And what does that mean for Slovenia
ALERT: Please watch Peter Bossman on CNN tomorrow 12.30 CET. A pic>>
Dr. Peter Bossman (born 1955 in Ghana) was yesterday elected as the first black mayor in Slovenia. He is now the mayor of Piran, one of Slovenia's most beautiful towns and top tourist destinations. And no, it's not his cool family name, that made his victory so special, it's the fact, that he's not of Slovenian descent and that he's black. Both facts are something new in Slovenia and many Slovenians outside Piran have never heard about him until this year's mayoral elections. And symbolically it's also a big deal for this part of Europe. How many black mayors do you know in Austria, Germany or Poland? I guess not many... if any.
✰ There are not many non-white people in Slovenia
The thing about Slovenia is, that we're a very small country, but very diverse. Every region has its own distinctive dialect, way of life and history. And we're a pretty young sovereign state, few months short of 20 years. And who knows Slovenia anyway? We're constantly mistaken for Slovakia or we're not known at all. And I guess that's the reason that Slovenia is not one of the hot spots for foreign immigrants. It's interesting, but you will hardly find people of any other race than white in Slovenia. There are few Chinese, who usually run restaurants with Chinese food. I guess they will be found in almost any bigger and smaller town (but usually one or two families), but when it comes to Africans, Arabs, Turks or Filipinos (ethnic groups that are commonly emigrating), you will have a hard time finding some in Slovenia. Maybe in recent years foreign influx has slightly increased in Slovenia, but it's hardly visible on our streets. Those who Slovenians perceive as foreigners, came from the former Yugoslav brethren nations such as Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. There are also many Albanians here as well as Roma (Romani people or commonly "gypsies"), who are an ethnic group with a special status in Slovenia and there are also many issues related to them.
✰ How mistrust in foreigners is connected to Slovenian history
So in these circumstances it's of course something new for a Slovenian municipality to elect a black mayor. Of course there is a lot of racism and stereotypical thinking about foreigners here. Some is the same as found in other Western countries, but some is the result of the painful Slovenian history. We were 8 centuries under Austria, partly under Italy and Hungary and even under France for a brief period. We endured two world wars, where many of our countrymen were executed just for being Slovenians. Many Slovenians immigrated, many were Germanized and Italianized. For centuries we had to struggle to preserve our own language and identity. When other Western nations had their first states in the 18th or 19th century, we had to wait until 1991 to be a fully independent and internationally recognized state. Don't misunderstand, I do not want to condone any racism or stereotypical thinking, I just want to explain the reasons to you. History is always present in the minds of Slovenians and every time there are elections, we start to argue about who was pro-communist and who was anti-communist in 1945 and beyond, because we have two blocks (left and right wing), who exploit these sentiments every time we have parliamentary or presidential elections. Most of it is fought out in the media, but more so online. Stupid comments and provocations on both sides are the norm, but I think that's gradually changing.
✰ Left-right online wars peaked in 2008
The peak of these left-right online wars was reached in 2008, where the (at that time incumbent) right-wing government lead by Janez Janša lost the elections by a very small margin. If you had read the online comments at that time, you'd feel like Slovenia was back in 1942 in peak World War II. I must say I really felt uncomfortable during that time, sometimes it was unbearable. It was better to avoid forums and online news and the comments. Two years later and things have changed a lot in Slovenia. Basically now most Slovenians would say everyone sucks. Be it the right wing or the left wing government, they're all corrupt or incapable of leading this nation out of the recession. Slovenians are bitter in 2010. Very bitter and angry, not only at the politicians, but also at business magnates, that (at least according to the media) run this country. There were many layoffs in factories and a lot of general strikes lately, which gives the impression to the average Slovenian that the economy is in shambles. Now it's probably not a big surprise to you that people are sick of the usual nonsense from the politicians, they want serious solutions to important (usually existential) problems. And these exceed class, race and political preference. Basically we feel we're all screwed in this country. And we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.
✰ 2010 is the year of change for Slovenians
So it's no wonder that the 2010 mayoral elections in Slovenia brought big change in voters' behavior. People now really read the political programs and try to give their votes to people who are not ideologues and to those who seem honest and don't spew the usual BS and most importantly who can get things done. No wonder that one of the richest men in Slovenia, Zoran Janković, who was mayor of Ljubljana from 2006-2010, was reelected. He was reelected, because he got things done. He transformed Ljubljana visibly, something that the mayors before him did not manage to achieve. And he's not even in a party, he has his own list and that's it. And he did not become one of the richest men in Slovenia by luck, he was the CEO of Mercator, a Slovenian supermarket chain comparable to the Dutch Spar (or Walmart in USA). Something similar happened in many other municipalities, people elected mayors who either did something good for their community or they replaced the old ones with people who have fresh ideas and solutions for the future. And that's where Peter Bossman comes in.
✰ And then came Dr. Peter Bossman
He was not known in Slovenia, but he was known in the municipality of Piran. He worked there as a doctor. Before he started his campaign he even had his own private practice. And judging from the opinions of his patients, he was a good doctor. He came to Slovenia (at that time under Yugoslavia) as a student from Ghana in 1977, eventually stayed here, became a physician and started a family. In the past years he was already a member of the Piran town council, which gave him some political experience.
And then came his campaign two months ago and suddenly his name was raised to a national level. Many people were surprised, that there's a candidate of African descent, who wants to be the mayor of one of our towns, but most people thought he does not stand a chance to win. Well, the people of Piran disagreed with that notion and gave the most votes to Dr. Peter Bossman and a small sensation was made in this country. But two things surprised me: The campaign was not about his race and also most reactions were not racist. Sure, there were and are many racist comments online, but we need to put things in perspective. And there were people from Piran saying on TV that they won't vote for him, because he's black. But there were also people, who said he's a good doctor and an honest person and that they trust him enough to be in charge of their town. In the end he won, because people thought of his program and ideas for Piran's future were good and he deserves a chance. He did not win, because of the color of his skin. Most critics attacked his inexperience and the fact, that he's not very fluent in Slovenian. The racist were in a vast minority. And I think that was a small step forward to Slovenia. I'd say a tiny step. You can't take Bossman's victory as a sign of big change in Slovenia, be it in the way we elect mayors or politicians in general, be it how we see foreigners, especially those that belong to a different race. Piran is after all a very small municipality with its specific problems that are not common in other parts of Slovenia. Interestingly, the media gave Dr. Peter Bossman the nickname "Slovenian Obama", which I think is totally ridiculous.
✰ Why is he not the Slovenian Obama
✰ Why is he not the Slovenian Obama
America has a very specific history of race relations, especially between Blacks and Whites. Peter Bossman just happens to be an immigrant from Africa, who came to Slovenia in pursuit of happiness, Obama on the other hand was (and partly still is) the hope of the people, whose forefathers were brought to America as Slaves and were abused, mistreated and humiliated for centuries. Obama's victory in 2008 showed that Americans can move forward, but his election was at the same time the start of a whole movement, that does not want to see a perceived liberal (actually centrist), Muslim (actually Christian), Black (actually biracial) president. What I read in certain comments on articles about Obama is truly scary. I have never read so many racist comments on American websites like in 2010 and I'm not sure, why that's ok to do in America these days. I really hope that Bossman won't have this type of negative reactions after he had served some time as a mayor of Piran. Lucky for him, he will never be a Slovenian Obama. He will always be Dr. Peter Bossman, the mayor of Piran 2010-2014.
✰ Let's stop seeing the color of his skin
Let's give the man a chance to prove himself. And let the people of Piran judge him in 2014. If he did a good job, he will be reelected, if he decides to run again. If he did a bad job, there will be candidates, who will challenge him in 2014. May the best win. And hopefully Piran will win a better future. Keep in mind, it's not about him being black or a good doctor. It's about him being a good mayor and doing good things for the municipality. And yes, he has the right to fail, he has the right to do a bad job and people have the right to criticize him. But please, just please, stop comparing him with Obama or mentioning the fact that he's black over and over again. From now on he's the mayor of Piran and only that should count. I always say, that I don't see colors, I see people. And those of you, who still see the color of his skin, rinse your eyes with pure water, look again and you might see the person. If it doesn't work, try harder. Eventually you can do it. You can. Yes, we all can. Good luck to Dr. Peter Bossman.
Ps: I only hope that Piran will benefit from recent international publicity about "the first black mayor in Slovenia". It's amazing, how the news have spread all over the world today.
Additional post: [Reactions of Slovenian netizens to Bossman's victory]
World press: [Slovenia elects its first black mayor/HuffPost]
[Photo and info source: Dr. Peter Bossman's FB page]