A word from our director, Dr Anne

20161231_180635Hello, everyone. I’ve been thinking of friends and colleagues all around the world, during this very difficult time. And I’ve been contemplating, as so many of us have, what the world will look like when the health crisis has passed — the economic downturn, and the enormous changes that have already taken place, and where they may lead. Many predictions, but no one — not even top experts — can say with any certainty just where we’re heading.

And — intercultural understanding. And travel, to experience and learn about, and from, our many cultures around the world. This is currently impossible — and may not be so easy in the revised global community to come.

Currently, I write to you from Istanbul, where I am sheltering in place. Earlier this year, I spent 7 weeks in Hong Kong, where EWP is based — and during the throes of their early experience with this health crisis.

For these past 2 years, however, I’ve traveled continuously, no fixed home — while, since January 2005, I’ve lived in several countries (other than my homeland) and traveled widely — 105 countries + 5 territories thus far, many of them repeatedly.

I’ve been forging ahead, at times testing my endurance — for the experience itself, to learn both broadly and deeply about the world’s major cultures, to research and prepare for all those additional articles, books, projects, presentations, and classes that EWP aims to deliver over the next 25 years or so. 🙂

Enter 2020 — and this global health crisis likely to result in borders that are far less open, and a new way of being, and of governance, that limits freedom of movement.

I have so much more travel planned. Many more cultures to explore, to learn — both new to me, and all those that I want to know more deeply. To contribute to our collective intercultural understanding — to our global community, to our humanity.

But perhaps the Cosmos is saying, to me, to each of us: “Quiet now. Stop moving. Stay, listen, contemplate, reflect. And: share.”

May we all get through this as best we can. May we not close our doors to one another — at international, national, local levels. May we heal from this trauma, move away from our current suspicions and fear of others — and may we begin, then, to remember: we are a global community. We are humanity.

May it be so.

~Dr Anne

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Nepal

 

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Nepal. Land of fantasy, ancient traditions, graceful religion — and 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest point on Earth. Land also of poverty, hardship, and natural disaster. Sandwiched between India and China — notably, Tibet, its two greatest influences, the society is multi-ethnic — with a culture uniquely its own. A land inhabited by humans for 55,000 years, its first significant cultural influence was Tibetan-Burmese, who migrated to the region 4 millennia ago. Modern Nepal began as such in the 18th century under a Gurkha king, and the legendary soldiers have had their own role in the culture of this country. Democracy began to replace monarchy by 1940s but took hold only in 1991, while a battle for Communist governance instead morphed into a civil war from 1996 to 2006 — including a massacre of the royal family in 2001. The country became fully democratic in 2006, with a new constitution…and in the 2017 election, the Communist party won by a wide margin.

 

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In the 7th century B.C.E., a prince in Nepal’s southern region was born, who would later renounce his royal heritage and become the Gautama Buddha. While Buddhism plays a role in the Nepalese culture, Hinduism is the country’s primary religion with more than 81% adherence; Islam has also ruled the land on several occasions through history representing a third, though significantly lesser, cultural influence. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Nepal’s constitution, though nationalists protest against secularism and advocate for a return to theocracy. A majority of traditions and festivals in Nepal are Hindu in origin.

 

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Nepal has a young culture, with a median age of 26 for females and 22 for males, and only an estimated 4.4% over the age of 65 — with life expectancy, though steadily increasing, of 69 years. Infant mortality in rural areas is one factor, as access to healthcare is limited and poverty high, though overall the country’s rate has decreased significantly in the past 20+ years. Natural disasters have also contributed to the mortality rate. With at least 26 distinct caste / ethnic groups, the society is quite diverse; as well, Nepal has had a history of welcoming immigrants and refugees from neighboring countries.

 

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Nepalese are hard-working people, of necessity — and poverty remains an issue, while the caste system maintains an elite class. Income inequality is high, the top 10% owning more than 26 times the wealth of the 40% at the bottom — a likely factor in the recent overwhelming vote for the Communist party. The nation’s current development model is widely considered a failure as the income gap continues to widen at an alarming rate.

 

 

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One of the most intriguing Nepalese traditions is that of the kumari: a prepubescent girl who, selected by sacred process, serves for several years as a representative of the ‘living goddess’ or divine female energy (devi) as found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. She is completely sheltered in a temple for this purpose; her feet must never touch the ground, she is worshipped as an icon at several public religious festivals per year — and when she begins puberty, the next kumari is chosen to take her place. Some of the cited detriments to this tradition include the effects on the girl’s psyche, in rising to a position of exultation even by her parents — and then returning to normal life, often with difficulties in socialising with her peers; while parents and others may attend to her education during this time, she is outside of the school system for several years and often has difficulty returning. Until recently, former kumari were not permitted to marry, though this is changing.  Still, it is considered an enormous honour to be chosen.

 

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The culture of Nepal is the culture of storytelling, or so it is said — folktales and myths, gods and demons. The arts, from music and dance to visual and performance to literature and poetry, are all strongly represented in Nepalese culture — often connected to religious tradition, though, since mid-20th century, with a lively modern and secular art scene as well. Nepal is a country, like India which surrounds it on 3 sides, that explodes in colour — a riotous display that celebrates life and the natural beauty of Nepal. Protest art, with themes of social and political issues, is also well represented.

 

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Nepal is a traditionally patriarchal society in which men dominate nearly all aspects of society. With a 66% literacy rate overall, and a tradition of home-schooling with formal education only for the elite, Nepal’s girls have long been left behind. The status of women today is steadily improving since the 1990 constitution guarantees basic rights, though primarily in the few main cities and far less in rural areas. Rates of rape, domestic abuse, and sex trafficking are high, with insufficient legal protection. Improvements include laws that permit females to inherit, own property in their own names, divorce, seek legal abortion, and secure citizenship for her children under her own name / family registry. Every level of government has a 20% minimum quota for female participation, with parliamentary seats at a minimum 33%.

 

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The smaller villages, even in the suburban regions of the capital, Kathmandu, see a much more traditional lifestyle with distinct gender roles. Nepalese cultural values include tradition, as well as interdependence, companionship, hospitality and loyalty in this collectivist culture. Family ties and personal relationships, as in much of Asia, are the social, political, and commercial glue. Patience and tolerance, as well as trustworthiness and dependability, are also highly valued and supported by the religious influences.

 

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In Hofstede’s cultural schema, a comparison of Nepal to its two gigantic neighbors and strongest influences demonstrates that Nepal is more collectivist (70%) than India (52%) but less than China (80%). Further, Nepal scores at 65% for power distance (hierarchy), lower than either India (77%) or China (80%), and is equal to India for risk-taking (60%), with China slightly higher (70%). Overall, Nepal’s culture is modernising in these past 3 decades, though their civil war which only ended in 2006, and the major earthquake destruction of 2015 with only half of the reconstruction completed to date, have minimised this progress. These recent traumas, while accepted in a society well known for fatalism, nevertheless continue to represent post-trauma / post-conflict challenges for the Nepalese people.

~EWP

Tunisia

Tunisia — northernmost point in the African continent, part of the Mahgreb region, strong Mediterranean influences, home of ancient Carthage — and the only fully democratic sovereign state in the Arab world, initiator of “Arab Spring,” one of the top Arab nations for gender equality as constitutionally protected. Berber at its origins, Tunisia has been influenced by Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim caliphate, Ottoman, and French. Independent as of 1957, the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 ushered in unprecedented freedom — though not without a price.

Tunisia, at its foundation a pantheistic culture of the Berbers, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, enjoys a high degree of religious pluralism, even as its constitution declares Islam as the state religion — requiring that the president adhere to same. The constitution also protects religious freedom, and the country has a significant Christian minority (primarily Catholic) — while Judaism represents its 3rd-largest religious community. The culture itself is secular, with strong separation of religion from sociopolitical life. Sharia law does not dictate Tunisia’s legislative or judicial system, there are no official dress codes, and Tunisians generally deem it impolite to enquire regarding another’s religious affiliation.

Tunisia is well represented in the arts, with a focus on beauty — in visual art, architecture — and an emphasis on literature in both Arabic and French — that identifies the nation with both its Arab and European influences. Reflecting its 3,000 year old history as well as its multi-ethnic quality as a crossroads of civilisations, the art, literature, and music of Tunisia reflects cultural pluralism — yet has a characteristic all its own. Independence saw a resurgence of contemporary arts; the artistic community both affected and was affected by the 2011 the revolution, in an unprecedented freedom of expression and renewed vigour in Tunisia’s art scene. The Bardo, a national museum in Tunisia, has called this renewal “the awakening of a nation.”

Tunisian traditions can still be found in open-air markets, or souq, of any medina, or traditional quarter, of the capital and other cities as well as small towns and villages. The winding alleys and inevitable mosque of the medina, typically enclosed by walls of an earlier time, denote a slow pace and simple living — while the souk connotes importance of relationships, art of communication, and a commerce focused more on people and less on commodity. Seasonal, episodic, and daily markets abound, and while Tunisians also enjoy a high standard of living with all modern conveniences, these markets remain containers of culture.

Sidi Bou Said, a resort town just north of the capital city, well known to artists both Tunisian and foreign for its stunning beauty and dramatic seaside cliff landscape, provides architectural confirmation of early Greek and recent Ottoman influences — and Tunisia’s firm place in Mediterranean culture. The notable colour scheme was introduced in the early 20th century by French painter and musicologist Baron Roldolphe d’Erlanger, who built a palatial residence in Sidi Bou Said; blue doors and windows, however, are a longstanding tradition among various Mediterranean cultures — as blue was thought to keep evil at bay.

The ancient empire of Carthage (814-146 BCE), its capital located in the area between Tunis and Sidi Bou Said, was founded by Queen Dido of Phoenicia with Goddess Tanit as its patron; gaining independence in 650 BCE, it became one of the ancient world’s most important manufacturing and trading hubs — and was always warring with the Greeks in Sicily, and the Romans who eventually overcame Carthage. The Muslim caliphate eventually conquered Carthage in 698 CE — and razed and rebuilt it, rather than see it return to Byzantine control. The enormous significance of Carthage remains woven into the tapestry that is Tunisian culture today.

The ‘new Tunisia’ that emerged from its 2011 revolution, widely considered the only true success story of the ‘Arab Spring’ with its political and social reforms as outlined in a new 2014 democratic constitution to include elevation of women’s status and human rights overall, has come with a price. In 2015, a large-scale terrorist attack took place at the Sousse beach resort and the Bardo Museum in Tunis, killing 60 people; 2018 saw a suicide bomber in Tunis, and again last year, bombings occurred in Tunis and the president was rushed to hospital in a ‘health crisis’. Just last month, 3 terrorist camps were discovered in the mountains. UN Human Rights Committee has questioned the government’s sustained use of “state of emergency” status, however, now 5 years on, with questions of human rights violations as a result. The attacks all appear sociopolitically motivated, in protest against Tunisia’s ongoing quest for democratic reform. — and indeed, a new government has just been installed after 4 months of post-election crisis that has thrown this neo-democracy into turmoil.

Tunisia’s human rights record is still mixed, but the status of women — a common marker of same, as women generally represent half or more of a population — has greatly improved since the country regained its independence, and again since the 2011 revolution and new democratic constitution which emphasises gender equality. Tunisian women gained the right to vote before their Swiss counterparts, and represent nearly half of all local government positions; they have had equal labour laws since 1966, and constitute 67% of university graduates. Equal citizenship, divorce rights, and inheritance laws have all been instituted, though not without controversy. More reforms are needed, especially in areas related to labour, such as mandatory maternity leave and childcare facilities, transparency in hiring and pay schemes, and increased access to credit. Women’s unemployment is at 22% compared to 12% for men, their earnings 15% less, and they hold senior positions in only 16% of private and 11% of public companies — but even still, Tunisia has greater gender equality overall than a majority of its MENA counterparts.

~EWP

Poland

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Poland, in Central Europe, is the EU’s 5th most populous member-state with 38.5 million, and its 6th-largest economy — with 500,000 years of human activity in its area, and borders that have changed dramatically throughout time. At its peak, beginning in late 15th century and extending for nearly 300 years, the Poland-Lithuania territory was the largest in Europe by a margin — and today this relatively small country retains its sense of former grandeur. The modern nation provides its people with free education through tertiary level, universal health care, and social security, for a high quality-of-life index (136.44) — particularly in areas of safety, climate, and cost of living.

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Religion plays a major role in the culture of Poland. Freedom of religion is legally protected; however, the country remains one of the most religious, particularly Catholic (85.9%), in all of Europe — beginning in 966 C.E. Multiple Protestant religions together constitute only 0.4%, with another 0.4% made up of multiple others — and a growing secularism, with 12.1% unspecified. Nevertheless, Poland retains one of the highest levels of religious observance in Europe today, and a majority of its holidays are Catholic in origin. In 1980s, the Catholic church in Poland became identified with the anti-Communist movement, widely credited with contributing to the end of same.

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Poland’s class structure was rigid prior to 1939; WWII saw the execution of many of the intelligentsia and nobility, while subsequent decades of Communism proved a powerful leveling factor in its emphasis on education and economic development of workers and peasants. The class system remains a social factor today, but has significantly less importance. In conjunction with the high value placed on religion, traditional values including marriage and family (including close friends) are still given prominence, though this is changing; social manners are exceedingly important, and the society remains essentially patriarchal. The arts, both traditional and modern and in the full spectrum, hold high value.

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The story of Poland cannot be separated from that of its Jewish population, prior to WWII the largest minority group in the country — and the largest Jewish community in the world, a part of Poland for more than a millennium. By 1920s, Jews made up 25-50% of all major cities, and up to 90% of smaller towns, with the cities representing the cultural, intellectual, and religious centres of the global Jewish community. Generally integrated, even in the market towns or shtetls, though not entirely free of anti-Semitism, Jews and Poles together represented Poland — and the Jewish tradition in Poland represents a significant thread in Polish culture to this day.

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Polish Jews became first a target of Russian pogroms in 1880s and 1890s; following WWI and Polish independence, increasing nationalism created a hostile atmosphere toward the country’s Jewish citizens, and many emigrated. Its still large Jewish community, and proximity to Germany, resulted in Poland becoming the primary target of the Nazis, who annexed the country and sought to eradicate its citizenry entirely — including the placement of its most prominent extermination camps, including the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau among many others, in Polish territory. Additional targets of these camps were non-Jewish Poles, homosexuals, Soviet POWs, and Roma. Today a highly sensitive and controversial topic, Polish government has outlawed any mention of these as “Polish death camps” — and is accused of attempting to “rewrite history” as a result; conversely, Warsaw is fast becoming one of the world’s top centres for Jewish art.

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The residual trauma of WWII lives on in Poland, as conflict and massacre on such a large scale requires several generations of recovery. Warsaw, already 10% destroyed by 1939, suffered major damage in the 1943 liquidation of the large Warsaw Ghetto when all remaining Jews were sent to camps and the area razed. The city was then nearly obliterated, with 80-90% of its buildings destroyed, in retaliation for a 1944 partisan insurgence — to “make an example of Warsaw for others” — and in acknowledgement of inevitable Allied Forces takeover. In reality, the Nazis’ original plan had been to exterminate Poles as well as Jews — viewing them, along with much of Central and Eastern Europe, as untermenschen — inferiors. The 1944 destruction of Warsaw, including an attempt at cultural genocide in the deliberate violation of heritage, is widely viewed as incomprehensible, however, serving no obvious purpose as by then, the Nazis had abandoned their plans to colonise the region. Warsaw today is entirely rebuilt, of course, but its antiquity and culture are, to a large extent, recreation.. The old wounds lurk beneath and the controversy, over any possibility of Polish collaboration, rages on.

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The Polish People’s Republic (1947-1989) represented Poland’s post-WWII period of Communism. Having been invaded initially by Soviet as well as Nazi troops, the fall to USSR was swift as the precedent had been laid; many decades earlier, in 1882, the Marxist First Proletariat Party had been founded in Poland. Polish citizens often report stability and security in the time of Communist rule — strong policing, lack of competitiveness, predictability with minimal stress — alongside a lack of free speech or voting rights, and generalised dysfunction. Following a typically difficult though exhilarating transformation era, one of democracy, pluralism, and openness, Poland today — 30 years on — has swung toward a similarly autocratic stance, albeit from a nationalistic right rather than Communist left. Today, in addition to the law established in 2018 against any mention of Polish complicity with Nazi Germany, a June 2019 law prohibits any promotion of Communist ideals — both of which have brought accusations of “authoritarianism”.

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Poland has achieved a high standard and moderate cost of living, its infrastructure well-developed (or, as in the case of postwar Warsaw, redeveloped). Despite, or perhaps even because, of this, anti-immigrant policies and xenophobic trends are on the rise in Poland today; the country, in solidarity with neighboring Hungary, has staunchly refused to take its EU-designated share of refugees, sparking controversy within the EU structure over member-states’ adhering to agreed-upon policies. Further, its borders are only marginally open in comparison to other European nations — except, as some have identified, to countries such as Ukraine, with its ethnic and religious similarities. Political slogans such as “Poland First” and “Poland for Poles” — and a recent requirement for passports to include the phrase, “God, Honor, Motherland” — reflect a current trend toward populism, nationalism, conservatism, and isolationism.

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Some traditional values and customs which continue today include: the the emphasis of one’s network of family and close friends in regard to social obligations and advancement; formality and manners, including conservative dress as well as direct but polite speech; gift-giving and hospitality, communal meals and removal of shoes indoors; personal virtue and honesty; deference to seniority and authority. In general, Poland is on the more religious, traditional, and conservative spectrum of Europe, with a high quality of life and respect for egalitarianism.

~EWP

Slovenia

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Slovenia, at the crossroads of Slavic, Germanic, and Romance cultures, and historically part of numerous states, kingdoms, and empires, identifies culturally as part of Central Europe — and entirely Slovenian, proud of having maintained an unbroken cultural identity throughout such tumultuous history. A member-state of Yugoslavia for much of the 20th century, yet part of the Habsburg rather than Ottoman empire, it retains a distinctly Germanic atmosphere — with a strong Balkan influence.20180801_151520_2_Signature

Slovenia is officially and socially a secular state today. After centuries of Catholicism as its state religion, with periods of Protestant reform, by mid-20th century the society was reportedly 95% Catholic; today, following decades as a secular, Communist country, 73% still identify as Catholic — but the separation of church and state is strong.

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Several key factors led Slovenia to join the Yugoslavia alliance with Balkan nations: the 1985 earthquake and subsequent reconstruction — and modernisation — of its capital city, Ljubjlana; two decades (1890-1910) of mass emigration, in which an estimated 300,000 Slovenes (nearly 17% of the population) left their country, primarily to US; and, devastation of WWI, particularly hard on Slovenia regarding Soviet threat. Aligning with Croatia and Serbia to resist further Habsburg control, Slovenia began to culturally identify more closely with the Balkan states. In WWII, Yugoslavia was dominated by Axis Powers — who identified Slovenes as well as Croats as ‘Aryan’ and thus acceptable — and systematically murdered Serbs, as well as Jews and Roma in the region. Post-war Yugoslavia was filled with retributive acts against Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and others thought to have aligned with Axis Powers. By 1980s, a Slovenian rise in cultural pluralism saw beginnings of an independence movement — and in 1990 the nation was the first to break away from Yugoslavia. The nation went on to join the EU in 2004, and in 2007 became the first formerly Communist nation to join the eurozone.

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While Yugoslavia identified as a communist political structure, it was made up of 6 nations, including Slovenia, that individually identified as socialist republics — with Belgrade as their capital. As Slovenia was the first to break away, it was spared much of what became a particularly bloody dissolution — ultimately with 100,000 dead, 2.4 million refugees, and 2 million internally displaced. The legacy of Yugoslavia, in its communist ideals, strong hold of Serbia’s Tito falling just short of totalitarianism, and ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ philosophy which ultimately pitted ‘brother’ against ‘brother’, remains in the cultural makeup of its former nation-states — including Slovenia.

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The legacy of WWII and Axis occupation of Slovenia lives on to this day, a thread woven into Slovenian culture. Slovenian partisans fought against occupation and eventually won their country’s independence; Slovenian conservatives, afraid of communism and seizing opportunity, collaborated with the occupiers to form anti-communist militias, by which atrocities were committed — remembrances of trauma, and sociopolitical distinctions in Slovene society, that remain unresolved today.

It is estimated that more murders took place in the 2 months following the war than in the 4-year period of occupation. Mass graves, from both the occupation during WWII and the period of retributive acts to follow, were kept secret by the Yugoslavian governance — and more than 500 such have now been discovered, symbolic of a deep and long-hidden wound festering in Slovenian culture.

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In Slovenia today, protests and calls for independence — of a different sort — take place in the form of art. Ideologies are shifting, values have changed; legacies of communism and near-totalitarianism, old wounds, social divide and income inequality have coalesced into a growing dissatisfaction and general unrest, as in much of Europe. While the nation retains a high-income advanced status overall, Slovenes are particularly concerned with regional imbalances, poverty and social exclusion, and political instability. Other identified concerns include the transition to a free-market economy, a rapidly aging population and lack of workforce, and organised crime syndicates. Ongoing discrimination against the Roma minority group represents another social issue.

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With a traditional orientation of kinship groups, and to this day a relatively traditional society, the extended family unit remains a strong value in Slovenian culture. Rights as well as duties are determined on the basis of relationships, both familial and social; marriage remains an expectation, and loyalty to one’s family is deemed essential. Another strong value of Slovenes is egalitarianism; with a history of multiple occupiers, recent near-totalitarianism, and only a short period of independence thus far, Slovenes take their freedom and an independent state of mind very seriously; retaining its socialist ideals, Slovenes deem all people to have the same basic rights and advantages. While in reality poverty and other social inequalities still exist, Slovenian culture is built around this premise.20180801_145148_2_Signature

The World Economic Forum ranks Slovenia as 7th for gender equality, among 144 nations. UNDP ranks the nation in 5th place for women in positions of leadership. European Institute of Gender Equality places it first — and Slovenia is widely considered to be above average among EU nations when it comes to gender equality. Though the country in its independence has embraced retraditionalisation and domestification, women have managed to retain the many rights and near-equal status granted them by their socialist past. Women currently hold 28% of parliamentary seats, peaking at 37% in 2017, with just one female prime minister to date (2013-2014). In the labour force, women represent 45%, primarily in cultural / social welfare, public services / administration, and hospitality sectors.

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Traditional cultural symbols of Slovenia include the linden tree and the chamois, a goat / antelope creature — both of which are in abundance in the country.  A particularly popular myth of Slovenian culture is that of the Goldhorn, or Goldenhorn, Zlatorog in Slovenian, which features a chamois. In the story, a mythical chamois protects mountain treasure and is ultimately hunted, in an attempt to capture the treasure and win a maiden’s heart — but the wounded creature is magically able to heal itself, and the hunter falls to his death. Slovenia, despite all odds and often temporarily overcome by stronger entities — will always, ultimately, prevail.

~EWP