On July 23rd, The Executive Director of THE GUIDE, Mr. Pedro Paulo Moreira, was received by the Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant, at the Embassy of Slovenia, located at Lago Sul, Brasília, for an interview, which is presented below:
THE GUIDE: Ambassador, you speak Portuguese very well, how did you learn Portuguese?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Four years ago, when I was working at the Foreign Ministry, I visited Rio de Janeiro for the first time as a tourist. After three weeks in Rio, Salvador and São Paulo, I fell in love with Brazil and its rich and diverse cultural heritage. I returned two more times to Rio de Janeiro and after that, I started with some basic classes in Portuguese language for my personal interest. When coming to Brasilia I continued with individual classes in Portuguese language and I still have them once a week. I find Portuguese language so romantic and beautiful language.
THE GUIDE: Have you ever served as a diplomat in a portuguese-speaking country?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Never, before Brasilia I was posted in Budapest, Stockholm, Helsinki and Skopje. We had an Embassy in Lisbon but it was unfortunately closed years ago due to austerity measures along with some other Slovenian embassies. The only Embassy where Portuguese language is spoken is Brasília, that we opened back in 2010. In Latin America Slovenia has only two embassies: in Buenos Aires and Brasilia.
THE GUIDE: Are you also ambassador for Buenos Aires?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: No, only for Brazil and I am non-resident Ambassador to Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador, we are responsible as well for Venezuela. Other countries Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Argentina are covered by our Embassy in Buenos Aires.
THE GUIDE: So do you spend a very good part of the month traveling?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: It depends, we have several projects with Colombia so I travel quite a lot to Bogota, as we have some reintegration and demining projects that we implement with EU within the European Union Trust Fund for Colombia, as well as with other partners, UN Multi Donor Fund in UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). I’ll be in Colombia on August 7 and represent Slovenia at the inauguration of the newly elected President Mr. Iván Duque Marquez. At least once a year I travel to Quito, my next trip will be soon to La Paz, as we will open a consulate headed by honorary consul in Santa Cruz. I would like to visit of course all Brazilian states and search for new business and trade opportunities, as economic diplomatic is one of the priorities of our ministry.
THE GUIDE: Ambassador, how long have you been in Brazil?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: I moved to Brasilia on 29 October 2015 and delivered my letters of credentials to then President Dilma Rousseff on 4 November 2015. My mandate is up to four years.
THE GUIDE: What have you found of your life in Brasília during these three years? Is it very different from life in your country?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Brasília has more inhabitants than whole my country. Slovenia has only 2 million inhabitants, while Brasília has around 3 million. I really like this futuristic city, it’s very different, it’s well planned. I admire the architecture, the modernism made by Oscar Niemeyer is fascinating. I think Brasilia is a very organized, safe city and I do enjoy living here. I adapted very quickly. This cosmopolitan metropolis offers many good restaurants, schools, malls, cultural and sport events. I think the diplomats are very well received, As Brazilian capital lays in the very heart of the country it has excellent flight connections to all places in Brazil.
THE GUIDE: By the way, what places in Brazil have you visited?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: As a tourist only Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, but as Ambassador I travel a lot. I visited Curitiba, Florianopolis, Porto Alegre, Joinville, Natal, Fortaleza, Maceio, Joao Pessoa, Foz do Iguaçu, but there still so many beautiful places I want to visit and I will, on business trips or private as a tourist. Now we have consulates with honorary consuls in Recife, which I had the privilege to inaugurate in 2016, and the other in São Paulo. My idea is that we should have consulates in all Brazilian states. It is a plan, a process that is moving, and we already have excellent candidates for honorary consuls in Rio de Janeiro, Florianópolis, Espírito Santo and Goias Most Slovenians in Brazil are living in São Paulo, there we have an Association of Slovenes that is very active with issues of culture, in São Paulo we have as well a Business clubs Slovenia – Brazil called SLOBRAZ, that was formed in May 2015
THE GUIDE: And approximately how many citizens of Slovenia are in Brazil today?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: We have a number from one thousand to five thousand, but in the record of voting the number is much smaller.
THE GUIDE: And in Brasilia?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Here we are fifteen to twenty Slovenians, the number is growing. The oldest Slovenian in the country is living in Brasilia, Madame Marija, who recently completed 90 years. I and embassy members were presented at her birthday party. She moved with her husband after World War II to Rio de Janeiro and her husband constructed the first public school in Duque de Caxias, which still bears his name Escola Publica Mnunicipal Anton Dvorsak. Her granddaughter Erika has prepared a film about the school, which will soon undergo in a process of reform and renovation.
THE GUIDE: Ambassador, in these three years that you are here, how are the diplomatic relations with Brazil?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: I think they are excellent and improving, but there are always possibilities for strengthening ties. Last year, on December we celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations, we are very happy that Brazil was one of the first countries outside Europe to recognize the independence of the Republic of Slovenia. Brazil is the only Latin American country with a resident Embassy in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. I have to add at this point that we have excellent cooperation with your Ambassador Renato Mosca de Souza, who is a great diplomat, one of the most active in my country.
THE GUIDE: How are the commercial relations between Slovenia and Brazil?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: The balance of trade of Slovenia and Brazil between 2010 and 2015 increased from € 103 million to € 210 million. But last year the positive trend continued and the trade balance result was € 233 million, which is an increase of 5.4% and Brazil ranked 29th among Slovenia’s trading partners. We have 140 Slovenian companies that export to Brazil and 161 Slovenian companies that import Brazilian products. Slovenia mainly exports pharmaceuticals products, paper, packaging, electrical machinery, textile products, electronic lighting equipment, iron and steel to Brazil. From Brazil we import animal feed, cellulose, coffee, tea, soy, salt, rocks and minerals. In the end of June Ljubljana hosted almost one hundred Brazilian businessmen and politicians, who participated at the WOCA 2018 World Company Award.
THE GUIDE: Are these relations growing?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Yes, we have a mixed economic commission Slovenia-Brazil and last year Ljubljana hosted the second meeting. This is important because we talk about how we can grow more economically, in the fields of trade, science, culture, education and tourism. I think there are many new opportunities to expand our relations as well in other specific areas, such as motoring, industry, renewable energies, logistics with our Port of Koper, IT and green technologies, digitalization and more. This underscores the importance of the conclusion of free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, which is in the final phase and it serve for our businessmen because of the lower rates and less taxes.
THE GUIDE: You spoke of tourism. Slovenia is a tourist destination, so how is the tourism of Brazilians there and Slovenes here?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Last year, Slovenia received 11,168 Brazilian tourists, an increase of 3.5% compared to 2016. Today Brazil represents 40% of tourists in Latin America. Usually tourists visit the capital Ljubljana, that was proclaimed as The Green Capital of the European Union in 2016, as well as the charming Alpine city of Bled, the Postojna cave, spa and ski centers and medieval city of Piran at the Adriatic Sea.
THE GUIDE: What are the most traditional celebrations in Slovenia? Is there any event comparable to our Carnival?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Yes, but a little different because of the population. We have many festivals in Slovenia, with architecture, cinema, theater, literature, music, dance etc, which take place all year round but mainly between May and October, when we have summer. When we talk about Carnival in Brazil I have to mention two celebrations with festivals that could be compared to it: one that occurs in Cerknica and the other in Ptuj with famous “Kurent”, both with fantasies and masks that occur at the same time as the Brazilian Carnival and the famous masks festival of Venice in Italy. The events are aimed at celebrating, with dances, the end of the winter that was gone and the arrival of green spring. There is also the tradition of wearing masks of some political figures, including the American President. His wife, Mrs. Melania Trump, is Slovenian and we are very proud of the First Lady. The festivals attracts children, young people, adults and tourists, but it is not so danced as Brazilian Carnival is danced, because it is a dance in celebration of the appearance of the heat and the sun, a situation that does not occur in Rio de Janeiro (laughs).
THE GUIDE: Regarding politics, what kind of government does Slovenia have?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: We have a parliamentary system and recently, in the beginning of June we had parliamentary elections in Slovenia. So far we still wait the new government to be formed. Our latest government was composed of prime minister and sixteen ministers. It is important for us that we have a minister responsible for relations with Slovenes abroad. This minister had visited our Slovenes in Sao Paulo two years ago. It is also interesting that we have a Parliament with 90 deputies, 88 are elected, 2 seats are reserved for minorities, Italian and Hungarian minority as around 7,000 Hungarians and 3,000 Italians are living in Slovenia. Those part near to Hungarian and Italian border are bilingual.
THE GUIDE: In Slovenia there are mayors and governors as in Brazil?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: There are mayors. We have 212 municipalities headed by mayors. It works more or less like here in Brazil, except there are no governors in Slovenia. We have President, Speaker of the Parliament, Prime Minister and Ministers. The elections occurs every four years, as well as European elections, except presidential every five years. This autumn we will have local, next May European elections.
THE GUIDE: How does Slovenia’s education system work?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: It is the same as in Brazil: elementary, middle school and higher education. Almost all schools are public and free, only some are private. Universities are also public, we have four public universities and some private universities. Now many Slovenian students are doing exchange studies in the countries of the European Union. We have as well foreign students from European and other countries, also from Brazil, about 10 to 20 per year. Exchange study programs are a great resource for Slovenians and other nationalities to learn new languages and culture. I was born in Sweden. I studied in Yugoslavia and at that time I did not have the opportunity to study abroad, so this is a great opportunity for Slovenians to become multilingual because we are a small country, we live near the German-speaking Austria; near Italy. English language and some other foreign language are already learned by pupils in the elementary school.
THE GUIDE: In the European Union many young people at college age move to study in other countries. Is this happening in Slovenia?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Of course, there are many young Slovenians who leave Slovenia to study or work in neighboring Austria and other European countries and end up staying there or moving back. At the same time we have students from EU, former Yugoslavia as Macedonia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo and Serbia and rest of the world. Mobility of students and professors is namely the priority of the European Union.
THE GUIDE: Speaking of religion, is there a national religion in your country?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Most people are Catholic, but we have some Protestants living close to Hungary. Because of Bosnians, Kosovar and some other immigrants we also have some Muslims, as well as Jewish community and members of some other religions.
THE GUIDE: Are there similarities between Slovenians and Brazilians?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Slovenia is small country, its people receive influences from our neighboring countries: Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. When I talk to tourists they say that we are very open, friendly, helpful and solicitous people. If you travel to Slovenia and speak English, German, French, Italian you will have no difficulties., we are polyglots, you will make it even with Portuguese. The Slovenian traditional food is very tasty and attractive for tourists. We produce very good wines, some of them you can buy in Brazil. The oldest wine in the world still grows in front of the Old Vine House in the city of Maribor. The seedlings of this oldest grape vine from Maribor will be planted in Bento Gonçalves on the margins of the fair Wine South America 2018 in September. As well in September the Embassy will organize a wine tasting in Brasilia in cooperation with the Brazilian partners from Santa Catarina of Puklavec and Friends wines. Similarities? We both love and are proud of our homeland – sport, music and dance also join us. As Slovenian I therefore do not feel as a stranger in Brazil.
THE GUIDE: To finish, what do you think of Brazilians people?
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: Happy, open and festive. Patriots. Football fans. Carnival lovers, Samba, Setanejo, Forro and Pagode music, Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas, favelas are just some of associations that come to my mind when describing a Brazilian. There is a lot to enjoy and no feelings of negativity, as usually presented in foreign media. It is the positive feeling and spirit that attract, so that’s why Brazil it is a popular tourist destination chosen by many Slovenes. Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas and Foz do Iguaçu are among the most visited places and our travel agencies advertise Brazil as a great and friendly tourist destination to spend their holiday all year around.
THE GUIDE: Ambassador Alain Brian Bergant, we thank you very much for this interview
Ambassador of Slovenia, Mr. Alain Brian Bergant: You are most welcome. It was really nice to talk to you! I hope more Brazilians will visit Slovenia and vice versa. To conclude, let me remind your readers that the trade mark of Slovenia is I FEEL sLOVEnia. Welcome!