At first glance, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II does not seem especially pertinent to the politics of Muddy Hollows. In fact, other than a couple of boilerplate expressions of condolences by the nation’s highest elected officials and a botched (and then deleted) tweet by the Glorious Leader, the death of the worlds longest-serving monarch in, like, ever, was primarily a media fascination.
That is not to say, however, the late queen and Slovenia never crossed paths. Fourteen years ago, Her Majesty popped over for a three-day state visit. The occasion was correctly seen as a major diplomatic success for a country that had joined the EU and NATO only four years earlier.
Contemporary Slovenians are – for the most part – steeped in egalitarian liberal and even socialist traditions. Not necessarily the politics of it, but the anti-elitist streak is more than evident. Even in the more conservative circles. So it is sometimes hard to explain why this nation is so fascinated by a hereditary monarchy whose legitimacy rests on what is basically a self-referencing argument.
Object of fascination
Make no mistake, pengovsky is just as well. Did you know that Elizabeth II and everyone in her direct line of succession can trace their blood lineage directly to Alfred the Great and the misty Wessex swamp he called his kingdom? Well, now you do. That’s a lot of family history to go through. If you’re Irish, for example, you may not agree with the following (and for obvious reasons). But as far as this blogger is concerned The Queen was just about the coolest person out there.
Who knows, maybe it was the fact that Slovenians used to have an emperor (and later, an emperor-king) way back in the day and that is somehow stuck in the collective psyche. Or that, for all his communism, post-war Yugoslav leader Tito, a equally popular with a significant portion of Slovenians, never shied away from regal mannerisms and felt just as at home with monarchs as he did with his own metalworkers. Perhaps even more so.
The Queen and the metalworker
Be that as it may, this was not the first time Tito and Elizabeth met. He visited the UK by boat in 1953, while Stalin was still alive. Back then, Josip Broz cut a deal with Churchill that effectively made Yugoslavia a NATO country. That visit was, well, much less regal, and not just because Elizabeth had not yet been crowned.
However, on her visit in 1972, the late Queen only visited Belgrade and the Croatian capital Zagreb. That, and Tito’s getaway place on the Brijuni archipelago. Thirty-six years later, with Tito and Yugoslavia long gone, she finally visited Muddy Hollows, too.
When Ljubljana ran out of tailcoats
The most important item on the media agenda back then was wardrobe. Specifically, the fact that Ljubljana theatres and other usual providers of high-class attire had run out of tailcoats and other white-tie paraphernalia to rent. Because, who owns those in this day and age, right? Well, it turned out Borut Pahor does. Because of course.
The other thing that everyone remembers her visit to Muddy Hollows was the supposed faux pas by then-president Danilo Türk when he momentarily stopped the Queen from inspecting the guard of honour because the orchestra had not yet finished its bit.
The opposition, that is to say, mostly SDS, were scandalized, scandalized I tell you, by this breach of protocol. At that point, they have just lost the 2008 election and Janez Janša had not even been formally replaced as prime minister. So, the pain must have been particularity searing.
And in case you are interested, Ksenija Benedetti, Chief of Protocol at the time, explained years later that Türk’s move was, in fact, as welcome as it was subtle. With one quick move, Türk prevented the proceedings from going off the rails with aids and staffers running after the queen across the red carpet.
Geo-strategic implications of royal visits
In October 2008, there were no geo-strategic implications to her visit, nor was there any talk of “crossing the ideological divide”. The Queen, head of state of a leading EU and NATO member visited a country that was a new addition to both, thus signalling the UK’s commitment to enlargement of both organisations and a recognition of outsize roles small countries can play in this part of Europe.
This may sound like diplomatic hogwash, but fast forward to today and you can see that with the UK out of the EU and Russian aggression against Ukraine, the above is not just a meaningless platitude.
Come to think of it, maybe Queen Elizabeth’s 2008 visit to Slovenia was a geopolitical move. We just didn’t realise it.
She probably did, though.