Interview with H. E. Mr. Anžej Frangeš, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the Republic of Bulgaria

Workshop for documenting and safeguarding local intangible cultural heritage in Romania
15th Annual Meeting of the South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Interview with H. E. Mr. Anžej Frangeš
Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the Republic of Bulgaria
Days of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, June 14-27, 2021


Which is your favorite element from Slovenia, still not inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage? 

Slovenia, like Bulgaria, has a rich culture and traditions. Our task and main goal is to promote this culture not only in Europe but all over the world. There are several elements from Slovenia still not inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The first that comes to my mind is related to bees and beekeeping, namely the painting of beehive panels. Slovenia makes efforts to raise the awareness on bee conservation and also to bring forth the supremely important role of bees and other pollinators  for species preservation, conservation and overall ecosystem stability. The United Nations Member States approved Slovenia’s proposal to proclaim 20 May as World Bee Day in December 2017. On this day in 1734 Anton Janša, the pioneer of beekeeping was born.

On a rather gastronomical note I would have to choose two elements. The first one is “Baking Prleška gibanica” under the “Economic Knowledge and Skills” domain. Prleška gibanica is a festive pastry characteristic of the Prlekija region. It is made from layers of filo pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream. Traditionally, it was made when major farm tasks were carried out or for festive occasions. The second element is “Traditional production of the Carniolan sausages”. Their documented geographical definition dates from the second half of the 19th century. The making of Carniolan sausages has been declared a living masterpiece of national significance.

And which Bulgarian ICH element do you think is the most impressive?

Due to the fact that Bulgaria has a couple of unique Intangible Cultural Heritage elements it is very difficult to point out just one. That is why I will choose two. The first is “The Nestinarstvo” – the fire-walking as a climax of the annual Panagyr ritual on the feast days of Saints Constantine and Helena. It is staged in the village of Bulgari, Mount Strandzha, South-East Bulgaria. The second element is the “Surova folk feast” in Pernik region which takes place in the beggining of every year. The reason behind my second pick is that in Slovenia we have if not identical a similar ritual called Kurentovanje. It is the most popular and ethnologically significant carnival event. The presence of kurenti or kukeri in Bulgarian announces the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The Door-to-door rounds element of Kurenti was inscribed in 2017 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is a Shrovetide custom practised from Candlemas (2 February) to Ash Wednesday. Kurenti practise their rounds through villages and nowadays also through the town of Ptuj.

Bulgaria and Slovenia have a lot of similarities and differences in their cultural heritage.  According to you, what has to be done in order to strengthen the cultural dialogue between our countries?

Slovenia and Bulgaria have excellent bilateral relations and many things in common. A good example is our Slavic heritage and cultural ties. We still have many opportunities to improve our cooperation and we are constantly making progress in this direction. The most important thing is to make small steps towards bringing our two cultures together to a better common cultural relations and brighter future. Almost a month after the inaugurational opening ceremony of the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia to the Republic of Bulgaria in cooperation with the Sofia District Administration and the Sofia Regional Center, UNESCO with the support of the Sofia Municipality we opened an exhibition under the name “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Slovenia” staged in Sofia City Garden. Prior to its arrival in the Bulgarian capital the exposition was very successful in Germany, Poland among other countries as far as Brazil. Part of the visiting exhibition in Sofia was the “Škofja Loka Passion Play” collection – a world-renowned element inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This exhibition features a variety of photographic and video materials, selected objects, modern technology and design techniques, thus presenting the non-tangible heritage related to the Škofja Loka Passion Play, which is considered to be the oldest preserved dramatic text in the Slovenian language. The Passion Play’s focus was on depicting Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. On 1 December 2016, the Škofja Loka Passion Play was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is Slovenia’s first inscription on this prestigious list. I believe that initiatives like this are the way for our traditions to become known and exciting for more people not only in Bulgaria but also across the world.

Is culture important for the international relations of Slovenia?

I believe that culture is in the basis not only for the international relations of the Republic of Slovenia but for all countries. In the future more attention should be paid to the dialogue between different cultures. More and more countries are nowadays rediscovering cultural diplomacy as a means to build mutual trust and understanding. Diplomacy on its own is a means of communication between countries. However cultural diplomacy represents a positive agenda for cooperation that takes place at a more human level.

What policies in the South-East European region are needed in order to popularize the living heritage and its values among the young people?

The necessary policies in South-East Europe in order to popularize the living heritage and its values not only among youngsters but for people of all ages are no different than those in any other part of the world. I will give you just one of many examples. In 1991 Slovenia, along with a number of other European countries and the Council of Europe, was one of the founders and initiators of the “Days of European Cultural Heritage” or “Dnevi evropske kulturne dediščine in Slovene. Every September a series of events are organised in Slovenia. This series published by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, part of the Ministry of Culture of Slovenia, includes 16 bilingual publications, among them Historical Parks and Gardens, The Heritage of Monastic Order, Art Nouveau Architecture, Medieval Towns, 20th Century: Slovene Architecture from Modernism to Contemporaneity, Castles, Fortresses and City Walls, and programmes dedicated to architect Jože Plečnik, and the father of written Slovenian language Primož Trubar. Both programmes “Heritage, Creativity and Innovation” and “Cultural Heritage and Prosperity” were followed by pan-European campaigns. The common theme was Heritage Communities and Volunteering and Solidarity between Generations. With these events, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia has been particularly successful in enhancing the image of cultural heritage promotion in Europe.