by Špela Krajnc
They say Trump has split America. I say Melania has split the world of ethics. By majority judged for who she married, by minority loved for her origin in Sevnica. Let’s talk about HER for Women’s day. Let’s talk about ethics for Women’s day. We need this.
Coincidence or not, I come from the same town as Melania Trump, and before Christmas I made a podcast about how people from my hometown see her. What I’ve heard really made me think, and there was a part of it that I wanted to expand on in written form. I want to focus on something bigger, something that might as well come out on Women’s day: ethics. Somehow it always boils down to it. But since every story has a beginning, so has this one, so let me backtrack a little bit first.
This is a big story of a small town.
Until a few months ago, most people had never even heard of the 2-million-populated chicken-shaped country that is also referred to as Slovenia, let alone of the town Sevnica. I am one of the 5000 people whose home was forever put on the map ever since “one of our flowers”, as my grandma named her, changed her house for the White one.
On January 20th 2017, Melania Trump officially became the First Lady of the United States. While the whole world tried to mock her (and still does), my town was celebrating. A 3-day festivity in her honour after the presidential inauguration included free guided tours around Sevnica, the presentation of our touristic offer, a new line of home goods called First Lady, a charity dinner and more. Sausages, wine, chocolate, slippers made in the local shoe factory, pancakes, cake and pie Melania. You name it, we have it all – Melania fever is real.
“She told me she got a lot of nice and warmly gifts from Slovenia. She knows exactly what is going on here, we are in touch weekly. Melania has said many times that she is proud of her origin. She understands the hype and she actually laughed when she found out about the cake Melania, but just wanted to warn that her photos and her name cannot be used without her permission”, says Nataša Pirc Musar, Melania’s lawyer in Slovenia.
Sure, the tourism boom was to be expected and at the end of the day, it is a big opportunity for our town to develop and it would honestly be foolish not to take advantage of. Nevertheless, somewhere in between interviewing locals about Melaniamania, I discovered she is more than just a new barcode. Despite our size we have now become part of something bigger.
“Our town was caught in despair, because we thought we are so distant from everything that is going on in the world. The fact that Melania comes from here is like a confirmation that we are a part of the global world now, that we can interfere everywhere and that even from a small town like Sevnica, all of the options are open and everything is possible. And it is a fact that now we relatively participate in the history of the world”, says Srečko Ocvirk, the Mayor of our town.
Nevertheless, even Slovenians seem to have missed this point. Over 100 other media houses rushed into our small town over the last year, and just like the foreign press, ours too eagerly tried to dig out juicy information about Melania’s past. A book written by a Slovenian journalist which really tried to slander her image, and a lawsuit against one who claimed she used to be an escort, are two of the most evident cases proving that not even the Slovenian colours on Melania’s passport contradict the shaky ground of journalism ethics. Nataša Pirc Musar appeals to the matter of human decency and the limit of which we should all seek on our own. The principal of our primary school, Mirjana Jelančič, seems to have found it:
“Last year in August they started saying really distasteful and indecent things about Melania. I really thought it was unfair that no-one stood up for her and tell she is a nice girl, a great friend, that there is nothing bad about her…saying that she doesn’t speak Slovenian and so on, this was all not true, and I felt the need to tell the truth from the perspective of our town.”
To be fair, it was not just Melania who was the target. Media also tried really hard to portray Sevnica as this rural village where “the First Lady with a thick accent” grew up. Although journalists were always more than welcome and shown around, in one particular case only a photo of a school’s cleaning lady in her robe and a statue in front of our school were enough to create a story of the “communistic village”. I guess life really gets easy when one forgets the morals. Provocations like these were definitely there, but Sevnica kept on fighting and trying its best to show that we are proud of our former resident regardless of who she married. Sevnica did, but Slovenia didn’t.
“As a nation, we didn’t take her side. If someone is from Slovenia – a Slovenian, and is likely to become a First Lady of the United States, the first lady of the world almost, we, as a nation didn’t positively support the candidacy. Sadly it was just us, Sevnica, who did. I think it is an obligation of a country to protect the integrity of our representatives in the world”, commented Srečko Ocvirk.
So, as much as a lot of people think that the whole country must be thrilled about her, that we praise her success and see her as the one “who made it”, it is far from the truth. In general people either do not care or have too much to say about her intentions of marrying “a guy like Trump”. Regardless of media or nation, she has been a target of mockery for sure. Her half naked photos from back when she was a model, her accent, her Botox and – most of all – her motifs for marrying Trump, were paying rents for a lot of journalists. They cannot even be called “so-called journalists”, because hunting for what gets the most clicks is now becoming the norm.
After inauguration it went even further – she has also been portrayed as a hostage in her own marriage. It seemed only fair to discuss this with a person who has been married for longer than I exist: my grandma. His wallet or his mind, she made it simple for all of the haters: “It was a set of coincidences in life. They met, kept in touch and got married despite the age difference. If she would have met someone else, they just wouldn’t. Who are we to judge? We don’t know the background. Whether it is money or love, I don’t care- we can’t talk negatively about her based on that.”
At the end of the day, it’s true: she is being hated for who she married. Somehow the fact that she is still a human got lost in translation. I have to admit that it was refreshing to hear someone, even if it was her lawyer, talking positively about her:
“Miss Trump radiates an exceptional gracefulness, she is incredibly receptive and smart. She understands and knows what she wants, she is very refined. If we agreed she is going to call at 4pm, my phone rings precisely at 4. She is incredibly disciplined and fair.”
So there’s more to the truth than what media portrays. Sure, Trump is a controversial figure, but Melania has a voice of her own as well. It is not our job to judge what made her fall for HIM. It is time to take a step back and look from a different perspective. I have to turn to my grandma once again. Somehow old people have all the answers:
“We should be happy for her. Maybe she will change something – as a First Lady she has some influence, maybe something can be done. Not just charity… you know they say that behind every successful man there is a woman: maybe she will influence her husband, give him a good idea and he will realise it. The options are there or she has the chance at least. I wish her all the best.”
Wishing someone the best? This is something that people don’t seem to be capable of anymore. Yes, Melania has been treated wrongly, but she won’t be abandoned – she is protected by more lawyers than I have friends on Facebook. My point is elsewhere. Even though it seems that the case of Melania is something that has never happened before, the media pomp around her unintentionally highlights the real issue of journalism nowadays. The core problem lies in people not knowing how to treat other people anymore; and journalists are, by cashing this out, making it normal. We live in the era of prejudice and extremes, a world where hatred is a norm and existential irony a goal. Wishing someone to fail just so it fills up your paper with a story is not ethical, the last time I checked.
As my grandma said, Melania needs “the best” and we need more positive news. Let’s focus on a different thing for once.
In the end, this story is actually way bigger than our small town of Sevnica. But my town turned out bigger than the world. We kept our ethics, have you?
P.S.: All the best for Women’s day! To you as well, Melania!