Freedom in 2019 Slovakia: From Retrospective to Foresight

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, honorable guests,

It’s a true honor for me to be here, to present this year’s Annual Freedom Lecture, and it’s a special honor and pleasure to be the third woman to do so, after Madeleine Albright and Iveta Radičová. I am happy that I can commemorate the events of November 1989 here in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. This country was, during the times of oppression and lack of freedom for our parents and several generations of people living behind the Iron curtain a lighthouse of freedom, democracy and prosperity. So many of our fellow citizens from Czechoslovakia have found their new home here, saving their lives and their freedom. 

We should not forget that the United States played a key role in our pursuit of freedom throughout the 20th century, starting with its endorsement of the establishment of Czechoslovakia during and after World War I, next by helping save Europe from Nazism during World War II, and finally by assisting the forces of mostly underground dissent survive the oppression and maintain the commitment to the fight for freedom. 

The United States has been one of the strongest advocates for the revolutionary changes in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Partners in the US, including the US Congress, recognized that these “remarkable events led to the end of the Cold War and the creation of a Europe, whole, free, and at peace”.

On November 17th, 1989, as the people in Czechoslovakia took to the streets, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate were deliberating the SEED Act (Support for East European Democracy), a bill to promote political democracy and economic pluralism in Poland and Hungary. The day prior, November 16th, the leader of the Polish Solidarnost Lech Walesa spoke to the US Congress and appealed for US assistance: “Assistance extended to democracy and freedom in Poland and all of Eastern Europe is the best investment in the future and in peace, better than tanks, warships, and warplanes, an investment leading to greater security,” he said. And the US partners listened. 

Thereafter, the US fully recognized our “growing pains associated with the difficult transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and from a command economy to the free market”. One concrete example among hundreds: The US-funded technical assistance projects were instrumental in establishing independent parliamentary administrations and transformation of the formal rules of procedure – the way of functioning – of our parliaments. 

After 30 years it is time not only to look back to 89 and to evaluate where we have come and what we have achieved, but also to look into the future and to recognize the threats to the most valuable treasures that our parents have achieved for us: freedom and democracy. It would be naive to think that winning the fight of 89 means a victory for eternity, a happily ever after, the end of history. A mere glance at Slovakia’s neighbors to the south and to the north, but also to other countries, tells us that it is not the case and that we have to be vigilant and avoid falling into the trap of taking democracy for granted, as something that is irreversible because it is not. On the contrary, the struggle for freedom and democracy is an ongoing process, and these are values to be constantly protected, together with the rule and law and alliances that increasingly seem to no longer matter the way they used to. But they are important, and we must stick to them, we on both sides of the Atlantic. 

30 years is a long time, there is a new and younger generation that was born long after ‘89. They have no memories of it and the Velvet Revolution seems as distant to them as 1968 seems to me. Perhaps it is partly also here from where the problems of freedom and democracy in Central Europe stem from today. This is a generation that has not lived under communism, who does not even hear about it anymore. The values of freedom and democracy are something they take for granted. They never missed them and never had to fight to achieve them. 

The young generation of today cannot imagine what it was like to stand in long queues at the borders when you wanted to travel, let alone not being allowed to cross these borders. On one hand that is good and it is something to be grateful for. On the other hand, however, it is dangerous in some ways because the young generation has not learned to be vigilant of those who want to tear apart the system that we have. Young people are vulnerable to influence by various anti-system narratives, hoaxes and fake news that are spread, limitlessly, in the spaces of internet and social networks. And it is mainly the young people who are the most threatened by the totalitarian ideas of nowadays that in reality are nothing but the old ones dressed in new clothes. Unfortunately, that is one of the reasons why extreme-right populists have the highest support within the young generation and this is also why nationalism, extremism and populism are so successful in Central Europe. It is these forces that are benefiting from the support of the Kremlin, whether it is technological, personal, or financial. Here is where the enemies of the West have identified its Achilles’s heel and are working relentlessly to undermine the unity and stability of the free world. 

Being well aware of our economic and military strength, the enemies of our freedom and unity have found new ways. They are using to the fullest the tools of hybrid war, of undermining the democratic order from within, in Europe as well as in the US. They are abusing the frustration of parts of societies to dismantle the system that enabled us, on the old continent, to live for 70 years in peace and prosperity. And, as we can see in recent years, even in the US where democracy has a 250 year old tradition, people are not immune to these new types of threats. 

I was only 4 years old back in 89, so I only have blurry recollections of those times. But as the time passes and as I closely follow the developments in the world around, it makes me think about freedom and democracy, about their value back then but mostly now when it is increasingly clear that democracy is not necessarily forever. 

There is no guidebook for democracy and nobody teaches you how to manage it. We in Slovakia, for instance, had to learn from our own mistakes. The era of Vladimir Mečiar, when Slovakia became “the black hole of Europe” as M. Albright put it, was the first lesson on how the freedom and democracy can be misused and mistreated. As Slovakia managed to get rid of Mečiar’s legacy in 1998, we took on a speedy race to close the gap on our neighbors already in the process of joining the EU and NATO. Quickly, we managed to succeed in finalizing the economical transformation and became a transition success story. 

Today, looking at where we have come over those 30 years, I am of two minds about it: on one hand, there are influences and dangers ahead that we haven’t even dreamt about until quite recently – the hybrid war, extremism, various efforts to pull apart the system rather than make it better and stronger. This is a disease spreading through the western world and Europe and it did not avoid us either. And just like with any disease, the healthier the organism the greater are the chances to resist it. Unfortunately, the great speed of economic transition was just too painful for certain groups of people who, for various reasons, were unable to cope with the transformation and came to feel like the losers of the whole process. They were feeling betrayed by the promises of a better life that they never actually experienced. It would have been our duty to come back and support those people but we failed and let them down. The governments that promised to do so ended up creating parallel structures for themselves and quickly forgot about their promises to the common people. Corruption, malfunctioning justice system and the influence of oligarchs all added up to the frustration of the people. And frustration, disappointment and a feeling of betrayal are fertile ground for breeding extremism. 

On the other hand, I have to confess that I am grateful to Slovaks for not letting democracy be taken away from them and for their willingness to fight for it, so different from what we are experiencing in our immediate neighborhood to the south and to the north. Slovakia is currently going through a healing process and Slovaks clearly show they will not put their values at risk. They have demonstrated in the massive and peaceful protests around the country, they have shown it in the recent presidential and European elections. Slovakia is maintaining its freedom of press and healthy civil society. All these things give me hope that it is a fight we can win. There can be pitfalls, detours and missteps, but we have set out on a road that is clearly signed by the democratic principles and freedoms. Some will always be suspicious of the motives of the people protesting. They will question their motives, suggesting that the protests must be led from outside, financed by foreign organizations and governments. I believe that despite the disinformation campaigns, authenticity, community-spirited engagement, grass-root movements, and decency are the key components in the current-day and future fight for freedom. And that only through these we can prevail.

It makes little sense to talk about Slovakia without discussing the wider region of Central Europe, especially the countries of the Visegrad Group. Historically, this region has always been a sensitive geopolitical spot. The interests of great states and empires intersected here, it has never been stable, it has never been truly calm. It was for this reason that the ideas about setting new and fresh relationships with neighbors appeared still in the wave of excitement shortly after the 89 revolution. One of the most positive outcomes of these discussions has been the creation of V3 format of cooperation between Central European countries soon replaced by V4 format. This was something the region had never seen before. Also, there was a clear agreement on joining forces in order to set a European path for the countries thriving for peace and prosperity that only the membership in euro-atlantic structures could guarantee. Compared to what was happening in the decaying Soviet Union or Yugoslavia at the time, this was close to a miracle. 

When the alliance was created in the castle of Visegrad beside the Danube river on February 15, 1991 by the presidents of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they set a clear goal: the Visegrad Group was the expression of the efforts by the countries of Central Europe to cooperate on issues of common interest within the process of euro-Atlantic integration. Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland have always been members of the same civilization based on similar cultural and intellectual values and common roots of religious traditions which they all pledged to sustain and support. All 3, later 4 countries were inspired to become EU and NATO members as they understood their integration into these structures as a next step forward in overcoming the artificial dividing lines in Europe through cooperation. 

Sadly, I see less hope looking at the Visegrad region and some of its member states these days. It’s a paradox that this group – originally created to assist better integration of its members states into the euro-atlantic structures, the group that was meant to strengthen the EU and to enhance European cooperation, today seems to be doing just the opposite. Openly renouncing the liberal democracy and replacing it with an illiberal one, restricting freedom of media, interfering with justice, increasing populism and nationalism, in Hungary even going as far as the revisionist tendencies of Trianon with the 100th anniversary of the treaty approaching. 

Some of the Visegrad leaders are attempting to transform the agreement from a tool that supports freedom and democracy to one that will enforce some new form of democracy that is not a real democracy anymore. One of the main targets of their actions is the EU – a partnership we all fought hard to become members of after 1989. Their narratives are increasingly infused with creating the division between “us” and “them”, blaming all the bad on the EU, the greatest challenge being to defy the “Brussels dictate”. Sadly, all of this leads to a new divide between East and West, between “old” and “new” member states, painfully remindful of the Iron Curtain. And this is exactly where the creators of hybrid war want us to be. Nationalism instead of cooperation, division instead of unity, scattered individual players following their own interests instead of strong solid bloc. 

Despite its many flaws (and I am aware all societies have some), the European Union proved to be the best cure against nationalism causing conflicts in this region. It is absolutely unacceptable for myself and for all politicians and voters strongly believing in the European path to join the fight with imaginary enemies from Paris, Brussels, Berlin or Washington. Warriors like Victor Orban will continue to seek alliances with other nationalists across Europe and it is our duty to remind the world that nationalism has never been an answer to any problem, on the contrary, just in the last century it sparked two world wars with tens of millions of victims. 

In the interest of the future of the EU, we cannot be dragged by those who attempt to fight a new Cold War, we cannot be dragged by nationalistic egoism destroying the common European project. We need to be supporting further strengthening of the EU and searching for joint solutions, not the destructive tendencies within.

How we will succeed in doing that is what will matter the most in the years to come. Those refusing cooperation generally do not represent any meaningful alternative, they are riding on a wave of popularity but have no plan and often not even the slightest vision of what we would do once we are on our own. We saw how quickly the loudest advocates of Brexit dispersed. We politicians, but also we societies, need to take a more responsible stance in these times, when we are witnessing a whole range of disruptive trends, questioning our membership in NATO and EU, as well as our democratic values. New information channels, especially so called “alternative media” and social networks are often abused to these ends. Those are phenomena with a capacity to dismantle our society, the EU and existing alliances as well as the democratic world. Our duty is to face them and fight back by all means and tools that the West has at its disposal. 

Europe and the US are intertwined like communicating vessels on both sides of the Atlantic. And it has become evident that even old, established democracies like the US are not immune to the threats to democracy, to temptations of isolationism and populism. What we can see from the outside is that America cannot be great if it shuts itself off and withdraws from cooperation. Cooperation is indispensable, especially in today’s interdependent world. We will do the best for freedom and democracy by standing together in times when the value basis on either side of the Atlantic is at risk. 

It was cooperation between US and Europe that brought 70 years of peace to the European continent. Therefore, seeing that the fight for democracy is not over, the biggest challenge for the future is to preserve the democracy and freedom that we have on both sides of the Atlantic. And this is something we can only succeed in by joining forces. 

Today, instead of putting at risk our cooperation within NATO by controversial statements and seeing one another as competitors, introducing new tariffs and trade barriers, we should go back to the reason why we started cooperating in the first place. It is our common values that bind us: freedom and democracy. And the only way to preserve them is cooperation, one that needs to go beyond the immediate benefit of the transaction. If after World War II Americans would have been looking at the cost of the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Germany through an “America first” optics, where would we both be today? History has showed us that the transatlantic cooperation has been beneficial for both sides in many ways, whether it was defense cooperation that provided for 70 years of peace in NATO member states (which is of particular value in Europe that has been caught in constant conflict for centuries before) or economic cooperation that provided for relative prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. Mutual investment, taking down barriers, exchanges in goods, students, professionals and experience made stronger both Europe and the US. We share values, allies and goals. The transatlantic bilateral trade has been, and will remain, a central artillery of the world economy. Our mutual cooperation is for the best, we have common interests and challenges, whether it is Ukraine, the Western Balkans, the Middle East, the fight against terrorism or the vulnerabilities related to the spread of disinformation and cyberattacks. We should remember that together we are stronger and we can make a difference. Becoming competitors, on the other hand, would make us both weaker, especially in the current global playing field. It would only play into the hands of other more hostile actors.

Today, more than ever in recent years, we are facing challenges and threats that would not even seem real not so long ago. We have found ourselves in a situation where the essence, one of the pillars of western civilization is at risk. We thought that democracy was the end of history and that it was a system from which it’s impossible to backslide, but the recent developments in Europe, US and elsewhere in the world is showing us that it is not as unimaginable as we thought. Therefore, the biggest challenge for all of us will be to defend our values and to preserve freedom and democracy for our children and the future generations. The first step on that way is to realize the threats. At the same time, it is equally important to acknowledge that freedom and democracy are not thriving in isolation and that is why we must enforce them together, by means of cooperation. For freedom and democracy are incomplete when the third element is missing – cooperation.

Symbolically, this year, 2019, that marks the 30th anniversary of our own victory in the fight for freedom, seems to be the year of a fight for freedom, democracy and prosperity in many regions of the world. People from Hong Kong through the Middle East to Latin America are taking to the streets to stand up for the same values that we in Central and Eastern Europe fought for 30 years ago. If there is something that we learned during these last 30 years it is that the change towards freedom and democracy has helped not only us in Central Europe, but the enlargement of the democratic space has benefited us all. That is why we should not resign from a common effort to further enlarge this space of freedom and democracy. In the short term, that would mean supporting people in the countries concerned, but in the long run we are helping all of us, towards a stable, predictable world with a rule-based order.

Katarína Cséfalvayová
Member of the Slovak National Council

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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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FOS Board adds new members

At the FOS Annual Meeting on February 15th, 2019 election for the Board of Directors was held and the slate of Officers and Executive Committee were appointed. FOS saw transitions, with three new members added and three members, in addition to Amb. Russell and Mr. Senko, departing. The new members welcomed to the Board are Dr. Elizabeth Guran, Dr. Martina Hrvolova and Dr. Ceclia Rokusek. FOS expresses appreciation and best wishes to its departing board members, Dr. Sharon Fisher, Dr. Eva Jenkins and Mr. David Blazek.

Marking the transition in leadership, the Board appointed new officers for 2019. Scott Thayer, a career Foreign Service officer and former Chargé d’affaires in Bratislava, was appointed FOS Chairman. Ken Bombara and Lillian McEnany will continue as Vice Chairman and Secretary, respectively, and Tom Skladony was appointed Treasurer. Roger Kodat, Richard Marko and Jan Surotchak were appointed to join the officers on the FOS Executive Committee. At the meeting, the Board also presented Amb. Russell and Mr. Senko with a plaque honoring their service to FOS. The new Board and Executive Committee look forward to building on FOS’ outstanding accomplishments as it moves into a new era in support of U.S. – Slovak friendship.

New FOS Chairman, Scott Thayer presents plaque honoring their service to Amb. Russell and Mr. Senko, with Amb. Korcok looking on.
FOS Board holds its Annual Meeting.
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Golden Medal of the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic awarded to Amb. Theodore Russell and Joseph Senko

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák has selected Friends of Slovakia (FOS) Founding Chairman, Amb. Theodore Russell, and  Board Chairman, Joseph Senko to receive the prestigious Golden Medal of the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic.  The medals were presented to the two recipients on Feb. 15, 2019 by Slovak Ambassador Ivan Korčok, prior to the Annual Meeting of the FOS Board of Directors, at the Slovak Embassy in Washington.  In his remarks, Amb. Korčok cited the outstanding work of both recipients in promoting the democratic aspirations of Slovakia and Slovak – U.S. relations and friendship.

Amb. Russell’s long career in the U.S. Foreign Service was capped by his becoming the first U.S. ambassador to the newly independent Slovak Republic.  He went on to help found the Friends of Slovakia, which advocated for Slovakia’s integration into NATO and other Western institutions, and which continues to support U.S.- Slovak relations.  Mr. Senko has had a long-career as an advocate for Slovak –American solidarity and for U.S.-Slovak friendship, in serving as Slovak Honorary Consul for Pennsylvania, as well as Chairman of FOS.  He also has been active in the Slovak American fraternal organizations, and founded the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association (WPSCA).  The Golden Medal award is a fitting tribute to these two individuals as they step down from their long service on the FOS Board of Directors, while they will stay engaged with the organization.

Amb. Korcok presenting the Golden Medal Award to Amb. Russell and Mr. Senko.
Golden Medal of the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic.
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Passing of former Amb. Branislav Lichardus

Friends of Slovakia is sad to learn of the passing of former Amb. Branislav Lichardus, on Feb. 8 at the age of 88.  Dr. Lichardus, a noted medical doctor and researcher, became the first Slovak ambassador to the U.S. following Slovakia’s independence in 1993.  He served successfully in Washington from 1994-1998, a particularly challenging time for U.S – Slovak relations.  Upon returning to Slovakia, he subsequently served as Rector of  Vysoká škola manažmentu (VSM), a private university affiliated with City University of Seattle, with locations in Bratislava and Trenčín.  Dr. Lichardus also served on the Board of Advisors of Friends of Slovakia.   We extend our condolences to his spouse, Dr. Eva Kellerová, and the family.  Funeral services were held on Friday, Feb. 15 in Bratislava.

Amb. Branislav Lichardus
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Freedom Lecture by Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda

Friends of Slovakia invited former Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to present the 2018 Czech and SLovak Freedom Lecture at the Woodrow  Wilson  Center. The lecture was entitled “Miracles in the Heart of Europe”

The transcript of former Prime Minister’s optimistic and visionary presentation is below. FOS hopes you will enjoy it as much as his audience did at the lecture itself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me please begin by extending my warm thanks to the Friends of Slovakia for the invitation to deliver the 2018 Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture here, at the Woodrow Wilson Center. My special thanks go to Mr. Theodore E. Russell, the Founding Chairman of the Friends of Slovakia and the first US Ambassador to Slovakia. I also want to greet all of you, the friends of Slovakia and of the Czech Republic here in the United States. Our today’s theme will be Slovakia, including Slovakia in the Czechoslovak context, since we are remembering not only the 25th anniversary of the Slovak Republic but also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic. 

 During my years in politics I quite often appeared in the United States side by side with the Czech political representatives. 

Thus, during a NATO summit, I was invited by President Havel to attend a gala evening dedicated to the Czech Diaspora. Together with Miloš Zeman as the then Czech Prime Minister, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the White House on invitation by President Clinton. Our embassies organized numerous joint events, especially thanks to excellent cooperation between Ambassadors Martin Bútora and Alexandr Vondra. Remembering those events and the road that our two nations travelled during the last one hundred years evokes pleasant and intense emotions. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, April 21, 1990 was an exceptional day for Prague: Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel greeted Pope John-Paul II with the words: “I am not sure that I know what a miracle is. In spite of this, I dare say that, at this moment, I am participating in a miracle: the man who six months ago was arrested as an enemy of the State stays here today as the President of that State, and bids welcome to the first Pontiff in the history of the catholic Church to set foot in this land.”

 Dear friends, when I look back at the road that the Slovaks and the Czechs travelled over the past 100 years, I am tempted to use the words of Václav Havel: I am not sure that I know what a miracle is. Having said that, I dare say that what we, the Czechs and the Slovaks, have overcome and achieved on this road is a real miracle. 

Despite the consequences of World War One, despite all the growing pains of the young post-war Czechoslovak Republic, despite all the indignities we suffered in World War II, despite the horrors of Fascism and Communism, despite brutal normalization following the 1968 invasion, despite the difficulties of the transformation period after the Velvet Revolution, despite the dissolution of the common state and creation of independent Slovak and Czech Republics, despite of all that here we are today – the Slovaks and the Czechs – equal, fully emancipated members of NATO, the EU, and of the entire developed international democratic community. 

Slovakia and the Czech Republic are open countries with rising living standards of their citizens. Our countries enjoy the respect of the world around us. 

Among other things, we earned this respect by having successfully mastered the task of presiding over the European Union, and by developing regional cooperation in the Visegrad 4 format. By sharing our experience on accession and reform processes with such countries as Croatia, the countries of Western Balkans or Ukraine. Slovakia and the Czech Republic enjoy the respect of the international community also because we have continued to mutually help one another even after our common state fell apart. I even have the impression that today’s relations between the Slovaks and the Czechs are better than they have ever been in our history. After the last elections, the Czechs even chose a Slovak as their prime minister … just say – is this not a miracle? ☺

I admit that we have not always walked side by side at the same pace or in the same direction.

On the Slovak side, we have caused our road to be somewhat bumpy. This was especially true of the period that followed the demise of Czechoslovakia. While the Czechs pursued reforms, modernization and transformation, Slovakia was on the verge of a relapse. So much so that Madeleine Albright called Slovakia a black hole of Europe in 1997. While the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO in 1999, Slovakia was excluded from integration processes. Shortly after successful 1998 elections, just around the time when our neighbors were being admitted to NATO, I paid my first visit to the US President. As the meeting drew to a close, I appealed to President Clinton to give Slovakia another chance. President Clinton’s answer was that we missed the train and that we stayed alone. I argued that NATO membership was also sought by the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. 

The President replied: “Russia would never allow it!” But five years later, on March 29, 2004 Slovakia entered NATO together with the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria. And I had the honor to deliver an address on behalf of the new member states standing on the White House lawn next to President Bush. Wasn’t that a miracle? 

 Yes, after the 1998 elections Slovakia embarked on a difficult reform path. The demise of the Communist bloc and of the Soviet Union led also to the collapse of Slovakia’s huge arms industry. Mines were being closed down, and big steelworks in the Eastern part of the country employing over 20,000 people was facing bankruptcy. At its peak, the unemployment rate climbed to 20 % and in some regions to as high as 30 %. Our foreign exchange reserves were close to zero. Before the 1998 elections, our finance minister was borrowing money at a 28 % interest. 

Slovakia suffered from a democratic deficit, the raging of mafia, the lack of foreign investments – in short, it was economically devastated. However, not later than after five years of painful but exceptionally successful reforms The New York Times called Slovakia in 2004 the economic tiger of Europe. The American US Steel Corporation turned the Slovak steelworks into the most advanced facility of the company. Slovakia makes no tanks anymore, but it is the largest per capita manufacturer of passenger cars in the world. The unemployment rate fell below 6 %. Isn’t that a miracle? 

 Ladies and Gentlemen, the Slovaks and the Czechs have a reason to be proud. In particular, we can be proud of our resilience and endurance. But also of the faith that helped us get through the most difficult moments. 

We had great political personalities in our history, such as presidents Masaryk and Havel on the one side, and Štefánik and Hodža on the other. Moreover, we were able to draw support from such spiritual figures as Cardinals Beran and Tomášek on the one side and Cardinal Korec and Bishop Gojdič on the other. It was also thanks to these people that we dared dreaming. When President George Bush Sr. visited Prague on November 17, 1990 – one year after the Velvet Revolution – I was moved. But I was also a little sad. Because his trip did not include Bratislava. Although I barely touched politics at that time, I remember that I hoped to see an American president one day also in Slovakia. It still seems like a dream: less than 15 years after his father’s visit to Prague as President of the United States, Bratislava saw the visit of President George Walker Bush! 

As Slovak Prime Minister at the time, I welcomed him before a packed Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava. Wasn’t that a miracle? 

I mention these amazing stories of our recent common history not to cover up our defeats or failures. Neither do I mention them out of mere nostalgia: I do it especially for encouragement and as a source of inspiration and strength for future struggles and challenges we are facing today. I mention these great milestones of our history also to make us fully realize today, 100 years from the birth of Czechoslovakia, how forward-looking and right were Masaryk, Beneš, Kramář, Štefánik, Hlinka, Hodža and their contemporaries in their struggle to establish a Czechoslovak state. I will put it simply and directly: the birth of the Czechoslovak state was a blessing especially for us, the Slovaks. 

I’m neither a historian nor an ethnographer. I’m neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist. I am a runner. 

I thus dare to say that only a few nations had been able to run so fast on their historical path, to develop so dynamically, as we the Slovaks have been able to during the past 100 years. The pivotal role in this development has been played by our coexistence with the Czechs. Under both the Czechoslovak and the European roof. It is my great wish that we in Slovakia draw inspiration from this significant anniversary and take a step that should have been taken long ago and that must be taken: declare October 28 a state holiday also in the Slovak Republic! 

Dear friends, the founding fathers of the Czechoslovak statehood had a vision that inspired them in their struggle to achieve that statehood. 

They had faith in the values ​​on which that statehood was based. They had a plan on developing that statehood. They also had the will to implement their plan. 

And they had the moral qualities thanks to which they were ready to bring sacrifices for implementing their plan. Our history and our present bear witness to it. Our two nations live today in a united Europe. The euphoria over a major expansion of NATO and of the EU was followed by the shock of unprecedented global financial and economic crisis. Then in 2015 we were caught off-guard by a massive immigration wave. For the first time since its inception, the EU is losing one of its member states – the UK. The term ‘enlargement’ gave way to the term ‘Brexit’. Since 2001 we have faced large-scale international terrorism. Syria is suffering unparalleled hardships. 

A certain segment of the political elite in both the EU and in the United States questions the principles and perspectives of liberal democracy. Russia has annexed the Crimea, destabilized Donbass, and launched a misinformation propaganda war of global dimensions. 

Russia has set in motion a new Cold War. And, as if this were not enough, the cracks that no one would have expected started to appear in the relations between the staunchest allies, the EU and the US. No issue is therefore more topical or paramount today than the issue of the vision of the future of the transatlantic community. Naturally, interesting although not always positive things are happening also in Slovakia and in Czechia. But the decisive role for us in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic is and will be played by the European project and the project of the transatlantic alliance. 

 Both sides, the EU and the US, have been taken off-guard by the developments of recent years. We are asking why do people turn away from the mainstream parties, why are populism, cynicism and egoism on the rise? It seems to me that the key problem lies in the failures of political elites of recent years. 

Instead of launching much needed reforms, political elites are increasingly resorting to making unrealistic promises. They do so because the reforms are almost always painful in the short run, while unrealistic promises bring immediate election gains. This is why we are witnessing the rise of the over-promising and under-delivering type of politics on both sides of the Atlantic. But people feel that it is becoming harder and harder to repay mortgages, that the real income, especially that of middle class and of young working families, fails to mirror the reported figures of global economic growth. 

The millennial generation shows more anxiety than optimism. And the parents of these young people are less and less confident that their children will succeed. 

If we add to this the fear of globalization and of rapid technological development, the fear of uncontrolled migration and the ‘unwavering’ political correctness of the mainstream media, then it might be possible to comprehend the phenomena of our times – populism, revolt and antiestablishment. 

A logical question thus arises: What is the way out? I don’t think the answer can be found in economic textbooks or in security manuals. Or in the introduction of new tariffs or in building protection fences around our countries. 

And it certainly cannot be found by relying on America to resolve all the problems of the world, while the rest us would either graciously allow it to do so in a better case, or criticize it for doing so in the worst case. 

In my opinion, the way out is to return to well-tested universal values ​​and ethics. Such return is needed in politics, the media, in public life as well as in family and personal life. The main challenge we are facing today in Europe is to restore unity within the EU, and to assume greater responsibility for not only our prosperity but also our security. The EU needs more mutual cooperation, but also more internal competition. The principle of subsidiarity in delegating and managing the competences should not be only declared but actually applied. 

It is necessary to limit the space of manoeuvre for those national leaders who often shift responsibility for their failures to European institutions. 

I believe that the time is ripe for meaningful European federalism. The United States could serve as an inspiring model for such project. 

Slovakia and the Czech Republic could seize a chance to become protagonists of such federal European model. We have our own experience with the so-called ‘federal arrangement’.This experience shows that a ‘federation’ built or imposed from top to bottom has only a limited chance of sustainability. But the construction of the EU goes in the opposite direction – from bottom to top. At the central level, member states should give the Union exclusive competences in four areas: foreign policy, security, common currency and the single market. 

All the remaining areas should remain under the competence of member states. The president of the EU should be elected by popular vote. The EU would thus be able to not only speak with one voice in foreign policy but, above all, it would be able to make quicker and more effective decisions. 

 The EU has decided to move towards a European Defense Union. The work on this project must be significantly accelerated so as to make the EU assume more responsibility for its defense and security, especially in relation to its neighborhood (Russia, the Middle East, Africa. This project must not become an alternative to or be in competition with NATO. Just the opposite, it must be implemented as a stronger and more equal pillar of the transatlantic axis. It will have to include European engagement in the countries whose legitimate governments are unable to come to grips with terrorism, or which produce the waves of refugees because of their domestic turmoil. 

This project will contribute to improving the EU-US relations and to strengthening the transatlantic alliance. 

The transatlantic alliance has recently experienced problems for which not only we on the European side are to be blamed. The relationships between the Allies have been influenced also by a shift in the basic paradigm on the US side after the last presidential election. If the America First approach means protectionism, imposition of new tariffs on imported goods, retreat from the world outside – isolationism, then the shift has not been for the better. Yes, the EU must be ready to accept an increasingly wider responsibility for its own defense and protection. This cannot be doubted. On the other hand, I can understand the dissatisfaction of the American administration with the US trade balance figures. But this dissatisfaction must be addressed by mutual talks rather than by one-sided decisions. 

Taking unilateral decisions, retreating into one’s own shell, cutting off oneself from the world, especially from the EU, is not a sound policy from the geopolitical perspective, and neither is it sound as a matter of principle. Even such great and powerful country as the United States needs friends and allies. And, naturally, there can be no stronger and more trustworthy ally for the United States than the European Union. 

 

After the September 11 events I decided, as the then Slovak prime minister, to run the New York marathon. I perceived it as an expression of solidarity of Slovak people with the suffering your country went through on those days. On the eve of the marathon, I visited a fire station at Lower Manhattan. The firefighters of that station worked days and nights to recover what it was still possible to recover. 

There was a group of firefighters who have just completed their shift waiting for me at the station. 

I was greeted by a firefighter with Slovak roots and a Slovak name: Dennis Warchola. His brother Michael died while on duty helping the victims of the disaster and putting down the fire on Ground Zero. It was to be his last day in the service before retiring. These were truly emotional moments for me. A giant Slovak flag was spread out on the yard of the fire station. Inside the station, the furnishing was modest but very homey. 

I told the men that it made me feel the same way I felt at a different station – at my railway station. This was in a picturesque Slovak town of Kežmarok where I once served as Station Master. After I said that, one of the men, a big guy over six feet tall, started to speak. 

He said that in his entire life he never travelled outside the United States. What’s more, he had never been outside of New York City. 

During his whole life he believed that he did not need anybody outside of New York. He was convinced that he can rely on himself in everything. That his firefighter team and New York are all he needs. “How deeply I was mistaken, he told me. “We need your help, your solidarity. We are very grateful to you for coming. And for running for Michael and for the rest of us. 

 September 11 changed this American’s perception of life. He realized the meaning and the power of friendship and of alliance. True friendship and alliance are not measured by money, tariffs, number of tanks or fighter aircraft. True friendship is measured by concrete actions and loyalty. In good times but especially in hard times. 

That was also the reason for me as the then Prime Minister to join the coalition of the willing and support the Allies’ military intervention against Iraq in 2003. That was also the reason why we sent Slovak troops to the area. We were not requesting evidence; we were not looking for weapons of mass destruction. We went there because the United States and the United Kingdom made a momentous decision. And we are their Allies. 

 Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, we are remembering important anniversaries of Czechoslovak statehood as well as of the Slovak and the Czech statehood at a complicated time. At the time when the arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world is expanding rather than shrinking. Just as the number of frozen conflicts. At the time when many people are fleeing violence and are leaving their homes. When millions of people from Africa, Asia and Latin America want to get rid of poverty. 

And that’s why they are migrating. At the time when the climate change causes major catastrophes. When social media have ‘elevated the freedom to a fake news Eldorado. When the fourth industrial revolution threatens replacing human work by robots. 

When China wants to be a guarantor of not only free trade, but of global peace. When kleptocracy and arrogance of power in Russia not only destroy the country’s internal pluralism, but also generate new confrontations. Despite of all that I remain an optimist. I am an optimist because I believe in the power of human spirit and in goodness. Because I believe that where there is a will, there is a way. 

Because I have trust in universal values with the supreme value of freedom. And I also have trust in the ability of the West to prevail in the global competition. 

How true was a German friend of mine who said that neither China nor Russia can give their citizens what the West gives its citizens: freedom. The value of freedom lies also in that it allows competition. And competition is what moves individuals and society. Moves them to go forward, moves them to reach higher. 

Let me thus wish every success to the Slovak Republic, to our Czech brothers, to the EU and the United States, and to our transatlantic alliance! 

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2018 Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture – Miracles in the Heart of Europe

Link

“Despite the consequences of the World War I, despite all the growing pains of the young post-war Czechoslovakia Republic, despite all the indignities we suffered in World War II, despite the horrors of fascism and communism, despite the brutal normalization following the 1968 invasion, despite the difficulties of the transformation period after the Velvet Revolution, despite the dissolution of the common state and creation of independent Slovak and Czech Republic, despite all of that here we are today, the Slovaks and the Czechs, equal, fully-emancipated members of NATO, the EU, and of the entire developed international democratic society.” — Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda

 

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FOS Supports CEPA Forum 2018

Friends of Slovakia (FOS) again this year was one of the sponsors of this Center for European Policy Analysis CEPA Forum concerning security issues involving particularly Central Europe, NATO and Transatlantic cooperation. This year the CEPA Forum was organized under the auspices of the Slovak Presidency of the Visegrad Group (Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Hungary & Poland) and included presentations by Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak and Slovak Ambassador to Washington Ivan Korcok.  A number of FOS Board members and supporters attended. FOS is pleased to draw your attention to this excellent summary of the Forum presentations prepared by CEPA, the leading think tank in Washington with respect to Central European and Baltic security issues.

Ambassador Korcok

 

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The American Formation of Czecho-Slovakia: the Cleveland Agreement and the Pittsburgh Pact

The Slovak American Society of Washington, D.C. 
and
Friends of Slovakia present:
 

“The American Formation of Czecho-Slovakia: the Cleveland Agreement and the Pittsburgh Pact”
by Prof. Gregory C. Ference, Salisbury University
 

Saturday, September 29th, 2:00 pm
Columbia Pike Branch Library
816 South Walter Reed Dr.
Arlington, VA

 

Gregory C. Ference is a professor of history at Salisbury University in Maryland. He received his BA in history, with a certificate in Russian and East European Studies, from the University of Pittsburgh. He holds an MLS, an MA, and a PhD in East European History from Indiana University in Bloomington, concentrating on Czechoslovakia, its predecessor, and successor states. While at Indiana, he was the assistant Slavic bibliographer, and currently, is the secretary-treasurer of the Czechoslovak Studies Association.

 
Admission is free, but RSVP is required, by 11 pm, Wednesday, September 26th, to rsvp@dcslovaks.org
 
With the outbreak of war in 1914, American Slovaks started looking for alternatives to remaining in Austria-Hungary.  They eventually settled on an independent Czecho-Slovakia, but were afraid of assimilation by the larger Czech population in such a state.  In October 1915, representatives of American Czechs and Slovaks met in Cleveland in order to end such fears and adopted an accord that called for Slovak autonomy in a joint republic.  Yet, concerns remained. In May 1918, Tomáš G. Masaryk, the leader of the Czecho-Slovak liberation effort visited Pittsburgh. The American Slovaks wanted him to sign the Cleveland Agreement to allay their apprehensions about the joint union.  Masaryk, however, believed it out of date and then wrote, to replace it, what became known as the Pittsburgh Pact. Although the leaders of the American Czechs and Slovaks enthusiastically endorsed the agreement, it soon caused much discord in the new Czechoslovakia.

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