Hosting the 2011 EATS conference in Ljubljana was a small step for EATS but an important step for my future career. Being a huge fan of Taiwan, I couldn't have been more excited and honoured when I was nominated to be a member of the EATS Executive Board. At that point I had absolutely no clue of how many arduous and time-consuming tasks such privilege would actually entail. Nonetheless, all the work paid off in so many ways and I am delighted to have been part of such a prominent community. For that reason, I remain a loyal EATS fan! The six annual meetings I‘ve helped to co-organise were certainly the most valuable social networking fora, and many great friendships have developed during those years. Not only did such active involvement promote my research, but it also gave further momentum to the Taiwan Study Center in Slovenia (see the photo below), which is now a proper information hub and national platform for Taiwan-related research and networking.
Due to its unique international predicament and geographic remoteness, Taiwan can only be brought closer to Slovenians by writing about it in the media, by organising cultural events, and through education. Therefore, the institutionalisation and inclusion of Taiwan studies into the University‘s teaching portfolio was of significant importance. This academic year was particularly dynamic as our Department of Asian Studies celebrated its 20th anniversary. Accordingly, the Center co-organised a number of cultural events, including a Taiwan-themed photo exhibition, artistic performances, and the screening of experimental Asian movies at the Faculty of Arts and Slovenian Cinematheque.
Collaboration with a Taiwanese journal, The Balkans, has also been very fulfilling as the broad scope of articles on Slovenia bring the two nations a step closer to each other. Most importantly, I secured the teaching of two 60-hour courses that incorporate Taiwan as a central subject of study, in addition to courses on East Asian security, both at the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of International Relations at Ljubljana, as well as at Zagreb and Pula Universities in Croatia. Owing to the financial support of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Vienna, the Center invited several academic colleagues to deliver specific lectures on Taiwan, among them: Niki Alsford, Chris Berry, David Blundell, Philippe Cachia, Bruce Jacobs, Dean Karalekas, Astrid Lipinsky, Ming-Yeh Rawnsley, and Jonathan Sullivan. In Slovenia, interest in the study of Taiwan has experienced a steady growth, and this spring's EATS conference was particularly rewarding as 16 undergraduate and graduate students joined me in Prague. I hope that they will crave more—as I did when, as a Master's student, I attended the inaugural EATS conference at SOAS in London back in 2004.
The beginning of 2016 was also marked by the watershed general elections in Taiwan, which were noticed by the Slovenian media, and I am pleased that several journalists contacted me to provide a balanced assessment. Taiwan's entrapment in a "one China" situation, plus its geographic remoteness, limit Taiwan's visibility in Slovenia, so the published interviews certainly brought the island into the spotlight. Furthermore, more and more Slovenians from various walks of life turn to the Taiwan Study Center seeking information regarding Taiwan, asking questions that range from political affairs and business to tourism and culture. Therefore, I am pleased to conclude that the establishment of the Center is a proven starting point for more pro-active and substantive Slovenia-Taiwan cooperation. Managing the Center has undoubtedly been my most fulfilling accomplishment, and I will endeavour to further enhance the cooperation between Slovenia and Taiwan in as many fields as possible. I look forward to any advice, ideas for collaboration, and especially getting to know the great people who support EATS and Taiwan!
Dr Saša Istenič is Associate Professor of Sinology and President of the Taiwan Research Center at the Department of Asian and African Studies of the University in Ljubljana in Slovenia. She was EATS Board member, 2011-2016.