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Last Updated: Monday, 1 January 2007, 16:10 GMT
Slovenes unruffled by euro dawn
By Nicholas Walton
BBC News, Ljubljana

A Slovene man withdraws euros
Some Slovenes fear the new currency will lead to inflation
In the weak sunshine on New Year's Eve, at the antiques market lining the Ljubljanska river in the Slovene capital, locals and tourists were busy doing their last shopping of 2006.

Some stalls offered old farmyard implements, others old furniture and paintings, and others still did a good trade in old banknotes from across the Balkans and beyond.

Now that it is 2007 there is another currency that collectors can search out in the market - the Slovene tolar, replaced on 1 January by the ubiquitous euro.

Few Slovenes are making a drama out of it. A glance at some of the other banknotes on sale shows why. The euro is the fourth currency that Slovenes have used in less than 20 years.

"First it was the Yugoslav dinar, then after independence in 1991 we had an interim currency before we started using the tolar," explains Anja Sosek.

She is one of a team offering advice about the euro to Slovene consumers.

"A lot of people think they won't have a problem changing to euros," she says.

No big deal

On the cobbled streets of Ljubljana's old town, as the new year approached, there was little sign that the euro was a big deal.

Revellers were far more interested in the open air rock concerts, vast firework displays and bottles of cheap sparkling wine.

One partygoer, Misho, told me he was pleased that the euro would bring stability, although he seemed more interested in his bottle of beer and kebab than macroeconomic responsibility.

Slovenes queue at a bank to withdraw euros
Queues formed at banks as the euro became available at midnight

Inside the central bank the picture was different. Government ministers and bank officials gathered for the TV cameras and photographers, lining up for the photo opportunity of swapping their tolars for euros.

"It definitely is a success," argues Andrej Bajuk, the minister of finance. "It eliminates the exchange rate risk, opening up more exports and imports."

The Slovenes also think the euro will encourage more tourists to visit their beautiful old cities, soaring mountains and ski runs, as it will remove the hassle of changing currency first.

But while most Slovenes are positive about the euro, there are wider misgivings about the currency, both among those who have it, like the Italians, and those who have opted out, like the British.

"You know you can hear great speeches about keeping national control over monetary policy," counters Andrej Bajuk.

"But you have to ask yourself, what can you really do in a globalised world? The room for manoeuvre is smaller and smaller, especially for a country like Slovenia with only two million people."

'Beautiful message'

There is some concern that prices will rise as shops switch from tolars to euros, rounding up figures as they go. The government is encouraging people to vote with their wallets and shop elsewhere if they see this, but the signs are already visible.

In one trendy city centre cafe, a coffee cost 220 tolar or 92 euro cents on New Year's Eve. On New Year's Day the cost had gone up to 95 cents, or 228 tolar.

Because Slovenes are used to being a small part of something larger, like the Habsburg Empire or Yugoslavia, they are also less attached to their currency than other countries are.

They may soon lose their tolar notes, with historical figures like Janez Vajkard Valvasor, a 17th Century nobleman and scholar, or the more recent painter, Ivan Kobilca.

But they will not lose everything, argues the finance minister.

"As a matter of fact we are very proud of our Slovenian images on the euro coins," he says.

"On the two euro coin is our national poet, France Preseren, who is the author of our national anthem, with the message 'Let all nations live'. And I think it's a beautiful message for a small nation like ours."


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