Freedom Lecture and Related Events in Washington Commemorate the Velvet Revolution’s 30th Anniversary

November 2019 marked the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent events that brought freedom from communist domination to many countries of the former “Soviet-bloc.”  In Czechoslovakia, public demonstrations, spearheaded by student movements, sparked the relatively peaceful downfall of the communist government and began the country’s “return to the West,” in what came to be known as the Velvet Revolution. A number of events took place in Washington D.C. in the fall to commemorate and assess the significance of the Velvet Revolution. 

From L to R:  FOS Board members, Roger Kodat, Elizabeth Guran, Tom Skladony and Chm. Scott Thayer, Slovak Foreign Rel. Cmte. Chm. Cséfalvayová, Slovak Amb. Korcok, Matt Culen (SACC), FOS Board members Ken Bombara and Sabina Sabados (also FCSU Region 1 Director), Šimon Pánek, Lenka Surotchak (Pontis Foundation), and Katka Skladony.

Since 2001, Friends of Slovakia (FOS) has co-sponsored the prestigious Annual Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.  Each year, the Lecture alternates between a Czech and a Slovak speaker chosen by the co-sponsors, the Czech Embassy, the Slovak Embassy, the American Friends of the Czech Republic (AFoCR), FOS, and the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.  This year’s Freedom Lecture on November 13 commemorated the Velvet Revolution with a special double-lecture event featuring both a Czech and a Slovak lecturer.  The Czech speaker was Šimon Pánek a key leader in the 1989 student movement, who subsequently went on to found an important NGO, People in Need.  The Slovak speaker was Katarína Cséfalvayová, the Chairwoman of Foreign Relations Committee of the Slovak National Council (parliament).  

Ms. Cséfalvayová, who was a young child in 1989, provided a perspective as an important legislator who is in a position to look back and assess the legacy of the Velvet Revolution in the context of current challenges to democracy in Slovakia and Central and East Europe generally.  Mr. Pánek then provided a first-hand perspective as a key leader in the overthrow of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.  He discussed the historical events of the period and assessed the accomplishments of the Velvet Revolution and challenges democracies have subsequently faced. 

The speakers were introduced with remarks by Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., Ivan Korčok, and Czech Ambassador to the U.S., Hynek Kmoníček.  After the Lecture, AFoCR President Tom Dine presented the speakers with certificates of appreciation and FOS Chairman Scott Thayer presented the speakers with the FOS Medal commemorating Milan Rastislav Štefánik and the friendship of the Czech and Slovak nations.  

Those interested in a contemporary perspective on Slovakia and events in Central and Eastern Europe would do well to view Ms. Cséfalvayová‘s lecture.  The Wilson Center has posted a video of the full lecture event at:

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/2019-czech-and-slovak-freedom-lecture-30-years-czech-and-slovak-freedom

More 30th Anniversary Events in Washington

The week prior to the Freedom Lecture saw additional events in Washington commemorating the legacy of the Velvet Revolution.  Members of the Friends of Slovakia Board of Directors attended and participated in these events.

Forum at Georgetown University

On Tuesday, November 12, a forum was held at Georgetown University, Velvet @ 30:  A Legacy to Uphold.  The forum was co-sponsored by the Czech and Slovak Embassies in collaboration with the Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.  The event featured welcoming remarks by Joel Hellman, Dean of the Walsh School, as well as Slovak Ambassador Korčok and Czech Ambassador Kmoníček.  Then, a discussion was held between former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the U.S., Martin Palouš. They discussed their experiences of the events of 1989 and provided perspective on the significance of the events.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, with Dr. Zora Bútorová and Amb. Martin Bútora at the Georgetown Univ. Forum on Nov. 12.

The first panel then discussed “How the Velvet Revolution Changed Our World.”  Simon Pánek, student leader during the Velvet Revolution, Martin Bútora former Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., and co-founder of the Slovak-based civic movement Public Against Violence, and Angela Stent, Georgetown Professor of Government and Foreign Service, discussed the 1989 period and its implications.  Gregory Feifer, Executive Director of the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington moderated the discussion. The second panel , “Fight for Freedom Never Ends: Velvet Revolution’s Legacy for Today and Tomorrow,” sought to view current events in light of lessons learned and point a way forward given contemporary challenges to freedom and democracy  in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  The panel featured Katarína Cséfalvayová, Chairwoman of the Slovak Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Václav Bartuška, a former Velvet Revolution student leader and current Czech Ambassador for Energy Security and Jamie Fly, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  The panel was moderated by František Šebej, former Chairman of the Slovak Parliament Foreign Relations Committee.

A summary of the forum can be found at the Czech Embassy website here:

https://www.mzv.cz/washington/en/culture_events/news/remembering_and_reflecting_on_the_velvet.html

Roundtable Reviews Attitudes about the Velvet Revolution

The day prior, Monday, Nov 11, FOS Board members and others in the Washington foreign policy and Slovak-interest communities participated in a roundtable featuring former Slovak Ambassador Martin Bútora and his spouse, sociologist Dr. Zora Bútorová.  The ambassadorial couple served in Washington from 1999-2003 and had a significant impact on Slovak- U.S. relations, as well as opening Slovakia’s new embassy building in Washington in 2001. Dr. Bútorová presented results from her recent survey research on attitudes of the Slovak and Czech populations about the Velvet Revolution and related issues.  The research was conducted under the auspices of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) a think-tank founded by the Bútoras and others.  The survey results were part of a study produced by IVO, 30 years after the Velvet Revolution: Profits and Losses in the Eyes of the Public, which is available on the IVO website at:

http://www.ivo.sk/8585/en/news/30-years-after-the-velvet-revolution-profits-and-losses-in-the-eyes-of-the-public .

Panel Exhibit at GWU

On October 22, the Slovak Embassy in cooperation with the Elliott School of International Affairs of the George Washington University opened a panel exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of Velvet Revolution, We Want Freedom: An Exhibit on the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  The event was held at the Elliott School in downtown Washington.  The exhibit displayed a series of panels depicting the events of the Velvet Revolution with a special focus on events in Slovakia.  It is hoped that students at the Elliott School as well as the GWU student community and the general public will learn about the events of 1989 in Czechoslovakia and their significance.  Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák opened the exhibit and was joined by the Slovak Ambassador Korčok, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Phillip Reeker, along with representatives of the Elliott School and Slovakia’s National Memory Institute in providing remarks about the events of 1989. 

It’s fair to say that the attendees of these events gained a greater understanding of the events of 30 years ago. They also came away with a deeper perspective on the importance of maintaining and renewing the legacy of freedom and democracy in Slovakia and Central and Eastern Europe generally.

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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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