Most ambassadors struggle to find the time for an occasional jog, let alone a marathon—let alone several marathons. But Samuel Zbogar, Slovenia’s envoy in Washington, has coupled his interest in running with his passion to help landmine victims into a full-fledged marathon mission. This year, he’ll enter two half marathons and two full marathons to raise money for landmine rehabilitation in Southeastern Europe, which is still littered with the deadly remnants of the Balkan conflict.
The marathon effort isn’t being taken lightly by the ambassador, who admits he was daunted by the prospect of turning an occasional hobby into a 13-mile endurance test—and that’s just the first “half” marathon. “That sounds so easy, the ‘half marathon,’” Zbogar joked. “I hope after the first one I’ll still want to run the second one.”
But the ambassador seems to enjoy the sport, having had a taste of the experience last year while running the Army Ten-Miler around the Pentagon. From there, the idea began to form. The ambassador had already planned to visit several U.S. states that have large Slovenian populations or honorary consuls, in particular to discuss Slovenia’s upcoming presidency of the European Union in 2008, so he decided to combine the trips with his newfound curiosity in marathon running.
Then he took the concept one step further, asking, “Why not just run but try to raise some money? And we have in Slovenia this trust fund for de-mining and mine victims’ assistance that’s now the leading trust fund for taking the landmines out of the ground,” Zbogar explained. “What they came up with is a project on the rehabilitation of child victims of landmines from the Balkans.”
Although the details are still being finalized, the funds that Zbogar raises will bring children to Slovenia to either receive prosthetic limbs or participate in programs that will teach them skills for their disabilities. “And I talked to the State Department and they also got excited and they promised to match everything that I raise,” the ambassador added, “so it’s an evolving project so to say.”
The endeavor officially kicks off this upcoming weekend in Texas with the Austin Marathon, in which the ambassador will run the half-marathon portion. He then heads over to Knoxville, Tenn., for another half marathon, and in May he runs the first of two full marathons in Cleveland, which boasts the largest Slovenian community in the United States, according to the ambassador, who said he hopes the community will come out to show their support.
The entire effort concludes back in Washington, D.C., with the Marine Corps Marathon in October—a fitting end, Zbogar said, given that Slovenia maintains peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the meantime, the project has put Zbogar on a strict training regimen that includes five- to seven-mile jogs three times during the week, and lengthier runs on the weekends, with Saturdays currently averaging about 7 miles and Sundays tallying 14 miles to prepare his body for the 26 miles he will ultimately have to run later this year.
In addition to the sheer physical challenge, Zbogar has the added pressure of time constraints as a busy ambassador. “It’s a big sacrifice now that I’m waking up at 6 [a.m.] and running outside in the dark. And sometimes I wonder how I got myself into this,” the congenial ambassador told the Diplomatic Pouch.
But the sweat equity is worth it when considering the bigger picture—ridding the Balkan region of landmines, millions of which still threaten the lives of people every day. Although landmines are not an issue in Slovenia, “it’s a huge problem for the region,” Zbogar said. “After the wars in Yugoslavia, there are millions of landmines in the Balkans, and usually the victims of the landmines are mostly civilians. One-third of all the victims are children.
“Landmines stay there even when the conflict is over, and they are planted in a way to harm,” he added. “Normalcy cannot come back to the country unless you clear the landmines, at least most of them. And in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia, this is a huge problem.” To combat the problem, in 1998 the Slovenian government established the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF), which has now become a leading pioneer in clearing Europe’s southeastern region of the deadly explosives. “It’s a very transparent fund. It’s a very well-functioning fund, and they take only 3 percent for administration costs. Everything else goes for actual de-mining,” Zbogar said, noting that the U.S. State Department contributes about $10 million each year to the fund.
In fact, thanks to ITF, Kosovo and Macedonia have been declared mine-free, with Albania soon to follow. That leaves Bosnia and Croatia as the remaining focal points, and Zbogar said the group is making a final push to eradicate all landmines from the region by the end of 2010.
Helping its neighbors has also boosted the self-confidence of this small nation of 2 million, according to the ambassador. “For us it’s important because first, for a small country, you cannot really be a global player. You’re not a big power deciding or sorting the issues. But we proved that you can be helpful.
“So that’s why I’m running for this project, because it’s a pillar of Slovenian foreign policy, because it’s doing great work with de-mining areas and bringing back economic activity, bringing people back to the areas, and because we need more attention to the issue of landmines because it’s mainly civilians and children who are affected by them,” Zbogar said.
The Marshall Legacy Institute based in Virginia will help to channel the funds that Zbogar raises to the ITF, and the ambassador will participate in speaking engagements at the different cities he runs in to further raise awareness of this lingering global threat.
For more information on Ambassador Zbogar’s marathon fundraising drive, please visit www.firstgiving.com/AmbZbogar or www.itf-fund.si.
Slovenian Ambassador Samuel Zbogar—seen here at a recent press conference on Slovenia’s conversion to the euro at the National Press Club—is running several marathons this year to raise money for landmine victims.
DIPLOMACY IN ACTION – RUNNING FOR A CAUSE
Samuel Zbogar, Slovenia’s young and energetic Ambassador to the United States, adheres to the theory that, in today’s world, diplomacy has transitioned far beyond the advancement of national interests by the practice of persuasion. The Ambassador recognizes that all nations are members of an interdependent international community. A country that is poor, that is destabilized, that has children raising children, poses risks to neighboring countries and, perhaps, to the world at large. Such situations in underdeveloped countries can foster destabilizing influences, health risks, and security risks and demand engagement, including humanitarian. Consequently, “diplomacy” has become far more action-oriented.
To make the point, Ambassador Zbogar will run in Austin Marathon on February 18, and several more this year (Knoxville, TN; Cleveland, OH; Washington, DC), to raise funds for the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF) and its partner, the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI). The funds will be used to support the rehabilitation of landmine survivors victimized by the conflict in South East Europe in the 1990s.
Just prior to his current diplomatic assignment, he served as State Secretary within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a position that oversaw the management of the International Trust Fund. As a result, the Ambassador has become very familiar with humanitarian mine action, particularly with projects undertaken by the ITF to benefit Slovenia’s neighboring countries.
While in Austin, Ambassador Zbogar will visit with 4th grade students at the Trinity Episcopal School. Those students are partnering with MLI to raise funds to adopt a mine detection dog. The dog, whose name is Tornado, will be deployed to work with mine clearance teams somewhere in the world.
Ambassador Zbogar hopes that his engagement will compel others to follow the lead of the Trinity students.
Biography of Samuel Zbogar
Samuel Zbogar became Ambassador of Slovenia to the United States on September 15, 2004.
Ambassador Zbogar previously served as head of task force for Slovenia’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presidency in 2005, minister plenipotentiary and deputy permanent representative of the Slovenian Mission to the United Nations (1997-2001), as well as deputy representative of the Republic of Slovenia to the U.N. Security Council (1998-99), and various positions within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including counselor, state undersecretary, director of the Department for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific, counselor to the minister and secretary in the Office of the Secretary-General.
In addition, he was the chargé d’affaires and first secretary at the Slovenian Embassy in China, secretary at the Slovenian Representative Office to the Monitoring Mission of the European Community in Zagreb, adviser to the Department for Neighboring Countries in the Republican Committee for International Cooperation in Ljubljana, and secretary to the Slovenian Delegation at the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia.
Ambassador Zbogar holds a bachelors’ degree in political sciences and international relations, and speaks English, Italian, Croatian, Serbian and French.
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Women’s Advocacy Project, Town Lake Trail Foundation, Girl Scouts, Lone Star Council, Cure Duchenne, Communities in Schools, Capital Area Food Bank, Austin Children’s Shelter, and St. Jude Heroes.