Slovak and U.S. Think Tanks Form Key Collaboration on Central European Issues

At a conference held on July 17 and 18th in Washington, the Atlantic Council, a major U.S.-based foreign policy think tank, and GLOBSEC, a Bratislava-based security and foreign policy think tank, announced a collaboration to address current issues focusing on the central European region. At the two-day conference entitled, The United States and Central Europe: Celebrating Europe Whole and Free, Building the Next Century Together, an impressive group of foreign policy officials, and analysts from academia and the think tank community reviewed historical developments in Central Europe, particularly since the events of 1989, analyzed recent events and trends, and looked ahead to future policy of Western allies.

GLOBESEC Chairman Rastislav Kacer

Representing the two organizations were, Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council, and Amb. Rastislav Kacer, Chairman of GLOBESEC, and former Slovak ambassador to the U.S.  They introduced the conference and announced the release of a joint study entitled The United States and Central Europe: Tasks for a Second Century Together.  They also announced that one of the authors of the report, Amb. Daniel Fried already a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council responsible for overseeing its work on Central Europe and other areas, was to be designated as the new Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow.  This new position was created with support provided by Amb. Ronald Weiser, who served previously as U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia from 2001 to 2004. The involvement of GLOBESEC and Amb. Kacer, and the support of Amb. Weiser, highlighted the relevance and importance of a Slovak-related perspective in analysis of current foreign policy issues in Central Europe and the West generally.

L-R, Pavol Demes; FOS Chairman Scott Thayer; Martina Hrvolova, FOS; Slovak Amb. Ivan Korcok; GLOBSEC Chairman Rastislav Kacer; Ken Bombara, FOS; Lenka Surotchak, Slovak Embassy; Doug Hengel ; Richard Marko and Jan Surotchak, both FOS.

A Slovak perspective was further in evidence at the conference as three key Slovak figures participated and made significant contributions.  Current Slovak ambassador to the U.S., Ivan Korcok participated in the panel that presented the joint report noted above.  Pavol Demes, Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund, participated in the panel, Identity, Values and Democracy: What Does the West Stand For?  Finally, Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Miroslav Lajcak followed a panel of the foreign ministers of Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic with inspiring closing remarks that brought the themes of the conference together and pointed a way forward for transatlantic relations.

 Amb. Ronald Weiser speaking with FOS Vice Chairman Ken Bombara

Friends of Slovakia were well represented among the attendees at the conference, by Chairman Scott Thayer, Vice Chairman Ken Bombara, and Board members Martina Hrvolova, Richard Marko and Jan Surotchak.  We highly recommend viewing a detailed summary and videos of the conference that are available on the Atlantic Council website at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/the-united-states-and-central-europe-what-s-gone-right-what-s-gone-wrong-and-what-s-next

(Photos courtesy of P. Demes and R. Marko)

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Bridget Brink Confirmed as Next U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia

On July 11, 2019 members of the Friends of Slovakia (FOS) Executive Committee met with Ambassador Brink at the State Department in Washington DC to get acquainted and discuss her plans for the new post. The White House announced in March 2019 that President Trump had nominated Bridget Brink, a career foreign service diplomat, to serve as the next ambassador to Slovakia.  Confirmed by the Senate on May 23 by voice vote, she will replace Adam Sterling, another career diplomat, who has served in Bratislava since 2016.

Brink is a highly distinguished diplomat who has represented the U.S. in a number of countries, including Georgia, Uzbekistan, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.  She also had an important policymaking role in Washington DC serving as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.  Ambassador Brink is originally from Michigan and holds two masters’ degrees from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

At her nomination hearing on May 16 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she outlined her priorities as the future ambassador to Slovakia.  First, she would reinforce the U.S. defense partnership with Slovakia.  As a member of NATO, Slovakia contributes to NATO missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Latvia, has been upgrading its NATO-interoperable equipment, including its recent purchase of 14 U.S.-made F-16s, and is on track to meet it 2-percent of GDP defense spending commitment.  She would also encourage increased energy security for Slovakia and its region.  Second, Brink would promote increased trade and investment opportunities, including opportunities for U.S. firms to export to and invest in Slovakia, and also for Slovak firms to invest in the U.S.  Third, she would prioritize our shared values, including strengthening democratic institutions and rule of law as well as greater accountability and transparency in government.

The hearing was chaired by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and other senators who participated in the hearing were Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Udall (D-NM).  Brink’s full statement and a video of the hearing are available on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nominations-051619

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100th Anniversary of Death of Stefanik Commemorated

This year, 2019, represents the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the most important figures in the history of Slovakia, Milan Rastislav Stefanik.  On May 4, the anniversary was commemorated with a talk by researcher Kevin J. McNamara of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, who discussed “Six Events that Made Milan Stefanik a Founding Father of Czecho-Slovakia.”  Friends of Slovakia co-sponsored the talk, which was organized by the Slovak American Society of Washington DC (SASW) under the direction of Helen Fedor.  It was held at the Arlington Central Library in Virginia.

McNamara’s talk was derived in part from the research for his book, The Dreams of a Great Small Nation, which described the role the Czecho- Slovak Legion played in the events of WWI and the subsequent creation of an independent Czecho-Slovakia out of the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire.  The material McNamara compiled on Stefanik was largely edited out of the published book, but he thought that Stefanik’s role was so important that it deserves greater exposure, particularly as published research on Stefanik, in the English language, is rather limited.  McNamara detailed six events involving Stefanik that he thought were important to the founding of Czecho-Slovakia.

Briefly, the events McNamara detailed were:  1) The fact that one of Europe’s best known Slovaks joined the Czecho-Slovak independence movement provided it with credibility since its leader Tomas G. Masaryk was half-Slovak and hailed from Prague, and his other chief aide, Edvard Benes, was Bohemian; 2) Stefanik arranged for Masaryk to meet with French Premier Aristide Briand, who subsequently issued a public expression of sympathy for the Czecho-Slovak cause; 3) Stefanik convinced Russia to support the cause by allowing Czech and Slovak veterans of the Austro-Hungarian Army, who were held in Russia as POWs, to join the Allied cause by fighting for France on the Western Front.  After the Czar was overthrown, these troops became the Czecho-Slovak Legion; 4) Stefanik traveled to the U.S. to garner Slovak-American support and convinced former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt to support the Czecho-Slovak independence movement; 5) Stefanik represented Czechs and Slovaks at the Congress of Oppressed Minorities in Rome and garnered further support, particularly from Italy and France, for the independence movement.  Subsequently U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing made a statement of sympathy for the Czecho-Slovak cause; 6) After Czecho-Slovak independence was declared on October 28, 1918, in Prague, Stefanik, although ill, traveled to Siberia to raise the morale of the Czecho-Slovak Legionnaires and facilitate their departure from Russia.

Once the Czecho-Slovak state was established, Stefanik was made Minister of War, but subsequently became caught-up in its internal politics and saw his role diminished.  Venturing home by way of Italy after the war, Stefanik planned to return to Bratislava first.  He arranged to fly an Italian airplane but as he approached the Bratislava airport on May 4, 1919, his plane crashed, and he was killed, along with two Italian passengers.  He was age 39.  McNamara noted that had Stefanik lived, the course of Czecho-Slovakia, and the role of Slovaks in the new nation, would likely have followed a different path.  On the 100th anniversary of his death, Stefanik is still much beloved and venerated by the Slovak nation.

For more information about these historic figures and dramatic events, visit www.kevinjmcnamara.com

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