It is not easy to get to Ljubljana from Scotland. I had an early start, catching a 6.30 am flight from Glasgow to London Stansted on 13th May, then waiting for a boring 5 hours until my connecting flight departed for Ljubljana. But it was worth the wait. This beautiful city, dating back 5,000 years and a major military encampment during Roman-times, is rich in history and culture. For many years it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then it became a province of Yugoslavia, suffering occupation by the Italian fascists and then the Nazis during the Second World War. In 1945 it became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, part of Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia. It regained its independence in 1991 and joined the EU in 2004.
Ljubljana is a small city, with a population of only 280,000. But this makes it easily accessible and friendly to visitors and tourists, rather like Scotland’s historical capital Edinburgh. It also has another startling connection with Scotland, its dragons! Ljubljana is home to a series of fearsome, fire-breathing dragons, which can be seen on manhole covers, bridges and buildings and even feature on the city’s coat of arms. The Ljubljana dragons are clearly first cousins of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster and would find themselves equally at home in the deep, cold waters of Loch Ness as in the Ljubljanica River.
After a pleasant evening strolling through the narrow, cobbled streets and gorgeous squares of the Old Town, I spent the night in the comfortable Hotel Pri Mraku, where I was collected on the morning of 14th May by my university ‘minder’ Špela Šinigoj, Assistant Professor at the University of Ljubljana, where I had been invited under the auspices of the Former Members’ Association (FMA) to lecture on human rights. We walked to the Faculty of Arts, where I was introduced to the charming and erudite Professor Ksenija Vidmar-Horvat, who had organized my visit.
My first lecture on the impact of austerity measures on human rights in the EU was hugely well attended. Professor Vidmar-Horvat said she was pleasantly surprised at the number of third year sociology students who had turned up. The room was packed with over 40 students and around half a dozen others were perched on chairs in the corridor, hoping to hear my lecture through the open door. An interesting debate followed my talk, with some in-depth discussion on the outcome of the general election in the UK, where, ironically, one of the new Conservative government’s priorities is to repeal the Human Rights Act introduced by Tony Blair in 1998.
After a delicious light lunch in a nearby restaurant, I joined Lynn Hunt, Professor of Modern European History at the UCLA, for a human rights seminar chaired by Professor Vidmar-Horvat. Lynn Hunt’s book – ‘Inventing Human Rights (2007)’ has just been published in Slovene and she spoke eloquently of the origins of ‘Les Droits de l’Homme’ in 18th century France and how that has translated into universal human rights today. A robust debate followed, with the assembled audience of students and academics questioning our panel on the role of the state and the influence of religion and the media on basic human rights.
Our lectures for the day over, we met again in the evening for a delightful dinner of traditional Slovenian dishes in a wonderful restaurant in the Old Town, where we were able to discuss at some length the current political situation in Slovenia and the world in general. We put the world to rights!
The weather had changed dramatically overnight and on the morning of Friday 15th May it was raining cats and dogs in Ljubljana when we set off for the Faculty of Arts, for the morning’s lecture. My talk this time was on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Iran and Iraq, based on my new book, released on 1st June, entitled: ‘SELF-SACRIFICE – Life with the Iranian Mojahedin’. The book covers my years of association with the People’s Mojahedin of Iran and their fight to restore freedom and democracy to the beleaguered citizens of Iraq. I spent five years from 2009-2014 as President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq and travelled to Baghdad, Erbil and many other areas in the Middle East on frequent occasions, witnessing for myself the venal corruption and desperate abuse of human rights that has emerged since the illegal invasion of Iraq by the West.
In my talk I said that the world would pay a heavy price for Obama’s desperate attempts to secure a legacy deal over Iran’s nuclear programme. The mullahs will stop at nothing to develop a nuclear weapon in their efforts to dominate the Middle East. They have already almost taken over neighbouring Iraq and Tehran currently finances and arms Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Bashir al-Assad in Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. They export terrorism and the West should sign no deals with them.
Following my lecture three of the senior students, Karmen, Eva and Andrej, took me for a coffee and an in-depth discussion about Russian incursions into the Ukraine and wider EU and global political issues. I then joined up again with Professor Ksenija Vidmar-Horvat, Professor Lynn Hunt and Assistant Professor Špela Šinigoj for another lovely lunch in a typical Ljubljana restaurant and another intensely interesting discussion on human dignity as the origin of human rights, before bidding farewell and heading to the airport for my return flights to Stansted and Glasgow. Altogether, an excellently organized and deeply fulfilling experience.
Struan Stevenson was a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland from 1999-2014 and Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.