Interview with Irena Križman: A Preview

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This article shows a snippet of a full interview with Irena Križman on growing up in former Yugoslavia and her work within the fields of statistic during- and after the Slovenian struggle of independence.

By Katherine M. Condon, Ph.D., Interview Editor - SJIAOS

Irena Krizman

"It is interesting that much of my life is based on things that I have no influence over."

By Katherine M. Condon, Ph.D., Interview Editor - SJIAOS

Ms. Irena Križman has been a member of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) Executive Committee and served as the IAOS President between 2009 and 2011. She began her career and interest in official statistics in what was then Yugoslavia’s Republic of Slovenia, now the independent country of Slovenia, in the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS).[2] She has a B.Sc. in sociology from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Science (1975) and an M.S. in Management of Non-Profit Organizations also from the University of Ljubljana.

At SURS, Irena has held many different managerial positions from Head of department to Deputy Director General (1987-2003) and Director General SURS from 2003 to 2013. During the accession process of Slovenia to the European Union she was leading the preparation of the statistical legislation and programming tools and the development of social classification (occupations, education and social status) and other statistical infrastructure. Under her leadership, SURS has developed an excellent cooperation with other data producers including the National Central Bank and with important stakeholders such as academia, media, and policy makers.

While the political, economic and social transition was happening, the government agencies that had already been in place needed to transform too. The process of transition was very fast and it requested a lot of effort from Slovene authorities and a good cooperation among partners in the country and with the other EU member states and EU institutions. Good quality and EU standardized statistics was a precondition for negotiations in other chapters of the EU legislation. With the help of Eurostat and the EU Member states, SURS and its partners in the national statistical system have done an excellent job. Thanks to that cooperation the institutional and professional capacity to fulfill the EU and national requirements have been successfully developed.

As this interview shows, there was a lot of future pre-planning/thinking that was happening within Slovenia, even before its independence.

This interview was conducted via Skype with Irena Križman by Katherine Condon.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you. Let us start at the very beginning and go back to your childhood. What was it like growing up in your country?

I was born in what was then called Yugoslavia, a socialist country but not under the Soviet influence. We had open borders and we could easily go across the border with Italy or Austria. I must say, looking back to those times, I don’t have such a bad feeling – it wasn’t as difficult as it might have seemed from the outside. Almost everyone had a job, but of course the level of living was much lower. Sometimes certain commodities were not available and we could go across the borders to buy it. However, because we all were experiencing this, no one felt excluded. On the other hand, there were almost no homeless people on the street. We had a good public-school system and health services for everyone. For instance, if one compares it with today, if the people living in the region where I was born – which is a less-developed region –want to study in Ljubljana, it is in most cases too expensive for them. In my childhood, it was more merit-driven, while today it is more money-driven. So, I don’t know – I may be old enough to forget everything that was bad and just having nice memories. [Laughter]. Yes, it is in the nature of people to forget bad things.

I remember when I was at my office, I had to go to Czechoslovakia. It was the first time I had ever crossed the border to an Iron Curtain country. It looked horrible for me. I had never seen such things before. While we were under a dictatorship, history may be kinder to those times in the future. We shall see. [3] 

INTERVIEWER: Looking back to your childhoods, what was your education like before university? We often find that a particular event or person had an impact on our later years. Did a particular person or event shape you into the person you are today?

I was born on a small farm in the mountains. The only income of the family was from the farm. It was in the poorest region of Slovenia and not many children completed more than primary or some of them three years secondary education. My mother had no opportunity to study, but she was always reading books. Even today, at the age of 94, she is still reading. She introduced me to the world of books.

I had 8 years of primary school and then went on to complete four years of secondary school (gymnasium), which prepares pupils for university entrance.

I was interested in math, physics, chemistry and all this stuff as a child. I thought I was good in that. I was asked to help other school mates, to explain for those who were having trouble understanding, even though I found it very easy. I remember that my math teacher, when I was named Director General I met her, told me that she had known that I would be in an important position someday. She was very proud of my accomplishment.

There were two people that had an important impact on me and shaped me into who I am today. These two people were my teacher at the primary school and my mother.

When I completed the first year of primary school at the age of 8, this teacher told my mother that if she (my mother) was not able to put me into further education, then he was going to organize that.

After primary school, I went to another town to go to the secondary school. My family had no resources, so I had to live with another family – my mother knew this family. I had to look after a 2-year old boy in the morning, then I went to school in the afternoon and studied at night. In spite of that, I had good notes and I even helped my school mates.

This family’s apartment, where I stayed, was quite small. There was one room used as a sleeping room for the husband, wife and child, and then there was a small room used also as a kitchen in which there was a very small couch, a small bed where I slept. As I look back now, it was quite difficult, but at the time it allowed me to go to school. In the third year of my schooling I got a small scholarship. With that, it became a bit easier. My scholarship was used to pay a part of the kindergarten’s costs for the boy so I had more free time to study. It is very hard for me to imagine my grand-daughter now to live in these circumstances.

After four years at the gymnasium, I went to Ljubljana University. Originally, I wanted to study English. I don’t know how this came to me. I just had a feeling that I was going somewhere and that I would need to know languages.

Otherwise, it is interesting that much of my life is based on things that I have no influence over. For example, I had planned to go to university to study English language. However, when I came there, the lady at the office said that I was too late to apply. I had spent one month in Geneva for a UN program organized for young people in Slovenia. So, I lost that time and I was very unhappy. My boyfriend was also at university for social science, studying sociology. He said “Come with me, maybe they have a place for you.”  So, you can imagine this in the life of a person. I went with him and this lady looked at me, looked at my notes and said “Yes, you can stay with us!” 

I found that sociology helped me and is still helping me today. Today, children are encouraged to study natural sciences, not so much social sciences. However, it is important to understand the context we are living in. So, I think that social science is very important too. In my life, I was able to combine my early knowledge of social science with my later knowledge in statistics.

Then, when I was 20 years old, I became pregnant and got married. It was difficult and I was afraid to go home to tell my mother that I was pregnant. I did all the exams in the first study year and then I went home. I said to my mother – “That’s it but I did my year.” I promised her to finish my studies and I kept my promise.

I did go back to school and after 4-years of studies, with my baby, working at the university, helping my school friends, and they helping me. And with no computers like today – I had to write down everything by hand. My school friends would play with my daughter and I would be studying also during the night. I did all the exams in time. While I could have spent one more year at university to finish my diploma, instead I went to find a job.

Again, it was luck that played an important role.

When I was looking for a job, the employment office lady told me to go to the Statistical office. So, I went there. I remember that it was a very rainy day. Every corridor was full of papers. Initially, I thought I didn’t want to work there, but I knew I needed money. So, I got the internship job there. First, I got the internship job for 6-months. After that the decision was made that I could stay permanently. They gave me the condition that I had to finish my diploma. I did it during my first working year at SURS. After the diploma I got the job in the economic statistics department.

During my study years there was a lot of work in SURS what I had to combine with my study and my family. Sometimes I was deadly tired but I managed to balance all three important parts of my life (family, job and study). I have three daughters: Sandra (46), Tina (40) and Urša (27). They all completed university studies (two are architects and one is a professor of English). I have also three beautiful grandchildren (Ana (18), Nejc (16) and Benjamin (9 months)). I am a very proud and happy grandma. [...]

Want to read more about the early life, education and professional accomplishments of Irena Krizman? Read the full interview here. 

"I was told that I have an energy of generations. I’ve always studied beyond the current assignment, even as a child.”

- Irena Krizman

[1] The views and opinions expressed in the conversation are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics nor IOS Press.

[2] For more information regarding the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS), please see: http://www.stat.si/StatWeb/en/AboutUs/AboutStatOffice.

[3] For more information on the history of Yugoslavia, please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslavia. For more information on the history of Slovenia, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Slovenia