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The President of the Republic of Slovenia receives the highest honour of the University of Bologna, the world's oldest continuously operating university: "I am deeply touched."

Bologna, 13. 9. 2021 | press release

At today's special ceremony at the University of Bologna, the President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor received the "Sigillum Magnum", the highest honour of the University of Bologna, which is awarded to the most influential persons. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and is the world's oldest continuously operating university.

In his address, the Slovenian president thanked the academic council for the great honour. He received the award from the rector of this respected university, saying, "I am deeply touched."

The President of the Republic of Slovenia receives the highest honour of the University of Bologna, the world's oldest continuously operating university: "I am deeply touched."
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

President Pahor said he sees the medal as a recognition of his efforts for dialogue, reconciliation and a better future in both his homelands, Slovenia and Europe, the latter established seventy years ago based on the principles of dialogue, reconciliation and mutual respect.

He added that historical experience is usually the most difficult and complex in relations between neighbouring countries, so how we approach these relations is particularly important. He then described one of the most emotional moments of his political career, when he stood hand in hand with Italian President Mattarella at two memorial sites important to Slovenians and Italians in Basovizza near Trieste in June of last year. Afterwards, they signed a memorandum with which the Narodni dom (Slovenian cultural centre) in Trieste was returned to the Slovenian community 100 years after Italian fascists burned it down.

"When you are standing in front of such a memorial with the president of the neighbouring country, it is a moment that is a reflection of your political thinking and sentiments. There is validation when, in the silence of this moment, you hear the crying and quiet sobbing of people deeply moved by this gesture. There is political validation when a year later your hear from the representatives of minorities on both sides of the border that life has made a turn for the better, not least because of this," said the Slovenian president, adding that sometimes it takes courage to do something despite having no proof that it will have the desired effect, simply because you believe in your heart that it is the right thing to do.

President Pahor also recalled the joint commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Carinthian plebiscite, which he attended together with his friend, Austrian President Van der Bellen, after 99 years of both nations commemorating this historic decision individually. One overcome by victory, the other traumatised by defeat.

At last year's joint commemoration, President Van der Bellen suddenly interrupted his German address and continued in Slovenian, apologising to the Slovenian minority for the delay in exercising their rights as a national minority. "The validation for him, for all of us, came in the form of a long uninterrupted ovation at the end of his address," said President Pahor.

"I am not saying that holding hands with the Italian president in Basovizza or the gesture of the Austrian president in Klagenfurt solves every problem. I do, however, want to say that politics is not just laws and technical decisions, but also a matter of the heart and soul. Rarely do politicians have the opportunity to give priority to our heart and soul. We must not let these moments pass us by; if we do, they cannot be replaced."

President Pahor also highlighted that the fundamental principles of European integration are extremely relevant even today – freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy, justice and loyalty among and within the EU Member States. He expressed his hope to see the European Union complete the enlargement process as soon as possible and for Europe to become fully integrated and truly united.

"Challenges, but also opportunities, lie ahead for the European Union. The responsibility of politicians is not to ignore challenges but to instead see them as opportunities," concluded President Pahor in his address at the award ceremony.

The President of the Republic of Slovenia receives the highest honour of the University of Bologna, the world's oldest continuously operating university: "I am deeply touched."
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

The opening address at the ceremony was given by Prof. Francesco Ubertini, the Rector of the University of Bologna, while the award justification was presented by Prof. Stefano Bianchini, a special representative of the University. The justification, which Prof. Bianchini opened in Slovenian, highlighted President Pahor's efforts towards dialogue between nations and countries and his commitment to the fundamental European values that bind us together.

The University of Bologna's highest honour has so far been awarded to the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, the former presidents of the European Commission Romano Prodi and Jean Claude Juncker, the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the Italian philosopher and writer Umberto Eco, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, the former Israeli president and Nobel laureate Shimon Perez, and others.

Prior to the ceremony, President Pahor met with Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission and two-time prime minister of Italy. During the five years as president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi contributed to the enlargement of the European Union to new member states, including Slovenia. President Pahor and Prof. Prodi have long maintained excellent and friendly relations. At the eve of Slovenia's accession to the European Union on 30 April 2004, they attended the event "Two Gorizias – One City: Together in Europe" at Europe Square (Trg Evrope) and together saw Slovenia join the European family.

The President of the Republic of Slovenia receives the highest honour of the University of Bologna, the world's oldest continuously operating university: "I am deeply touched."
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA