Throughout its time as part of a unified Yugoslavia and since being relieved in 1991 of its beast of burden status within the failing federation, tourism has remained a vital central plank of Slovenia’s economy, the Communist yoke placed upon it by a Belgrade only too happy to cream off the spoils from its most northerly republic replaced – once Slovenia has seceded from the federation – by an upsurge in private enterprise at arm’s length from, or, almost completely abstract from the state.

Placing many formerly state-owned businesses into private hands wasn’t without its drawbacks, the loss of a Communist influence and comparative safety-net were keenly felt particularly amongst older generations, in many cases their guaranteed jobs for life were swept away almost overnight. Slovenia was for so long held up as an exemplar to the world as the acceptable face of a loosely but seemingly successfully held together collective of unique republics, all of whom brought their individual strengths to the table, all the while cleverly camouflaging the manifold serious ethnic and financial divisions bubbling under the surface. With a particularly industrious population more aligned in outlook to the Protestant work ethic of the Teutons than a Slavic attitude to life that often seemed at odds with their Stakhanovite tendencies, Yugoslavia’s bread-basket in the north more or less held together the basket-case further south.

The northwestern Gorenjska region of Slovenia has long been the area of the country most well known by British travellers, the resorts of Bled, Bohinj and Kranjska Gora occupying terrain dominated by the Julian Alps and Karavanke mountain ranges. These areas should be the powerhouse that drives the region’s economy – all the component parts are in situ which amount to an open goal for prosperity to enrich the lives of Gorenjska’s residents already blessed by the natural beauty of their surroundings. Sadly, privatisation of the tourism sector has over the years seen a succession of negligent owners take over many key tourism institutions, the assets that weren’t stripped being mercilessly sweated with little or no regard towards the future through a complete absence of inward expenditure, making routine and ongoing investment virtually nonexistent. Akin to watching a car crash in slow motion, the nightmare scenario that nobody had seen fit to arrest despite all pointers indicating the likely outcome has now come to pass. It would be sensationalist to state the tourism industry has collapsed in the Bohinj region but the shameful decay of hotels Bellevue and Zlatorog are the inconvenient reflection that mirrors the nightmare the local tourist officials have been sleepwalking towards, their destination having now been reached.

Local entrepreneur Zmago Pacnik quite rightly carries the can for much of Bohinj’s current woes although all the region’s tourism shortcomings cannot be placed at his door. Pacnik does though hold the decisive hand of cards for the Bohinj area, seemingly being impervious to criticism and untouchable by current legislation. The Zlatorog is perhaps his most public asset, its disgraceful state bringing shame on an area supposedly expertly stewarded by the stringent Triglav National Park(TNP) authority, the ludicrous raft of limitations it places on the Bohinjci only demonstrating how toothless it actually is, a flat-track bully interested only in controlling the controllables rather than going after the real villains of the piece.

Having exhausted all avenues available through existing legal machinery, Bohinj’s mayor Franc Kramar has appealed to the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar to intervene, a laudable action in itself but one that should have been initiated years ago, especially since it has been acknowledged that Pacnik ceased to invest in the aforementioned hotels since 2003. Another property forming part of his portfolio has recently been dropped by UK Lakes & Mountains tour operators, the Hotel Bohinj(formerly Kompas) being blighted for many years by complaints over bussed in or nonexistent food, stretching the patience of even the most mild mannered British traveller.

The position adopted in Kramar’s letter centres upon law being drafted to legally compel negligent and absentee owners of tourism infrastructure to make good any repairs needed and to present an acceptable appearance as possible of any hotels not currently operating. It would though surely fall under existing health and safety directives that a hotel should be secured against the ravages of time and those with malevolent intent, an already unsafe building open to the elements and passersby will only be made more dangerous by looters and harsh alpine elements. I therefore feel the mayor’s epistle doesn’t go far enough, failing to mention purported property tax legislation that would oblige the likes of Pacnik to pay duty on a building regardless of whether it housed an ongoing business concern within its walls. There is also the issue of distressed assets being forcibly ceased by local authorities, similar but different to statutes that allow assets to pass into public hands(the local municipality) that have through a series of auctions/Dutch auctions failed to sell. It would otherwise seem improper for the likes of Pacnik to be able to continually hold out for an asking price for the Zlatorog which has no chance of being met, the hotel all the while visually and structurally deteriorating yet further. A body of law needs to put in place to protect communities from rogue proprietors who become disinterested in their assets once no further money can be wrung from them, forcing the hand of those guilty of dereliction of duty to either remedy the situation, market their properties at realistic levels or, risk the state intervening in a way it for the time being seems loath to do so.

Prime Minister Cerar’s response will be keenly anticipated, not in the least because any state intervention initiated by his incumbent administration runs a very real risk of running contrary to a hands off, laissez faire policy presently being adopted by Slovenia, the shrinking of the state currently being peddled as a panacea for the country’s financial woes manifesting itself through a strategy to privatise fifteen state-owned companies. Should the government lend a sympathetic ear to Kramar’s appeal for state assistance the wider implications for a denationalisation stratagem being steadfastly pursued could ultimately make this nationally adopted policy untenable.

Further reading on this matter can be found at:

Gorenjski Glas: Bohinj mayor requests government assistance