Written by: Zrinka Šajn (Croatia), Bora Eseroğlu (Turkey), Mesut Urcan (Turkey), Arda Tüzüner (Turkey), Nicolò Donati (Italy) , Sofia Peresani (Italy), Hazal Korkut (Turkey) and Ayça Şahin (Turkey)
Edited by: Ana Alibegova / Stefan Alijevikj
The cozy town in Slovenian Istria – Piran is certainly a place worth to visit. Not only it is famous among Slovenian and foreign tourists for its breath-taking sceneries, crystal clear water and hospitality of its inhabitants, moreover, it got world media attention for having the first black mayor in Slovenia and in the region. Peter Bossman, a candidate of the centre-left Social Democrats leads this multicultural town from 2010.
According to the Slovenian Statistical Office, in the Obalno-kraška region, where the town of Piran is located, lives a total number of more than 9800 inhabitans, considered as national minorities. More than 70 percent of them belong to some of the former Yugoslav nationalities. On the other hand, more than 20 percent belong to the EU nationalities, with a significant presence of Italian community. The mayor Bossman, explains how this multiculturality works in practice. In this interview, he talks about the integration of minorities in Piran, but also about the living-together and dialogue in Slovenian Istria settled between the Italian and Croatian seacoast.
Mr. Bossman, could you please share with us your story. What it means to be the first elected black mayor in Slovenia and how is your personal experience living and working in Piran?
Peter Bossman: As you can see, I am not from here, I was not born in Slovenia, but in Africa, in Ghana. I came to Slovenia, when it was part of Yugoslavia, just by chance. I have not planned to come here, but because of politics, because I was an active student, I had to leave my country. I got the visa, so I came to Yugoslavia to study medicine, later on I got married here and started a family. In addition, I began to work as a doctor, I built my career in Slovenia. I was always interested in politics and five years ago, I was elected as a mayor of Piran.
When I came to work as a doctor, it was 30 years ago, people were talking about me like “the black doctor”. And then, one day, they started to talk about me as “my doctor”. When that happens, you know you have been accepted by your compatriots. I did not think I would run for the local elections. Then, six years ago people came to me and said: “Mr. Bossman, what do you think about accepting a nomination for a mayor? I replied to them: “Are you crazy? I would have never been elected.” And they said: “No, every time we ask people, whom do you trust, your name always came out.” And after I heard those words, I thought: “Maybe I can be elected.” Firstly, we used the Croatian media to talk about me. We thought that Slovenian media will not support me, because of the media law in Slovenia which foresees equal media space to each candidate, so a story about one candidate would also understands stories about all the other candidates. Then, when Croatian media started talking about me, the Slovenian press began to report about my activities and people started to trust me. Moreover, we used also new media in order to approach the young people in Piran.
“I don’t like using the word minority”
What is the position of minorities in Piran? In which ways does the local government take care of national and other minorities in Piran?
Peter Bossman: This is a bilingual area, we speak Italian and Slovenian here, as equal partners. So if you go to the shop here, they can speak Italian and they have to understand that language, too. All shops should have a receptionist who can speak Italian. The Italian minority is a small community here, but they have been living here for many years. This is their home. That is why I think it is important to respect the fact that they are a part of the population here. I do not like using the word minority. When we talk about majority and minority, we are treating them differently. Yes, we have to take care about some small numbered groups and they must have equal rights. In my community, there are Slovenians, Italians, there are people from Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia. There is also a community called Istrians, because this is the region of Istria and they speak Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, and other languages. Additionally, there is a small African minority group here, only two of us, but it is important that everyone who lives in this community feels as a part of the community of Piran.
If we talk about the local administration and integration, in town council we have 25 seats, and 3 seats for the Italian community are guaranteed. One of my vice-mayors is a member of the Italian community as well. So, as you can see, we are trying to protect their rights. It will be wrong if they do not receive that protection, because, for instance, if we go for elections, there is always a danger that somebody who is a member of the Italian community cannot be elected as a mayor. Or never become the vice-mayor or councilor. The Italian community has lived here for centuries and this is their home. It is also very important that we have schools, kindergartens and high schools for the Italian community as well. Everyone can enroll there, no matter the nationality. In the Slovenian schools here, the Italian language is compulsory. I am very proud of the Italian community here, as well as I am proud of every community living here. We also have a Roma community here, very well integrated. Every year they have a festival and I go there to dance with them, gipsy dance, to show them that I appreciate their culture and their history. They are part of us. They belong to community of Piran.
What about people with disabilities and LGBT community? How are they integrated?
Peter Bossman: I will go for the easy part, people with disabilities: I think that we do not have a problem with them, they are involved in all activities. There is a law in Slovenia that foresees you have to have at least 1 percent of people with disabilities as employees in the public institutions. And we have that. As for the LGBT community, there is no outside discrimination: no one will ever ask if you are a part of the LGBT group when you apply for a job. Piran is a very small town and we know our LGBT. No one will ever intend some kind of action against them.
Positioning Piran as a youth-friendly town
What kind of challenges have you been facing since you were elected?
Peter Bossman: We were talking about minorities so I am going to keep on that level, one of the challenges here is always to tell minorities that they are part of this community. I have an excellent relation with the Italian community, but all the time I have to remind them that I am on their side. They have to believe that when they present something to me, I guarantee them equal treatment, and if I say no to some of their proposals, it is not because it is coming from the Italian community, but because it is not a good proposition. This is one of the challenges I am facing. And it happens like this with every minority group, everywhere.
Does this mean that there is no positive discrimination?
Peter Bossman: No, there is no positive discrimination. In the US, they may had positive discrimination, but Istria makes a multicultural region and it has always been like that.
What is your vision of Piran for the future and what are your next projects concerning the city?
Peter Bossman: Piran is a touristic destination; we have a lot of tourists during the summer, from May to September. However, I would like to prolong the touristic season, I want to make Piran a cultural city with a lot of cultural activities. Also I want to see more young people here: we do a lot of work with young people, but demographically, this city is becoming an old town. I want to attract young people to come, to live here. So these are my challenges for the future: to prolong the touristic season, to try to welcome more young people and also to improve communication infrastructures, faster internet connection and so on. And of course there is another thing that must be done concerning young people: we should provide cheaper accommodation for them, because this is a touristic area and the accommodation is usually too expensive for young tourists.
Talking about these future activities and plans, it is logical to ask if you are going to run for another mandate?
Peter Bossman I do not plan to, but you know what they say in politic: Never say never. It is an experience that has enriched my life and I appreciate the people of Piran for giving me this opportunity, I am very proud to have the chance to show to this part of the world that it is not important where you come from, but what is in your heart.
This article is a result of the Youth Exchange “Raise Your V.O.I.C.E 0.2” which focused on amplifying the voice of minorities in Piran, Slovenia. The Youth Exchange was hosted by the team of Mladiinfo Slovenia from 10–17 May, 2015 in Piran, Slovenia, a follow-up project of the first edition of “Raise Your V.O.I.C.E” being hosted in Skopje, Macedonia (May, 2014). The information and views set out in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and standpoints of Mladiinfo Slovenia or other Mladiinfo organization. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the text, therein lies entirely with the authors.