Slovakia has made much progress in its transition from part of a socialist, pro-Soviet republic to an independent, democratic nation, but there remains much hard work ahead; that was the theme of remarks by Prime Minister Iveta Radicová at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on November 10, 2010. Her lecture was part of the Wilson Center's Director's Forum series and the 10th Annual Czech and Slovak Lecture.
Radicová began her speech by recognizing the accomplishments Slovakia has achieved since becoming an independent state, but acknowledged the aid and support the country has received from friendly nations and trans-Atlantic partnerships. She pointed to the recent increase of Slovak contingent in Afghanistan, as an example of returned support from Slovakia. She emphasized Slovakia's desire to maintain good relations between the U.S. and other European nations and the country's firm commitment to the European Union.
Transition to Democracy and Admission to the EU
The transition to democracy has not been easy for Slovakia, Radicová said, but she maintained that Slovakia has been "successful in establishing a democratic, pluralistic system, a market economy, and an independent state, as well as integration into the Euro-Atlantic community."
She acknowledged that not all are happy with the transition and spoke of particular resistance to reforms in the beginning of the transition. She attributed much of the dissatisfaction with the transition to a growth in inequality – which led some to believe the new, free market system to be less just than the old, socialist one – and "tendencies toward authoritarianism [that] accompanied the transition towards a new regime."
By 2006, however, Radicová claimed that opposition to democratic and free market reforms had declined and most of the population recognized that the system needed merely "fine tuning," rather than radical changes. She attributed this change in opinion in part to Slovakia's admission into the European Union in 2004, which she credited for inspiring confidence in economic growth.
Radicová spoke favorably of Slovakia's admission into the EU, saying that after the country joined the EU, the economy grew, real wages increased, while inflation and unemployment fell. She said that worries about joining the EU did not materialize in significant ways and that the citizens have a largely positive view of the country's EU membership.
On the issue of EU expansion, Radicová, said that "Slovakia is very much in favor of future EU and NATO enlargement, providing that the countries of the western Balkans and other regions are willing to prove their readiness." When asked about Slovakia's recent opposition to the admission of Kosovo into the EU, however, she said that Slovakia's "position has not changed."
The Prime Minister was also asked about Slovakia's opposition to an EU aid package to Greece earlier this year. She expressed no concern over a lack of European unity. She stood by Slovakia's opposition to the initiative saying that aid "did not help" and she called instead for the creation of a permanent crisis mechanism within the EU to address such contingencies. She said she considered negotiations at the last EU summit successful in addressing pension reform and more permanent measures to protect against financial hazards. She also expressed optimism regarding planned reform discussions to be held at the next EU summit in December, saying Slovakia intends to work closely with Finland to examine their model for financial reform and debt restructuring.
Radicová addressed several challenges currently facing Slovakia. Particularly, the Prime Minister highlighted the need to create economic stability and reduce government corruption. To create economic stability, she pointed to her ambitious plan for consolidating public funds and said that the government has to focus primarily on "jobs, jobs, jobs." She also said that reform efforts aimed at reducing corruption were already underway – using the internet and new technology to publicize legal rulings and government contract awards and to make the government more open and transparent.
In the question and answer section of the event, Radicová was asked about the recent controversial language and citizenship laws in Slovakia that have caused tensions with Hungary. She expressed a firm commitment to ease these tensions and said that she and the Hungarian Prime Minister had agreed to work on finding solutions to problems caused by the citizenship laws.
Other challenges she addressed included the disenfranchisement of Slovakia's Roma communities and the economic disparity between Slovakia's urban centers and rural regions. In addressing both of these issues, she again focused on the economy and job creation. She said that legal conditions and financial resources need to be targeted at individual Roma communities (as opposed to a holistic approach to the Roma people), and should center on three priorities: education, jobs, and housing. She cautioned that these programs must not be open exclusively to Roma, but must take into account the needs and desires of all Slovaks in those communities to avoid stoking tensions. She noted that several such social programs are underway to promote development and economic security among Roma communities and in wider Slovakia.
At the conclusion of her presentation Ted Russell of the Friends of Slovakia presented Prime Minister Radicová with the group's Medal of Honor and Thomas Dine of the American Friends of the Czech Republic presented her with a Certificate of Appreciation.
Drafted by Drew Sample
Sharon McCarter, Outreach & Communications 202-691-4016