Border identities

In the Basque area on the borders between France and Spain: an anthropological fresco of the socio-cultural changes post-Schengen and the stiff resistance to communication brought about by cultural and linguistic barriers


“We no longer have the frontier blocking us. Now we can move around as freely as we want. But still, I don’t feel we have stronger relations with people on the other side.” Woman of Spanish nationality shopping on the French side.
“The frontier was once an obstacle; this is no longer the case. But now this is another challenge”. Man of Spanish nationality, ex-customs officer and now employee of a gas station on the Spanish side.
“I feel we used to have much more in common with people on the other side. Young people for instance used to hang out with each other, go to the fiestas across the border, however difficult it was. But now… It’s more each to one’s own.” Man of French nationality, mayor of the French Basque village of Arnéguy, and employee in a butcher’s shop on the Spanish side.
“Even though we all live in the Basque Country, there is a lot that separates us from our neighbours in Spain. We have different tastes and ambitions. I feel this gap has got larger.” Woman of French nationality, farmer in a neighbourhood of Arnéguy which, according to an old tradition, shares its parish with Valcarlos, the neighbouring village on the Spanish side.
These quotations come from conversations held in January 2007 with four inhabitants of the border between France and Spain in the Basque Country. These four inhabitants have lived a significant part of their life in the area, and all of them have in some way been affected by the opening up of the frontier.
As a result of the removal of border controls within the EU due to the Schengen agreement, many communities located in border zones have had to reassess their relationship with their neighbours across state frontiers. The Franco-Spanish border in the Basque Country is one of these cases, where numerous cross-frontier initiatives have been launched over the last decade. An increasing number of inhabitants now cross the frontier on a regular basis. In parallel, numerous economic changes have taken place, of which the steady urbanisation of the border is a consequence. All this means that traditional identities are altered with new emerging symbolic references.
We now ask ourselves whether we can find a corresponding opening up of local mentalities. The comments made by our four inhabitants indicate the contrary. While all of them are familiar with Basque, the language spoken on either side of the frontier, and with Spanish or French, the language spoken across the frontier, and most of them have family and friends on both sides of the border, they do not confirm a further rapprochement with each other. The opening of the frontier in effect only means the dismantling of border controls. Free mobility across the frontier, and EU-funded projects designed to foster cross-frontier cooperation have, so far, had limited influence on encouraging further mutual identification between border inhabitants who place increasing emphasis on their own identity The frontier remains an undeniable presence in ways of thinking and behaving.
Since 1999, the municipalities of Hendaye, Irun and neighbouring Hondarribia have joined forces to create the Bidasoa-Txingudi consorcio, named after the river and bay around which they are located and which here serves as the demarcation line between France and Spain. This consorcio enables the three municipalities to work together on social, cultural and economic projects to reflect the new realities of life of border inhabitants. Many of these projects have so far been mainly of a symbolic sort, organizing cultural fairs, sports competitions, and publishing a new map featuring all three towns together. Even the name Bidasoa-Txingudi is now a commonly used term.

Nive Arneguy Valcarlos
Nive Arneguy Valcarlos

Further along the frontier to the east, in the mountainous region of the Basque country, the villages of Arnéguy and Valcarlos have more of a history of cooperation. Located only a hundred metres from each other and separated by a small river tucked in a narrow valley, farmers of the two villages have a centuries old tradition of sharing pastures for their animal herds. Valcarlos also traditionally shares its church with a neighbourhood of Arnéguy. Today, joint ventures are scarce, and no cooperation has been formalised. Currently, they are troubled by a project principally advocated by the region of Navarre, in which Valcarlos is located, to construct a motorway that would run through the valley. While most of the inhabitants of Arnéguy are against this, those of Valcarlos tend to favour it, disregarding its negative environmental impact, seeing in it an opportunity for easier access to Pamplona, the capital city of their region. Arnéguy, on the other hand, which continues to see its administrative relations in the French Basque Country looks the other way, and thus does not see the advantages of such a motorway. We see then that despite sharing a common space, inhabitants of either side use and perceive it quite differently.
In Bidasoa-Txingudi, meanwhile, while we notice the increased flourishing of businesses designed to attract the customer from across the frontier, it is not clear whether relations go any further than this. A television director in Irun for instance remains disillusioned; after his failed attempt to set up cross-frontier broadcasting with a partnership in Hendaye, he concluded, ‘cross-frontier cooperation just doesn’t exist really’. In local schools, cross-frontier exchanges are encouraged by the consorcio, but remain limited. This is due not only to institutional complexities but also because many parents remain unconvinced about the importance of further links with the language and culture of their neighbours.
It is revealing to note that on the border in the Basque Country, the occasions when a strong feeling of togetherness could be sensed was in moments of contestation. For instance, the Spanish governmental project to increase the size of the airport of Hondarribia was hotly opposed by a majority of the local population. We witnessed the inhabitants of the three towns demonstrating together, collaborating around this common cause, irrespective of their cultural and national differences. Another ‘other’ had emerged in the form of the threat of an airport enlargement.
In the period since 1993 many people have lost jobs that were directly linked to the existence of the frontier, such as customs officers, employees in state administrations and businesses that catered to frontier traffic. Most of the border controls have been pulled down, and the main roads linking either side of the frontier have been widened, adorned with new road signs indicating the name of the town and the European flag replacing any mention of state territory.
Today, new job opportunities are to be found in the services, tourist and property industry; new economies that have emerged but still in relation to the frontier. While border controls have disappeared, the frontier remains the demarcation of state control, and so with free trade and mobility new opportunities emerge. Many thought for instance that the ventas, so-called shops located by the demarcation line offering passers-by the last opportunity to buy national products, would disappear. Rather, ventas have become a great success, converted from modest shops into big commercial centres to which tourists flock, attracted by this last vestige of the frontier. Many local inhabitants now find employment in this highly lucrative business.
In Irun, the main town on the Spanish side, a large edifice has also been constructed over what until only recently was the train freight park where merchandise was inspected before crossing the frontier. This edifice is now an exhibition centre designed to host international commercial events. Another great change is in housing. In France, the relatively lower housing prices have encouraged the rapid construction of apartments which have for the most part been bought by people on the Spanish side. This has had the consequence of changing the demographics of the town of Hendaye, just a kilometre from Irun: Hendaye is now inhabited by a population of which just over 35% are of Spanish nationality (compared to 20% en 1999). Recently, another housing construction, managed by a Spanish business which only advertised its sales in Spain, provoked protest amongst Hendayans. They feel they are being overwhelmed by these new residents who still essentially live their social and cultural life on the Spanish side, where they also continue to have their jobs.
While border controls have disappeared, the beginning and end of a state territory remains visible in advertising panels, architecture and organisation of space. Modes of behaviour are different, as is even the way people perceive themselves as Basque. Although globalisation increasingly brings people to share more symbolic references and face similar concerns, their experiences remain translated by the particular institutional, political and cultural context in which they live. So the frontier remains in the mind. Identity exists in relation to an ‘other’. In order to have a notion of self, it is necessary to identify something that is different from oneself. Today with globalisation we find ourselves increasingly in a world where people have various origins and life experiences, and speak more than one language, and therefore have more complex identities. However, with the human tendency to want to order things, the clear categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ remain tempting.

River Peio
River Peio

Globalisation is the new context in which cooperation and openness are a challenge. It is also paradoxical that it is the offer of financial support, for instance from the European Union, which spurs local actors to co-operate. For example, it is only since early 2007 that other border towns in the Basque Country have finally launched into cross-frontier collaboration. The president of the syndicate of the valley of Baigorri, next to Arnéguy and Valcarlos, declared then that, “we have the tools for cooperation, we now have to learn how to use them”, and recognised that “we will lose these funds if we do not organise ourselves in order to take advantage of them.” In this case, collaboration does not seem to come as spontaneously as it does in situations of contestation and urgency.
Today, cross-frontier cooperation projects are increasingly tackling the urgent problem of the environment and social needs. Such a more inclusive and long-term cooperation is positive. But for any real entente to take place it is necessary for inhabitants not only to learn to solve problems together but to get to know each other. It is noteworthy that all the informants for this article were aged over forty, and spoke at least two languages well. Amongst the younger generation this local multi-lingual fluency is rarer. With this reduced means of communication, the risk of alienation vis-à-vis one’s neighbour increases. It remains therefore to be seen how the younger generation of border inhabitants with their different linguistic capacities will construct their identity in this new context of so-called openness. x

Author of this story: Zoe Bray

Zoe Bray
Zoe Bray

Zoe BRAY is a social anthropologist currently specialized in the Basque Country and issues of nationalism and European integration. She has conducted research on identity politics in minority communities in European borders in affiliation with the European University Institute, Florence. Zoe is also a professional painter and illustrator.

Writer, translator and publicist with a degree in Pharmacy, he was a manager in the pharmaceuticals industry in Germany and Italy. Julius Franzot is bilingual (German and Italian) and was born in Triest, from where he works in support of Mitteleuropa through culture and politics.


Living in France, working in Switzerland and shopping in Germany: when Europe
is a routine


At Strasbourg the hotel is a long way off: two trams and then the bus. I exchange a few words with the people waiting alongside me.
“What do you think of the Euroregion
“Qu’est ça? Euro, euri… quoi?”
I show a distinguished-looking woman with a laptop bag in her hand the map printed off the website. “Nothing new – it’s us and the surrounding countries. Is it a project?”

“It’s been in existence since 1975 you know, it’s when one lives in one country and works another, the airport of Basel-Mulhouse, and the 1975 Bonn Accords.”
“Yes, yes, now I understand, here we’ve always cooperated with each other, there’s no need for anything new, we’re the same people speaking the same dialect, similar systems.”
“The same dialects, dann darf ich auf Deutsch weiter reden?”
“Non, non, monsieur, c’est le Français que nous apprendons à l’école, aussitôt l’Anglais, un petit peu.”
Here I am in a stronghold of the European Union, and the lady doesn’t seem very enthusiastic, just six kilometres from the German border, and she doesn’t speak the neighbours’ language. Here I am full of enthusiasm for ‘her’ Euroregion, and she doesn’t even know what it is.
Now I’m waiting next to a policeman.
“I’m here to do a story on the oldest of the Euroregions …”
“And what’s that? Let me guess… the Basque Countries!”
“Je régrette, we’re actually in it, Haut-Rhin.”

“In practice we always have been, we’re a peaceful people, one of the richest areas in Europe with similar cultural roots. Do you know, my brother works in Basle for a chemical company, Novartis, do you know it? He earns the same as the Swiss, lives in France, pays taxes like a Frenchman and on Saturday does the supermarket run in Germany. This is the European reality, not the Euroregions!”

I’ll sleep on it.

On the opposite bank: Kehl

After three stops on the tram I get on a bus that leaves every 15 minutes for Kehl, across the Rhine in Germany. At the border there’s an enormous French Pharmacie where many medicines cost less and the pharmacists are less strict in their prescription requirements. A few yards away is the Ponte d’Europa, the railway station and the centre of Kehl. Five tobacconists’ shops with their signs in French just across the border show me one of the attractions of the open borders. So far the Euroregion consists of pharmacies and cigarettes. Before my appointment in the headquarters of the Euro-offices I find I have some time to get a feel for the place.
Touristenpavillon: I go in and find tourist brochures covering both banks, the Museumspass, that for a modest fee allows the visitor into 140 museums in France, Switzerland and Germany, a quarterly magazine (€3.90) with the calendar of the main events in the three areas, the posters for the Rheinfest, a joint festival between Baden and Alsace in the Park of Two Countries, separated by the Rhine and linked by a footbridge.
“What do you think of the Euroregion?” “Euregio, haben wir so was?” “Yes, yes! You’ve had it since 1975.” “Komisch, I never knew! Do you know, here we’re used to having French colleagues, a French pension and a German one, a relative that works in Switzerland, shops that prosper with the transborder trade, festivals sponsored by the local councils since way back, town-twinning – what do we need a Euroregion for? The Euro, Schengen, these are the things we need!”
The town centre fills with French housewives of various races, studying what’s on offer and coming out the shops carrying large parcels.

Cathedral of Strasbourg
Cathedral of Strasbourg

The next stop is the AOK, Germany’s biggest health insurance company. An employee invites me to sit down and we start. “What effect has the Euroregion had on your work?” “Was meinen Sie bitte, Euro… was? Wie war das noch mal?” She calls her boss: “Yes, you could say that it helps us in our dealings with the French: it’s only a new name. For decades we’ve been dealing with requests for services in Strasbourg or in Switzerland. Certainly, once upon a time compensation was a problem when dealing with the Swiss, but not any more. A German ambulance could not enter France with its sirens blaring, now we can. Every transboundary worker has the right to seek treatment, even by a family doctor, wherever he or she sees fit and for a few years now Switzerland has evened up the assistance for acute cases. We work with an automatic search for available hospital beds in all three regions. Is this what you mean by a Euroregion?”
The Press Office in the local council headquarters. The lady I speak to is polite but balks at the term ‘Euroregio’ saying that the press and politicians talk about it but one should really say ‘Eurodistricts’ adding that these consist of adjoining regions, similar in function to the Italian provinces or British and Irish counties that each have an employment office or Jobcentre, a local parliament and are made up of a number of constituent municipalities. The main role of these Eurodistricts, which are also well known in France, is to match up the supply of, and demand for, workers on either bank of the Rhine and smooth the paperwork involved in unemployment, health and other social services.
Still with an hour to kill before my appointment in the headquarters of the ever-less obvious Euroregion. I spot an Estate Agent. “After an explosion in the prices around Strasbourg our French clientele with the means came here to look for a house. The prices in the areas along the border have increased but are now undergoing a consolidation. Most people were looking for detached family homes for their own use. We haven’t been approached by any big investors”.
The prices are in line with those in other German cities on the Rhine: a small detached house costs about €300.000, semi-detached ones will set you back a quarter of million while an apartment of 100m2 can be yours for €180.000. The day after, I compared the prices with those in Alsace and the differences I found were minimal.
It’s 1 pm and I sit at a table outside a cafè and smell the unmistakable odour of sewage. A cry from one of the workmen makes me jump: “Merde, les Fritz ont construí des égouts incroyables! Et ils disent que nous les Français ne savons pas travailler bien! ”. Two French repairmen hard at work amid the unappetising pong, the sighs of Germans on their lunch break and French housewives hunting for bargains.

At the Upper Rhine Conference

The H.Q of the Euroregion is in a small nineteenth century building in the middle of town. Occupying three rooms on the ground floor is INFOBEST, an office with the task of advising the citizens in their dealings with the Authorities, taxes, social issues and transboundary projects.
On the first floor, again in three rooms, is the secretariat of the German-French-Swiss Conference for the Upper Rhine, consisting of the only four paid employees of the Euroregion: a commissioner for each of the three countries and a secretary. I’m met by the German commissioner, Michael Frey.
“Before long the Euroregion will no longer have this name, which, in any case, was never official. It’ll be called a ‘Metropolitan Region’. We began cooperating at a local level in 1950 and in 1991 the ‘Eurodistricts’ were officially recognised and were made up of two coordinating bodies: the Commission (the regional, cantonal, provincial councillors and mayors) and the Conference, made up of four public appointees. The President is the Prefect of Karlsruhe (an administrator nominated by the President of the Land). The Secretariat is the executive body.”
“You don’t have a directly-elected Parliament: are you a judicial entity, as we call it, this Euroregion?”
“We have neither a directly-elected Parliament nor are we a judicial entity and neither do we have powers to pass legislation. We’re a body that deals with the problems that neighbours have, including the economy, science and civil society. We work on strategies to resolve these problems and if this includes legislative matters we propose them for the approval by the competent body: in Germany it’s the Länder, in France, the Parliament, and in Switzerland the various Cantons. Sometimes local proposals lead to changes in national laws, We’re a bottom up Euroregion: we act first, resolving problems by drawing up local agreements and then we look to the States for approval. First the concrete projects and then the structures. I don’t believe we’ll gain any further powers such as the ability to legislate as no one feels the need for it and we don’t have any influence over national legislation in States other than our own.”
“How do you finance your initiatives?”
“In the first instance using the INTERREG funds of the EU. We also help the local councils, businesses and associations when they are putting together the necessary documentation. Moreover we act as mediators between the Authorities in the different States.
“Which are the main projects you are involved in?”
Sylvia Müller-Wolf, coordinator of the Karlsruhe Employment Bureau joins us and all three of us discuss the question.

Frey, Müeller-Wolf, Franzot
Frey, Müeller-Wolf, Franzot

“In 1986, when the stockpiles of the chemical company Sandoz in Basle caught fire, we realised that we needed to coordinate civil protection in the area. We organised an information and mutual aid network doing exercises together during which we saw the need to unify the procedures and understand each others’ languages – problems that we are resolving with a bilingual manual dealing with the issue. In 2007 a joint-owned fire-fighting ship was put in position, at anchor between Strasbourg and Kehl and equidistant from the two boats already available.”
“The ‘Health’ working group, founded in 1996, aims to rationalise structures to improve the services available and lower costs.
Our main role is the coordination of the emergency health services, ensuring that we have information on all the available hospital beds in the three areas, arranged by specialisation and centres of excellence, which all the citizens have access to, regardless of where they come from. For programmed (rather than emergency) treatment we’re creating a telematic database that will show us the hospital beds and operating theatres available at that moment. In addition we are working to harmonise the health systems and anti-drug abuse policies.”
“In the case of programmed hospital treatment is it automatically referred to structures in one of the neighbouring States?”
“Not yet. For programmed hospital treatment you need to ask for the O.K from your local Health Trust , authorisation which you receive almost immediately”.
“Environmental protection includes a joint system to detect air pollution (financed with EU INTERREG III funds), and there’s an agreement on the maximum permitted levels of pollutants in drinking water, whilst an incinerator on French territory was closed down to safeguard a Natural Park. A commission is studying the key factors governing climate.”
There then follows a vociferous exchange on the fact that there are few opportunities to influence the nuclear programmes of the neighbours and reflections on the meagre budgets available for culture. The total annual funds for the exchange of theatrical works and shows is a mere € 33,000 which is split between the three States and distributed by a joint commission.
“But how do the citizens understand each other?”
“That’s a sore point. In all three countries the main obligatory foreign language is English. In Alsace there is still a good 40%  of the population who speak a dialect of German, mostly the elderly: the youngsters speak their national tongue and, at least in France, at school, they choose what for them is the easiest option as a second language: Spanish. In another ten years the German-speaking minority in Alsace will be further reduced. There are bilateral projects to promote the learning of languages: a bilingual school manual, town-twinning (supported by the local councils), events, student exchanges and financial support for youngsters who do a work placement in another country as well as cross-border meetings (financed to the tune of €20,000 a year by the EU). But today’s youth is too lazy to study another foreign language and there is still a long way to go.”
“We’ve got good results in the cooperation between businesses in key sectors in the area: research, high technology and tourism. With joint marketing we publicise the advantages of our area and in this way we promote the arrival of new businesses.”
“Cooperation on infrastructure is the oldest strand, beginning in 1949 with the Basle-Mulhouse airport. The entire region is served by the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) that connects the main European cities (I saw an excellent line running north-south but the east-west one is rudimental and tied to that of the individual State concerned). Workers’ mobility is dependent on the local railway lines such as those that link Karlsruhe to Wissembourg and from southern Alsace, through Basle to Baden. We are also working on joint season-tickets. One problem is that the railway bridge on the Rhine (linking Paris and Stuttgart) has only one line. Doubling-up this line would cost money and so we’ve looked for solutions: in the Peace Treaty there is a list of works that Germany must do by way of war reparations. The second railway bridge on the Rhine at Strasbourg is one of the few works that remain to be done…”
I leave with the impression of having understood the reason why the ‘Euregio’ remains so little known amongst the citizenry: it is an obvious thing and takes place in the background, especially at a local level, without a real staff, it doesn’t legislate or publicise itself. We are dealing with regions that are economically and culturally rather homogenous, that have been working together ‘privately’ for centuries, to which the ‘Metropolitan Region’, has brought, above all, an all-pervading coordination and has opened up important labour markets.
I find myself at dinner in the garden of a Strasbourg restaurant together with some regular customers and take a place at their table.
Almost every one of them can tell me about a relative who has found work in Germany or Switzerland, of health insurance problems sorted out by INFOBEST in Kehl, but none of them links these small but decisive events with a supranational body, saying simply: “Monsieur, l’Europe c’est ça!” x

Author of this story: Julius Franzot

Julius Franzot
Julius Franzot

Writer, translator and publicist with a degree in Pharmacy, he was a manager in the pharmaceuticals industry in Germany and Italy. Julius Franzot is bilingual (German and Italian) and was born in Triest, from where he works in support of Mitteleuropa through culture and politics.

Ice hockey. The perfect teamwork model?

The experience of Gregor Hager, a professional hockey player with KAC, the Klagenfurt team competing in a league covering Austria, Slovenia and Hungary

Gregor Hager
Gregor Hager

Gregor Hager is a Carinthian. Since childhood, he has been actively involved in ‘the Reds’ – as the hockey players of the KAC, the Klagenfurt hockey team currently playing in the EBEL (Austrian hockey league), are called. Though of Austrian nationality, he also has Slovene ancestors; there is a joke that each Carinthian has a parent of Slovene origin. Naturally, Gregor Hager, a professional hockey player since 1999, lives in Klagenfurt. And even if the hockey season ended several weeks ago, he will stay in his hometown for at least another month, the reason being the European Football Championship.

Q Right now hockey is surely not the favourite sport in Klagenfurt, is it?
A  No, certainly not. If nothing else, it’s too hot now. And, of course, even in Carinthia hockey cannot compete with the European Football Championship.
Q This year has been proclaimed the European year of intercultural dialogue. The EBEL League is often mentioned as a good example of intercultural dialogue. Could you provide an example how teams from other countries have enriched the league if this is indeed the case?
A  Of course it is. The most definite proof is that the number of spectators increased at all venues. It’s much more dramatic if the audience can also watch matches with foreign teams that are equal rivals to domestic ones. Of course, it’s then that patriotism comes into play, which makes it even more interesting to play against Slovene or Hungarian teams.
Q Our newspapers often announce a match between the KAC and Olimpija as a local derby. Do you also see it that way?
A  As a matter of fact, the real local derby is a match between Klagenfurt and Villach, but lately we do have other derbies as well: Villach – Jesenice and Klagenfurt – Olimpija. Carinthian newspapers also label them as derbies and I’d say they’re doing the right thing. There is certain rivalry at work between these teams and, as a result, we can talk about local derbies. The spectators also consider them that way, which is good for hockey and the atmosphere.
Q Do you think that sport could set a good example and make people see that good co-operation could be also developed in other spheres?
A  Sport can certainly set a good example for all kinds of spheres. The problem is that it is difficult to realise that in practice. But sport can teach us a lot of things.
Q Do you notice great differences between Slovenia and Austria once you have crossed the border?
A  How can I put it? No longer. They have really become much smaller. They were very large a few years ago, just think of the infrastructure surrounding the Slovene towns that house hockey halls. In this sense, Slovenia is catching up with us. Most probably, it will invest lots of money in the following years, which is good. I have noticed that spectators and my team players have a much more positive attitude to Slovene towns as so many things have changed for the better.
Q What do you think about cross-border Euroregions?
A  We can conclude with no doubt that such co-operation is a must in certain fields. For example, it would be fruitful in tourism and tourism marketing. It would go down well. We should just promote and sell it well, just think of the ‘Alpe-Adria’ idea. I’d say that at the moment everyone tends his own garden and there’s no co-operation. If they worked together instead of separately, the three regions would be much stronger. In comparison with other regions and cities, we’re relatively small. Such co-operation bring us certain advantages.
Q I’m sure that your team members also come from abroad. How do you get along? Do they keep more to themselves?
A  No, hockey is a team sport. You have to stick together, each player is part of the whole, and the more we are connected, the better we understand one another, the better our results will be at the end of the season. A good case in point is Olimpija from Ljubljana. In my opinion, it was their character that made them this year’s best team in the league. They fought together and that was the main reason for their success.
Q These days, football has turned Klagenfurt in a multicultural town par excellence. Have you considered it that way even before?
A  Yes, Klagenfurt has always been a multicultural town. Again, I’ll give you an example from the field of sports. The EURO 2008 Championship is not the first big sporting event organized in our town. Each year, Klagenfurt plays host to a big beach volleyball tournament, as well as an Ironman Triathlon qualifying event. Thanks to these two important sporting events and to sportsmen that take part in them, Klagenfurt is famous as a multicultural town all around the world. x

Returning home ‘grown up’

Rok Uršič, leading researcher and successful businessman explains his philosophy: “consistent support for worldwide initiatives.” And admits “I partly contribute to lower European efficiency by saying that I’m proud that something was done in Slovenia”

Rok Uršič
Rok Uršič

Rok Uršič, Bachelor of Engineering Technology, is the 45-year-old founder, owner and CEO of the company Instrumentation Technologies that develops and designs specific technological solutions for particle accelerators, with its clients located on all continents with the exception of Africa. The company, which has shown record economic growth, employs 30 people and is located in the industrial zone of Solkan, a town adjacent to Nova Gorica, Slovenia.

Q What part does your company play in the global picture?
A  The company has been present in the global market since its very establishment 10 years ago in a small room in Solkan. It developed from my vision that Solkan, a Slovene town bordering Italy, should become home to a company whose products and services would make it a world player. As soon as I graduated, I was attracted by the idea of being part of something transcending Slovene borders. This belief grew stronger when I started working in Triest and later in the USA and Switzerland. My goal has always been to work in fields that have a global dimension. Globality is the essential element of our company, the foundation stone upon which our values, culture and, last but not least, the image of the firm are based.
Q You’ve described the beginnings of your company in terms of geography. Does the fact that you are located in Central Europe, in Slovenia, in a border region bear any special significance?
A  Not directly. Perhaps it has to do with the Slovene habit of always repeating that we are small and cannot go big. But greatness is a matter of heart. I know from experience that we have all it takes to write an important story here.
Q As a global player, how do you differ in terms of organisation, recruitment policy, and ongoing education?
A  What really counts is the fact that the majority of the employees are proud to work here. And another important fact: when it comes to technological development, Slovenia still lags behind other countries, and lower flexibility of the support environment can sometimes work to our disadvantage. But the other side of the coin is that we are highly differentiated in such an environment and, as a result, a magnet for new staff. We offer an ideal working climate to people who are dynamic and willing to accept new challenges and a certain amount of risk.
Q How far is Europe, in your opinion, from achieving its famous Lisbon goal of becoming the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based society in the world?
A  I believe there’s nothing wrong with the goal itself, we just have problems realising it. Americans, for example, are much more agile decision-takers than Europeans. Perhaps that is due to the fact that they already are the United States, while we still have to become united. Being more agile, they make mistakes, but they also correct them more rapidly. European and national structures should pay more attention to ‘bottom-up’ initiatives. Just by establishing the infrastructure that will facilitate co-operation between research and development, and industry, they will not make that happen. Besides, they should also support those breakthrough initiatives that boast global potential. Europe should adopt both approaches simultaneously. It should also develop a system of supporting those initiatives that cannot conveniently be pigeonholed at present. If someone had said ten years ago: “What the hell are you going to do with high tech in Solkan?” our story would have never begun. When the Slovene Prime Minister Janez Janša paid us a visit, we presented him a far-reaching initiative that doesn’t only concern our company. His positive response and his immediate support for the project proved a positive experience for me.
Q Europe is characterized not only by strong national interests, but also by strong national nonsensical claims. Do the fields of knowledge and technology reach beyond the national or even continental?
A  I have never separated knowledge from the emotional element that is always present in people, and part of this emotional element is national affiliation. I have to admit that I partly contribute to lower European efficiency by saying that I’m proud that something was done in Slovenia. The feeling, “Yes, this was done in Europe” comes only later. I’d say it’s the other way round in the USA. On the one hand, such attitude towards nationality, which will not die out that soon, makes Europe slower, but on the other it has many advantages. x