Dear New York Times, Melania and Communism, the Beauty and the Beast?
We all know, that Melania Trump sells at the moment. And yes, in the Slovenian media we also write about her. It’s difficult not to, since that Speech and all that followed. I read the 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 overanalyse 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 massacre the Slovenes (that happened later), and only ordered to: “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 (Borat-style) piece about Ljubljana benefited the locals of Ljubljana. Jason Horowitz’s tone throughout the entire article gives the impression, that he was on a noble mission to Ljubljana, to check out how the plebeians “over there” are behaving and bettering themselves. Do they manage to come any close to your refined imperatives of civilised dining, drinking, and living? Is it tolerable for a US citizen to visit Ljubljana, and not be offended by the way we live. Or is the use his/hers 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. Was she lying even before she beceme the First Lady? Hold your guns, America! Slovenia is in fact arbitrarily placed in Eastern or Central Europe, or indeed the Balkans, depending on whether funding or war is desired. But please 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 at the same time be as convincing as Kanye West, giving a graduation speech at the Harvard University. Oliver’s talk about the Slovenian music band, Laibach, when they were playing in North Korea, was disappointing enough. Though Laibach was proven right again; the audience is so very easily mesmerised by the form, that it forgets to think.
Dear NYT; you should know that there is this particular aroma about Eastern Europe that Western media, including your newspaper, have managed to create. In this story we, the 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 just 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 the 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 the historical memory of my generation, is the mention of “Communist control” in Ljubljana. Tito (the author of the article did like to mention him a lot) consciously politically distanced himself and Yugoslavia from Stalin very soon after WWII. The Western Media, as a rule, mentions communism with consistent oversimplification that is intellectually annoying. How would you feel if I told you, in a patronising 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, that the article made 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, while you are at it, check the distance between Russia in Slovenia on the map.) Ljubljana back then, in the time of your “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 back 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 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 hint 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 Slovenian families are survivors of his atrocities, and among the first in Europe to stand against Nazism. Hitler had a 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 American native culture. Think of its contribution 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 with Eastern Europeans encompass just another form of "inverse racism," Žižek argues, as they reflect the Western hatred against Easter Europe, and particularly against Balkan peoples, by propagating racist discourses, that should never be tolerated.
Dear NYT; your writers should lose their superiority complex. I am all for win-win situations when no one gets hurt. Pleas,e 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 the 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 that 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?