Last weekend I visited Slovenia. A small independent country that is often compared to Wales as it is virtually the same size (20,270 km2 compared to Wales 20,760 km2) but which has only two thirds of our population (2.0 million compared to Wales 3.1 million). Apart from its size, it also shares with Wales a healthy obsession with dragons (the photo above is of the Dragon Bridge in the capital Ljubljana). This apparently relates back to the story of Jason and the Argonauts who fought the famous monster, and the tourist shops in the city centre sell the same sort of cuddly dragons that you can find in Cardiff.
A Shared History
For much of its history, Slovenia has been dominated by its neighbours – part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before World War 1. Then later part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats & Slovenes which later became Yugoslavia. This was an artificial multi-nation state – supposedly comprising of equal members but in reality dominated by one (sound familiar?).
Slovenia became the first of the Yugoslav republics to breakaway and declare independence in 1991 and later joined the European Union in 2004.
A Balanced Economy
I was struck by how relaxed and relatively prosperous the country was. Not just the capital but the smaller towns I visited in the west of the country – although I understand the eastern regions are relatively poorer.
The country has no significant natural resources and the economy is not dominated by any one industry. Rather it is a well balanced economy which makes the best of its natural location and its people.
According to one measure – GDP per Capita – Wales is richer than Slovenia, having an average economic output of €25,550 per person compared to Slovenia’s €20,800.
However, when measuring using the alternative measure of GDP PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) – Slovenia is better off having €25,600 compared to Wales €22,900. I don’t fully understand how the PPP figures are calculated but as it was explained to me – the Welsh may be richer on paper, but the Slovenes are better off.
So if Slovenia can make the transition from a junior ‘partner’ in an unequal union, to a prosperous independent nation in its own right – then why can’t Wales?
There is no doubt that an independent Wales will have its challenges – but like Slovenia we will also have opportunities. We need to develop a balanced economy that is not over-reliant on one industry sector – and we need to start building for the future today.