Have you ever been to Slovenia? I have, four or five times. It’s a beautiful country. Ljubjlana is one of the quaintest, cleanest cities I know. My impression of Slovenians is of a self-assured, intelligent, well-educated, design-conscious nation, benefiting from a strong economy, an almost perfect location in Central Europe (beautiful, temperate, convenient), and a rich, honourable history. Even when it was part of Yugoslavia, it was the richest and most lightly-attached of all the republics, so much like Austria that you couldn’t really tell the difference, apart from the language. It gained independence in 1991, and is one of the strongest economies of the new EU member states (of all of those, it has the highest GDP per capita, and 91% of the EU average, according to the wikipedia entry on Slovenia’s economy).
So what on earth did the Mail mean by its headline news today “England, the sick woman of Europe: Our poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer“? I’m not even going to go into the bad or rather meaningless science, what really troubles me is that papers like the Mail still rely on its readers’ ignorance and arrogance to stoke up pointless disgust and disregard for nations just because they are not within commuting distance of Sevenoaks, or don’t have nuclear weapons. I really wonder if the Mail have any idea what or where Slovenia is? Mark Wallace certainly doesn’t:
Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said last night: ‘It is shocking that England is falling behind other European countries – and even more that we are falling behind a country like Slovenia. We spend a vast amount on healthcare but we don’t get the results that we should.
What does he mean, ‘a country like Slovenia’, given that there is every reason why Slovenians should enjoy a long and healthy life. On what grounds should we always be ahead of Slovenia? The picture of Slovenians, all (unusually, by the way) in national costume is compared to a fat (presumably English) woman eating KFC-like chicken from a box on a roadside bench. I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to make of this: that the fat woman and her love of chicken is letting the side down, giving those Commie folk-dancers a head start? If it weren’t for her chicken-problem, she’d be running the country and writing books about Slavoj Žižek?
And if we were to suddenly beat Slovenia into 13th place, by ensuring their women died 2 months earlier than ours, would that be a cause for celebration? Do they deserve to die because they used to have a socialist government, or because they have funny accents over their letters? I’d like to suggest that the Mail reporters and Mr Wallace pay a trip to Slovenia to see how much further we have yet to go before we look even half as civilized. But it’s the absence of such pricks in that lovely country that makes it so pleasant to be in. So on second thoughts, just stay here, please.