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Slovenia Takes EU Presidency

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Rob Gifford has more.

ROB GIFFORD: Foreign Minister Dimitri Rupel says it's a seminal moment in European history.

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GIFFORD: This is the first sign of melting away of this division between East and West, and old and new member countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELL)

GIFFORD: Back on the Slovenian side of the border, 80-year-old Lado Maroshitz(ph) and his wife, Alowisha(ph), are out shopping.

MONTAGNE: (Speaking in foreign language)

GIFFORD: We never dreamed we could even join the European Union, says Maroschitz, let alone become its president - it's a sentiment echoed by many of the older generation in Slovenia who grew up in Tito's Yugoslavia.

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(SOUNDBITE OF TRADITIONAL SLOVENIAN MUSIC)

GIFFORD: In the capital of Ljubljana, stores play traditional Slovenian music for the growing number of tourists. Despite its recent economic growth, the pace of the city of 280,000 people is still slow and relaxed. But leading the E.U. has given Slovenians like 24-year-old Yaca Benedichit(ph) a growing self-confidence. Sitting in a bar downtown, he says joining and leading the E.U. is a completely natural step for Slovenia to take.

MONTAGNE: We felt a part of Europe ever since Yugoslavia fell apart. When it fell apart, we were immediately European. We went shopping to Italy and Austria. We always feel that we are just the same in Europe as Austria or Germany or anything else.

GIFFORD: But his friend, Sabena Zonte(ph), says Western Europeans, like the neighboring Austrians, still have plenty of prejudices about former Eastern European countries like Slovenia.

MONTAGNE: I think Austria really look at us like all the Slovenian, Slavic, or ex-Yugoslavia - they know nothing. We have done so much work in, I don't know, 15, 16, 17 years. And we are not stupid, but they think we are. They don't see us as people.

GIFFORD: Rob Gifford, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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