Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Ljubljana
National Day 25 June
ON ARRIVAL IN London in September, Slovenia’s new Ambassador Ms Simona Leskovar expected the capital “to be more crowded with traffic jams, tourists, and commotion.” Of course, she notes this is due the current health pandemic, which has changed so many things for now. “To a great extent, diplomacy rests on communication, meeting people, making connections, negotiating, and making one’s country’s positions known. The Covid-19 crisis makes it harder for us to do our job as most activities are limited to the virtual world. Of course, we are still here in person to conduct one of our most sacred missions: consular support for our citizens.”
As one of the first generation of international relations students in independent Slovenia, Ms Leskovar studied at the University of Ljubljana, and at Clingendael in The Hague. She always knew that one day she wanted to represent Slovenia on the international stage, and so she joined the Foreign Ministry as a student on a government scholarship in 1997. Life as a career diplomat then began, leading to over 23 years of service in Slovenian diplomacy (so far).
After climbing the ladder through the Foreign Service ranks, Ms Leskovar served overseas in Washington DC, New York and Tokyo. On her first assignment as Ambassador in Tokyo, with concurrent accreditation to Seoul in 2015, she found herself heading a small Embassy in two large and important counties. “Slovenia’s Prime Minister visited Japan exactly one year after I arrived, and I can proudly say we brought to Slovenia important new Japanese investments in high-tech and robotics. Arranging the first ever official visit of a Slovenian President to Seoul was a highlight, and attending the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games a special, memorable experience.”
In 2018, the Foreign Minister invited Ms Leskovar to be his deputy. She recalls, “although State Secretary is a political position, I took the job with great pride. In hindsight,” she says, “I can see I gained policy formulating experience, including learning about inter-departmental cooperation and coordination in the government, plus EU and multilateral experience at the highest level.” Together with other foreign female Ambassadors in Ljubljana, she initiated a mentoring project called ‘Young Ambassadors’ aimed at encouraging young women to consider a career in diplomacy and international relations. “Hopefully that is something we can (all together) continue to work on in the future,” she remarks.
Now as Ambassador in the UK, she notes that “Slovenia and the UK are two friendly countries with diverse cooperation. We share common values and interests. We are partners and like-minded countries in international organisations. With such diversified and friendly cooperation developed over many years (and confirmed by visits at the highest levels) and with solid foundations of political, economic and cultural cooperation, I am confident that mutual relations will continue to successfully develop.”
One of Ms Leskovar’s first priorities will be to represent and protect the interests of Slovenia in the UK, while enhancing bilateral political and economic ties between the two countries. “I will strive to build on pragmatic bilateral ties in science and technology, education, culture and many other areas of common interest. I want to upgrade cooperation in defence and security, see more active inter-parliamentary cooperation, and elevate people-to-people contacts.” Her work will also focus on “promoting all aspects of our beautiful country on the sunny side of the Alps. I want to make sure everyone in the UK remembers that Slovenia is the only country in the world that has “love” in its name, and encourage them to visit immediately.”
She says Slovenia “continues to support negotiators to reach a good and balanced deal regarding Brexit and future EU-UK relations. I am convinced the UK will remain a trusted partner and ally in the framework of bilateral and multilateral cooperation founded in common values, fundamental principles and the rule of law.” She considers that “the relationship will change, for sure, but the bond is strong, and relations will be formed a bit differently. We also need to be more ambitious in our future cooperation. For instance, there are programmes and initiatives where Britain’s role is of great importance, like Erasmus, Horizon or intelligence matters, foreign and security policy, climate etc. where mutual cooperation is much needed.”
Looking ahead, Slovenia is preparing to hold the Presidency of the EU Council in 2021. “We are pleased to co-operate in Trio with Germany and Portugal on key priorities that include developing plans to tackle emergencies such as pandemics, migration pressures, and large-scale cyber attacks.
“The main items on the agenda for the Slovenian EU Presidency in the second half of 2021 include strengthening the resilience and economic revival of the EU based on a digital and green transformation, plus strengthening the EU based on the rule of law, and securing the EU as a reliable and good partner.”
An avid runner, cyclist and climber, the Ambassador looks forward to spending some time in the great British outdoors. She also plans to run a marathon here, just as she has done in all the countries where she has served. She concludes: “Serving Slovenia’s interests and representing it on the international stage is a privilege and honour. My job, which I love, gives me ample opportunity to get to know new places, meet interesting people and forge new friendships and ties.”
Romana Sustar reports from the Slovenian Initiative at Conway Hall