As the presidential primaries enter their final rush, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has become the country’s main concern. He is no longer a political curiosity; he is now a person that most politically conscious Americans would like to stop before he gets into the White House. The biggest reason for this is Trump’s unpredictability.
But this is not a story about Trump – rather, a note on Melania Knauss, a former model, now the third wife of the most stormy, reckless, impolite, vulgar, violent and bossy presidential candidate that American politics has ever encountered. Melania is the opposite of Donald Trump: she is silent, she is beautiful. And she is a Slovenian. And the question is, can she stop her husband? Can she save the United States of Donald Trump?
A couple of years ago, as a Slovenian reporter, I started to follow Mrs. Trump’s Twitter account, @MELANIATRUMP . I dropped the effort soon after, because my former countrywoman did not show any signs of a political life or any otherwise interesting activity. It was all about tacky mundanity interrupted by occasional close-up photos of a single rose. An attempt to demonstrate her artistic talent or just touting the fact that her Donald brought her a bouquet of roses? I did not pay attention to these details back then.
Then a month ago, my interest started to grow again. I had already written a few pieces on Trump as a presidential candidate. I never underestimated him. I thought that he was a wild card who did not fit the standards of the existing political system. This system is boiled, and Trump had enough instinct to smell blood. He threw himself into the race and started to swim. No strategy, no big ideology – just the instinct of a (political) killer, and a killer of politics. With Trump, everything became irrational.
In South Carolina, where he won a very important primary, Trump brought his whole family onstage to celebrate. Melania was dressed in pink, and Trump – in his loud, commanding voice – told her to say a few words to the crowd. She did, and for me, it was a disaster. Her few phrases were as ungrammatical as they could be, and I became worried that I might have the same accent and problems when I speak English. However, I started to feel uncomfortable, as is normal when I see one of my compatriots underperforming.
My interest in Melania increased as I got more requests to do a blog post on Melania Knauss for Yonder. “Who is she, what does she want?” wrote one of my readers, who does PR.
I wanted to brush away the idea of writing on the Slovenian background of Melania Knauss. I simply do not know her. She did not have any notoriety in Slovenia before she got involved with Donald Trump. But after many request from U.S. readers, I started to pay attention again. I even read a hastily-written, pamphlet-like book that was published in Slovenia in February. It was a bad read – there was nothing but undocumented gossip. Melania still seemed to me an uninspiring character. And when I focused on her birthplace of Sevnica, the only thing important that I found was a vivid, but bizarre memory of the place: a billboard with the logo of local lingerie brand, “Lisca,” and an image of a bra underneath. That image of the flying bra must have been somebody’s weird idea of how to launch a market economy in the formerly socialist Slovenia. I saw this image from the train, which stops in Sevnica. The billboard must have stayed there for a while, and since I never set foot in the place, Sevnica for me remained synonymous with a woman’s bra. That is, till I heard that Melania Trump was from Sevnica, too. I had some weird ideas about this, but they did not work well in writing.
As Trump’s political saga continued, I turned my attention to Melania occasionally, watching her rare public appearances and performances. She is making an effort, but she is a bad performer – probably squeezed under the pressure of her much-better-performing and dominating husband. With his short fingers!
That does not mean that Melania is just a tender rose. Melania Trump, alias Melanija Knavs, is a tough person. She always wanted to leave her little town, and when she was 14, she did it. But instead of going north to the closer town of Celje, she headed to the capital city Ljubljana, where the contacts were better, and she made it into a quite renowned high school for design. Melania had a plan, but not much talent besides her perfect body measures and her nice looks. When, one night after a fashion show, she was spotted by a local fashion photographer – one of a very small number in Slovenia at that time – he gave her an appointment. Melania came onto her first photo shoot with her own dresses. It was an opportunity she did not want to miss, but she also wanted to have a control of it. She already had an image of herself.
The photographer helped, and Melania started to build her portfolio and CV. She probably spent hours in front of the mirror, training for future catwalks. She wanted to be a model. When Slovenia became independent and the whole country was in search of its own identity, fashion and modeling was one of the industries that were buzzing in the minds of many young entrepreneurs of dubious quality. There was a lot of improvising and copying of the West, including some beauty contests. The book Melania Trump – The Inside Story: From a Slovenian communist Village to the White House contains a lot of trashy stories and trashy people. One of them is Melania’s former boyfriend, Jure Zorčič, the son of a former sports politician and entrepreneur who thrived in the country under the socialist flag. Melania dated Jure, who was Ljubljana-born, and he obviously helped her with networking. The book describes how Melania and Jure met in New York after many years:
Melania suggested that she and Zorčič meet at Café SFA, the restaurant at the top of Saks’ prestigious 5th Avenue flagship store. Jure Zorčič, curious and above all a little upset, hurried to 5th Ave in a taxi. When he took his seat at Saks Café, his first time there, he could see immediately why Melania had suggested this location: the view of 5th Avenue is simply stunning, an impressive sight for those on their first trip to New York. The cherry on the top is the view of Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s cathedral, which was recently renovated to the tune of $ 247 million. A lot of the cafe’s foreign visitors come simply for the view of Manhattan, not to mention that the menu at the top of the famous department store is tailored to the tastes so characteristic of the city. The most popular items are salads and sandwiches with chicken or tuna, as well as their minestrone, which is made clear by the menu itself. The ambiance is calm, and instrumental music plays through the speakers. Melania arrived surrounded by a tall, muscular bodyguard, who, well-trained and methodically, sat down a few yards away. When Zorčič noticed the bodyguard, it became immediately clear that this meeting, after so many years, wouldn’t be anything like the ones he had been used to. Obviously Melania, at that point already the insanely wealthy future Mrs. Trump for 5 years, didn’t –or maybe even wasn’t allowed to –go anywhere without guards. Not even, or perhaps especially, not for a friendly chat with an ex-boyfriend from Slovenia. He realized that this, surely their only meeting, would be almost formal in nature. They still hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks. Americans are more outgoing in their displays of affection, a trend that is slowly and torturously making its way across the pond to Slovenia. Except for Slovenians living on the coast, right near the famously affectionate Italians, Slovenian interpersonal relationships are a bit colder, more withdrawn, and much less open than in America. Melania sat down and ordered an orange juice. Jure Zorčič watched her closely. “She seemed very artificial,” he later told his friends, a bit disappointedly. As Zorčič tells it, she “didn’t have a large chest” when they had dated, a fact noticed by many fashion agents, headhunters, models, and photographers, “but now, all of a sudden… huge, and her knuckles were like ceramic. Even back then it was obvious she’d had quite a few cosmetic surgeries. She was still really pretty, though.” She did keep her trademark feline eyes, which, when the then 22-year old Melania Knavs hit the catwalk for the first and last time at the Slovenian beauty contest “Look of the Year” Even more than by her silicone breasts, Zorčič was shocked by the fact that Melania started speaking to him in English. He looked at her in surprise, then insisted that they speak Slovenian. Melania gave in and switched back to her native tongue.
When Melania became Donald Trump’s wife, her official biography changed, too. Her mother went from being a seamstress in a children’s garments factory to being a person who worked in fashion industry. Her father, who was a driver for a communist CEO, transformed into a free entrepreneur, while Melania became a former fashion model, designer and architect. However she must have some talent since she made it through the entrance exams for the Faculty of Architecture at University of Ljubljana (not easy, by my knowledge). But she abandoned the study of architecture for the more dynamic profession of fashion modeling. She obviously thought that, with her body, she had more chances as a model than as an architect. She took the faster train. It happens to kids who grew up in a small town where the window to the outside world is a railway station. I know something about this.
So who is Melania, and what is she capable of? When she first met Donald Trump and he asked her if she would give him her phone number, she refused to. Melania was not available to everyone immediately. She gave Trump a bit of a hard time. “Boys like that…” her mother must have taught her.
Until she began to aim for a top model career, she didn’t party much and always took good care of her body. Dieting and a lot of rest was her regime. Always.
I think that Melania Trump is still under the same kind of regime. She has not said her last words yet. But her discipline – could one call it a lack of the fantasy? – is incredible. Or does she have an extreme capacity to adapt in order to obtain her goal? Just look at the body language of the Trump couple when they are together, and you will get an idea of what kind of relationship they have. Unfortunately, when she appears in public, she does not seem to be very articulate. Something she obviously “inherited” from her husband, who is famous for his limited vocabulary.
To me, Melania is similar to a sleeper cell. She’s not a terrorist of course, but she could be radicalized in the same way former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario, did. She was a B-list actress when Berlusconi approached her on a bus station in Milan. He went to see her in a theater and apparently, according to Berlusconi, fell for her big boobs. Veronica was nowhere to be seen for many years. She gave Berlusconi three children and lived in a “castle” like Melania does. Then Veronica met an intellectual – a philosopher and former mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari – and became radicalized. She’d had enough of her husband’s nonsense. Illuminated by Cacciari, she didn’t want her kids to be like their father. She filed for divorce and started the end of Berlusconi era. All this after the whole country failed to get rid of him.
Unlike Veronica, Melania Trump has only one 10-year-old son with Donald Trump. She spends a lot of time with him, and apparently talks to him in Slovenian. Is there the hope that Melania will do something similar what Veronica did? And as a consequence deprive Trump of her support or stop him from being that violent, reckless person that he is? Or perhaps come out on the open and say something that will stop Mr. Donald Trump from running for president?