FOS Celebrates 20th Anniversary with Dinner at Slovak Embassy

Current and former directors of Friends of Slovakia, along with spouses and special guests, celebrated the 20th anniversary of FOS on November 17, 2021, at a dinner at the Slovak Embassy in Washington, D.C. hosted by Ambassador Radovan Javorčík.

Earlier in the day, Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of the Slovak daily SME, delivered the 2021 Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture via live stream from Bratislava. After learning that Ms. Balogová would not be able to deliver her lecture in Washington, Ambassador Javorčík generously offered to host an event that would not only commemorate the anniversary but would feature a policy discussion of issues raised in the Freedom Lecture. In his welcome toast the Ambassador noted that while the dinner was taking place on the 32nd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the work of democracy building continues in Slovakia and elsewhere in Central Europe. Each generation must work to protect and expand the precious gift of freedom, he said.

Ambassador Javorčík delivering welcome toast at FOS-Embassy dinner

Distinguished guests included senior representatives of the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, Congressional staff members, the Department of State desk officer for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, plus local arts leaders, business executives, and philanthropists. FOS special guests included founding directors Joseph T. Senko and Ambassador Theodore Russell, plus Andrew M. Rajec, president of the First Catholic Slovak Union, and his wife Idka.

FOS board members Cecilia Rokusek, Scott N. Thayer, Bibiana K. Popal, Lillian McEnany, Andrew P. Rajec, Joseph T. Senko, Sabina Sabados, Ambassador Radovan Javorčík, Martina Hrvolová, David P. Frankel, Kenneth J. Bombara, Roger Kodat, and Thomas W. Skladony

Martin Bútora, Slovak Ambassador to the United States from 1999 to 2003 (and a driving force for the creation of FOS), sent a letter of congratulations that was read at the dinner by Thomas W. Skladony, a founding director of FOS. “In calling to mind these many accomplishments of the past 20 years, I do not mean to suggest that your work is done,” Ambassador Bútora wrote. “History moves on, so that even as some issues are resolved, new challenges arise… I am especially pleased to know that one of the signature projects of Friends of Slovakia today is your series of international student summits focusing on key challenges to democracy, such as disinformation, freedom of the press, and upholding the rule of law.” (The complete text of the Bútora letter is available here.)

In responding to Ambassador Javorčík’s welcoming toast, Kenneth J. Bombara, FOS vice chairman, congratulated Slovakia on its successes in becoming a key member of NATO, the European Union, and the Transaltlantic community, while establishing a strong bond with the United States. He emphasized that the strength of that bond is rooted in the support of the Slovak-American community as well as those individuals, professionals, and organizations that consider themselves to be “Friends of Slovakia.”

Kenneth J. Bombara delivers the FOS toast. At right is Martina Hrvolová.

Fergus Shiel, managing editor of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was the keynote speaker. He described the critical work performed by investigative journalists worldwide and the serious threats such journalists face, calling special attention to the 2018 murders of Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kušnírová.

Mr. Shiel praised the courageous response of Slovak journalists and civil society to these shocking crimes, which eventually led to resignation of prime minister Robert Fico and the trial and conviction of those responsible for the deaths of Kuciak and Kušnírová. David Frankel, a founding director of FOS, moderated the discussion and a lively Q&A session.

David Frankel (at right), founding director of FOS, introduces guest speaker Fergus Shiel.

“Friends of Slovakia is extremely grateful to Ambassador Javorčík for hosting us on this very special occasion,” said Vice Chairman Ken Bombara, “It truly was a pleasure for me and my fellow FOS dinner committee members Tom Skladony and Martina Hrvolová to work with the Ambassador and his dedicated staff to organize this dinner and discussion, and we look forward to future collaboration in 2022 and beyond.”

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Slovak Journalist Beata Balogová Delivers 2021 Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture

Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of the Slovak daily newspaper SME, delivered the 2021 Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture on November 17, 2021. Her lecture, presented virtually from Bratislava due to covid-19 travel restrictions, was entitled “How Journalists Survived Backsliding and State Capture.” Her talk combined a history of threats to press freedoms during the Mečiar and Fico years in Slovakia, a personal account of her decision to become a journalist, and a warning that democratic institutions are again under attack in Central Europe.

Beata Balogová

The Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture is an annual lecture inaugurated in 2000. It is hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and cosponsored by the Embassy of the Slovak Republic, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Friends of Slovakia, and American Friends of the Czech Republic.

The complete text of Ms. Balogová’s lecture is available here.

A video recording of the event from the Woodrow Wilson Center is available here.

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FOS Celebrates Women’s Leadership in Slovak Foreign Policy Making

The 2019 election of Zuzana Čaputová as the first female president of the Slovak Republic brought increased visibility to the country, especially in the realm of foreign policy. While there is still room for greater participation, a growing number of women in Slovakia now occupy senior positions in influencing, planning, and conducting Slovakia’s foreign relations. In fact, earlier this year the Slovak foreign ministry held a week-long series of events recognizing and celebrating the contributions that women now make in diplomacy and international cooperation.

On May 7, 2021 Friends of Slovakia (FOS) convened a panel of three Slovak foreign-policy leaders to discuss their experiences and impact as policy makers and role models, and to share their perspectives on contemporary issues. Martina Hrvolová, director of Friends of Slovakia and a nonresident fellow at the German Marshall Fund, moderated the session, part of the FOS webinar series.

Lucia Kišš, then-director of the Slovak Agency for International Development Cooperation, became passionate about international development while living and studying abroad, but her passion brought her back home to Slovakia. Her work at the agency involved providing humanitarian and economic assistance in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East in ways that also advanced diversity and greater opportunities for women. (Since the webinar Ms. Kišš assumed a new position as director general of economic and development cooperation at the Slovak foreign ministry.)

Lucia Kišš

Jana Kobzová, foreign-policy advisor, Office of the President of the Slovak Republic, described how her interest in democracy building and foreign policy developed at a time when Slovakia was not making decisions for itself. She asserted that domestic challenges and foreign policy are interlinked, adding that President Čaputová has consistently pursued a foreign policy based on the values of democracy, rule of law, political pluralism, media freedom, and a market economy. It is important not to compromise on these values when dealing with partners that might not make or live up to similar commitments, Ms. Kobzová noted.

Jana Kobzová

Katarína Klingová, senior research fellow at GLOBSEC, a Bratislava-based think tank, presented a new study of gender equality and female participation in Central Europe (available here: https://www.globsec.org/publications/ceeher-report-absent-voices-missing-female-perspective-in-cee/).   Ms. Klingová encouraged the use of existing rosters and databases, such as a newly launched www.ceeher.org, to identify and empower female Central and East European experts in international relations, foreign and security policy, business, economics, technology, and sustainability. Particular attention should be paid to the role identity plays in society, Ms. Klingová said, as this constitutes a reference point for people to address issues that concern their development. The next step is to develop policy recommendations that reduce or eliminate inequalities and create a more inclusive environment in which female voices may be heard, she concluded.

Katarína Klingová

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FOS Board Members Participate in NCSML Anniversary Celebrations in Cedar Rapids

A delegation of Friends of Slovakia (FOS) board members led by chairman Scott N. Thayer travelled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to participate in events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the building dedication of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML). In addition to Mr. Thayer the FOS visitors included Kenneth J. Bombara, vice chairman, and board members Martina Hrvolová, Peter Muzila, and Thomas W. Skladony.

Dr. Cecilia Rokusek, president and CEO of the NCSML, welcomed the Washington visitors, saying, “I am thrilled that so many of my fellow FOS board members are with us for this very special weekend, and I especially grateful that Ambassador Radovan Javorčík made time in his busy schedule to join us here in Cedar Rapids.”

The original dedication took place on October 21, 1995 with the participation of Bill Clinton, U.S. president; Václav Havel, president of the Czech Republic; and Michal Kováč, president of the Slovak Republic. That historic visit of three sitting presidents to Cedar Rapids drew an estimated outdoor crowd of 10,000, according to news accounts at the time.

FOS board members Thomas W. Skladony, Scott N. Thayer, Cecilia Rokusek, Martina Hrvolová, Kenneth J. Bombara, and Ambassador Radovan Javorčík at the NCSML gala dinner

The official program began on Friday night, September 17 with BrewNost, an outdoor food-and-drink festival featuring beer, wine, and spirits from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Germany, and England, as well as numerous offerings from the Iowa craft brewing community.

This outdoor light display reminded participants to toast each other in friendship (“Na zdravi” in Czech, “Na zdravie” in Slovak) before enjoying the many beverages on offer at BrewNost.

Events on Saturday, September 18 included the opening of an exhibition of Slovak and Moravian headdresses curated by Helene Cincebeaux, the screening of a film depicting one woman’s attempt to uncover her Slovak heritage and identity, a discussion of the current visual art scene in Slovakia, and the premiere of a piano work by young composer Jacob Berenek written especially for the NCSML. Dr. Rokusek and a large group of VIP guests also performed a ceremonial ribbon cutting to open a major new NCSML exhibition entitled “Treasures of Slovakia,” featuring priceless artifacts from the collections of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava that had never before left the country.

Capping the busy day on Saturday was a well-attended gala dinner that included congratulatory video messages from Bill Clinton, former U.S. president; Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. secretary of state; Ivan Korčok, foreign minister of the Slovak Republic; Bořek Lizec, ambassador of the Czech Republic to Canada; Vít Koziak, ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Canada, among others. Delivering in-person remarks were Slovak Ambassador Radovan Javorčík, Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (Iowa), and local dignitaries.

Several of the Washington visitors also made a brief visit to nearby Iowa City, where they toured the campus of the University of Iowa and attended a tailgate party before the Big-10 Iowa-Kent State football matchup on September 18. “We have nothing like this at all in our colleges in Slovakia,” Martina Hrvolová told Bruce Teague, mayor of Iowa City, at the Grateful Garage Tailgate across the street from Iowa’s 69,250-seat Kinnick Stadium. “This is an absolutely amazing experience for a Slovak like me and I am so glad I got to see this!”

Bruce Teague, mayor of Iowa City (in yellow shirt), welcomed Katarina Skladony, Martina Hrvolová, and Thomas W. Skladony to a tailgate party before the Iowa-Kent State football game on September 18. At right is David McMahon, professor of history at Kirkwood College in Iowa.

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