15 October 2007 When I was invited to attend the V. Slovenski Svetovni Kongres, znanstvenikov in gospodarstvenikov iz sveta in Slovenije (5th Slovenian World Congress of Scientists and Businessmen Abroad and in Slovenia) I was happy to accept, particularly as I was in Ljubljana working on our ISSV Thezaurus projects at the time.
The theme of SSK 2007 was science and business, the overall aim and mission of the SSK being to make connections and links between Slovenes working abroad in related fields, and Slovenia. It was the fifth such congress, covering areas of medicine, architecture, economy, and music. The mission of the SSK is to draw together Slovenes living in Slovenia and Slovenes abroad, to their mutual benefit. The aim is exchange of knowledge and expertise, dialogue, and sharing. Ultimately the intention is to bring together and draw on the expertise and loyalty of highly achieving Slovenes who have reached in their field a high level of success and recognition in Europe, Great Britain and USA. I am not a scientist or a business woman, however I expected to hear a great deal of interest and gain some valuable information about Slovenia’s role in the world today.
The two-day event turned out to be exceptional. The 5th Conference of Slovenian scientists and businessmen was informative and stimulating. The presentations were thorough, well-founded and organized within the framework of four main areas:
Research policies and their realization;
Experiences of Slovenian scientists abroad;
Transfer of knowledge;
The conference was opened by the host Dr. Boris Pleskovič (USA), followed by ministers and heads of relevant government bodies. It was the speech of Prof. Boštjan Žekš, president of SAZU (Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti) that set the tenor and defined the aim of the conference with a mixture of humour, impatience and fire. He spoke mainly about the need in Slovenia for fresh ideas and outlook, the lack of openness among the institutions and towards the world, and the strong tendency of leaving things as they are.
The assembled represented the intellectual elite responsible for Slovenia’s future, its intellectual and economic development. Eight scientists presented their globally significant work in USA, Great Britain and Europe. The key to their success were the policies of universities such as Cambridge University which offered young researchers the opportunity to develop their project, once that was assessed as viable. They were unlike Slovenian universities in that formal qualifications were disregarded, with priority given to creativity and talent.
The key themes were openness, collaboration, reform, adaptation, new perspectives, shortage of young researchers in sciences, creativity. Comparisons were made to successful small countries of Europe, particularly the Czech Republic, Finland and Denmark, which excel in the higher education area.
Particularly valuable was the contributions of the rectors of all Slovenian universities and director of scientific institutions, who reported on the lack of connection between science and business i.e. theory and its practical application – to the detriment of both sectors and the country as a whole.
Another key problem highlighted during the round table debates was the lack of dialogue and cooperation among experts and institutions within Slovenia, and even more so, with the institutions abroad, which are literally non-existent.
It was concluded that all these features of Slovenian culture need to be changed, since they hold Slovenia back from progress and cause it to be outpaced by other European countries.
Slovenia has come a long way since its independence, but it has now to respond to challenges of high technology and competition on a global market. It abound in talent, which must seek studies and work abroad under the present the present education system and the prevailing institutional practices, which don’t allow for creativity.
All the speakers agreed from their own perspectives and experiences, that the education system needs to be fundamentally reformed, since it is still running along the traditional tracks of knowledge acquisition and assessment.
From my own experience I can say about collaboration with Slovenian institutions, that Slovenia is well meaning towards Slovenes abroad. It offers symbolic assistance in our endeavors. There is also a great deal that functions at a personal level. However, whenever there is a question of more ambitious projects for collaboration and co-production between emigrant and Slovenian institutions, and a real exchange of experience, matters are different.
Our experience of thirty years teaching of Slovenian as a second language in Australia is an example.
I was asked for my opinion and assessment once in the case of a series of course books for teaching Slovenian abroad. In 2001 I prepared a detailed proposal for an Internet course of Slovenian as a second or foreign language for which there was some degree of interest in Slovenia. This was a ready opportunity to develop comprehensive online language materials for Slovenian studies, which may yet be realized. The course reflected expertise in specialized integrated language curriculum and providing Slovenian as secondary school subject in the Australian state school system from years 7 to 12, with the most recent language methodology after a complete overhaul of the education system in the state of Victoria.
Since 2001 we gained the impression that emigrants involvement in various matters, as well as language maintenance could be somehow construed as being regarded as a passive market for culture export rather than a broadened national body, which would participate actively in co-creation of Slovenian vision of development.
Issues of Slovenian language learning as well as maintenance abroad is of special interest to Slovenes living abroad. It could be part of the new process of dialogue already begun recently, from within and from outside of Slovenia. The exchange of ideas, experiences and strategies for the production of new language resources within the purview of consultative bodies, would give impetus to creating innovative programs and materials.
Slovenian culture is the mirror, in which Slovenia is striving to clarify the cultural forms of its past, so that it would in turn reflect the future to the following generations, who may gain their place in the sun only by common endeavor and realization of proverbial creativity of Slovene people.
The SSK conference is an extraordinary initiative. In 2007 it has been particularly positive and connecting. We heard a great deal of criticism and self-criticism, a will towards change, towards dialogue and reform. It was an exercise in democratic processes at its best.