- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2012

Peter Burian’s pursuit of his lost luggage is almost a metaphor for his country, the Slovak Republic, and its quest for respect and relevance in Europe.

Mr. Burian, the new deputy foreign minister, arrived Friday in Washington after having traveled to diplomatic conferences in Dublin on Thursday and London two days earlier. He was due in New York after his Washington visit, where he addressed a major trans-Atlantic forum.

Somewhere between Ireland and the United States, an airline lost his luggage, and he arrived in Washington with only the suit he was wearing.

Mr. Burian told Embassy Row over breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel that he was bringing a message to Washington about the future of Europe from a country born almost as a diplomatic afterthought following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

For most of the 20th century, his country was the rump part of Czechoslovakia, which split peacefully into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.

The Slovak Republic struggled for the next decade to join the European Union. It entered NATO in 2004, after years of bitter disappointment over being blocked by Western complaints about human rights issues and a weak democracy.

Now the Slovak Republic is making an outsized contribution for a nation that’s a little larger than Maryland and has about 5.4 million people.

“The Slovak Republic is trying to fulfill the promise from the time we entered the [NATO] alliance,” Mr. Burian said. “We did not want to be a freeloader. We wanted to be part of the solution.”

Slovakia has 343 troops in Afghanistan — a small contingent tasked with a dangerous duty: defusing unexploded bombs. Slovak troops also are helping guard the Kandahar air base and training Aghan soldiers.

Mr. Burian said the Slovak force will remain in Afghanistan after the United States and other Western nations leave in 2014.

The Slovak Republic also is turning its attention toward Tunisia, where it is actively promoting democratic development in the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts.

“We are trying to deliver democratic and civil society assistance,” Mr. Burian said, referring to Slovakia’s role in the Community of Democracies, an international pro-democracy group of more than 100 countries, founded in 2000.

In Washington, Mr. Burian said his address at the trans-Atlantic forum at Johns Hopkins University would focus on threats to the future of the U.S.-European alliance.

“We need to reshape the trans-Atlantic partnership,” he said. “It is still relevant. It needs to focus on new challenges and new realities.”

There is “no closer relation” than that between the United States and Europe, he said.

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