"American Corner" introduces Slovenians to American life and culture


The United States has established a new cultural center in Slovenia. The first "American Corner" - as it has been named - opened its doors in the seaside town of Koper this year.

In the early 1970s, the US Information Service ran a library and cultural center in Ljubljana, when it was still a city in Yugoslavia. U.S.-Slovenian relations have generally been good in most areas. Slovenia has hosted two U.S. presidents since independence and Slovenes are among the few who enjoy visa-free travel to the United States. Economic relations, though, are minor, with the US accounting for just 3% of Slovenia's total trade.

But there are signs that things are slowly picking up. First, the government in Ljubljana recently made the surprise move of sending four Slovenian soldiers to act as military instructors in Iraq. The token force angered large segments of the Slovenian public, and also met with disapproval from other European NATO allies.

Although opinion polls show that the public overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war, American products are still ubiquitous and generally enjoyed. Television and radio programming, not to mention cinemas and bookstores, are stacked with American goods. This past February, the U.S. State Department and the University of Primorska opened the American Corner in Koper, a cultural and information center. The head of the center, Breda Biscak:

"We provide various information on life and studying in the states. Then we have a reference library with books and various topics. We have several magazines and journals and we also offer free internet access and various other cultural events."

The corner, or koticek as it is locally known, occupies a modest 70 square meters. It also received funding from the city of Koper and the company Emona Obala Koper.

The decision to station it in Koper instead of the capital was a bit of a surprise, but came because the newly founded University of Primorska won a public bid to host it.

The center disavows any political purpose, insisting that its purpose is not to spread pro-American propaganda. Breda Biscak:

"You have to know that the university is not a political institution and that we operate within our own rules."

The center has enjoyed success in the past three months, partly fuelled by familiarity with the United States, interest in studying there, the widespread use of English as a second language, and such amenities as the coffee bar.