Last fall images from a Slovenian village were broadcast around the globe. Every day, thousands of refugees arrived. The situation is now calm, but locals fear it could happen again, reports Leon Stebe from Rigonce.
As I walk along the razor wire fence, it is peaceful on the meadows outside Rigonce, a Slovenian village on the border to Croatia. The fields are verdant green, and there is not a person in sight. A year ago things were completely different, says Zvone Pavlin, one of Rigonce's 130 residents: "67,000 refugees came through Rigonce in one month. One Sunday alone, about 15,000 people came through. I'm telling you, it was another world. It was unbelievable."
Last year, images of Rigonce were broadcast around the world. The Slovenian village, its residents, the entire country was overwhelmed by the situation: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had closed his country's borders and refugees trying to get to northern Europe took a detour through Slovenia - and landed in Rigonce, on the Croatian border. It happened as if overnight, says Rigonce resident Branko Bresevc: "I could have never imagined it, we were totally surprised that it happened - here of all places. And we were astonished that the authorities were so unprepared."
The situation was chaotic. Refugees had no choice but to sleep in the fields, in the mud. It was not until Slovenian authorities began to take over logistics that things slowly, if somewhat clumsily, became more orderly.
There was also a lot of criticism at the time about rumors that Slovenians were not treating refugees well. Zvone Pavlin vehemently denies the accusation. A farmer, he is visibly annoyed that I would even bring up the subject, telling me that people from the village brought water and food, brought bread to the refugees.
The events left their mark, on the people and on the landscape. The razor wire fence that the Slovenian army later erected still separates people. But now it separates neighbors. Irena Rudman, deputy mayor of nearby Brezice says: "This is not the Europe that we wanted. A Europe without borders. Now the fence is here and totally overgrown. It is certainly not a good advertisement for tourism."
The Sotla, a tiny river, quietly flows alongside the fence. Last year refugees crossed it. Now one cannot reach it - the razor wire fence blocks access. Children who once swam in the river can no longer do so. The fence constricts people, but it will remain in place - at least for the time being. No one has any intention of removing it. And farmer Zvone Pavlin thinks that is the right decision: "Look at what is going on in Turkey. What will happen if Europe keeps complaining to the Turks? Maybe Erdogan will let the refugees go. And then they may show up here again."
Good fences, good neighbors
His neighbor agrees, even if he doesn't like the sight of the fence. Branko Bresevc thinks that the fence will remain in place for years to come: "After the experience we had with refugees here in our village, saw just how quickly things can happen, and what we see going on in the world on the news - sadly, I have to say - we prefer to suffer the sight of the fence."
The residents of Rigonce, the tiny little Slovenian border village, had to look on for months as refugees marched past their gardens, their farms and their fields as a result of global politics. These residents want to be prepared, and that is why they are choosing to keep faith in the fence. A fence they can close completely if they need to - to avoid a repeat of the scenes that played out here last October.