Dear New York Times, Melania and Communism, Beauty and the Beast?
We all know that Melania Trump sells at the moment. Yes, in Slovenian media we also write about her, it’s difficult not to, since that Speech and all that followed. I read your travel article Melania Trump’s Ljubljana Then and Now. I’m not sure if her attending high school in Ljubljana makes the city particularly “hers.” But let’s not overanalyze this. Quite another character, Adolf Hitler, once visited another famous city in Slovenia, but please do not ever say “Adolf Hitler’s Maribor” because “yes we can”. The Führer didn’t, there and then, massacre the Slovenes (that came later), only mentioned: “Make this land German again.” “Make” and “again” seem to be words of a particular political rhetoric that you, dear NTY, know much more about.
In some aspects, it seems that your charming piece about Ljubljana benefited, Borat-style, from the locals of Ljubljana. Jason Horowitz’s tone throughout the entire article gives the impression that he was on a noble mission in Ljubljana to check out how the plebeians “over there” are behaving and bettering themselves. Do they manage to come any close to those refined imperatives of civilized dining, drinking, and living? Is it tolerable for a US citizen to visit Ljubljana and not be offended by the way we live, or use his or her precious dollars in some muddy corner of Eastern Europe in vain?
I should add that in her speech, Melania placed Slovenia in Central Europe, not Eastern Europe. Is she lying even before she could become the First Lady? Hold your guns, America! Slovenia may be placed in Eastern Europe, Central Europe or the Balkans, depending on whether you want funding or war. Don’t mention this to John Oliver, he would again make it sound as if he understood the situation well enough to joke about it, but he would be as convincing as Kanye West giving a graduation speech at Harvard University. Oliver’s talk about the Slovenian band, Laibach, when they were playing in North Korea was disappointing enough. Laibach were proved right again, the audience is so easily mesmerized by the form that it forgets to, it has to be said, think.
Dear NYT, you should know that there is this particular aroma about Eastern Europe that Western media, including your newspaper, have managed to produce. In this story we, Eastern Europeans, are not the only lucky ones. I noticed that we tend to be portrayed as field mice, usually considered a pest, but if trained to dance on some fine china we can amuse you for a moment or two. Then Shush! we better be scattered, keep small and silent. If we could do just that, a crumb or two will, to show how democratic you are, fall from your big colonial table to the olden European soil where we can nibble on it. Yes, if and when you do it we should be happy like Disney characters and sing a song (in English).
Ljubljana it is then. I will not go into detail about which places your writer visited (play it safe, Sam). But what totally and utterly blew my mind and all historical memory of my generation is the mention of “Communist control” in Ljubljana. Tito (the author of your article did like to mention him a lot) consciously uncoupled from Stalin very soon after the WWII. Western Media as a rule mentions communism with consistent oversimplification that is intellectually annoying. How would you feel if I told you, in a patronizing way, that capitalism makes living in Austin, Helsinki or Singapore quite the same.
I do not know what the writer meant by “Communist control” in Ljubljana’s past? We had passports and money, you know. The standard of living in Tito’s Yugoslavia when Melania was born was higher than in several European countries of that time.
How come, then, did the article make it sound as if trained German Shepherds were barking in Ljubljana day and night and megaphones were exploding with some Russian themed military song? (By the way, check the distance between Russia in Slovenia on the map, while you are at it.) Ljubljana back then, in times that you describe in terms of “Communist control”, was safe, lovely, green and inspiring. We had the best rock music, basketball, ice hockey, and all that jazz from the US also. You should refrain from conflating “Communist control” with the likes of Clint Eastwood’s “glorifying the past attitude”. We were officially much better off then. You quoted Ljubljana’s major Zoran Janković, but why not ask him, if you don’t believe me, whether he suffered under “Communist control”? To your surprise, he might answer that he was a very successful CEO and that he remembers thousands of “his” workers who lived much, much better than now.
A well-travelled colleague of mine suggested to me that I should probably not comment on “Melania Trump’s Ljubljana”, as I might sound like a pathetic local who likes to complain. Because this travel article is “not a big deal,” he said, and is evidently not written with any bad intentions. It is nice actually, I agree. But it is written in the same manner that articles about Eastern Europe tend to be – with a drop of contempt.
At the beginning of this letter, I didn’t mention Hitler for the shock value and, God forbid, with the intention to stain Melania or you, dear NYT. Most of our families are survivors and among the first in Europe to stand against Nazism. Hitler had the plan to destroy the Slovenian culture and he was clear about that when he visited. Unfortunately, the United States of America are quite familiar with these tactics themselves – think of the genocide and devaluation of native culture, think of its giving a hand to slavery that ripped apart Africa’s heritage and its people. As an Eastern European native, I still tend to find fragments of this attitude in your writing style when you describe “Other” nations. Or as Raluca Bejan elaborated: Attributive associations of Eastern Europeaness encompass just another form of "inverse racism," Žižek argues, as they reflect the Western hatred against Eastern Europeans, and particularly against Balkan people, by propagating racist discourses that would never be tolerated against others.
Dear NYT, your writers could lose some of the superiority complex. I am all for win-win and no one gets hurt. Please do come and visit Ljubljana again, dear NYT. There is so much to see. We care a lot about tourists and never want to disappoint them. It would be a blatant lie if I said that I did not care what NYT writes about Slovenia and Ljubljana. I do, and that is why I wrote this. I respect journalistic excellence that you provide on many subjects. At the same time I am sure that it is high time for you to stop with what Peter Lavelle called the “cultivated pathology in the western mind” when it comes to describing Eastern Europe. There is so much more we can learn from each other.
P. S. The article could also mention that any random person in Ljubljana speaks better English than Melania. We do not (I swear by Tito) know what happened while she was in school?