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.
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.
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 Transatlantic 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.”
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 the 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.
“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.”