Msgr. Tomas Halik Delivers Annual Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture

Msgr. Tomas Halik is a Professor of Sociology at Charles University who was secretly ordained as a priest in the underground Catholic Church during communism. He is a former advisor to President Vaclav Havel and Pope John Paul II. He is President of the Czech Christian Academy and received the Templeton Prize in 2014 for his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”. On October 20 he delivered the annual Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. Previous Freedom lecturers have included Madeleine Albright, Martin Butora and Pavol Demes.

Amb. Ted Russell presents medal to Msgr. Tomas Halik

Amb. Ted Russell presents medal to Msgr. Tomas Halik

Msgr. Halik’s theme was the “Long Period of Healing” and the important role of religion in the transition from Communism to Democracy. Msgr. Halik pointed out that liberation from Communism did not make people “free”. They had been subjected to a system that killed initiative and responsibility and created a “homo sovieticus”. This needed to be overcome before society could be democratically transformed. Economic transformation without moral transformation was not enough and sometimes became a kind of “inverted Marxism”. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked, this democratic transformation process will require a “long period of healing”.

After a totalitarian regime falls the society is disrupted and people are disoriented, either seeking vengeance or ignoring what they had lived through. A process of reconciliation is essential. This is a moral and cultural process. In Czechoslovakia after 1989 many Communists simply migrated to capitalism and then used their capital to influence the political process. What is needed is a role for the Christian Churches and faith based organizations in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. The truth must be told and a moral renewal is essential to create a successful “ moral biosphere” for democracy.

Msgr. Halik’s masterful presentation is available on the Woodrow Wilson Center website (“past events”) and a number of his other lectures are available at

Contributions from our loyal Friends of Slovakia supporters enable FOS to continue to supports events of this quality.


Summer 2016 scholarship opportunity available to Slovak students in Washington, DC

Thanks to generous support from several key donors, the Friends of Slovakia is able to once again offer scholarships for Slovak students at the Fund for American Studies summer program in June-July 2016. The program involves coursework, as well as an internship, giving participants practical work experience in an English-speaking environment. For more information on the program download the 2016 FOS scholarship letter [pdf 100kB].

Slovak students who have participated in the past have found the program personally and professionally rewarding (for stories of past program participants see a brochure Summer in Washington, DC [pdf 2MB].)


FOS Slovak Scholars Successfully Complete 2015 TFAS Summer Institute

By Ken Bombara

Friends of Slovakia and the Slovak Embassy honored the 2015 FOS Slovak Scholars with a well-attended reception at the Embassy on July 22.  The reception was co-hosted by Ambassador Peter Kmec and FOS Board Chairman, Joseph Senko, who made remarks honoring the students and scholarship donors.  Also attending the reception were U.S. Ambassador Theodore ‘Tod’ Sedgwick, who had just returned to the U.S. after completing his successful term in Bratislava, as well as TFAS President Roger Ream, FOS Founding Chairman, Ambassador Ted Russell, and Slovak-American Foundation Chairman, Mary McPherson.

The five scholars completed The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) Summer Institute held at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.  They joined students from throughout the United States and a number of foreign countries in attending one of the several programs offered through the Institute. The programs offer seminars and lectures by top professors, and the scholars also benefit from the experience gained by interning with businesses, government and non-profit organizations.  The scholars return to Europe with insight into American concepts of liberal democracy, entrepreneurship, and American culture.  They become part of a growing network of past FOS Scholars who build successful careers, collaborate with other Slovak professionals to contribute to building Slovakia’s economy and civil society, and support FOS’s mission to strengthen the U.S.-Slovak relationship.

Congratulations to the 2015 Slovak Scholars!

Tomas Sakal is from Bratislava, and attends Masaryk University in Brno, Czech republic.  He participated in TFAS’s Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems and interned with the Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Lucia Cerchlanova is from the small town of Skalice (near Cadca), and attends Northeastern State University in Oklahoma.  She also participated in the Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems.  Her internship was with The Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC).

Monika Soltesova is from Michalovce and is attending the University of Economics in Bratislava.  She attended TFAs’s Institute on Economics and International Affairs and interned with the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

Juraj Hostak is from Bratislava and is attending a master’s program at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  He attended the Institute on Economics and International Affairs and interned with the Office of U.S. Congressman John Mica.  He also arranged for the scholars to meet with Rep. Mica at the U.S. Capitol.

Lukas Prvy resides in Zurich but was born in Slovakia.  He recently earned a Master’s Degree at the University of Amsterdam. Lukas participated in the Institute on Business and Government Affairs and interned with the Embassy of the Slovak Republic.

FOS extends its sincere thanks to the scholarship donors: Amb. Sedgwick; FOS Board member Richard Marko; the Slovak-American Foundation, which sponsored two scholars; and the many individual FOS supporters who contributed to the scholarship fund. Special thanks also to FOS Board member Scott Thayer, and his wife Nena, who held a reception at their lovely home in Bethesda, MD on June 21 to welcome the scholars to Washington.


“Russian propaganda is also in Slovakia.” — Theodore Sedgwick

Leaving US Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick was a guest to the CD Club hosted by Pavol Demes, which is broadcast by internet television The ambassador considers the five-year mission the peak of his career. When talking about the Roma issues, Sedgwick compares it with historical experience of the US with integration of the Afro-American community. It is important to focus on education of the Rom…a since if you offer them opportunity, they will use it, according to the ambassador. Regarding corruption, Slovakia has done many positive changes to fight it, but there is still much room for improvement. This concerns mostly judiciary, Sedgwick said. He also commented on the increasing trend of anti-Americanism in regard of the situation in Ukraine. Russia has violated the international law with its treatment of Ukraine, Sedgwick said, adding that many Slovaks believe Russian propaganda which is spreading across the country.



Slovak WWII Film Screened at the Embassy

Slovak Film Director Dusan Hudec points out photos of the Praskac and Rehus families who sheltered downed U.S. pilot Owen Sullivan in WWII to FOS members Julie Slavik and Amb. Ted Russell

Slovak Film Director Dusan Hudec points out photos of the Praskac and Rehus families who sheltered downed U.S. pilot Owen Sullivan in WWII to FOS members Julie Slavik and Amb. Ted Russell

Dusan Hudec showed and then commented on his brilliant film “Veterans of World War II” May 14 to a SRO audience at the Slovak Embassy.   Friends of Slovakia supported production of Mr. Hudec’s companion film, “The Final Mission”, shown at the Embassy last November. A photo exhibit drawn from “The Final Mission” picturing downed U.S. pilots rescued and hidden by Slovak families accompanied yesterday’s film showing. 106 U.S. pilots died and approximately 370 were captured in Slovakia in WWII, but many succeeded in escaping thanks to the Slovaks who hid them.  


AeroMobil at the Slovak Embassy

Slovak Embassy EU Open House May 9, 2015
The Slovak AeroMobil was presented to an appreciative audience at the Slovak Embassy EU Open House May 9 by Peter Kolesar of the Business and Innovation Unit. Friends of Slovakia procured a scale model of the AeroMobil and is sponsoring its display for the next three years as part of a traveling exhibit aimed at promoting aeronautical technology to young people and the public.



guests at dinner On November 14, 2014, Friends of Slovakia and the Slovak Embassy hosted the fifth Slovak-American Awards dinner at the Slovak Embassy in Washington, DC.   The event marked the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s entrance into NATO and the European Union, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, and the 70th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising.

            The sold-out event was a banner evening for FOS.  The embassy building and the spacious heated tent over the terrace made an elegant setting to display the silent auction items, tasting area for Double Cross Vodka and a festive, delicious dinner.   The event brought together more than 120 individuals along with corporate and fraternal representatives to celebrate Slovakia’s being a fully contributing member of the EU, NATO, and the transatlantic community of democracies.   

Joe Senko presents Amb. Burian with an award for diplomacy as Ed Zelenak looks on
Joe Senko presents Amb. Burian with an award for diplomacy as Ed Zelenak looks on

 Proceeds from this event support the FOS flagship Slovak Scholars’ Program, the annual Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture and other programs promoting Slovak-American friendship.  Half the income from the silent auction supports the Slovak Honorary Consuls’ Peter Burian Roma Scholarship.

             This year’s keynote speaker was Peter Burian, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and formerly Slovak Ambassador to Washington.  Minister Burian emphasized the economic, cultural and political ties binding the U.S. and Slovakia.

Those honored with awards were:       

Amb. Peter Kmec with Dr. Jan Vilcek, Man of the Year

Amb. Peter Kmec with Dr. Jan Vilcek, Man of the Year

Dr. Jan Vilcek, Slovak-American of the Year. 

Dr. Vilcek is a true renaissance man: a scientist, an educator, an inventor and a philanthropist. Born and educated in Bratislava, he and his wife defected to the West in 1964 and came to New York City. He has been on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine since then. He not only did groundbreaking work on interferon but also developed methods for using it. His work led to treatments for a number of chronic diseases, including Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In 2000 the couple created the Vilcek Foundation that awards grants to immigrants making contributions in biomedical science and the arts; thanks to royalties from the drug he helped develop, Remicade, the Vilceks are major donors to NYU School of Medicine. 

Ambassador Theodore Sedgwick, Diplomacy Award.

Amb. Russell presents diplomatic award to Amb. Sedgwick at Awards Dinner

Amb. Russell presents diplomatic award to Amb. Sedgwick at Awards Dinner

In his travels throughout the country Ambassador Tod Sedgwick has underscored the vital U.S. interest in supporting Slovakia’s success as a reliable trans-Atlantic partner in NATO and strong member of the     European Union. He has fostered U.S. – Slovak cultural and educational exchanges, including personal support for the FOS Slovak Scholars program. He has worked tirelessly and effectively to strengthen U.S.-Slovak commercial ties and to encourage Slovakia’s efforts to create a more effective judicial system and to fight corruption.  In recognition of his notable contributions to         building U.S.-Slovak friendship, Friends of Slovakia awarded Ambassador Sedgwick its Award for Diplomacy.

Peter Breiner, Cultural Award 

Ken Bombara (l.) presents the culture award to Peter Breiner

Ken Bombara (l.) presents the culture award to Peter Breiner

An internationally acclaimed musician – conductor, pianist, arranger, and composer – Peter Breiner studied music in Bratislava.  Among his many musical projects, he arranged all the national anthems of countries participating in the Olympic Games in Athens and in London. He is perhaps best known for his baroque arrangements of Christmas music and Beatles and Presley songs. He is currently working on a major piece based on Slovak dances. He has conducted many of the most prestigious orchestras and has recorded and released over 210 CDs.

The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), Educational Award.

Dr. Sharon Wolchik presents Mary Stankus of TFAS its award

Dr. Sharon Wolchik presents Mary Stankus of TFAS its award

It is FOS’ partner for the FOS Summer Scholars Program.   TFAS and FOS, thanks to our generous donors, have provided over $200,000 for 30 FOS Slovak Scholars who participate in the eight-week summer academic and internship program at George Mason University.

 This year’s dinner attracted a record number of benefactors who purchased full tables and a record number of program ads. FOS thanks to all who helped so generously to make this the most financially successful Slovak-American Awards Dinners held in the U.S. We are particularly grateful to Ambassador Peter Kmec and the Embassy staff for their hospitality and assistance with the event.


BAE Systems
ECO-Invest, s.a.
ESET North America
Richard Marko
Slovak American Foundation
U. S. Steel Corporation

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dewitt
Double Cross Vodka
First Catholic Slovak Union of the US and Canada
Peter and Monika Kmec
Laura Robinson
Cecilia Rokusek and Robert Petrik
Ted and Sally Russell
Alexander Toma
Washington Capitals

Peter Breiner
First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association
Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union
National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library
National Slovak Society
Vince and Annemarie Obsitnik
Theodore Sedgwick
Joseph and Albina Senko
Slovak League of America
Slovak Catholic Sokol


FOS to Present Aeromobil to the U.S.

As the world’s economies seek economic growth and jobs, emphasis is increasingly placed on the key role played by innovation.  A recent Washington Post op-ed by Fareed Zakaria noted, “Innovation is partly about entrepreneurship but also about technology.”  And there are some, such as billionaire Peter Thiel, who argue that, despite the hype, we don’t actually live in innovative times. Thiel, of Founders’ Fund, his venture capital firm, put it pithily, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,”referring to Twitter.

FOS--Aeromobil_foto_01Friends of Slovakia is proud to announce that not only do we now have a flying car, but it’s designed and manufactured in Slovakia!  FOS has recently been in contact with the Slovak firm, Aeromobil, which has designed and built a prototype of a road vehicle with flying capability.  We are procuring a scale model of the vehicle and will be sponsoring its display for the next three years as part of a traveling exhibit aimed at promoting aeronautical technology to young people and the public. This project presents an unusual opportunity to showcase the technological potential of Slovak firms and to promote Slovakia generally. FOS board member, Richard Marko, is coordinating the project, and we will be reporting on details as the project gets underway in the months to come.

Aeromobil is a Slovak firm co-founded by Stefan Klein, chief designer of the vehicle, and Juraj Vaculik, who serves as Aeromobil’s CEO.  Klein has spent the past twenty years pursuing his dream to design a flying car, resulting in the latest prototype, Aeromobil 3.0.  He received a degree from the Slovak University of Technology in 1983 and has studied design in France as well.  He has led research projects for a number of companies resulting in the development of several commercially successful products.  Juraj Vaculik has a background in theater studying at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava.  He was a key figure in the student movement during the Velvet Revolution from which a democratic Slovakia emerged. He subsequently founded a highly successful advertising firm that worked with many global companies.  In 2010 Juraj co-founded AeroMobil and manages the company as its CEO. He also acts as an angel investor with investments into successful start-up projects in media content, IT and alternative transport sectors, throughout Europe and the US.  You can view the flying car at Aeromobil’s website, .



Amb. Ted Russell congratulates Dr. Demes after his talk

Amb. Ted Russell congratulates Dr. Demes after his talk – photo by Lillis Werner

Dr. Pavol Demes delivered the annual Czech and Slovak Freedom lecture on November 14 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC.  Dr. Demes, a leading exponent of Slovakia’s civil society and his nation’s entry into the EU and NATO, presented a fascinating “photo essay” documenting Slovakia’s journey over the last 25 years and the US-Slovak ties that bind. 

2014 is the celebratory year for four important anniversaries. The first is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I after which Czechoslovakia gained independence, thanks to the efforts of T.G. Masaryk, M.R. Stefanik and Woodrow Wilson. The second is the 70th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising against the Nazis, and the third, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution ending Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Finally, the newest milestone: the 10th anniversary of Slovakia’s entry into NATO and the European Union.

Since 1918, many factors have helped link the US with Slovakia including the examples set by noted Slovak Americans.   Slovak citizen Sgt. Michael Strank, killed in action on Iwo Jima along with two other members of the six man unit he led to raise the large US flag on Mt. Suribachi, is represented on the Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington Cemetery. Sgt. Strank was posthumously awarded US citizenship in a ceremony held at that memorial.  Another famous American of Slovak heritage that Dr. Demes cited is the astronaut, Eugene Cernan, who brought back the moon rock on display in the National Air & Space Museum.

Dr. Demes recognized the contributions to Slovakia’s progression towards democracy by Slovak dissidents and political prisoners, such as Silvester Krcmery and Vladimir Jukl, who led a religious underground movement and set the stage for the 1988 candlelight demonstration on Easter Friday that was brutally dispersed by the regime with water cannons. Krcmery answered his tormentors at his 1954 trial with the response, “You have the power, but we have the truth.”

Describing the outbreak of the Velvet Revolution, Dr. Demes emphasized that dissenting students and intellectuals in Slovakia were dedicated to the principle of non-violence and democratic decision making. Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel articulated the meaning of the Velvet Revolution in his February 1990 speech to the US Congress.

Dr. Demes praised the reaction of US civil society to the Velvet Revolution and mentioned the contributions of various Americans: Ann Gardner and her Education for Democracy effort, Wendy Luers and her Foundation for a Civil Society and George Soros and his Open Society movement. He noted the celebratory reopening of the US Consulate in Slovakia in 1991 in the presence of former Consul Claiborne Pell who had been consul in 1948 during the communist takeover. This became the US Embassy after the peaceful separation of the Czechs and Slovaks in January 1993.

Dr. Demes described how Slovak civil society had gradually strengthened during the early years of Slovak independence through its vigorous sparring with the authoritarian Meciar government. In January 1994, the Visegrad 4 leaders of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary met with President Clinton in Prague and were offered a path towards eventual NATO membership. President Clinton subsequently met on several occasions with Slovak President Kovac, but not with Prime Minister Meciar.

Support for Slovakia’s democratic progress was offered through visits by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-first lady Hillary Clinton.  A successful get out the vote effort in 1998 led to the election of Prime Minister Dzurinda and Slovakia’s move towards a successful market oriented democracy. Dzurinda’s extraordinary gesture of running in the NYC marathon in tribute to the victims of 9/11 was a sign of strong bonds between our two countries.  The 2005 visit of President George Bush to Bratislava, which included a meeting with President Putin, recognized Slovakia’s role as a strong member of the EU and NATO. President Obama’s meetings with Prime Minister Fico in 2013 and 2014 emphasized the strategic partnership between the US and Slovakia based on shared democratic values.

Dr. Demes concluded his memorable presentation by recalling the election of President Kiska in March 2014 and his tour of the US bringing young Slovak hi tech entrepreneurs, thereby hoping to move Slovakia from “iron to silicon.” He emphasized that Slovakia’s civil society has been characterized by the ability to “sit down and talk” in order to resolve the most complicated issues. He said he was grateful to live in Slovakia, which in spite of its ups and downs is a good member of the European family and will remain a friend, partner and ally of the United States.