ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Melania Trump has raised the profile of her homeland, Slovenia. Her new role as first lady has even helped increase tourism there. And as Joanna Kakissis reports, the country is cashing in.
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JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The hamlet of Sevnica, population 5,000, sits right in the middle of Slovenia on a green valley along the Sava River surrounded by hills covered in pine forest.
LIDIJA OGOREVC: It's really amazing climate. And the food is great to enjoy. You should try our wine, our salami. We have great things to try.
KAKISSIS: That's Lidija Ogorevc, a guide here. She's giving us a town tour focused on Melanija Knavs, the birth name of Melania Trump. We pass her elementary school, the factory where her mom used to make children's clothes, the communist-era apartment block where she first lived and the neighborhood where her parents own a big house.
OGOREVC: Do you see the houses there? OK, that's Beverly Hills of Sevnica.
KAKISSIS: The Beverly Hills of...
OGOREVC: I say it like that because most people that had money could afford a house to build there.
KAKISSIS: She takes us to cafes offering Melania cakes and first lady apple pies and a shoe store selling White House slippers. Demand for these tours has gone up 30 percent since the beginning of the year, which is something for a town that until last year was known mostly for its underwear factory and salami festival, says Mayor Srecko Ocvirk.
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KAKISSIS: I meet the mayor at Sevnica's castle, which dates to the early Middle Ages, and where an accordionist in lederhosen serenades a wedding party.
SRECKO OCVIRK: (Through interpreter) Melania was raised here. She used to be our neighbor. That's what we focus on. Yes, she's President Trump's wife and that's what she's known for, but we want to focus only on her.
KAKISSIS: The castle sells first lady wine, chocolate, salami, tea cups and even face cream. Melanija Knavs left Slovenia in the 1990s to pursue fashion modeling. She is not known to have visited in more than a decade. The first lady hired Natasa Pirc Musar's law firm last year to protect her reputation. Musar makes sure her photo and full name are not used in Melania-themed products and that they are appropriate.
NATASA PIRC MUSAR: We would probably react heavily if somebody is going to make an underwear named Melania Trump (laughter). She is a tolerant lady. She knows how to draw a line, where the border is, we discuss this. And until now, the reaction was not needed in a single case.
KAKISSIS: People in Sevnica gush about Melania Trump, but not everyone in Slovenia feels the same way about her husband.
IVO VAJGL: Hello, hello.
KAKISSIS: How are you? I'm Joanna, nice to meet you.
VAJGL: Good, good.
KAKISSIS: I meet Ivo Vajgl, a member of the European Parliament, at his home outside Ljubljana, the capital. He says he's put off by President Trump's coziness with authoritarians and populists and his poor treatment of longtime allies in Europe.
VAJGL: I hope that his wrongdoing will be limited and that the world would not suffer because of his decisions. I think everybody in this country wishes her all the best.
KAKISSIS: And Slovenians loved it when the pope asked Melania Trump if she fed the president potica, Slovenia's rich traditional nutcake. Slovenia is seizing on that newfound fame and is now planning to ask the EU to officially recognize the recipe. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Sevnica, Slovenia.
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