Slovenia's Pomurje - where tradition is stronger than official borders

Slovenia's most north-eastern region is known as Pomurje and it shares borders with Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Around 6% of the population live in this mainly agricultural area which is also the country's poorest. The region is known for its flatlands, storks and its cultural heritage, but also for its lack of development.

The song 'namesto koga roza cveti' (Instead of Whom the Flowers Bloom) is by one of the most popular singers and songwriters in Slovenia, Vlado Kreslin. He draws upon the creative energy of the musical heritage of his homeland region Prekmurje. The music is sometimes very upbeat but also at times, melancholic. Unfortunately, Pomurje is characterized by low educational levels and above average unemployment - almost 7% higher than the national average. Its geographical position and bad traffic connections have resulted in a poor economic performance and the lowest GDP per capita is Slovenia - approximately 9000 Euros. The roots of this situation can be found in the history of the region. Franc Kuzmic of the regional museum in Murska Sobota:

"Between the two World Wars the region experienced an economic crisis and many had to leave their homes, either as emigrants or as seasonal workers, who returned to their homes at the end of the season. Little was invested in the region after the war and so Prekmurje lagged behind, which then again led to the emigration of its inhabitants after World War II and in the 60s, the majority emigrated to Germany."

Mr. Kuzmic also stressed that the region was always less developed compared to other parts of Slovenia and many intellectuals never returned home after having left for better education and better jobs. The high unemployment rate today can be explained by the fact that although there was industry in the region it was mostly the agricultural and food processing industry, which is collapsing. Other areas need to be developed and investments are necessary, e.g. in tourism. The inhabitants of the Pomurje region are looking for other ways to improve their living standards, either with the help of the Slovene government or with European funds. Romeo Varga of the Regional development agency Mura explains:

"We are trying to reach an agreement with the national government to receive some positive discrimination for the Pomurje region. We were more or less unsuccessful but there is an interesting movement in this direction. For instance we have in the Pomurje region some 40% of VAT decreases when investment is done into research and development."

The water supply system in the region for example will be funded by an EU cohesion fund. Romeo Varga stresses that regional institutions have been quite successful receiving co-financing from different funds directly from the European Commission. According to him, other areas of the Pomurje region where support is needed are:

"Tourism, employment, there is also research and development, there is also support for enterprises in the region, we have funds for the improvement of the environment and infrastructure."

But receiving money from different funds alone will not solve the problems. There is something else that Mr. Varga feels is missing:

"What we are lacking are interesting initiatives, creativeness of the region and we can also say that we are lacking of management knowledge in the region and probably this is the most important topic we want to work for."

Prekmurje may be Slovenia's poorest region but as Vlado Kreslin proves - its rich in cultural tradition. If some of the initiatives supported by the EU and the government in Ljubljana prove successful this part of the country should come closer to the rest of Slovenia.