mayor in a post-socialist country in Europe.
Jonathan Mann of CNN announcing interview with mayor-elect of Piran Peter Bossman
Unlike the death of a certain allegedly prophetic mollusc Bossman’s victory most certainly is newsworthy. If nothing else, this is a first and media love firsts. So the underlying question is what (if anything) does electing a black mayor mean for Slovenia, its people and their attitude towards multiculturalism. The answer, I’m afraid, is – not much.
Be the same
A native of Ghana, Peter Bossman came to Slovenia (then still very much part of Yugoslavia) in early 1970s to study medicine and stayed here ever since. He married a Croatian-born fellow doctor with whom he has two daughters and eventually settled in the aforementioned picturesque coastal township where today he runs a private practice and is a respected member of the community.
Bossman ran on a Social Democratic ticket and in the second round narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor Tomaž Gantar, a candidate of Piran Je Naš List (Piran is ours). There’s a story behind the origin and the name of the list, but suffice it to say that the “ours” part is suppose to imply “local and regional” as opposed to “state controlled from Ljubljana“.
Anyways. Point being that Bossman won not on account of the colour of his skin but on account of his electoral platform. Which might be good news. Except for the fact that Bossman did not promote himself to voters as black candidate. He’d have trouble doing so anyway as there as there are not all that many black voters in Slovenia let alone in Piran. And this is the crux of he matter. Bossman is one of only handful of blacks in Slovenia, who do not pose any challenge to the established order of white-catholic-male-dominated society. Thus the colour of his skin was not an issue.
Every country has its niggers
Slovenia – especially its impressionable post-independence-born-MTV-infused-and-capitalism-conditioned youth – was quick to catch on to racial stereotypes of the Western world. Those who tread the soil on the sunny side of the Alps long enough will remember Ariel McDonald, US-born play maker for Union Olimpija basketball club who was at some point awarded Slovenian citizenship. He said in an interview that he was shocked by the fact that during league matches fans of the opposite teams would shout insults such as “nigger monkey” at him and then those same people would cheer him wildly during national team matches.
Insulting as it was, this was just people tastelessly mimicking other people’s prejudices. In Slovenia the role of “niggers” as second-class citizens who should be kept as low on the social scale as possible is (neglecting the Roma people) generally reserved for ethnicities of former Yugoslavia, especially Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians (or Muslims in general). The common derogatory denominator for these people is “čefur”.
Pengovsky vividly remembers 2006 when Zoran Janković ran for Ljubljana mayor for the first time and a lot was being said on account of the tell-tale suffix “-ić” in his surname which generally denotes a Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian origin. And this was in Ljubljana, which is supposedly one of the more cosmopolitan areas of Slovenia. Janković then went to great lengths to demonstrate that he is much more of a Ljubljanchan than most of the other candidates, regardless of the fact that he was born in Serbia and lived there until he was eleven years old.
The general conclusion thus being that the only reason Bossman’s skin colour did not play a role in Piran elections is that there are not all that many Ghanians in Slovenia and that the mayor-elect has integrated in the society well. After all, doctors are still among the most respected profession in Slovenia.
And now for the good news…
Piran and the Istra region in general (both Slovenian and Croat parts) have been at the crossroads of cultural influences practically since the dawn of time, even more so since Empress Marie Theresa had a rail road built between Vienna and Trieste, elevating this provincial little town to the status of a strategic port. With trains and ships came people from all over the region and even the globe. And with this developed tolerance. Perhaps of peculiar sort, but tolerance nevertheless. Pengovsky is only guessing here, but it is possible that municipality of Piran, which includes the resort town of Portorož and is heavily dependant on tourism is one of
few places in Slovenia where a black person can be elected to a high public office.
On one hand this of course goes to show that Slovenia in general is still a far cry from a truly tolerant society, but on the other hand it shows that it can be done.
Bossman is not Slovenian Obama
He said so himself in many of the recent interviews he gave for local and world media. And he is correct. And not just because Obama’s policies would put him right of centre on the Slovenian political continuum. Although definitely one for the books, election of Peter Bossman does not represent a tectonic shift in Slovenian society. That will only be achieved if and when Slovenians elect a president of Bosnian origin who will be a practising Muslim. And if you feel I’m adding insult to injury here, try this on for size: we’ll see just how much of a factor Bossman’s skin colour is, when he will start executing his policies and (by definition) begin alienating voters. If he will be voted out of office on account of his policies and/or party affiliation and not his race, then we will be able to claim some sort of progress.
Further reading: Camille’s posts on Peter Bossman
16 thoughts on “Bossman is not Slovenian Obama”
Six months ago I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly.
But since I’ve recently moved and now have a Zambian neighbor, I can see just how much prejudice Slovenians have towards people of African origin and with how much shit – direct or subtle – they have to put up on a daily basis. My neighbor is an educated and well-mannered man and is in all ways ordinary, except for the color of his skin. If somebody told me this six months ago I would not believe them, but I’ve seen cars honking at my neighbor for no reason and I’ve witnessed him being harassed by passer-by on our front yard on at least three occasions. Just last week we coincidentally went to the store together (it was not our local store where the staff knows him) and we were literally followed by a store clerk all the way to the check-out as if we were about to steal something. Un-fucking-believable. I don’t think many ‘čefurs’ have to endure this kind of prejudice.
So I primarily see Bossman’s win as a huge UP YOURS! to all these racist assholes. And I was pleasantly surprised because – based on my experiences – I didn’t really expect him to win at all.
They follow me around in my local supermarket too, but sometimes I think they are just interested in what “weird things” black people eat! Tell your neighbour to take heart, Slovenians can be inappropriate but are very rarely ever intentionally mean.
@Pengovsky – Yesterday after their interview with Dr. Bossman, I sent an email to BBC World Have Your Say which included the following :
“As for other black politicians, there is Jean Gregoire Sagbo, a Benin-born immigrant who was recently elected as a local councillor in Russia. He may actually be the first in post-communist Eastern Europe. He has been coined “Russian Obama”, previous to him Joaquim Crima (born in Guinea) made a run for office and was also referred to as “Russian Obama”. Curiously another candidate in the race against Crima, Filipp Kondratyev, to whom — as a native born son of a Russian mother and Ghanaian father — the Obama comparison would make the most sense, never seemed to be stamped with that moniker.”
Every time the media use’s this “____’s Obama” title, they seem to imply that some unlikely black character has thrown their hat into the political ring. It is flung around with shameful carelessness. In fact, as I tried to indicate in my email to BBC, what Obama — as a “mixed race” black man who is still very much America — signified to America has nothing to do with what Bossman is doing in Slovenia. Obama’s political style is built off the backs of a lengthy civil rights movement in America and his win was the dream of many who fell in those battles. Bossman is NONE of that. As excited as I am for the dude, he is absolutely incidental. Slovenia’s TRUE Obama WILL be of Bosnian or Roma ethnicity and will have come to power after years of a civil rights struggle that has not yet even begun to hit the streets.
@Pris: I see your point. And yes, it is a sort of “up yours”, especially given the incidents you describe. And make no mistake, I’m glad Bossman won as well. It’s just that I don’t enthuse over the wider implications of his electoral victory.
@Camille: Agree. Much work needs to be done, otherwise Bossman will become the “token black man” of Slovenian politics. Perhaps not unlike Michael Steele in the Republican party (although I may be off the mark here).
Ha ha, Michael Steele! That parallel is way off the mark but funny nonetheless. Tokens are only necessary when there is some critical mass of people insisting you “should” have black people or accusing you of having no black people at all. You can then point to that token and say “Waddya mean? We’ve got that guy!” Frankly I can’t imagine a time where anyone will be complaining about a lack of fair representation for the black/African community in Slovenia because I don’t think there will ever be enough of us here to care or matter. This Bossman thing is only interesting as passing novelty and only significant in as much as it can point at all the places where Slovenia hasn’t gotten where it needs to be in — to all the places where the country doesn’t even have a token they can point to.
V pengovsky: another sportsman was stanley reddick in the 90’s. A black hockey goalie, played for Olimpija and later for Slovenia as well. Jesenice fans always threw bananas on the ice during warm up and the man always picked them up, sat on the ice and ate them :).
I am yet to recover from my shock about Bossman’s win in a homogenous and White (racists) population. Heck, I haven’t recovered from my shock that some Whites (racists) in America actually voted for Obama.
I believe Pris’s remarks because he spoke from first-hand experience. Your response – you must have the ultimate tolerance for racism. Whites (racists) are White (racists), whether Slovenian or not. Read rollo tomassi above. My point to you is, no, they are not all racist, but in the aggregate, every White population is racist, so fix your denial.
PS: You and Pengovsky write well. It was refreshing to read Pengovsky use ‘media’ as plural, rather than the common and mistaken use as singular.
@Jorje – Who exactly are you writing towards? If you are addressing me, then please explain how Pris (a white Slovenian) could have more “first had experience” white anti-black racism than me, considering I am the only black person living in Slovenia involved in this conversation….
@Camille – Pris has witnessed first-hand, the racism against his Zambian neighbour.
> just interested in what “weird things” black people eat!
That should be obvious when black people go to pay for the weird groceries at the register.
I AM black! You know what? Nevermind…
Jorje, you can’t limit your logic of racism to white aggregates. If we’re going to talk about population aggregates, and label a people on their lowest common denominator trends, then we’re basically looking at prejudice as a defining trait universally.
Not everybody, but everybody in the aggregate. It’s an important point to understand, but perhaps a little easy to get stuck on. The question is, what is the constructive way to move forward from this point?
This article about Bossman was uplifting and so I don’t want to lose sight of that. That said, I posted about racism after reading Pengovsky’s anecdote about Ariel McDonald, Pris’s response about his Zambian neighbor and rollo tomassi above.
DEFINITION – Racism is simply prejudice based on race.
Despite the many races in multi-racial societies, it is Whites who are consistently labelled racist worldwide. Why?
Before I continue, I must add that I like your non-visceral approach to this topic. That’s more than I can say about Black Camille.
> then we’re basically looking at prejudice as a defining trait universally
There are may forms of prejudice, but when it comes to racism, only one race stands out – Whites. I’m not lumping all forms of prejudice together to muddy the water. I am talking specifically about racism.
> The question is, what is the constructive way to move forward from this point?
There is no constructive way to “move forward” from the fact that bees sting and snakes bite. That is their nature.
I have pondered racism a while and arrived at a theory that explains every anecdote to ME. It will not please everybody, but it explains every example of White racism to ME.
———- Theory of Whites ———-
Assume a Scale of Racism marked 0 to 10, where 10 is the most racist.
99% of Whites range from 1 to 10. Those 5 or higher are easily observable racists, whereas those from 1 to 4 are less so, but racist nonetheless. Only 1% of Whites are 0 and truly not racist.
99% of Whites are racist by nature, not nurture, therefore the question is not whether Whites are racist; it is a matter of degree.
About 1% of Whites are able to discern our innate racist nature. 99% are in denial and would rather reach to the bottom of the ocean for alternative explanations for our sentiments and deeds than to label it ‘racist’.
I also have a Theory of Blacks that I offer to Blacks who blame their plight on racism, but it doesn’t apply here and so won’t be posted.
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