Zasavje in Slovenia: Great Potential Hidden in a Small Gem

Lucija Vasiljević, Zasavje Regional Development Agency (Slovenia)

The Zasavje region lies in the heart of Slovenia, consisting of three municipalities – Hrastnik, Trbovlje, and Zagorje ob Savi. Mining and industrial past have influenced the skills and knowledge, which is necessary for the development and existence of above-mentioned industries. Moreover, they have created a fertile ground for the purest values in humanity – solidarity, dignity, assistance, and friendship.


From the historical point of view, one can find numerous events, where people of Zasavje were forced to stand together. Miners’ strikes and uprisings always had the same purposes – justice, gain and respect of human rights.

The year 2020 put the whole world to an unexpected path and spin. Coronavirus has changed our plans, the flow of our life and expectations of what the world should look like. At the time of those global changes, Zasavje Regional Development Agency made a new leap with a new acting director Tjaša Polc. She successfully continues the work of her predecessor and she is highly aware that the role and mission of regional agencies in those times are crucial as they have a remarkable impact on local economies and communities. They inform SMEs and other relevant stakeholders about current opportunities in recently adopted act on intervention measures and offer support to overcome bureaucratic obstacles.

These are challenging times for our agency. We need to reorganize our work, enhance the channels to inform the regional community about national and EU funding, put more effort to support regional community and recognize every single opportunity to foster its further development,  said Polc. She continued, that one of the main issues after the epidemic will be increased unemployment, but she hopes that cooperation with national stakeholders will prevent the worst scenario.

The key mission and goal of the Agency are to connect local stakeholders, institutions, and organisations and help them develop their potential. We are very happy and proud that the year 2020 has brought heartfelt stories, where the well-being of some has determined the well-being of others. Once more, we have witnessed supportive individuals or group of people who were tied with others by communal interests and responsibilities.

All three municipalities have provided all the necessary human and financial support, assistance, access to public information and protection of the inhabitants. Institutions, responsible for elderly care and protection of vulnerable groups, health centers, civil protection, and numerous volunteers have ensured that everyone has had a safe environment, quality care and access to the necessities.

Local companies helped to gain medical equipment or donated protective equipment. Some of the local enterprises collected enough financial resources to buy two respirators to the local hospital after using their connections in China. Their contribution was so generous that they also provided thousands of protective masks.

One of the biggest challenges was also an assurance of protective masks for the general public. Many seamstresses have sewed masks for weeks and municipalities distributed them free of charge to their citizens. A lot of material for those masks was provided as a part of a successful story which brought together a couple of Zasavje companies and more than 50 volunteers. They prepared material, patterns with instructions, and distributed more than 10.000 packages, which were sewn at home by many seamstresses and distributed among their neighbours and friends. The action, called ‘Masks for all‘ took care of 250.000 washing masks. It was noticed by the Slovene president, who visited them and awarded them with an ‘Apple of Inspiration’, which is given by the president to outstanding individuals for their contribution to a better society.

Zasavje is a home-region of many innovations and improvements. Local professionals and enthusiasts jointly developed so-called COVID – Counter. Its motto is Every human counts.  The Counter independently collects and displays data on the spread and infection with COVID-19 in Slovenia. Every individual anonymously reports its well-being, thus obtaining fairly accurate data on the spread of infection.

I would like to conclude with a story from the local environment with an international echo. A chef from Hrastnik, Iztok Gumzej, was not enthusiastic to suddenly stay at home and cook behind the screen or social networks’ videos. At the end of March, he initiated a campaign ‘Chefs care‘ with the purpose to cook for those who take care of us. Firstly, he cooked for Institute of Oncology Ljubljana and Health Center Hrastnik and afterwards he nominated his cooking colleagues in the Facebook video. The chain of nominations has spread throughout Slovenia and, according to his estimates, about 140 restaurants have responded so far and prepared more than 5200 meals. Gumzej said, that each restaurant was free to choose whom they would like to cook for. They have already treated health care workers, firefighters, police officers, civil protection, accountants, teachers, etc.

The campaign is not over yet and I am really happy that it has fulfilled my expectations. Moreover, it is recognized beyond our borders and it has attracted Thomas A. Gugler (president of World Association of Chef’s Societies WACS), a man who leads millions of chefs from his kitchen in Saudi Arabia, explained Gumzej.

Zasavje and Slovenia have successfully coped with the epidemic. People have adhered to the measures and different life. We have recently succeeded to reduce infections and we are slowly going back to normal. Of course, our society has changed, but we do hope that the stories as the ones mentioned above are inspirational enough to create a better society. And as John F. Kennedy once said: ‘Great crisis produce great men and great deeds of courage.’