Praise and prizes for Slovenia's high (foreign) achievers

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It was in the Slovenian border town of Nova Gorica last week, that a group of people gathered for the third annual Guest Star awards. The ceremony honors foreigners in Slovenia; people who've come to the country and made a positive contribution to its development.

The third annual guest star awards took place in one of Europe's largest casinos, the Hit Casino Perla in Nova Gorica. Altogether 16 foreigners had been nominated in four categories: sports, diplomacy, economy and culture.

Candidates were suggested by the Slovenian public, then whittled down by a panel of judges. In the weeks preceding the event, upwards of 15,000 votes were tallied. In the end, a lot of old winners returned to win again. In the sports category, the Jamacia-born runner Merlene Ottey, who competes internationally for Slovenia, won the prize again - after already taking home the honor in 2004. In the economy category, CEO of wireless operator Simobil, the Austria-born Andreas Maierhofer, won for the second straight year running.

"I was very surprised to win again. I was surprised to be nominated and also surprised to find myself among the final nominees again. For me, this prize means that Simobil is on the right path and that my work at the head of the company has been appreciated."

Nabbing the top prize in culture was the director of the French Institute in Ljubljana, The Gabon-born Michel Obenga, who has been in Slovenia for 20 years now. And in the category of diplomacy, the Belgian ambassador to Slovenia, Jean Louis Mignot, beat out stiff competition from popular diplomats from the UK, Austria, and Finland. He credited his victory to the fact that his reputation precedes him:

"It seems that I have a certain reputation - you're never sure about that - but that is the reality, because I realized that a number of epople appreciate or have heard about me. After all, Slovenia is a small country so news goes around quite fast that I and my wife are quite engaged in having a policy of presence. Not in the sense of an official policy, no, just the fact of meeting people, seeing people, listening to them and going to see what they like or don't like: theater, cinema and other kinds of things like that."

For Slovenia's relatively small population of foreigners, the award ceremony was also a great chance to stand in the limelight and also meet other people who have have decided to live here.