Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate our ally and friend, the Republic of Slovakia, on her 20th anniversary of independence.
In two brief decades, Slovakia has dramatically transitioned to an independent, democratic, and economically viable free nation.
As some of my colleagues may know, my great grandparents emigrated from Slovakia to the United States at the turn of the last century. Like so many others, my family was drawn to America by the promises of freedom and opportunity. My ancestors would be proud to see both the progress of America over that century and the positive development of the Slovak Republic in its 20 years of independence.
For millennia, the Slovak people were ruled or governed by others. After centuries of power shifts and realignments, in 1989, the Velvet Revolution brought down the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Democracy came to that nation as formerly jailed dissident and political activist Vaclav Havel was elected to the presidency. However, the Slovak people’s yearning for self-governance was not realized until 1993.
Following the peaceful separation of the Czech and Slovak Republics, January 1, 1993 marks the birth of the Second Slovak Republic. As fate would have it, days later I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As one of the Members of Congress with Slovak ancestry, I have been proud to work with many who have been so successful in strengthening US-Slovak relations and to aid in the political and economic development of the Slovak Republic.
Like any new democracy, the Slovak Republic has experienced some growing pains. After President Michal Kováč’s service as the first president, my good friend and former Košice Mayor Rudolf Schuster was elected president after a constitutional amendment changed the presidency to a directly elected position. His successor is now President Ivan Gašparovič. I commend these and all the other Slovak leaders who have helped fashion a new era for their people.
Even with many difficult challenges as a new nation, the Slovak Republic made outstanding progress over the last 20 years, and I am proud to have played a very small part in its history. In 2000, Slovakia became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and in 2004, joined both NATO and the European Union. The Republic of Slovakia and its people continue to provide international leadership both in Europe and throughout the world.
For the United States and the American people, we are fortunate to have such a strong ally and friend in the family of nations. So today we salute and congratulate the Slovak Republic on the special occasion of their 20th anniversary of independence. We wish them every continued future success as they mark this historic milestone.
I ask my colleagues to join me in congratulating the Slovak Republic and look forward to peace and prosperity for both of our countries for decades to come.