Slovenia's first black mayor

By Drum Digital
03 November 2010

NO SOONER had he raised both hands triumphantly in a victory salute than he became known as the Barack Obama of Eastern Europe. But for the first black man ever to be elected to a political position in this part of the world, the most important thing on his mind is not brokering world peace but rather getting his citizens to drive electric cars.

“I’m flattered by the comparison, but I’m in no way Obama. I’m Peter Bossman, and I’m mayor of a small town,” he says proudly.

Recently elected the number one citizen of the beautiful coastal town of Piran in Slovenia, the 54-year-old doctor – originally from Ghana – has had to grow accustomed to being one of only a few black people in that country. Black people usually seen here tend to be holidaymakers because Slovenia has only 200 African immigrants in a population of two million people.

Peter admits he encountered the odd racial slur when he was on the campaign trail to become mayor of this hot tourist destination. “I would hear things like, ‘We would prefer to have a real Slovenian be mayor’,” he says with a grin.

The opposition in the mayoral campaign made derogatory comments about his unusual accent, but Peter took it all in his stride. In fact, he says, most people in his adopted homeland take no notice of his race at all. “I think people no longer see the colour of my skin when they look at me,” he says. He believes his election showed the “high level of democracy” and racial tolerance in Slovenia, a land that lies near Italy, Austria and Croatia. But it wasn’t always like that, and in his early days in the country he faced some severe hostility.

“There are always small groups of people who won’t accept people who are different,” he says. “In the first few months after coming to Slovenia in the late 1970s, I felt that some people did not want to be with us.” Peter arrived in the country’s capital of Ljubljana as a medical student and he has lived in Piran with his Croatian wife for more than 20 years.

His election caused headlines around the world because he appears to be the first black mayor not only in Slovenia, but in this entire area of Europe. Several weeks before the election one of the country’s biggest national newspapers ran a headline that said: “Peter Bossman for President (well, first as mayor)”.

The comparisons to Obama don’t end at the colour of his skin, though. Much like Obama, Peter ran a campaign that was based on encouraging people of different backgrounds to talk to each other and work together for a better future. “I based my winning campaign on dialogue. I think the dialogue has won,” he jokes.

Read the full article in DRUM of 11 November 2010

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