I was surprised to read that a very un-informed reporter for the Washington Post probably in November 2011 referred to Slovakia
as "tiny" and "sleepy." While I don't admire former President George Bush very much, the one good thing I'm grateful to him for is that he appointed American Vincent Obsitnik as Ambassador to Slovakia during his tenure as president.
Now this former ambassador wrote an enlightening piece in the Slovak Catholic Falcon (11/2/11) titled "Slovakia -Fact and Fiction." I was delighted. Certainly, a former ambassador- even one probably somewhat prejudiced as I, would be able to clarify some wrong impressions of the Slovakia our ancestors came
I remember so well the Velvet Divorce when in 1993, the Slovaks
dissolved a pact with the Czech Republic and the country of
Czechoslovakia was no more. I was elated. Having read much
of our early history, I found this union to be less than satisfactory.
We had been at a clear disadvantage because our land, under
Hungarian occupation, never was developed or industrialized.
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Now it seemed to me -that alone, we could better promote our
Slovak country, its people, and their needs.
Not everyone agreed that it was a smart move, but my reading
of history re Slovakia which I read in order to compose a Cleveland
Slovak monologue in the 80's as well as my keeping up with the
news in two Slovak Insurance newspapers, makes me believe it
was the right thing to do. Now I was happy to read Ambassador
Obsitnik refuting some of the Washington Post article re Slovakia.
Not only did the reporter characterize Slovakia as tiny and sleepy,
but he also wrote the country was known most for its "fermented
sheep's milk and medieval castles." This comment Obsitnik
found ficticious as well as the others re size and lack of industry.
Re being "tiny," he notes that Slovakia's population of 5.5 million
people ranks 112 out of the total 238 countries in the world. Finland,
Norway, and Ireland have less people. And then Austria, their neighbor and one time very important part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ranks only 92nd in size with approximately 8.2 million people.
About being "sleepy," he said it is anything but. When Slovakia
separated from the Czechs he notes: "Slovakia struggled to initiate economic reforms to achieve a market economy and to establish a solid democracy. Slovakia's transformation from a Communist society to a western- oriented market economy did not come without pain."
In 2001 the unemployment rate started at about 20% but reached
a low of 7.5% in 2008. Because of this economic transformation,
Slovakia earned the title "Tiger of the Tatras." And then their GDP
growth rates which grew from about 3% in 2001 to over 10% in 2007
wasn't shabby at all. No, not shabby at all. In fact, the EU proclaimed
them the fastest growing economy during that period.
And Obsitnik adds: "This progress, combined with a corporate and
personal flat income tax rate of 19% and a current Standard & Poor's
rating of A++ has attracted significant foreign investment." Because of their efforts in this regard, Slovakia was admitted into the European Union and NATO in 2004.
Economic success has come to the country through the manufacturing
of automobiles which accounts for 30% of Slovakia's GDP. Volkswagen, Kia, and Geugot are producing about 800,000 cars per year and US companies have also invested about $5B in Slovakia. US Steel owns and operates the largest steel mill in Central Europe and Whirlpool has a facility producing over 1 million washers per year. Recently, IBM and HP have been employing between 2,000 and 3,000 Slovaks to run their various IT systems.
I loved his concluding remarks when he wrote "Slovakia has much more
than fermented sheep's milk and medieval castles. However, I am fond of both of these and do recommend them."
At this writing he also spoke in admiration of the coalition government
of former Prime Minister Iveta Radicova. I felt so proud that Slovaks had the confidence to elect a woman to this position. She is known for her efforts to promote transparency in government and her fight against any political corruption. Sadly, she stepped down in March 2012 and one ally remarked how sorry they were that the SDKU-DS leadership was losing a person who led the government with a clear-cut anti- corruption stance.
I believe it was largely because of her leadership that Obsitnik also
felt that Slovakia deserved another A++ for political maturity and
democracy. The government under Prime Minister Iveta Radicova
had 79 seats out of the 150 in Parliament. Their junior coalition partner,
SAS, controlled 22 seats but when it came to the crucial vote of EFSF
(European Financial Stability Facilty) issue to help Greece, they
refused to back it - confronting the entire European Union by doing so.
And as Obsitnik noted "Prime Minister Radicova and her other coalition
partners than sacrificed their governing position in order to pass the
legislation, and by doing so, did what was right for Slovakia and the EU. To accomplish this, Radicova agreed to the oposition's demand to hold early elections in March rather 2014. Clearly, a very self-sacrificing action on her part. I hope Slovakia will come to realize this if they have not already.
Thank you former US Ambassador Obsitnik to Slovakia. Indeed, in my
opinion, you have proven that the Washington Post's reporter's depiction of Slovakia as "tiny" and "sleepy" is hardly justifiable. I suggest that the reporter needs a refresher course on getting the "facts."