- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

SLOVAK REALISM

Slovakia’s foreign minister urged Europe to adopt a “realistic” approach in dealing with Russia, even though Moscow tries to pressure its neighbors by cutting off energy supplies.

“It would be a lie to say that Russia shares our values,” Miroslav Lajcak said on a visit to Washington on Wednesday, referring to democratic and free-market ideals.

However, he urged other European nations to adopt a “very realistic view of what Russia is and what we can expect” from the Kremlin. Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Slovakia, which relies on Moscow for much of its energy, in January for two weeks because of a contract dispute with Ukraine. The cutoff also affected other European nations that rely on Russian energy.

Mr. Lajcak said Slovakia will not “live in a world of wishful thinking” in hopes that Russia will treat his country fairly. But he added that Slovakia will engage Russia diplomatically to try to resolve any future disputes.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week to try to get guarantees that Slovakia will not face another energy crisis because of a Russian dispute with another European country.

Mr. Lajcak, reviewing the past 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, thanked former President George W. Bush for supporting Slovakia’s goals of joining NATO and the European Union and for getting Slovakia into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program to make it easier for Slovaks to travel to the United States.

He also said Slovakia looks forward to working with President Obama and his “new approach” to multilateral diplomacy.

“This is an opportunity to look back,” Mr. Lajcak told reporters at the National Press Club. “We have achieved quite a lot. It is our time to prove we are reliable partners [to the United States and European Union].”

Slovakia traveled a “road full of potholes” on its journey to a vibrant democratic nation. After the fall of communism in 1989, Czechs and Slovaks grew increasingly uneasy with each other. The Velvet Revolution that toppled the communists was followed by the Velvet Divorce with the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia. However, the new Czech Republic inherited most of the assets in the divorce.

“We built a state from scratch,” he said.

Slovakia immediately experienced a political setback by electing Vladimir Meciar as prime minister. Most Western nations criticized Mr. Meciar’s autocratic rule and denounced Slovakia for widespread corruption. Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state in the late 1990s, called Slovakia “a black hole on the map Europe.”

By 1998, Slovaks had rejected Mr. Meciar in favor of Mikulas Dzurinda and an open, democratic government. Membership in both NATO and the European Union followed in 2004.

“Slovakia today is an accountable and reliable ally,” Mr. Lajcak said.

SLOVAKIA’S GOAL

After Branislav Lichardus arrived in Washington in 1994 as Slovakia’s first ambassador to the United States, he learned how hard a job he would have promoting his new country when he attended a hockey match.

Commenting on a play, the game’s announcer noted that a Czechoslovakian had just scored a goal, the ambassador recalled at a forum on the Velvet Revolution at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday. The old country had already split into the Czech and Slovak republics a year earlier.

After a few moments, the announcer corrected himself, adding that two new nations were created in Europe: the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

However, by the end of his term as ambassador in 1998, Washington knew about Slovakia.

“Our small embassy staff opened doors to the White House, to Congress to the think tanks,” said Dr. Lichardus, a physician, not a diplomat, by profession.

One of those staffers, Peter Burian, is now ambassador.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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