A word with the Slovak ambassador

  • 2004-09-01
  • by Julia Balandina and Elizabeth Celms
The Slovak Republic and Latvia have similar recent histories - both becoming independent states around the same time (Slovakia -1993, Latvia - 1991) and achieving EU and NATO accession this past spring. What are your goals as ambassador to help Slovakia and Latvia succeed in this newly developing European system?

Seeing our parallels in history, our views on many things in the world are similar. As small countries, we have similar interests - even in the big families we're so happy to be in, like the European Union and NATO. Membership in these two organizations creates a new framework for bilateral relations.

The goal of Slovakia and the [Slovak] Embassy in Latvia is to enable Slovakia to be an active player, an active member of the EU and to be a country that contributes its share to the EU. Together with Latvia we can help each other do this more easily.

What are your main focuses right now in bilateral relations between Latvia and the Slovak Republic?

It was declared long ago that our countries don't want to be just NATO consumers, but producers of security. Yet how do we do this with limited resources? There are several practical ways in which the two countries can exchange their experiences and opinions - this also applies to the EU.

Both Latvia and Slovakia now enjoy a very low tax rate and we'd like to keep it this way. We don't want to give it up, or say, harmonize it with the higher rates prevailing in the EU. That would lead to a loss in our attractiveness for investments - a lost resource in the very quick growth that we've been enjoying.

Shortly after we accessed the EU, our deputy minister for European integration, human rights and minorities, Mr. Pal Csaky, paid a visit to Latvia. This was a very important meeting to specifically discuss the EU agenda. The minority agenda was also discussed, since it has now become an EU issue, and we're on the track of developing this dialog bilaterally within the framework of the bigger group.

What do you think about the minority school reform in Latvia? How does the Slovak government deal with Hungarian minority schools?

We cannot automatically take an experience from one country to another. We don't want to give advice to Latvia because we understand that the minority situation is very delicate and comes from a historical background.

The biggest minority in Slovakia is the Hungarian minority, which is something like 10 percent of the population.We have a complete system of education in the Hungarian language from kindergarten through secondary school and now have a Hungarian university in Komarno on the border of Hungary, which was established by the present government. It's a university where, basically, the education is in Hungarian. Of course, Slovak is taught at our [minority] schools - Hungarian and also Ukrainian - as a foreign language. But it's essential that students prepare for university in Slovakia. Most of those who finish the secondary Hungarian schools continue to Slovak Universities. They have to master the Slovak language sufficiently and they do. We have many bilingual schools as well.

How are you trying to facilitate business and trade between the two countries?

Business is developing now more rapidly as many Slovak products are exhibited by joint ventures or Latvian firms. One example of our cooperation is the Daugavpils fiber factory. There have already been three shifts in the top management positions sent from Slovakia. We are now selling big, automated weighing systems here in Latvia. In stores you can find various paper products from Slovakia; shoes, PC monitors, different dietary products, and of course, you can find our beer here. This shows good progress. In fact the overall exchange of 2003 was 43 percent more than that of 2002 - about $44.3 million in 2003 and $30.9 million in 2002.

What about cultural relations between Slovakia and Latvia? Is there a Slovak presence here in Latvia and visa versa?

Culture is also developing, especially with the younger generation. Some time ago we had a very progressive theater showing in Riga. Now, for the third time on the Day of Europe in May, there was a group of young people from Latvia performing songs and dances in Bratislava. For the second time this summer several groups came to Slovakia for the Days Of Latvia - outside the capital. This is very good that young people come not just to the capital, but to smaller towns.

In a sense, you have always been second to the Czech Republic in the eyes of the world. How are you, then, branding the new Slovak Republic in Europe?

We have tried several possibilities and now our government is discussing the creation of an agency that could do this in a complex manner. So far, we have one agency that is focused on getting investments into Slovakia and promoting our exports. A proposal is being discussed to create another agency so that, with the co-operation of the Foreign Ministry, the Economy Ministry, and the Cultural Ministry, we have a unified way of presenting Slovakia.

We don't have the impression now that we are very much mixed with the Czech Republic. In 1994 until about 1998 that was the case. We have a good combination of nature, history and specific opportunities for leisure, and are happy that we attract not only tourists, but investors from abroad. We have had, for more than 10 years, a Volkswagen factory in Bratislava and we're building a Peugeot - Citroen factory near Trnava that will soon start operating. We're also preparing to build a Hyundai - Kia factory near Zilina. After completing this in 2008 or so, we should be in the world's first place for the number of cars produced per inhabitant.

Jozef Dravecky

* Born July 25, 1947 in Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia

* Degree in mathematics, Rerum Naturalium Doctor, PhD in mathematical analysis, Comenius University, Bratislava

* First Deputy Minister of International Relations of the Slovak Republic 1991-92

* Counsellor, Charge d´Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, Bulgaria, 1992

* Charge d´Affaires a.i., Slovak Embassy, Bulgaria, 1993-94

* Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to Bulgaria, 1994-98

* Director of Department for Central and Northern Europe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic, 1998-2000

* Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Slovak Republic to the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Estonia since 2000

* Speaks fluent Slovakian, English, Russian and French, proficient in German, Bulgarian, and Polish

* Married, five children


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