LJUBLJANA, Slovenia—What were first faint rumors turned into palpable buzz: Melania Trump, the most famous daughter of Slovenia, might finally visit her homeland. Her father, Viktor Knavs, was seen here driving a white Maybach with Florida plates between the capital and Melania’s hometown of Sevnica preparing the way, it was said, for a spectacular homecoming.
But as the rumors multiplied, so did a widespread sense of disappointment that America’s first lady has not been back to her motherland for 15 years.
Several of Slovenia’s leading women decided the time might be ripe to invite Melania Knavs Trump back here for a bit of dialogue about some major global issues. Members of Femmes Sans Frontières (Women Without Borders) brainstormed at the elegant villa of Jerca Legan, the organization’s president, in the old town of Ljubljana. They were environmentalists, writers, artists, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, lawyers and business developers, who decided to issue a formal invitation.
Some, like Slovenian fashion diva Maja Ferme, have known Melania for several years, as a friend and benefactor for various charities; others had expected Melania to be more assertive in the international arena.
“Frankly, I have not heard a single strong statement by Melania in years, which is kind of embarrassing, if not shameful,” said communications consultant Darinka Pavlic Kamien.
Nena Cresnar Pregar, who advises foreign investors interested in Slovenian regions, said she respected Melanja Knavs, the young ambitious model who first escaped her provincial socialist Sevnica to Slovenia’s capital, then to Western Europe, and finally to the United States.
“She had more courage in her youth, I would inspire her to speak out for equality,” Cresnar Pregar said, and that would be in contrast to her husband who is “spreading hatred in every Twitter post.”
“We would also want her to be more engaged on freeing immigrants’ children from prisons, on global climate change issues. Otherwise she’ll be remembered for her ‘Don’t Care’ jacket,” said Cresnar Pregar.
Last October, on her way to visit a detention center for immigrant children in Texas, Melania Trump made headlines wearing a $39 Zara jacket that said in splashy white letters across the back, “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” She subsequently said the reference was not supposed to be to the children but to the ever-prying, often critical press.
“I wore the jacket to go on the plane and off the plane,” Mrs. Trump explained to ABC News. “And it was for the people and for the left-wing media to show them that I don’t care. You will not stop me to do what I feel is right.”
“It was kind of a message,” said the first lady. “I would prefer that they would focus on what I do and my initiatives, than what I wear.”
Her Slovene compatriots would like to give her just that chance.
Slovenia’s former state secretary, Tico Zupancic, embraced the initiative coming from the Slovenian civil groups.
“Melania might realize she’s been a puppet on invisible strings, recalculate her position and decide that her bank accounts are not as important as her reputation,” Zupancic told The Daily Beast. “The group of brilliant women would like to invite her to her homeland, she should use this chance to break free, grow vocal.”
From Melania’s hometown of Sevnica, to the resort town of Piran, to the capital Ljubljana, when she first became first lady she was the object of tremendous pride. But now, many wonder why Melania does not seem to care about Slovenia as she balances on top of the world in her high heels.
A local artist, Ales Zupevc, placed a wooden statue of America’s first lady in her blue inaugural dress on the bank of the Sava River. The rough-hewn wooden Melania is waving to her hometown of Sevnica, which is just a few kilometers away, as if to say, “Hello, here I am.”
But in real life all that people have heard from her are calls from her lawyers coming to sue those who publish scandalous articles about the ex-model’s past, on the one hand, or who name their businesses or merchandise after her.
“No word of congratulations arrived from the White House on June 25, the Statehood Day,” Melania Trump’s biographer, Bojan Pozar, said in an interview. “The way Melania’s treated Slovenia has been fundamentally wrong.” (The State Department did issue a pro forma congratulations on Statehood Day.)
The vice chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Europe, Ajsa Vodnik, defended Melania, blaming the hostility of journalists for keeping her away from Slovenia. Vodnik, who befriended Melanja Knavs when she was 17, remembers “a really modest girl” in the late 1980s. Vodnik said in a recent interview she has been in touch with the first lady’s staffers, and, “She really wants to come.”
Vodnik says she is proud that the Slovene language is spoken at the White House. “Her son speaks Slovene with his grandparents in the White House,” she said. “The language is very important.”
News reports about the U.S. President’s alleged cheating on his wife sounded disturbing but were not the point, Vodnik said. “We should not be thinking who they sleep with,” she insisted, meaning the world’s male leaders. “We women should preserve peace and security today, as the world is not in a great position.”
Vodnik added that the two most well known names of world leaders today are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Looking back at Slovenia’s history, Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, cannot not think of a single woman leader who has a chance to make a difference. She is calling for women leaders to learn from the past.
On one of her visits in Washington, Bulc tried to meet with Melania Trump, but it didn’t happen. “I would tell her: ‘Embrace humanity at its best, help people, give people a chance,’ although I am not sure how much power Melania has. She seems to be strong, but quiet. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she’d become the First Lady of the United States.”
Trump once said that his years with Melania had been his most successful years.
Slovenia’s leading environmentalist, Gaja Brecelj, believes that during the years left of Trump’s presidency Melania could help. “If Trump does not believe in global climate change, it does not matter. It’s time for Melania to become her own person, think with her own head," Brecelj said.
“Hello, Melania, do this for Barron, for his children, push your husband: we need to change the world’s energy system, traffic system—what we all do now will show in 100 years.”
The last time America’s first lady visited her homeland, in July 2004, was to introduce her future husband to her parents. The Grand Hotel Toplica at Lake Bled still has a picture of Melania and her boyfriend Donald from that last visit. It is tacked on a wall in the hallway between pictures of other significant visitors, including a Russian ballerina, Anna Plisetskaya, and a former Russian parliament member, Alexander Rozenbaum.
If Melania Trump comes back now, the atmosphere would be rather different. “We invite Melania to join our movement of women without borders, we’d empower her,” Jerca Legan said at the gathering of Slovene women. “She still has time to make the difference, if she does not want to live in a world of hate, where kids sit terrified on the bare floor of prisons. If she cares.”