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Hungary and Slovenia: United by youth and voluntarism

Slovenia and Hungary are becoming more than neighbours: we are building a modern friendship. On a regular basis, our Prime Ministers, Viktor Orbán and Janez Janša meet.  Your Minister Janez Cigler Kralj was the guest of my Minister Katalin Novák – for the Budapest Demographic Summit.  

Our relationship is starting to grow at the youth and voluntarism policy level. During the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of Europe, we organised in Budapest 2 events attended by Slovenia’s Ambassador in Budapest – Marjan Cencen – and your Deputy Head of Mission – Simon Konobelj – as well as Mojca Žerovec from your Ministry of Public Administration. We were honoured to host Slovenia’s representatives at our Budapest Volunteer Summit and Youth Policy Seminar. During these events, it became clear that we have much to learn from one-another. That is why I decided to visit Ljubljana and Lendava-Lendva on the 8-9th of December during Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

For me, the experience of visiting Ljubljana is so much more than visiting the beautiful capital city of a proud European nation in Central Europe: to me it feels as if I’ve returned to where it all began. My first time visiting Ljubljana was in 2018, when I was Hungary’s United Nations Youth Delegate. Back then, I was a speaker at the Young Bled Strategic Forum (YBSF) and it was an honour for me to represent Hungary’s youth towards the UN institutions. This time, I returned to represent Hungary’s Government as the Deputy State Secretary for Youth with an ambitious aim: to foster closer links between our countries in the policy fields of youth and voluntarism, for which I am responsible.

After a productive working breakfast hosted by the Ambassador of Hungary in Ljubljana – Dávid Andor Ferenc – I had the chance to exchange best practices with Director Dolores Kores of the Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth and three of my counterparts from your Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities: Director Mojca Pršina, Director Dušan Mikuž and Head of Service Špela Štern Jelenc. It is clear we have a lot in common which unites us: we care for the future of Slovenia and Hungary, which all depends on how we enable our younger generations to prosper in our homelands. In this endeavour we are united by a shared dedication for the youth of Rábavidék-Porabje and Pomurje-Muravidék.

Having met with Mayor Janez Magyar and President Ferenc Horváth of the Pomurje-Muravidék National Self-Governing National Community, I confirmed with my own eyes and ears what I have read and heard about Slovenia: namely, that this is a country within the Carpathian Basin where Hungarians receive outstanding respect. The same statement rings true for young people. Having spoken with President Teodor Varga of the Pomurje-Muravidék Hungarian Youth Organisation, I learned that they have been acknowledged as a “public interest youth organisation” and “nationality youth organisation”: two important recognitions which we hope to reciprocate by focusing more on supporting young people living, working and studying in Rábavidék-Porabje in Hungary.

For indeed, as we learned during our discussions, we have many best practices worth sharing with each-other. When it comes to youth policy, I was intrigued by your state subsidized university college system which enables talented but economically struggling young people in Slovenia to affordably find housing during their studies. We share this approach in Hungary, as we believe that talent should not be curtailed due to economic hardship. In return, I presented our Stipendium Peregrinum scholarship, which allows talented young Hungarians to study at the best universities in the world, with all main costs covered including tuition and housing. Theoretically, it can be used if strong reasons are provided to study at your excellent universities in Slovenia, and I sincerely hope young Hungarians choose to do so. Parallely, I hope more young Slovenes will choose to study onward in Hungary in the future.

Voluntarism is another policy field where Hungarians and Slovenians have much to learn and share with one another. Similarly, when it comes to volunteering, we both believe that it is a means to an end: it serves as a way for younger generations to gather experience in holding responsibility. I was very impressed by your ”Volunteer Firefighters” , an opportunity available for young people in every major town in Slovenia. In comparison, I offered as a counterpart best practice our “School Community Service” in Hungary, which enables young Hungarians to gain community service experience that can help them in their career orientation. I am particularly grateful therefore that I was able to visit Slovenia not only during the Slovenian European Council Presidency but during 2021, which we designated in Hungary as the “Hungarian Year of Volunteering” which showcases the importance of it for our societies.

All in all, I sincerely feel that the challenges and dreams of a young girl from Lendava-Lendva are the same as those of a young boy growing up in Szentgotthárd-Monoster: we all desire to make our common home in Europe, in the Carpathian basin the best place in the world to live, study, work and start a family. Together, realizing that what we share in common is far greater than what divides us, I believe that if we decide to work more closely together in the field of youth and voluntarism, based on my impressions of young people during my visit, I can think of no challenge that we cannot rise to meet. Köszönöm szépen Szlovénia, hvala lepa Slovenija!

Zsófia Rácz, the Deputy State Secretary for Youth under the Minister for Families – Minister Katalin Novák – of the Prime Minister’s Office of Hungary

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