The black limousines with the darkened windows are heading up the hill to the Vila Bled again today. The BMW shuttle service brings some of the most politically influential individuals in the south western Europe and Balkans region to hotels around Lake Bled. Their four and five star passengers delivered to suitably matching accommodation in the Slovenian summer’s last hurrah.
It is a sunny day in Bled – after the hottest summer in living memory we are now into the hottest days of autumn. As the leaves turn, it hardly seems to be a place for business suits, sweaty handshakes and the exchange of business cards. “Better than last year.” Many will say as the scooted about from venue to venue, event to event, networking lunch to networking dinner in the pouring rain.
The agenda has the heft of an international event, which it is albeit one that is less well known outside this region than say Davos. An European Commissioner here, a Prime Minister there, a President of a country chats to the President of an industry and the lead singer of a band recently returned from North Korea talks to a group of diplomats about the importance of music and arts in international relations. Laibach is to North Korea what Wham was to China.
The Bled Strategic Forum is not just one event; there are three rolled up into a long weekend, BSF, Business and Young. The agenda is filled with grand ideas. There is talk of Partnerships and Visions. But put aside cynicism a moment and dig a little deeper. Darker more difficult subjects are being tackled here; the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice, ending sexual violence in conflict which is a war crime and a crime against humanity. multiple discrimination that older people seem to face based on gender, age and ethnicity. This is not just about suits talking to suits.
It is just 20 years since the Srebrenica massacre – you could drive to Srebrenica from Bled in under 7 hours. And there are other, more positive anniversaries being observed this year. Not the least the first anniversary of the first discussion at BSF on tourism; a well attended and enthusiastic session which should be at least as energetic this year. And even though it is a tourism destination, Bled has still much to learn about tourism – according to many of the tourism service providers in the town.