18 May 2022, 11:55 AM

STA, 17 May 2022 - Five Slovenian MEPs have sent a public letter to Austria and the European Commission criticising the recent decision of Austria to again extend police controls on the border with Slovenia, labelling the move as unjustified and disproportionate. They argue that this is confirmed by the valid EU law and the recent decision of the EU court.

The letter signed by Irena Joveva, Klemen Grošelj (both Renew/LMŠ), Milan Brglez (S&D/SD), Ljudmila Novak (EPP/NSi) and Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) is addressed to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner and Ylva Johansson as the competent European commissioner.

It notes that Slovenia was more than appropriately addressing the challenges in irregular migration, possible terrorist threats and trafficking in human beings.

The functioning Schengen Area poses no threat to Austria, while border control severely restricts freedom of movement, the letter says, adding that there were no new threats to justify the decision.

According to the five Slovenian MEPs, the subsequent six-month extensions of internal border control since 2015 have not been in line with the EU rules.

They have urged the Austrian government to reconsider its intention to renew control on the EU's internal border, and asked the Commission to issue an opinion about the necessity or proportionality of the decision of the Austrian authorities.

The MEPs noted that reintroducing internal border control should be a measure of last resort and that alternative measures for internal border control should be sought.

The Commission told the STA that the relevant ruling of the EU Court of Justice clarified the rules applied for temporary reintroduction of internal border control. A preliminary ruling says the matter must now be decided by a national court.

It added that it was working with the EU member states to end the continued reintroduction of internal border control in close technical and political dialogue.

The Commission is also ready to work with the European Parliament and the Council to address the issue in the ongoing negotiations on updating the Schengen Borders Code, it added.

In April, the EU Court of Justice said that a Schengen Area member state could reintroduce border control in the event of a serious threat to its public order or internal security, but should not exceed the maximum total duration of six months.

It may reintroduce the measure immediately after the end of this six-month period, but only if it faces a new serious threat that is different from the one originally identified.

Austria notified the Commission last week that it would extend control on its borders with Hungary and Slovenia for at least six months. The war in Ukraine was cited among the reasons for the decisions this time.

15 May 2022, 13:36 PM

STA, 15 May 2022 – Slovenian families have contracted in size over the past 40 years. The number of those living alone has more than doubled and the number of childless families has risen by nearly a half, shows data released by the Statistics Office ahead of International Day of Families.

Slovenian statisticians have been monitoring data on families since 1981, during which time society and the way of life in the country has changed, which is reflected in the figures.

Last year, 80% of Slovenia’s population lived in families as defined by statistics, which compares to 88% forty years ago.

The Statistics Office notes that the increase in the share of population living alone is linked to population ageing. The share of those aged 80 or over has tripled and it is this group that tends to live alone or in institutional households such as care homes.

Many of those who live alone are foreigners. These are often men who came to Slovenia on their own to get a job. Over the past decade alone, the share of foreign nationals in the population has doubled.

Compared to 40 years ago, the share of families without children has increased from 21% to 30%, and the share of those with two or more children has decreased. Only one out of four families has two children now but it used to be one out of three.

The share of large families, those having three or more children, has declined from 10% to 6%, while the percentage of families with one child has remained roughly the same (39% in 2021 and 37% in 1981).

The average number of children in families with children has decreased from 1.70 to 1.56.

More families being without children is in part attributed to the longer life expectancy and population ageing as more couples grow old together.

Married couples with children accounted for 63% of all families forty years ago, but the share has since contracted to 34% as the proportion of families of cohabiting couples with children has gone up from 1% to 13%, and the share of single-parent families has increased from 14% to 23%.

Since 2007 more than half of children are born to unmarried couples.

12 May 2022, 18:22 PM

STA, 12 May 2022 - A huge explosion at the Melamin chemical plant in Kočevje, south Slovenia, on Thursday morning is believed to have killed five people, who remain unaccounted for, presumably buried under the rubble, making this the worst industrial fire in modern Slovenian history.

"The five missing persons have probably perished because the explosion was so fierce there was no chance of survival," the company's director Srečko Štefanič said.

Two more people are in hospital with severe burns and are fighting for their lives, UKC Ljubljana hospital said.

The explosion occurred when epichlorohydrin, a volatile substance that was being transferred from a tank truck to an on-site cistern, burst into flames, according to Štefanič.

Štefanič said the precise cause of the blast remained unclear but it was likely the result of human error, adding two compounds appeared to have come into contact.

Only one of the missing persons is a Melamin employee, the rest are contractors who were working on the site at the time.

The plant, which produces plastic materials, paints, varnishes and other coatings and chemical products, is located not far from the centre of Kočevje and the 8:30am blast was heard dozens of kilometres away.

While a handful of people were treated for smoke inhalation, the blast did not cause damage in the community.

Firefighters have completed their work and only about a dozen remain on-site as a precaution, said commander of the Kočevje fire brigade and head of the firefighting operation Leon Behin.

The recovery of the bodies will not be able to start before the rubble cools down, presumably tomorrow.

12 May 2022, 14:28 PM

STA, 12 May 2022 - Maltese customs officers have seized a record 1.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in a container carrying bananas from Colombia to Slovenia, the Maltese newspaper Malta Today reported on Wednesday. The contraband, seized at Malta Freeport, is estimated to be worth EUR 300 million.

According to the report, customs officers seized 50 bags containing 1,494 one-kilo wraps of cocaine onboard a ship bound for Koper, Slovenia.

The case is being investigated by the Malta Police Narcotics Department.

Customs said the seizure is a record in terms of volume and value, much bigger than a 800-kilogram shipment of cocaine seized at the same port last month.

In 2019, a total of 750 kilograms of cocaine were seized by Maltese customs officers in 13 raids, and 612 kilograms in 2020, while 740 kilograms were seized in Malta last year, the newspaper added.

From 2020: Cocaine Found in Slovenian Banana Shipment, Company Denies Involvement

12 May 2022, 10:38 AM

STA, 12 May 2022 - More than twenty people were injured in an explosion and fire that broke out at the chemical factory Melamin in Kočevje in southern Slovenia this morning. Two sustained severe burns and several persons are still missing. According to Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, the fire has now been put out and dangerous substances contained.

Locals are still being urged to remain indoors and not to approach the site, where the emergency intervention is running smoothly, according to the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief.

Commander of the Kočevje fire brigade Leon Behin told the press that all firefighters from Kočevje, and the near-by Osilnica and Kostel had been activated, 150 in total. No firefighter has been injured.

They managed to contain the fire and dangerous substances. Only an electric power station room is still on fire, because it cannot be approached, and this is what is still causing black smoke, said Mayor Vladimir Prebelič, adding that measurements of substances in the smoke were being conducted and were thought not to be dangerous.

Drinking water has not been contaminated, he said.

The ELME ecological lab with a mobile unit from the Jožef Stefan Institute has been activated along with Environment Agency and inspection services, which are also conducting measurements.

Behin said no toxic substances (bar in the smoke) had been released into the environment.

A military unit was also activated, decontamination activities are under way, and all relevant services in the country have been informed of the incident, he said.

"A more than serious event has occurred, but the situation is under control," he told the press.

Behin told Radio Slovenija earlier that all injured persons had been attended to and two persons with severe burns had been transported to the UKC Ljubljana hospital by helicopter.

The hospital said on Twitter it had activated a mass casualty incident protocol.

Web portal reports that four persons are still missing, as it is not clear whether they were in the facility at the time of the explosion, but they are not employees. Behin said that the search for them continued but that a certain container could not be accessed because of high temperatures.

He said the explosion had happened in a cistern and the fire had spread from there but its further spreading to other storage facilities of hazardous substances had been prevented. The investigation into the cause of the explosion is under way.

The Melamin building is badly damaged and the explosion also caused window cracks on near-by buildings.

The main road in Kočevje is still closed and all events planned in the town for today have been cancelled.

Melamin is classified as a facility of greater risk for the environment under environmental legislation. The company, which is one of the largest employers in the region, produces mostly resins for paints and varnishes for the wood, construction and textile industry.

At the end of 2021, the company employed just more than 190 people. In 2021, the company generated EUR 67.3 million in sales revenue, 41% more than the year before. Net profit was up by 26% to just under EUR 3.3 million.

Melamin owns two-thirds of SmartMelamine, which it founded in 2015 with a German company Ostthüringische Materialprüfgesellschaft für Textill und Kunststoffe, which specialises in production of highly resistant melamine fleece and is also based in Kočevje.

Given the number of injured, this is the worst industrial fire in Slovenia's recent history. As many as 17 industrial fires have been recorded since 1995, resulting mostly in material damage.

11 May 2022, 14:15 PM

STA, 11 May 2022 - A hot air balloon accident took place near the town of Beltinci in north-eastern Slovenia on Tuesday as the gondola of the balloon hit power lines, cutting local electricity supply and causing an estimated EUR 11,000 in damage. No one was injured in the accident.

The accident happened in the later afternoon on Tuesday, as the hot air balloon hit power lines due to strong wind. There were three persons in the gondola, all of them unharmed, the Murska Sobota Police Department said.

One of the passengers reportedly had to jump out of the gondola, as instructed by the pilot, so that the balloon could be lifted again, gain some distance from the power lines and land safely.

The power lines were snapped during the collision, with part of the towns of Beltinci and Gančani being temporarily left without power.

The Murska Sobota Police Department said that the police would charge the pilot of the hot air balloon for endangering public traffic. While there were no injuries, material damage has been estimated at EUR 11,000.

08 May 2022, 09:14 AM

STA, 7 May 2022 - The government decided on Saturday to lift the Covid pass mandate for health and social care workers and the requirement to wear masks at pharmacies. The new rules will enter into force on Sunday as they were published in the Official Gazette on Saturday.

The further relaxation of what are already quite mild restrictions had been put forward by the group of experts advising government on Covid-19.

The group had assessed the epidemiological situation as considerably better while the Omicron variant of coronavirus is milder than the previous ones, the government said after its correspondence session.

The requirement to wear masks indoor was generally lifted in mid April. With pharmacies added today, masks remain obligatory only in health and social care institutions.

While staff at these two types of institutions no longer need the Covid pass - which was imposed for practically all activities in the country on 15 September - it remains in place for visitors to hospitals and to social care homes.

The latest relaxation comes after one of the most extensive relaxations of Covid restrictions entered into force on 21 February.

07 May 2022, 11:48 AM

STA, 6 May 2022 - A total of 5,738 Ukrainian refugees have so far asked for the status of temporary protection for displaced persons in Slovenia, of whom 2,149 underage children. The initial number was 5,919 but some refugees have since left Slovenia. Police data shows that since the Ukraine war started, 21,980 Ukrainians have entered Slovenia.

The number of Ukrainian refugees asking for accommodation at Slovenian state-owned centres is decreasing, said Katarina Štrukelj, director of the Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants.

There are currently 316 refugees at the Logatec centre, which has room for 250, and 91 in Debeli Rtič, which can accommodate up to 80.

"We're also being contacted by individuals who have taken in Ukrainian citizens but don't have enough room for them," Štrukelj said on Friday, adding that in such cases, the refugees were accommodated at student dorms.

Unofficial information shows that the office has received 806 applications for financial assistance. A third has been granted, with the rest being supplemented.

An adult with temporary protection status is entitled to EUR 422 a month, with every next adult in the family entitled to 70% of the sum and children to 30% of the sum.

Unofficial information also shows that 88 Ukrainian refugees are registered with the Employment Service, while some have already found a job, mostly in hospitality.

Although both Slovenian and Ukrainian are Slavic languages, they are quite different and language proficiency is a problem on the labour market.

This is also true for healthcare workers, as 13 have came to Slovenia with the Ukraine refugee wave, of whom four doctors.

The Health Ministry has already notified them of the conditions under which employment is possible in the Slovenian healthcare system.

From 1 July on, the language requirement will be slightly relaxed as changes to the medical services act enter into force.

Today, the Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants signed with the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy an agreement on financing a project to help Ukrainian refugees integrate into Slovenian society.

The project, financed from the Norwegian Financial Facility and another of the European Economic Area, will provide information to persons with temporary protection status about their rights, while school children will get learning support.

Health Ministry State Secretary Franc Vindišar meanwhile said the healthcare system was under no additional pressure from Ukrainian refugees, arguing that their numbers corresponded to no more than a small town.

06 May 2022, 14:00 PM

STA, 6 May 2022 - Twenty children from a Luhansk orphanage are slowly getting used to a quiet life in the village of Slavina near Postojna, which has become their new temporary home. However, one of their guardians, doctor Natalya Golovyna says they will not forget the war so soon given the mere noise of a toy falling down sent them looking for shelter.

Golovyna, a paediatrician and paediatric neurologist, has been employed in the Luhansk orphanage No. 2 in eastern Ukraine for more than 15 years. She arrived in Slovenia in mid-March and has helped with the children's accommodation and care.

"This is the work I enjoy doing more than anything. In Ukraine, there were 40 children in our orphanage. Half of them had already been adopted, yet procedures have not been completed as our courts have not been operational. That's why those children have remained in Lviv, Ukraine," Golovyna has told the STA in an interview.

The 20 children now settling down in a refurbished former school building in Slavina are between one and six years of age. They are accompanied by eight nurses, three doctors and their six children.

"Even though long and tiring, the journey to Slovenia was a kind of adventure for the kids [...]. Once we arrived in Slavina they were thrilled. Being in a new setting, the children are excited and stressed, but they are now slowly settling down. It's peaceful and quiet here and we like it very much," says Golovyna.

They also like the food that is prepared for them by the Postojna kindergarten. The staff accompanying the children are accommodated at the Postojna student dorm where they also get their meals.

Golovyna first visited Slovenia for a holiday in 2006, and has come back several times since. She has learnt some Slovenian and is now also attending a language course. Her knowledge is the more valuable because the other staff do not speak foreign languages.

The paediatrician is accommodated with her friends in Ljubljana together with her two children, sister-in-law and her two children. "I'm afraid our stay in Slovenia won't be very short. We'll definitely stay here until the end of the war in Ukraine, and we all miss our friends and families who remain in Ukraine."

They picked Slovenia as their refuge because of the friends and the bonds with the Slovenians who have adopted children from their orphanage. It will not be possible to adopt the children who arrived in Slovenia now because they will have to return to Ukraine, even though there has been considerable interest in Slovenia for adoption.

They had to leave their orphanage in the city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine for Lviv in the west because of the shelling. After rocket attacks started in Lviv, they came to Slovenia via Hungary. Along with Sievierodonetsk their orphanage has been completely destroyed and it will take a lot of time and money to rebuild it.

"It was hard in Lviv [...] we spent a lot of time in the shelter. That's why we like it here in this quiet and relaxing place," says Golovyna, who has thanked the locals for their warm welcome.

04 May 2022, 15:14 PM

STA, 4 May 2022 - The Education Ministry has rescheduled next year's winter break for primary and secondary school kids as Slovenia hosts the Nordic World Ski Championships between 21 February and 5 March. This should keep accommodation, which is full during the school break, available for athletes and fans, which local politicians have welcomed.

The championships will be held in Planica, a state-of-the-art winter sport hub in Gorenjska, a north-western region boasting several popular ski resorts.

Tourist accommodation is expected to be fully booked, with over 2,000 media staff and 1,600-1,700 athletes and staffers as well as visitors expected in Gorenjska.

While fans will stay in Slovenia and the lake-side resort of Bled will serve as the media centre, athletes will be accommodated across the border in Austria and Italy.

The rescheduling of the winter break will thus enable accommodation capacities to be fully available for the championships as the school break starts almost a month earlier, on 30 January for children from one half of the country and a week later for the other half.

The ministry acted on initiative of the Slovenian Ski Association, the Planica Organising Committee, the Kranjska Gora municipality and local tourism boards.

Ski resorts in Gorenjska, foremost Kranjska Gora and Bohinj, have already welcomed the decision as very important for the local economy.

"This is a great relief for the entire region," Kranjska Gora Mayor Janez Hrovat told the STA on Wednesday.

Not just Kranjska Gora but also other near-by tourist areas will now have an easier time knowing that Slovenian holidaymakers will be able to spend winter holidays here, he said.

"When Slovenian ski resorts cannot meet the demand from Slovenian skiers, these go abroad, which is a shame," said Kranjska Gora Tourism Board director Blaž Veber.

He said that the local ski resorts will be full during the championships as they already had agreements with the organisers to bring visitors.

27 Apr 2022, 10:16 AM

STA, 27 April 2022 - Slovenia observes the Day of Uprising Against the Occupation on Wednesday, remembering the day 81 years ago when the Liberation Front, an organisation that spearheaded armed resistance against the occupying forces in WWII, was established.

The main national ceremony took place already last evening on Mala Gora, a hill near Ribnica in the south where an armed clash took place on 13 May 1941 after the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April.

The location of the ceremony proved to be controversial already last year, when it hosted the resistance day ceremony for the first time.

This year it was questioned by several veteran organisations, the Slovenian president and the parliamentary speaker, neither of whom were in attendance.

While the organisers say it was the site of the first armed clash between the anti-fascist TIGR organisation and the occupying forces, not all veterans or historians agree.

The coordination of patriotic and veteran organisation sees it a "a deliberate attempt to undermine the historical role of the Liberation Front".

The keynote speaker, National Council President Alojz Kovšca, said the TIGR fighters had long been "robbed of their identity" and the organisation's contribution to liberation long ignored, so they deserved the attention.

A number of events will take place around the country today.

President Borut Pahor will open Presidential Palace to members of the public and address them, and lay a wreath at the Liberation Front memorial in Rožna Dolina borough.

A major event will be held on Mt Nanos in the south-west to mark 80 years of one of the first major battles of Partisans in Primorska region.

For Slovenians, WWII started on 6 April 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by bombarding Belgrade.

Slovenian lands were occupied by the Germans, Italians and Hungarians, and a few settlements by the pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia.

The Anti-Imperialist Front, as the Liberation Front was initially known, was formed on 26 April 1941 by representatives of the Communist Party of Slovenia, the Sokoli gymnastic society, the Christian Socialists and a group of intellectuals, but it soon became dominated by the Communist Party.

While its role was never questioned before Slovenia became independent in 1991, not all historian see eye to eye on it now.

While there is no doubt that it helped defeat Nazism and Fascism, the Communists committed summary killings immediate aftermath of WWII, and introduced an undemocratic political system; Slovenians had to wait until 1990 for the first post-WWII multi-party elections.

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