Vermont Bar Journal
Spring 2008 - #5.
Our Man In Slovenia
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL #173, Volume 34, No. 4 SPRING 2008
Our Man In Sloveniaby Harland L. Miller, III, Esq.The day after I received official notification that I had been awarded a Fulbright to teach Real Property Law at the University of Maribor in Slovenia, my wife Angela, started to send me e-mails about Slovakia. I had to tell her, "The e-mails were nice, but we aren't going to Slovakia, we're going to Slovenia." Of course, the next day I started getting e-mails about Slovenia.
Slovenia is part of the former Yugoslavia. It is bordered on the north by Austria, the east by Hungary, the south by Croatia, and the west by a short (New Hampshire-like) coastline on the Adriatic and by Italy. The population is roughly two million people, 87 percent of whom are Slovenes. It was the first country to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991, and after the Ten-Day War (often referred to as a bloodless war) it emerged relatively unscathed by the brutal breakup and civil wars in the Balkans in the 1990s. It is now a member of the European Union and on January 1, 2008, it became the first expansion country to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union. On January 1, 2007, it switched from the local currency, the Tolar, to the Euro. The Slovene economy has been one of the top performers of the former communist countries, and now outperforms many western European countries. With the Julien Alps in the northwest and the Adriatic coastal village, it is picturesque. Known for its skiing, spectacular caves, and good wine, it has become a tourist destination. We will be living in Maribor, which is in the northeast part of the country near the Austrian border and is famous for the country's largest ski area, Mariborsko Pohorje, and for the world's oldest grape-producing vine. The population of Maribor is about 110,0000.
Most people know of my involvement in the Vermont Karelia Rule of Law Project and my numerous trips of Petrozavodsk, Karelia, over the past eleven years. My first trip was in 1996 for a Commercial Law seminar involving Russian Arbitrahz Court Judges from Northwest Russia. From that point on, I was captivated by the land reforms that were taking place in Russia and other former Communist countries. With the fall of Communism, the new governments were faced with how to privatize real property and create a system of title registration. Once this occurred, they were faced with many issues. Should they recognize prior ownership rights for people whose land was expropriated by the communist government? If so, how far back will they recognize these rights? 1945(for the Eastern Bloc countries)? 1917 (for the former Soviet Socialist Republics? Would they treat land and improvements separately? What about mortgages and foreclosures? As you can see, starting from scratch poses many issues and possible solutions.
The opportunity to be involved with land reforms taking place in Russia has been both exciting and rewarding. It has been the driving force behind my decision to apply for a Fulbright Grant. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with three former Fubrighters, Mark Oettinger (Russia 1995), Carl Yirka (Croatia 2005), and Andre Reznikov, our Russian translator who came to the University of Vermont in 2000-2001. All of them agreed that doing a Fulbright was a life changing experience and well worth the effort to go through the application process.
Once I made the decision to apply for a grant, it seemed natural that I would create a course based on my experience in Karelia. It was relatively easy to create an outline for a law school curriculum on Real Property in Emerging Economies. I knew I wanted to lecture in a former communist country, but I did not want to go to Russia. Having traveled to Russia eleven different times, spending time in eight different cities, I wanted the opportunity to experience another country and culture. When the various Fulbright awards were announced on February 1, 2006, I was looking for a county in Eastern Europe that had an award in law. Finally, the award had to be open to non-academics, since I was not actively teaching at a university. Award # 7382 for Slovenia met all my self-imposed criteria and I began working on the application shortly thereafter.
The application was intimidating, to say the least. When I discovered that my curriculum vitae was limited to eight pages, I struggled to reach page three using eighteen-point type. In all, it forced me to really focus not only on what I was proposing to teach, but also on what I had to offer to the people of Slovenia and what I expected to bring back from my travels if I was to be awarded the grant. The application was due no later than August 1, 2006, and I was able to assemble all the required documentation and references. The only thing I did not have by mid-July was an optional letter of invitation from the host institution. Since a letter of invitation could only help my application, I was encouraged to contact the Law Faculty at the University of Maribor and explain my project to them and ask them to send a letter of invitation if they were interested. I was very pleased when I received a letter from the dean addressed "Dear Professor Dr. Miller" and informing me they were very excited about my topic because the issues Slovenia was facing with their privatization efforts. I was somewhat surprised when the letter went on to ask me also to teach the second semester of English Legal Terminology, a required first-year course for all law students. I had to quickly put together another course syllabus, find a suitable textbook, and retool my grant application project statement to include this additional assignment. It must have been worth it, because about nine and one-half months later, I was informed by the State Department that I had been awarded the Fulbright.
Joining me on the trip to Slovenia, will be my wife, Angela, and my youngest son, Ashley, who is a junior at Middlebury College. He will be taking a semester off and treating this as a semester abroad. Since he is studying neuroscience, he has written the Dean of the Medical School at the University of Maribor and will be trying to volunteer for some clinical work at the school or the local hospital.
With just a few weeks to go at the time of writing this article, we have booked our flights. We will be flying from Burlington to Frankfurt and then on to Graz...